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New Year, New Fears: 2018’s Top Five Potential Threats

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 10:31 AM PST

We made it through 2017, a year of major ups and downs. Here are five legitimate threats to humanity we may be forced to face in 2018.

The post New Year, New Fears: 2018’s Top Five Potential Threats appeared first on Futurism.

Parallel Universes Could Solve One of the Biggest Mysteries in Physics

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 10:21 AM PST

Black Holes and Revelations

Black holes are the source of a major quandary when it comes to our understanding of physics; either they can destroy information, which contradicts what we know about quantum mechanics, or they seemingly disregard Einstein’s theory of relativity. However, it’s now thought by some that the many worlds interpretation might help explain the situation.

It suggests that each one of the multiple possible outcomes of a quantum event splinters off into its own discrete world.

Now, a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology led by Sean Carroll has suggested that this interpretation can explain away inconsistencies pertaining to black holes. They say that general relativity is upheld within each single possible world, while information is preserved across the entire global wave function, if not among individual branches.

Many Worlds

Aidan Chatwin-Davies, a member of Carroll’s team, told Futurism that other scientists have already suggested applying the many worlds theory, also known as Everettian, to the black hole information problem. “Cosmetically, we’re perhaps the first to cleanly label our perspective as Everettian,” he said. “More substantively, we wanted to perform some concrete calculations to mathematize otherwise abstract ideas.”

“Previous attempts considered statements of general relativity and quantum mechanics to be applicable to the same world,” Yasunori Nomura, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley told Futurism. “My approach separates the two – quantum mechanics allows for a quantum state to be a ‘superposition’ of many classical worlds; statements of quantum mechanics apply to the entirety of these many worlds while those of general relativity apply only to each of these worlds.”

This line of thinking is important because it could potentially explain more about the nature of gravity and spacetime. Nomura suggests that these ideas have a broader relevance to how quantum gravity works at a fundamental level, particular in relation to the origins of the universe.

“We know that we need both general relativity and quantum mechanics to understand black holes, and so they are a good starting point for testing out ideas about quantum gravity,” explained Chatwin-Davies. “If we really understood how to describe black holes, then we would be a great deal closer to being able to describe quantum gravity in broad generality.”

By using the many worlds interpretation, scientists and astronomers are finding new ways to approach longstanding questions about black holes. With further study, this research might offer up further information about the very fabric of our universe that could fill in some persistent gaps in our knowledge.

The post Parallel Universes Could Solve One of the Biggest Mysteries in Physics appeared first on Futurism.

Soon We Won’t Be Able to Tell the Difference Between AI and a Human Voice

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 09:57 AM PST

The Voice of AI

Using their DeepMind artificial intelligence (AI), Google’s Alphabet AI research lab developed a synthetic speech system called WaveNet back in 2016. The system runs on an artificial neural network that’s capable of speech samples at an ostensibly better quality than other technologies like it. The voice of AI is becoming more human-like, so to speak. WaveNet has since been improved to work well enough for Google Assistant across all platforms.

Now, WaveNet has gotten even better at sounding more human.

In a still-to-be-peer-reviewed paper published by Google in January 2018, WaveNet is getting a text-to-speech system called Tacotron 2. Effectively the second generation of Google’s synthetic speech AI, the new system combines the deep neural networks of Tacotron 2 with WaveNet.

First, Tacotron 2 translates text into a visual representation of audio frequencies over time, called a spectogram. This is then fed into WaveNet, which reads the spectogram and creates a chart with the corresponding audio elements.

According to the study, the “model achieves a mean opinion score (MOS) of 4.53 comparable to a MOS of 4.58 for professionally recorded speech.” Simply put, it sounds very much like a person speaking.

In fact, Google put recordings of a human and their new AI side-by-side, and it’s difficult to tell which is the person and which is the machine.

Here’s a sample.

Synthetic Speech System

To date, AI systems have gotten better at blurring the line between human and machine. There are now AIs capable of generating images of human beings that aren’t real, but look it. Another AI can even make fake videos. One can’t also discount the fact that some AIs are getting better at storytelling, or making art.

