Thursday, August 16, 2018

Friday Thinking 17 August 2018

Hello all – 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  

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



The world’s biggest problems are, basically, hyper-connected, making them complex, volatile, uncertain, contingent and highly ambiguous. A small change half-way around the world can propagate nearly instantly across our networks and affect us in surprising ways. Situational awareness and analysis is a lot more difficult in these circumstances.

By now, all of us here realize that complex problems are more than just complicated problems. They are a completely different class or species of problems. Often characterized as ‘wicked’ problems, one finds that as soon as you touch them they tend to morph. They cannot be ‘solved’ in any traditional sense because they resist solutions that one designs and implements based on good analysis and decision making at a moment in time. The “Catch 22” of wicked problems is that one cannot learn about the problem without probing it or trying solutions, but every solution you try can have lasting unintended consequences that are likely to spawn new complex problems.

… But what other meta-skills and dispositions might now be more important than ever in this white water world? I would say that one is a deep willingness to learn – to learn new ways to read the world and new ways to work with it. I think of this as becoming an entrepreneurial learner – which is not the same as being an entrepreneur but rather being someone who has evolved a disposition that:
Is always questing, connecting, probing.
Is deeply curious and listening to others.
Is always learning with and from others.
Is reading context as much as reading content.
Is continuously learning from interacting with the world, almost as if in conversation with the world

And finally, is willing to reflect on performance, alone and with the help of others – that is becoming a reflective practitioner.

John Seely Brown - Pardee RAND Commencement Speech

In the real world, there’s no textbook or curriculum. There’s no way to practice. There’s no source of continuous feedback. There are no teachers — it’s just you and whoever you can convince to help you.

So how do you learn something no one can teach you? How do you become a world-class expert on something few people understand?

Unstructured learning requires wandering. You must poke around on your own, use trial and error, search, explore, stumble, and discover. The usual Gladwellian prescription of “10,000 hours and deliberate practice” isn’t actionable when trying to learn something that no one knows how to do.

But this is the only kind of learning that the world cares about.

The Hard Thing About Learning Hard Things

During what psychologists call “flow states,” where one is completely immersed and absorbed in a mental or physical act, people often report an altered sense of time, place, and self. It’s a transportive and pleasurable experience that people seek to achieve, and that neuroscience is now seeking to understand. A great example of flow state is found in many improvised art forms, from music to acting to comedy to poetry, also known as “spontaneous creativity.” Improvisation is a highly complex form of creative behavior that justly inspires our awe and admiration. The ability to improvise requires cognitive flexibility, divergent thinking and discipline-specific skills, and it improves with training.

Not surprisingly, the frontal regions of the brain that have been shown to be involved in time perception and impulse control are also involved in spontaneous creativity. Improvisation appears to take place in an altered state of mind/brain, and studies of the neural mechanisms of musical improvisation have identified a network of prefrontal brain regions linked to improvisation. The creative act of improvisation, at least in the musical realm, appears to be a result of changing patterns of activity in two key areas of the prefrontal cortex (PFC).

Dreaming involves unplanned, irrational associations, defocused attention, an altered sense of time, and a feeling of lack of agency or volitional control (with the exception of lucid dreaming). These same characteristics are associated with creativity when one is fully awake.

The sense of time passing, producing its changes and progressions, is a capacity our brains evolved for adaptive reasons. How long have I been sleeping? How soon do the kids need to eat? How fast will I have to walk to make it home before dark? Keeping track of time is something we do instinctively, and our instincts have recently been supplemented by cultural inventions such as clocks and calendars, which train our brains to map its instincts onto scales and increments. However, we have also evolved the ability to turn off this constant time-keeping, in moments of artistic rapture or contemplation, and that adaptive sense of timelessness gives our lives much of its beauty and meaning. How we choose to spend our time, which remains our most limited and valuable resource, is one of the greatest gifts, and responsibilities, we are given.

