Thursday, August 13, 2015

Friday Thinking 14 August 2015

Hello – Friday Thinking is curated on the basis of my own curiosity and offered in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. 
So happy to be back to the Digital World.

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

Imagine a world where photography is a slow process that is impossible to master without years of study or apprenticeship. A world without iPhones or Instagram, where one company reigned supreme. Such a world existed in 1973, when Steven Sasson, a young engineer, went to work for Eastman Kodak.

Two years later he invented digital photography and made the first digital camera.

….The final result was a Rube Goldberg device with a lens scavenged from a used Super-8 movie camera; a portable digital cassette recorder; 16 nickel cadmium batteries; an analog/digital converter; and several dozen circuits — all wired together on half a dozen circuit boards.

It looks strange today, but remember, this was before personal computers – the first build it yourself Apple computer kit went on sale that next year for $666.66.

….Mr. Sasson made a series of demonstrations to groups of executives from the marketing, technical and business departments and then to their bosses and to their bosses. He brought the portable camera into conference rooms and demonstrated the system by taking a photo of people in the room.

….Their response was tepid, at best.
“They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set,” he said. “Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so why would anyone want to look at their picture on a television set?”

The main objections came from the marketing and business sides. Kodak had a virtual monopoly on the United States photography market, and made money on every step of the photographic process. If you wanted to photograph your child’s birthday party you would likely be using a Kodak Instamatic, Kodak film and Kodak flash cubes. You would have it processed either at the corner drugstore or mail the film to Kodak and get back prints made with Kodak chemistry on Kodak paper.

It was an excellent business model.
Kodak’s First Digital Moment

Just in case people haven’t accessed this - here is Barak Obama’s vision. There’s a lot more to think about if we want an democracy empowering infrastructure for the 21st Century.

My Plan for a Free and Open Internet

An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life. By lowering the cost of launching a new idea, igniting new political movements, and bringing communities closer together, it has been one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.

“Net neutrality” has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality...

So socialism has become a toxic word and concept in the neo-liberal, neo-conservation political-economies and the metamorphic memes of the day - but if we get over the spin-doctoring distraction and start to explore the principles - some interesting initiative come to light.

Socialism, American-Style

THE great 20th-century conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter thought the left had overlooked a major selling point in pressing the case for public — i.e., government — control over productive capital. “One of the most significant titles to superiority,” he suggested, was that public ownership produced profits, which means not having to depend on taxes to raise money.

The bulk of the left never took up Schumpeter’s argument. But in an oddly fitting twist, these days the mantra of public control in exchange for lower taxes has been embraced by a surprising quarter of the American political leadership: conservatives.

The most well-known case is Alaska. The Alaska Permanent Fund, established by a Republican governor in 1976, combines not one, but two socialist principles: public ownership and the provision of a basic income for all residents. The fund collects and invests proceeds from the extraction of oil and minerals in the state. Dividends are paid out annually to all state residents.

Texas is another example of conservative socialism in practice. Almost 150 years ago the Texas Permanent School Fund took control of roughly half of all the land and associated mineral rights still in the public domain. In 1953, coastal “submerged lands” were added after being relinquished by the federal government. Each year distributions from the fund go to support education; in 2014 alone it gave $838.7 million to state schools. Another fund, the $17.5 billion Permanent University Fund, owns more than two million acres of land, the proceeds of which help underwrite the state’s public university system.

This is an excellent summary article about the current of DNA research - as a moment of a change in the conditions of change.

The Genesis Engine

We now have the power to easily alter DNA. It could eliminate disease. It could solve world hunger. It could get really out of hand
...Everyone at the Napa meeting had access to a gene-editing technique called Crispr-Cas9. The first term is an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” a description of the genetic basis of the method; Cas9 is the name of a protein that makes it work. Technical details aside, Crispr-Cas9 makes it easy, cheap, and fast to move genes around—any genes, in any living thing, from bacteria to people. “These are monumental moments in the history of biomedical research,” Baltimore says. “They don't happen every day.”

Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.

The technique is revolutionary, and like all revolutions, it's perilous. Crispr goes well beyond anything the Asilomar conference discussed. It could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would—designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes. It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are—or who will be the first to break them.

This is a MUST READ. Talking about new rules. This is Star Trek arriving. A $250 palm sized sensor for everything!!! In 10 years will we need labels listing ingredients? Will we need to worry about what chemicals are being secretly added to our food, or other goods? Will the Participatory Panopticon emerge related to the molecular constituents of what we consume?

The first molecular sensor that fits in the palm of your hand.

SCiO reads the chemical make-up of materials. It is a non-intrusive, no-touch optical sensor that provides a seamless user experience. Discover your world with the click of a button.

Out of the box, when you get your SCiO, you will be able to analyze food, plants, and medications. For example, you can:
  • Get nutritional facts about different kinds of food: Dairy products, Fruits and vegetables. Other apps for drinks, meats, ripeness, salad dressing and more will be released on a regular basis as our database expands.
  • Know the well-being of popular plants.
  • Identify capsules containing medicine and nutritional supplements.
  • Help build the world's first database of matter.

Here is a nice article about the future by Margaret Atwood.

It’s Not Climate Change - It’s Everything Change

The future without oil! For optimists, a pleasant picture: let’s call it Picture One. Shall we imagine it?

There we are, driving around in our cars fueled by hydrogen, or methane, or solar, or something else we have yet to dream up. Goods from afar come to us by solar-and-sail-driven ship — the sails computerized to catch every whiff of air — or else by new versions of the airship, which can lift and carry a huge amount of freight with minimal pollution and no ear-splitting noise. Trains have made a comeback. So have bicycles, when it isn’t snowing; but maybe there won’t be any more winter.

We’ve gone back to small-scale hydropower, using fish-friendly dams. We’re eating locally, and even growing organic vegetables on our erstwhile front lawns, watering them with greywater and rainwater, and with the water saved from using low-flush toilets, showers instead of baths, water-saving washing machines, and other appliances already on the market. We’re using low-draw light bulbs — incandescents have been banned — and energy-efficient heating systems, including pellet stoves, radiant panels, and long underwear. Heat yourself, not the room is no longer a slogan for nutty eccentrics: it’s the way we all live now.

Here are two videos by Paul Mason (author of ‘The End of Capitalism has Begun’ - in the last Friday Thinking) with some comments by Michel Bauwens.

Paul Mason on what we learned in Greece about the future of democracy and the emergence of post-capitalism

A very considered analysis by Paul Mason on the recent events in Greece, in two parts, and what it means for social change in the rest of the world. At the Democracy Rising conference in Athens. He also gives a preview of the contents and analysis of post-capitalism, the topic of his next book.

Paul Mason shows that neither progressive Keynesianist policies for democracy are no longer possible in the Eurozone, that neoliberalism is holding back a fifth Kondratieff wave. But that a commons-based ‘social factory’ has emerged, of which we are all a part as networked individuals, making us agents of change towards a post-capitalist order. What needs to be done then, is to create a regulatory framework that allows this evolution to emerge more fully.

And speaking about the transformation of Capitalism - here’s something that speaks to the political economies of the future. The future is not about scaling efficiency - it’s now about scaling learning - even if it takes lots of failure first.

Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial

Research shows that when governments provide citizens with economic security, they embolden them to take more risks.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan traveled to the Soviet Union and gave a speech at Moscow State University, making the case for capitalism. America’s secret, he argued, was its entrepreneurs, whose “courage to take risks” was responsible “for almost all the economic growth in the United States” and much of its technological edge. This risk-taking was made possible, he continued, by economic freedom, which he associated with “limited, unintrusive” government.

Reagan was right about the link between startups and growth, but wrong in assuming that small government was the way to encourage them. His belief in a tradeoff between taking care of citizens and promoting innovative new businesses is at odds with the evidence. In fact, one way to get more people to start companies, according to a growing body of research, is to expand the welfare state.

