Thursday, August 25, 2016

Friday Thinking 26 Aug 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.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

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

Edgar Morin - On Complexity. p.55

YouTuber Asks ‘How Many Things Are There?’

The EPC, the European Payments Council, has published the results of a poll held during this Summer amongst its members in the payments industry about blockchain and its impact by 2025.
Being an important representative body of the industry these results should be taken seriously
  • According to the EPC a great majority of the survey respondents, that means 90%, expect that blockchain technology may alter the payments industry in one way or another.
  • More than a third - 36% - said that they expect this technology will impact some niche areas of activities, especially those where blockchain is adopted for specific purposes.
  • Another 30% expect that blockchain technology will be adopted to an extent that it may help to create new customer payment solutions.
  • According to almost a quarter - 24% - of the respondents blockchain will have "a more comprehensive transformation effect". That may cause a complete shift in the payment infrastructure and "may create a paradigm shift" in the industry.
  • Just a minor 10% think that blockchain technology would have no significant impact in the payments industry.

The EPC and blockchain: poll results

As soon as an individual takes an action, whatever that action may be, it begins to escape from their intentions. The action enters into the universe of interactions and in the end, it is the environment that seizes it in the sense that it can become the opposite of the initial intention. Often the action will fly back at our heads like a boomerang. This obliges us to follow the action, to attempt to correct it - if there is still time - and sometimes to torpedo it like NASA engineers who, if a missile leaves its trajectory, send another missile to blow it up.

Edgar Morin - On Complexity. p.55

We propose a kind of Extended Intelligence (EI), understanding intelligence as a fundamentally distributed phenomenon. As we develop increasingly powerful tools to process information and network that processing, aren’t we just adding new pieces to the EI that every actor in the network is a part of?

Joichi Ito - MIT - Extended Intelligence

The domestication of DNA - advances again - although not quite completed - this is definitely a landmark …. Milestone… Threshold?

Biologists are close to reinventing the genetic code of life

The term "life hacking" usually refers to clever tweaks that make your life more productive. But this week in Science, a team of scientists comes a step closer to the literal meaning: hacking the machinery of life itself. They have designed—though not completely assembled—a synthetic Escherichia coli genome that could use a protein-coding scheme different from the one employed by all known life. Requiring a staggering 62,000 DNA changes, the finished genome would be the most complicated genetic engineering feat so far. E. coli running this rewritten genome could become a new workhorse for laboratory experiments and a factory for new industrial chemicals, its creators predict.

Such a large-scale genomic hack once seemed impossible, but no longer, says Peter Carr, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington who is not involved with the project. "It's not easy, but we can engineer life at profound scales, even something as fundamental as the genetic code."

The genome hacking is underway in the lab of George Church at Harvard University, the DNA-sequencing pioneer who has become the most high-profile, and at times controversial, name in synthetic biology. The work takes advantage of the redundancy of life's genetic code, the language that DNA uses to instruct the cell's protein-synthesizing machinery. To produce proteins, cells "read" DNA's four-letter alphabet in clusters of three called codons. The 64 possible triplets are more than enough to encode the 20 amino acids that exist in nature, as well as the "stop" codons that mark the ends of genes. As a result, the genetic code has multiple codons for the same amino acid: the codons CCC and CCG both encode the amino acid proline, for example.

This may be spectacular from McGill - in 2001 nanobots in the bloodstream was science fiction.

Legions of nanorobots target cancerous tumours with precision

Administering anti-cancer drugs redefined
Researchers from Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal and McGill University have just achieved a spectacular breakthrough in cancer research. They have developed new nanorobotic agents capable of navigating through the bloodstream to administer a drug with precision by specifically targeting the active cancerous cells of tumours. This way of injecting medication ensures the optimal targeting of a tumour and avoids jeopardizing the integrity of organs and surrounding healthy tissues. As a result, the drug dosage that is highly toxic for the human organism could be significantly reduced.

This scientific breakthrough has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology in an article titled “Magneto-aerotactic bacteria deliver drug-containing nanoliposomes to tumour hypoxic regions.” The article notes the results of the research done on mice, which were successfully administered nanorobotic agents into colorectal tumours.

“These legions of nanorobotic agents were actually composed of more than 100 million flagellated bacteria – and therefore self-propelled – and loaded with drugs that moved by taking the most direct path between the drug’s injection point and the area of the body to cure,” explains Professor Sylvain Martel, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Medical Nanorobotics and Director of the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory, who heads the research team’s work. “The drug’s propelling force was enough to travel efficiently and enter deep inside the tumours.”

