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China’s “Social Credit System” Will Rate How Valuable You Are as a Human

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 10:19 AM PST

A Citizen Score in China

In a contentious world first, China plans to implement a social credit system  (officially referred to as a Social Credit Score or SCS) by 2020. The idea first appeared in a document from the State Council of China published in June 2014. It is a technological advancement so shocking to modern-minded paradigms that many can do little but sit back in defeatist chagrin as science fiction shows us its darker side.

The SCS seems relatively simple. Every citizen in China, which now has numbers swelling to well over 1.3 billion, would be given a score that, as a matter of public record, is available for all to see. This citizen score comes from monitoring an individual’s social behavior — from their spending habits and how regularly they pay bills, to their social interactions — and it’ll become the basis of that person’s trustworthiness, which would also be publicly ranked.

This actually sounds worse than an Orwellian nightmare.

china social credit system big brother
Image credit: David Dettmann/Netflix

A citizen’s score affects their eligibility for a number of services, including the kinds of jobs or mortgages they can get, and it also impacts what schools their children qualify for. In this respect, the SCS resembles one of the most chilling episodes from Black Mirror’s third season. Incidentally, the show isn’t really known as “feel-good” flick. It presents various dystopian views of society, but China’s SCS proves reality is darker than fiction.

This “service” isn’t slated to go full-swing until 2020, but China has already started a voluntary implementation of the SCS by partnering with a number of private companies in order to iron out the algorithmic details needed for such a large-scale, data-driven system.

The companies that are implementing SCS include China Rapid Finance, which is a partner of social network giant Tencent, and Sesame Credit, a subsidiary of Alibaba affiliate company Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG). Both Rapid Finance and Sesame Credit have access to intimidating quantities of data, the former through its WeChat messaging app (at present with 850 million active users) and the latter through its AliPay payment service.

According to local media, Tencent’s SCS comes with its QQ chat app, where an individual’s score comes in a range between 300 and 850 and is broken down into five sub-categories: social connections, consumption behavior, security, wealth, and compliance.

Positive (and Negative) Reinforcement

Proponents of the SCS see this as an opportunity to improve on some of the state’s services. Some argue that this would give Chinese citizens much-needed access to financial services. The government also says that this will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step,” according to The Wall Street Journal. In some situations, this could prove workable. Afterall, finance and loan organizations already detail debtors’ credit eligibility if they happen to be in default, preventing them from taking on more debt that they may be unable to pay back.

10 Things About the Future Sci-Fi Writers Got Right
Click to View Full Infographic

The utopic goal of managing citizen finances via structural checks and balances feels like an elegant solution to assuage public debt, and will certainly encourage all involved to improve their debt activity. But structural management of personal finances on this all-pervasive level crosses several boundaries.

The major issue is this: the SCS goes well beyond just rating ones ability to manage debt; in essence, it puts a number on a citizen rating their worth as a human being — and it forces others to respect that rating.

“China's proposed social score is an absolute reaffirmation of China continuing to push forward to be a complete police state,” said Anurag Lal, president and CEO of mobility solutions firm Infinite Convergence, in an email to Futurism. “They take it a step further by becoming not only an establishment of a totalitarian police state that monitors its people but one that completely evades users' privacy. All forms of activity and interactions, online or otherwise, will be rated, available to view and stored as data.”

It seems that the infamous Great Firewall is only the most well-known feature of China’s worsening socio-political plight.

Big Data for Good Behavior

More than working as a social enabler, such a system could end up becoming highly restrictive. Speaking to WIRED, Sesame Credit’s Technology Director, Li Yingyun, admitted as much, saying that under an SCS system, a person could be judged by his purchases. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” Li said. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.”

Li sees these as positive developments, by virtue of which a person is encouraged to take greater responsibility for their living and spending habits in order to earn a positive citizen score — i.e. become “trustworthy.” Chinese blogger Rasul Majid told WIRED that he actually thinks it’s a better way of keeping tabs on how the government monitors his data. If one knows how one is surveilled, one knows when and where to clean up one’s act.

