Thursday, February 18, 2016

Friday Thinking 19 February 2016

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. 

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

The global economy is becoming more dependent on common pool resources; and not just on the creative commons of non-copyrighted information. These include the basic infrastructure of the world wide web, the maverick or Black Swan protocols around the virtual currency Bitcoin. Such initiatives are stimulating new thinking on an Internet of Finance, and the inevitable growth of non-institutional bio-science, engineering as well as product design through customer participation.

“The 20th century was about dozens of markets of millions of consumers, The 21st century is about millions of markets of dozens of consumers.”
Democracies are in dire need of an upgrade to deal with social complexity

... Rubin launched Playground Global—not just a new company but, he says, a new kind of company. Part of what makes Playground unusual is the way it’s structured. It has some qualities of an incubator and some qualities of a consulting firm, but it’s neither, really. Playground invests in hardware startups, yes. But instead of just providing funding and advice, Rubin offers them a centralized, all-star engineering department, staffed by seasoned technologists he’s worked with at Google, General Magic, Apple, and elsewhere. This team works side by side with Playground’s startups, building the hardware and software that will power their intelligent machines.

Playground’s ambitions extend far beyond building individual gadgets or even individual companies. Rubin wants Playground to become the factory that creates the standard building blocks—the basic quartermaster’s inventory of components—for the AI-infused future. And he wants to open up this platform of hardware and software tools so that anyone, not just the companies he works with directly, can create an intelligent device. If he’s successful, Playground stands to have the same kind of impact on smart machines that Android had on smartphones, providing the technological infrastructure for thousands of products and giving a generation of entrepreneurs the ability to build a smart drone. Or a house’s worth of intelligent appliances. Or, hell, a full-fledged robot.

The fundamental idea, Rubin says, is to create what he calls an idea amplifier—a system that quickly turns concepts into products with maximum impact.

...he says he is in fact working on a dashcam, which he plans to give away in exchange for its data—potentially allowing Playground to build a real-time visual map of the world.

The future of global security and development will be determined by our cities. Yet we know alarmingly little about what is going on in them. This is especially worrying given the focus of the freshly minted Sustainable Development Goals on making cities more inclusive, safe and resilient.

Cities that purposefully build inclusive public spaces, support predictable transport, invest in hot-spot policing, create meaningful opportunities for young people, and plan carefully to mitigate natural disasters are the most likely to shift from fragility to resilience.
How fragile are our cities?

The military can’t continue to rely on big, monolithic weapons systems that take years to develop. It will never have them in time or in the numbers required to fight advanced adversaries, Walker said.

“We need to mix it up. We need to build war-fighting architectures that are more heterogeneous in nature, hard to target and rely on smaller and cheaper microelectronics technologies," he said.
DARPA’s 130-Foot Crewless Ship to Set Sail in Spring

For centuries, the cost of distance has determined where businesses produce and sell, where employers locate jobs and where families choose to live, work, shop and play. What if this cost fell dramatically, thanks to new technologies? How would the global economy change if manufacturers could produce locally in small batches, without incurring excess cost? Would existing business models and supply chains, for instance, suddenly become uncompetitive? If people could work from anywhere, would crowded neighborhoods start to thin out?

That change already has begun in the world’s advanced economies and is gathering momentum. Over the next two decades, the cost of distance will decline sharply, according to Bain research, altering the way we live and work—faster than most people expect and more broadly than many imagine. This next big economic shift will create an astonishing array of opportunities for businesses and investors—and unexpected risks.

The catalyst for this historic shift is an array of new platform technologies that have pushed the cost of distance to the tipping point. Multibillion-dollar investments in robotics, 3-D printing, delivery drones, logistics technology, autonomous vehicles and low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites are giving rise to new products and services that sharply erode the cost of moving people, goods and information. As these technologies combine and converge, change will accelerate.

Over the next decade, the declining cost of distance will release those age-old constraints, making new combinations of distance, density and scale economically viable.
LEO satellite systems could potentially offer connectivity globally at 14 Gbps per beam as soon as 2020.
Spatial Economics: The Declining Cost of Distance

Here’s a new report - automation and work. A must read for anyone interested in what they’ll be doing in the next decade.
The Future Is Not What It Used to Be
Impact of automation puts up to 85% of jobs in developing countries at risk
In this new report, Oxford Martin School academics; Dr. Carl Benedikt Frey, Associate Professor Michael Osborne and Dr. Craig Holmes expand their theories on the changing nature of innovation and work and the associated implications for the future of employment and society more widely. Based on their methodology that predicted 47 percent of US jobs were at risk from automation, the authors now look at the probabilities of jobs at risk across the world as well as the disparities of job risk between cities.