This is a short Must Read Nature review of four books on the acceleration of knowledge about our internal ecologies. It’s a very short review - but provides enough of a ‘taste’ to get a real sense of the vast new domain - rather than domesticating DNA - we are also domesticating our microbiome.
... the 30 trillion cells in the human body are effortlessly outnumbered by the 39 trillion or so microbial cells that lurk within it. Our own genomes muster 20,000 protein-encoding genes; our uninvited guests may collectively field an impressive 10 million. We know this thanks to metagenomics — the method of sequencing short, species-specific stretches of RNA, pioneered by biophysicist Carl Woese in the late 1960s — which helps to define the genomic architecture of our microbial communities
Bacteria confer unique properties on their hosts. Their collective genes, and capacity for rapid evolution through high rates of mutation, horizontal gene transfer and rapid replication, render them virtuosos of biochemistry, and providers of rich metabolic creativity. This gives organisms a versatility far above that afforded by their own genes

Microbiology: Mob rule

In the early 1990s, molecular biologist Sydney Brenner gave a talk in Cambridge, UK, in which he espoused the merits of sequencing the human genome to fully characterize the human “gene kit”. Several years later, in 2001, the first draft sequence of the human genome was released. The assumption was that human form, function and dysfunction would be reduced to a finite and tractable problem. Over time, this vision has been eroded by the discovery of successive Russian-doll-like levels of informational and regulatory complexity, from epigenetics to microRNAs. Genomic protein-encoding genes may represent the surface of a much deeper problem.

The latest assault on Brenner's model of organismal form and function has come from an unexpected quarter. It seems that, instead of being self-contained, the contents of the human gene kit are generously supplemented by a plethora of extraneous components. These riches come from the topsy-turvy world of microorganisms, symbionts whose products bolt onto the more modest collection furnished by their hosts. The implications of this extra informational dimension, and how it interweaves with our genes, are explored in four new books.

This is a great site for lots of data visualizations.

Our world is changing

Explore the ongoing history of human civilization at the broadest level, through research and data visualization.
OurWorldInData is an online publication that shows how living conditions around the world are changing. It communicates this empirical knowledge through interactive data visualisations (charts and maps) and by presenting the research findings on global development that explain what drives the changes that we see and what the consequences of these changes are.

The publication is developed at the University of Oxford and covers a wide range of topics across many academic disciplines: Trends in health, food provision, the growth and distribution of incomes, violence, rights, wars, culture, energy use, education, and environmental changes are empirically analysed and visualised in this web publication. For each topic the quality of the data is discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website is also a database of databases. Covering all of these aspects in one resource makes it possible to understand how the observed long-run trends are interlinked and the research on global development is presented to the audience of interested readers, journalists, academics, and policy people. The articles cross-reference each other to make it possible for the reader to learn about the drivers of the observed long-run trends. For each topic the quality of the data will be discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website works as a database of databases – a meta-database.

Our World In Data is made available as a public good: The entire publication is freely available, the data published on the website is available for download, the visualizations published in the web publication are made available under a permissive Creative Commons license, and all the tools to publish OurWorldInData and to create the visualizations are free to use by everyone (completely open source and available on GitHub

This is a fascinating article - that has some important insight for the developed economies. Although this is primarily about the US situation (includes some analysis of England, Turkey, Japan), it may very well have relevance everywhere. Well worth thinking about.
Yes, the population of the United States is 80% “urban.” However, “urban” incorporates suburban. Cities vote Democrat. Rural areas vote Republican. Suburban decides the outcome.

The Origin of Populist Surges Everywhere

Consider the following three maps at the county level in the United States that show:
Change in the intensity of Republican and Democrat voting in the 2012 presidential election as compared with the 2004 presidential election
Overdose death rates mostly from opioids
Rates of firearm suicide
The question is, which is which? …..

What is the source of the rise of populism? Rural places are losing — not just jobs, but people. People in rural, remote places are the “they”. “They” are angry because they are, disproportionately, suffering, and dying, from diseases of despair.
The city-rural divide is core driver of political outcomes

Here’s a great example of the emerging Internet of Things/sensors - and a platform that increases efficiency by agility and diversity - soon drones will do this work as well.
We take a unique approach to monitor container fullness and use cameras to take pictures of the inside of containers, then pull down GPS coordinates, process the image and determine how full a container is. Fullness reports flow into web-based tools we build. A dispatcher, route manager, customer service or even a salesperson at a waste hauler—whoever needs to know how containers are performing—can monitor the web-based dashboard. Think of this like a control center, managing a fleet of trucks but also containers.