...A series of more recent studies challenge the view that larger or more activist government necessarily threatens entrepreneurship. In fact, that may get the relationship precisely backwards.

Entrepreneurs are actually more likely than other Americans to receive public benefits, after accounting for income, as Harvard Business School’s Gareth Olds has documented. And in many cases, expanding benefit programs helps spur new business creation.

For example: Publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin.

This is a nice article about some research on how networks can grow in a manner like a phase transition.

New Laws Explain Why Fast-Growing Networks Break

LAST MONTH, UNITED Airlines grounded nearly 5,000 flights when its computer system crashed. The culprit: a faulty network router. Later on the same morning, another computer glitch halted trading on the New York Stock Exchange for over three hours.

Some saw the sinister hand of a hacker in these outages, but they are far more likely to be a coincidence, an intrinsic feature of the system rather than a bug. Networks go down all the time, a consequence of unprecedented levels of interconnection. Disruptions can occur even in the most robust networks, whether these are power grids, global financial markets, or your favorite social network. As the former Atlantic reporter Alexis Madrigal observed when a computer error shut down the Nasdaq stock exchange in 2013, “When things work in new ways, they break in new ways.”

A fresh new understanding of such systems—the way they grow, and how they break—has arisen from the physics of coffee.

Researchers usually think of network connectivity as happening in a slow, continuous manner, similar to the way water moves through freshly ground coffee beans, slowly saturating all the granules to become coffee in the container below. However, over the past few years, researchers have discovered that in special cases, connectivity might emerge with a bang, not a whimper, via a phenomenon they have dubbed “explosive percolation.”

This new understanding of how über-connectivity emerges, which was described earlier this month in the journal Nature Physics, is the first step toward identifying warning signs that may occur when such systems go awry—for example, when power grids begin to fail, or when an infectious disease starts to mushroom into a global pandemic. Explosive percolation may help create effective intervention strategies to control that behavior and, perhaps, avoid catastrophic consequences.

And if we want to scale learning to enable greater innovation and agility? Here’s an article on the MOOC and how it helps even the brightest students.

India Loves MOOCs

In a country of rigid teaching styles and scarce university slots, students and professors are exploring what online learning can be.
The first MOOCs were replicas of the traditional, full-semester experience. Now … people are experimenting with a lot of formats that break with tradition.
How does a talented Indian teenager like Gaurav Goyal make his mark on the world? Ordinarily, his destiny would have been set on the morning in 2008 when he took his country’s toughest college placement exam: the IIT Joint Entrance Exam. More than 300,000 students attempted the test that year; only 8,652 qualified for a spot at one of the ultra-elite Indian Institutes of Technology.

Goyal mustered a score in the top 1 percent, winning entry to IIT Delhi. But he fell just short of the cutoff for the school’s most competitive degree program, the one he most wanted to pursue: computer science. Instead, Goyal was told to major in civil engineering. Other students could learn about databases. For him, hydrology awaited.

Determined to change his fate, Goyal, an extrovert with a keen interest in business, found a way to outwit the system. As he recently explained over a dinner of curried cottage-cheese skewers at a fancy lakeside restaurant in Delhi’s Hauz Khas district, he wiggled his way into a variety of management courses at IIT Delhi and lined up his first job after graduation at Wipro, one of India’s leading information-technology offshoring companies.

Then Goyal set out to sharpen his résumé. In early 2014, he enrolled in three online data-science classes via Coursera, all taught by Johns Hopkins professors. By earning certificates from the courses, demonstrating expertise in areas such as the programming tool R, Goyal impressed Dunnhumby, one of Britain’s largest customer-analytics companies. He now works there as a Delhi-based senior analyst, using data to figure out what British shoppers want next.

Throughout India, online education is gaining favor as a career accelerator, particularly in technical fields. Indian enrollments account for about 8 percent of worldwide activity in Coursera and 12 percent in edX, the two leading providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Only the United States’ share is clearly higher; China’s is roughly comparable. India’s own top-tier technical universities have created free videotaped lectures of more than 700 courses, with the goal of putting students at regional colleges in digital contact with the country’s most renowned professors.

