Thursday, May 19, 2016

Friday Thinking 20 May 2016

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.

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

Cognition in the Wild
On Iceland’s Crowdsourced Constitution
The Tao of “The DAO” or: How the autonomous corporation is already here
DAO Ethereum Crowdsale Shoots Past $100 Million Before Price Hike
Yanis Varoufakis Basic Income is a Necessity
German publishers owe writers €100M in misappropriated royalties
Opinion: Reimagining the Paper
Groundbreaking gadget claims to fit in your ear and translate foreign languages in real-time
To Make Fresh Water without Warming the Planet, Countries Eye Solar Power
Big Oil Companies Have Already Become Dinosaurs
Nanoscale Defenses
Youth Win Climate Case Against Massachusetts in State's High Court
Google just open sourced something called ‘Parsey McParseface,’ and it could change AI forever
Announcing SyntaxNet: The World’s Most Accurate Parser Goes Open Source
Artificially Intelligent Lawyer “Ross” Has Been Hired By Its First Official Law Firm
IBM's Watson Enrolls In Cybersecurity School
Google supercharges machine learning tasks with TPU custom chip
MIT's tiny robot operates on your stomach from the inside
The Epigenetic Insights of RNA-Seq
Can artificial intelligence create the next wonder material?
Introducing the Atlas of Emotions, our new project with the Dalai Lama and Paul & Eve Ekman
NASA will test distributed electric engines on a two person plane in 2017
We rode in the self-driving cab that will hit Singapore streets in 2019
Vapourwave: A Brief History

Artificial Intelligence is starting to turn invisible from the outside in — and vice versa. The exact effects and workings of AI technologies are becoming more challenging to perceive and comprehend for humans. Even the experts themselves don’t always fully understand how an AI system operates.

In the near future, artificial intelligence will commonly become intangible, indistinguishable and incomprehensible for humans.
The next AI is no AI

A team of Australian physicists have created a new research assistant to run experiments in quantum mechanics in the form of an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, which promptly took control of the experiment, learned on the job, and even innovated.

“I didn’t expect the machine could learn to do the experiment itself, from scratch, in under an hour,” said co-lead researcher Paul Wigley from the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Physics and Engineering in a statement.

“Next we plan to employ the artificial intelligence to build an even larger Bose-Einstein condensate faster than we’ve ever seen before,”..
Trapping atoms between laser beams: AI runs Nobel Prize physics experiment

I’ve just begun reading this book - and already feel this is a MUST READ. It’s a vital contribution toward the development of a 21st century narrative of a 'social-self' to disrupt-displace the pathologically wrong concept of 'isolated, atomistic, rational self'. But this book is also another vital contribution to anyone interested in Knowledge Management, Knowledge Mobilization, the ‘social life of information’ and understanding the cognitive impact of organizational architectures. Interesting question arising from this study involve the nature of the change in conditions of change represented by the emerging digital environment’s new ‘attractor-of-efficiency’ and the implications of socially distributed cognition for social computing - collective intelligence.
This is a link to the introduction. 
Cognition in the Wild 
...the ideational definition of culture prevents us seeing that systems of socially distributed cognition may have interesting cognitive properties of their own. In the history of anthropology, there is scarcely a more important concept than the division of labor. In terms of the energy budget of a human group and the efficiency with which a group exploits its physical environment, social organizational factors often produce group properties that differ considerably from the properties of individuals. Clearly, the same sorts of phenomena occur in the cognitive domain. Depending on their organization, groups must have cognitive properties that are not predictable from a knowledge of the properties of the individuals in the group. The emphasis on finding and describing "knowledge structures" that are somewhere "inside" the individual encourages us to overlook the fact that human cognition is always situated in a complex sociocultural world and cannot be unaffected by it.

...The relationship between cognition seen as a solitary mental activity and cognition seen as an activity undertaken in social settings using various kinds of tools is not at all clear.