To protect against jobs being eliminated due to automation, it is important to recognize which characteristics are most likely to be associated with a given job being automated — perception and manipulation, creative intelligence, and social intelligence are the three bottlenecks to automation. Cities and regions that have invested in skilled industries remain relatively safe from automation and technological dynamism will remain the best way to maximize employment and to benefit positively from new technologies. Education is also a very important tool that policymakers will need to leverage in preparation for the effects of accelerated technological change.

Throughout this report, Citi Research analysts drill deeper into specific industries to highlight a number of sectors already feeling the effects of automation as well as areas where technology is helping to create new jobs. The Citi Research Economics team investigates whether traditional measurement tools are failing to capture the productivity and GDP improvements as well as the subsequent inflation effects that come from accelerated technological change. Finally, we look to identify adequate policy responses for the issues highlighted in this report.

Always important to the invention of the future is an eye on security - this is an interesting roundtable looking at this.
The Future of Security: A Roundtable
Software hacks have compromised cars, baby monitors, and IRS tax returns. Can we do better? Join our discussion.
...Backchannel has assembled a panel of security professionals from technology companies and academia for a weeklong virtual roundtable discussion. This week we’re asking them to look up from their daily battles and fix their eyes on the future. What will it take to make the next decade safer than the last?

The executives on our panel live and breathe today’s threats, and have a vested interest in preparing for tomorrow’s. Patrick Heim, Head of Trust and Security at Dropbox, and Joel De La Garza, Chief Security Officer at Box, work to safeguard cloud storage; Google’s Head of Security and Privacy Engineering Gerhard Eschelbeck directs security for everything from cell phones to search; Michael Coates, Trust and Security Officer at Twitter, and Alex Stamos, Chief Security Officer at Facebook, lead efforts to make social networking secure and safe. Sam Quigley, Head of Information Security at Square protects retail payment — a perennial target for fraud attacks. Rounding out the panel are Nicholas Weaver of UC-Berkeley, a top expert on advanced attacks and defenses, and cybersecurity pioneer Rebecca Bace, CEO of Infidel Inc.

...we hope to walk away with a clear vision for the future of online security, based on the failures and occasional successes of the past. Where should resources be spent? Are there fundamental assumptions that are simply wrong? When we’re done we’ll have a framework for reversing an ominous trend in technology — one that last year became literally a matter of life and death.

To begin the discussion, and to get our bearings, I’ve asked our panelists this two-part question: What are society’s more urgent technological vulnerabilities today? And what will they be 10 years from now?

No discussion about the future of security is possible without including the concept and reality of drones - of all shapes and sizes - not just for their capabilities - but for their implications on the future of work and the application of presences and force.
DARPA’s 130-Foot Crewless Ship to Set Sail in Spring
The Defense Department’s agency devoted to cutting-edge technologies, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has big plans for 2017, including the launch of a Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel which will be the largest unmanned autonomous surface vehicle ever built at 130-feet long that will begin sailing the seas this year.
The Obama administration requested $2.973 billion for DARPA for fiscal year 2017, the same amount in its 2016 request, and $105 more than what was appropriated, said DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar. That amounts to only 2 percent of federal R&D expenditures, but the organization has had a large impact, she added.
“We are an organization that has been designed from the beginning to take risk and manage risk in pursuit of off-scale impact,” she said.
The funding will go toward three major strategic areas: rethinking complex military systems; mastering the information explosion; and developing the seeds of new technological surprise, she told reporters Feb. 10 during a briefing at DARPA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Some may think that open source project are second rate to proprietary solutions and applications - asserting the myth of the tragedy of the commons. Here’s a good article and examples of why open source is more robust.
Common resources are best managed by the people who most benefit from them
In last year’s November sales, the Chinese technology platform Alibaba handled peak traffic of 80,000 orders per second. This is an incredible feat, matched, if not exceeded, by another occasion when a denial of service attack rained over 450 Gigabytes per second of traffic on its site; Alibaba repelled it. Not surprisingly a company with these capabilities is one of the richest in the world.

