Thursday, October 13, 2016

Friday Thinking 14 Oct. 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

Marshall McLuhan
John Kenneth Galbraith

BMW just revealed a self-correcting motorcycle you can ride without a helmet

Our Age of Anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s job with yesterday’s tools and yesterday’s concepts.

Marshall McLuhan

“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” 

 John Kenneth Galbraith

The discrete nature of today’s money causes a number of issues:
  • A seller normally optimises their price for maximum income, by estimating the supply and demand position that will generate the most money. As a result a group of customers will not buy the product, because the price is too high for them.
  • A buyer needs to estimate if a service will have sufficient value for them before making a transaction
  • A seller can cheat its buyers if they can make a service seem more valuable
  • Products and services are optimised for first experience, this has disastrous effects on the longevity of modern products (e.g. devices are built to last 2–3 years, the mandatory warranty period)
  • Money is anonymous, this enables its use for crime
  • Money can be stolen
  • Money can be hoarded, taken out of the market to become a treasure that no longer serves the community

Value behaves more like a flow than a package
Today we primarily think of value as packages of money that are being awarded in transactions. But on closer inspection it is clear that value can also be seen as a flow. In fact value is more like a flow than it is like a package. This is how we normally experience value (e.g. the value of a car is experienced over the years that it is used) so it would be closer to reality to model value as a flow than a package. In the IT world we are seeing a move towards value flows: Software As A Service (SaaS) and computing clouds are growing rapidly at the expense of traditional capital expenditure IT investments.

Graphcoin: a flow currency for the network economy

As social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram grow larger, they skew disproportionately toward supernodes—celebrity, meme and business accounts. An estimated 8% of of all accounts are fake spam bots. The average Instagram user posts 2.69 times a day, while the average user with over a million followers posts 8.58 times. 80 million photos are posted a day, but the average engagement rate per post is 1.1%. On Instagram, 50% of posts are generated by less than 3% of accounts. Facebook is a bit more stable because it has a cap on the number of friends you can have. Still, original sharing like posting photos to your Facebook feed or updating your status is decreasing 21% year over year.
Today it’s no longer enough to “connect the world.”

If you want to survive, don’t just build a network. You have to build a hive, and eventually a hivemind.

An ant colony is so in sync that a mass of them can stick together to form solids or melt into fluids as a single body. By simply holding onto each other or letting go, the viscosity of a cluster of ants changes. They’re able to do so because of the high frequency of interaction between ants in a colony.

The Hive is the New Network

This is very heartening to see - There increasing and significant skepticism about neo-liberal economics as a discipline. Perhaps even coalescing a view that sees it as pseudo-science more concerned with fitting the world into simplistic models (rather than developing models that at least describe the world as it is). The call for new approaches with which to understand the complexity of our world - including how political-economies are shaped by fundamental beliefs.
Just as important - however, is the application of the understanding of complexity to the organization of people, governance and work - many of the quotes below are directly applicable to organizations.
The report of the OECD Global Science Forum (2009) on Applications of Complexity Science for Public Policy reminds us of the distinction between complicated and complex systems. Traditional science (and technology) excels at the complicated, but is still at an early stage in its understanding of complex phenomena like the climate.

This is not an academic debate. The importance of complexity is not limited to the realm of academia. It has some powerful advocates in the world of policy. Andy Haldane at the Bank of England has thought of the global financial system as a complex system and focused on applying the lessons from other network disciplines — such as ecology, epidemiology, and engineering — to the financial sphere. More generally, it is clear that the language of complexity theory — tipping points, feedback, discontinuities, fat tails — has entered the financial and regulatory lexicon. Haldane has shown the value of adopting a complexity lens, providing insights on structural vulnerabilities that built up in the financial system. This has led to policy suggestions for improving the robustness of the financial system.

Stop Pretending that an Economy Can Be Controlled

By Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General
The recent financial crisis exposed some serious flaws in our economic thinking. It has highlighted the need to look at economic policy with more critical, fresh approaches. It has also revealed the limitations of existing tools for structural analysis in factoring in key linkages, feedbacks and trade-offs — for example between growth, inequality and the environment.