Here’s a longish article that explores another side of automation - this is worth the read.

The automation myth

Robots aren't taking your jobs— and that's the problem
Over the past five years, American politics has become obsessed with robots.
President Obama has warned that ATMs and airport check-in kiosks are contributing to high unemployment. Sen. Marco Rubio said that the central challenge of our times is "to ensure that the rise of the machines is not the fall of the worker." A cover storyin the Atlantic asked us to ponder the problems of a world without work. And in the New York Times, Barbara Ehrenrich warns that "the job-eating maw of technology now threatens even the nimblest and most expensively educated."

The good news is that these concerns are wrong. None of the recent problems in the American economy are due to robots — or, to be more specific about it, due to an accelerating pace of automation. Moreover, even if the pace of automation does speed up in the future, there's no real reason to believe that it will be a problem.

The bad news is that these concerns are wrong. Rather than an accelerating pace of automation, we've actually been living through a slowdown in the pace of productivity growth. And that slowdown is a huge problem. Unless it reverses, we'll be waking up soon to find ourselves in a depressing world of longer working years, unmanageable health-care needs, higher taxes, and a public sector starved of needed infrastructure resources.

In other words, don't worry that the robots will take your job. Be terrified that they won't.

What doesn’t seem to be myth is the advance of the use of automation.

Chinese factory replaces 90% of humans with robots, production soars

Changying Precision Technology Company in Dongguan city has set up an unmanned factory run almost entirely by robots. The factory has since seen fewer defects and a higher rate of production.
The gravest fear that has rippled through humanity from the technology industry is that, someday, almost all of our jobs will be replaced by robots.
While that fear is often laughed off as something that will only happen far into the future, the truth is that it's actually happening right now.

In Dongguan City, located in the central Guangdong province of China, a technology company has set up a factory run almost exclusively by robots, and the results are fascinating.

The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan has automated production lines that use robotic arms to produce parts for cell phones. The factory also has automated machining equipment, autonomous transport trucks, and other automated equipment in the warehouse.

There are still people working at the factory, though. Three workers check and monitor each production line and there are other employees who monitor a computer control system. Previously, there were 650 employees at the factory. With the new robots, there's now only 60. Luo Weiqiang, general manager of the company, told the People's Daily that the number of employees could drop to 20 in the future.

The robots have produced almost three times as many pieces as were produced before. According to the People's Daily, production per person has increased from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces. That's a 162.5% increase.
The increased production rate hasn't come at the cost of quality either. In fact, quality has improved. Before the robots, the product defect rate was 25%, now it is below 5%.

Speaking of automation - here’s something that’s interesting for psychology. The article provides some example analysis by Watson using Twitter comments from well know people. But here again - given of speed of deep learning - where will this technology be in 2025?

This new website tells you exactly what kind of person you are, based on only 100 words

Our souls are shockingly visible in even our most banal work emails, it seems.
That's true, at least, if you're a supercomputer like IBM Watson. The sophisticated artificial intelligence machine launched a new website that takes 100-word chunks of text — memos, emails, tweets or Facebook status updates — and analyzes them to describe the personality of the person who wrote them.

Here's how it works: you cut some text from an email, tweet, speech or Facebook status update, and paste it into the little box provided on the website. It then gives you three analytical results: a short written description of the person's personality and character, a breakdown of their personality by the percentage of certain qualities, like openness, melancholy and "self-transcendence" — and a graph with every quality described.
We were eager to try it.
Here is IBM’s website where anyone can submit a sample of text.

Here’s an interesting article on how the ‘blockchain’ (the software platform/protocol of Bitcoin) is become mainstream. The question is whether this will help to disrupt financial systems-theories or strengthen incumbent holds on centralized banking-finance?

