Thursday, March 15, 2018

Friday Thinking 16 March 2018

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



In 2014, the United States Supreme Court used this observation to justify the decision that police must obtain a warrant before rummaging through our smartphones. These devices ‘are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy’, as Chief Justice John Roberts observed in his written opinion.

one might argue that trashing someone’s smartphone should be seen as a form of ‘extended’ assault, equivalent to a blow to the head, rather than just destruction of property. If your memories are erased because someone attacks you with a club, a court would have no trouble characterising the episode as a violent incident. So if someone breaks your smartphone and wipes its contents, perhaps the perpetrator should be punished as they would be if they had caused a head trauma.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman used to say that he thought with his notebook. Without a pen and pencil, a great deal of complex reflection and analysis would never have been possible. If the extended mind view is right, then even simple technologies such as these would merit recognition and protection as a part of the essential toolkit of the mind.

Are ‘you’ just inside your skin or is your smartphone part of you?

Bees are not alone in using simple-majority rule—Tibetan macaques do it too. In 2014, my colleagues and I were studying how a group of 12 adult macaques coordinated their collective movements. We noticed that once three or more of them ganged up together, the entire group would often follow suit. The success rate in getting the group into action increased with the number of initiators—those who started the process. When the initiators numbered seven or more, exceeding a simple majority, the success rate reached its maximum: 100 percent.

Democracy in collective decision-making has also been observed in African buffaloes, red deer, baboons, and pigeons. Even single-celled bacteria make collective decisions based on a democratic process known as quorum sensing. Their genes control some aspect of their behavior, like how mobile or virulent they should become, based on how many of their bacterial comrades are already engaging in that behavior. Similar democratic processes are also used by cockroaches and other swarming insects.

Apparently, the lofty principles of our democracy may have a straightforward biological origin, and can emerge without any elaborate design. Simple-majority democracy can safeguard the will of the majority, and, at least judging by the frequency with which its found in nature, seems to be one of the best ways of resolving conflicting interests among individuals who have to stick together—whether it’s a swarm of bees or a band of monkeys. It’s no wonder a motley crew of gregarious species, including humans, have evolved to use this same wisdom in making collective decisions.

This remarkable fact is more than a curiosity—it can also be a useful model. It offers the opportunity to evaluate how robust democracy is against deviations from simple-majority rules.

The presence of the ignorant not only failed to undermine the voting of the informed majority, it actually fortified it.
Even single-celled bacteria make collective decisions based on a democratic process.

Would Twitter Ruin Bee Democracy?

Imagine a raging infection in the lungs of a hospitalized cancer patient. When a powerful antibiotic floods the patient's system, the bacterium responsible, Klebsiella pneumoniae(pictured), seems to be doomed. But it can deploy a resilience strategy honed over billions of years: borrowing a gene from another cell that enables the pathogen to survive.

When environments change, organisms adapt or die. K. pneumoniae and other bacteria have turbocharged the process of adaptation by snagging genes from elsewhere, including various bacteria and DNA molecules loose in the environment. Such horizontal gene transfers allow the bugs to gain valuable new traits, everything from the ability to thrive on cheese rinds to antibiotic resistance.

Researchers think that K. pneumoniae acquired its antibiotic disrupter gene, blaKPC, from another, still-unidentified bacterium. Bacteria outfitted with the gene churn out an enzyme that breaks down several antibiotics.

From stealing genes to regrowing limbs life finds way to survive & thrive

I think the power of bringing design thinking into schools as a toolkit that both educators and also students directly use is just an approach to creative problem solving and opportunity seeking. It is one of the things that can allow young people to have a process that they reliably know they can use when faced with unforeseen challenges. That's what our future is.