The stark fact is though, that the Alibaba platform is mostly made up of open source components or what can be better referred to as common pool resources. For those who don’t follow open source innovation, it is worth clarifying two points. First, open source is created outside the enterprise by a nominally open and self-regulated community of developers. Second, there is nothing unusual about a large enterprise relying on these open communities for their computing software. Open source now drives most of the basic innovation in IT, even in hardware.

In the broader endeavour to innovate more quickly we have also seen ‘open’ initiatives in design and engineering. And we have seen attempts to create open access publishing for science as well as open biology through citizen laboratories.

One of the greatest common-pool resources (or at least it should be) is scientific knowledge. This is another interesting ‘moment’ in the struggle to determine how to provide open-access to all science publications.
Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge
Welcome to the Pirate Bay of science.
A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles - almost every single peer-reviewed paper ever published - freely available online. And she's now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world's biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren't already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it's sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn't afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it's since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court - a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.'s not just the poor who don't have access to scientific papers - journal subscriptions have become so expensive that leading universities such as Harvard and Cornell have admitted they can no longer afford them. Researchers have also taken a stand - with 15,000 scientists vowing to boycott publisher Elsevier in part for its excessive paywall fees.

That's where Sci-Hub comes into the picture. The site works in two stages. First of all when you search for a paper, Sci-Hub tries to immediately download it from fellow pirate database LibGen. If that doesn't work, Sci-Hub is able to bypass journal paywalls thanks to a range of access keys that have been donated by anonymous academics (thank you, science spies).

This means that Sci-Hub can instantly access any paper published by the big guys, including JSTOR, Springer, Sage, and Elsevier, and deliver it to you for free within seconds. The site then automatically sends a copy of that paper to LibGen, to help share the love.  

This is an important consideration in thinking about the future of our cities.
How fragile are our cities?
The world is urbanizing at a breakneck pace. But not all regions are moving at the same speed. Most population growth today and tomorrow will occur in the sprawling cities and slums of Africa and Asia. Just three countries — China, India and Nigeria — will account for 40% of global growth over the next decade. Meanwhile, many cities in North America and Western Europe are actually shrinking.

The pace of this urban revolution is mesmerizing. Just 3% of the world’s population lived in cities in the early 1800s, compared to over 50% today. Yet future urbanization will take place not only in megacities, but in small and medium-sized cities of the Global South. There are tremendous opportunities in these fast-growing settings, but also unsettling risks. Some cities are especially susceptible to insecurity.

All cities are fragile. The intensity of their fragility, however, varies considerably across time and space. Some cities – Aleppo, Caracas, Kabul, or Mogadishu – are affected by acute fragility and are close to collapse. Others – Abuja, Baltimore, Dhaka, and San Salvador – are also at risk, albeit to a lesser degree. Even cities like Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo are not immune.

Fragility occurs when city authorities are unable or unwilling to deliver basic services to citizens. It is triggered by a rupture of a city's social contract. So what tips cities over? The intensity of fragility is conditioned by an accumulation of risks. And some risks - the pace of urbanization, income and social inequality, youth unemployment, homicidal and criminal violence, poor access to key services, and exposure to climate threats - are more serious than others.

And another way to help cities be ‘anti-fragile’.
4 ways smart cities will make our lives better
As demonstrated in a new report, the rapid and pervasive development of digital technologies, along with an understanding of circular economy principles, will drastically change life for the average urban citizen much sooner than we think.

The circular economy is a concept by which materials and products are kept at their highest possible value at all times. Finite materials are not thrown into landfills and valuable assets from cars and office space to spare rooms and sporting equipment are not left idle. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) will help this to become a reality. Sensors and smart phones will be able to track materials and assets, letting people know when they are not being used, about to break, or where they are. This will unlock huge amounts of spare capacity in the system, creating new business models that will drastically change the way the city functions. The digital circular city would not only save resources but would change the citizen’s experience for the better.

What would life in the connected city look like?

The struggle between old business models colonizing new technology is dynamic and ongoing. Here is one landmark battle in the war for the future of digital infrastructure.
India’s Blow Against Facebook Sets Up a Grand Experiment in Net Neutrality
Regulators in India have struck down Facebook’s scheme that makes it free to access only some parts of the Internet
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to get more people in poor countries online is a danger to the principles that have made the Internet so successful.

