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A Lack of Oxygen Is Creating More Ocean “Dead Zones”

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 08:44 AM PST

Dead Zones

One day in the late 1980s, Denise Breitburg was diving on an oyster reef in Chesapeake Bay when she swam onto a scene of utter devastation. The bay’s floor was littered with the carcasses of fish and crabs. A few hours earlier, a block of water with very low oxygen levels had welled up from deeper in the bay, creating a veritable dead zone in the shallow waters where she was diving. The creatures that had fled the upwelling were crowded together close to shore. Crabs had even climbed up buoy lines, fleeing towards the surface, to escape the suffocating water. It was a scene, Breitburg told Futurism, that left her “stunned.”

Recent research reveals these dead zones could become much more common throughout the world’s oceans. The culprits: pollution and climate change.

In a new review paper published in Science, Breitburg, a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center marine ecologist, and her colleagues conclude that oxygen loss in the oceans is a serious threat to marine life. According to the paper, the open ocean has lost about 77 billion metric tons of oxygen in the past 50 years— nearly 2% of its total concentration.

“Oxygen is fundamental to life in the oceans,” Breitburg said in a press release. “The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth’s environment.”

The Climate Connection

Low-oxygen water near to shore is often due to nutrient runoff, which allows algae to grow explosively, die, and rapidly deplete all oxygen from the surrounding waters as they decay. Harmful algal blooms, and the zero-oxygen “dead zones” they create in both fresh and salt water, have grown worse in recent years. What’s more, voluntary efforts to curb these blooms don’t seem to be working.

Algal blooms cause dead zones that kill marine life.
A dead fish during a large algal bloom in Lake Erie. (Image Credit: Tom Archer)

In the open ocean, however, rapidly expanding patches of oxygen-depleted water are thought to be due to rising temperatures rather than algal blooms. Warm water can’t hold as much dissolved oxygen as cold water, and global sea surface temperatures have increased by an average of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1901. Since warm water is lighter than cold water, less-oxygenated water also tends to displace oxygen-rich cold waters, making it harder for gases from the atmosphere to mix in.

Breitburg’s paper shows that, in addition to dead zones that kill marine animals outright, oceans are seeing more areas with reduced oxygen. These areas can have more subtle effects on marine life: stunted growth, hindered reproduction, and increased susceptibility to disease.

These effects can carry-over to human communities that rely on marine animals for their livelihoods. Some fishing communities can’t relocate if local marine populations dwindle or die out. Reduced oxygen water can also kill coral reefs, hindering tourism in areas that rely on scuba diving and snorkeling visitors.

While a low-oxygen ocean may feel low on the list of global problems, consider this: the authors also raised the possibility it could lead to a dramatic positive feedback loop. Extremely low oxygen concentrations cause the production of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. More nitrous oxide could intensify global warming and make seas even warmer. However, Breitburg told Futurism that there is disagreement among researchers whether stratified ocean waters would impede that nitrous oxide from reaching the surface.

Can humans stop ocean “dead zones” from forming? The authors highlight three strategies: address the root causes of pollution and climate change, protect vulnerable marine life via protected areas or no-catch zones, and increase monitoring of low-oxygen areas, particularly in developing countries. According to Breitburg, we can make a difference both at the individual level as well as through international policy.

“Everyone can limit their carbon footprint and reduce their contribution to nutrient pollution,” she said.

The post A Lack of Oxygen Is Creating More Ocean “Dead Zones” appeared first on Futurism.

China Is Building a $2.1 Billion Industrial Park for AI Research

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 08:30 AM PST

Building An AI Industry

Over the past year, more nations have come to realize the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in shaping the economics of the future. With Russia, the United States, and the United Emirates all funding serious efforts to advance AI tech, China has established a three-year program to secure AI as a major economic driver by 2020. This is part of the nation’s overarching plan to become an industry leader in AI by 2030. As a first step towards this goal, the Chinese government is preparing to build a technology park in Beijing dedicated to AI development research.

China’s Most Ambitious Sci-Tech Projects [Infographic]
Click to View Full Infographic

The government is investing some $2.12 billion (13.8 billion yuan) to build the industrial park, located in west Beijing, according to state press agency Xinhua and as first reported by Reuters.

This “national AI research center” of sorts is also expected to produce $7.7 billion (50 billion yuan) a year from the 400 enterprises that would be housed in the AI research park.

Taking a Leadership Role

When it comes to AI, China isn’t exactly starting from zero. Previous reports have shown that China has purportedly been investing time and effort in AI research, even more than the United States.

With their clearly laid-out program, China is expected to soon surpass the U.S. in AI development. The U.S. still doesn’t have a similar AI program in place, unfortunately.

Already, China is working on a number of AI projects — which include these human-looking robots, this AI police station, and that AI that passed a medical licensing exam. China also plans to dominate the AI chip race. Meanwhile, companies are increasingly investing in the technology, following Google, Amazon, and other tech heavyweights that have centered their businesses in AI.

At any rate, with plans for an AI-focused industrial park and its AI research center in the works, it might not be impossible for China to deliver on their promised AI breakthrough by 2025 — what its Ministry of Industry and Information Technology calls “Made in China 2025.”