Could This San Francisco Startup Transform Garbage Collecting?

Compology uses sensors and software to plot truck routes to empty only dumpsters that are full
When you think of waste management, you may not think about all the different parties that sort and transport garbage from its many origins to a landfill or recycling center. But overseeing and optimizing that process is where Compology, a new kind of waste management company, shines. The San Francisco-based startup offers a suite of sensors and a software platform that work in concert to monitor containers and driver routes to cut back on the cost of picking up half-full dumpsters.

The market is there. Many cities have set zero waste goals, with the idea of making most waste recyclable or reusable. In the meantime, there’s still a lot of trash accumulating. According to a 2013 report from the World Bank, global waste is on track to triple by the year 2100. Even by 2025, the cost of dealing with so much trash will hit $375 billion, with developing nations the most impacted by the price.

Here’s a great innovation - that should make disinfected water available anywhere that water isn’t contaminated by pollutants.
...the contraption is not suited for eliminating pollutants, other than microbes, from water.
As explained by the team, the new device can be used in areas, where water is mostly contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and other micro organisms. The scientists are currently testing the technology against various strains of bacteria.

This Small Rectangular Device Uses Sunlight To Disinfect Water Within Minutes

In a world where as many as 1.2 billion people live without proper access to clean water, scientists are striving to develop new technologies of water purification that are not only efficient but also inexpensive. Researchers at Stanford University, for instance, have come up with an innovative device that can disinfect water in a matter of minutes.

At present, one of the most common methods relies on UV rays to remove contaminants from water. However given that ultraviolet rays comprise less than 4-percent of the solar radiation reaching Earth, this particular approach usually takes up to two whole days to complete, making it less suitable for use in developing countries where a large portion of the population has to walk several miles every day to collect safe, drinking water.

For the research, scientists from Stanford University worked alongside SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to build an ingenious water purification device that is significantly faster and more efficient than currently available technologies. Instead of using UV rays, the new contraption relies on the visible part of the solar spectrum for its functions. This in turn allows us to harness nearly 50-percent of the incident solar energy. Speaking about the project, recently published in the Nature Nanotechnology journal, Chong Liu said:
Our device looks like a little rectangle of black glass. We just dropped it into the water and put everything under the sun, and the sun did all the work.

In considering this latest research we have to remember that this is near zero marginal cost energy and the technology is continuing to make very rapid progress.
"Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight," Trancik says, "which would more than meet near-term U.S. climate targets for personal vehicle travel." Overall, when accounting for the emissions today from the power plants that provide the electricity, this would lead to an approximately 30 percent reduction in emissions from transportation. Deeper emissions cuts would be realized if power plants decarbonize over time.

Today's electric vehicles can make a dent in climate change

Electric vehicles can meet drivers' needs enough to replace 90 percent of vehicles now on the road
Could existing electric vehicles (EVs), despite their limited driving range, bring about a meaningful reduction in the greenhouse-gas emissions that are causing global climate change? Researchers at MIT have just completed the most comprehensive study yet to address this hotly debated question, and have reached a clear conclusion: Yes, they can.

The study, which found that a wholesale replacement of conventional vehicles with electric ones is possible today and could play a significant role in meeting climate change mitigation goals, was published today in the journal Nature Energy by Jessika Trancik, the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Associate Professor in Energy Studies at MIT's Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), along with graduate student Zachary Needell, postdoc James McNerney, and recent graduate Michael Chang SM '15.

Distributed Ledger (blockchain) technology finds an innovative use.
…. the energy and the money goes to benefit the community, says Orsini, not the large centralised power company. “When you buy energy from the community, the money goes back to the community.

Blockchain-based microgrid gives power to consumers in New York

Something odd is happening on President Street in Brooklyn. While solar panels on the roofs of terraced houses soak up sun, a pair of computers connected to the panels quietly crunch numbers. First, they count how many electrons are being generated. Then, they write that number to a blockchain. Welcome to the future of energy exchange.

This project, run by a startup called Transactive Grid, is the first version of a new kind of energy market, operated by consumers, which will change the way we generate and consume electricity.

Transactive Grid aims to enable people to buy and sell renewable energy to their neighbours. To deal in energy at the moment, you have to go through a central company like Duke Energy in the US or National Grid in the UK, or one of their resellers.

