Thursday, November 9, 2017

Friday Thinking 10 Nov. 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



According to Boyd, ambiguity and uncertainty surround us. While the randomness of the outside world plays a large role in that uncertainty, Boyd argues that our inability to properly make sense of our changing reality is the bigger hindrance. When our circumstances change, we often fail to shift our perspective and instead continue to try to see the world as we feel it should be. We need to shift what Boyd calls our existing “mental concepts” – or what I like to call “mental models” – in order to deal with the new reality.

Mental models – or paradigms – are simply a way of looking at and understanding the world. They create our expectations for how the world works. They are sometimes culturally relative and can be rooted in tradition, heritage, and even genetics. They can be something as specific as traffic laws or social etiquette. Or they can be as general as the overarching principles of an organization or a field of study like psychology, history, the laws and theories of science and math, and military doctrines on the rules of engagement. Because Boyd was more interested in using the OODA Loop as an organizing principle for a grand strategy, he tended to focus on these more abstract types of mental models.

Boyd points to three philosophical and scientific principles to show that trying to understand a randomly changing universe with pre-existing mental models only results in confusion, ambiguity, and more uncertainty. Understanding the basics of these principles helps to show how uncertainty and ambiguity are not just errors in human understanding or logic, but are truly built into the framework of the universe – both the worlds outside and inside ourselves. Those three principles are Gödel’s Proof, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics…

...reality is an interconnected ecosystem of factors that influence one another. Thus, to understand this ecosystem, you need to apply multiple models in an interconnected fashion. John Muir put it best when he noted: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” …

...fluency in destroying and creating mental models will only come with practice, so start doing it as much as you can. When you’re faced with a new problem, go through the domains above in a checklist-like fashion and ask yourself, “Are there elements from these different mental concepts that can provide insight into my problem?”

The Tao of Boyd: How to Master the OODA Loop

I was recently rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s hilarious riff, You Are Not Enough People, where he argues that most marital arguments are really about the fact that your spouse is “not enough people.” Human social needs are too diverse and conflicting to be met by one person. If you try to get every need, from intimacy to income, from chores to dramatic entertainment, from nurturance to intellectual stimulation, from your spouse, you’re going to have a miserable marriage. If you broaden the set of people you rely on for these varied needs (or at least buy a TV), you have a shot at a happy marriage. Vonnegut argues that this need was traditionally met by extended families.

I argue that it still is, except that we find the extended families we rely on today, for social-psychological sustenance, through work. So when leaders claim their organizations are like families, they are not bullshitting. Good organizations really do fulfill many of the needs traditionally fulfilled by extended family. Unlike families though, they also author stories in the wider world rather than persisting as storyless domestic units laboring in the background of the story of humanity.

This insight led me to another one. If I had to distill everything I’ve learned about organizations, leadership, and management over the last decade down to one sentence, it would be this: If you put people in the right story, all hard problems become easy; if you put them in the wrong story, all easy problems become hard.

The connection is simple: the “extended family” of work is the right size cast to sustain a story humans want to be part of. The right story is the story of a group of people that is both big enough to get something interesting done — the mission/plot of the story — while also being big enough to solve the “you are not enough people” problem for all characters in the story. A good leader solves both problems at once. A bad leader thinks one or the other problem is unimportant.

This idea has an unexpected implication: everybody's favorite economist of the brave new blockchain world of decentralized network orgs, Ronald Coase, was wrong about some important things.

Getting story straight: 12-40 people living a story with ending 15-40 years out

The Chinese government plans to pour 60 billion yuan ($9 billion) into a national precision medicine initiative before 2030. That’s a lot of money: a similar effort in the United States was launched in 2015 with $215 million in funding. As part of research into precision medicine techniques, millions of people’s genomes will be sequenced in China in the next few years, says Michael Chou, co-founder of PGP China and a lecturer in Harvard’s genetics department. In 2016, the state-owned Yang Zi Investment Group built a sequencing center in Nanjing that’s capable of sequencing the genomes of 400,000 to 500,000 people a year. That would be roughly equal to the total number of people who had ever been sequenced as of last January, according to Illumina, the leading maker of sequencing machines.

