Thursday, October 19, 2017

Friday Thinking 20 Oct. 2017

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



It's one of those facts hiding in plain sight: thinking is something you can enjoy. You don't even have to be very good at it to do so. Conversely, many people who are very good at thinking don't enjoy it. Thinking is enjoyable when what you're thinking about is interesting; it is a stronger function of input than thinking capacity. This is a tautology: "interesting" is basically definable as "that which is enjoyable to think about." A definition of curiosity follows naturally: seeking out that which is interesting, (ie enjoyable) to think about. Food for thought. Enjoyment might seem like a secondary feature, but is in fact the central characteristic of human intelligence. The capacity to find thoughts interesting is what separates us. Our intelligence is defined by this capacity to a far greater extent than the intelligence of other curious, playful intelligences like those of cats, monkeys, or octopi. For those creatures, thinking for pleasure is a minor hobby, and usually directed along functional pathways (cats play in ways that are related to how they hunt for instance). For us, it can become all-consuming, and break out of functional pathways.

A mediocre intelligence thinking interesting thoughts will continue in a self-sustained, autotelic way until it gets physically exhausted or bored. But even a stellar intelligence, thinking uninteresting but functional thoughts, will try to be "efficient" and get it over with as quickly and cheaply as possible. Net, the first kind of behavior will likely get more actual thinking done. Without naming names, I will cast a possibly unfair aspersion: many of the most vocal writers and thinkers on the subject of intelligence and AI seem to not actually enjoy thinking, despite clearly being brilliant people. When I read or listen to them, I get the sense of watching somebody do tedious, difficult, duty-driven labor that they don't enjoy, but is necessary for getting to other things they do enjoy. It's like watching a skilled welder at an assembly line working to earn money or fulfill a duty rather than watching a talented dancer on a stage dancing because she enjoys it.

Fears about AI so far have exclusively been about the functional characteristics and roles of intelligence. If thinking is a function, then the famous lump-of-labor fallacy (that there is a fixed amount of work to be done) leads directly to the lump-of-thinking fallacy (that there's a fixed amount of thinking to be done). If you think of intelligence as a tool or function, you will conclude that the more machines do, the less there will be for humans to do and that we might therefore become obsolete.

Intelligence is the ability to think interesting thoughts

The concepts inherent in Material Design — a system of literal layers that evoke the tactility of a stack of paper, but offers the flexibility of digital spaces; a responsive layout concept that assumes no two devices may be exactly the same size or shape; a bold use of typography, motion, and color — showcase a decidedly different approach than Apple has taken. Where Jony Ive and company have produced a scattered, visually unmoored solution that seems to be solving small problems bite-by-bite, Google essentially blew up what had come before and reset. This radical rethink has spread into Google's deep web pockets, meaning that a logical system of navigation and connectivity not only informs what you see on your phone when you interact with apps and services, but what you get on the web, on a laptop, or on a TV. Gmail is Gmail is Gmail, responding to whatever screen it’s on. And sometimes, thanks to Google’s deep machine learning and natural language chops, Gmail is also the disembodied voice you talk to while you’re driving. In Google’s universe, its voice-activated Assistant isn’t middleware — it’s everyware, tapping deeply and natively into all of the company’s nodes.

I know that its software ties together tons of services I actually use in a seamless way. Now it’s clear that Google is building something more meaningful — more beautiful — around all of its assets, and it’s building that structure by finally unifying devices and software through design.


They walk among us, dead-eyed, with heavy tread. They are the colleague sagging at the coffee machine, the project manager staring out of the window. Meet the zombie workforce: an army of employees who’re failing to find inspiration at work.

There are more of these “working dead” than you might imagine. According to a recent study by Aon Hewitt, less than one-quarter of the world’s employees are classified as “highly” engaged in their jobs, while only 39% admit to being “moderately” so.

This leaves an awful lot of the 5 million people Aon surveyed "unengaged", which the more gruesome-minded of us might take to mean "haunting office corridors like reanimated corpses" where once they might have been valuable staff members, full of life and great ideas.

Well quite apart from the human tragedy of employees spending eight hours a day feeling unfulfilled, disengagement among workers seeps out to infect society at large. When engagement levels among employees are low, businesses report a higher turnover of staff, more absenteeism and lower customer satisfaction.

Zombie workers cost US businesses $550 billion a year, according to Gallup.

Is your colleague a zombie worker?