This book is about softening some boundaries that have been made rigid by previous approaches. It is about locating cognitive activity in context, where context is not a fixed set of surrounding conditions but a wider dynamical process of which the cognition of an individual is only a part. The boundaries to be softened or dissolved have been erected, primarily for analytic convenience, in social space, in physical space, and in time. Just as the construction of these boundaries was driven by a particular theoretical perspective, their dissolution or softening is driven by a different perspective - one that arose of necessity when cognition was confronted in the wild.

The phrase "cognition in the wild" refers to human cognition in its natural habitat - that is, to naturally occurring culturally constituted human activity. I do not intend "cognition in the wild" to be read as similar to Levi-Strauss's "pensee sauvage," nor do I intend it to contrast with Jack Goody's (1977) notion of domesticated mind. Instead, I have in mind the distinction between the laboratory, where cognition is studied in captivity, and the everyday world, where human cognition adapts to its natural surroundings. I hope to evoke with this metaphor a sense of an ecology of thinking in which human cognition interacts with an environment rich in organizing resources.

….My aim is to provide better answers to questions like these: What do people use their cognitive abilities for? What kinds of tasks do they confront in the everyday world? Where shall we look for explanations of human cognitive accomplishment?

... In this book, I emphasize practice not in order to support a utilitarian or functionalist perspective but because it is in real practice that culture is produced and reproduced. In practice we see the connection between history and the future and between cultural structure and social structure. One of my goals in writing this book is to make clear that the findings of pure research on cognition in the wild should change our ideas about the nature of human cognition in general. This is not news to anthropologists, who have been doing pure research in the form of ethnography for decades.

This book is an attempt to put cognition back into the social and cultural world. In doing this I hope to show that human cognition is not just influenced by culture and society, but that it is in a very fundamental sense a cultural and social process. To do this I will move the boundaries of the cognitive unit of analysis out beyond the skin of the individual person and treat the navigation team as a cognitive and computational system.

Here’s something that should inspire Canadians thinking about the reform of our electoral process.

On Iceland’s Crowdsourced Constitution

In the history of constitutions across the world, America has had a unique place: Ours was the first constitution ratified by the people in convention. But Iceland has now done something much more significant: For the first time in the history of the world, and using a technology only possible in the 21st century, the people of a nation have crafted their own constitution through an open and inclusive crowd-sourcing process. Yet astonishingly, that constitution remains unenforced.

As everyone in [Iceland] knows, after the financial disasters of 2008, the citizens of Iceland began a process to claim back their own sovereignty. Building on the values identified by 1,000 randomly selected citizens, Icelanders launched a process to crowdsource a new constitution. That initiative was then ratified when the Parliament established a procedure for selecting delegates to a drafting commission. More than 500 citizens ran to serve on that 25 person commission. Over four months, the commissioners met to draft a constitution, with their work made available for public comment throughout the process. More than 3600 comments were offered by the public, leading to scores of modifications. The final draft, adopted unanimously, was then sent to the parliament and to the people. More than 2/3ds of voters endorsed the document in a non-binding referendum as the basis of a new constitution. 

Never in the history of constitutionalism has anything like this ever been done. If democracy is rule by the people — if the sovereignty of a democratic nation is ultimately the people — then this process and the constitution it produced is as authentic and binding as any in the world. Yet the parliament of Iceland has refused to allow this constitution to go into effect. And the question that anyone in the movements for democracy across the world must ask is just this: By what right?

The advent of the blockchain technology is promising some very significant disruption of the world of banking, finance and currency - but also of any institution concerned with the safeguarding of records. It also promises a new architecture for creating organizations.

The Tao of “The DAO” or: How the autonomous corporation is already here

A new paradigm of economic cooperation is underway — a digital democratization of business.

Over the past couple of weeks a project with no mainstream press has become the second biggest crowdfunding project in history. It’s not crowdfunding a product, an artwork or a new cryptocurrency. It’s crowdfunding — or more accurately, crowd-founding — a corporation called “The DAO.” This is a corporation whose bylaws are written entirely in code.

But not quite. Wikipedia defines a corporation as “a company or group of people authorized to act as a single entity (legally a person) and recognized as such in law.” While The DAO is a group of people authorized to act as a single economic entity, no governmental body recognizes it as such.