Transactive can skip this central authority because its energy market is built on a technology called blockchain. First used to underpin the bitcoin currency, a blockchain is a cryptographically secure list of transactions. The list is stored on every computer in the system, and is continuously updated as each transaction is completed. The list for President Street is built using blockchain software called Ethereum. It deals with buying and selling electrons generated by solar panels. No central authority is in control: the computers monitor each other to stop fraud.

Here’s another transportation innovation - not quite ready for primetime - but has very significant potential to transform and disrupt mass transportation - and a new form of cruise vacationing.

World's Largest Aircraft Takes Off for the First Time, Still Looks Like a Butt

The Airlander 10—also known as the world’s largest aircraft, better known as a giant, ass-shaped vessel—took off for the first time today.

The “flying bum,” as it’s apparently known, was supposed to take its maiden voyage on Sunday, but the flight was postponed due to “a slight technical issue.” The aircraft’s maker, Hybrid Air Vehicles, didn’t say on Sunday when the flight would happen, but luckily for ass and aircraft enthusiasts everywhere, it finally took off from Cardington airfield near London.

The flight itself wasn’t long—just half an hour, according to the AP—but apparently drew a crowd of hundreds. The 302-foot aircraft combines elements of “fixed wing aircraft and helicopters with lighter-than-air technology,” resulting in a Frankenstein-esque behemoth that its creators say can stay in the air for over two weeks unmanned.

This is one vision (pun intended) of the use of both VR and AR - which may be coming to a Do It Yourself Project near you soon. I can imagine that in a few years this will be a key technology for all architects.

Augmented Reality Could Speed Up Construction Projects

Builders are experimenting with Microsoft’s HoloLens to visualize projects and avoid expensive mistakes.
Employees at Gilbane Building Company, a commercial construction firm based in Rhode Island, usually work off paper blueprints or with digital models that they view on computers or iPads. But Gilbane senior manager John Myers now gets a closer look by putting Microsoft’s augmented-reality computer, HoloLens, on his head.

When Myers recently put on HoloLens to look at a mockup of a project, he could see that steel frames the company planned to order to support the building’s walls were too long to fit the design. Having spotted the issue ahead of time, the company can now ask the supplier to cut the frames shorter in his shop rather than make workers adjust dozens of tracks that would hold the frames in place. Myers estimates that the move will save Gilbane about $5,000 in labor costs.

Construction is one of the least automated industries around, and it will be for a long time. But augmented reality might begin to change that. Tools like HoloLens, which places holographic images in its user’s physical environment, could help this $10 trillion business increase efficiency so that fewer projects run over budget and behind schedule. Gilbane is one of many early testers of the technology. The engineering firm AECOM, the design and architecture firm Gensler, and the China State Construction Engineering Corporation have also announced they are experimenting with HoloLens.

Reviewing construction models via HoloLens would be more useful if people could make notes directly on the 3-D images they were viewing.Trimble, a technology company that sells the popular 3-D modeling software SketchUp, lets people do that in its HoloLens app. Users can mark problem areas on SketchUp building models with circular virtual icons and record short audio clips explaining why they highlighted particular spots. Eventually, they might be able to use their hands to move an element within a virtual mockup and immediately see how the change affected the design, says Aviad Almagor, who leads Trimble’s HoloLens business.

And how will VR influence education? Here’s an interesting article. The imperative of the 21st century is to scale learning - and that means not just more people being educated - but education has to provide access to deeper, broader domains of knowledge incorporating more embodied ways of knowing. Virtual Reality will bring steroids to the MOOC. :)
“It is the next big thing and it’s been brewing for quite some time,” said Jan-Martin Lowendahl, a research vice president with Gartner Inc. "If there’s any place it would work, it’s China, Korea, those kinds of places.”
“It’s hugely revolutionary and it’s also necessary because it’s obvious that the current educational models do not scale.”

Virtual Reality Classrooms Another Way Chinese Kids Gain an Edge

Genders of virtual teachers can change to suit cultural norms of the classroom
Deep within a building shaped like the Starship Enterprise, a little-known Chinese company is working on the future of education. Vast banks of servers record children at work and play, tracking touchscreen swipes, shrugs and head swivels - amassing a database that will be used to build intimate profiles of millions of kids.