Mimicking human speech was always a challenge for AI networks. Now, DeepMind’s WaveNet and Tacotron 2 seem to be changing that, and at quite an impressive rate. Not only does the AI pronounce words clearly, but it seems to be able to handle difficult to pronounce words or names, as well as put emphasis on the appropriate words based on punctuations. Listen in.

This isn’t to say that the new AI system is perfect, however. Its current iteration has only been trained to use one voice, which Google recorded from a woman they hired. For the WaveNet and Tacotron 2 system to work using other voices — say a male’s or another female — the system would have to be trained again.

Apart from having immediate applications for Google Assistant, as soon as the Tacotron 2 system is perfected, the technology could assume other roles. Perhaps it could even take over certain jobs, adding to the already long list of occupations that seem ripe for AI.

The post Soon We Won’t Be Able to Tell the Difference Between AI and a Human Voice appeared first on Futurism.

Everything You Need to Know About Cryptocurrency And Why It’s The Future Of Money

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 08:45 AM PST

In a matter of weeks in November 2017, bitcoin surged from a fringe investment to a global sensation. In mid-November, the price was around $3,000 for a single bitcoin; on December 6, 2017, it surpassed $19,000. At the time of publication, the value was hovering around $15,000.

Bitcoin is having a moment — really, it's had a year. No matter if you think it's a bubble about to burst, or hope your investments will pay back big in the long run, there is one clear takeaway: Cryptocurrency is changing the future of finance. What's not yet clear is how the technology behind bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies like it, will alter our national and global financial systems.

Back on the Blockchain

Bitcoin, like all cryptocurrencies, relies on a technology called blockchain that makes its transactions so secure that experts consider them to be virtually unhackable. And because the transactions are assured, the cost of verifying transactions is less than in a central bank though, admittedly, the cost of verifying bitcoin transactions has become fairly expensive.

Cryptocurrency transactions happen directly between individuals instead of through a bank. Every time a person makes a transaction using a cryptocurrency — for example, using funds stored in his or her crypto wallet to send bitcoin to someone else — the transaction is recorded on a digital ledger called a blockchain. Every cryptocurrency has its own blockchain, and computers doing complex math in a large network maintain it.

Once users make a specific number of transactions using a cryptocurrency, the computers group these transactions into a "block." In order to send a block, adding transactions to the blockchain and winning a monetary reward, a computer has to solve a complex math problem called a cryptographic function.

Basically, the cryptographic equation is throwing a pumpkin (the block) off a building and telling you what the splatter pattern looked like. The only way users can match the splatter pattern — and send the block — is to hurl a bunch of pumpkins off a building themselves. So people who "mine" cryptocurrency are actually just using their computers to smash billions of pumpkins in order to find the winning pumpkin with the right splatter, which validates their block.

In other words, the first computer that can solve a complex math problem gets to add its block of transactions to the blockchain and receive a monetary reward for doing so (this is what people mean by "mining" crypto). Every computer in the network adds the new block to its copy of the digital ledger, and the process continues.

Although bitcoin was created to avoid centralized banking and government money, the technology can be used as a national, centrally banked currency. In fact, the blockchain is so secure that it reduces the cost of verifying transactions, so banks are already looking into it, says David Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University's Stern School of Business. In 50 years, Yermack says, cryptocurrencies could be used as national currencies.

Will Our Future Be In Bitcoin?

Bitcoin was created to work outside national currencies, which is a draw to people who don't trust central banks, says Yermack.

Those who are hopeful about the rise of bitcoin may have noticed its popularity in countries like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, where it is being used as a major means of exchange when government-issued currencies have failed because of hyperinflation. Bitcoin and other means of exchange have become popular in these countries because transactions can be performed on cell phones, and their value is more stable than the hyper-inflated national currency.

But others believe that bitcoin is too riddled with problems to be the cryptocurrency upon which the future is built. First, it likely can't be used on a national scale because of how few transactions per minute bitcoin supports. Bitcoin's framework can only make seven transactions per second, says Ari Juels, computer science professor at Cornell University who studies cryptography and computer security. VISA's credit card network, for comparison, can handle 65,000 transactions per second.