About 30 percent of the world’s sequencing machines were in China as of 2015, but the country has been gearing up to increase its share. A wave of investment in genomics has crested over the last six years as other industries, especially real estate, began to falter. The genomics business has gone from being overshadowed by one company, the Shenzhen-based BGI, to now having at least 10 companies equipped with the latest sequencers from Illumina, which can decode genomes for about $1,000 apiece. Nobody can offer a precise count of players in the market because so many companies are trying to amass funds and purchase sequencing machines. In addition to these homegrown sequencing startups, Chinese companies with global ambitions such as WuXi AppTec have been buying up stakes in international genomics companies.

China Doubles Down on the Double Helix

This is a key signal of a couple of things - that cities are the laboratory of institutional innovation, that smart cities will need a public digital infrastructure to enable the economy of the future, that the large gap remains the protective democratically accountable governance architecture necessary to ensure good enough accountability and egalitarian distribution of enablement. I only wish Canadian cities would undertake something similar to break us free from the Stockholm Syndrome of reliance on Cable-Telephone company capture of what should now be public infrastructure.
Imagine a capital city with ubiquitous free wifi? What would that do for tourism, for local businesses, for residences?
It’s taken San Francisco a number of tries to get to the point of suggesting a city-controlled utility fiber network that private-sector retail operators can use as a neutral platform

The most interesting and simplest version of a public-private partnership suggested by CTC is found on page 93, deep in the report: The city would issue a franchise to a private company to build a dark fiber network reaching every home and business (adding to the 170-plus miles of dark fiber already owned by the city), and then would turn around and have a publicly controlled entity lease that fiber to private operators. Private operators, in turn, would install the electronics that “light” the network and would connect up customers to the internet.

The city would not be in the business of competing with existing providers in this model, but would, instead, be providing basic infrastructure that any company could use—the connectivity equivalent of a city street grid. The cost to the public of borrowing the money to build this basic network—estimated at about $1.5 billion by CTC—would be significantly lowered by leasing revenue from advance arrangements with operators. The city would subsidize low-income residents wishing to subscribe for fiber services from those private operators. CTC sets forth a detailed timeline for getting all of this done.


San Francisco became the first major city in America to pledge to connect all of its homes and businesses to a fiber optic network.
I urge you to read that sentence again. It’s a ray of light. In an era of short-term, deeply partisan do-nothing-ism, the city's straightforward, deeply practical determination shines. Americans, it turns out, are capable of great things—even if only at the city level these days.

You might think: Big deal, San Francisco is our tech capital, the last place that needs this. But for years, San Francisco has had a major problem. True, it’s the tech capital of the country and a progressive leader among US cities, but before last week it had no plan to ensure that it had world-class data connectivity for its residents at a reasonable price. Techies frequently bemoan this fact, showing one another screenshots of spinning wheels. San Francisco’s dilemma is a compact form of the crisis in communications facing the rest of the country: Although fiber is the necessary infrastructure for every policy goal we have—advanced healthcare, the emergence of new forms of industries, a chance for every child to get an education, managed use of energy, and on and on—the private sector, left to its own devices, has no particular incentive to ensure a widespread upgrade to fiber optic connections.

Comcast dominates access in the city, but has no plans to replace its cable lines—great at downloads, not so great at uploads, no opportunity to scale to the capacity of fiber thanks to the laws of physics, and expensive to subscribe to—with fiber. And its planned enhancements to its cable lines have, in other cities, resulted in a product costing $150 per month. AT&T will say it’s upgrading to fiber in San Francisco, but so far its work in many other US cities has been incremental, confined to areas where it has existing business customers to serve or where it already has fiber in place. Other, smaller providers similarly have no plans to do a city-wide upgrade, leaving San Francisco with a deeply uneven patchwork of connectivity.

It's official that China s the World’s largest economy - and it's building massive infrastructure pretty much all over the globe. And while it is a huge contributor to climate change - it's also leading many nations in renewable technologies, urban design and cultural architecture.
China's strategy calls for developing capabilities and governance capacity in four major domains:
1 - Managing Internet content and creating positive energy online
2 - Ensuring general cybersecurity, including protecting critical information infrastructure
3 - Developing an independent, domestic technological base for the hardware and software undergird of the Internet in China
4 - Increasing China's role in building, governing and operating the Internet globally.