This is an interesting piece by Brian Arthur (previously at Santa Fe Institute). I would only add that we are creating a linked intelligence that is extending or transforming the definition of what our boundaries are. The future of identity - involves a deep entanglement with our world.
I will argue this is causing the economy to enter a new and different era. The economy has arrived at a point where it produces enough in principle for everyone, but where the means of access to these services and products, jobs, is steadily tightening. So this new period we are entering is not so much about production anymore—how much is produced; it is about distribution—how people get a share in what is produced.

The result, whether in retail banking, transport, healthcare, or the military, is that industries aren’t just becoming automated with machines replacing humans. They are using the new intelligent building blocks to re-architect the way they do things. In doing so, they will cease to exist in their current form.

Where is technology taking the economy?

We are creating an intelligence that is external to humans and housed in the virtual economy. This is bringing us into a new economic era—a distributive one—where different rules apply.
A year ago in Oslo Airport I checked in to an SAS flight. One airline kiosk issued a boarding pass, another punched out a luggage tag, then a computer screen showed me how to attach it and another where I should set the luggage on a conveyor. I encountered no single human being. The incident wasn’t important but it left me feeling oddly that I was out of human care, that something in our world had shifted.

That shift of course has been going on for a long time. It’s been driven by a succession of technologies—the Internet, the cloud, big data, robotics, machine learning, and now artificial intelligence—together powerful enough that economists agree we are in the midst of a digital economic revolution. But there is less agreement on how exactly the new technologies are changing the economy and whether the changes are deep. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University tells us the computer revolution “reached its climax in the dot-com era of the 1990s.” Future progress in technology, he says, will be slower.

So in what way exactly are the new technologies changing the economy? Is the revolution they are causing indeed slowing—or is it persistent and deep? And if so how will it change the character of the economy?

This is a very significant signal - especially when we consider the profound implications on energy geopolitics - including what that means to Russia and the Middle East and other economies deeply dependent on fossil fuels.
"We forget don't we? I mean 120 years ago the world didn't live on oil. Oil hasn't always driven the global economy… The point is alternative energy in some forms is gathering speed (and) things are changing," he added.

Oil will crash to $10 a barrel with electric vehicle revolution, strategist says

Oil prices are poised to crash to just $10 per barrel over the next six to eight years as alternative energy fuels continue to attract more and more investors, Chris Watling, chief executive of Longview Economics, told CNBC on Friday.

When looking ahead to 2018, Watling acknowledged that a key catalyst for the oil market would most likely be Saudi Aramco's initial public offering (IPO) in the second half of next year. And when he was asked about Saudi Arabia's state oil group being launched on the international stock market, he replied, "Well I think they need to get it away quick before oil goes to $10 (per barrel)."

While Watling explained that he did not necessarily expect such an intense decline in oil prices over the coming weeks or months, he did argue that over the long term "what happens with electric vehicles is really, really important" given that around 70 percent of oil is used for transportation.

This is a nice summary from Nature, of the past and signal of the future for the work in domesticating DNA.
In a mere 40 years, the central goal of putting molecular data about cells to practical use has changed from an informational challenge to a meta-informational one.

With respect to medicine, we echo the recommendations of advisory groups such as the US National Research Council's Precision Medicine Committee on the need to create a vast “information commons”. This would overlay molecular and clinical data onto the germ-line genome sequences of millions of individuals. Several such population-scale efforts are under way, including the UK Biobank resource and the US All of Us Research Program.

The future of DNA sequencing

Eric D. Green, Edward M. Rubin and Maynard V. Olson speculate on the next forty years of the applications, from policing to data storage.
Forty years ago, two papers described the first tractable methods for determining the order of the chemical bases in stretches of DNA. Before these 1977 publications, molecular biologists had been able to sequence only snippets.

The evolution of DNA sequencing from these nascent protocols to today's high-throughput technologies has occurred at a breathtaking pace. Nearly 30 years of exponential growth in data generation have given way, in the past decade, to super-exponential growth. And the resultant data have spawned transformative applications in basic biology and beyond — from archaeology and criminal investigation to prenatal diagnostics.

What will the next 40 years bring?
Today's 'breakout' clinical application of DNA sequencing — in terms of the sheer number of tests conducted — is prenatal testing for the presence of an abnormal number of chromosomes, such as trisomy 21, which causes Down's syndrome. This test now relies on detecting the small amount of cell-free fetal DNA that circulates in maternal blood. Not even imagined at the end of the Human Genome Project, it has been described as “the fastest growing genetic test in medical history”. In fact, experts in the field estimate that some 4 million to 6 million pregnant women are now receiving this test each year worldwide, and that the number will surpass 15 million within a decade

The key question is not where technology ‘is’ taking the economy - it’s where ‘can’ technology take our economy. Here’s a brilliant example of what a smart city could do.

Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs could spell out a smart future for Toronto

Sidewalk Labs LLC, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is nearing a deal to develop a 3 million-square-foot "digital city" project in Toronto that would showcase a variety of smart and connected infrastructure and buildings, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Waterfront Toronto put out an RFP for the 12-acre site, dubbed Quayside, in March and found Sidewalk Labs' bid to be "most compelling," as reported by WSJ. There is also potential for the site to be expanded to an adjacent 750 acres, however that development is projected to cost tens of billions of dollars.

Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk executives will continue to seek support from various stakeholders before moving forward with the project. Approval of the Waterfront Toronto board is anticipated this month.

This is a 30 min video by Ray Kurzweil - well worth the view. If only to get a better understanding of the continued increase in the exponential acceleration of ‘price-performance’ technology returns.

Creating Human-Level AI: How and When | Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil explores how and when we might create human-level artificial intelligence at the January 2017 Asilomar conference organized by the Future of Life Institute.

The Beneficial AI 2017 Conference: In our sequel to the 2015 Puerto Rico AI conference, we brought together an amazing group of AI researchers from academia and industry, and thought leaders in economics, law, ethics, and philosophy for five days dedicated to beneficial AI. We hosted a two-day workshop for our grant recipients and followed that with a 2.5-day conference, in which people from various AI-related fields hashed out opportunities and challenges related to the future of AI and steps we can take to ensure that the technology is beneficial.

This is a great 5 min video with several experts describing the benefits and trajectory of the Blockchain and Distributed Ledger technologies.

Blockchain: The Foundation of the Future

The next Internet? Blockchain is even bigger than that. We met with top experts around the world to break it down.

This is a worthwhile read that brings some grounding to the development of Blockchain - Distributed Ledger technologies. The 2 min video is a must see. It explains a key dimension of blockchain platforms - a blockchain is a form of constitution - within a constitution many laws and rules can be made and unmade within its framework. But changing the constitution itself is usefully designed to be hard requiring exceptional agreements of those governed by and within its framework. The challenges of energy use and scaling transactions have also to consider security of the system and the constitution.

Building the Blockchain to End All Blockchains

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies, also known as “digital assets,” have been making headlines due to the unprecedented returns early adopters are making from their investments in these digital assets.

Though the price of cryptocurrencies grabs attention, the underlying technology, a distributed digital ledger called blockchain, is even more exciting.
Fundamentally, blockchain allows for a democratic revolution in trust by enabling a decentralized peer-to-peer database, in which cryptography is used to validate transactions. Until blockchain, we’ve relied on centralized authorities such as credit card companies and banks to validate and back transactions.

However, there are significant and real transaction costs associated with relying on these centralized authorities, and of course, they take cuts of each transaction. Additionally, identity theft and manipulation of centralized authorities are real threats and common occurrences, as the recent Equifax hack has shown.

Blockchain replaces centralized authority with decentralized computing. It represents a fundamentally new way for humans to transact with one another by bypassing traditional centralized authorities currently at the heart of almost all human transactions.

But blockchain is still a young, relatively niche technology. There are quite literally billions of transactions daily, from financial trading to people buying cups of coffee.

The Bitcoin and Ethereum networks together currently use more electricity than countries such as Jordan, Iceland, and Syria. Bitcoin mining alone uses 27 times as much energy as the entire Visa network. This ever-increasing amount of energy makes these blockchain networks increasingly difficult to scale. Further, the networks are also slow. Bitcoin currently processes less than three transactions per second, and Ethereum processes only five transactions per second.

Tezos is currently the leading contender for a blockchain network that incentivizes improving the technology underlying the network itself. Tezos’s powerful governance structure is a big part of why Tezos raised a record setting $232 million in its initial coin offering in July, 2017.

This is a fascinating signal - one indication of a universal human dimension.
"Even given these fundamental differences in language, which can be read in a different direction or contain a completely different alphabet altogether, there is something universal about what occurs in the brain at the point when we are processing narratives,"

"One of the biggest mysteries of neuroscience is how we create meaning out of the world. Stories are deep-rooted in the core of our nature and help us create this meaning,"

Scientists find there is something universal about what occurs in the brain when it processes stories

New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.