Rather, it’s given its authority purely through code. The DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization. It, as of the time of writing, controls more than $100 million in assets, and yet it exists entirely on the Ethereum blockchain.

Here’s another article on the state of effort in the Etherium frontier.

DAO Ethereum Crowdsale Shoots Past $100 Million Before Price Hike

With over 10 million ETH, the DAO now holds one in eight of all Ethereum coins, worth over $100 million.
As we speculated might happen last week, all the Ethereum investors that were sitting on the fence jumped in to the DAO crowd funding drive just ahead of its planned price change today. With over 10.3 million ETH the DAO now holds one in eight of all Ethereum coins in circulation, each worth about $10, for a total of about $105 million.

The new world of online trading, fintech and marketing – register now for the Finance Magnates Tel Aviv Conference, June 29th 2016.

With 13 days left to go, the DAO has already fulfilled the expected $100 million worth of cryptocurrency raised. However, the rate of investing is expected to slow down as the price of its tokens is about to change in just over an hour from now (currently 1 ETH is worth 100 DAO tokens).

This is a pretty good 32 min video by Yanis Varoufakis about why a Basic Income is an necessity. This is part of the need to re-imagine everything including our narratives of our wealth creation as privately enacted and appropriated by collective social means while the reality is that wealth is collectively-socially created and appropriated by private means. The future of work as wealth creation is less through traditional means of jobs-employment. He’s got some great answers about the needs of a future education system as well.

Yanis Varoufakis Basic Income is a Necessity

Technical change turns Basic Income into a necessity
Future of Work – 04.05.2016, Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute.

The media continues to be filled with issues of copyrights - and large media companies and publishers want us to believe they are champions of the creators of copyrighted works. This is a revelation - much like the Panama Papers of the real state of affairs.

German publishers owe writers €100M in misappropriated royalties

In Germany, media that can make or store copies (drives, copiers, blank optical discs) is subject to a "private copying levy" that is meant to compensate rightsholders for the works that will be copied to it (in return, the levy confers a limited right to make those copies to the purchaser).

The society that collects and distributes this money, Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort, has been remitting 30-50% of the royalty to publishers. Now, Germany's Supreme Court, the Bundesgerichtshof, has ruled that this was unlawful, and affirmed that the law requires 100% of the levy to be given to authors alone.

German publishers are claiming that this is their death-knell, without acknowledging the hardship they imposed on authors by misappropriating their funds. As Stefan Niggemeier points out, if publishers can't survive without these funds, that means the industry was only viable in the first place because it was stealing from writers.

Considering the world of scientific publication - this is a welcomed think piece about the need to reimagine how we publish science papers and results.

Opinion: Reimagining the Paper

Breaking down lengthy, narrative-driven biomedical articles into brief reports on singular observations or experiments could increase reproducibility and accessibility in the literature
The scientific journal article—or “paper”—is 351 years old. Papers have had an incalculable impact on science, increasing collective engagement and the rate of knowledge dissemination.

In 1665, the Royal Society commissioned its secretary, Henry Oldenburg, to publish and edit the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society—arguably the first peer-reviewed scientific journal. Before then, scientific knowledge was disseminated through two approaches: oral communication or the publication of lengthy, esoteric books.

Journals filled the gap between these two extremes; they were a hybrid medium for scientific communication, offering both the sense of urgency conveyed by oral communication and the public recognition associated with book publication. The restructuring of scientific knowledge into periodical journals also led to the birth of the paper as the foundational unit in reporting new scientific findings.

In its original conception, the paper described a specific observation or experiment. The publication of papers in journals shortened the time between observation and knowledge dissemination, accelerating further discovery and the evolution of scientific concepts and methods. This complemented the peer-review process by limiting the ability of false scientific beliefs from finding early adopters without swift public challenge.

But papers have since become more complex, negating many of these benefits—and even creating new challenges. Shifting the focus of a paper from narration to empiricism would lead to more robust communications and higher data quality.

Here’s something that science fiction has predicted and maybe getting ready for ‘beta’ primetime.

