Thursday, April 2, 2020

Friday Thinking 3 April 2020

Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

Jobs are dying - Work is just beginning.
Work that engages our whole self becomes play that works.
Techne = Knowledge-as-Know-How :: Technology = Embodied Know-How  
In the 21st century - the planet is the little school house in the galaxy.
Citizenship is the battlefield of the 21st  Century

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



"The age of climate gradualism is over, and in the 21st century all politics will be climate politics," Cohen says. "Going all-out means that no matter who wins the presidential election, there are going to be both victories and defeats. It's just guaranteed. We're not going to win every legislative compromise we want to win. That's why, in a way, we need such aggressive targets because we know we're not going to hit them all."

The first two—nationalizing the fossil fuel industry and creating a powerful low-carbon labor movement—go hand in hand. "In contrast to a lot of market mechanisms, the only real way to stop burning fossil fuels is to reduce their extraction. Public ownership is the way to do it. "Beyond that, we not only need to produce a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel industry, but we need to see green work as care work, caring for the planet and for humans."

"The prospect of a recession caused by the coronavirus is terrifying. But it will also force us to debate the terms of an economic stimulus. What kind of economy do we want to develop?"

four key facets of the Green New Deal and why they could become a reality

 the expansive fiscal responses to the crisis have laid bare that the ‘limited fiscal space’ under which austerity measures were justified was nothing more than an ideological and, in the case of Europe, self-imposed political constraint. All of a sudden, countries who were deemed to have “too much debt to borrow and spend” have set up fiscal emergency packages and liquidity facilities that go into the trillions. In Hong Kong and the US, we are seeing the implementation of Helicopter Money to offset the fall of income for many households and businesses.

This puts a theoretical cornerstone of neoclassical economics – the loanable funds theory – in jeopardy. The collapse of spending furthermore illustrates that savings are a problem for any monetary economy, since the forgone revenues in the private sector put firms under pressure and, in many cases, on the brink of bankruptcy. Nothing makes clearer that the notion of savings as a virtue and prerequisite for investments, as put forward by neoclassical and ordoliberal economists, is little more than a folly.

The ramifications of this go beyond narrow academic debates. What we are now seeing is that the theoretical foundation for constraining public spending, as expressed in the Maastricht Treaty or the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), has no validity. Recognising this must be the first step toward re-thinking economic policymaking in Europe.

A continuation of austerity and the obsession with government deficits will deepen discontent among the disenchanted, and the winners will likely be right-wing anti-EU politicians, notably in Italy and France. While the last crisis helped right-wing populists move to the forefront of European and national politics, another crisis and another failure to respond might put them in the driving seat in several key Eurozone economies. A rethinking in Berlin and Brussels of its approach to economic policymaking will therefore be paramount to preventing a disintegration of the monetary union.

Coronavirus crisis: There is no way back to business as usual in the EU

Unlike the physical universe, biology is constrained by homeostasis, the need to maintain a stable milieu interieur. Floods and higher environmental temperatures are not, for example, an issue for rocks, but take a life form too far out of its homeostatic comfort zone, or acceptable “environmental envelope”, and it will die.

A few single-cell bacteria have, for example, evolved to survive in boiling water, but that could never be the case for multicellular, multi-organ systems such as vertebrates. Complex life forms do evolve, but slowly, and only within very constrained limits.

Living with complexity: evolution, ecology, viruses and climate change

This is a very important signal - especially in these times. A must read for everyone who want to make sure this crisis is not wasted or used by forces that want to diminish the promises of democracy.
There is no guarantee that this resurgence of collective action will survive the pandemic. We could revert to the isolation and passivity that both capitalism and statism have encouraged. But I don’t think we will. I have the sense that something is taking root now, something we have been missing: the unexpectedly thrilling and transformative force of mutual aid.

The horror films got it wrong. This virus has turned us into caring neighbours

Across the world, Covid-19 has triggered community action on a vast scale. It’s a powerful riposte to both government and private money
You can watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic.