Lal, however, disagrees: “How do you define people's behaviors on a day-to-day basis? People do so many different things for so many different reasons, and if the context is not appreciated it can be misconstrued,” he said. The words ring true. One does not need to think hard to uncover why it may be problematic to say that people who have children are, in essence, people you should trust. What does this mean for the infertile? What does it mean for same-sex couples? What does it mean for people who simply do not wish to have children?

Probably nothing good.

Fighting Fake News: Can Technology Stem the Tide?
Click to View Full Infographic

In the end, even a basic SCS system that only rates a few data points could paint a very inaccurate and incomplete picture of a person. “You may be playing games for 10 hours and if the algorithm says you're idle, it might miss the reason you're playing these games. Maybe you're an engineer and you're beta testing them. But now you're automatically designated as an idle person,” Lal added. “When in reality, maybe you were just doing your job.”

Ultimately, the problem is that “socially acceptable behavior” will be defined by the Chinese government, not a democratic process or an objective panel. And punitive measures will certainly be taken when a person breaks this trust.

With the SCS, the Chinese government will actually hit two birds with one stone: They will have a way of promoting and enforcing what they consider to be “socially acceptable behavior,” and they will have a way of monitoring virtually all aspects of citizens’ lives.

Lal doesn’t believe this setup could fly long term, though. “In the free world, this will never catch on. If they're naive enough to roll it out, it will harm China's credibility on a regional and global scale. Tech companies working in China are already frustrated due to the intense restrictions when it comes to tech policies and encryption — this will only add to their frustration.”

This system represents something more insidious than the panopticon that renowned social theorist Michel Foucault warned us about. So let’s hope that Lal is correct.

The post China’s “Social Credit System” Will Rate How Valuable You Are as a Human appeared first on Futurism.

Toyota’s New Power Plant Will Create Clean Energy from Manure

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 09:46 AM PST

“Clean” Energy

Japanese automobile giant Toyota is making some exciting moves in the realm of renewable, clean energy. The company is planning to build a power plant in California that turns the methane gas produced by cow manure into water, electricity, and hydrogen. The project, known as the Tri-Gen Project, was unveiled at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The plant, which will be located at the Port of Long Beach in California, will be “the world's first commercial-scale 100% renewable power and hydrogen generation plant,” writes USA Today. Toyota is expecting the plant to come online in about 2020.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

The plant is expected to have the capability to provide enough energy to power 2,350 average homes and enough fuel to operate 1,500 hydrogen-powered vehicles daily. The company is estimating the plant to be able to produce 2.35 MW of electricity and 1.2 tons of hydrogen each day. The facility will also be equipped with one of the largest hydrogen fueling stations in the world. Toyota’s North America group vice president for strategic planning, Doug Murtha, says that the company “understand[s] the tremendous potential to reduce emissions and improve society.”

Hydrogen Fuel

Toyota is heavily investing in its hydrogen fuel cell technology. The cells are being used in the company’s Mirai sedans and the upcoming Project Portal semi truck. “Environmentally conscious motorists demand newer, cleaner forms of transportation. [The] Mirai fuel cell vehicle helps answer that demand alongside our other alternative fuel vehicles to power a better future,” the company’s website boasts.

The carmaker’s goal is to heavily reduce the environmental impact of the company and its products. Recently, Toyota has set a goal to cease production of traditional internal combustion engines by 2040 and reduce its vehicles’ carbon emissions by 90% by 2050. This plant will be an important proof-of-concept demonstration.

Toyota’s efforts could go a long way to speed along the shift toward cleaner vehicles. Elon Musk’s Tesla is already finding great success with their electric vehicles. Couple that with the great strides being made in making clean energy more desirable than fossil fuels, and we have a promising recipe for success for consumers and the environment alike.

The post Toyota’s New Power Plant Will Create Clean Energy from Manure appeared first on Futurism.

Amazon’s New Drone Designed to Self-Destruct in Emergencies

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 08:50 AM PST

Secret Agent Drone

Amazon is taking a page out of the spy genre in a newly-patented feature for its future fleet of delivery drones. Filings for a patent granted to the internet retailer show a self-destructing drone that is able to strategically disassemble in the air during an emergency to mitigate any potential damage from an otherwise fully-formed delivery drone, or as the patent describes it, "direct fragmentation for unmanned airborne vehicles."