Issues of privacy also stop it from becoming the future of money, says Phillipa Ryan, commercial equity lawyer and lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney. "Bitcoin is problematic in that it provides too much privacy and not enough privacy," says Juels. "Too much privacy in that it provides enough to give criminals the opportunity to perpetrate a lot of mischief, from ransomware to the Silk Road. Not enough in that transactions are actually traceable by pseudonym."

Its value also fluctuates too much to provide a stable, functional currency. Unlike traditional currencies, which have a value that is set by the central banking system, the value of bitcoin is driven by speculation about its worth like a stock, says Yermack. So it doesn't make the cut as a currency. "Traditionally, we think of money as a kind of means of exchange and a store of value," says Harold James, an economic historian at Princeton. "[Bitcoin] is very good at the means of exchange, but not very good at the store of value."

The future likely won't be based on bitcoin. That's not to say that the future won’t be based on other cryptocurrencies.

If you have a dollar bill, it's pretty safe to assume it's worth about a candy bar from day to day. One bitcoin, on the other hand, could be worth a candy bar one day, a car the day after, then next to nothing the day after that. It's more like a stock than a stable national currency. James says that, based on the historical precedents he studies, bitcoin looks like the highly unstable private currencies created in Eastern Europe after the First World War. When speculation about the value of bitcoin is substantially more than its worth in the real world, bitcoin will burst, like the stock market crashed.

Economists studying cryptocurrency and computer security experts agree: The future likely won't be based on bitcoin. Of course, that's not to say that the future won’t be based on other cryptocurrencies.

In the meantime, bitcoin will remain as a grand test of the blockchain technology, says Ryan. Its value will continue to fluctuate, but Ryan is convinced it's already a bubble. "I think that bubble will burst. It's fun to watch though, it's been a great ride," says Ryan. "When bitcoin finally fails, I think we will look back on it as a really important, valuable experiment in which more lessons will be learned than there will be loss."

A Shift In The Financial System

Bitcoin offers something groundbreaking, and a growing number of national banks, including the Federal Reserve, are interested in using blockchain technology to power a centralized national currency. Most experts agree that, in the future, countries will turn to cryptocurrency, as money is already moving from the physical to the digital realm. So a method that secures digital transactions is a necessary investment, and the blockchain technology used in cryptocurrencies is a top contender.

"I think the whole idea is probably horrifying to the bitcoin people, but it's the ultimate harbinger of success when the person you're trying to defeat co-opts your own plans and turns them against you," says Yermack. "The ultimate victory is where the central bank co-opts their technology and makes it the basis of their own operation. And I can see it very clearly play out that way," Yermack says. "Monetary policy and financial stability — I think those problems will be exactly the same in 50 years." But in 50 years, a nationally backed cryptocurrency could replace the paper dollar, he says.

When it comes to the future of money, cryptocurrency's influence will be felt in its improved ability to avoid technological problems like hacking, Ryan says. Based on the issues of cybersecurity looming ahead, Ryan thinks that the blockchain will be the technology to transform the money of the future.

Cheap Tech Fixes That Could Transform Life In Developing Countries
Click to View Full Infographic

Blockchain could make its way into the mainstream in two primary different ways. One option is to switch from physical to digital currency. A dollar would still be a dollar, but transactions would use blockchain to make them more secure. The second way would be to move your bank account from something like CitiBank and transform it into an account in the Federal Reserve itself. If all of a nation's money were centralized, it would make the Federal Reserve more efficient at its job of stabilizing and regulating the economy, says Christian Catalini, assistant professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management who studies the economics of cryptocurrency.

Some institutions are beginning to try it. Estonia is working to create an e-Residency program, and part of their plan includes launching the estcoin, the world’s first national cryptocurrency. The Bank of England is working to create its own cryptocurrency and has created an experimental cryptocurrency framework called RSCoin that would use a centralized system. To go crypto, the Bank of England would create digital money as if it was printing physical notes. For example, in 2017, there were 73.2 billion British pounds in circulation. A British economy using only cryptocurrency would have the same fixed number of pounds, just represented by a digital "coin" instead of a physical note. Since the value of the British pound is based on how many are in circulation, exchanging a physical note for a digital one has no economic significance — that is, a pound is still a pound, says Yermack. Like bitcoin, RSCoin would use a public ledger and the cryptographic system to distribute money.