We should seize the opportunity to develop a new understanding of the economy as a highly complex system that, like any complex system, is constantly reconfiguring itself in response to multiple inputs and influences, often with unforeseen or undesirable consequences. This has many implications. It suggests policymakers should be constantly vigilant and more humble about their policy prescriptions, act more like navigators than mechanics, and be open to systemic risks, spillovers, strengths, weaknesses, and human sensitivities. This demands a change in our mind-sets, and in our textbooks. As John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “the conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.”

This is why at the OECD we launched an initiative called New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC). With this initiative we want to understand better how the economy works, in all its complexity, and design policies that reflect this understanding. Our aim is to consider and address the unintended consequences of policies, while developing new approaches that foster more sustainable and inclusive growth.

Complexity is a common feature of a growing number of policy issues in an increasingly globalised world employing sophisticated technologies and running against resource constraints.

Perhaps the most important insight of complexity is that policymakers should stop pretending that an economy can be controlled. Systems are prone to surprising, large-scale, seemingly uncontrollable, behaviours. Rather, a greater emphasis should be placed on building resilience, strengthening policy buffers and promoting adaptability by fostering a culture of policy experimentation.

Mary Meeker’s famous annual state of the Internet has for the last number of years increasingly making the point that we have to ‘Re-Imagine Everything’. This is a must read for anyone who is interested in the re-imagining of currency-money in the 21st Century’s digital environment - the distributed ledger technology embedded in the Internet of Things. Re-Imagining what value creation is, where it happens, and how value creation gets deserved ‘credit’. This is especially important in terms of non-rival and near zero-marginal cost exchangables.
This is a 5 min read - and well worth the time.

Graphcoin: a flow currency for the network economy

Replacing value packages with value flows
Money makes it possible for resources and production capacity to flow towards those economical agents that create the most value in the economy. While this is not the only function of money, you could argue that this should be its primary function from a social perspective. In this post I explain why I believe that graph currencies would be a better fit to fulfil this function.

Another way to look at currency is as a tool that enables value networks that are larger than participants can keep in mind. In a small community, people are able to remember who has done what favor for whom. In a large community, this becomes impossible, especially if a value transfer needs to move through several participants before the value reaches its beneficiary. That is why we use money to make value exchanges in discrete transactions (e.g. x number of dollars).

Here’s something for anyone interested in machine learning of imaging.

Introducing the Open Images Dataset

In the last few years, advances in machine learning have enabled Computer Vision to progress rapidly, allowing for systems that can automatically caption images to apps that can create natural language replies in response to shared photos. Much of this progress can be attributed to publicly available image datasets, such as ImageNet and COCO for supervised learning, and YFCC100M for unsupervised learning.

Today, we introduce Open Images, a dataset consisting of ~9 million URLs to images that have been annotated with labels spanning over 6000 categories. We tried to make the dataset as practical as possible: the labels cover more real-life entities than the 1000 ImageNet classes, there are enough images to train a deep neural network from scratch and the images are listed as having a Creative Commons Attribution license*.

The image-level annotations have been populated automatically with a vision model similar to Google Cloud Vision API. For the validation set, we had human raters verify these automated labels to find and remove false positives. On average, each image has about 8 labels assigned.

And here’s another example of the inevitable shift to open data and open source approaches to enable science to keep up with it’s own acceleration.

Democratic databases: science on GitHub

Scientists are turning to a software–development site to share data and code.
When the Ebola outbreak in West Africa picked up pace in July 2014, Caitlin Rivers started to collect data on the people affected. Rivers, then a PhD student in computational epidemiology, wanted to model the outbreak’s spread. So every day she downloaded PDF updates released by the ministries of health of the virus-stricken countries, and converted the numbers into computer-readable tables. Rather than keeping these files to herself, she posted them to, a hugely popular website for collaborative work on software code. Rivers thought the postings might attract those interested in up-to-date information from the Ebola outbreak. “I figured if I needed it, other people would, too,” she says.