One of the big hurdles we have to get over now is the obsession with learning a bunch of content knowledge, as opposed to learning how to work through a challenge and discover an opportunity.

a program we have called School Retool, introduces just three design mindsets to school leaders to help them start to change their schools and turn them into more equitable institutions. Those key design mindsets that we introduce are a bias towards action, starting small, and failing forward to learn—those underlying pieces of what designers are particularly good at. [School Retool] really helps educators, whether they're classroom teachers or school leaders or system level leaders, start to notice and work with their own creativity to build their creative confidence.

Susie Wise Says Traditional Education Deserves a Design Revolution

Nearly all my teachers lectured. I started teaching that way too, motivating students through my grade-giving authority. Universities’ predominant model is “We know. You don’t. We will give you knowledge,” focusing on intellectual skills, neglecting social and emotional skills.

Schools choose what students can study and motivate by authority. Whatever content they teach, behaviorally they teach compliance. Knowledge, analysis, and compliance were valuable generations ago, in the age of the knowledge worker, not when facts are available instantaneously, as today.

Social and emotional skills—to communicate and behave so others share their needs so you can help them, for example—meet today’s students’ needs. From engineering to art and just plain citizenship, leadership and entrepreneurial skills are more valuable than writing analytical papers. Learning them requires social and emotional challenges, which don’t come through compliance.

Universities’ equivalent of Unsafe at Any Speed is Google no longer requiring college diplomas for its employees. Not an arbitrary decision by a maverick company, Google attracts the top students from top universities’ top programs. Its research found, according to Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, that “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless—no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and GPAs and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.”

Preparing students for jobs is only one purpose of a university. Universities also purport to develop students into responsible adults able to create meaning and purpose. But such development comes with social and emotional challenges and schools value GPAs, double majors, triple minors, and other credentials—from the Latin credo, to trust. The top leaders’ and Google’s defection shows that the world is losing trust in academic credentials. Credentials are universities’ equivalent of cars’ speed, power, and style.

Why Ivy League could end up like big 3 carmakers: utterly disrupted

Poe's law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers or viewers as a sincere expression of the parodied views


This is an important signal from the Oxford Internet Institute about the network effects of the digital environment and the inevitable exposure to diversity.
a nationally representative online survey of 2,000 British adults. This is part of the larger Quello Search Project that examines the formation of political opinions and the digital media habits of adults in seven different countries. Unfortunately no similar Canadian data set exists at present.

The myth of the echo chamber

In a recently published study, we show that fears about an “echo chamber” in which people encounter only information that confirms their existing political views are blown out of proportion. In fact, most people already have media habits that help them avoid echo chambers.

There is a common fear that people are using social media to access only specific types of political information and news. The echo chamber theory says people select information that conforms to their preferences.

A related theory about “filter bubbles” claims social media companies are incentivized to prioritize likeable and shareable content in an individual’s feed, which in turn puts people in an algorithmically constructed bubble.

The democratic problem with these supposed echo chambers and filter bubbles is that people are empowered to avoid politics if they want. This means they will be less aware of their political system, less informed and in turn less likely to vote — all bad signs for a healthy democracy.

Individuals have access to a wide range of media, from traditional news outlets on television, radio and newspapers (and their digital versions) to a wide range of social media sites and blogs. This means studies that focus on any one single platform simply cannot speak to the actual experiences of individuals.
Our analysis suggests that people are rarely caught in echo chambers. Only about eight per cent of the online adults in Great Britain are at risk of being trapped in an echo chamber.

While the theme is common in the domain of fictional political spy thrillers and science fiction - the reality may soon become to a screen near us. Another reason for expectations of personal appearances in public.

Oxford Study on AI: The Ability to Fake Real Life

Imagine the leader of a country, who dies or gets killed in office, but those around the leader keep it secret to maintain their own power.
No one suspects a thing, for very good reason. The leader is seen delivering a crucial speech from the White House, the Kremlin, or Parliament.

The only catch? The video of the speech is fake—it was created by artificial intelligence (AI). And it looks so real, you'd never know the difference.
I know it sounds like Hollywood, but a new study by Oxford University paints a picture of AI where this is possible within the next five years.