The shift is even more interesting than it first appears. Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.

In India, young people have self-organised on a massive scale to provide aid packages for “daily wagers”: people without savings or stores, who rely entirely on cash flow that has now been cut off. In Wuhan, in China, as soon as public transport was suspended, volunteer drivers created a community fleet, transporting medical workers between their homes and hospitals. …...

One important signal for the emerging radical transparency that seems inevitable in the digital environment - The questions are what laws and protections are necessary to enable and ensure a flourishing democracy.

Singapore’s Location App Could Save American Lives

One of the keys to slowing a pandemic is to trace infections: Find one person who’s infected. Identify, test, and quarantine all his contacts. Then trace, test, and quarantine his contacts’ contacts. Repeat until you run out of potential victims. This is pretty much the strategy followed during the current coronavirus outbreak by countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. All three were faster off the mark than the U.S. or Europe, largely because their experience with SARS and MERS was so traumatic that they built the legal framework and the muscle memory to act quickly in the next outbreak.

The U.S. didn’t take this approach, and it was particularly hampered by botched testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, from which we still haven’t completely recovered. Tests are becoming available much faster now, but widespread testing and tracing may not be feasible in places that have been hit hard, such as New York and New Jersey. In those states, more than 30 percent of the people tested have already been infected. But there are other states, such as New Mexico or Minnesota, where testing has been growing fast and infection rates are low enough that tracking infections looks like a feasible strategy.

As the coronavirus wends its way around the world - it is setting off potential phase transitions in how we imagine the future and how we will govern our political economies. Here’s a few signals of what might be.

Tiny Virus, Big Picture

The Tyee asked 13 thinkers how the pandemic will change Canada and the world. It could get radical.
With millions of lives at risk, economies being obliterated, mass unemployment and one-fifth of the world’s population living through some form of social lockdown, it’s hard to dispute the argument, made with ever greater frequency and urgency these days, that there is no going back to normal once this coronavirus pandemic is over.
So what comes next for Canada — or for the world?

Over the past week The Tyee posed that question to activists, journalists, filmmakers, artists, caregivers, party promoters and others with keen insight into the truths that COVID-19 is making plainly visible. Using this U.S.-focused Politico story as a jumping off point, they described monumental changes to our way of life that only weeks ago may have seemed unthinkable — everything from the food we grow to the art we produce. The ways we care for our most vulnerable, the political stories we tell ourselves or even the places we party and dance are all up for renegotiation.

Think of this, then, as the opening lines of a vast new social contract. Here are some ways our futures may be rewritten by a coronavirus.

This may be a strong signal today as the world goes virtual because of the Coronavirus - but in relative terms it may be a weak signal of the future of the digital environment. Can we let the digital platform remain private or will transforming it into public infrastructure enable it to be more robust?
"We do all of this to entertain all of you, so that you can be at home enjoying it, insofar as it is possible with this epidemic," the host of the broadcast told his audience of 60,000.
Gaming traffic on Verizon's network shot up an "unprecedented" 75 percent in the space of a week, the US telco said recently.

Online gaming booms as virus lockdowns keep millions at home

When two Spanish footballers took to the controls of "FIFA 20" after the coronavirus pandemic saw their La Liga match cancelled, a stadium-sized virtual audience watched online.

The huge digital crowd last week is part of a spectacular boom for the digital gaming industry, as record numbers flock to online servers for distraction, entertainment and friendship with the "real world" seemingly falling apart.

Online gaming has proved a welcome diversion for many people chafing at movement restrictions, the cancellation of countless public events and a relentless onslaught of news about the pandemic.

Online gaming communities could "go some of the way to create the public space that's been lost" in the wake of the pandemic, said Christian McCrea, a media studies lecturer specialising in games at Australia's RMIT University.

Another signal of citizen science that not only signal possible ways to be useful during the COVID-19 pandemic - but new ways to create value with a social security platform of a universal basic income.

