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New Smart Windows Transform Into Solar Cells When They Change Color

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 10:13 AM PST

Heat’s Out, Energy’s In

Low heat emission (Low-E) glass is a feature in the windows of many of the business and residential buildings in the United States. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), these energy efficient windows can be found in 80 percent of homes and 50 percent of commercial buildings.

However, as popular as these Low-E windows are for keeping the heat out of living and work spaces, there’s a potential energy feature that remains largely untapped and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) might just have the technology to realize it.

Researchers from NREL have developed a prototype photovoltaic (solar powered) smart window that can keep heat out of buildings while, at the same time, providing solar energy. The smart windows, built from the energy-harvesting material perovskite, are thermochromic — meaning they can change color from clear to tinted in response to heat. "There are thermochromic technologies out there but nothing that actually converts that energy into electricity," NREL scientist Lance Wheeler said in a press release.


Image credit: NREL
The inner workings of this “smart window” technology. Image Credit: NREL 

When solar energy heats up the smart window, methylamine molecules are driven out, causing the device to darken. During this transformation, NREL’s smart windows are converted into solar panels, and they’re pretty efficient at generating electricity. In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Nature Communications, the NREL team demonstrated an 11.3 percent efficiency in solar power conversion.

"There is a fundamental tradeoff between a good window and a good solar cell," explained Wheeler, who is a lead researcher in this study. "This technology bypasses that. We have a good solar cell when there's lots of sunshine and we have a good window when there's not."

Not Yet Perfect

According to Electrek, the 11.3 percent efficiency is promising, as some 80 percent of a building’s typical energy costs are spent on heating, cooling, and ventilation. However, while NREL’s solar-powered smart windows work, there’s one problem that the researchers still need to fix.

The researchers created a 1-square-centimeter prototype of the device, and it showed a decrease in performance after 20 repeated transparent-tinted cycles. This is a huge issue that will need to be resolved before NREL’s smart windows could make it to commercial use, especially since most existing smart windows can last through 50,000 cycles. Meanwhile, a standard photovoltaic panel can easily keep 80 percent energy conversion efficiency over a period of 25 years, Electrek noted. Improving the stability of the transformation cycle is the subject of further research at NREL.

The potential of smart windows that turn into solar panels is huge, particularly now that many businesses are keen on switching to 100 percent renewable energy. Instead of covering their buildings with solar panels at the cost of losing windows, commercial establishments can now have both in just one device. Furthermore, as Wheeler noted, these smart windows can just as easily be installed in cars, potentially providing tomorrow’s electric vehicles an option to go solar.

The post New Smart Windows Transform Into Solar Cells When They Change Color appeared first on Futurism.

A Federal Judge Just Ordered Coinbase to Report More Than 10,000 Users to the IRS

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 10:07 AM PST

Crypto Crackdown

As cryptocurrencies have grown in popularity, they’ve drawn the attention of various governments worldwide. The U.S. government is no exception, and now, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is preparing to take a closer look at those trading larger amounts of bitcoin via Coinbase, one of the world’s most popular crypto exchanges.

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that Coinbase must deliver identifying information to the IRS for anyone who exchanged more than $20,000 annually via the platform between 2013 and 2015. This development came about after authorities noticed that a relatively small number of people had reported gains from cryptocurrency despite their increasing popularity.

According to court documents, only 800 to 900 taxpayers reported gains related to bitcoin in the years stipulated. However, more than 14,000 Coinbase users bought, sold, sent, or received at least $20,000 in a single year between 2013 and 2015, indicating some traders may not be accurately reporting their cryptocurrency-related activity.

The IRS requested access to nine different pieces of information relating to Coinbase’s users, including complete user profiles and correspondence between Coinbase and the users. However, the court ruled on November 29 that Coinbase will only need to turn over the following for more than 10,000 account holders: each user’s taxpayer ID number, name, date of birth, address, transaction logs, and account statements.

Tax Man

One of the major appeals of cryptocurrencies is the fact that they are decentralized and offer a certain degree of privacy. However, authorities are beginning to move to regulate transactions, and this could have an impact on the market.

Bitcoin recently broke the $10,000 barrier for the first time, and it shows no signs of slowing as 2017 comes to a close. Larger and larger amounts of money are being exchanged, and that means that governmental bodies are going to want to take a closer look at transactions.

If cryptocurrency is going to reach mainstream adoption, developers and users will need to ensure it sheds its ties to illegal activity. Using the likes of bitcoin to purchase illegal materials or hijacking other users’ systems for the purposes of crypto mining are perhaps more attention-grabbing activities, but tax evasion is just as likely to delay adoption, especially if it turns out to be widespread.