Perhaps the self-destructing drones will find a home in the recently-patented hive-like structure approved this past summer.

Drone by Amazon as depicted in the patent.
Image Credit: Amazon / USPTO

While programming a self-destruct sequence may seem like a curious safety feature, having a crashing drone break into pieces before impact can reduce the chances for significant property damage or injury to people on the ground. The feature would use the onboard computing system to analyze conditions to determine the best course of action.

An illustration included with the patent filing shows the device disassembling to drop pieces on empty patches of ground, in a small body of water, and safely crashing into a tree.

Drone Tech

Amazon has big plans for its delivery drones that don’t involve ripping themselves apart in mid-air. The company was granted a patent in mid-October to allow drones to recharge electric vehicles, which would effectively give the world its first commercial roving fueling stations. And this is just one of the many innovative applications of drone technology that have emerged recently.

Another internet giant, Facebook, is deploying drone technology to beam the internet to underserved areas, like rural regions around the world and even disaster-stricken places, which could allow enhanced communication for those who need it most. Another drone could similarly deliver much-needed help in a pinch by flying Automated External Defibrillators (AED) directly to the scene of an emergency, long before EMS crews would be able to arrive.

The Top 12 Benefits of Drones: Emergency Response, Animal Protection, and More
Click to View Full Infographic

Amazon simply being granted the patent doesn’t make the actual development of the self-destructing drone inevitable. While trials of the Amazon Prime Air delivery service have begun in the UK, there’s no clear timeline of when the company would start regularly delivering packages using drones.

The post Amazon’s New Drone Designed to Self-Destruct in Emergencies appeared first on Futurism.

Breakthrough Cancer Test Identifies Which of 15 Drugs Most Likely to Eradicate Tumors

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 08:40 AM PST

Cancer Breakthrough

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it has approved a “breakthrough device” that has the potential to match cancer patients with individualized treatment regiments with just one test. This could allow doctors and patients to choose treatments that are most likely to be effective for specific types of cancer — and to make those decisions sooner.

The test, called FoundationOne CDx, is what’s known as a “companion diagnostic.” This means that rather than screening patients for cancer itself, the test is used on patients who’ve already been diagnosed with cancer in order to determine which drugs or therapies are best suited to their individual case.

Other companion tests have been developed in the past, but they could only check to see if one particular drug would be effective for treating a patient’s cancer. This new device can detect a wide range of genetic mutations, which allows it to screen the potential effectiveness of 15 different treatment options.

The device sequences the DNA from a tumor sample, and detects 324 specific genetic mutations with an accuracy of about 94.6 percent, as determined by clinical trials. Additionally, the device can also determine if the tumor has either of two “genomic signatures;” molecular changes that can occur in cancer cells and can influence how that cancer is classified.

Improving Patient Care

This test could spare cancer patients from undergoing duplicate biopsies as well as accelerate a patients assessment, allowing him or her to begin treatment earlier. It could also allow doctors to match patients up with combination treatments consisting of multiple drugs (which, in some cases, may be more effective than using a single drug).

Among the types of solid-tumor cancers that this device could help treat are lung, skin, colorectal, breast, and ovarian cancer. The FDA panel, which bestowed the “breakthrough device” status on FoundationOne CDx, was so convinced of the test’s potential that the agency has proposed it for coverage by Medicaid and Medicare. Such a move that could improve the lives of many cancer patients, according to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"By leveraging two policy efforts aimed at expediting access to promising new technologies, we've been able to bring patients faster access to a breakthrough diagnostic that can help doctors tailor cancer treatments to improve medical outcomes and potentially reduce health care costs," Gottlieb said in an FDA press release.

While the device does not specifically “cure” cancer, it is being lauded as an enormous advancement in cancer treatment. FoundationOne CDx joins other novel cancer tests, such as one that requires only a drop of blood and another that can detect cancer years before symptoms arise, that brings us one step closer to a world that is cancer free.

The post Breakthrough Cancer Test Identifies Which of 15 Drugs Most Likely to Eradicate Tumors appeared first on Futurism.