Rivers was right. Other researchers began to download the data and contribute to the project. On some days, third parties would download and convert the ministries’ data before her, and load them into the GitHub repository. Others created programming scripts to do simple error-checks on the data, such as ensuring that the daily patient counts made sense. At the time, GitHub was “really the only place on the Internet that you could interact with these data as data, and not as a PDF”, says Rivers, who was at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg when she began the project, and is now an epidemiologist at the US Army Public Health Center in Edgewood, Maryland.

Launched in 2008 to assist software developers, GitHub now boasts some 15 million users and is an increasingly popular site for researchers to share, maintain and update scientific data sets and code (see ‘Growing influence of GitHub’). GitHub is “the biggest revelation in my workflow ... since I started writing code”, says Daniel Falster, a postdoctoral researcher in ecology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. “When we started using GitHub, it was just amazing. We now use it in everything that we do.” Falster’s Biomass and Allometry Database, which aggregates various measures of plant size from 176 studies, is stored on the site. So is the Open Tree of Life project, which aims to compile different published phylogenies to build one master ‘tree of life’. It uses GitHub to store data files and publication records, and to accept new data sets from third parties.

And another breakthrough for the “Moore’s Law is Dead - Long Live Moore’s Law” file.
"We made the smallest transistor reported to date," said Javey, a lead principal investigator of the Electronic Materials program in Berkeley Lab's Materials Science Division. "The gate length is considered a defining dimension of the transistor. We demonstrated a 1-nanometer-gate transistor, showing that with the choice of proper materials, there is a lot more room to shrink our electronics."

Researchers use novel materials to build smallest transistor with 1-nanometer carbon nanotube gate

For more than a decade, engineers have been eyeing the finish line in the race to shrink the size of components in integrated circuits. They knew that the laws of physics had set a 5-nanometer threshold on the size of transistor gates among conventional semiconductors, about one-quarter the size of high-end 20-nanometer-gate transistors now on the market.

Some laws are made to be broken, or at least challenged.
A research team led by faculty scientist Ali Javey at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has done just that by creating a transistor with a working 1-nanometer gate. For comparison, a strand of human hair is about 50,000 nanometers thick.

The key was to use carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), an engine lubricant commonly sold in auto parts shops. MoS2 is part of a family of materials with immense potential for applications in LEDs, lasers, nanoscale transistors, solar cells, and more.
The findings appear in the Oct. 7 issue of the journal Science.

Now this is potentially very good news - yet if it actually works, will it help the world come together or will it let us prolong the status quo?
“A chemistry solution to climate change requires a material that is a highly active and selective catalyst to enable the conversion of CO₂ to fuel. It also needs to be made of elements that are low cost, non-toxic and readily available,”

U of T scientists solve puzzle of converting CO₂ emissions to fuel

Every year, humans advance climate change and global warming – and quite likely our own eventual extinction – by injecting about 30 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) into the atmosphere.

A team of U of T scientists believes they’ve found a way to convert all these emissions into energy-rich fuel in a carbon-neutral cycle that uses a very abundant natural resource: silicon. Silicon, readily available in sand, is the seventh most-abundant element in the universe and the second most-abundant element in the earth’s crust.

The idea of converting CO₂ emissions to energy isn’t new: there’s been a global race to discover a material that can efficiently convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water or hydrogen to fuel for decades.  However, the chemical stability of CO₂ has made it difficult to find a practical solution.

In an article in Nature Communications published August 23, Ozin and colleagues report silicon nanocrystals that meet all the criteria. The hydride-terminated silicon nanocrystals – nanostructured hydrides for short – have an average diameter of 3.5 nanometres and feature a surface area and optical absorption strength sufficient to efficiently harvest the near-infrared, visible and ultraviolet wavelengths of light from the sun together with a powerful chemical-reducing agent on the surface that efficiently and selectively converts gaseous carbon dioxide to gaseous carbon monoxide.