AI will soon be so good that our existence in video, photos, and speech can be completely faked. And that will alter the cyber attack surface forever, taking it to a new level.

Now, let's go beyond AI created images and videos. The Oxford report talks about the ability of artificial intelligence to imitate your voice so well it would fool your own mother.

The Oxford study—in conjunction with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, OpenAI, and other partners—is called "The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation."
You really should spend some time reading the Oxford report on artificial intelligence because we've only scratched the surface here. It is 100 pages long and full of spine-chilling scenarios.

Wolff provides a great 1.5 hour Google Talk - about alternatives to the current economic models. He’s deeply informed and yet entertaining. Like getting a lesson in Marx from The Godfather. Well worth the listen.

Richard Wolff: "Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism"

Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York City. He wrote Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism and founded - a non-profit advocacy organization of the same name that promotes democratic workplaces as a key path to a stronger, democratic economic system.

Professor Wolff discusses the economic dimensions of our lives, our jobs, our incomes, our debts, those of our children, and those looming down the road in his unique mixture of deep insight and dry humor. He presents current events and draws connections to the past to highlight the machinations of our global economy. He helps us to understand political and corporate policy, organization of labor, the distribution of goods and services, and challenges us to question some of the deepest foundations of our society.

This is an interesting signal about the emerging world of cryptocurrencies and other uses of the Blockchain / Distributed-Ledger technologies.

Berkeley, California, is considering an ICO unlike any other

A city council member calls his plan to mint a new crypto-token an “initial community offering.” If it works, it could be revolutionary.
Venezuela is doing it. So is Estonia. And now Berkeley, California, is considering its own government-backed initial coin offering. But this is a different beast from the ICO craze that’s gripped the crypto world in the last year or so, and a far cry from a petro-state’s Hail Mary attempt to save its foundering economy.

Ben Bartlett, a city council member in Berkeley, is after something that is in many ways much more mundane, though potentially far more revolutionary if it works: he wants to use blockchain technology to turn municipal bonds into crypto-assets. In a turn of phrase that is oh-so-Berkeley, he calls the concept an “initial community offering.”

The idea rests on the notion that smart contracts—blockchain-based computer programs that have fueled the rise of ICOs—can securely mediate the buying, selling, and trading of assets, including stocks and bonds. For cities, municipal bonds are a vital means of raising funds for all sorts of projects, like building new schools and hospitals, improving roads, or updating a sewer system.

...the current system for issuing municipal bonds has become byzantine and dependent on an array of middlemen who add costs and slow things down. It’s so expensive to issue a bond, in fact, that it’s essentially useless as a tool for funding a single small municipal project. Bartlett says a blockchain can eliminate much of that overhead and allow organizations to be more “targeted” in their fund-raising—for instance, by issuing bonds to finance a single community theater, a housing project, or the purchase of an ambulance.

Control over today’s municipal bond market is consolidated among a few global banks, and the way the market is structured “favors very large-scale projects over the right-sized projects,” agrees Jase Wilson, CEO of the startup Neighborly. For instance, he says, “if a community needs a couple million bucks for a community solar microgrid, it’s very difficult to put that amount of money together.” Blockchains can reduce the need for financial intermediaries, allowing for broader access to both sides of the market, he says.

Amazon seems to be emulating Google - in the sense that Google started out wanting to organize the world’s information - by not ordering it first but learning about search - Amazon seem to be organizing matter. This is what is possible with AI, Memory and robots. This is a Must Read for anyone interested in 21st century logistic and knowledge management.
Amazon didn’t invent this strategy, but the company has employed it at a scale that has never been seen before.
In 2012, Amazon acquired the company that makes its robots, called Kiva Systems, for $775 million, and since 2014 it has deployed more than 100,000 of the machines in 25 of its 149 warehouses worldwide. Though these robots are often hailed as the key to Amazon’s efficiency, they wouldn’t work as well without Amazon’s simple system of random storage.