This is the Fuzhou hive of NetDragon Websoft Holdings Ltd.a hack-and-slash video game maker and unlikely candidate to transform learning via headset-mounted virtual reality teachers. It’s one of a growing number of companies from International Business Machines Corp. to Lenovo Group Ltd. studying how to use technology like VR to arrest a fickle child’s attention. (And perhaps someday to make a mint from that data by showing them ads.)

China - where parents have been known to try anything to give their kids an edge and tend to be less obsessive about privacy - may be an ideal testing ground for the VR classroom of the future. As it’s envisioned, there’ll be no napping in the back row. Lessons change when software predicts a student’s mind is wandering by spotting an upward tilt of the head. Dull lectures can be immediately livened up with pop quizzes. Even the instructor’s gender can change to suit the audience, such as making the virtual educator male in cultures where teachers are typically men.

Here’s another step toward the domestication bacteria based on Canadian efforts.

Robo-Bacteria Engineered for Cancer Drug Delivery

A biomedical engineering team designed a technology for precise deployment of drugs to tumors with bacteria modified to deliver their cargoes. The system designed by researchers from Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal, and McGill University in Quebec, Canada is described in yesterday’s issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology (paid subscription required).

Computer engineering professor Sylvain Martel at Polytechnique Montréal and colleagues are seeking better delivery mechanisms for cancer drugs, which today are often given systemically, such as chemotherapy, causing adverse side effects in many patients. Even more targeted treatments, such as radiation, can harm nearby healthy tissue. Thus delivery of cancer-killing drugs directly to tumors is an unmet medical need.

One of the main obstacles to more precise delivery of drugs is the intense activity of cancer cells that depletes oxygen from the immediate tumor region, and makes tumors resistant to many therapies. The system designed and tested by the research team harnesses bacteria with an ability to penetrate these low-oxygen zones, and carry cancer-killing drugs directly to their targets.

The microbes in this case are a strain of Magnetococcus marinus bacteria with the unusual ability to respond to magnetic forces, a result of mineral crystals in their outer membranes that enable the organisms to naturally position along the Earth’s geomagnetic field. The team added chains of iron oxide nanocrystals to the bacteria to bolster their magnetic response. Another feature of these bacteria is their affinity for low-oxygen environments, which helps target the tumors.

This is definitely a must read - for anyone interested in the relevance of our microbial profile not only for our own health -but to understand the potential impact on scientific and medical research. Given the potential of our microbial profiles to also influence our mental and psychological conditions - this is a new domain of concern.
I think what this [reproducibility] conversation is doing is expanding the variables for investigators to think about.
… sometimes a study doesn’t hold up because the replicator is unknowingly performing a slightly different experiment.  
Increasingly, experimenters are questioning the potential research impact of the microbiome—a term often used to refer to commensal gut bacteria, but which also includes resident viruses, fungi, protozoa, and single-celled archaea species. Rarely even discussed a few years ago, this potential source of variability attracts growing attention at lab animal care conferences, says MSU’s attending veterinarian, Claire Hankenson. “We didn’t know to look for it before,” she says.

Mouse microbes may make scientific studies harder to replicate

In the first experiment, Laura McCabe’s lab seemed to hit a home run. The physiologist and her team at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing were testing how a certain drug affects bone density, and they found that treated lab mice lost bone compared with controls. “I was thinking, ‘Hey, great! Let’s repeat it one more time to be certain,’” McCabe recalls.

They ordered a seemingly identical batch of mice—same strain, same vendor—and kept them under the same conditions: same type of cage, same bedding, same room. This time, however, treated mice gained bone density. “Maybe one was a fluke,” 
McCabe thought. They did a third run—and saw no effect at all. She was baffled.

She knew that signals from the gut can affect how bone forms and gets reabsorbed, so her team took fecal samples from control mice in each of the three experiments and analyzed their gut microbes. They found something unexpected: Each group had a different microbial makeup to begin with.

McCabe has no idea where the mice acquired their distinct gut bacteria—from the containers that ferried them from the vendor? From a technician’s clothing? But how the drug affected her subjects clearly depended on what already lived inside them.

Even 5 years ago, most people considered doing microbiota analysis untouchable, unless that was the expertise in their lab,” Franklin says. But today, more labs are sequencing fecal samples in search of bacterial genes or paying others to do so, he says. His own team offers such analysis for $125 a sample through the NIH-funded Mutant Mouse Resource and Research Center.

And even more amazing. The 2 min video is a Must View. This technology will certainly be applicable to other life form and may be also between life forms - to create new forms of communication.
... long term prospects for neural dust are not only within nerves and the brain but much broader. Having access to telemetry within the body has never been possible because there has been no way to put something so tiny so deep. But now he can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data.