China’s Strategic Thinking on Building Power in Cyberspace

A Top Party Journal’s Timely Explanation Translated
With the 19th Party Congress coming next month and the 4th Chinese-convened World Internet Congress (WIC) soon to follow, China’s digital policy authorities this month held a publicity-filled Cybersecurity Week, and the Party’s leading journal on theory, Qiushi, published an important article from a previously unknown entity under the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The article, which a team of analysts has translated in full below, outlines the major elements of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s strategic thinking on one of Chinese cyberspace policy’s watchwords: 网络强国 (wǎngluò qiángguó). It’s a pithy formulation in Chinese that can be translated as “cyber superpower,” or “building China into a national power in cyberspace,” and the strategic concept attached to it ties together a series of concepts and initiatives that Xi has pushed in major speeches and the Chinese government has moved to enact.

The CAC “Theoretical Studies Center Group,” apparently making its debut here, draws on the legitimacy of its Xi-established parent organization and the special status of the journal Qiushi to provide an authoritative synthesis of recent strategic thinking, attributed to Xi, on how to take China from being a cyber power to being a cyber superpower—a goal that implies rough parity with the United States. This comes as U.S.–China cyberspace dialogue continues in a piecemeal fashion across several official channels, although a dedicated dialogue on “law enforcement and cybersecurity” announced in April (and alluded to in the article below) has not yet met.

According to the CAC authors, China’s strategy calls for developing capabilities and governance capacity in four major baskets: managing Internet content and creating “positive energy” online; ensuring general cybersecurity, including protecting critical information infrastructure; developing an independent, domestic technological base for the hardware and software that undergird of the Internet in China; and increasing China’s role in building, governing, and operating the Internet globally. The essay’s authors outline this wide-reaching set of goals under the unifying banner of that four-character phrase, wǎngluò qiángguó.

Social credit, debt, favors, obligations - form social fabric, conscience, moral order in ways that show how we Value our Values. The digital environment is enabling an unprecedented capacity to make our personal judgments visible.
This is an important signal - we already have over 2 billion people regularly expressing ‘likes’ (and other equivalent judgments and emoji). Hundreds of millions of people who have played massive multiplayer online games are familiar with ‘reputation ratings’. We have to think deeply and profoundly about how to shape the technology that will shape us. For China this is a significant move towards operationalizing ‘positive energy’ both online and elsewhere.

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

On June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System". In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?

Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It's not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school - or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it's already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance "trust" nationwide and to build a culture of "sincerity". As the policy states, "It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility."

Living systems exist by embracing uncertainty, paradox and ontologically real possibles - they exist in the embrace of the border of Order and Chaos. Too much order feels like death as does too much chaos. This signal emerges from Joichi Ito - MIT Professor of the Practice in Media Arts and Sciences

Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

Designing our Complex Future with Machines
Nature’s ecosystem provides us with an elegant example of a complex adaptive system where myriad “currencies” interact and respond to feedback systems that enable both flourishing and regulation. This collaborative model–rather than a model of exponential financial growth or the Singularity, which promises the transcendence of our current human condition through advances in technology—should provide the paradigm for our approach to artificial intelligence. More than 60 years ago, MIT mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener warned us that “when human atoms are knit into an organization in which they are used, not in their full right as responsible human beings, but as cogs and levers and rods, it matters little that their raw material is flesh and blood.” We should heed Wiener’s warning.

And another signal also a longish read from the researcher of ‘social physics’ who new book is “Honest Signals”  - director of the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamics labs. He is a founding member of advisory boards for Google, AT&T, Nissan, and the UN Secretary General. The article is a transcript of a 29 min video that is also available in the article.
Accounting is a universal function upon which all life and even Algorithmic Intelligence if founded. Social Fabric is Social Accounting.
Where does culture come from? How can we select for culture in evolution when it's the individuals that reproduce? What you need is something that selects for the best cultures and the best groups, but also selects for the best individuals because they're the things that transmit the genes.

The Human Strategy

A Conversation With Alex "Sandy" Pentland
The idea of a credit assignment function, reinforcing “neurons” that work, is the core of current AI. And if you make those little neurons that get reinforced smarter, the AI gets smarter. So, what would happen if the neurons were people? People have lots of capabilities; they know lots of things about the world; they can perceive things in a human way. What would happen if you had a network of people where you could reinforce the ones that were helping and maybe discourage the ones that weren't?

That begins to sound like a society or a company. We all live in a human social network. We're reinforced for things that seem to help everybody and discouraged from things that are not appreciated. Culture is something that comes from a sort of human AI, the function of reinforcing the good and penalizing the bad, but applied to humans and human problems. Once you realize that you can take this general framework of AI and create a human AI, the question becomes, what's the right way to do that? Is it a safe idea? Is it completely crazy?