You can help fight the coronavirus. All you need is a computer

Donating computing time can help create a virtual supercomputer that can search for a cure
Staying home isn’t the only way to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have added their home computers to a vast network that forms a virtual supercomputer called Folding@home. The Folding@home project, which uses crowdsourced computing power to run simulations of proteins for researchers studying diseases, announced in February that it would begin analyzing proteins found in the coronavirus behind the ongoing pandemic. These proteins are tools that help the virus infect human cells. Using computer simulations, researchers are mapping the coronavirus’s proteins, in hopes of revealing vulnerabilities that can be attacked with new drugs.

The more volunteers who donate their unused computing power to the effort, the faster the virtual supercomputer can work its magic. Since the project announced its new focus on the coronavirus, around 400,000 new volunteers had joined, as of March 19. By March 26, that number had swelled to around 700,000. The collective computing power of that legion of volunteers makes Folding@home by far the most powerful supercomputer in the world.

Science News spoke with project leader Gregory Bowman, a biophysicist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, about how the project works and how people can help.

A good signal on the value of open-source approaches to software that could augment a public digital infrastructure - new forms of governance will also need to be considered.

Changing the rules of computing could lighten Big Data's impact on the internet

At a time when we're relying on the internet to an unprecedented degree in our daily lives, a team of U-M researchers led by Mosharaf Chowdhury and Harsha Madhyastha has found a way for tech companies, banks and health systems to squeeze more capacity out of our existing infrastructure.

A change to the design of big-data software tool Apache Spark could enable the world's biggest users of computing power to crunch through massive tasks up to 16 times faster while lightening their burden on the internet. Chowdhury is an assistant professor and Madhyastha is an associate professor, both of computer science and engineering. The modification, called Sol, is now available for download on GitHub.

Spark is an open-source electronic framework that serves as a task manager, coordinating vast networks of individual computers to work together as a single machine on big computing tasks. One of the most widely-used tools of its kind in the world, it's used by every major tech company as well as banks, telecommunications companies, governments and many others.

When Spark was built a decade ago, most of this work took place at large data centers, where vast banks of machines were located at a single site. But today, it's increasingly being used to connect machines that are spread across the globe and connected by the internet.

Everyone’s heard of the huge efforts being made to create a truly successful quantum computer. In the very early days of computers the president of IBM - Watson - predicted that the global market for computers would be only 5 computers. Could it be that in the world of quantum computing and corresponding entanglement - the world will end up with only one entangled quantum computer? A small signal of the future of computing.
"The membrane oscillator functions as an interaction media, because the lasers don't talk to each other directly—the photons don't interact themselves, only through the oscillator. - the interaction between photons and the membrane is wavelength independent, allowing in principle microwave-optical entanglement." 

Quantum-entangled light from a vibrating membrane

Entanglement, a powerful form of correlation among quantum systems, is an important resource for quantum computing. Researchers from the Quantum Optomechanics group at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, recently entangled two laser beams through bouncing them off the same mechanical resonator, a tensioned membrane. This provides a novel way of entangling disparate electromagnetic fields, from microwave radiation to optical beams. In particular, creating entanglement between optical and microwave fields would be a key step towards solving the long-standing challenge of sharing entanglement between two distant quantum computers operating in the microwave regime. The result is now published in Nature Communications.

In a future quantum internet, that is the internet of quantum computers, entanglement needs to be shared between two distant quantum computers. This is typically done with electromagnetic links like optical fibers. Presently, one of the most advanced quantum systems is based on superconducting circuits, which work in the microwave regime. As advanced as it is, connecting such computers in networks still poses a steep challenge: microwaves can't propagate far without loss which is harmful to quantum computing tasks. One way of alleviating this problem is to first entangle microwaves with optical fields, then use optical links, with far lower loss, for long-distance communication. However, due to large difference in wavelengths (millimeters for microwaves and micrometers for light), this conversion remains a challenge.