And in what appears to be a first for neuroscience, USC researchers have found patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, regardless of their language. Using functional MRI, the scientists mapped brain responses to narratives in three different languages—English, Farsi and Mandarin Chinese.

The USC study opens up the possibility that exposure to narrative storytelling can have a widespread effect on triggering better self-awareness and empathy for others, regardless of the language or origin of the person being exposed to it.

The study was published on Sept. 20 in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

Using state-of-the-art machine learning and text-analysis techniques, and an analysis involving over 44 billion classifications, the researchers were able to "reverse engineer" the data from these brain scans to determine the story the reader was processing in each of the three languages. In effect, the neuroscientists were able to read the participants' minds as they were reading.

This is an awesome signal of the trajectory of cognitive and neurosciences.
“We decode realistic synthetic birdsong directly from neural activity,” the scientists announced in a new report published on the website bioRxiv. The team, which includes Argentinian birdsong expert Ezequiel Arneodo, calls the system the first prototype of “a decoder of complex, natural communication signals from neural activity.” A similar approach could fuel advances towards a human thought-to-text interface, the researchers say.

Scientists Can Read a Bird’s Brain and Predict Its Next Song

Next up, predicting human speech with a brain-computer interface.
Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley this year set themselves an audacious new goal: creating a brain-reading device that would allow people to effortlessly send texts with their thoughts.

In April, Elon Musk announced a secretive new brain-interface company called Neuralink. Days later, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared that “direct brain interfaces [are] going to, eventually, let you communicate only with your mind.” The company says it has 60 engineers working on the problem.

It’s an ambitious quest—and there are reasons to think it won’t happen anytime soon. But for at least one small, orange-beaked bird, the zebra finch, the dream just became a lot closer to reality.

That’s thanks to some nifty work by Timothy Gentner and his students at the University of California, San Diego, who built a brain-to-tweet interface that figures out the song a finch is going to sing a fraction of a second before it does so.

If the above signal seems like science fiction - this article signals even faster progress toward this science fiction theme.

Scientists discover how to 'upload knowledge to your brain'

Researchers claim to have developed a simulator which can feed information directly into a person’s brain and teach them new skills in a shorter amount of time, comparing it to “life imitating art”.

Researchers from HRL Laboratories, based in California, say they have found a way to amplify learning, only on a much smaller scale than seen in the Hollywood film.  

They studied the electric signals in the brain of a trained pilot and then fed the data into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an aeroplane in a realistic flight simulator.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that subjects who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities and learnt the task 33 per cent better than a placebo group.

Here is a significant signal in the next stage of medical science.
This is a huge step forward for the field of gene therapeutics. “[O]n multiple fronts, it’s a first and ushers in a new era of gene therapy,” assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Oregon Health and Science University, Paul Yang, told NPR.

An FDA Panel Approved a Breakthrough Gene Therapy That Fixes Hereditary Blindness

An FDA advisory panel just unanimously approved a new gene therapy that can restore sight in patients with a rare genetic disorder. In clinical trials, more than 90 percent of patients saw improvement in eyesight.
After some emotional testimony from doctors and patients, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel has voted unanimously to approve a gene therapy that improves hereditary blindness. The treatment will now progress to a final decision from the FDA and, if approved, will be the first gene therapy legally available in the United States for an inherited disorder. The FDA is under no obligation to follow the advisory board’s recommendation but usually does.

The treatment, which will be marketed as Luxturna, fixes a mutation in the RPE65 gene. It involves a single treatment to each eye, which introduces genetically engineered virus particles carrying a corrected version of the mutated gene. Spark Therapeutics, the treatment’s developer, estimates that 6,000 people around the world could benefit from this treatment. More than 90 percent of the patients treated in the study showed some improvement in eyesight within just a few days of treatment.

This is an important signal - about the domestication of DNA to create new means of manufacturing.
"This technology allows us to grow a functional device from a single cell," said Lingchong You, the Paul Ruffin Scarborough Associate Professor of Engineering at Duke. "Fundamentally, it is no different from programming a cell to grow an entire tree."
this treatment could also be applied to other formally incurable genetic eye diseases. “There are a lot of retinal diseases like this, and if you added them together it’s a big thing because they are all incurable,”

Bacteria self-organize to build working sensors

Researchers at Duke University have turned bacteria into the builders of useful devices by programming them with a synthetic gene circuit.
By programming bacteria with a synthetic gene circuit that can recruit gold nanoparticles to the surface of their colony, researchers can build functional devices. A proof-of-concept study uses this technique to build dome-shaped pressure sensors with the help of living bacteria.