In their paper on the RSCoin model, the authors write that a cryptocurrency backed by a national bank should help make cryptocurrency usable on a larger scale, since the central bank could employ other institutions to do the computations to verify transactions. In a model with one central bank and only 30 commercial banks, RSCoin could make 2,000 transactions per second — not quite up to VISA's speed, but certainly fast enough for British citizens to move about their financial lives quickly and securely.

For a consumer, a centralized cryptocurrency won't change much, says Catalini. "[Consumers] will just see cheaper prices in the denomination they’re familiar with, and blockchain technology may be used in the background to offer new or better types of financial and payment services." So with a national cryptocurrency, bank fees would likely drop, and money transfers would happen faster.

And with national cryptocurrencies, it will be more difficult to conduct illegal activity. Even with the anonymous ledgers used today, governments can track users and financial information, says Aniket Kate, a computer scientist at Purdue University. Since all transactions on the blockchain are recorded on every connected computer, it would be difficult to hide financial indiscretions from the government, Kate says.

Over the next fifty years, Yermack thinks that law-abiding citizens, banks, and governments alike could benefit from moving to some form of digital currency. "There is a huge opportunity cost in not making the central bank more efficient," says Yermack. "I think what you're really going to need in the long run is a reorganization of the branches of government and probably more levels of political control over the central bank."

As countries creep closer to creating their own cryptocurrency, they will have to decide just how private they want transactions to be. Bitcoin's famous openness might not be so appealing for all transactions — you might not like it if your neighbor could see that you're buying vibrators and cat food in bulk (of course, you could also find all their weird purchases). However, cryptocurrencies can protect user privacy in varying degrees, Kate says; a future system could inhibit your neighbor's prying eyes.

But the issue of privacy is potentially more of a social problem than a technical one. In Norway, all tax records are public knowledge. In other parts of Scandinavia, electronic banking is also on the public record, says James. Citizens of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greenland, and Iceland rarely use their physical currencies, James says, making those countries a microcosm for a possible future of digital-only currency.

"The only question that seems to be open is: would it be the kind of Scandinavian system we talked about, where every transaction can be monitored [and] that lends itself to a surveillance state?" James asks. "Or will it be a kind of Bitcoin-like system, where there is an anonymity built in?" As countries start to make the switch to digital currencies, their societies, along with the governments themselves and the economies upon which all rely, will have to figure out how to adapt.

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 Everything You Need to Know About Cryptocurrency And Why It’s The Future Of Money appeared first on Futurism.

China Has Lost Control of a Space Station. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry.

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 08:25 AM PST

Heading Home

We’ve known for some time that the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 is set to crash to Earth. The impact is expected to take place in mid-March 2018, plus or minus two weeks, but it’s really nothing to worry about.

Tiangong-1, China’s first crewed space station, was launched in 2011 and was intended to remain in use for two years. However, its lifespan actually ended up being extended for a further two years – and in September 2016, officials announced that they had lost control of it.

It’s normal for stations and other similar hardware to have a limited lifespan, but there’s usually a plan in place regarding how to dispose of the debris safely. For instance, surplus fuel might be used to maneuver into a preferred landing zone, or another craft might be sent to nudge it in the desired direction. This isn’t the case when it comes to Tiangong-1.

The station is set to make an uncontrolled re-entry, but it is being monitored. The United States Space Surveillance Network and other similar agencies are keeping an eye on where it’s set to drop.

“Owing to the geometry of the station's orbit, we can already exclude the possibility that any fragments will fall over any spot further north than 43ºN or further south than 43ºS," said the head of the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office, Holger Krag, in a statement released in November 2017. "This means that reentry may take place over any spot on Earth between these latitudes, which includes several European countries, for example."

Crash Landing

Research indicates that only 10 to 40 percent of a spacecraft’s mass will be able to survive re-entry. However, Tiangong-1 weighs in at some 8,506 kilograms (18,753 lbs), which means that between 850 to 3400 kilograms (1,873 to 7,495 lbs) could strike the Earth.

The station is very dense, measuring just 10.5 meters by 3.35 meters, but it’s very difficult to forecast the area that this debris will be spread across. “The date, time and geographic footprint of the reentry can only be predicted with large uncertainties,” said Krag. “Even shortly before reentry, only a very large time and geographical window can be estimated.”