A Russian Billionaire, Not NASA, May Uncover Alien Life

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 05:30 AM PST

Enceladus Beckons

In recent months, Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, has emerged as a top priority in the search for alien life. NASA has announced plans to send a robot to the icy moon in order to carry out an investigation — but the agency might be beaten to the punch by a Russian billionaire.

Yuri Milner is no stranger to using his personal wealth to advance our knowledge of the cosmos. He has collaborated with Stephen Hawking to conceptualize an interstellar spaceship, which is a key part of the project dubbed Breakthrough Starshot.

Now, Milner is planning on sending an inexpensive probe to Enceladus with a goal of finding life in the geysers that shoot from its surface. He thinks that a mission backed by a major space agency might take as least as long as a decade to materialize.

Milner asserts that his endeavor could serve as a supplementary study that would help facilitate a later expedition carried out by NASA. Commercial companies are already making huge advances in terms of space tourism and the rockets we’ll use to get astronauts to the ISS, so it makes a lot of sense that other aspects of space exploration are funded by private citizens.

Why Not NASA?

It’s difficult for NASA and other space agencies to dive into projects like a mission to survey Enceladus because of the likelihood that it wouldn’t provide a significant return on investment.

“Government funding has to choose between a lot of different pots, they have to make those balanced decisions and they can’t fund everything,” Brian Koberlein, an Astrophysicist and Physics professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, told Futurism. “But private funders who want to say, ‘yeah, sure, let’s do SETI,’ that’s perfectly fine.”

Koberlein describes SETI efforts as high-risk, high-reward, since if they don’t offer up direct evidence of intelligent life, they don’t contribute as much in terms of research value as another project might. This makes it difficult for NASA to back such efforts with public funding.

Widen Your Reach

If we’re ever going to find alien life among the stars, it makes sense for as many different projects as possible to join the search.

“The more the effort, the greater the chance of a result,” Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the SETI Institute, told Futurism. He noted that the organization hasn’t received government funding since 1993, and since then has relied on donations from the public for its research into intelligent life — although some of its scientists do receive grants from NASA for their research into astrobiology.

“Consider, for example, cancer research,” he explained. “You have the National Institute of Health, that’s funded by the feds, but you also have the American Cancer Society, and private universities that are doing research.”

Why Haven’t We Found Aliens? An Analysis of the Problem [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

This kind of situation protects the search for life against unforeseen outcomes, like a project failing or a group’s funding being revoked. What’s more, it allows for various methods to be implemented by different teams. This is crucial, because we don’t have a concrete idea about how to find life, if it is indeed out there.

“Until you’ve found it, you don’t really know what the best scheme is,” said Shostak. “It’s like asking Captain Cook if he’s using the best strategies to find undiscovered lands in the Pacific — he doesn’t know, really, and we don’t know either.”

The prospect of alien life somewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of space exploration for a lot of people. If we’re to have any chance of discovering extraterrestrial, intelligent lifeforms, money from private investors could help fund the projects that public space agencies cannot.

The post A Russian Billionaire, Not NASA, May Uncover Alien Life appeared first on Futurism.

We May Be Able to Use Waves to Power Our World

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 05:00 AM PST

About a mile offshore from Kaneohe Bay on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a yellow, doughnut-shaped contraption bobs up and down with the motion of the ocean. The hulking device, as wide as a school bus is long, looks a bit like a massive buoy or life raft. In fact, it's a wave energy converter — one example of a new renewable energy technology that transforms ocean waves into electrical power.

The Lifesaver, as the device is known, is full of gears, cables, and sophisticated electronics. But while other renewable energy devices (like wind turbines and solar panels) are relatively mature technologies, wave energy converters represent a nascent technology. If wind energy has a graduate degree, says Luis Vega, manager of the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center that’s testing the Lifesaver, “wave energy is still in the first grade.”

But Vega and other experts see big things for wave energy. If they're right, arrays of wave energy converters moored along coastal regions of the U.S. will be providing power to millions of homes in coming decades.

A Thousand Variations

What these devices will look like — and exactly how they will work — is anybody’s guess. The Lifesaver has an onboard electrical generator driven by the up and down motion of cables that stretch from the bottom of the device to the ocean floor.