Bitcoin, and indeed cryptocurrencies as a whole, started out on the fringes. Now, thanks to steady value increases and media hype, crypto is entering the spotlight. Attention from investors has expectedly led to attention from authorities, and soon, we’ll know if cryptocurrencies can continue to thrive under the close watch of regulating bodies.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

The post A Federal Judge Just Ordered Coinbase to Report More Than 10,000 Users to the IRS appeared first on Futurism.

Edible Selfies? Five Innovations Disrupting How and What We Eat

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 09:48 AM PST

Tasty Technology

On November 3 and 4, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn gave the world a glimpse at the future of food through their Food Loves Tech event. While the expo did feature tasty treats from a lineup of featured chefs and restaurants, it was far more than a simple food fair.

The “education-by-entertainment” event also included panels addressing issues such as the role genetic modification might play in the future of food, how automation might impact restaurants, and the best ways to use technology to avoid food waste.

It also featured a slew of innovative companies all hoping to carve out a place for themselves at the dining tables of the future.


Selffee is a New York City-based startup that uses technology to combine two of the hottest spots at any event: the dessert table and the photo booth.

Traditionally, to put a photo on a cake, cookie, or other treat, a baker first prints the image onto a sheet of edible paper and then places the sheet onto the baked good. This process changes the taste of the dessert, and due to the technology involved, it can’t be completed at a live event.

Selffee uses FDA-certified edible food ink to print high-quality images directly onto cookies, cupcakes, iced coffees, and more. Thanks to the software the company uses, the process is fast, making it perfect for live events. Guests simply snap a selfie on the spot, or send the company a favorite one from their photo album. Within minutes they can take a bite out of their own face.

Selffee booths have already turned up at soirees for Twitter, Google, and other big-name brands, and the company hopes to soon open a storefront in New York.


Round pizzas are so passé. Wouldn’t you rather eat one that’s shaped like, well, anything you can think of? BeeHex wants to make that possible.

Back in 2013, BeeHex’s CEO Anjan Contractor invented NASA's 3D food printer system. Now, instead of trying to work out ways to make it easier for astronauts to stay full during deep space missions, he’s focused on using 3D printing technology to make food more personal here on Earth.

BeeHex’s Chef 3D is a robot that 3D prints pizzas in the shape of the user’s choice. Using pressurized air, it pumps the ingredients onto the cooking surface in about a minute’s time, then after a quick five minute bake, the pizza is ready to eat.

In March, the company raised $1 million in seed funding to launch Chef 3D, and eventually, BeeHex hopes to create other printers capable of dishing out customized meals, snacks, and desserts on demand.


SproutsIO is another tech company looking to make food more personal. The compact smart microgarden system lives in your home and includes everything you need to grow fresh produce year round without the mess of soil.

The SproutsIO device features a high efficiency LED lamp head, a basin that combines hydroponic and aeroponic technologies, and sensors that monitor both the environment and the plant’s health. The type of light and its duration is automatically determined by the type of produce you are growing, as is the irrigation schedule, and the data from the sensors is used to continuously update the system as needed.

The seeds themselves are contained in easy-to-switch-out sIO refills, and users can order from amongst the 16 types available on the company’s website. The SproutsIO app gives the grower the opportunity to personalized the flavor of their produce through tweaks to its growing environment, too, so not only are they growing produce in their home, they’re growing produce they know they’ll enjoy eating.

The Good Spoon

From giving cold cut sandwiches a bit of tang to serving as the base for your favorite picnic salad, mayonnaise is certainly a versatile food, but a healthy one it is not. The Good Spoon is looking to change that by using mayo to bridge the gap between mainstream consumers and microalgae, a “superfood” currently relegated to the role of dietary supplement.

The Good Spoon replaces the eggs found in traditional mayonnaises with the microalgae Chlorella, which is not only good for your health but also the environment. According to Algama, the Good Spoon’s parent company, Chlorella has twice the protein of beef and 15 times the iron content of spinach, and because microalgaes require far less farmland, water, and energy to produce than animal-based proteins, they place less of a strain on the environment.

Finding ways to provide the planet’s population with the nutrients they need without further burdening our environment is important now and will be even more essential in the future as that population continues to grow. Being able to do so using something that actually tastes good is just a really great bonus.

Pico Brew

Beer may have been able to “save the world,” but the ancient beverage still can’t travel from one part of it to another without taking a hit in terms of flavor, aroma, and freshness. To avoid these issues, a growing number of people have taken to brewing their own beer right at home, but the process can be messy, time-consuming, and complicated to learn.