So says the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or TRAI. On Monday it banned (PDF) the “Free Basics” scheme in which Facebook and mobile networks let people access certain online service—including Facebook and Wikipedia—without incurring the usual data charges.

Facebook had already been forced to rename and redesign its program after a wave of protests in India and other countries claiming that it breached the principle of net neutrality, the idea that Internet service providers must not favor particular types of data or service over others. The ruling from India’s regulator affirms the core of those complaints. Making data for certain services free is anticompetitive and gives companies undue control over the information and services poor people can access, it says:
“Allowing price differentiation based on the type of content being accessed on the internet, would militate against the very basis on which the internet has developed and transformed the way we connect with one another.”

The regulator did offer a clear path for Facebook to continue its campaign to get more people online, however. Providing free access to the entire Internet rather than just some parts of it is fine by the TRAI. Facebook released a statement today pledging to “continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the Internet and the opportunities it brings.”

This is about a 20 min read on neural networks and Canadian expert Geoffrey Hinton. This is also a great discussion of just how hard good search is.
Internet To Neural Net
Hinton, a sinewy, dry-witted Englishman by way of Canada, is standing at a white board in Mountain View, California, on the campus of Google, the company he joined in 2013 as a Distinguished Researcher. Hinton is perhaps the world’s premier expert on neural network systems, an artificial intelligence technique that he helped pioneer in the mid 1980s. (He once remarked he’s been thinking about neural nets since he was sixteen.) For much of the period since then, neural nets — which roughly simulate the way the human brain does its learning— have been described as a promising means for computers to master difficult things like vision and natural language. After years of waiting for this revolution to arrive, people began to wonder whether the promises would ever be kept.

But about ten years ago, in Hinton’s lab at the University of Toronto, he and some other researchers made a breakthrough that suddenly made neural nets the hottest thing in AI. Not only Google but other companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and IBM began frantically pursuing the relatively minuscule number of computer scientists versed in the black art of organizing several layers of artificial neurons so that the entire system could be trained, or even train itself, to divine coherence from random inputs, much in a way that a newborn learns to organize the data pouring into his or her virgin senses. With this newly effective process, dubbed Deep Learning, some of the long-standing logjams of computation (like being able to see, hear, and be unbeatable at Breakout) would finally be untangled. The age of intelligent computers systems — long awaited and long feared — would suddenly be breathing down our necks. And Google search would work a whole lot better.

This breakthrough will be crucial in Google Search’s next big step: understanding the real world to make a huge leap in accurately giving users the answers to their questions as well as spontaneously surfacing information to satisfy their needs. To keep search vital, Google must get even smarter.

Speaking of neural networks and the recent announcement by Intel about the death of Moore’s Law.
MIT Shows Off Power Efficient Chip Designed for Artificial Intelligence
The team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a new chip designed specifically to implement neural networks.

It is 10 times as efficient as a mobile GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) so it could enable mobile devices to run powerful AI algorithms locally rather than uploading data to the Internet for processing.

The GPU is a specialized circuit designed to accelerate the image output in a frame buffer intended for output to a display.

Modern smartphones are equipped with advanced embedded chip-sets that can do many different tasks depending on their programming.

GPUs are an essential part of those chip-sets and as mobile games are pushing the boundaries of their capabilities, the GPU performance is becoming increasingly important.

Here’s a potential solution to a significant problems related to persistent data storage.
Tiny 5D data storage disc can store 360TB of data and last for billion of years
Researchers develop a new optical data storage than can write 360TB on to a Quartz Disk
This invention could be a breakthrough in data storage solutions. Researchers from Southampton University in United Kingdom have developed a new digital data storage technique that uses laser light to store 360 terabytes of information on nanostructured quartz for up to 14 billion years.

Using nanostructured glass, scientists from the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) have developed the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

The researchers used femtosecond laser pulses to write data in the 3D structure of quartz at the nanoscale. The pulses create three layers of nanostructured dots, each just five microns above the other. The changes in the structure can be read by interrogating the sample with another pulse of light and recording its polarisation —the orientation of the waves—after it’s passed through.