This is a great signal for the emergence of the quantified ‘social’ self - not only for monitoring public emergency response staff - but all employees to assess ‘state-of-the-organization’ - whether it is measure of moral, health, communication patterns. This is also a good signal for the transformation of social science - the traditional survey is dead (even if it doesn’t know it.

Predicting coronavirus? SF emergency workers wear state-of-the-art rings in new study

At least 2,000 San Francisco emergency medical workers will begin wearing rings this week that track their body temperature and other vital signs in a first-of-its-kind study to try to identify the early onset of COVID-19 and help curb its spread.

In addition to UCSF Medical Center and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital staff wearing the devices, UCSF also started a campaign Monday to ask the Oura Ring’s approximately 150,000 users to share their medical data in hopes that researchers can develop an algorithm that could detect the earliest stages of coronavirus, before symptoms manifest.

It’s that early detection that would allow wearers to seek treatment, isolate themselves and, especially for doctors and nurses serving vulnerable patients, stay home from work. The team hopes to develop a COVID-19 early detection device by fall, when infectious disease experts worry coronavirus will return for a second wave.

The mind-computer interface is becoming ever more subtle.

Scientists develop AI that can turn brain activity into text

Researchers in US tracked the neural data from people while they were speaking
Reading minds has just come a step closer to reality: scientists have developed artificial intelligence that can turn brain activity into text.

While the system currently works on neural patterns detected while someone is speaking aloud, experts say it could eventually aid communication for patients who are unable to speak or type, such as those with locked in syndrome.

“We are not there yet but we think this could be the basis of a speech prosthesis,” said Dr Joseph Makin, co-author of the research from the University of California, San Francisco.
Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Makin and colleagues reveal how they developed their system by recruiting four participants who had electrode arrays implanted in their brain to monitor epileptic seizures.

These participants were asked to read aloud from 50 set sentences multiple times, including “Tina Turner is a pop singer”, and “Those thieves stole 30 jewels”. The team tracked their neural activity while they were speaking.

The system was not perfect. Among its mistakes, “Those musicians harmonise marvellously” was decoded as “The spinach was a famous singer”, and “A roll of wire lay near the wall” became “Will robin wear a yellow lily”.

However, the team found the accuracy of the new system was far higher than previous approaches. While accuracy varied from person to person, for one participant just 3% of each sentence on average needed correcting – higher than the word error rate of 5% for professional human transcribers. But, the team stress, unlike the latter, the algorithm only handles a small number of sentences.

This is a good signal of the domestication of bacteria for many purposes. In this case bacteria can help us metabolize the harmful by products of industrial society.

Research paves way to improved cleanup of contaminated groundwater

Beads that contain bacteria and a slow-release food supply to sustain them can clean up contaminated groundwater for months on end, maintenance free, research by Oregon State University shows.
The hydrogel beads, which have the consistency of gummy candy and are made with an ingredient used in processed foods, hold the promise for sustained cleanup of groundwater contaminated with dangerous and widely used volatile organic compounds; many of the compounds are listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as likely human carcinogens.

At multiple locations around the country, the chemicals are present at concentrations that far exceed state and federal standards for safe drinking water.
Among the contaminants addressed in the study are 1,1,1-trichloroethane, cis-1,2-dichloroethene, and 1,4-dioxane—degreasers commonly used by industry and the military. The chemicals can infiltrate groundwater through leaky underground storage tanks or runoff, or by simply being dumped on the ground as they were in past.

The new decontamination method, developed through a collaboration between the OSU College of Engineering and North Carolina State University, works because the microbes produce an enzyme that oxidizes the toxins when groundwater contaminants diffuse into the beads.
The result is a transformation of the contaminants into harmless compounds.
The study appears in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts.

Another signal of the future of domesticated bacteria.
By keeping the cyanobacteria alive, we were able to manufacture building materials exponentially. We took one living brick, split it in half and grew two full bricks from the halves. The two full bricks grew into four, and four grew into eight. Instead of creating one brick at a time, we harnessed the exponential growth of bacteria to grow many bricks at once—demonstrating a brand new method of manufacturing materials.