PicoBrew changes that. Users simply insert a cartridge containing all of the ingredients — grains, hops, etc. — into the device, which takes care of the rest. It’s sort of like a Keurig but instead of a cup of coffee, you get a gallon or so of beer. The cartridge itself is made of sugar cane pulp fiber, so it can be composted after the process is completed to avoid any waste.

With recipes from roughly 200 craft breweries to choose from, even the pickiest beer drinker is likely to find one that they’d want to have on tap at home.

The post Edible Selfies? Five Innovations Disrupting How and What We Eat appeared first on Futurism.

A Device Built by MIT Extracts Drinkable Water From Air

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 09:12 AM PST

This could have a huge impact on developing countries.

The post A Device Built by MIT Extracts Drinkable Water From Air appeared first on Futurism.

A Key Evolutionary Step May Mean Intelligent Alien Life Doesn’t Exist in the Universe

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 08:01 AM PST

Shortly after Earth’s formation, the planet was barren of life. Then, proteins combined in just the right way, and life appeared. For billions of years, it was simple and uninteresting, oceans full of simple, single-celled organisms floating for millennia after millennia. Suddenly, life got a lot more interesting. Organisms became more complex, with more than one cell. And they got much bigger — 10,000 times bigger by volume, Nick Lane, professor of evolutionary chemistry at University College London, wrote in his 2015 book The Vital Question.

The importance of this step — of this sudden increase in size and complexity — cannot be overstated. Without it, complex life (like humans, for example) would not exist.

How exactly this step happened is one of the big questions in evolutionary biology. There are a number of theories about how, exactly, life got so much more complicated. One of the prevailing theories, from Lane himself, focuses on energy. Here’s the thinking: Cells need more energy to build more complex structures. To do that, according to Lane’s theory, single-celled organisms merged with bacteria we now know as mitochondria, which have an electrical charge and bring power to the cell. It’s possible, though unlikely, for the two bacteria to fit together, and even less probably that the two were able to survive and live symbiotically. This occurrence that made possible all other forms of complex life is rare, to be sure.

But in Lane’s opinion, it only happened once.

“It comes down to one merger between two cells that made one cell, then everything comes from that. You, me, the redwood tree or the hummingbird, a fungus, a piece of algae growing in a pond, every form of life we can see with our naked eyes and many that we can’t come from that single cell,” Nick said in an episode of the science podcast Radiolab on his work.

The debate around how life got much more complicated is important to understand the history of life on Earth, but it also could inform our search for life on other planets. If complex life is exceedingly rare, does that make it less likely for us to find intelligent life in the universe? Should we instead be looking for something much smaller and simpler? If the universe outside of Earth only populated by single-celled organisms? Because these specific conditions are so unlikely, might complex life only exist on our own planet?

Futurism got in touch with a few experts to ask if they agree with Lane’s theory, if they believe intelligent extraterrestrial life is possible, and to get their perspectives on whether we should somehow alter our search.

Mohamed Noor, a professor of biology at Duke University:

To the best of my knowledge, Lane’s version of what happened is likely true: Acquiring mitochondria happened [only] once, long ago in the ancestor of plants, fungi, and animals. It greatly facilitated the evolution of multicellular organisms.

However, it’s impossible to know how to assess the need for something like that in the context of life that is totally unrelated to life on Earth. All life on Earth has a single common ancestor. This ancestor (and all life we on Earth) was presumably carbon/water-based, replicated using nucleic acids, and lived in conditions that existed on ancient or modern Earth. If life arose on a much colder world, for example, many other [environmental] parameters may be totally different as well.

In such a case, life there may use liquid ammonia rather than water as a solvent. It may not use nucleic acids for heredity. But some aspects may be general to life  carbon may intrinsically make sense for life, given its abundance and ability to make long chains. A “cell membrane” of some sort to insulate that life from its environment also seems probable. Finally, there are other things we never think about. How “fast” does this life metabolize and interact? Are there generations occurring in the blink of an eye? Or single interactions over millennia, moving so slowly we wouldn’t even notice?

Honestly, I feel like we cannot have any estimate of the probability of life of any kind (intelligent or not) until we move from a sample size of 1 (related to life on Earth) to a sample size of at least 2 [that is, until we discover at least one more example of life in the universe].

Back to your question, any “life” needs a source of power, but mitochondria need not be the only solution to that problem, especially if life is starting with a completely different basis. Still, my best guess is that microbial-sized life is way more likely to exist than something as large as us on other worlds. If our desire is to “find life,” I speculate that we’re much better off closely examining acquired samples from Europa or other worlds than waiting to receive a radio signal.