Bitcoin's smart sibling Ethereum is 'the only game in town' for banks to build blockchains

"Every institution in the city I have spoken to is looking at Ethereum to build their blockchain apps for the next five to 10 years," declared Ethereum communications officer Ken Kappler. "It is basically the only game in town".
The much-vaunted, not-for-profit platform confirmed last Wednesday (22.07.15) that its full launch would happen "within days".

Ethereum comprises a platform on which developers can build out blockchain applications, plus a token of value – ether – to incentivise a peer-to-peer computation network, like bitcoin does. Ethereum's blockchain protocol has the flexibility to facilitate smart contracts – something the bitcoin network does, but only in a limited way to honour bitcoin transactions.

Financial services are viewed as low-hanging fruit from the perspective of blockchain enhancement, because they do things like turn contractual agreements into securities which can be coded into smart contracts and easily balanced on blockchains.
Ethereum did not reveal which banks and financials are currently looking at its technology. IBTimes asked kappler what these new verifying networks within banks would look like.

"If you were to have a private network involving say financial institutions what they would do is likely be more guarded about where they store databases," he said.
"The database would only be kept on centralised servers and access would be restricted, users in the banks would probably log in through some sort of basic internet server.
"In general it would look much like what we have today rather than anything like bitcoin. It wouldn't be open, it wouldn't be available to everyone. It would be very easy to audit and it would allow banks a way to deal with each other without having to pay for intermediaries.

"The point of the bitcoin consensus network and the computing power to run it is because you can't trust anyone else on the network. If it was bank's network they could define who was on the network, they could say they trust them and trust them," Kappler told IBTimes.

Speaking of economics - this is an interesting map of global Google searches. The resulting info-graphic maps are fascinating.

Cost Obsessions Around the World

Google’s autocomplete function provides suggestions derived from common Google searches by other users. Comparing autocomplete results for searches on different countries reveals how certain places are perceived by people around the World.

It turns out that Google searches for the cost of something vary widely depending on the country of interest. For example, people are most interested in the cost of a passport or a patent in North America. As for Europe, many are concerned about practical things like the cost of living, studying, or buying a beer. Google users are interested in basic necessities such as food, livestock, and fuel in Africa. But if you look closely, you will find some more controversial search results, such as prostitution in Brazil, Ukraine, Hong Kong, and Latvia; slaves in Mauritania; a kidney in Iran; in vitro fertilization in Australia; and rhinoplasty in Korea.

Intrigued by the results of our U.S. state-by-state analysis of Google autocomplete results, we decided to see what the worldwide results look like. We began by googling a simple question for each country:
How much does a * cost in Mauritania
which with ‘autocomplete’ became
How much does a slave cost in Mauritania

The results were then recorded and put into an infographic to see how countries and continents compare.

This is a 16 min TED talk from one the the Key folks from Google explaining the emergence of the self-driving car.

Chris Urmson: How a driverless car sees the road

Statistically, the least reliable part of the car is ... the driver. Chris Urmson heads up Google's driverless car program, one of several efforts to remove humans from the driver's seat. He talks about where his program is right now, and shares fascinating footage that shows how the car sees the road and makes autonomous decisions about what to do next.

This is an interesting study about the common human production of a memory filing system.


Research Reveals Brain’s “Filing System” is Same for Everyone
Thanks to Carnegie Mellon University advances in brain imaging technology, we now know how specific concrete objects are coded in the brain, to the point where we can identify which object, such as a house or a banana, someone is thinking about from its brain activation signature.

Now, CMU scientists are applying this knowledge about the neural representations of familiar concepts by teaching people new concepts and watching the new neural representations develop. Published in Human Brain Mapping, the scientists have — for the first time — documented the formation of a newly learned concept inside the brain, which shows that it occurs in the same brain areas for everyone.

The domestication of DNA - is the inevitable trajectory of the next human advance (given we don’t make first contact or have a Zombie Apocalypse first).