Amazon built one of the world’s most efficient warehouses by embracing chaos

When Dave Alperson got his first job at an Amazon warehouse in 1997, as a temporary hourly employee, it involved walking around the warehouse with a list of where to find products—mostly books—that customers had ordered.

Twenty years later, as a regional director of operations for Amazon in Indiana, he oversees 18 warehouses that barely resemble where he started. Amazon now sells millions of products; each of its 149 warehouses ship tens of thousands of them each day; and those warehouses now look like live-action games of Chutes and Ladders—whizzing with a meticulously coordinated system of conveyor belts, slides, and machines that do everything from attach labels to boxes to check weight for quality control.

In the process of building this elaborate system, Amazon has completely redefined warehouse efficiency and customer convenience. Through its Prime membership, it has promised tens of millions of customers free two-day shipping on more than 100 million products, and, last year, it shipped 5 billion items to them. “That was the major innovation,” says Daniel Theobald, who cofounded a warehouse robotics company called Vecna in 1998 and counts major retailers and logistics companies as clients. “As soon as people realized, you can order something and get it tomorrow, that turned the industry upside down.”

The core of this disruptive efficiency, is not Amazon’s automated shelf-moving warehouse robots. And it isn’t, on its surface, something that you would associate with a well-oiled machine. It’s not even a breakthrough technology.

What makes Amazon’s warehouses work is the way they organize inventory: with complete randomness.

This is an interesting application of biomimicry and complexity theory to solving real world distribution problems.


Looking for a way to help a sustainable food system grow, Cullen Naumoff turned to nature.
Naumoff, director of sustainable enterprise for the Oberlin Project in Oberlin, Ohio, had recently launched a food hub with colleague Heather Adelman. Food hubs bring together what small farmers produce into quantities needed by big buyers like schools, restaurants and supermarkets. The problem? The Oberlin Food Hub was so successful that demand was outstripping the ability of participating farmers to meet it. Naumoff turned to other regional food hubs — and soon found herself driving all around the region to pick up and deliver lone bushels of produce — encumbering the expenses of big food companies without benefiting from the economies of scale they enjoy.

Ant colony optimization is an approach to applying ant behavior to solving engineering and operations problems. Different ant species, Hoy said, use different kinds of networks of nests and paths in between them to optimize food transportation. In the process, they create a library of strategies humans can tap to solve our own food transportation challenges.

Mexican ants, for example, use a hub-and-spoke model like big food distributors, with a central nest and ants that make trips fanning to and from the center as they search for food. Argentinian ants, rather than using permanent nests, are constantly on the move, splitting and joining in new groups and nesting temporarily as they go. Malaysian leaf-cutter ants create central nests, but the ants are different sizes and carry different loads to match — with small ants, for example, carrying small leaf-cuttings and larger ants carrying bigger ones.

Hoy’s insights provided Naumoff with new ideas for meeting her food transportation challenge. She began moving her food transportation strategy from the Mexican ant model toward the Argentinian ant model Hoy described.

This is an important signal of a continued acceleration in the development of AI, robotics and more. It is also a signal of an emerging ecology of AI one that will not lead to an AI taking over - but rather a true ecology of competition, collaboration, and other ecological behaviors.
Last October Ma announced that his company would spend $15 billion over the next three years on a research institute called the DAMO Academy (“discovery, adventure, momentum, and outlook”), dedicated to fundamental technologies.

Inside the Chinese lab that plans to rewire the world with AI

Alibaba is investing huge sums in AI research and resources—and it is building tools to challenge Google and Amazon.
The ticket kiosks at Shanghai’s frenetic subway station have a mind of their own.

Walk up to one and state your destination, and it’ll automatically recommend a route before issuing a ticket. It’ll even check your identification (a necessary step in China) by looking at your face. In the interest of reducing the rush-hour stampede, the system is set up to let you find information and buy tickets without pushing a button or talking to a person.