The big question that I'm asking myself these days is how can we make a human artificial intelligence? Something that is not a machine, but rather a cyber culture that we can all live in as humans, with a human feel to it. I don't want to think small—people talk about robots and stuff—I want this to be global. Think Skynet. But how would you make Skynet something that's really about the human fabric?
The first thing you have to ask is what's the magic of the current AI? Where is it wrong and where is it right?

The good magic is that it has something called the credit assignment function. What that lets you do is take stupid neurons, these little linear functions, and figure out, in a big network, which ones are doing the work and encourage them more. It's a way of taking a random bunch of things that are all hooked together in a network and making them smart by giving them feedback about what works and what doesn't. It sounds pretty simple, but it's got some complicated math around it. That's the magic that makes AI work.

The bad part of that is, because those little neurons are stupid, the things that they learn don't generalize very well. If it sees something that it hasn't seen before, or if the world changes a little bit, it's likely to make a horrible mistake. It has absolutely no sense of context. In some ways, it's as far from Wiener's original notion of cybernetics as you can get because it's not contextualized: it's this little idiot savant.

But imagine that you took away these limitations of current AI. Instead of using dumb neurons, you used things that embedded some knowledge. Maybe instead of linear neurons, you used neurons that were functions in physics, and you tried to fit physics data. Or maybe you put in a lot of stuff about humans and how they interact with each other, the statistics and characteristics of that. When you do that and you add this credit assignment function, you take your set of things you know about—either physics or humans, and a bunch of data—in order to reinforce the functions that are working, then you get an AI that works extremely well and can generalize.

Looming on the horizon is a whole new type of security threat and computational paradigm - Quantum Computing - Every light projects shadows and any technology can be weaponized.

New white paper maps the very real risks that quantum attacks will pose for Bitcoin

Combining expertise in quantum technologies and cryptography, researchers have been projecting future dates that quantum computers could jeopardise the security of current cryptocurrencies, a market now worth over USD $150 billion, and assessing countermeasures to such attacks.

Macquarie University physicist Associate Professor Gavin Brennen, together with Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun and researchers in Singapore and Sydney, has announced a collaboration with blockchain company Hyperchain on providing quantum security to digital currency. The team named Quantum Resistant Coin (QRC), includes researchers A/Prof. Brennen at Macquarie U., Prof. Miklos Santha at CNRS Université Paris Diderot and Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), A/Prof. Troy Lee at Nanyang Technological University and CQT, and Senior Lecturer Dr. Marco Tomamichel at UTS.

They have just released a whitepaper which finds that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies will be vulnerable to attacks by quantum computers in as little as 10 years. Such attacks could have a disastrous effect on cryptocurrencies as thieves equipped with quantum computers could easily steal funds without detection, thus leading to a quick erosion of trust in the markets. They also assess the risk of quantum dominated mining in so called Proof of Work protocols which are the basis for verifying transactions in Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies.

Developments in AI continue - it’s hard to imagine the next decade in relation to both Quantum and AI - this is a signal in key breakthroughs and of Google’s continuation as a leading pioneer and of Canadian talent in this domain.


IF YOU WANT to blame someone for the hoopla around artificial intelligence, 69-year-old Google researcher Geoff Hinton is a good candidate.

Late last week, Hinton released two research papers that he says prove out an idea he’s been mulling for almost 40 years. “It’s made a lot of intuitive sense to me for a very long time, it just hasn’t worked well,” Hinton says. “We’ve finally got something that works well.”

Hinton’s new approach, known as capsule networks, is a twist on neural networks intended to make machines better able to understand the world through images or video. In one of the papers posted last week, Hinton’s capsule networks matched the accuracy of the best previous techniques on a standard test of how well software can learn to recognize handwritten digits.

In the second, capsule networks almost halved the best previous error rate on a test that challenges software to recognize toys such as trucks and cars from different angles. Hinton has been working on his new technique with colleagues Sara Sabour and Nicholas Frost at Google’s Toronto office.

Roland Memisevic, cofounder of image-recognition startup Twenty Billion Neurons, and a professor at University of Montreal, says Hinton’s basic design should be capable of extracting more understanding from a given amount of data than existing systems. If proven out at scale, that could be helpful in domains such as healthcare, where image data to train AI systems is much scarcer than the large volume of selfies available around the internet.