What Time Feels Like When You’re Improvising

We’re so thoroughly accustomed to one way of defining distance that it’s easy to miss that there could be others. We generally measure distance using “Euclidean” distance, which draws a straight line between two points. But there are situations in which other definitions of distance make more sense. For example, “Manhattan” distance forces you to make 90-degree turns, as if you were walking on a street grid. Using Manhattan distance, a point 5 miles away as the crow flies might require you to go across town for 3 miles and then uptown another 4 miles.

It’s also possible to think of distance in completely non-geographical terms. What is the distance between two people on Facebook, or two movies, or two genomes? In these examples, “distance” means how similar the two things are.

There exist dozens of distance metrics, each suited to a particular kind of problem. Take two genomes, for example. Biologists compare them using “edit distance.” Using edit distance, the distance between two genetic sequences is the number of additions, deletions, insertions and replacements required to convert one into the other.

Edit distance and Euclidean distance are two completely different notions of distance — there’s no way to reduce one to the other. This incommensurability is true for many pairs of distance metrics, and it poses a challenge for computer scientists trying to develop nearest neighbor algorithms. It means that an algorithm that works for one type of distance won’t work for another — that is, until this new way of searching came along.

Universal Method to Sort Complex Information Found

How do we use the future? How do we shape and invent the future - expand our imagination of what could be? Of What we want to be?

The Thing From The Future

The Thing From The Future is an award-winning imagination game that challenges players to collaboratively and competitively describe objects from a range of alternative futures.

So many corporations and organization spend considerable energy to enable innovation - Almost all of them claim they love ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers and ideas. The problem is they usually don’t want to ‘change the box’ - so they seek technologies that enable them to do the same thing only better - new technology to do the same thing and often in the same way. How long did it take for corporations to harness the real power of their ‘intranets’ including open forums, and assembling knowledge networks as and where necessary? How widespread and engaged are current corporate wikis?
“The expectation was we’d quickly find use cases,” Magnus Haglind, Nasdaq’s senior vice president and head of product management for market technology, said in an interview. “But introducing new technologies requires broad collaboration with industry participants, and it all takes time.”

Blockchain, Once Seen as a Corporate Cure-All, Suffers Slowdown

Corporate America’s love affair with all things blockchain may be cooling.
A number of software projects based on the distributed ledger technology will be wound down this year, according to Forrester Research Inc. And some companies pushing ahead with pilot tests are scaling back their ambitions and timelines. In 90 percent of cases, the experiments will never become part of a company’s operations, the firm estimates.

Even Nasdaq Inc., a high-profile champion of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, hasn’t moved as quickly as hoped. The exchange operator, which talked in 2016 about deploying blockchain for voting in shareholder meetings and private-company stock issuance, isn’t using the technology in any widely deployed projects yet.

And then again - like everything else - cloud implementations are transforming enterprise IT approaches - and individual and small business access.

How Google is Entering the Cryptocurrency Space

“In the past decade, it’s hard to think of a single revolutionary technology that Google didn’t experiment with. Cloud technology, neural networks, big data, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, self driving cars, machine learning — all of these have been applied or even designed by the company. But when it comes to blockchain, […]” Google didn’t seem bothered with it.

The Google’s silence with respect to blockchain was conspicuous and left room for speculations and rumors about Google’s move into cryptocurrency by working on it’s own blockchain or token, which have been in the media in excess for the last couple months.

In fact, according to a report by CBInsights, Google was the second-most active blockchain investor between 2012 and 2017, falling between SBI Holdings and Others include CITI and Goldman Sachs. Under the radar, Google has been buying a number of startups that focus on digital ledger technologies. So far, Google’s parent company Alphabet’s venture capital arm GV has invested in wallet service Blockchain Luxembourg, financial transactions network Ripple, cryptocurrency asset management platform LedgerX, and international payments provider Veem.