This is definitely not ready for primetime - but the concept is definitely plausible - an inevitable part of domesticating our planet. The essential point is the we are still in the very early days of developing human capacity to harness renewable energy - the next decades will be startling - especially if we can solve the business model problems and enable the incumbents to be disrupted while scaling human learning to make transitions both less scary and easier. Although the short video is in Japanese the illustration are clear.

New Wind Turbine Tech Could Use a Single Typhoon to Power a Country For 50 Years Japanese engineer wants to harness the power of another potentially destructive force in order to generate energy. Atsushi Shimizu has created a wind turbine that can withstand the terrible force of typhoons, and it can gather their energy to provide clean power.

“For decades, Japan has brought in European-style wind turbines, not designed for typhoon zones, and installed them with no careful consideration—they’ve broken almost entirely,” Shimizu said to CNN. Now, that could all change.

There is tremendous potential in typhoon energy—it is estimated that one typhoon is equivalent to half the world-wide electrical generating capacity, and if we could harness all of its energy, Shimizu asserts he could power Japan for 50 years.
To that end, Shimizu has constructed a special turbine, one that looks like an eggbeater. It utilizes the Magnus effect to prevent the turbine from spinning out of control. The design helps it withstand unpredictable wind directions.

It’s amazing how much seems to have changed in the last couple of years regarding energy and energy geo-politics. It is becoming increasingly evident that we must exercise for very considered foresight and judgement in the next few years to ensure we are investing in the best future infrastructure possible - enabling more in zero-marginal cost energy infrastructure and being very careful about investments in energy infrastructure that could lock us into permanent high energy costs.
“Solar overtaking coal this summer would have been largely unthinkable five years ago.
“This new data shows its popularity amongst homeowners and businesses and its falling costs. Now that we have a significant global and domestic industry, solar is one of the cheapest forms of power.
“The role for solar is significantly expanding as we develop complementary energy storage technologies, but we need government support to continue to achieve its potential,” Mr Court said.

Solar panels surpass coal-fired electricity in previously ‘unthinkable’ feat

For six months until September, more electricity came from sunlight than coal-fired power stations
Solar panels generated more electricity than coal in the past six months in a historic year for getting energy from the sun in the UK, according to a new analysis.

Research by the Carbon Brief website found that solar generated nearly 7,000 gigawatt hours of electricity between April and September, about 10 per cent more than the 6,300GwH produced by coal during the same period.

The figures represent a dramatic turnaround in the UK’s electricity supplies.
The first ever day when solar produced more than coal was only on 9 April – when there was no coal-fired electricity for the first time since 1882. But then May became the first ever month when this happened.

This is a concept I’ve been waiting for - and a concept that I think is plausibly suitable for the Mediterranean and the irrigation of the Sahara.
Sundrop is now planning to launch similar sustainable greenhouses in Portugal and the US, and another in Australia. Other companies are also testing pilot seawater greenhouses in desert areas of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

First farm to grow veg in a desert using only sun and seawater

Sunshine and seawater. That’s all a new, futuristic-looking greenhouse needs to produce 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes per year in the South Australian desert.

It’s the first agricultural system of its kind in the world and uses no soil, pesticides, fossil fuels or groundwater. As the demand for fresh water and energy continues to rise, this might be the face of farming in the future.

An international team of scientists have spent the last six years fine-tuning the design – first with a pilot greenhouse built in 2010; then with a commercial-scale facility that began construction in 2014 and was officially launched today.

Seawater is piped 2 kilometres from the Spencer Gulf to Sundrop Farm – the 20-hectare site in the arid Port Augusta region. A solar-powered desalination plant removes the salt, creating enough fresh water to irrigate 180,000 tomato plants inside the greenhouse.

Scorching summer temperatures and dry conditions make the region unsuitable for conventional farming, but the greenhouse is lined with seawater-soaked cardboard to keep the plants cool enough to stay healthy. In winter, solar heating keeps the greenhouse warm. There is no need for pesticides as seawater cleans and sterilises the air, and plants grow in coconut husks instead of soil.