Groundbreaking gadget claims to fit in your ear and translate foreign languages in real-time

Trying to understand someone who doesn't speak your language could be a thing of the past, thanks to this new piece of technology.

Pilot earphones act like much like Babel Fish in 'Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy' - they let two people who speak a different language understand each other.

The gadget will launch to translate between English, French, Spanish and Italian in Autumn of this year.

Pilot will cost $129 (£90) ​and will be available for pre-order on their website.
It works by being connected to two different people, speaking two different languages, and translates what they are saying in your ear.
Here’s the Pilot website

This is a sound signal of the world of water that will becoming available in the next decade or two as solar and other renewable energy capabilities enable zero-marginal cost energy to be available where ever it is needed. Along with energy - new innovations will be inevitable.

To Make Fresh Water without Warming the Planet, Countries Eye Solar Power

Solar-powered desalination is ideal—if only the cost comes down.
At the giant Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park under construction near Dubai, a desalination facility goes into operation this month. Run by an array of solar panels and batteries, the system will produce about 13,200 gallons of drinking water a day for use on site. That’s insignificant compared with desalination plants elsewhere, but it’s a start toward answering a pressing question: can countries stop burning fossil fuels to supply fresh water?

Hundreds of desalination plants are planned or under way worldwide because fresh water is increasingly precious. According to a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute, more than half the world’s population will be at risk of water shortages by 2050 if current trends continue.

In drought-ridden California, a $1 billion plant at Carlsbad, north of San Diego, will produce 54 million gallons of fresh water a day. The giant Sorek plant in Israel can crank out more than 160 million gallons a day (see “Megascale Desalination” and “Desalination Out of Desperation”). But these plants are a devil’s bargain; they use power from plants that, in most cases, emit greenhouse gases, ultimately worsening the problem of drought. Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses around 300,000 barrels of oil every day to desalinate seawater, providing some 60 percent of its fresh water supply. That’s not sustainable. Finding a way to produce fresh water without burning fossil fuels is critical not just for the desert countries of the Middle East but for a growing number of places around the world.

One more signal in the phase transition of geopolitical energy paradigm.
The Chatham House report offers two unappealing options for today’s oil majors: “managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.”

Of course, there is another option: the oil and gas companies could become energy companies, focusing on new technologies, decentralized energy systems, and providing clean energy.

Big Oil Companies Have Already Become Dinosaurs

A new report details how profound shifts in the global energy market have left the oil majors far behind.

It’s been a tough couple of years for Big Oil. Battered by plunging prices, the oil majors have seen their profits sink and their prospects darken. BP lost $3.3 billion in 2015; Shell lost nearly $7.5 billion in the third quarter of 2015 alone, its biggest loss in a decade. Even mighty ExxonMobil saw its profit shrink by half in 2015 from the previous year. The usual oil company response to a period of shrinking profits is to rein in new drilling, cut costs, and wait for prices to rise again. And recent months have seen a modest recovery in oil prices.

But a new report from the influential U.K. think tank Chatham House says the old playbook isn’t going to work this time. The problems go way beyond rock-bottom oil prices, and they are unlikely to vanish in a hoped-for recovery. The oil majors, the report says, “cannot assume that, as in the past, all they need to survive is to wait for crude prices to resume an upward direction. The oil markets are going through fundamental structural changes driven by a technological revolution and geopolitical shifts,” and the business model that has worked for the last quarter-century is broken.

This is a change in the conditions of change where the domestication of DNA meets the domestication of matter.

Nanoscale Defenses

Coating hospital surfaces, surgical equipment, patient implants, and water-delivery systems with nanoscale patterns and particles could curb the rise of hospital-acquired infections.
Picture a hospital room: white walls, stainless steel IV poles and bedrails, scratchy bedsheets. For more than 100 years, this has been the standard hospital environment, and for most of that time, isolating patients in hygienic rooms, instead of en masse in group clinics or sanatoria, has helped curb the spread of infections that once killed nearly half of soldiers on the battlefield and more than a third of newborn infants. But with the recent rise in antibiotic-resistant pathogens, this standard is no longer sustainable. In 2011, the most recent year data are available from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 720,000 patients acquired an infection while being treated in a health care facility; more than 75,000 of those people died.