For cloud businesses, Google wants to use the blockchain to record user transactions and improve data security. Alphabet plans to offer a license for customers to run their own versions of the blockchain on their own servers.
Googles main rival in the cloud space, Amazon Web Securities (AWS), already offers distributed ledger testing services. AWS has partnered with enterprise blockchain platforms such as Sawtooth, Corda R3, and PokoDok.

It’s been a decade since the memristor was discovered/invented - and turning it’s potential for a new computational paradigm as been disappointing - however, this may be a significant step forward.

Memory-processing unit could bring memristors to the masses

A new way of arranging advanced computer components called memristors on a chip could enable them to be used for general computing, which could cut energy consumption by a factor of 100.

This would improve performance in low power environments such as smartphones or make for more efficient supercomputers, says a University of Michigan researcher.

His team chose to solve partial differential equations as a test for a 32×32 memristor array—which Lu imagines as just one block of a future system. These equations, including those behind weather forecasting, underpin many problems science and engineering but are very challenging to solve. The difficulty comes from the complicated forms and multiple variables needed to model physical phenomena.

When solving partial differential equations exactly is impossible, solving them approximately can require supercomputers. These problems often involve very large matrices of data, so the memory-processor communication bottleneck is neatly solved with a memristor array. The equations Lu’s team used in their demonstration simulated a plasma reactor, such as those used for integrated circuit fabrication.
This work is described in a study, “A general memristor-based partial differential equation solver,” published in the journal Nature Electronics.

A great signal of accelerating domestication of DNA.

New DNA Synthesis Method Could Soon Build a Genome in a Day

Synthetic biologists are the computer programmers of biology. Their code? DNA.
Except it’s not that simple. The basis of synthetic biology is DNA—often a lot of it, in the form of many genes. Making an average gene from scratch costs several hundreds of dollars and weeks of time. Imagine a programmer taking a month to type a new line of code, and you’ll likely understand a synthetic biologist’s frustration.

Now, a new method published in the July issue of Nature Biotechnology promises to revolutionize DNA synthesis with a faster, cheaper, and more accurate approach. Taking inspiration from nature, a team at UC Berkeley cracked a decades-old puzzle that allowed them to tap into the superpowers of TdT, a protein inside our own bodies specialized for making genes.

The new technology is so simple and non-toxic that the team believes it could lead to “DNA printers” for scientists (or even biohackers), similar to 3D printers available at workshops today.

Another very important signal of domestication of DNA and the implications of designing life.

Entire yeast genome squeezed into one lone chromosome

In a dramatic restructuring, two teams have created versions of baker’s yeast with vastly reduced chromosome counts.
For millions of years, brewer’s yeast and its close relatives have packed their DNA into 16 distinct chromosomes. Now, two teams have used CRISPR gene-editing to stuff all of yeast’s genetic material — save a few non-essential pieces — into just one or two chromosomes. The feat represents the most dramatic restructuring yet of a complex genome and could help scientists understand why organisms split their DNA over chromosomes. And, to the researchers’ surprise, the changes had little effect on most functions of the yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae).

“That was the biggest shocker — that you can just get away with this and yeast seem to shrug its shoulders,” says Jef Boeke, a geneticist at New York University whose team jammed the yeast genome onto a pair of chromosomes. A China-based group used a different technique to make yeast with one ‘super-chromosome’. Both teams report their findings in Nature on 1 August.

This is an interesting signal of emerging understanding of horizontal gene transfer and the possible role of ‘junk DNA’.

Ancient virus defends koalas against new viral attacks

The human genome is riddled with endogenous retroviruses - little pieces of degraded and generally harmless retrovirus DNA passed down through the generations, along with our own genetic information. Because most endogenous retroviruses have been part of our DNA for millions of years, scientists can't explain how they went from their virulent, disease-causing forms to the inert bits of "junk DNA" most of them are today. A new study published today in the journal PNAS looks to koalas for an answer.

"In humans, the youngest known endogenous retrovirus groups are around 5 million years old. That makes it very hard to tell what happened. But the koala is one of the few species known to have an ongoing invasion of the germline by a retrovirus," says Alfred Roca, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois.