Even so, the threat of being hit by falling debris is slim. According to The Verge, there’s a 1 in 10,000 chance that the falling junk will hit any person or property, mostly because the station will break into ever-smaller pieces as it falls. Remarkably, in the five decades that we’ve been sending satellites and spacecraft into orbit, there has been only one case of a person being struck by falling space debris– and it was a fairly minor graze to a woman named Lottie Williams’ shoulder.

A woman, Pauline Grewar, examines a piece of the crashed Skylab space station on her property in 1979. Scientists have assured that the odds are slim that China's Tiangong-1 will hit any people or property.
Pauline Grewar, of Western Australia, inspects a large piece of debris from NASA’s retired Skylab space station, which crashed onto her property in 1979. (Image Credit: Geoff Grewar, courtesy of Esperance Museum)

A 13,600 kilogram (30,000 lb) Russian craft headed for Mars called Phobos-Grunt fell to Earth without incident in 2012. NASA’s retired 72,500 kilogram (160,000 lb) Skylab made an uncontrolled re-entry over southwestern Australia in 1972, but while pieces were found, there were no reports of major injuries. And in January 1978, a Soviet satellite that malfunctioned crashed to earth over northern Canada, unexpectedly breaking into pieces – rather than burning up, as it was expected to – and scattering radioactive uranium-235 over the Northwest Territories. Though an extensive cleanup was required, no humans or animals appear to have been harmed by the crash, and concerns that something similar could happen over a more populated area actually led to new considerations about satellite safety in space.

Similarly, the return of Tiangong-1 will help us prepare for the next time such a craft returns to earth. A group known as the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) will track its re-entry, using the data to improve upon current prediction models. Featuring experts from 13 international space organizations, this IADC effort will pool and cross-verify participating agencies’ predictions of the re-entry window, allowing them to make their re-entry models more accurate.

The post China Has Lost Control of a Space Station. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry. appeared first on Futurism.

Even If We Stick to Our Climate Goals, the Paris Agreement Will Deliver a Drier World

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 08:01 AM PST

A Drier World

In 2015, the Paris climate agreement set a goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. But new evidence suggests this may not be enough to prevent the planet from becoming much drier world than it is now, with consequences for food security, biodiversity, and an increased risk of wildfires.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. and the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, compared projections from 27 global climate models to draw a map of the areas where the levels of aridity — which estimates land surface dryness by combining precipitation and evaporation — are likely to increase over time.

They found that over a quarter of the world’s land could become much drier under a 2 degrees Celsius scenario — an optimistic target that some top scientists say we’re not likely to meet anyway.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, observes that some 15 percent of the areas currently classified as semi-arid would become arid, and other more temperate parts of the world would follow a similar trend.

What If We Aim for 1.5?

Things would go much better, the researchers find, if we managed to stay within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Manoj Joshi, one of the study authors from the University of East Anglia, said in a statement: “Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20-30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees Celsius. But two thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Although such a goal seems almost unattainable, it’s important to remember why the climate change community still holds on to it. It’s been established that many of the impacts likely to occur under a 2 degrees Celsius warming scenario would swamp vulnerable island nations that are already sinking under rising sea levels.

The new research adds a new level of concern to this grim picture. Desertification is already on the rise in many parts of the world, from South America to Asia and Africa. If the trend worsens, it would dramatically disrupt food production, water systems, and biodiversity in those affected areas.

The post Even If We Stick to Our Climate Goals, the Paris Agreement Will Deliver a Drier World appeared first on Futurism.

New Data Finally Reveals That, No, There Is No Alien Megastructure

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 07:13 AM PST

Answers In Data

In 2015, researchers first noticed that KIC 8462852, better known as “Tabby’s Star,” was inexplicably dimming with no clear indication as to what might be causing this strange light pattern.

Now, thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, researchers led by Louisiana State University (LSU) Department of Physics & Astronomy Assistant Professor Tabetha Boyajian were able to collect additional data on Tabby’s Star.

That data has produced new insights into the mysterious celestial body, which the researchers have overviewed in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Some had speculated that the dimming of Tabby’s Star was caused by some kind of orbiting alien megastructure. No doubt those SETI hopefuls will be dismayed to find out that the new data points to dust as being the cause of the strange light patterns.