More impressive still, all this happens successfully in the middle of a crowded, noisy station. Each kiosk has to figure out who is speaking to it; zero in on that person’s voice within the crowd; transcribe the incoming speech; parse its meaning; and compare the person’s face against a massive database of photos—all within a few seconds.

To do it, the kiosks use several cutting-edge machine-learning algorithms. The really interesting thing, though, isn’t the algorithms themselves. It’s where they live. All that image processing and speech recognition is served up on demand by a cloud computing system owned by one of China’s most successful companies, the e-commerce giant Alibaba.

….So if the world’s AI is supplied by China, what sorts of values will it come with? In the West there is growing concern about issues such as biased algorithms and job losses to automation. That kind of debate is less often heard in China. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland,  recently, Jack Ma, Alibaba’s boss, acknowledged the risks that come with AI; but unlike its US counterparts, Alibaba isn’t involved with ethics groups like the Partnership on AI. And unlike, say, DeepMind, the AI-focused subsidiary of Alphabet, it doesn’t have an internal ethics division.

As China becomes more proficient in AI, it will help determine how the technology reshapes the world. And Alibaba will undoubtedly be an important part of this picture.

The Chinese authorities’ interest in using technology for social control also helps. There are plans for a “social credit system” that would track and score citizens’ everyday behavior with a view to perks or punishment. Face recognition software from Chinese companies like SenseTime is being used to find criminals in surveillance footage, and to track suspected dissidents.

Another signal of the emerging wave of automation - this article seems to be pointing toward a John Henry (the legend of the ‘steel driving man’) trajectory for these master bricklayers. The large gifs are definitely worth the view.

Bricklayers Think They’re Safe From Robots. Decide for Yourself.

The bricklayers work with ruthless efficiency, scraping and slathering mortar brick after brick, tamping each down to ensure everything is level. By the end of a single hour, with thousands of spectators watching, they have built a stretch of wall that would be a day’s work for a mason building at a normal pace.

“I’m on the edge of crazy when I’m laying brick,” said Matt Cash of Charlotte, N.C., a defending champion of the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500, the world’s largest competition of bricklayers.

On the other side of this parking lot behind the Las Vegas Convention Center, a robot moves at a decidedly more plodding pace. It’s called SAM for short (semi-automated mason), and if it were to enter the competition, it would surely lose.

Here at this race, humans are holding off the future with trowel and muscle. But that may not last. Bricklayers are becoming increasingly hard to find nationwide. Despite rising wages, there’s a shortage of workers.

The world of Big Data, Gene Sequencing and more could plausibly map not only our relationships but our lineages. Imagine a global genealogy? Are we ready? The graphic is impressive.
The final result is a single pedigree connecting 13 million relatives mostly of European descent, dating back 11 generations. It includes, among others, famed population geneticist Sewall Wright and actor Kevin Bacon
In 1700, people typically married a fourth cousin born 10 kilometers away; starting around 1850 they married less genetically related partners. But although experts had thought this shift reflected a growing distance between where partners were born, Erlich’s study found that didn’t explain it. Instead, a cultural factor such as a taboo on marrying a cousin may have arisen around this time and led to less marriage to relatives. “All of this helps us to understand how genes spread in a geographical area,” Erlich says.

Thirteen million degrees of Kevin Bacon: World’s largest family tree shines light on life span, who marries whom

Researchers have published what may be the largest family tree ever: a genealogy database stretching back 5 centuries that links 13 million people related by blood or marriage. The tree has already led to such insights as the link between genes and longevity and why our ancestors married whom they did. And researchers say that’s just a start.

“This study is an impressive and clever use of crowdsourcing data to address a number of interesting scientific questions,” says geneticist Peter Visscher of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who was not involved with the work. The tree’s bigger promise, he and others say, could come if it were linked to health information to explore the role of genetics in diseases.