Pierre Pontarotti, the director of research at the Mathematics Institute of Marseille, wrote:

The symbiosis between bacteria and eukaryotes has occurred many times during the evolution of life on Earth. For example, cyanobacteria [merged] with the ancestors of plant cells — the cyanobacteria became the chloroplast. Therefore, if organisms like bacteria and eukaryotes are present on another planet, the symbiosis should happen.

We, of course, have no information about the kind of life that exists on other planets. But because galaxies and planets have evolved many times during the history of the universe, why shouldn’t life do so as well?

John Rummel, senior scientist with the SETI Institute:

Given the many advantages offered by the symbiosis of the pre-eukaryote and the pre-mitochondrial bacterium, it is entirely possible that once was enough — given that free oxygen could have been present to fuel the combination. "Once" here may not refer to a single endosymbiotic event, of course.

We don't know exactly where, and at what scale, eating pre-mitochondria became popular on Earth… The right biochemistry is the key to that being an advantageous thing to do, of course, so whether it is widespread in the cosmos is more a biochemical question than a natural-science one. [It has to be] just so… Without mitochondrial advantages, it might be a struggle to develop complex, anoxic biochemistries that could support the evolution of intelligence on a physically challenging world, but not impossible.

The post A Key Evolutionary Step May Mean Intelligent Alien Life Doesn’t Exist in the Universe appeared first on Futurism.

Elon Musk Wants to Build a New City-Wide Transportation System That Will Cut Travel Time in Half

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 07:53 AM PST

A Boring Loop

Surprise, surprise — Elon Musk has announced another major new project via Twitter. This time, Musk has revealed a project within his drilling venture, The Boring Company. The company, according to Musk, will “compete to fund, build & operate a high-speed Loop connecting Chicago O'Hare Airport to downtown.”

The goal of the new system, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, is to shuttle Chicago residents between downtown and O’Hare airport in less than 20 minutes — half the time of the current commute. Musk and his competitors for the Chicago contract will have to include both a downtown and airport station, as well as a maintenance facility, and have a plan in place to minimize "potential conflicts or impacts on existing transportation systems and the environment.”

A part of the “O'Hare express project,” this concept has been a dream and goal of Chicago’s elected officials for many years. In fact, Chicago’s former Mayor, Richard M. Daley, tried to convince Chinese investors to build the railway system stemming from the Block 37 super-station. But until now, this concept has remained an ambitious, lofty hope — right up Elon Musk’s alley.

A Non-Hyper Loop

The Sun-Times notes that top mayoral aides took a trip to Los Angeles earlier this year, to discuss the hyperloop option with Musk. Current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual has expressed enthusiasm over hyperloop technology, and previously said that Musk was "very interested."

However, Musk has clarified that the Chicago system would not actually be a hyperloop. He explained the distinction on Twitter, saying that “A Loop is like a Hyperloop, but without drawing a vacuum inside the tube. Don't need to get rid of air friction for short routes.”

Instead of the vacuum-pods that are part of Hyperloop’s signature, this venture will instead use electric pods to transport people.

There are very few details about the current status of this venture, but we hope to soon learn more about the future of high-speed, public transport in Chicago.

The post Elon Musk Wants to Build a New City-Wide Transportation System That Will Cut Travel Time in Half appeared first on Futurism.

Machine Learning Could Allow Us to Uncover the Biological Root of Depression

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 07:15 AM PST

Depression and Anxiety

In the United States alone, millions of adults struggle with major depressive disorder (MDD), commonly known as depression. In 2012 alone, 16 million suffered at least one major depressive episode. At the same time, social anxiety disorder (SAD) affects roughly 15 million adults in the U.S. One new study aims to further our understanding of these disorders by highlighting a pattern of structural brain abnormalities in people with depression and social anxiety.

The researchers will present the new study this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

There are clinical similarities and ties between depression and anxiety, and it is not unheard of for people to suffer from both MDD and SAD. The conditions even share a fair number of clinical symptoms.  However, there has been very little direct comparison of brain structure in individuals with MDD and SAD, according to the author of the new study, Dr. Youjin Zhao from Sichuan University in Chengdu, China.

Zhao and her co-author, Dr. Su Lui, worked together to better observe the structural differences and commonalities in the brain. Using MRI, they were able to see brain abnormalities in grey matter and assess the thickness of the cortex.