As a bacterial colony grows into the shape of a hemisphere, the gene circuit triggers the production of a type of protein to distribute within the colony that can recruit inorganic materials. When supplied with gold nanoparticles by researchers, the system forms a golden shell around the bacterial colony, the size and shape of which can be controlled by altering the growth environment.

The result is a device that can be used as a pressure sensor, proving that the process can create working devices.

While other experiments have successfully grown materials using bacterial processes, they have relied entirely on externally controlling where the bacteria grow and have been limited to two dimensions. In the new study, researchers at Duke demonstrate the production of a composite structure by programming the cells themselves and controlling their access to nutrients, but still leaving the bacteria free to grow in three dimensions.
The study appears online on October 9 in Nature Biotechnology.

This is good news for all of us concerned with the potentially looming antibacterial crisis.

Antibiotics Dosed With Quantum Dots Are 1,000 Times Better at Killing Superbugs

Scientists have used quantum dots activated by light to help antibiotics fight bacteria more effectively. This could be a powerful new tool in the fight against antibiotic-resistant infections.
Quantum dots, currently used in place of organic dyes in various experiments using photoelectronics to trace the ways that drugs and other molecules move through the body, may have a new supportive role in healthcare. Scientists have engineered quantum dot nanoparticles that produce chemicals that can make bacteria more vulnerable to antibiotics. This will hopefully be a step forward in the fight against drug-resistant pathogens, like superbugs, and the infections they cause.

In this study, antibiotics empowered by the experimental quantum dots were 1,000 times more effective at fighting off bacteria than antibiotics alone. The quantum dots used were about the width of a strand of DNA, 3 nanometers in diameter. The dots were made of cadmium telluride, a stable crystalline compound often used in photovoltaics. The electrons of the quantum dots react to green light at a particular frequency, causing them to bond with oxygen molecules in the body and form superoxide. Bacteria that absorbs the substance are unable to fend off antibiotics, as their internal chemistry falls out of balance.

The team mixed different quantities of quantum dots into varying concentrations of each of five antibiotics to create the range of samples for testing. They then added these test samples to five strains of drug-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, and Salmonella. In the 480 tests with different quantum dots/antibiotics/bacteria combinations, more than 75 percent of the samples with quantum dots were able to curb bacterial growth or kill the bacteria entirely with lower doses of antibiotics.

The developments of biobots that can travel through the body - the blood stream and maybe via other means - is progressing ever faster. The 5 min video does an excellent job of explaining this development. This is another incredible example of manufacturing with DNA
“Our goal was to design and build a molecular robot that could perform a sophisticated nanomechanical task: cargo sorting,”

“Though we demonstrated a robot for this specific task, the same system design can be generalized to work with dozens of types of cargo at any arbitrary initial location on the surface,” says Thubagere. “One could also have multiple robots performing diverse sorting tasks in parallel.”

“We are interested in designing a pheromone‐like signalthat the robot can leave behind and mark where they have been, so they can be programmed to find the direct path between two locations, similar to how ants find direct paths between nest and food.”

Researchers Developed a Molecule-Sorting DNA Nanorobot

Bioengineers from the Californian Institute of Technology developed DNA robots that can autonomously walk, sort, and work together – all at once. The robots are “programmed” to transport molecules into predetermined locations and may provide many intriguing applications in medicine and nanoengineering.

In their study, published in the journal Science, the researchers presented a single-stranded DNA molecule with an unexpected purpose.

Lead author and bioengineer Anupama Thubagere constructed a string of single-stranded DNA, 48 nucleotides long, composed of different sections: a “leg” with two “feet” for walking, and an “arm” and “hand” for picking up molecular “cargo”. It also includes a segment that can recognize and target specific drop-off points, where it signals the hand to release its cargo. The robot can move and sort randomly scattered molecules without requiring any external signals or energy input since all actions are controlled by strand displacement reactions.

This is an interesting signal for anyone interested in generational differences and the social sciences used to measure such differences.


New research finds recent college students are no more self-absorbed than their predecessors.
With each new generation, Americans are growing more narcissistic. That assertion, which has been backed up by research, has spread widely, presumably because it makes intuitive sense. It's easy to surmise that growing up in a world of selfies and social media would lead kids to worship their own reflections.