Other converters resemble large snakes and harness wave energy via hydraulic systems activated by the movement of jointed segments; still others resemble giant underwater metallic balloons and feature pumps that pressurize seawater to power a hydroelectric turbine back on shore. Some operate close to shore and are visible from land, while others operate in deeper waters.

There are more than a thousand different wave converter designs, says Reza Alam, a wave energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. Adds Ted Brekken, an energy systems researcher at Oregon State University, "The simple fact is that we’re not at a point yet where there’s a dominant technological paradigm. It may be that there might not be one.”

One thing is clear: Wave energy is a vast, untapped resource that could help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Key Advantages

Like solar and wind power, wave power harnesses energy that comes ultimately from the sun. Solar radiation causes air pressure gradients that cause wind, and wind gives its momentum to the ocean surface, producing waves. As Alam puts it, “Wave power is a very dense form of solar power.”

Just how dense? Every square meter of a solar panel receives 0.2 to 0.3 kilowatts of solar energy, Alam says, and every square meter of a wind tower absorbs 2 to 3 kilowatts. Every meter of the California coast receives 30 kilowatts of wave energy.

Wave energy has another advantage over solar and wind. Waves are easy to forecast, Brekken says. And unlike solar, which works only in daylight hours, wave energy can be harnessed 24/7.

Wave power is provided by buoys.
Carnegie’s CETO technology captures the up and down movement of buoy to drive a pump which delivers high pressure water to drive an onshore hydro electric turbine. Image Credit: Carnegie Clean Energy

The latest research suggests that wave energy in the U.S. could produce up to 1,170 terawatt-hours a year, or nearly one-third of the country’s total electricity usage. Recognizing this vast potential, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing heavily in wave energy. Last year, the DOE awarded $2.25 million to winners of a wave energy converter design challenge and $40 million to Oregon State University for a new grid-connected wave energy testing facility.

Hurdles Abound

Brekken offers a cautious assessment of the real-world potential of wave energy, predicting that it will ultimately contribute about 6 percent of the nation’s total electricity production (similar to hydropower).

Such caution stems, in part, from the many engineering hurdles that must be overcome before wave power becomes viable. The marine environment, with all the water, high winds, and violent waves, is tough on even the most robust devices. And deploying and testing wave converters requires vessels and divers, which only add to the cost of deploying the devices.

Given these and other challenges, it may take a decade to develop converters that marry efficiency and economy. “It just depends on how much funding we can put into [developing the technology],” Vega says. “But we have to do it because we are going to run out of fossil fuels eventually.”

Why Wave Power May Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy was originally published by NBC Universal Media, LLC on November 24, 2017 by Joseph Bennington-Castro. Copyright 2017 NBC Universal Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

The post We May Be Able to Use Waves to Power Our World appeared first on Futurism.

This Week in Tech: Nov 25 – Dec 1, 2017

Posted: 02 Dec 2017 04:00 AM PST

Aging Expert: The First Person to Live to 1,000 Has Already Been Born

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 02:37 PM PST

To Be Young Forever

Aging has plagued biological organisms since life first began on planet Earth and it’s an accepted and universally understood part of life. Sure, things like climate change pose significant threats to society, but aging will almost certainly still exist even if we ever manage to stop damaging our environment.

That said, scientists aren’t the kind of people who just live with the cards life has dealt them, and are especially likely to use their understanding of the world to solve difficult and seemingly impossible problems —  like aging.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is one such person. Through the co-founding of the SENS Research Foundation and his role as chief science officer, de Grey has set out to end biological aging. The foundation’s “About” page makes it clear that de Grey believes “a world free of age-related disease is possible.”

Speaking at a Virtual Futures event in London on Wednesday, Inverse confirmed that de Grey truly believes in this goal, even going so far as to boldly state that the first person that will live to be 1,000 years-old has already been born. He also thinks science will have found a way to perfect anti-aging treatments within the next 20 years.

This year alone, there have already been significant breakthroughs in the realm of anti-aging research. In August, researchers discovered a molecule capable of combating the effects of aging. In October, a new stem cell treatment led to “striking” ant-aging results.

Much more recently are the efforts made by researchers from the University of Exeter, who developed a way to reverse aging in cells, as well as the discovery of an anti-aging genetic mutation. This is all good news, especially when you take into account de Grey’s belief that aging is one of humanity’s biggest challenges.