Differing cortical thickness. Image Credit: Radiological Society of North America
Differing cortical thickness within the brains of MDD and SAD patients, in comparison to the brains of healthy control subjects. Image Credit: Radiological Society of North America

Abnormal Assessment

The study used images from 37 MDD patients, 24 SAD patients, and 41 healthy control individuals. Zhao acknowledged that this is not yet enough data to make overarching conclusions or begin to develop treatments and applications.

“Our findings provide preliminary evidence of common and specific gray matter changes in MDD and SAD patients,” said Zhao in a press release. “Future studies with larger sample sizes combined with machine learning analysis may further aid the diagnostic and prognostic value of structural MRI.”

However, the observed differences are still notable. In email to Futurism, Zhao elaborated that: “Our results, together with previous findings of structural and functional alterations, strongly suggest the involvement of the visual processing region in the [development] of MDD and the involvement of precentral cortex dysfunction in the pathophysiology of SAD.”

Within both the MDD and SAD patients, the team observed gray matter abnormalities in the brain’s salience and dorsal attention networks. These networks allow us to focus, and determine what requires our attention. They also observed varied cortical thicknesses, which “may reflect a compensatory mechanism that is related to inflammation or other aspects of the pathophysiology,” Zhao explained.

She added that “greater … cortical thickness could be the result of both the continuous coping efforts and emotion regulation attempts of MDD and SAD patients.”

The researchers’ other observations seem to suggest that these two disorders are structurally much more similar than could previously be proven.

Further research and exploration into the physiology of MDD and SAD should advance our understanding of these conditions, and lead to applicable therapies. According to Dr. Zhao, “Further longitudinal work in larger samples is required to draw firm conclusions. However, these identified regions may serve as candidate ROIs for nondrug therapies studies, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), deep brain stimulation (DBS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).”

The post Machine Learning Could Allow Us to Uncover the Biological Root of Depression appeared first on Futurism.

NASA Plans to Send a Robot to Hunt for Life on Saturn’s Moon

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 07:06 AM PST

Saturn’s Moon

NASA wants to utilize the power of SELFI — or the Submillimeter Enceladus Life Fundamentals Instrument — to hunt for signs of life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The agency just announced that they’ve received support to move forward on the development of the remote sensing submillimeter-wave or radio instrument, and once completed, they’ll use it to study the composition of water vapor and ice-spewing geysers at the south pole of Enceladus.

"Submillimeter wavelengths, which are in the range of very high-frequency radio, give us a way to measure the quantity of many different kinds of molecules in a cold gas,” principal investigator Gordon Chin said in a NASA news release. "Molecules such as water and carbon monoxide, and others, are like little radio stations that broadcast on very specific frequencies that say, 'Hey, I'm water, I'm carbon monoxide.'”

Alien Worlds: Meet The Most Remarkable Moons in Our Solar System
Click to View Full Infographic

By allowing scientists to identify and measure these chemical traces in the plumes of the emissions from Enceladus’ geysers, SELFI will help them understand the ocean beneath the icy crust of the moon. Any new information about its composition could lead us down the path to discovering life on Saturn’s moon

“We can scan through all the plumes to see what's coming out from Enceladus. Water vapor and other molecules can reveal some of the ocean's chemistry and guide a spacecraft onto the best path to fly through the plumes to make other measurements directly," said Chin.

Life Out There

Although SELFI won’t be the first submillimeter-wavelength device, it will represent a significant improvement over existing systems.

"The spectral lines are so discrete that we can identify and quantify chemicals with no confusion whatsoever," Paul Racette, a Goddard engineer who serves as the effort's chief systems engineer, noted in the news release.

Hydrogen is one of the 13 molecular species SELFI has the ability to detect in Enceladus’ water plumes, and as Chris German, an oceanographer with a background in geochemistry and an affinity for astrobiology, told Futurism, that detection could tell researchers quite a bit about the ocean.

“If hydrogen is persisting long enough through the ocean to come out the top, then it suggests that hydrogen is in short supply,” said German. A slew of additional questions would follow, such as whether the water contains anything that could react with the hydrogen. If not, is the ocean completely stagnant?

Even if scientists don’t find any signs of past or present life on Saturn’s moon, SELFI could be used on other, icy bodies within the outer solar system. As German noted, a region on a planet or moon wouldn’t even need to have access to sunlight to host life: “If you have water and rocks in contact with each other, there are still ways that you could sustain life.” Ultimately, SELFI will provide researchers with a very valuable tool in the hunt for life beyond Earth.

The post NASA Plans to Send a Robot to Hunt for Life on Saturn’s Moon appeared first on Futurism.