The researchers found that an ancient and unrelated endogenous retroviral element is inserting itself into the new retrovirus via recombination, deactivating it. Instead of coding for proteins that reassemble into an infectious retrovirus, the recombinant sequence doesn't code for anything.

"We might have found evidence for a molecular defense mechanism of hosts against new retroviral attacks, mediated by more ancient retroviral elements," says Ulrike Löber, researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and the study's first author.

Alex Greenwood, also of the Leibniz Institute, led the study. He adds, "The study emphasizes how little we know about the diversity and reservoirs of retroviruses among wildlife. The koala, a species not usually associated with biomedical breakthroughs, is providing key insights into a process that has shaped 8 percent of the human genome, and likely shows us what happened millions of years ago when retroviruses invaded the human germline."

For almost 20 years we’ve known about the properties of spider silk and have tried to be able to produce it in commercial quantities. This may be the closest and possible the first real success in its mass production.

Gene editing technique allows silkworms to produce spider silk

A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in China has succeeded in using a gene editing technique to get silkworms to produce spider silk. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes the technique they used and the quality of the silk produced.

In recent years, scientists have discovered that the unique attributes of spiker silk make it useful in a number of applications. One group found, for example, that it could be used to create micro-capsules for delivering cancer drugs. Another found that it could be used to repair damaged nerves, and yet another found it could make bulletproof vests stronger. Thus, biological researchers have sought ways to produce spider silk commercially, but have come up short. Efforts to farm them like silkworms have failed due to the erratic nature and aggressive behavior of spiders. And efforts to genetically alter other critters have come up short, as well. In this new effort, the researchers tackled the latter approach and report that they have found a way to succeed where others have failed.

The researchers report that their efforts resulted in silkworms able to produce silk that was a mixture of that normally produced by the silkworm and the spider. Testing showed that the silk was 35.2 percent spider, which was a big improvement over the work of other teams, which were only able to achieve approximately 5 percent. The newly improved silk was also ready for use as spun by the silkworms, as opposed to results obtained by other teams. The researchers note that the process also allows for creating custom silks depending on need. They suggest their technique lends itself very well to mass production, making it a viable option for future applications.

Domesticating DNA has more frontiers than biological - it also has potential for providing a foundation of a new computational paradigm of biocomputing.
“Common medical diagnostics detect the presence of a few biomolecules, for example cholesterol or blood glucose,” said study author Kevin Cherry. “Using more sophisticated biomolecular circuits like ours, diagnostic testing could one day include hundreds of biomolecules, with the analysis and response conducted directly in the molecular environment.”

DNA Computing Gets a Boost With This Machine Learning Hack

As the master code of life, DNA can do a lot of things. Inheritance. Gene therapy. Wipe out an entire species. Solve logic problems. Recognize your sloppy handwriting.
In a brilliant study published in Nature, a team from Caltech cleverly hacked the properties of DNA, essentially turning it into a molecular artificial neural network.

When challenged with a classic machine learning task—recognize hand-written numbers—the DNA computer can deftly recognize characters from one through nine. The mechanism relies on a particular type of DNA molecule dubbed the “annihilator,” (awesome name!) which selects the winning response from a soup of biochemical reactions.

But it’s not just sloppy handwriting. The study represents a quantum leap in the nascent field of DNA computing, allowing the system to recognize far more complex patterns using the same amount of molecules. With more tweaking, the molecular neural network could form “memories” of past learning, allowing it to perform different tasks—for example, in medical diagnosis.

The advance of human-computer-machine interface is creating new ecologies that we will call our ‘self’.
“Colloids can access environments and travel in ways that other materials can’t,” Strano says. Dust particles, for example, can float indefinitely in the air because they are small enough that the random motions imparted by colliding air molecules are stronger than the pull of gravity. Similarly, colloids suspended in liquid will never settle out.