Algae: The Future of Just About Everything

When you think of the potential scientific advancements that will propel mankind into the future, maybe you think of artificial intelligence, space travel, or even genetic modification. But we're guessing that “algae” doesn't feature anywhere on your list.

It’s true, algae doesn’t exactly fit with the traditional sci-fi idea of the future, but this unassuming, naturally occurring, green goop that has nothing to do with Soylent Green, actually has the potential to be the become the building block for the evolution of… almost anything. Here are just a few examples of the many ways algae is slowly changing our world for the better….

Here’s something more on the domestication of DNA.

Engineers' synthetic immune organ produces antibodies

Cornell engineers have created a functional, synthetic immune organ that produces antibodies and can be controlled in the lab, completely separate from a living organism. The engineered organ has implications for everything from rapid production of immune therapies to new frontiers in cancer or infectious disease research.

The immune organoid was created in the lab of Ankur Singh, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who applies engineering principles to the study and manipulation of the human immune system. The work was published online June 3 in Biomaterials and will appear later in print.

The synthetic organ is bio-inspired by secondary immune organs like the lymph node or spleen. It is made from gelatin-based biomaterials reinforced with nanoparticles and seeded with cells, and it mimics the anatomical microenvironment of lymphoid tissue. Like a real organ, the organoid converts B cells – which make antibodies that respond to infectious invaders – into germinal centers, which are clusters of B cells that activate, mature and mutate their antibody genes when the body is under attack. Germinal centers are a sign of infection and are not present in healthy immune organs.

Here’s an interesting indication of the power of a virtual world to change our experience in non-virtual reality.

Stroke patients recover arm use with virtual reality

Using virtual reality to increase a patient's confidence in using their paralyzed arm may be critical for recovery, according to research published in the open-access Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Virtual reality could assist arm rehabilitation in some stroke patients, according to a clinical pilot study published in the open access Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation. The researchers found that using virtual reality to increase a patient's confidence in using their paralyzed arm may be critical for recovery.

Stroke patients with 'hemiparesis' - reduced muscle strength on one side of the body - often underuse their affected limbs even though they still have some motor function.
Using their healthy limb may immediately improve the ease of their daily activities, but a long period of non-use of the affected 'paretic' limb can lead to further loss of function. This so-called 'learned non-use' is a well-known effect in stroke patients and has been associated with a reduced quality of life.

The small pilot study involved 20 hemiparetic stroke patients using the 'Rehabilitation Gaming System' with a Microsoft Kinect sensor. The system allows users to control a virtual body via their own movements, seen from a first-person perspective on a computer screen, with which they perform tasks in a virtual world.

Lead author, Belén Rubio from the Laboratory of Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain, said: "There is a need for designing new rehabilitation strategies that promote the use of the affected limb in performing daily activities. Often we neglect the remarkable contribution of the patient's emotional and psychological states to recovery, and this includes their confidence."

Maybe within the next 5-6 years we’ll see a human application.

Gene therapy restores hearing in deaf mice

More than 70 different genes are known to cause deafness when mutated. Jeffrey Holt, PhD, envisions a day when patients with hearing loss have their genome sequenced and their hearing restored by gene therapy. A proof-of-principle study published today by the journal Science Translational Medicine takes a clear step in that direction, restoring hearing in deaf mice.

“Our gene therapy protocol is not yet ready for clinical trials—we need to tweak it a bit more—but in the not-too-distant future we think it could be developed for therapeutic use in humans,” says Holt, a scientist in the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School.

Holt, with first author Charles Askew and colleagues at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, focused on deafness caused by a gene called TMC1. Not only does TMC1 account for 4 to 8 percent of genetic deafness, it also encodes a protein that’s critical for hearing—helping to convert sound into electrical signals that travel to the brain.

And here’s some good news for many suffering from cataracts.
Eye drops could dissolve cataracts
Cataracts cloud the eyes of tens of millions of people around the world and nearly 17.2% of Americans over the age of 40. Currently, the only treatment is surgery—lasers or scalpels cut away the molecular grout that builds in the eye as cataracts develop, and surgeons sometimes replace the lens. But now, a team of scientists and ophthalmologists has tested a solution in dogs that may be able to dissolve the cataract right out of the eye’s lens. And the solution is itself a solution: a steroid-based eye drop.