Computational geneticist Yaniv Erlich of Columbia University says he thought up the project 7 years ago, after he got an email from a distant cousin through a website called, where people share their family trees. He emailed the company’s chief technology officer, who gave him his blessing to download the site’s tens of millions of public profiles listing a person’s name, sex, date and place of birth, date of death, and immediate relatives (but no DNA information). Figuring out how to make sense of the data took time—his team presented an early version of the tree at a meeting more than 4 years ago—and they later added more data, giving them a starting point of 86 million profiles.

Design is an increasingly important discipline that should be brought to bear on all aspects of social and technological development. Not only for developing effective, robust and evolvable structures and processes - but also in application to our cities for the future - to deal with climate change and other inevitable even if unknowable challenges.

The water is coming for Copenhagen; good design could be its best defence

The Danish capital is associated with fables, vikings and in recent decades, good design. As Copenhagen city prepares for a century of extreme climate events, landscape architects, planners and inhabitants are finding creative solutions that provide not just flood defence, but more urban amenity.

Copenhagen’s Climate Adaptation Plan, completed in 2011, identifies water – in the form of rainfall and flooding – as key threats. The plan places landscape architecture at the core of planned upgrades to existing areas and the development of new ones. Lykke Leonardsen, the City of Copenhagen’s Head of Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions, sees the city’s climate adaptation as an opportunity to develop new urban assets and experiences for its inhabitants. “How can we create added value from a problem?” asks Leonardsen, who is passionate about ensuring that Copenhagen is “not only solving the problem of water management, but actually seizing the opportunity to upgrade the neighbourhood.”

It looks like coal may not be dead as a source of high value.

UK Researchers First to Produce High Grade Rare Earths From Coal

University of Kentucky researchers have produced nearly pure rare earth concentrates from Kentucky coal using an environmentally-conscious and cost-effective process, a groundbreaking accomplishment in the energy industry.

"As far as I know, our team is the first in the world to have provided a 98 percent pure rare earth concentrate from a coal source," said Rick Honaker, professor of mining engineering.

The process recovered more than 80 percent of the REEs present in the feed sources. The concentrates were comprised of more than 80 percent total rare earth elements on a dry whole mass basis and more than 98 percent rare earth oxides. More importantly, critical elements such as neodymium and yttrium — used in national defense technologies and the high-tech and renewable energy industries — represented over 45 percent of the total concentrate.

Another unique feature of the new recovery process is that scandium — a highly valued rare earth element used for aerospace, lighting and other applications — was efficiently separated from the other rare elements and concentrated as a separate product from the circuit.

On the energy front another weak signal about the ongoing efforts to create fusion power - energy source.

Nuclear fusion on brink of being realised, say MIT scientists

Carbon-free fusion power could be ‘on the grid in 15 years’
The project, a collaboration between scientists at MIT and a private company, will take a radically different approach to other efforts to transform fusion from an expensive science experiment into a viable commercial energy source. The team intend to use a new class of high-temperature superconductors they predict will allow them to create the world’s first fusion reactor that produces more energy than needs to be put in to get the fusion reaction going.

Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni, said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”

The planned fusion experiment, called Sparc, is set to be far smaller – about 1/65th of the volume – than that of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project, an international collaboration currently being constructed in France.

The experimental reactor is designed to produce about 100MW of heat. While it will not turn that heat into electricity, it will produce, in pulses of about 10 seconds, as much power as is used by a small city. The scientists anticipate the output would be more than twice the power used to heat the plasma, achieving the ultimate technical milestone: positive net energy from fusion.

The world of sensors continues to make interesting advances - here’s a signal not just for artificial touch sensitive skin - but enabling any surface to become sensitive.

Stanford researchers develop stretchable, touch-sensitive electronics

Stanford researchers have set the stage for an evolution in electronics by taking the concept of ‘artificial skin’ to the next level, demonstrating not only a stretchable circuitry that can feel the touch of a ladybug, but a manufacturing process to mass produce this circuitry.
Of the many ways that humans make sense of our world – with our eyes, ears, nose and mouth – none is perhaps less appreciated than our tactile and versatile hands. Thanks to our sensitive fingertips, we can feel the heat before we touch the flame, or sense the softness of a newborn’s cheek.