“Imagine one full jumbo jet crashed each day, killing everyone on board,” says Michael Schmidt, vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). “This is precisely the number of people that die each day in the U.S. from a hospital-associated infection.”

Here’s another potential emerging weak signal - that could hasten the looming phase transition toward a new energy geopolitics - the rise of citizen activism through the courts.

Youth Win Climate Case Against Massachusetts in State's High Court

Ruling requires compliance with Global Warming Solutions Act that calls for statewide emissions be cut by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled on Tuesday that the state must impose comprehensive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, a law passed by the legislature in 2008.

The ruling should usher in significantly broader and stricter statewide controls on all manner of global warming pollution, including most major sources of carbon dioxide.

It is the most impressive victory to date in a campaign orchestrated in part by the advocacy group Our Children's Trust, which has mounted court challenges on climate change on behalf of youth clients in the federal district court in Oregon, and in the state courts of Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, as well as in several other countries.

I assume just about everybody heard about ‘Boaty McBoatface’ - gota-love crowdsourcing humor. This is interesting in both in terms of crowdsourcing and humor but also in terms of advancing AI. Inevitably this will likely provide great tools for qualitative social science research.
One of the main problems that makes parsing so challenging is that human languages show remarkable levels of ambiguity. It is not uncommon for moderate length sentences – say 20 or 30 words in length – to have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of possible syntactic structures. A natural language parser must somehow search through all of these alternatives, and find the most plausible structure given the context.

Google just open sourced something called ‘Parsey McParseface,’ and it could change AI forever

As much as we love to fawn over artificial intelligence (AI), it’s still not great at recognizing and parsing natural language. That’s why Google is open sourcing its new language parsing model for English, which it calls ‘Parsey McParseface.’

Before you even ask, the name has no meaning. When Google was trying to figure out what to call its language parsing technology, someone suggested Parsey McParseface; it’s a bit like Apple’s Liam, which has no clever backstory either. The overall AI model model is called SyntaxNet (please make your SkyNet jokes now); ‘ol Parsey is just for English.

Combining machine learning and search techniques, Parsey McParseface is 94 percent accurate, according to Google. It also leans on SyntaxNet’s neural-network framework for analyzing the linguistic structure of a sentence or statement, which parses the functional role of each word in a sentence.

If you’re confused, here’s the short version: Parsey and SyntaxNet are basically like five year old humans who are learning the nuances of language…...
Here’s the Google Announcement

Announcing SyntaxNet: The World’s Most Accurate Parser Goes Open Source

So Parsey McParseface may be undergoing development at the right time - if anyone is expert at parsing meaning from text - it may just be lawyers.

Artificially Intelligent Lawyer “Ross” Has Been Hired By Its First Official Law Firm

Ross, the world's first artificially intelligent attorney, has its first official law firm. Baker & Hostetler announced that they will be employing Ross for its bankruptcy practice, currently comprised of almost 50 lawyers.

Ross, “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney” built on IBM’s cognitive computer Watson, was designed to read and understand language, postulate hypotheses when asked questions, research, and then generate responses (along with references and citations) to back up its conclusions. Ross also learns from experience, gaining speed and knowledge the more you interact with it.

“You ask your questions in plain English, as you would a colleague, and ROSS then reads through the entire body of law and returns a cited answer and topical readings from legislation, case law and secondary sources to get you up-to-speed quickly,” the website says. “In addition, ROSS monitors the law around the clock to notify you of new court decisions that can affect your case.”

Ross also minimizes the time it takes by narrowing down results from a thousand to only the most highly relevant answers, and presents the answers in a more casual, understandable language. It also keeps up-to-date with developments in the legal system, specifically those that may affect your cases.

Let’s not leave IBM out of the new AI employees becoming available. This article is interesting as indicating the degree of investment being made and the strategic direction/transformation of computational services looming in the very near future. Organizations dealing with knowledge that haven’t invested in cloud, AI, machine learning and other big data related capabilities may be left in the dust.