Though scientists don’t fully understand how cataracts form, they do know that the “fog” often seen by patients is a glob of broken proteins, stuck together in a malfunctioning clump. When healthy, these proteins, called crystallins, help the eye’s lens keep its structure and transparency. But as humans and animals alike get older, these crystallin proteins start to come unglued and lose their ability to function. Then they clump together and form a sheathlike obstruction in the lens, causing the signature “steamy glass” vision that accompanies cataracts.

This should at minimum - represent a ‘weak signal’ of the emerging interface with the digital environment.
Speech Recognition from Brain Activity
Spoken Sentences Can Be Reconstructed from Activity Patterns of Human Brain Surface / ”Brain-to-Text“ Combines Knowledge from Neuroscience, Medicine, and Informatics

Speech is produced in the human cerebral cortex. Brain waves associated with speech processes can be directly recorded with electrodes located on the surface of the cortex. It has now been shown for the first time that is possible to reconstruct basic units, words, and complete sentences of continuous speech from these brain waves and to generate the corresponding text. Researchers at KIT and Wadsworth Center, USA present their ”Brain-to-Text“ system in the scientific journal Frontiers in Neuroscience

Here’s an interesting article on Robotics - state of today - but not tomorrow.
Are we entering an era of robotic war? The rise of the machines raises both technical and moral challenges
Truth be told, I was pretty unimpressed by Chimp the robot for at least the first half hour.

Chimp looks like a character from Transformers. At 5ft tall and weighing 443lb, it has a red metal shell, tank-like treads for feet and arms with a three-pronged pincer that can each lift the weight of a smallish man. But it took the robot several minutes to get out of a car and when it tried to open a door, it fell over and broke the frame.

Chimp was competing for the $2m first prize in the final of a US government-sponsored competition held last month where the robots had to complete eight tasks that mimicked the conditions at the Fukushima nuclear disaster, such as turning off a valve and cutting a hole in a wall with a drill. Many of the robots tumbled, sometimes comically. They moved so slowly one of the organisers likened it to “watching paint dry”.

But, after a while, as I started to understand what was going on, I became mesmerised. There was no one standing beside Chimp with a joystick, manipulating the robot’s every movement. Instead, Chimp’s head and body are packed with cameras, sensors and processors that allow it to generate a 3D model of its environment, which it sends back to a control team. “If it is a task that is familiar, we can say ‘grab that drill or turn that valve’,” says Tony Stentz, a Carnegie Mellon university professor who runs Chimp. Or to put it more bluntly, the robot was making many of the decisions itself.

Science fiction has long fixated on autonomous robots that can think for themselves but researchers are now catching up with Hollywood fantasies. Self-driving cars are close to becoming reality and scientists believe smarter robots could revolutionise care for the elderly. And then there is another potential customer. The Robotics Challenge, the world’s largest competition for robots, was organised by Darpa — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the Pentagon’s blue-sky research group.

Although its budget is still four times its nearest rival, China, the Pentagon faces intense financial pressures. New weapons programmes, such as the F-35 fighter jet, are bleeding the budget. After more than a decade of fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, personnel expenses have also exploded. Robots can allow the military to do more with a reduced headcount. Last year Robert Cone, the then commanding general of US army training, speculated that a brigade combat team would drop from 4,000 people to 3,000 over the next 15 years, with robots taking up a lot of the slack.

This is a must view 3 min video (no audio) of the future of mixed reality engagement.
Field-of-View Visualization of Current VR HMDs
Visualization of the typical field of view of current virtual reality head-mounted displays such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Filmed in a CAVE VR environment, using custom code to put "virtual blinders" on the user. The blinders create a truncated pyramid locked to the viewer's head, 100 x 100 degrees wide with the pyramid's top rectangle being 4" from the viewer's eyes.