Hawking’s Institute Is Using a Supercomputer to Uncover the Nature of Space and Time

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 06:57 AM PST


Hewlett-Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) supercomputer, the new Superdome Flex, is more than an impressive, technological marvel. It’s a tool capable of unlocking some of the most complex mysteries of the universe, and Professor Stephen Hawking's Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (COSMOS) will be using the computer to do exactly that. 

The supercomputer’s high-speed memory can hold a staggering 48 terabytes of data. Because this data is stored in the newly-designed memory system instead of a more traditional storage system, the computer can process enormous amounts of data at lightning speed. This is great news for COSMOS, as they plan to sort through 14 billion years of data with the goal of filling in gaps in our knowledge of the physical history of the universe.

This computer might be just the beginning of this quest for knowledge, as it’s merely the precursor to “The Machine,” — HPE’s highly anticipated “ultimate vision” for computing. Their prototype will supposedly be able to store 160 terabytes of data in memory and can be built in a similar way to the Superdome Flex. Until this ambitious model becomes a more realistic option, Professor Hawking’s research group will use the immense capabilities of their existing supercomputer in their quest to discover more about the universe.

Mysterious Universe

COSMOS has already been making use of one HPE supercomputer and has been utilizing supercomputing power since 1997, their recent project is a natural progression for the researchers. Still, they hope that the latest advancement will allow them to achieve more than they ever have before.

With the Superdome Flex, COSMOS intends to create the most detailed 3-dimensional map of the early universe to date. They hope to show the location and position of cosmic bodies like supernovas, black holes, galaxies, and much more. The project is officially named “Beyond the Horizon – Tribute to Stephen Hawking. It was dubbed as such because “Hawking is a great theorist but he always wants to test his theories against observations. What will emerge is a 3D map of the universe with the positions of billions of galaxies,” said Professor Shellard in a Cambridge press release.

Data from the ESA’s Euclid probe, set to launch in 2020, will support these efforts, allowing the team to gain better insight into what researchers refer to as the “dark universe.” The team hopes that this combination of data will also allow them to more deeply peer into, and understand dark matter and dark energy, and their influence on the geometry, structure, and inner workings of the universe.

In addition to advancing our knowledge, the 3D map could potentially confirm existing theories about the universe. From our current understanding of black holes to the age of the universe and the standard model, the insights the map provides could challenge much of what we believe to be true about our universe. It may not be what leads humankind to a universal “theory of everything,” but it will allow physicists to get closer than humanity has ever come before.

The post Hawking’s Institute Is Using a Supercomputer to Uncover the Nature of Space and Time appeared first on Futurism.

The World’s First Robot Citizen Needs Your Help to Become Smarter

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 02:26 PM PST

A Stake in the Future

Hanson Robotics’ humanoid robot Sophia wants you to help her become smarter. The busy bot was just granted citizenship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in October, and now, she’s at the center of a crowdfunding campaign to take her artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level.

SingularityNET is a proposed blockchain-based marketplace where AIs could learn from each other by leveraging their respective datasets and specialized functionalities. Developers on the platform would use blockchain tokens to gain access to the datasets, make use of an AI’s analytical capabilities, or monetize their own AI.

Types of AI: From Reactive to Self-Aware [INFOGRAPHIC]
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“There is currently no platform that enables this type of interoperability and coordination. The launch of such a platform would be one of the biggest breakthroughs ever in the evolution of AI,” Ben Goertzel, CEO and founder of SingularityNET, wrote in a blog post.

SingularityNET is already working with more than 100 AI organizations and developers to ensure the experts have access to the platform. Now, they want to offer that same access to the rest of the world through a token sale, and they enlisted the help of Sophia in announcing its launch.

SingularityNET’s AGI token launch is planned for December 8, 2017, at 12 pm Eastern Time. They’ve placed a hard cap of US$36 million on the sale, and it may include as many as 1 billion tokens.

According to the company’s white paper, Sophia will be one of the first SingularityNET Agents. This will allow other developers to make use of her cognitive services while also allowing her to benefit from the intelligence of other agents on the platform.

A Melding of Minds and Technology

By using blockchain tokens to build a coordinated artificial general intelligence, SingularityNET is combining two of today’s most transformative technologies.

Blockchain tokens have been used to crowdfund a number of other initiatives, revealing their potential to do far more than replace traditional currencies. They could change how music is produced, how films are funded, how energy is distributed, and so much more.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the benefits of AI in the healthcare, finance, and agriculture industries, and according to Transparency Market Research, the AI industry is expected to grow from $233.8 billion in 2017 to $3.1 trillion in 2025.