The farm’s solar power is generated by 23,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight towards a 115-metre high receiver tower. On a sunny day, up to 39 megawatts of energy can be produced –  enough to power the desalination plant and supply the greenhouse’s electricity needs. Tomatoes produced by the greenhouse have already started being sold in Australian supermarkets.

I was expecting a hydrogen car about a decade ago - but this is still good news if it can transform military and other heavy duty transportation.
An electric truck offers plenty of upside on the battlefield. It runs more quietly than gas and diesel-powered vehicles, helpful for stealthy operations. It also runs cooler, which means it won’t show up on thermal cameras as clearly.
And, as Tesla has amply demonstrated, electric motors can deliver massive torque and acceleration. What’s fun in a sedan can be crucial in a military truck off-roading on enemy terrain.

Chevy’s Making a Hydrogen-Powered Pickup for the US Army

WHEN IT COMES to pickups, the standard attitude is, go big or go home. Huge knobbly tires, bullbars, spotlights, winches—even if they’re unnecessary. Look at Ford’s F-150 Raptor (not just leaner, meaner!), Toyota’s Tacoma TRD Pro (not afraid to show off its wild side!), or Nissan’s Titan XD Warrior concept (37-inch tires!).

Now, General Motors is back at the front. Working with the US Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC), it has built what may be the baddest pickup yet. The Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 stands 6.5 feet tall and 7 feet wide, weighs three tons, and features flared wheel arches, a jacked-up ride, narrow slotted headlights, and a camouflage paint job.

What really marks this truck as different, though, is the drivetrain. Instead of the diesel and gasoline engines that power the street-legal Colorado, the ZH2 pulls its power from a hydrogen fuel cell, making it an electric, zero-emissions ride.

GM and TARDEC unveiled the truck today at the fall meeting of the Association of the United States Army, and the Army will lease the truck for a year of field testing, starting in 2017.

The ZH2 runs a 92-kW fuel cell, which combines hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity, leaving nothing but water as a byproduct. Along with a battery that recaptures kinetic energy when braking, the drivetrain produces 174 horsepower, which feeds one motor, linked to all four wheels. GM’s already thinking about giving each axle its own motor.

This is brilliant and just the beginning - now imagine that these drone are controlled by gamers and and cleaning up the harbour, coastline, etc. were a game?

Port of Rotterdam is Deploying Drone That ‘Eats’ 500 Kg of Plastic Waste a Day

The Port of Rotterdam is exploring ways to keep their harbor clean and running safely, so they have begun investigating possible drone use to patrol and clean the port. The main drone being investigated for use is called the AquasmartXL, which comes equipped with a camera to be used to patrol the port for safety and security concerns. It would also allow officials to inspect boats and ships easily along the waterline. Apart from this security patrol drone, Port authorities are also implementing a drone that can ‘eat’ and collect 500KG of plastic waste each day. These drone advancements are all part of the Port of Rotterdam’s commitment to innovation.

Called the Waste Shark, the plastic-eating drone will be quite larger than te patrol drone, nearly the size of a passenger car. It will be built with a mouth located 35 centimeters below the water line to collects the plastic and trash from the water’s surface. After the drone fills up, it will drive back to a waste processing location, dump the load, and head back out for more cleaning.

This is a very interesting ‘moment’ for the evolution of digital currency via smart devices. Right now the tiny computer chip in debit-credit cards jump forward in capability - soon the chip will have the power to process blockchain or distributed ledger technologies. The graphic is very clear and worth the look.
“MotionCode is exactly what you’re doing today – copying the three digits from the back of your card – but with a huge additional level of security.”

This high-tech card is being rolled out by French banks to eliminate fraud

Forget fraud, these new bank cards are about to change everything.
Your bank security is pretty broken. It’s not your fault, it’s just really hard to keep people’s money safe, especially online.

Part of the problem is that once your card details are stolen – whether through a phishing attack or by someone copying the digits on the back – fraudsters are free to go on a spending spree until you notice something’s up.
They’re getting away with millions, and it’s a problem affecting over half a million people in the first half of 2016 alone.