And following up on the above.
Google Glass Finds a Second Act at Work
Google Glass, no longer available to consumers, is gaining fans in the workplace.
Back in January, Google announced that it was shuttering the public “beta” program through which it sold Glass, its often-derided face-worn computer, to consumers. At the time, Google said it remained committed to building the wearable gadget, but would do so in secret.

Since then, Glass has largely faded from public view. Yet the companies authorized by Google to sell Glass and Glass-related services to businesses say Glass is quickly gaining ground as a tool for things like helping telecom workers debug equipment from afar or enabling a transcription service to help doctors save time they’d otherwise spend filling out patients’ charts.

It turns out it may be easier to figure out how to use Google’s smart glasses at work than in everyday life, and we may not be as sensitive about privacy concerns and style with technology we use on the job. And while Google has said little publicly about where Glass is going, some recent reports indicate the next version of Glass will focus on the enterprise. (Responding to a request for comment, the company said the team behind it is “heads down building the future of the product” and wouldn’t respond to rumors or speculation.)

Well what about Facebook’s new video platform?
Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video
Facebook says it’s now streaming more video than YouTube. To be able to make that claim, all they had to do was cheat, lie, and steal.
I’m a professional YouTube creator. Some people think that this is some kind of joke but I have 30 employees. All of them work in the online video industry, about half of them work directly on producing videos for our educational YouTube channels. We’re a small, profitable business.

Facebook is an interesting, emerging platform for us. Reaching an audience is valuable, even if there’s no way to turn that value into money. So I’m excited about the potential future of Facebook as a video platform.

But there are a few things that make me wary, not of their ability to grow my business, but of whether they give a shit about creators, which is actually pretty important to me. Let’s go through them one by one.

More on the rapidly changing energy horizon - suggesting-reinforcing the emerging reality of ubiquitous cheap energy.
Single-catalyst water splitter from Stanford produces clean-burning hydrogen 24/7
Stanford scientists have developed a cheap and efficient way to extract clean-burning hydrogen fuel from water 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Stanford University scientists have invented a low-cost water splitter that uses a single catalyst to produce both hydrogen and oxygen gas 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The device, described in a study published June 23 in Nature Communications, could provide a renewable source of clean-burning hydrogen fuel for transportation and industry.

"We have developed a low-voltage, single-catalyst water splitter that continuously generates hydrogen and oxygen for more than 200 hours, an exciting world-record performance," said study co-author Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and of photon science at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

In an engineering first, Cui and his colleagues used lithium-ion battery technology to create one low-cost catalyst that is capable of driving the entire water-splitting reaction. (See video.)

"Our group has pioneered the idea of using lithium-ion batteries to search for catalysts," Cui said. "Our hope is that this technique will lead to the discovery of new catalysts for other reactions beyond water splitting."

This is an interesting article looking at future demographic implications of significant increases in life expectancy - it seems a bit disjointed but there are some good graphs here.
Radical Life extension, birthrates and different world population scenarios to 2100
There is a projection of world population based upon the availability of procedures that would extend life expectancy by 20 years or more appearing around 2020 and getting utilized in increasing amounts from 2020-2050.
In 2000-2005 there were many projections that world population would peak at 9 billion or below. In 2010, the projections were 10.1 billion and in 2012 it was 10.9 billion. The change was that African birthrates did not drop as quickly as expected. Since 2012, the estimates are that world population could be 11 to 12 billion in 2100 and would not peak.

Those projection are before consideration about success with longevity treatments. Also if Africa's birth rate stayed at current levels and did not drop at all then world population would be about 20-25 billion in 2100.

The extreme longevity scenarios could add 1 billion, 3 billion or 6 billion people to projections.

  • 1 billion would be the difference between the 2010 and 2012 African fertility adjustment.
  • 3 billion would be the difference between 2000 and 2015 African fertility adjustments.
  • 6 billion would be like a worldwide fertility increase of about 0.5 children per couple.

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