IBM's Watson Enrolls In Cybersecurity School

Big Blue just sent its famed AI to eight universities to beef up its security skills.
IBM recently announced that Watson, its cognitive computing system, will undergo cybersecurity training at eight universities during a year-long research project starting this fall.

IBM states that students and faculty will participate in research to train Watson in "learning the nuances of security research findings and discovering patterns and evidence of hidden cyber attacks and threats that could otherwise be missed" by security analysts. The company claims that those improvements will help "address the looming cybersecurity skills gap."

This isn't the first time IBM has sent Watson to school. IBM previously sent Watson to hospitals to analyze big databases of personal health data to help doctors, researchers, and insurers make more informed decisions. It also recently partnered with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization which produces Sesame Street, to develop educational platforms and products which "adapt to the learning preferences and aptitude levels of individual preschoolers."

Here’s another development that falls in the file “Yes Moore’s Law is dead - Long live Moore’s Law”.

Google supercharges machine learning tasks with TPU custom chip

Machine learning provides the underlying oomph to many of Google’s most-loved applications. In fact, more than 100 teams are currently using machine learning at Google today, from Street View, to Inbox Smart Reply, to voice search.

….The result is called a Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), a custom ASIC we built specifically for machine learning — and tailored for TensorFlow. We’ve been running TPUs inside our data centers for more than a year, and have found them to deliver an order of magnitude better-optimized performance per watt for machine learning. This is roughly equivalent to fast-forwarding technology about seven years into the future (three generations of Moore’s Law).

This is fascinating - well worth the view for the image and short video.

MIT's tiny robot operates on your stomach from the inside

This microsurgeon is made of pig intestine normally used for sausages.
Imagine this: you accidentally swallowed a battery (!), and to get it out, you need to take a pill that turns into a robot. Researchers from MIT, the University of Sheffield and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a new kind of origami robot that transforms into a microsurgeon inside your stomach. They squished the accordion-like robot made of dried pig intestine inside a pill, which the stomach acid dissolves. A magnet embedded in the middle allows you or a medical practitioner to control the microsurgeon from the outside using another magnet. It also picks up the battery or other objects stuck inside your stomach.

This new design is a follow up to an older origami robot also developed by a team headed by MIT CSAIL director Daniela Rus. It has a completely different design and propels itself by using its corners that can stick to the stomach's surface. The team decided to focus on battery retrieval, because people swallow 3,500 button batteries in the US alone. While they can be digested normally, they sometimes burn people's stomach and esophagus linings. This robot can easily fish them out of one's organs before that happens. Besides origami surgeons, Rus-led teams created a plethora of other cool stuff in the past, including robots that can assemble themselves in the oven.

The world of biology continues to become ever more complex - making more difficult to attribute simple links between gene and conditions. However, the tools for the domestication of DNA continue to advance and the code of life continues to be revealed.
“The rate at which RNA-Seq and sequencing technology has evolved has resulted in no shortage of bioinformatics packages with a dizzying array of clever acronyms,” Dr. Zhou states. “Each package has its strengths and weaknesses. This has resulted in no clear best-in-class tool that solves all end-user needs.”
Nelson agrees with Dr. Zhou, stating that “the key to successful RNA-Seq analysis is having the right tools to facilitate understanding and decision making, and the computational power to drive those tools.”

The Epigenetic Insights of RNA-Seq

The Use of RNA-Seq Has Enormous Applicability toward the Development of Clinical Diagnostics 
DNA→RNA→Protein. This flow of genetic information has been the framework of modern biology since it was first enunciated by Francis Crick in 1958. However, in recent years researchers have begun to assemble a more comprehensive picture surrounding the “central dogma” of molecular biology, leading to the revelation that RNA is not just a simple genetic messenger—a middleman so to speak—but rather a complex signaling molecule that is present in an ever increasing number of structural forms. The various iterations in which RNA exists allow the molecule to act as the template for translating the genetic code into protein, as a gene silencer and post-transcriptional regulator of gene expression, and, as most recently discovered, a modulator of epigenetic elements.