A significant number of tech experts agree that AI has the potential to transform the world, but whether that change will be for the better or worse is still up for debate.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Elon Musk noted the potential problems that could arise from having a single company, such as Google, control artificial general intelligence. By facilitating a community-based, collaborative approach to improving AI and building an artificial general intelligence, SingularityNET could help avoid this monopolization of AI technology.

As Goertzel wrote, “We believe that putting the community in charge of the system will ensure the platform benefits all users.” Sophia would get that intelligence upgrade she’s hoping for, while everyone else would get a chance to shape the future of AI.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

The post The World’s First Robot Citizen Needs Your Help to Become Smarter appeared first on Futurism.

Solar Energy Prices Continue to Plunge While Coal Prices Climb Higher

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:36 PM PST

Solar-Powered Revolution

Studies investigating the price of solar power have revealed some surprising results. Prices for new solar energy installations are continuing to fall by 26 percent in the last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Prices have fallen by even wider margins in some of the most important emerging markets like India and China.

Prices have fallen so much that it is now cheaper to build new commercial renewable energy sources than it is to keep existing coal and nuclear power plants running. The annual Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis from Lazard shows that prices for these traditional sources of power generation have risen in the past year, while renewable sources such as solar and wind continue to see costs lowering dramatically.

Image credit: minoru karamatsu/Flickr

We can point to two basic factors that contribute to the lowering prices, improving technology and the increased use of auctions to drive competitive pricing.

The technology developed to capture renewable energy is able to generate more electricity with the same amount of light. In the case of wind power, Alberto Gandolfi, the head of European Utilities Research for Goldman Sachs, explains that today’s wind turbines can generate the same amount of power from 11 mph winds that wind turbines built ten years ago would generate from winds blowing at 22 mph.

Solar Energy for Better Business

Gandolfi said, “What started as a decarbonization process, thanks to better technology, is about to become a process driven by cost and economics.” In other words, environmental concerns are no longer the only driving force behind a push toward clean energy. Governments and businesses are beginning to see renewable energy as a way to save money. The environmental benefit can now be considered a side effect of better business practices.

Competitive auctions allow the prices paid to build new renewable installations to be closest to the actual cost. This practice is allowing installations to go up with the least amount of overhead, driving costs to their lowest levels in history.

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Government subsidies are no longer essential for the building of new installations. While they are certainly welcome and can continue to help renewable energy proliferate, large scale projects are able to move forward without them. For example, we can look to the UK, which did away with government subsidies back in 2016. A new proposal for a 350 MW solar farm was recently submitted to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and would be the first brand new subsidy-free solar farm built since subsidies were discontinued. The scale of the installation will allow it to be economically viable even without the government funds.

Lowering costs and higher efficiency are giving renewable energy critics even less room to stand. Restoring defunct coal operations is often used by politicians as a way to restore lost jobs. However, in actuality, the solar industry alone is responsible for creating jobs at a rate seventeen times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Environmental responsibility may not be the most important factor when many consider the future of energy generation. Even so, there continue to be more and more factors aside from a cleaner planet to drive the shift toward renewable energy adoption. Better technology and lower costs have allowed renewables to draft economics to continue this vital drive to save the planet and its inhabitants.

The post Solar Energy Prices Continue to Plunge While Coal Prices Climb Higher appeared first on Futurism.

Researchers Have Created an AI System That Teaches Itself New Languages

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:03 PM PST

Language-Learning AI

Computers have become much more adept at translating from one language into another in recent years, thanks to the application of neural networks. However, these AI systems usually require a lot of content translated by humans for the computers to learn from, while two new papers demonstrate that it’s possible to develop a system that doesn’t rely on parallel texts.

Mikel Artetxe, a computer scientist at the University of the Basque Country (UPV) and the author of one of these papers, compares the situation to giving someone various books in Chinese and various books in Arabic, without any of the same texts overlapping. A human would find it very difficult to learn how to translate from Chinese into Arabic in this scenario, but a computer might not.

In a typical machine-learning process, the AI system would be supervised. This means that it would make its attempt at the right answer for any given problem, a human would tell it whether or not that’s correct, and it would amend its activity as needed. That isn’t the case with these two papers.

Instead, they hinge upon the way that words are connected in similar ways across different languages – for instance, ‘table’ and ‘chair’ are frequently used together, no matter the dialect. By mapping out these connections for each language and then comparing them, it’s possible to get a decent idea of which terms relate to one another. This process is not supervised by a human.