Normally by the time you get around to actually cancelling your card, it’s all too late.
But what if the numbers on your card changed every hour so that, even if a fraudster copied them, they’d quickly be out of date?
That’s exactly what two French banks are starting to do with their new high-tech ebank cards.

Virtual Reality has been looming on the very near-term horizon - lots of developers are exploring ways to use the technology - this is one I hadn’t thought of.
Indeed, virtual reality could be adapted for use for a myriad of other endeavors and to help with a great number of issues. As early as 2014, scientists proposed creating events and scenes using VR to give members of the jury a deeper understanding of the crime on trial.
TeenDrive365, meanwhile, developed a virtual reality distracted driving experience to help push its campaign for safe driving.
It could also be used to provide a safe environment for people to confront their phobias, like this app that can help individuals overcome their fear of public speaking. And honestly, this is just the beginning of it all. Researchers at the University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technology (HIT) are using virtual reality to help train medical personnel in emergency medicine and anesthesia. With this technology, emergency nurses and paramedics can safely be trained in a visually realistic environment.

Legally Blind Man Sees Clearly For The First Time Ever, Thanks to Virtual Reality

With the rise of specialized hardware such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR, virtual reality (VR) is at its most accessible point ever. It provides an immersive and realistic simulation of an environment, one which is created entirely through software and hardware. And notably, this environment can be experienced or controlled by the movements of your body. To this end, VR opens up an entirely new world (literally) of possibilities.

Given its ability to create mesmerizing scenes, most would understandably tend to associate VR with things like gaming or movies, but this new technology has so much more to offer—like letting a legally blind man see clearly for the first time ever.

Jamie Soar, as a consequence of suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, is living with a bevy of optical disabilities. Aside from being myopic (near-sighted), he is also constantly seeing double. In dark areas or during the night, he has to navigate his surroundings using a blind cane.

However, after putting on a virtual reality headset loaded with a demo, Soar was able to see as clearly as if nothing was really wrong with his eyes. This is because the VR headsets, along with the images they are flashing, are uniquely designed to be able to trick the eyes. The sense of depth that is created by VR, as well as the dual-screen projection method employed by his headset (an HTC Vive), was able to help reverse his visual impairment.

The domestication of DNA brings with it a deeper understanding that that gene pool is more fluid and that species are more like stable patterns assembled from the gene pool in relation to similar stabilities of environmental niches and ecologies. Horizontal gene transfer also has significant implications for understanding the non-predictability of evolutionary processes.
Bacteria are a genomically promiscuous bunch. They do not reproduce sexually but are among the most genetically varied species because they are constantly exchanging bits of their genetic code via LGT. Their diversity has allowed them to adapt to every ecological niche on the planet, from deep-sea hydrothermal vents to the frozen lakes of Antarctica, from rock crevices to our own intestines. LGT between bacteria has been categorized as transformation by free DNA (genetic material is released into the environment by bacteria and taken up by living microbes, as in Griffith’s experiment), transduction by viruses, and direct cell-cell transfer through conjugation.

Bacteria and Humans Have Been Swapping DNA for Millennia

Bacteria inhabit most tissues in the human body, and genes from some of these microbes have made their way to the human genome. Could this genetic transfer contribute to diseases such as cancer?
Before we understood that DNA was the genetic code, scientists knew that bacteria transferred it between cells. In 1928, 25 years before the structure of DNA was solved, British bacteriologist Frederick Griffith demonstrated that live, non-virulent bacteria could transform into virulent microbes after being incubated with a heat-killed virulent strain. Fifteen years later, a trio of researchers at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University), Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty, demonstrated that this transformation was mediated by DNA. Even dead bacteria, it seemed, could share their genes.

This DNA-sharing process, known as horizontal or lateral gene transfer (LGT), is now understood to occur by the direct movement of DNA between two organisms. Almost all bacterial genomes show evidence of past LGT events, and the phenomenon is known to have profound effects on microbial biology, from spreading antibiotic resistance genes to creating new pathways for degrading chemicals. But LGT is not limited to bacteria. Scientists now recognize that microbes transfer DNA to the plants, fungi, and animals they infect or reside in, and conversely, human long interspersed elements (LINEs) have been found in bacterial genomes. Moreover, researchers have documented LGT from fungi to insects and from algae to sea slugs. There is reason to believe that any two major groups of organisms—including humans—can share their genetic codes.