According to the paper, various colors of light emanating from the star are being blocked at different intensities. If something opaque, such as an alien megastructure or planet, was passing between the Earth and the star, that would not be the case.

Strange and Exciting

Anomalies like Tabby’s Star are best examined with a healthy dose of skepticism. As previously reported, the cause of the dimming had plenty of possible explanations far more plausible than aliens. Discussing the possibility of alien involvement or even hoping for such involvement isn’t necessarily problematic, though.

Alien or Natural: Strangest Sounds & Signals Detected from Space
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The place where imagination and science intersect has lead to some truly fantastic developments, such as all of the technology that has been, in part, influenced by “Star Trek” or other works of science fiction. Plus, remarkable discoveries like Tabby’s Star can encourage otherwise indifferent people to take an interest in science.

Allowing far-fetched hopes of aliens to get in the way of the actual gathering of data would discredit the scientific community, and we must always focus on what we can prove factually using the scientific method. Still, there is no harm in hoping the line between the factual and the fantastic gets blurred every once in a while.

The post New Data Finally Reveals That, No, There Is No Alien Megastructure appeared first on Futurism.

Russia’s Missing Satellite Was Officially Attributed to Human Error

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 02:36 PM PST

Human Error

The deputy prime minister in charge of Defense industry in Russia has publicly admitted that the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, had lost contact with a recently launched $45 million weather satellite. What’s even more shocking is that the cause of the failure has been attributed to avoidable human error.

Roscosmos explained that the satellite was programmed to think it was launched from a different cosmodrome than from where it actually left. The Meteor-M satellite was launched, along with 18 smaller satellites, from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in south-east Russia but was programmed to think it was being launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan, which Moscow leases from the neighboring country.

The launch did go off without a hitch, that is until Roscosmos failed to establish communications with the satellite. The agency initially attributed the loss to rocket failure at the final booster stage but further investigation revealed the faulty programming to be the real culprit.

Image source: Roscosmos
Image source: Roscosmos

Success in Failure

Setbacks of any nature are discouraging but as private space companies have shown, a lot can be learned from them. Launching and maintaining satellites involves the seamless integration of many branches of science, with little to no margin of error. Disciplinary action has been taken in this case and the embarrassment that the space program has suffered will also help to ensure that future launches are more cognizant of the programming.

Roscosmos shouldn’t feel alone since they aren’t the first space agency to lose valuable equipment thanks to human error. In 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter when engineers failed to convert figures into metric.

The Russian space program has certainly seen better days but there is no indication that this one instance will derail continued efforts to modernize their space program. The program has some pretty high expectations moving forward, which may be heightened now given the bumpy start.

The post Russia’s Missing Satellite Was Officially Attributed to Human Error appeared first on Futurism.

SuperMeat Raises $3 Million to Produce “Clean Meat” in the Lab

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 02:11 PM PST

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Natural

SuperMeat, an Israeli biotech and food-tech startup, is one of the most recent companies that has risen up to provide the world with a new food source. Like Memphis Meats and Hampton Creek, SuperMeat wants to produce cheaper, healthy meats, without the animal slaughter and high gas emissions.

The startup has already ran a successful Indiegogo campaign, and is set to ship its lab-grown meat to China as part of a $300 million September deal signed by China and Israel. Showing no signs of slowing down, the company has received yet another shot in the arm after raising $3 million in seed funding, and forming a new partnership with PWH, one of Europe's largest poultry producers.

SuperMeat explains its chicken meat is produced by growing cells that have been extracted from live chickens. These cells are grown in expertly controlled conditions to facilitate their growth, which eliminates the need to mass produce animals. According to a study conducted by Oxford and Amsterdam Universities, switching to this “clean meat” process will reduce “up to 98% in greenhouse gas emissions, 99% in land exploitation, and up to 96% in water usage.”

Coming to a Store Near You

Speaking with TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear, SuperMeat CEO and co-founder Ido Savir said the latest partnership with PWH was less a sign of disruption in the meat industry, and more about transformation.