But people with prosthetic limbs live in a world without touch. Restoring some semblance of this sensation has been a driving force behind Stanford chemical engineer Zhenan Bao’s decades-long quest to create stretchable, electronically-sensitive synthetic materials. Such a breakthrough could one day serve as skin-like coverings for prosthetics. But in the near term, this same technology could become the foundation for the evolution of new genre of flexible electronics that are in stark contrast with rigid smartphones that many of us carry, gingerly, in our back pockets.

Now, in a Feb. 19 Nature paper, Bao and her team describe two technical firsts that could bring this 20-year goal to fruition: the creation of a stretchable, polymer circuitry with integrated touch-sensors to detect the delicate footprint of an artificial ladybug. And while this technical achievement is a milestone, the second, and more practical, advance is a method to mass produce this new class of flexible, stretchable electronics – a critical step on the path to commercialization, Bao said.

Here is an interesting signal in our understand of Biology and cancer.
"Cancer is truly a systemic disease that requires multi-organ involvement to progress," Dr. Lyden emphasized. "Our finding that tumor cells secrete these three distinct nanoparticles, that then target cells in different organs reflects this important aspect of the disease."

Scientists discover new nanoparticle, dubbed exomeres

A new cellular messenger discovered by Weill Cornell Medicine scientists may help reveal how cancer cells co-opt the body's intercellular delivery service to spread to new locations in the body.

In a paper published Feb. 19 in Nature Cell Biology, the scientists show that a cutting-edge technique called asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation (AF4) can efficiently sort nano-sized particles, called exosomes, that are secreted by cancer cells and contain DNA, RNA, fats and proteins. This technology allowed the investigators to separate two distinct exosome subtypes and discover a new nanoparticle, which they named exomeres.

"We found that exomeres are the most predominant particle secreted by cancer cells," said senior author Dr. David Lyden, the Stavros S. Niarchos Professor in Pediatric Cardiology, and a scientist in the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children's Health at Weill Cornell Medicine. "They are smaller and structurally and functionally distinct from exosomes. Exomeres largely fuse with cells in the bone marrow and liver, where they can alter immune function and metabolism of drugs. The latter finding may explain why many cancer patients are unable to tolerate even small doses of chemotherapy due to toxicity."

Here is an very important signal about the accelerating understanding of the way viruses work in the ecosystem and the complex role in health and disease.
“This finding is the tip of an iceberg. There are thought to be more than 300,000 viruses that can infect or be carried in mammals, and only 7,500 or so of these, or about 2.5%, have been sequenced,” Professor Kahn said.

Researchers Discover ‘Insulin-Producing’ Viruses

An international team of scientists led by Harvard Medical School’s Joslin Diabetes Center has identified four viruses that can produce insulin-like hormones. Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the discovery brings new possibilities for revealing biological mechanisms that may cause disease.
By analyzing large research databases that hold viral genomic sequences, Joslin Diabetes Center’s chief academic officer Professor Ronald Kahn and co-authors found that various viruses can produce peptides that are similar in whole or in part to 16 human hormones and regulatory proteins.

“What really caught our attention were four viruses (members of the family Iridoviridae) that had insulin-like sequences,” Professor Kahn said.
“These viruses are definitely known to infect fish and amphibians, but they are not known to infect humans,” he added.

“However, it’s possible that humans get exposed to these viruses through just eating fish. Nobody has checked directly whether under some conditions the viruses could either infect cells or be at least partly absorbed through the gut intestine.”

“We show that these viral insulin-like peptides can act on human and rodent cells. With the very large number of microbial peptides to which we are exposed, there is a novel window for host-microbe interactions. We hope that studying these processes will help us to better understand the role of microbes in human disease.”

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