In a search to understand human development better at the molecular level, Conrad H. Waddington, coined the term “epigenetics” in 1942, to describe the influence of genetics on developmental processes. Decades later scientists discovered that environmental factors caused heritable phenotypic changes in fruit flies that did not change the underlying DNA sequence—in essence, a change in phenotype without a change in genotype. 

Epigenetic regulation represents an important driver of diversity within populations of various species and can be influenced by several factors, including age, disease state, and the environment in which a species lives. These various influences can lead to characteristic changes in organisms, such as guiding undifferentiated cells toward their final form. However, epigenetic mechanisms can also go awry and result in damaging effects, leading to the development of disease states like cancer.

And AI also continues to advance progress in material science - accelerating the potential for discovery of new matter-materials.
At least three major materials databases already exist around the world, each encompassing tens or hundreds of thousands of compounds. Marzari's Lausanne-based Materials Cloud project is scheduled to launch later this year. And the wider community is beginning to take notice. “We are now seeing a real convergence of what experimentalists want and what theorists can deliver,” says Neil Alford, a materials scientist who serves as vice-dean for research at Imperial College London, but who has no affiliation with any of the database projects.

Can artificial intelligence create the next wonder material?

Some researchers believe that machine-learning techniques can revolutionize how materials science is done
Instead of continuing to develop new materials the old-fashioned way — stumbling across them by luck, then painstakingly measuring their properties in the laboratory — Marzari and like-minded researchers are using computer modelling and machine-learning techniques to generate libraries of candidate materials by the tens of thousands. Even data from failed experiments can provide useful input1. Many of these candidates are completely hypothetical, but engineers are already beginning to shortlist those that are worth synthesizing and testing for specific applications by searching through their predicted properties — for example, how well they will work as a conductor or an insulator, whether they will act as a magnet, and how much heat and pressure they can withstand.

The hope is that this approach will provide a huge leap in the speed and efficiency of materials discovery, says Gerbrand Ceder, a materials scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneer in this field. “We probably know about 1% of the properties of existing materials,” he says, pointing to the example of lithium iron phosphate: a compound that was first synthesized in the 1930s, but was not recognized as a promising replacement material for current-generation lithium-ion batteries until 1996. “No one had bothered to measure its voltage before,” says Ceder.

This is very interesting to anyone interested in the mysteries of emotional communication - emotional matters.

Introducing the Atlas of Emotions, our new project with the Dalai Lama and Paul & Eve Ekman

In 2014, the Dalai Lama asked his friend, scientist Dr. Paul Ekman, to design him an Atlas of Human Emotion. His Holiness was intrigued by conversations that he and Paul had been having over the years about their different views on the subject of emotion. His Holiness comes, of course, from the Buddhist tradition. Paul’s more Western view comes from over 60 years of having studied emotions all over the world, in places as far-flung as Papua New Guinea and as close to home as UCSF. The Dalai Lama has been learning about scientific understandings of emotions from Paul and his work. For example, the concept of mood is missing from the Tibetan worldview, and he’s expressed delight in this new knowledge several times.

In 2015 Paul and his daughter Dr Eve Ekman, who also studies emotion, reached out to me and asked Stamen to collaborate with them on the design and concept of this Atlas. To say that I’m delighted to be able to share this work, featured today in the New York Times, is the understatement of the year — perhaps of my professional life.

This project attempts to bridge a difficult gap: that between the academic and the personal. We wanted to take scholarly findings about emotions and make them accessible without simplifying them to the level of saccharine self-help tools, of which there are plenty already.
Key Atlas concepts:
  1. Emotions are at the core of what makes us human. From a scientific perspective, they helped us evolve and survive.
  2. Emotions are distinct from one another. They don’t overlap in their nature, but they can coincide in time.
  3. Each Emotion has several States, which vary in intensity. These are very specific: you can’t be only slightly Furious, for example. But you can be mildly Annoyed as well as highly Annoyed. So the State of Fury is narrow and steep, and the State of Annoyance, which extends from low to high along the scale of intensity, is very broad at the base.
  4. Within each Emotion, each Emotional State has Actions associated with it, which result from experiencing these States. Some Emotions, like Anger, have a large number of potential Actions associated with them. Disgust, on the other hand, has very few.
  5. Each Emotional State is caused by a Trigger, an involuntary reaction to an event or a thought.
  6. Each Emotion is associated with a particular Mood, which causes events or thoughts to be more easily associated with that Emotion. So an Irritable Mood causes a person to interpret events or thoughts more Angrily.
  7. A clearer understanding of one’s Emotions can contribute to the feeling of a Calm State, which is a state of mind that is actively engaged in using intelligence and wisdom to evaluate the changing world.
The Atlas is found here