"We're proud that SuperMeat is at the forefront of the rapidly-evolving clean meat industry," said Savir in a statement. “Our team is comprised of a diverse group of top-tier scientists, food engineers and chefs, working together with the best production experts from the pharmaceutical industry to create a new generation of meat products that are sustainable, cost-efficient, animal-friendly, and of course – delicious.”

It’ll be some time before the general public sees SuperMeats products in stores, with the company estimating it’ll be at least a three year wait. When it does happen, though, people should expect clean meat prices to be roughly the same — if not cheaper — than current products, as they require fewer resources to produce.

The post SuperMeat Raises $3 Million to Produce “Clean Meat” in the Lab appeared first on Futurism.

You’ll Never Regret a Futuristic, Functional Tattoo Like This One

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 01:15 PM PST

These tattoos change colors based on the body’s conditions. They could be tremendously helpful for people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes.

The post You’ll Never Regret a Futuristic, Functional Tattoo Like This One appeared first on Futurism.

Vladimir Putin Looks to Develop a New Cryptocurrency — the Cryptorouble

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 12:58 PM PST


In late 2017, Russia announced a decision to block citizen access to cryptocurrency exchange websites. The move, while potentially temporary, seemed to indicate that the country was not in support of cryptocurrencies. However, recent news suggests the country might only have an unfavorable stance against other cryptos: the Financial Times reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Russian officials to develop Russia’s own in-house cryptocurrency, the ‘cryptorouble.’

Sergei Glazev, an economic adviser to Vladimir Putin, recently called the cryptorouble a “useful tool” to evade western economic sanctions. He stated that, “This instrument suits us very well for sensitive activity on behalf of the state. We can settle accounts with our counterparties all over the world with no regard for sanctions.”

According to this adviser, the cryptorouble will be equivalent to the rouble, but will be “restricted in a certain way” in terms of circulation. Additionally, it will be trackable by the government.

Despite previous public disdain for cryptocurrencies, Russia begins development of the cryptorouble. Image Cretid: MariaShvedova / Pixabay
Image Credit: MariaShvedova / Pixabay

Trackable Currency

Russia has expressed opposing views on cryptocurrencies, sometimes saying that they are a reality all need to face, other times rejecting them on principle. In October, Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov publicly said of cryptocurrencies that "We can not stand apart. We can not give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors).” Yet according to officials, the Russian government will soon introduce laws that formalize how cryptocurrencies are created and exchanged in the country.

For experts, the potential of a cryptorouble is troubling. The U.S. and E.U. have responded to Russian violations of international law using economic sanctions, which prevent the Russian government and organizations and businesses around the world from using the U.S. or European currencies and banks to conduct transactions. A Russian cryptocurrency could allow the country’s government to subvert these sanctions.

It has also been suggested that the trackable nature of the cryptorouble is the driving force behind its creation and adoption.

With the adoption of their own crypto, perhaps the country is also looking for additional control and surveillance over the population. In addition to being a trackable currency, equivalent to the rouble, the cryptorouble will be issued and controlled solely by the Russian government.

Disclaimer: 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 Vladimir Putin Looks to Develop a New Cryptocurrency — the Cryptorouble appeared first on Futurism.

Metalenses That Focus All Colors of the Rainbow Could Revolutionize VR

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 12:42 PM PST

Seeing the Rainbow Through Metalenses

The quickly advancing fields of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) rely on basic technological elements like lenses. As VR technology has progressed, traditional curved lenses have been replaced by what are known as metalenses. These flat lenses, which focus light using nano-sized structures, are much less bulky than their older counterparts.

However, metalenses have a flaw — they do not focus well in all points across the spectrum of light. But now scientists have developed the first-ever single lens that can focus the entire visible light spectrum, meaning all colors of the rainbow, in one spot.

Before, this has been possible only through stacking lenses. That’s because different colors move through materials at different speeds. Red travels through glass quickest and violet the slowest, because they have the longest and shortest wavelengths, respectively.

Those speeds are a problem for cameras, because they cause aberrations in the resulting photographs since each color doesn’t act the same. In order to bring each color into proper focus, cameras have to stack multiple, curved lenses together. Having multiple lenses gets rid of the distortions, but the resulting cameras are heavy and bulky.