Accelerating change and change in the conditions of change - it’s hard to imagine what coming. We don’t know what will happen nor even what can happen.
Surfing Astronomy’s Gravitational Waves & ‘Data Tsunami’ with the Bitcoin Blockchain
With the advance of new technology and the perfection of research instruments, colossal scientific discoveries in astronomy, quantum mechanics, and other fields are occurring at an increasing rate. ”Astronomy, like many other scientific disciplines, is facing a data tsunami that necessitates changes to the means and methodologies used for scientific research,” say Yanxia Zhang and Yonheng Zhao. Coincidentally, the good news is that Bitcoin’s blockchain-based technology is here to help.

Google Glass is not dead - nor is it undead - it is part of Google’s eternal search in a ‘beta’ world - where success is built on failing fast, failing early and paying attention.
Google Is Reportedly Building A Standalone VR Headset Not Powered By A PC Or Smartphone
Google may be preparing a consumer virtual reality headset for a release as early as this year that defies existing categorizations and doesn’t rely on a PC or mobile phone as the central brain, the WSJ reports.

Rumors have been bubbling up on the company’s VR hardware ambitions over the last few weeks. The Financial Times reported a few days ago that Google would be releasing a mobile-based Samsung Gear VR competitor in the near-future, possibly at Google I/O in May.

The WSJ report today suggests that Google will be building this untethered headset utilizing “high-powered” chips from Movidius that will power the device and its associated head-tracking technology made possible by external cameras.

Interestingly, Movidius just announced a partnership a couple of weeks ago involving its Myriad 2 processing platform, detailing that the company was working with Google “to bring machine intelligence to devices.”

I’m thinking that as soon as we have bacterial programmable sensor to help us see-sense the world we’ll have developed similar algorithms to make trajectory and orientation predictions.
New computer vision algorithm predicts orientation of objects
Seen from any angle, a horse looks like a horse. But it doesn't look the same from every angle. Scientists at Disney Research have developed a method to help computer vision systems avoid the confusion associated with changes in perspective, such as the marked difference in a horse's appearance from the side and from the front.

Alina Kuznetsova and fellow Disney researchers devised a system that is able to estimate the pose of an object, based in part on similarities in how different types of objects appear from the same angle. The machine learning method proved so effective that the researchers demonstrated, for the first time, that the method could predict the pose even of an object it had never seen before.

"Sometimes orientation is really important to know," said Leonid Sigal, a senior research scientist at Disney Research. "A self-driving car, for instance, would be better able to negotiate traffic safely if it can anticipate the directions that other cars and buses on the road appear to be headed."

Moreover, the method he and his colleagues developed not only can predict the orientation or pose of an object, it can also use its knowledge of pose to help identify an object, making it useful for a wide variety of computer vision applications.

Renewable sources of energy and new forms of distributed investment and ownership are part of the paradigm shift in energy geo-politics.
Solar farming and solar collectives: Will the future of energy lie within communities?
At first blush, residential solar seems like such an elegant solution to our energy needs: we have plenty of sunlight, after all. But like any major home upgrade, solar panels are a huge investment—a several-thousand-dollar premium that can’t be easily transferred to another home in case of a move, and can’t be leveraged by those who rent. And the truth is, the face of American home ownership is changing. The New York Times reported in 2015 that rentals had grown by a meteoric 770,000 units every year since 2004. Meanwhile, relocation is also on the rise—Atlas Van Lines’s annual survey of American firms showed that in 2014, 49 percent had increased relocations throughout their operations.

Previously, the biggest impediment to residential solar was technology. Conversion efficiency rates on solar cells needed to be advanced so that panels would be worth their average $10,000 price tag. But now, with technological improvements under way, solar power is turning to respond to the shifting needs of residents. Enter renewable energy collectives: community- or utility-owned solar farms that can be joined by individual residents, either by purchasing and installing an panel on-site or by buying into the coop via membership fees—in exchange for reduced rates on energy bills.

This is an interesting failure that may be a very important new material.
Dutch researchers have created flexiramics—flexible ceramics for circuit boards
Flexiramics looks and bends like tissue paper, but it's fireproof and non-conducting.
Modern chemistry can sometimes produce the most unlikely things, including materials familiar to everyone but with totally new—and useful—properties. A recent example of such a material is "flexiramics," which is being developed by Dutch startup Eurekite at the University of Twente.