A significant signal about the ‘creative’ trajectory of AI. My guess is that pioneering artists will be embracing AI as new types of creative tool-collaborators.
I could feel something watching me and I could see this dark shadow standing there with a torrent of hatred in its face. I was beyond scared so I didn’t take my eyes off this thing and turned back towards the mirror to see what was behind me!

A New AI is Writing Perverse Horror Fiction

There's a new horror novelist that wants to scare the living breath out of you. Developed by researchers from MIT, Shelley AI takes inspiration from original works and human Twitter contributions to spin the scariest words in a short horror prose.
Developers of artificial intelligence (AI) systems have been dabbling in the arts for a while now. There’s already an AI capable of composing original music — it even has its own album — writing film screenplays, and even painting. Now, as an early Halloween treat, the latest AI artist is aspiring to be a horror novelist.

Meet Shelley AI, a deep learning algorithm that was developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and named after Victorian-era novelist Mary Shelley who penned Frankenstein. The AI was trained using stories collected from a subreddit dedicated to sharing original eerie tales. According to its developers, Shelley “takes a bit of inspiration in the form of a random seed, or a short snippet of text, and starts creating stories emanating from her creepy creative mind.”

McLuhan noted that technologies extend the human mind, senses and body - this is another key signal about the growing integration of the human and digital environment. The post-modern primative embrace of piercings and tattoos easily presage the next cyborg-human-in-environment.

Under the skin: how insertable microchips could unlock the future

Volunteers in Melbourne have had microchips inserted for three months, designed to unlock doors and carry out other tasks. Will they really be any use?
The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and usually inserted in the webbing between the thumb and forefinger using a needle the same thickness as used in body piercing.

It feels, says insertable technology expert Kayla Heffernan, like getting a drip.
Once the needle is removed the incision heals in a few days and the microchip remains, allowing the wearer to open doors with the brush of a hand – provided they only wish to access one particular place.

Commercially available insertable microchips are only large enough to hold one access code and a small amount of other information, so the days of replacing an entire wallet and keychain with a tiny computer under the skin are not yet upon us.
The future is coming, but it’s not in a rush.

This is an important signal related to 3D printing - which has been definitely on the ‘hype’ part of the hype-curve for a while. Many have been waiting for the advent of ubiquitous 3D printing. Yet many challenges remain before it can replace mass manufacturing. However, in domains of highly specialized items - advances are being made. There’s a great 5 min video.

These Giant Printers Are Meant to Make Rockets

Relativity Space says its gear will be more durable and slash per-launch costs.
In a small factory a couple of miles from Los Angeles International Airport, Ellis and Noone have spent the past two years working to build a rocket using only 3D printers. Their startup, Relativity Space Inc., is betting that removing humans from the manufacturing equation will make rockets way cheaper and faster to produce. The going rate for a rocket launch is about $100 million; Relativity says that in four years its price will be $10 million. “This is the right direction,” says Ellis, the chief executive officer, during the first-ever press tour of the company’s headquarters. “The 3D printing and automation of rockets is inevitable.”

That direction is less obvious than he makes it sound. Although a couple of companies have 3D-printed whole rocket engines and other parts to make them more durable (molten metal shaped into a single part is less vulnerable to wear and tear than a bunch of pieces fitted together), 3D printing tends to be slower and more expensive than old-fashioned welding. Faced with that problem, Relativity decided the solution was to build its own printers.

The whole idea of species is being challenged by a combination of other interesting biological realities - for example; gene pools, species-in-environment, horizontal gene transfer and evolving ecologies.
There are a whole lot of species concepts, says Richard Richards, a philosopher of biology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “We use different rules for different kinds of organisms,” he says. “For vertebrates, the interbreeding rule is useful. Not so for the many kinds of nonsexually reproducing organisms out there.”

Defining ‘species’ is a fuzzy art

A schoolroom word. A vital concept. A beast to define.
At first glance, “species” is a basic vocabulary word schoolchildren can ace on a test by reciting something close to: a group of living things that create fertile offspring when mating with each other but not when mating with outsiders. Ask scientists who devote careers to designating those species, however, and there’s no typical answer. Scientists do not agree.