The systems can be used to translate full sentences, rather than just individual words, using two complementary training strategies. Back translation sees a sentence written in one language roughly translate into the other, then back to the first, with the system tweaking its protocols if the result isn’t exactly the same. Denoising is a similar process, but with words being removed or added to the sentence for different translations. Working in sync, these methods help the machine get a greater understanding of how language actually operates.

Vocabulary Test

The two systems – one developed at UPV and the other by Facebook computer scientist Guillaume Lample – are yet to be peer-reviewed, but they have shown promising results in early testing.

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The only way to make a direct comparison between their capabilities is by gauging their ability to translate between English and French text that comes from a shared pool of around 30 million sentences. Both managed to score a bilingual evaluation understudy score of around 15.

Google Translate, which uses supervised machine learning, scores around 40 by this measure, whereas human translators can score 50. However, the unsupervised scores are a significant improvement over basic, word-for-word translation.

Indeed, the researchers behind both papers agree that they could each enhance their system by drawing on the other’s work. They could also be made more capable if they were semi-supervised, by introducing a few thousand parallel sentences to their training program – which would still cut down on the time and data required to learn the ropes.

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SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Launch Has Been Delayed Once Again

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:19 AM PST

The oft-delayed launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket is now set for early 2018. While a hold-down firing of its Merlin engines is still scheduled for December, company officials have confirmed that a full launch won’t take place until January.

SpaceX didn’t give a specific date for the launch, which was previously expected to take place between December 20 and 31. However, it was noted that it will take place a few weeks after the engine test.

That static fire will be the first time that SpaceX has attempted to engage the 27 Merlin engines required to launch Falcon Heavy at once. At full power, they’re capable of generating 5.1 million pounds of thrust – more than any other present-day rocket, according to a report from Spaceflight Now.

Falcon Heavy is an incredibly important project in terms of SpaceX’s extra-terrestrial ambitions. It’s set to carry two passengers on a week-long trip around the Moon by the end of 2018, in a groundbreaking commercial expedition.

Of course, that’s assuming that the rocket can be perfected by then. Elon Musk has made efforts to tamper expectations for the maiden voyage, noting that there’s a real threat that Falcon Heavy might not make it to orbit. A failed launch would certainly have consequences for SpaceX – but at this point, it seems unlikely that it would cause the company to drop its aspirations to travel to the Moon and beyond completely.

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Harvesting the Sun for Energy Increases Efficiency by 60 Percent

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 10:48 AM PST

More Sun for Everyone

Solar energy has become an increasingly attractive renewable source of electricity for both nations and private enterprises alike. This is especially true as today’s photovoltaic systems have become considerably cost-effective. But long before we started using the Sun to cultivate electricity, agriculture has depended on this solar resource.

Now, thanks to a research project called the Agrophotovoltaic – Resource Efficient Land Use (APV-Resola) at the Demeter farm in Germany, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE prove that it’s possible to combine both farming and energy-harvesting into one facility. Best of all, this agrophotovoltaic setup actually increases land use efficiency by up to 60 percent.

Approximately 40 percent of the energy produced at the APV-Resola was used to directly power the processes in the farm, as well as electric vehicles (EVs). The plants within the facility benefitted as well, as the setup allowed for every crop to receive the same amount of solar radiation from the 720 bifacial solar modules installed in the farm.

“The project results from the first year are a complete success: The agrophotovoltaic system proved suitable for the practice and costs as much as a small solar roof system. The crop production is sufficiently high and can be profitably sold on the market," Stephan Schindele, an APV project manager at Fraunhofer ISE, said in a press release.

Enough Space for Renewable Tech

While it is possible to set up photovoltaic systems in individual homes, a great deal of solar energy still comes from solar farms. These facilities typically require a large number of solar panels to be installed over a huge stretch of land. In places like Germany, where agricultural land is rather limited, building solar farms while retaining space for crops can be challenging. With plans to go shut down all of the country’s nuclear reactors by 2022, there’s an increased and urgent need to find clean, alternative energy sources.

The APV-Resola project provides a working model that could easily be emulated in other parts of Germany and elsewhere. The project uses photovoltaic arrays with an installed power of 194 kilowatts, enough to supply energy to 62 four-person households. After only its first twelve months, APV-Resola produced 1266 kilowatt-hours of electricity per installed kilowatt, which is a third more than the country’s average 950 kWh/kW.

The next step for this concept is to prepare the APV system for commercial use. "In order to provide the necessary proof-of-concept before market entry, we need to compare further techno-economical applications of APV, demonstrate the transferability to other regional areas and also realize larger systems," Schindele explained.

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