As the name suggests, flexiramics is a foldable, tissue-like material that is also fireproof and non-conducting, like most other ceramics. As Eurekite commercializes flexiramics and prepares to take it to market, we decided to pay the startup a visit.

After being held for a few seconds over an open flame, flexiramics doesn't even get warm. The researchers have yet to figure out what temperature you'd need to actually burn the material; the heat sources in the university lab can only go up to 1,200 degrees Celsius, which wasn't enough to make the "paper tissue" burn or melt after 24 hours of being there.

"The discovery of flexiramics came as a surprise," Gazquez said. "It happens sometimes that you discover something you're not looking for. I took [the samples] out after an experiment and saw it was a flexible material, so my first reaction was—okay, it didn't work. But soon after I realised it didn't burn."

Eurekite's plan is to use the new material to manufacture a flexible ceramic PCB (printed circuit board) for heavy-duty electronics that would combine the flexibility and light weight of a polymer with the thermal and dielectric (electrically insulating) properties of a ceramic. A 10 by 10 cm piece of the material will cost under €1,

This is a fascinating new discovery about bacteria - talk about dust mote sensors and camera’s.
Bacterial cells are actually the world's smallest 'eyeballs', scientists discover by accident
Ever feel like you're being watched?
In a surprise discovery, scientists have found that bacteria see the world in effectively the same way as humans, with bacterial cells acting as the equivalent of microscopic eyeballs.

British and German researchers made the finding by accident when studying aquatic cyanobacteria, which sometimes form a green film on rocks and pebbles. Scientists already knew the bacteria could perceive the position of a light source and move towards it – a phenomenon called phototaxis – but before now, no one understood how they did it.

"We noticed it accidentally, because we had cells on a surface and we were shining light from one side, in order to watch the movement towards the light," microbiologist Conrad Mullineaux from Queen Mary University of London told Jonathan Webb at BBC News. "We suddenly saw these focused bright spots [inside the cells] and we thought, 'bloody hell!' Immediately, it was pretty obvious what was going on."

What the researchers discovered when studying Synechocystis – a species of cyanobacteria found in freshwater lakes and rivers – is that their cell bodies act like a lens. When light hits the spherical surface of the cell, it refracts into a point on the other side of the cell. This triggers movement by the cell away from the focused internal spot, towards the source of the light, with the cells using tiny tentacle-like structures called pili to pull themselves forwards.

Talking about mini-eyeballs and neural networks - this is an interesting development that can alleviate considerable concern about testing on animals. But it has its own ‘creepiness’ factor - at what point does a biologically grown ‘mini-brain’ become more than a cell culture?
Hopkins scientists develop mini-brains in promising research
"We can literally produce thousands of these brains in one batch," Hartung said. "This is the big advantage that can allow you to test many substances and combinations of drugs."
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are growing tiny replicas of the human brain to help the study of neurological diseases in a trend many hope could lead to better treatments and even cures for some of the most debilitating illnesses.

The Hopkins scientists join a handful of other medical researchers around the country who are culturing so-called "mini-brains" in the lab. It's a relatively new field of scientific inquiry that could revolutionize how new drugs are tested for effectiveness by replacing drug testing on lab animals with testing on human cells. This process could offer more accurate test results and help in the development of new, more effective drugs.

The scientists reprogrammed the genes of human skin cells to make them like embryonic stem cells, which have the capacity to develop into any kind of tissue. These stem cells were then nurtured to become brain cells. The researchers presented their work Friday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, D.C.

When fully grown, the three-dimensional mini-brains measure about 350 micrometers, just visible to the human eye, and look like tiny balls. It takes about eight weeks to grow the brain cells into one of these balls. While the versions aren't exact replicas of brains, they are made of the same neurons and cells found in human brains, feature the same structures and act in the same way.

The mini-brains provide a better testing ground for scientists, said lead researcher Dr. Thomas Hartung, who holds the Bloomberg School's Doerenkamp-Zbinden endowed chair in evidence-based toxicology.

This is fascinating - the speed of evolution? New niches arising for new populations of microbial entities.
Ocean's plastics offer a floating fortress to a mess of microbes
The plastisphere is potentially causing changes in ocean environments
Oceanfront property doesn’t come cheap. Except, perhaps, for some seafaring microbes.