“You may be stirring up a hornet’s nest,” warns evolutionary zoologist Frank E. Zachos of Austria’s Natural History Museum Vienna when I ask my “what is a species” question. “People sometimes react very emotionally when it comes to species concepts.” He should know, having cataloged 32 of them in his 2016 overview, Species Concepts in Biology.
Modern genetics has revealed that much of the diversity of life on Earth is found in single-celled organisms that reproduce asexually by splitting in two — thus flummoxing the definition. Of course the single-celled hordes still form … somethings. There isn’t just one vast smear of microbial life where all shapes, sizes, body features and chemistry can be found in any old mix. There are clusters with shared traits, some of which cause human and agricultural diseases and some of which photosynthesize in the ocean, producing as much as 70 percent of the oxygen that we and other living things breathe. Humans need to understand the history of microbes and have names to talk about these influential organisms.

Rather than deciding that these microbes are just not species, which is one popular view, microbiome researcher Seth Bordenstein suggests “just twisting the biological species concept ever so slightly.” Genes don’t shuffle around via sex, but there’s still kidnapping of genes from other asexuals. This process might count as something like interbreeding, says Bordenstein, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. With that interpretation, the biological species concept “could apply to microbes.” Sort of.

But one-celled microbes aren’t the only asexuals. Even vertebrates have their no-sex scandals. New Mexico whiptail lizards are a species: Aspidoscelis neomexicanus. Yet females lay eggs with no male fertilization; males don’t exist.

We are definitely in a ‘post-species’ environment as we continue to engage in the domestication of DNA with a corresponding ability to become new and natural agents in the combining and recombining of elements of a gene pool. This has significant implications signaling phase transitions in evolution - including our own. This is a longish article.

Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More

Will you be among the first to pick your kids’ IQ? As machine learning unlocks predictions from DNA databases, scientists say parents could have choices never before possible.
Nathan Treff was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 24. It’s a disease that runs in families, but it has complex causes. More than one gene is involved. And the environment plays a role too.

So you don’t know who will get it. Treff’s grandfather had it, and lost a leg. But Treff’s three young kids are fine, so far. He’s crossing his fingers they won’t develop it later.

Now Treff, an in vitro fertilization specialist, is working on a radical way to change the odds. Using a combination of computer models and DNA tests, the startup company he’s working with, Genomic Prediction, thinks it has a way of predicting which IVF embryos in a laboratory dish would be most likely to develop type 1 diabetes or other complex diseases. Armed with such statistical scorecards, doctors and parents could huddle and choose to avoid embryos with failing grades.

The advance is occurring, say scientists, thanks to a growing flood of genetic data collected from large population studies. As statistical models known as predictors gobble up DNA and health information about hundreds of thousands of people, they’re getting more accurate at spotting the genetic patterns that foreshadow disease risk. But they have a controversial side, since the same techniques can be used to project the eventual height, weight, skin tone, and even intelligence of an IVF embryo.

There the massive online game about protein folding called FoldIt and another game about designing RNA called EteRNA - where thousands of players not only learn about this level of biology but can also end up discovering new thing and publishing papers scientists.
Now that knowledge increases - with the possibility of home gardeners, farmers and others exploring the possibility space of domesticating DNA.
Of course like all other technology including the car - it has the potential to be weaponized.
There have been other posts about the advancing of the home chemistry kit toward the home DNA ‘hacking’ kit - and it seems here it is.
“We aren’t going to get sick, are we?” my roommate Brett asked me. He cringed as I knelt down and stuffed a plate of E. coli bacteria—which came as part of the DIY CRISPR–Cas9 kit I bought online—into our fridge next to cartons of eggs, strawberry jam, bottles of beer and a block of cheese.
“No, we won’t. The label says ‘non-pathogenic,’” I replied, trying to sound assuring. But honestly, I had no clue what I was doing. I nudged all the food up against the fridge wall, and left a two-inch border around the plate of living cells—a no man’s land between the microbes and our dinner. A couple inches probably would not stop the bugs, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

….could untrained DIY-ers actually achieve scientific breakthroughs?—I asked academic researchers what they thought. Dana Carroll, for his part, believes amateurs could make meaningful discoveries. “In the professional science community, people keep coming up with new ways to use this technology—people are really only limited by their imagination,” he explains. “It’s possible that people working in their garages or their kitchens will come up with a novel application or a solution to a problem that professionals just haven’t gotten around to.” And Carroll says it would be easy for a DIY-er to share any discoveries with researchers, by attending their talks or simply by contacting them through their Web sites. Yet he notes that the DIY community faces limitations, because amateur scientists likely would lack the necessary resources. “It’s unlikely they will bring a major application all the way to fruition,” he says, “But they could certainly get started on something.”