“The fact is, aging kills 110,000 people worldwide every fucking day,” de Grey reportedly said. "It unequivocally causes far more suffering than anything else that we have to experience and contrary to the impression that most of humanity has forced itself into, it's indeed a problem which is amenable through technological intervention."

A Changing Population

According to the United Nations, the population of those aged 60 and older is expected to more than double by 2050 — increasing from 962 million globally in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050.

If or when humanity determines how to reject aging, de Grey foresees the development of rejuvenation clinics that will address seven issues related to aging: tissue atrophy, cancerous cells, mitochondrial mutations, death-resistant cells, extracellular matrix stiffening, extracellular aggregates, and intracellular aggregates.

Unsurprisingly, such clinics — and, presumably, other treatments — are expected to be expensive at first before potentially becoming more publicly accessible and affordable. By then, perhaps anti-aging treatments might be as simple to get as scheduling a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment, though who can say how involved such treatments and processes will be.

Beyond implementation into society, de Grey thinks it will be difficult for politicians to get elected unless they committed to anti-aging.

“Not only in getting the therapy developed as quickly as possible, but also putting in place the infrastructure,” de Grey added.

It’s entirely understandable why many wouldn’t want to age beyond a certain point, as losing control of one’s body can be frustrating, painful, and debilitating. We seem to be on the verge of solving the anti-aging problem, however, but only time will tell if it’s what’s best for humanity.

The post Aging Expert: The First Person to Live to 1,000 Has Already Been Born appeared first on Futurism.

New Electron Research Could Lead to Cheaper, More Versatile Solar Cells

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 01:52 PM PST

Power From Light

Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites (HOIPs) are incredibly efficient when it comes to converting energy from light into usable electricity. They are lightweight, flexible, and inexpensive, and they may be our best option for improving the solar power systems that could end our reliance on fossil fuels.

Renewable Energy Sources Of The Future [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

The problem with HOIPs, however, lies in their stability. In a solar cell, the presence of light excites electrons, and these excited electrons are what power our homes, devices, or whatever else is linked to the solar cell. Electrons contained by HOIPs are subject to rapid degradation, particularly when exposed to changing temperatures, making them difficult to use inside of a solar cell.

To take full advantage of HOIPs, we need a way to “strengthen” their electrons, and physicist Seung-Hun Lee and chemical engineer Joshua Choi from the University of Virginia think they may have found that way. In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, the pair explain that rotating the molecules in HOIPs allows the electrons to stay excited longer.

Pursuit of Perfection

The pair’s discovery could be the breakthrough needed to allow HOIPs to convert energy more efficiently. “This finding sets us on the path to better manipulating HOIPS for greater efficiency, as well as for longer-lasting efficiency under changing conditions,” Choi told UVA Today.

However, while the discovery is promising, Lee made it clear that more research is necessary. “The trick will be finding ways to maximize the effect of these molecular rotations to extend the electron lifetimes," he said. If that can be done, HOIPs could be the perfect material to use to power buildings, provide people in remote locations with energy, or potentially even fuel spacecraft.

“Power from the Sun is the most abundant source of renewable energy, and it is essentially everlasting,” said Lee. “Realization of economical solar energy technologies is thus essential for the enduring prosperity of mankind on Earth and beyond.”

The post New Electron Research Could Lead to Cheaper, More Versatile Solar Cells appeared first on Futurism.

This Week in Science: Nov 25 – Dec 1, 2017

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 01:13 PM PST

Number of Users on Coinbase Surpasses Number of Brokerage Accounts at Charles Schwab

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 12:26 PM PST

Bitcoin is Big

It’s no secret that the value of bitcoin has exploded over the course of 2017, but despite its performance, there are still questions to be asked about its place in the wider investment market. Now, new data from Coinbase serves to illustrate just how prominent cryptocurrency has become.

Coinbase is among the most well-known platforms used to buy and sell cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. On November 29, it announced that it had reached a user base of 13 million – and since then, this figure has risen by an additional 100,000 accounts.

For context, we can compare this number to the user base of Charles Schwab, a major online brokerage platform. At the end of 2016, it was said to serve 10.2 million online accounts.