Cell-sized robots can sense their environment

Made of electronic circuits coupled to minute particles, the devices could flow through intestines or pipelines to detect problems.
Researchers at MIT have created what may be the smallest robots yet that can sense their environment, store data, and even carry out computational tasks. These devices, which are about the size of a human egg cell, consist of tiny electronic circuits made of two-dimensional materials, piggybacking on minuscule particles called colloids.

Colloids, which insoluble particles or molecules anywhere from a billionth to a millionth of a meter across, are so small they can stay suspended indefinitely in a liquid or even in air. By coupling these tiny objects to complex circuitry, the researchers hope to lay the groundwork for devices that could be dispersed to carry out diagnostic journeys through anything from the human digestive system to oil and gas pipelines, or perhaps to waft through air to measure compounds inside a chemical processor or refinery.

“We wanted to figure out methods to graft complete, intact electronic circuits onto colloidal particles,” explains Michael Strano, the Carbon C. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and senior author of the study, which was published today in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. MIT postdoc Volodymyr Koman is the paper’s lead author.

A great signal for the acceleration of energy geopolitics.

World Reaches 1,000GW of Wind and Solar, Keeps Going

Bloomberg NEF data indicate that the world has attained the landmark figure of 1TW of wind and solar generation capacity installed. We estimate that the second terawatt of wind and solar will arrive by mid-2023 and cost 46% less than the first.

New output from the BNEF database shows that there were 1,013GW of wind and solar PV generating capacity installed worldwide as of June 30, 2018. The 1TW milestone would have been passed sometime just before this date. The total is finely balanced between wind (54%) and solar (46%).

It the above was a great signal - this signal anticipates a world of zero-marginal cost energy as much closer than most imagine.

Power Worth Less Than Zero Spreads as Green Energy Floods the Grid

Wind and solar farms are glutting networks more frequently, prompting a market signal for coal plants to shut off
Bright and breezy days are becoming a deeper nightmare for utilities struggling to earn a return on traditional power plants.

With wind and solar farms sprouting up in more areas -- and their power getting priority to feed into the grid in many places -- the amount of electricity being generated is outstripping demand during certain hours of the day.

The result: power prices are slipping to zero or even below more often in more jurisdictions. That’s adding to headaches for generators from NRG Energy Inc. in California to RWE AG in Germany and Origin Energy Ltd. in Australia. Once confined to a curiosity for a few hours over windy Christmas holidays, sub-zero cost of electricity is becoming a reality for hundreds of hours in many markets, upending the economics of the business in the process.

This is an important signal for a couple of reasons - one is that perhaps humans aren’t so bad - the other is that increasing capacity of satellite imaging and other emerging sensor technology will provide much better real time information about our state of being.

Study shows global forest loss over past 35 years has been more than offset by new forest growth

A team of researchers from the University of Maryland, the State University of New York and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has found that new global tree growth over the past 35 years has more than offset global tree cover losses. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group describes using satellite data to track forest growth and loss over the past 35 years and what they found by doing so.

There has been a growing consensus in recent years that because humans cut down so many trees (most particularly in the rainforests) that global tree cover is shrinking. In this new effort, the researchers have found that not to be the case. They contend that global tree cover is actually increasing.

Not yet ready for primetime - but they could be in another decade

The Top 12 Social Companion Robots

What do you get if you combine the best features of a smartphone, a vacuum cleaner, and a pet? No, it’s not Dr. Frankenstein’s dog, but rather the new family members of the household of the future: social companion robots. They might do the chores, guard the house, teach the children and keep company to the elderly or people with health issues. Here are the current best examples on the market, but the best is yet to come.

With the advancement of robotics and artificial intelligence, social companion robots started to take shape: these human or animal shaped, smaller or bigger mechanic creatures are able to carry out different tasks and have interactions with humans and their environment. In the future, they might become every parent’s little helper in the kitchen, might support the guard dog in keeping the house safe, might teach the children and be their companion and support the elderly from reminding to take their medication until keeping them company when they feel lonely.