People have long been intrigued by the prospect of foreign DNA within our own genomes. Human genomes harbor evidence of beneficial LGTs from bacteria in the recent past, and there is evidence that transfers may occur regularly between resident bacteria and somatic cells of the body. How commonly bacteria-animal LGT occurs is unclear, as are the mechanisms of these transfers. But if LGTs induce harmful mutations, they may be an unrecognized cause of disease.

Necessity is the mother of invention - that’s the famous saying. But it is also the driver of evolution - necessity - is opportunity. But all action involves risk and uncertainty - even the status quo is no guarantee of safe harbor.
The trial sets out to demonstrate whether or not a drought-tolerant GM white maize hybrid developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project can be grown effectively in the country. The seeds developed by WEMA are royalty-free, which means they’re affordable for farmers who work relatively small plots of land.

Tanzania’s First Trial of Genetically Modified Crops Has Begun

Many African countries have been reluctant to permit GM foods to be grown or imported, but opposition has softened amid a punishing drought.
Many African countries are prime candidates for the kinds of hardy crops made possible by genetic engineering, but few have embraced them wholeheartedly. This week, though, seeds were sown as part of Tanzania’s first-ever trial of genetically modified crops, providing a glimmer of hope for the technology’s prospects across the continent.

This year, unusually high temperatures and a stronger-than-usual El Niño have inflicted crippling droughts upon many parts of Africa, leading to severe crop shortages. Now more than ever, crops that can withstand water shortage would be a valuable resource across the continent to ensure that there’s enough to eat. Bill Gates has been vocal about his belief that GM crops could help end hunger in Africa.

But genetic engineering is as controversial in Africa as it is in the West. Early tests of a GM staple called matooke in Uganda were met with intense political lobbying; in 2012, Kenya banned the import of GM crops. South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent to openly adopt GM crops, but it has done so under strict limitations—in fact, it took this year’s droughts for the country to soften some of those rules.

This is a wonderful site - The Nib - where topics are presented in clear, accessible graphic novelizations. Well worth the view. This is a recent example discussing the Replication Crisis in science. There are many others.

Repeat After Me

Why can't anyone replicate the scientific studies from those eye-grabbing headlines?

The messiness of Etherium’s efforts to evolve distributed ledger technologies toward distributed autonomous organizations is emerging. I think the long term promise of the blockchain will come to pass and will provide a powerful infrastructure for the 21st Century - but it is a much more complex effort than at first imagined. This is an excellent longish article discussing many critiques of Etherium - well worth the read for anyone interested in evolving distributed ledger technologies.

Why I’m short Ethereum (and long Bitcoin)

When it passed a market cap of $1.5 billion, both in March and in May, Ethereum became the highest valued non-bitcoin cryptocurrency ever.

The enigmatic project is no doubt the altcoin that has the most Bitcoin enthusiasts confused—or even rattled. People are wondering whether Ethereum could be Bitcoin 2.0, like Facebook versus Myspace, or VHS to Bitcoin’s Betamax.

Others have stated that Ethereum is carving out its own space entirely, calling it the oil to Bitcoin’s gold.

Just because it’s Cool
One minute video - the beauty of a machine.

BMW just revealed a self-correcting motorcycle you can ride without a helmet

The BMW Motorrad is designed to fit right into the near future, blending the analog with the digital experience and offering unprecedented safety features for the rider.
The biker will not even require a helmet, or any other protective gear for that matter, as the bike, which also self-balances, will be able to suggest and make corrections in case of impending danger.

The bike is stripped down almost entirely, with most information provided to the rider via an augmented reality headset, called the visor. It shows speed, navigation and the rear mirrors.
The Motorrad is part of BMW's Vision Next series, which celebrates the company's 100th anniversary.

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