Mail-Order CRISPR Kits Allow Absolutely Anyone to Hack DNA

Experts debate what amateur scientists could accomplish with the powerful DNA editing tool—and whether its ready availability is cause for concern
CRISPR–Cas9 (or CRISPR, for short) has given scientists a powerful way to make precise changes to DNA—in microbes, plants, mice, dogs and even in human cells. The technique may help researchers engineer drought-resistance crops, develop better drugs, cure genetic disorders, eradicate infectious diseases and much more. Ask any biologist, and they’ll likely tell you that CRISPR is revolutionary. It’s cheap and effective, and in many cases, it works much better than older methods for making genetic modifications. Biologists will also tell you that CRISPR is very easy to use. But what does “easy to use” mean?

I am not a DIY scientist, much less a professional scientist. You won’t find me swabbing my cheek cells for DNA or tinkering with yeast in a lab on the weekend. But I wondered: Is CRISPR so easy that even amateurs like me can make meaningful contributions to science? And also, does this new technique make gene editing so accessible that we need to worry about DIY scientists cooking up pandemic viruses in their basements? If you Google ‘DIY CRISPR,’ stories such as “What Happens If Someone Uses this DIY Gene Hacking Kit to Make Mutant Bacteria?” pop up.

I attempted to find answers to all these questions myself, starting with the plate of bacteria in the kitchen of my San Francisco apartment.

For my own experiment, everything I needed came in a small cardboard box—an assortment of bottles, tubes, plates, powders and liquids (plus E. coli). I ordered my kit for $130 from the crowd-funding site Indiegogo as part of a campaign created by Bay Area biohacker Josiah Zayner. Zayner has a PhD in molecular biophysics and spent two years as a research fellow at NASA. He ran the crowdfunding campaign out of his apartment, and by the end of it, he had raised over $70,000 and sold 250 DIY CRISPR kits—one of which now sat on my kitchen table. Zayner has now sold over a thousand kits, largely on his company’s website, The Odin.

What will we know about DNA in the next decade?

Small group scoops international effort to sequence huge wheat genome

Just six scientists conquer one of the most complicated genomes ever read.
The wheat genome is finally complete. A giant international consortium of academics and companies has been trying to finish the challenging DNA sequence for more than a decade, but in the end, it was a small US-led team that scooped the prize. Researchers hope that the genome of bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) — described in the journal GigaScience this month[1] — will aid efforts to study and improve a staple crop on which around 2 billion people rely.

The wheat genome is crop geneticists' Mount Everest. It is huge — more than five times the size of a single copy of the human genome — and harbours six copies of each chromosome, adding up to between 16 billion and 17 billion letters of DNA. And more than 80% of it is made of repetitive sequences. These stretches are especially vexing for scientists trying to assemble the short DNA segments generated by sequencing machines into much longer chromosome sequences.

It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle filled with pieces of blue sky, says Steven Salzberg, a genomicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the latest sequencing effort. “The wheat genome is full of blue sky. All these pieces look like a lot of other pieces, but they’re not exactly alike.”

Here’s a very interesting signal of how domesticating DNA and bacteria is offering a new paradigm for manufacturing.


By combining two kinds of bacteria and sunlight, researchers have devised a new way to efficiently create biodegradable plastics.

One of the bacteria, Halomonas boliviensis, exists naturally in reflective, salty Bolivian pools a few thousand meters above sea level. Its partner, synthetic cyanobacteria, produces sugar by using sunlight. H. boliviensis then feeds on the sugar to produce the polymer used to create bioplastics, which the bacteria stores similar to how humans store fats.

“We know these symbioses exist in nature already,” said Taylor L. Weiss, the lead author of the most recent study, who has been working for months with Daniel Ducat and Eric Young at Michigan State University. “We’re mimicking that.”

This is another longish article - but it’s by the co-author (along with George Lakoff) of a must read book “Where Mathematics Comes From” - a deep exploration of the metaphorical foundations of our sense making with mathematics. The article will provide you with a good sample of what that book is about and a great insight into the cognitive dimensions of understanding mathematics.
But even more important is that the book provides an equally deep insight into the heart of social fabric, conscience via a biologically rooted sense of Quantical cognition which contributes to a universal experience of ‘moral bookkeeping’.