Charles Schwab is responsible for a lot more assets across its user base, but purely in terms of membership numbers, Coinbase seems to have already got a nose ahead. This is evidence that bitcoin is growing in terms of popularity as its value continues to increase.

Population Growth via Coinbase

Given the hype surrounding bitcoin, it’s unsurprising to see that more and more people are dabbling in cryptocurrency. This is contributing to a more diverse set of users for sites like Coinbase.

Google Analytics data assembled by Coin Dance suggests that the bitcoin community actually spans a relatively large age range. The majority of users are between 25 and 34, with 45.71 percent falling within that category, but 30.62 percent are between 35 and 44, and 12.3 percent are between 45 and 54. Only 8.36 percent are between 18 and 24.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
Click to View Full Infographic

We can get further insight into the make-up of the bitcoin market by looking at how much cryptocurrency individual addresses have accrued. According to data from BitInfoCharts, there are 16,707,573 addresses with $1, 2,317,934 of total worth, some of which are worth more than $1,000, and another 721,542 worth more than $10,000.

This demonstrates some of the spread – there are plenty of accounts that have been set up just to trade a few dollars for curiosity’s sake, but there are also lots of addresses that are associated with significant amounts of money.

Bitcoin is no longer a niche interest, and it’s only set to grow more popular as the mainstream picks up on the benefits of decentralized currency. However, this also means that we’re likely to see authorities renew their interest in regulating its usage.

Coinbase was recently ordered to supply the IRS with various pieces of information pertaining to high-capacity traders. We’re likely to see more oversight of this kind going forward – especially given that regulators in the US just gave the go-ahead to bitcoin futures trading.

The bitcoin landscape – and by extension, the cryptocurrency market as a whole – is certainly changing. It remains to be seen whether it can remain prosperous as it comes under greater scrutiny.


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 Number of Users on Coinbase Surpasses Number of Brokerage Accounts at Charles Schwab appeared first on Futurism.

Chernobyl is Slated to Become a $1.2 Million Solar Farm

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 11:48 AM PST

A Better Chernobyl

In 1986, a failing nuclear reactor released enough radioactive energy that to cause hundreds to evacuate the city of Chernobyl. The nuclear reactor site and the surrounding area has been abandoned ever since, but there are plans in place to give Chernobyl a new start: one engineering firm wants to turn it into a solar farm. In the future, Chernobyl could be known for providing clean solar energy instead of radiation.

As reported by Bloomberg, Ukrainian engineering firm Rodina Energy Group Ltd. and German clean-energy company Enerparc AG have announced a joint project that will see a 1-megawatt solar farm built on the site. The Chernobyl solar farm is expected to cost $1.2 million, with construction to begin in December.

"Bit by bit we want to optimize the Chernobyl zone," Evgeny Variagin, chief executive officer of Rodina, told Bloomberg. "It shouldn't be a black hole in the middle of Ukraine. Our project is 100 meters from the reactor."

From Radiation to Solar Energy

The Chernobyl solar farm project is the latest step in both companies’ — as well as the Ukrainian government’s — plans to use the abandoned site to produce renewable energy, which includes plans to develop up to 99 more megawatts of solar. The companies secured a contract in 2016 that will require the Ukrainian government to pay 15 euro cents ($0.18) per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated from the site until 2030, a price Bloomberg estimates is almost 40 percent higher than the standard cost of solar in Europe.

In the ongoing shift to clean energy, the Ukraine’s decision to utilize the 1,000 square miles Chernobyl has to offer is smart, though no less ambitious than the efforts of other countries like China, Wales, and the United Kingdom. It’ll still take much more work to completely move away from fossil fuels, but if aforementioned developments are anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before most of our energy comes from renewables.

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Using DNA, New Software Can Verify Identity In Minutes

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 11:24 AM PST


New software, developed by cooperating teams of researchers from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center (NYGC), will help to quickly and accurately verify identity using DNA. The method involves using the MinION DNA sequencing device, a small, credit card sized device that is capable of sequencing 10-20 GB of data in real-time, along with off-the-shelf technology like what is available commercially through outlets like 23 & Me or Ancestry.com.