This is an interesting signal of the emerging potential of augmenting prosthetics as new forms of exoskeletons. The images and 2 min videos illustrate the early prototypes of this cyborg technology.
Having the limbs controlled by someone else—someone who can be in another room or another country, and in VR to boot—is a little different, however. Saraiji says he wanted to see what would happen if someone else could, in a sense, dive into your body and take control.

Meet the guy with four arms, two of which someone else controls in VR

These robotic limbs could someday help people work together when they’re far apart.
The limbs embracing Saraiji are long, lanky, and robotic, and they’re connected to a backpack he’s wearing. The arms are actually controlled remotely by another person, who’s wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset, with which they can see the world from Saraiji’s perspective (cameras linked to the backpack ensure a good view), and wield handheld controllers to direct the non-human arms and connected hands.

After the hug, the robotic arms release Saraiji. Then the right hand gives him a high five, and Saraiji smiles.
Saraiji, an assistant professor at Tokyo-based Keio University’s Graduate School of Media Design, led the development of this robotic-arms-on-a-backpack project, called Fusion, to explore how people may be able to work together to control (or augment) one person’s body. Though some of the actions Saraiji shows me via video chat from his lab in Japan are silly, he thinks the device could be useful for things like physical therapy and instructing people from afar.

Well if the above article seem facetious - this article claims exoskeletons are prime time.

Ford thinks exoskeletons are ready for prime time in its factories

Automaker hopes to reduce injuries with mechanical help.
People still build cars. While videos of giant robots welding vehicles are exciting to watch (sparks!), humans are an important part of the assembly of vehicles. However, as you would expect, doing the same thing over and over often leads to injuries. For workers reaching up all day, that motion can be especially hard on their shoulders. To help, Ford will be offering exoskeleton vests to folks in 15 assembly plants around the world.

The EksoVests (built by Ekso Bionics) are available for employees that have to reach overhead multiple times a day. The exoskeleton vest doesn't have a motor or battery pack to make its wearer stronger. Instead, it's a mechanical device that offers passive arm support from five to 15 pounds.

As the person reaches up, the vest offers their arms additional assistance. The higher they reach, the more support the system adds. "It's not a strength enhancer, it's an endurance enhancer," Marty Smets, Ford's technical expert of human systems and virtual manufacturing, told Engadget.

The world of the post-modern Primitive - where people practice many forms of tattooing, body-modifications and other forms of body shaping in many ways anticipates the future cyborg. This one is ‘lightweight’ but also presages all sorts of post-human amplifications built on those currently practiced. You have to see the images to understand.

Woman Creates Wearable Fiber Optic Corset That Illuminates Her Implants

This is a video of Naomi 'SexyCyborg' Wu demonstrating the 'Cyberpunk Wearable Fiber Optic Implant Transillumination' system she developed (previously: the LED eyelashes she created). The apparatus has two illuminated fiber optic cables that screw into the sides of the corset right next to each breast, and illuminate her implants with the light (like shining a flashlight through your hand). The future, folks -- it's totally nuts. Also, do you think a similar system would work with a penile implant? Asking for a friend who's always dreamed of waving a blue lightsaber at public urinals.

This is awesome for anyone who wants to know more about the plants and other creatures we encounter every day - Another medium for citizen science.

iNaturalist Connect with Nature!

One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over 750,000 scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

That's the vision behind iNaturalist. So if you like recording your findings from the outdoors, or if you just like learning about life, join us!

This is an interesting presentation of many signals of significant change - well worth the view.

Academics created a periodic table of mind-blowing tech, and it's a handy guide to how the world will change forever

Academics at Imperial Tech Foresight have created a periodic table of mind-blowing tech.
The table is designed to be a visual conversation starter about where the world is going.
It features 100 innovations, ranging from the benign and everyday, to the mind-blowing and potentially terrifying.

Each element is colour-coded and slotted into a space across two axis: The Y-axis ranks the potential for disruption from high to low, while the X-axis determines how soon it will become a reality.
The PDF of the table can be found here