Steady streams of tiny plastic pieces making their way into the ocean give microbial squatters a place to take up residence. Each plastic home comes equipped with a solid surface to live on in an otherwise watery world. These floating synthetic dwellings and their microbial inhabitants have a name: the plastisphere.

Microbes of the plastisphere live in waters from Australia to Europe. They differ by location, are as varied as the plastic they live on and can be a tasty food option for other creatures. What impact — good or bad — the microbe-covered plastic has on the oceans is still in question. Early hints suggest that there may be climate effects and unexpected movement of harmful microbes or other creatures to new destinations. Each study sparks new ideas and new theories.

In 2013, Mincer and colleagues found an ensemble of microbes thriving on microplastics collected from the North Atlantic Ocean. Some of the microbes made food from sunlight, some ate microbes and some lived on top of other microbes. The colonies grew on two abundant plastics — polypropylene and polyethylene — and were different from microbe populations in the surrounding seawater, the researchers reported in Environmental Science & Technology.

Polypropylene, which is often used in packaging, hosted 799 distinct microbe species that weren’t found on polyethylene or in the water. Likewise, 413 species were unique to polyethylene, the most common plastic produced worldwide. Seawater samples yielded 1,789 different microbes. Just 53 species populated both the water and the two types of plastic.  

These numbers suggest that some microbes living on ocean plastic might not be found in the seawater otherwise. Or they may be present, but in amounts too low to detect. Another possibility is that the microbes hitchhiked on plastic from a different part of the ocean.

This is a very interesting article on the science of faith - that is research into the work of placebos and placebo-like alternatives - placebo-controlled dose reduction. This is worth the read.
You can train your body into thinking it’s had medicine
Jo Marchant asks if we can harness the mind to reduce side-effects and slash drug costs.
In 1975, a psychologist in New York was studying taste aversion in a group of rats and got an utterly mystifying result.

Robert Ader, working at the University of Rochester, gave his animals saccharin solution to drink. Rats usually love the sweet taste but for this experiment, Ader paired the drink with injections of Cytoxan, which made them feel sick. When he later gave the animals the sweetened water on its own they refused to drink it, just as he expected. So to find out how long the learned aversion would last, he force-fed this harmless drink to them using an eyedropper. But the rats didn’t forget. Instead, one by one, they died.

Though Cytoxan is toxic, Ader’s rats hadn’t received anything close to a fatal dose. Instead, after a series of other experiments, Ader concluded that when the animals received saccharin and the drug together, they hadn’t just associated the sweet taste with feeling sick, they’d also learned the immunosuppression. Eventually, they’d responded to the sweetened water just as they had to the drug. Even though the second phase of the experiment involved no drug at all, the doses of water Ader fed them suppressed their immune systems so dramatically that they succumbed to fatal infections. In other words, their bodies were reacting to something that wasn’t really there, just because the circumstances made them expect it.

This is a vital question - should science knowledge be ‘owned’ and who should own it.
Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge
Welcome to the Pirate Bay of science.
A researcher in Russia has made more than 48 million journal articles - almost every single peer-reviewed paper ever published - freely available online. And she's now refusing to shut the site down, despite a court injunction and a lawsuit from Elsevier, one of the world's biggest publishers.

For those of you who aren't already using it, the site in question is Sci-Hub, and it's sort of like a Pirate Bay of the science world. It was established in 2011 by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who was frustrated that she couldn't afford to access the articles needed for her research, and it's since gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of papers being downloaded daily. But at the end of last year, the site was ordered to be taken down by a New York district court - a ruling that Elbakyan has decided to fight, triggering a debate over who really owns science.

For Fun
Here something for all chocolate lovers …. that means pretty much everybody.
Taste chocolate like a pro with this seven-step process

This is a lovely 4 min video - that shows us, some of the leaps that have been made in the last 50-60 years. worth the watch. There’s a flash of my first computer - the 8K PET.
Evolution Of Tech
With the passing of time has come the advancement of technology. There was a time when the most primitive tech available today was unimaginable and declared ludicrous. Today, we have technology that far exceeds what even the most vivid imaginations of yesteryear could think of.

Time to reminisce on the last century of innovation, invention and dreams coming true; the evolution of technology.

No comments:

Post a Comment