Engineers Create The First Dust-Sized Wireless Sensors That Can Be Implanted Into The Human Body

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have created the very first dust-sized wireless sensors that may be implanted within the body. This is bringing technology closer to the day that technologies such as the Fitbit will be able to monitor internal nerves, muscles and organs all in real time.

These devices do not require batteries and may also be able to stimulate nerves and muscles opening up doors for electroceuticals to treat disorders including epilepsy and stimulate the immune system or lower inflammation.

The neural dust is implanted in the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats and is unique due to its use of ultrasound. It holds the ability to both power and read measurements. Ultrasound technology is already very thoroughly developed for the care of hospice patients and ultrasound vibrations are able to penetrate just about everywhere within the human body making them much more useful than radio waves.

The complete findings have been published in the upcoming Neuron Journal. Sensors at this time have already been shrunken to a size of 1 millimeter cube, which is about the size of a large grain of sand.

Plato decried the advent of writing with the claim that it would destroy the capacity to use our memory - in some ways it did degrade individual memory - must of us can’t memorize much anymore. But in many more important ways it expanded our collective memory - and we have now significant amounts of real estate dedicated to books and other forms of memory. The question is whether our individual memory is degrading or do we know actually know a lot more and have a lot more information at our fingertips? Have books enabled a significant increase in ‘cognitive surplus’? Although it may not be evident in the mainstream behavior of our politicians - but may be many of us are less likely to ‘make stuff up’ because verification is so easy now.
Lead author Dr Benjamin Storm commented, "Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don't bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives."

Cognitive offloading: How the Internet is increasingly taking over human memory

Our increasing reliance on the Internet and the ease of access to the vast resource available online is affecting our thought processes for problem solving, recall and learning. In a new article published in the journal Memory, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign have found that 'cognitive offloading', or the tendency to rely on things like the Internet as an aide-mémoire, increases after each use. We might think that memory is something that happens in the head but increasingly it is becoming something that happens with the help of agents outside the head. Benjamin Storm, Sean Stone & Aaron Benjamin conducted experiments to determine our likelihood to reach for a computer or smartphone to answer questions. Participants were first divided into two groups to answer some challenging trivia questions -- one group used just their memory, the other used Google. Participants were then given the option of answering subsequent easier questions by the method of their choice.

Now that Google is only a smartphone or wearable away - what’s next for memory?

New Startup Aims to Commercialize a Brain Prosthetic to Improve Memory

A startup named Kernel came out of stealth mode yesterday and revealed its ambitious mission: to develop a ready-for-the-clinic brain prosthetic to help people with memory problems. The broad target market includes people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as those who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

If the company succeeds, surgeons will one day implant Kernel’s tiny device in their patients’ brains—specifically in the brain region called the hippocampus. There, the device’s electrodes will electrically stimulate certain neurons to help them do their job—turning incoming information about the world into long-term memories.

Kernel’s device will be based on a research effort led by Ted Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California. Berger tells IEEE Spectrum that his experiments with rats and primates make him confident that “it’s really time” for a clinical device. “We’re testing it in humans now, and getting good initial results,” he says. “We’re going to go forward with the goal of commercializing this prosthesis.”

This is very interesting - the visualization of Wikipedia as a network galaxy of knowledge. It takes some exploration to get the hang of the control and what it can do - worth the time to explore.

Wikiverse: Explore Wikipedia turned into a universe of knowledge

It’s definitely a big pile - but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t amount to much more than a hill of beings (pun intended). There’s a 9 min video that is entertaining.

YouTuber Asks ‘How Many Things Are There?’

Recently, the Earth’s human population reached the seven billion mark. In order to show what that number looks like, YouTube sensation VSauce gave a visual representation of the landmark by creating the above graphic. As you can see, if you stacked all of humanity atop each other in a giant pyramid, we couldn’t fill the Grand Canyon. In fact, if you took the 106 billion humans (or 15 piles) who ever existed and dumped them into the Grand Canyon you wouldn’t fill it either. Not sure what this says about humanity, but it does prove that the Grand Canyon is pretty big and worth seeing once in your life.

In his video, “How Many things Are There,” VSauce goes on to drop the following pieces of useless knowledge sure to captivate guests at your next cocktail party:
— You will never make enough spit to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool
— Over 560 billion Lego pieces have been manufactured
— There are 7.5 x 10^18  grains of sand on Earth