How natural is numeracy?

Where does our number sense come from? Is it a neural capacity we are born with — or is it a product of our culture?
Scientists have long claimed that our ability with numbers is indeed biologically evolved – that we can count because counting was a useful thing for our brains to be able to do. The hunter-gatherer who could tell which herd or flock of prey was the biggest, or which tree held the most fruit, had a survival advantage over the one who couldn’t. What’s more, other animals show a rudimentary capacity to distinguish differing small quantities of things: two bananas from three, say. Surely it stands to reason, then, that numeracy is adaptive.

But is it really? Being able to tell two things from three is useful, but being able to distinguish 152 from 153 must have been rather less urgent for our ancestors. More than about 100 sheep was too many for one shepherd to manage anyway in the ancient world, never mind millions or billions.

The cognitive scientist Rafael Núñez of the University of California at San Diego doesn’t buy the conventional wisdom that ‘number’ is a deep, evolved capacity. He thinks that it is a product of culture, like writing and architecture. ‘Some, perhaps most, scholars endorse a nativist view that numbers are biologically endowed,’ he said. ‘But I’d argue that, while there’s a biological grounding, language and cultural traits are necessary for the establishment of number itself.’

‘The idea of an inherited number sense as the unique building block of complex mathematical skill has had an unusual attraction,’ said the neuroscientist Wim Fias of the University of Gent in Belgium. ‘It fits the general enthusiasm and hope to expect solutions from biological explanations,’ in particular, by coupling ‘the mystery of human mind and behaviour with the promises offered by genetic research.’ But Fias agrees with Núñez that the available evidence – neuroscientific, cognitive, anthropological – just doesn’t support the idea.

Last year I was involved in initiating a KickStarter campaign for a social enterprise 'theSpace', aimed at enabling adults with cognitive disabilities - on the Autism Spectrum - to apprentice for creative self-employment.

The Campaign was successful and theSpace became real in April of this year. Now theSpace is having a first public Art Show.

We are also initiating a phase 2 KickStarter for a more modest amount to keep the initiative growing until it's sustainable.

WINTER EXHIBIT 2017 at theSpace
Vernissage: Friday, November 17th 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
391 McArthur Ave.

Members of theSpace are pleased to extend an invitation to you to attend a showing of our most recent creations!

We’re extremely excited to see our new storefront space up and running, after a first few wonderful months of creative workshops---and to show Ottawa our amazing work!

theSpace is an innovative forum for the creative use of media and various technologies, and an exciting range of artistic and social enterprise opportunities. Members are independent adults on the Autism spectrum, or with an intellectual disability, who are guided through the stewardship of their own community and a self-generated identity.

With our focus on the digital enhancement of member’s creations….opportunities for personal expression have reached new heights!

Whether just striking out on their own, after completing high school and post-graduate programs, or many years on, many individuals often find themselves in a situation where they feel isolated and disconnected from community.

There are few welcoming third spaces, or places outside of work or home—or play---where they can feel a sense of belonging and membership, as well as an unscripted and sophisticated experience of peer mentorship, friendship and to express genuine and sustainable personal agency.

Our workshops support the use of accessible technology, and members have been working hard to adapt their interests and personality to various creative processes, including using computer editing software, photo manipulation and other digital tools and techniques. We’ve even begun to begin sharing work with the larger community--- by way of an innovative social enterprise platform called Patreon!

Originally fuelled by a grassroots initiative and Kickstarter campaign led by Ottawa-based social worker and community advocate, Mignon Mildenberger, theSpace has turned a ground-breaking vision into a prototype to support Apprenticing for Creative Self-Employment!!

Looking forward to seeing you all in November---and we’re thrilled to be sharing with you---our community of supports!

Check out our Website 391 McArthur Ave.
Find us on Twitter: @thespaceott and

For more details contact or call 1 866-683-5947

Right now we are at a critical juncture---and after a first year in operation (as of February 2018)--where we need to ensure that we can pay our monthly rent, while continuing to increase our core group of members...and become even more sustainable, as we grow our membership and reputation!

We anticipate that by this time next year...if we can continue to grow at this rate---that we will be completely sustainable !

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