Metalenses can focus all light in the visible spectrum at the same spot.
This flat metalens is the first of its kind. Image Credit: Jared Sisler/Harvard SEAS.

This is the first time that focus of every color has been accomplished with a single lens. Published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, this newly developed metalens has several advantages over traditional, curved lenses.

Less Bulky VR

According to Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the research, metalenses have advantages over traditional lenses. “Metalenses are thin, easy to fabricate and cost effective. This breakthrough extends those advantages across the whole visible range of light. This is the next big step."

So, not only do these lenses cover the entire visible light spectrum, they are also less expensive and much more lightweight. The researchers said the next step is to scale-up the metalenses to be one centimeter in diameter — a size that has applications for AR and VR.

If these single metalenses can be manufactured on a larger scale and adopted by companies, it is very possible that they will revolutionize VR and cameras, making them less bulky.

The post Metalenses That Focus All Colors of the Rainbow Could Revolutionize VR appeared first on Futurism.

2017 Broke Another Heat Record — but There’s Hope for Future Years

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 12:26 PM PST

New Highs

Last year set a grim new heat record for the planet. According to NASA data pulled together by The Guardian, 2017 was the second hottest year ever recorded, and the hottest ever if we don’t consider years when El Niño’s influence drove temperatures up.

Not only was 2017 the hottest year without an El Niño by a margin of 0.17°C (0.306° F) compared to 2014, but it was also hotter than 2015, which is remembered for the disruptive impacts of one of the strongest El Niño ever recorded.

El Niño is part of the earth's natural cycle, and it's not a consequence of climate change. These abnormally warm years are part of a climatic oscillation known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, a cycle that swings between warm El Niño years, neutral, and abnormally cold years called La Niña. Some of the El Niño impacts — for example, the 2015 drought in southern Africa —  are dauntingly similar to what we imagine may happen to the most vulnerable areas of the world under exacerbated climate change.

Now, it looks like temperatures in what we call a “neutral year,” one not influenced by the short-term warming caused by El Niño, may be reaching similar highs with unpredictable consequences. The difference is stark when you look at the history of temperature records; Guardian writer Dana Nuccitelli compares the years 2017 and 1972, which had similar levels of solar activity and were both neutral with regards to ENSO. Yet on average, 2017 was 0.9°C (1.62° F) hotter than 1972.

What Can We Do About It?

Halting global warming may seem an impossible feat, but new evidence suggests that humans can play a bigger role than we might think. For the first time, a new study in Nature Climate Change incorporated human behavior in a climate change model. It combined the potential outcomes of human choices — starting from simple actions such as installing solar panels — with the uncertainties of the physical world that determine the planet’s response to higher concentration of greenhouse gases.

The study finds that, by taking into account human response to climate change, global temperatures may vary ranging from 3.4 to 6.2°C (6.1 to 11.2° F) by 2100, compared to a straight 4.9°C (8.8° F) from the climate model alone. The results show how taking action can really make a difference, and crucially that failing to do so will further exacerbate the problem. 

Global Warming Scenarios
Click to View Full Infographic

For example, the authors find, actions such as insulating homes or driving hybrid cars have the biggest benefits in the long run — compared to short term changes such adjusting thermostats or traveling shorter distances.

Of course, as polar ice caps melt faster than ever, and wildfires devastate our biggest forests with incalculable economic and environmental damages, individual actions are not enough. There is need for better governance and concerted plans that involve the private sector as well as scientific institutions.

Ambitious measures that brought together governments and industry have worked in the past, the Montreal Protocol being the most successful example. Yet we’re still on a path to continue setting and shattering heat records, with scientists expecting that record-breaking temperatures will be normal by 2030. With one of the most powerful heads of state refusing to participate in the effort to curb global warming and confusing weather with climate, it looks like we are taking a step back at the worst possible time.

The post 2017 Broke Another Heat Record — but There’s Hope for Future Years appeared first on Futurism.

Last Year’s Robots Set a High Bar for the Bots of 2018

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 11:16 AM PST

In a stunning year of progress, 2017’s robots made incredible strides and will pave the way for major innovations and improvements in the tech industry.

The post Last Year’s Robots Set a High Bar for the Bots of 2018 appeared first on Futurism.