Buildings grown by bacteria: New research to turn cells into mini-factories for materials

Buildings are not unlike a human body. They have bones and skin; they breathe. Electrified, they consume energy, regulate temperature and generate waste. Buildings are organisms—albeit inanimate ones.

But what if buildings—walls, roofs, floors, windows—were actually alive—grown, maintained and healed by living materials? Imagine architects using genetic tools that encode the architecture of a building right into the DNA of organisms, which then grow buildings that self-repair, interact with their inhabitants and adapt to the environment.

In one study published in Scientific Reports, my colleagues and I genetically programmed E. coli to create limestone particles with different shapes, sizes, stiffnesses and toughness. In another study, we showed that E. coli can be genetically programmed to produce styrene – the chemical used to make polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam.

In our most recent work, published in Matter, we used photosynthetic cyanobacteria to help us grow a structural building material – and we kept it alive. Similar to algae, cyanobacteria are green microorganisms found throughout the environment but best known for growing on the walls in your fish tank. Instead of emitting CO2, cyanobacteria use CO2 and sunlight to grow and, in the right conditions, create a biocement, which we used to help us bind sand particles together to make a living brick.

A fascinating view of horizontal mitochondria transfer.

Free range mitochondria are coming for you

Transfer of mitochondria between cells is a ubiquitously occurring and now universally known phenomenon. For years, researchers have been serially demonstrating that one particular new cell type can transfer its mitos to yet another particular cell type to achieve some specific metabolic goal essential to survival of the meta-host organism. But what happens when the mitochondria come from the outside world, from other members of your own species, or from a different species altogether? In addressing this very real situation, we first must look at the particulars of how and why mitos are transmitted across cell boundaries in the first place.

One of the latest dispatches, coming to us courtesy of EMBO Reports, describes a curious situation in which mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) transfer mitos directly to T cells in order to tamp down an overactive immune system and curb an inflammatory response. More specifically, the Chilean authors report that mito uptake by CD+ T cells induces regulatory T cell differentiation and activation through increased expression of FOXP3, IL2RA, CTLA4, and TGFb mRNAs. Mesenchymal stem cell transfer had been well established in earlier disease models of acute respiratory distress (ARDs), in which transfer to macrophages through tunneling nanotubes upregulates their phagocytic capability.

Another weak signal of the emerging transformation of retail and delivery services -as well as monitoring and other purposes as affordances become revealed and exploited.
Wingcopter’s main advantage is a design that allows it to switch from hovering and vertical lift to a low-noise forward flight mode, which is better suited to use over populated areas. It manages this using a tilt-rotor design, which has the added benefit of making it more stable in difficult weather conditions, including rain and high winds.

UPS partners with Wingcopter to develop new multipurpose drone delivery fleet

UPS is working with German startup Wingcopter  to develop a new type of delivery drone, to be used for the logistics company’s growing commercial drone delivery efforts both in the U.S. and globally. Wingcopter has already designed an electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft that has a range of up to 75 miles and can achieve speeds as high as 150 miles per hour in conditions that include wind speeds of up to 45 miles per hour.

Wingcopter will be working closely with UPS’ Flight Forward subsidiary, the dedicated drone delivery unit that UPS developed last year in July to house its commercial drone delivery program. In October, Flight Forward received Federal Aviation Administration  (FAA) approval to effectively operate a full-scale “drone airline” at scale for the purpose of package delivery.

Wingcopter has already demonstrated how its drones could operate in commercial settings, including during a demonstration with Merck  earlier this year that saw its autonomous eVTOLs carry small packages between the drug company’s various office locations in Darmstadt in Germany. It also used its aircraft to deliver critical medical supplies and life-saving equipment to hard to reach areas, including through partnerships with UNICEF and other relief organizations.