According to the study’s senior author Yaniv Erlich who is a professor of Computer Science at Columbia Engineering, an adjunct core member at NYGC, and a member of Columbia’s Data Science Institute, “Our method opens up new ways to use off-the-shelf technology to benefit society.” This research was published in the latest issue of the journal eLife.

In the two-step process, the researchers were able to take individual variants (unique nucleotides) from DNA sequenced with the MinION and apply a probability algorithm (called a Bayesian algorithm) to compare each unique set of variants with corresponding variants in other genetic profiles in the database. With each cross-reference, the probability of verifying a match increases, narrowing the search. Testing has shown that the system is capable of verifying a match between 60-300 cross-references and it takes only minutes.

The team likens their technique, which they call “MinION sketching” to the ability of our brains to identify recognizable images in abstract patterns. The study’s lead author Sophie Zaaijer, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell Tech, compares the technique to someone making out a bird from a few features of something like a Picasso painting.

Game Changer

This technology has a number of important potential applications. One such application will make it easier for disaster victim identification (DVI) experts to identify bodies after major disasters like plane crashes or earthquakes. Speaking to Vice, Richard Bassed, an experienced DVI expert explained that the use of DNA to identify bodies is expensive and takes more time than other methods, like examining dental or medical records. The MinION and this new software may be able to reduce both cost and the amount of time it takes to achieve positive identification.

The technology can also help to mitigate wasted funds and time in important cancer research. Jon Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) wrote a report in 2014 showing how the misidentification and contamination of cell lines in medical research are responsible for potentially more than $9 billion in wasted medical research funding on studies that cannot be replicated.

The new method will allow labs to easily verify cell lines at a relatively cheap price, leading to faster research and better allocation of funds, which will likely amount to better and more frequent breakthroughs.  Neville Sanjana, a core faculty member at NYGC and assistant professor at NYU’s Department of Biology stated,  “At the right price, every lab will adopt this.”

The ability to quickly, easily, and cheaply authenticate DNA has game-changing potential. The ability to identify bodies after a tragedy can help families and friends gain important closure. Eliminating resource waste in medical research can also help to speed along the next big life-saving discovery. The software is already available for download on GitHub under a GNU General Public License, so your lab can begin changing the world today.

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Google Now Sources 100% of Its Energy From Renewables

Posted: 01 Dec 2017 10:36 AM PST

A Promise Fulfilled

In December 2016, about a year ago now, Google announced that the energy for its data centers would be from renewable sources. Now, the company announced via Twitter that recent clean energy purchases have made this goal a reality.

Google recently signed contracts for three wind power plants — for a total of 535 MW — which put their total energy infrastructure investment at over $3.5 billion, according to Electrek; a move which also gives the company over 3 gigawatts in total solar and wind capacity. Google says that this is enough to power 100 percent of its products and services.

In a post on his personal LinkedIn page, Sam Arons, senior lead for Google’s Energy & Infrastructure,  gave a bit more detail about the recent purchases. “2*98 MW with Avangrid in South Dakota, 200 MW with EDF in Iowa, and 138.6 MW with GRDA in Oklahoma — cementing Google as the largest corporate purchaser of renewables on the planet @ 100% renewable in 2017!”

The Renewable Revolution

Google’s recent purchases have been driven by the continually decreasing costs of renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, which have both gone down 60 to 80 percent. "With solar and wind declining dramatically in cost and propelling significant employment growth, the transition to clean energy is driving unprecedented economic opportunity and doing so faster than we ever anticipated,” Gary Demasi, global infrastructure director at Google, said in a statement.

Google is hardly the only company that’s invested heavily in clean energy. Amazon is building a massive wind farm in Texas, which CEO Jeff Bezos has proudly shown off. Amazon’s total renewable energy purchases are currently around 1.5GW. Google’s purchases are more than double this number.

Apart from the obvious environmental impact of going fully renewable, Google’s decision to invest in solar and wind power also contributes to the economic impact of clean energy. To date, more jobs in the U.S. have been generated by renewable energy compared to its fossil fuel counterparts. Aside from private corporations, a number of states in the U.S. and nations all over the world have also been working towards a 100 percent renewable future.

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