The advent of viable electric transportation opens many innovative re-imaginings - this is an interesting test that should be tracked - smaller, less expensive, more efficient aircraft for a network approach to inter-city transportation.

NASA will test distributed electric engines on a two person plane in 2017

NASA's project Sceptor (Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology and Operations Research) is a test aircraft, to be built to study the use of distributed electric propulsion (DEP). It involves replacing the wings on a a twin-engined Italian-built Tecnam P2006T (a conventional four-seater light aircraft) with DEP wings each containing electrically driven propellers.

Distributed electric propulsion (DEP) involves increasing the number and decreasing the size of airplane engines. Electric motors are substantially smaller and lighter than jet engines of equivalent power. This allows them to be placed in different, more favorable locations. In this case, the engines are to be mounted above and distributed along the wings rather than suspended below them.

Singapore has aspirations to be more than a smart city - it will be a smart-nation - here’s a glimpse of the emerging paradigm of mass transit. There’s some cool gif’s of the test to see.

We rode in the self-driving cab that will hit Singapore streets in 2019

It's clumsy, but it's safe.
NuTonomy, an autonomous tech spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has plans to deploy "thousands" of fully self-driving taxis all over Singapore by 2019, according to company COO Doug Parker.

Already, the company has started to test its vehicle in a one-block radius in Singapore's business district, called 1 North. With the blessing of the government, nuTonomy and other autonomous tech companies will be able to expand to a nearly four-mile radius as early as this summer.

But there's still a lot of work to be done. For one, Parker told Recode during a demo in Singapore, the team is working on making the trip more comfortable for riders. During a brief test drive of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV outfitted with nuTonomy software, there were indeed a number of abrupt stops and some clumsy maneuvering.

Clumsy as it may have been, the car — which is still very much in the research and development phase — was navigating a more complex environment than other autonomous car companies typically test in. Many carmakers, in fact, have yet to even begin testing autonomous vehicles around pedestrians.

For Fun
For all science fiction fans here’s an analysis of a tribal aspect of the genre. One thing I have to note - to my dismay in this classification - is the absence of cyberpunk and perhaps biopunk.


Calling sci-fi a genre in 2016 is about as accurate as calling the United States one nation. In principle it’s true, but in practice things don’t work that way. While crime, romance and thrillers all remain as coherent genres of fiction, it’s been decades since sci-fi could be comfortably understood by any shared generic criteria. What do Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Seas trilogy, the fiction of Silva Moreno Garcia and the erotic sci-fi of Chuck Tingle actually have in common, beyond being nominated for major sci-fi book awards this year?

The answer is they all belong to one of the eight tribes of sci-fi. Call them communities, call them cultures, but don’t call them genres. These eight groupings of sci-fi writers and their fans cut across the commercial marketing categories defined by publishers, and are unified instead by shared values and interests. After talking about bookish tribes in my Guardian column recently, I thought it would be fun to pin down the tribes within sci-fi. As with any typology, overlaps and exceptions exist, but as a professional book reviewer trying to understand the complex landscape of sci-fi writing today, this is the territory I have charted.

This is a 23 min documentary on an emerging recent musical art form(s). This is of interest to anyone who thinks art has something to say about changes in social experience arising in the digital environment. The first true ‘post-music genre’.

Vapourwave: A Brief History

A brief look at the history of Vapourwave.
- Music (In order of appearance):
Diskette Romances - Fentanyl Flowers
Kenny G - Songbird
Chuck Person - A1
James Ferraro - Palm Trees, Wi-Fi and Dream Sushi

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