However, this narrative has been challenged. And just-published research suggests it may be based on a misreading, or misinterpretation, of some widely cited data.
"There may never have been an epidemic of narcissism," writes a team led by psychologists Eunike Wetzel of the University of Konstanz and Brent Roberts of the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign. "Our study suggests today's college students are less narcissistic than their predecessors."

The study, which will be published later this week in the journal Psychological Science, analyzes data on more than 50,000 students enrolled at three universities. University of California–Berkeley undergraduates were surveyed in the 1990s; those from the University of California–Davis and the University of Illinois were surveyed in the 2000s and 2010s.

The change in global energy geopolitics represented by renewable energy can also be complemented with new forms of carbon capture to mitigate climate change. This article signal three basic methods with another 10 possibilities - all of which can be engaged with simultaneously.

Removing carbon from atmosphere can be simple and low tech

But “if you’re really concerned about coral reefs, biodiversity [and] food production in very poor regions, we’re going to have to deploy negative emission technology at scale,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, a science and policy institute. “I don’t think we can have confidence that anything else can do this,” the Berlin-based chief executive told a London climate change conference.

Nextbigfuture has listed simple and low cost and scalable carbon dioxide mitigation since 2009 and there are new ones as well.

These methods will be faster to scale then complicated and industrial intensive carbon capture at coal and natural gas plants and factories and creating massive national and global pipelines to move the captured gas into underground storage.
  • Expand Commercial Kelp Growth by 100 times
  • Iron sulphate in the ocean to make large algae blooms is restoring processes that used to exist with more Whales
  • Biochar sequestering

These are Cool
This is definitely a signal - although I’m not sure if it will be here in 2018 - but certainly in the next decade.

Airbus’ Electric Flying Taxis Are Set to Take to the Skies Next Year

Airbus has successfully completed testing on its CityAirbus' propulsion system, putting the VTOL on track for a 2018 test flight. When its fully operational, it will be able to carry up to four people and maneuver around the city at 120km/h.

Airbus is aiming to put its flying taxi, the CityAirbus, into operation next year, as confirmed by the company earlier this week. The announcement comes after a successful full-scale ground test of the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle’s propulsion system.

CityAirbus is entirely battery-powered (with electric 100 KW Siemens motors), uses a four propeller design to navigate through crowded cities and other dense environments, and can comfortably carry up to four people “in a fast, affordable, and environmentally friendly way.”

The flying taxi’s first test is scheduled for the end of 2018, and it will be piloted remotely before a human pilot is assigned. When it is commercially available for use, it will travel along fixed routes at a top speed of 120 km/h (74.5 mph). While Airbus would like to make it fully autonomous, they’re starting with pilots to “to ease certification and public acceptance.”

Expect to see more flying taxis and services within the next few years as the technology is further developed and tested. German startup E-volo, for example, also has plans to launch a taxi service next year, while Uber has promised to introduce their own flying taxis by 2020. Dubai recently had a successful test of its autonomous Volocopter, which is also meant to be used in urban areas — albeit for shorter, 30-minute trips. Lastly, there’s the German company Lilium, which just received an additional $90 million to develop their all-electric flying taxi, with the intent to have a series of commercialized aircraft by 2025.

This 2 min video should immediately evoke the speedsters in Star Wars. Forget all terrain vehicles once these become available.

Russian company that makes AK-47s just built this hoverbike

This is an interesting signal about the real message of the digital environment - interactive, immersive environments - bringing new overlays to augment our reality. We do this now in a way - by adding an immersive digital musical-auditory layer upon many areas of our lived experience.


Now, VR users can tour parts of ancient Athens like it appeared 2,000 years ago thanks to an Australian startup called Lithodomos VR. Think photorealistic and archeologically accurate renditions of famous structures — including the acropolis and agora — delivered straight to your VR headset.

The program began when Lithodomos VR co-founder Simon Young and his team first made a reconstruction of the Odean of Agrippa, a once-towering concert hall with a massive single-spanned ceiling.

“And yet, today, it is a tumbled mess of ruins,” Young told Digital Trends. “Visitors often pass by it without a second glance. Even I, as an archaeologist, found it difficult to match the drawings that reconstructed the building with the ruins. It seemed like the perfect candidate [for our pilot program]: a building that could really use a bit of VR to bring it back into view on site.”

While developing the agora and constructing an interactive acropolis, Young realized that he and his team had sufficient material to piece together a rich VR experience, wandering about these structures. They added features like sound effects and narration.

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