As China’s AI development plan puts it, “The rapid development of artificial intelligence will profoundly change the social life of mankind and change the world.”

The post China Is Building a $2.1 Billion Industrial Park for AI Research appeared first on Futurism.

We Just Found Two Security Flaws That Put All Your Data At Risk

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 07:45 AM PST

Tiny Chips, Big Security Flaws

The central process unit (CPU) is essentially the “brains” of any computer. Whenever you run a program, type a command, or click a link, you’re sending instructions to the CPU. Project Zero, a team of security analysts assembled by Google in 2014, has revealed their discovery of two major security flaws in the design of CPUs and microprocessors found in the majority of computers, smartphones, and tablets released over the last 20 years.

The researchers dubbed the first hardware bug Spectre. It gives attackers a way to trick otherwise error-free programs into sharing information by breaking the isolation between various applications.

The researchers say Spectre affects almost every computing system (desktops, laptops, cloud servers, and smartphones) and has been verified on CPUs manufactured by Intel, AMD, and ARM.

The other bug, which the researchers named Meltdown, cracks the divide between user applications and an operating system (OS). By exploiting Meltdown, a hacker can use one program to access the memory of another program or a device’s OS. Meltdown affects desktop, laptop, and cloud computers. So far, Project Zero researchers have only verified it on Intel CPUs.

The Project Zero team first discovered these security flaws in June 2017, and the plan was for the tech community to disclose them to the public on January 9, 2018.

The purpose behind the secrecy was to give companies time to address the issues before news about them spread, but rumors and early reports pushed the reveal up to January 3, 2018.

Now What?

According to the Project Zero team’s report, Spectre and Meltdown give hackers a way to steal a device’s entire memory contents. That means they have access to a user’s photo library, emails, instant messages, passwords, and more. To avoid the chaos that such breaches could cause, tech companies are rushing to address the vulnerabilities.

Right now, the best known fix for the Meltdown bug is Kaiser, a software patch devised by researchers at the Graz University of Technology in Austria to address a different issue. However, the patch might come with a catch: It reportedly causes systems to run up to 30 percent slower.

Spectre is proving to be even more formidable, and the only fix may be redesigning the processors. “As it is not easy to fix, it will haunt us for quite some time,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Security flaws in CPUs leave them vulnerable to hackers.
Security flaws in CPUs leave them vulnerable to hackers. Image credit: Intel Corporation.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow, hackers have a growing number of avenues by which to access our personal information, meaning securing that information will only become more and more vital.

So far, the Project Zero team says it hasn’t found conclusive proof that anyone has used Spectre or Meltdown to access vulnerable systems. But now that information about these flaws is widely known, that could change.

Linux, Android, Apple’s MacOS, and Microsoft’s Windows 10 have already pushed fixes to address these new security issues. So the best course of action is to ensure all of your devices are using the most up-to-date version of their operating system.

The post We Just Found Two Security Flaws That Put All Your Data At Risk appeared first on Futurism.

A Wave of Climate Refugees Could Soon Emerge in the US

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 07:38 AM PST

Climate Refugees

In Louisiana, residents live under the hovering umbrella of looming disaster. From putting homes on stilts to literally keeping boats in the backyard, Louisiana’s most vulnerable citizens know that relocating may soon be the only option left. But is the U.S. equipped to help a growing wave of internally displaced?

The state of Louisiana is not blind to this issue, and has devised a plan, the 2017 Coastal Master Plan, in which they repair the coast by recreating barrier islands and planting marshes. However, not all coasts can be restored and some will have to move.

The influence of climate change on the frequency and severity of floods affecting the state is well established, and could be responsible for driving people out of their homes.

While the plight of Louisiana exemplifies the issue of climate refugees in the U.S., the state is not alone in facing the threat of new weather extremes.

Hurricanes Have Been Enhanced by Climate Change
Click to View Full Infographic

The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that in 2016 Hurricane Matthew displaced 875,000 people from the Southern-Eastern Coast of the U.S. Clues are there that the event may have been exacerbated by the rising temperatures and swelling seas that come with climate change.

Who is at Risk?

Louisiana may have little respite from perpetual environmental crises, but other areas in the U.S. are at risk too. In California, this winter, wildfires blazed through homes and communities with damages that remain incalculableScientists see the effects of climate change in these wildfires, which destroyed thousands of homes and took a number of lives. Those that lost their homes may well become the next climate refugees in the country.

But while money has been allocated in the face of big emergencies, the U.S. still lacks of a long term plan. In 2016 the Department of Housing and Urban Development gave a total of $1 billion in grants to 13 states to help them cope with the effects of climate change. And $48 million of that money went to Isle de Jean Charles, a narrow island that is part of Louisiana, as the entire community needed to be relocated.

The previous administration had taken steps towards a comprehensive federal plan addressing climate-related displacement, however things seem to have slowed down under President Trump. More worryingly, observers fear that the range of new energy policies pursued by the president may make things worse, by opening vulnerable and highly populated coastlines to new drilling operations.

The post A Wave of Climate Refugees Could Soon Emerge in the US appeared first on Futurism.

A Single Gene Could Have a Huge Impact on Age-Related Mental Decline

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 07:31 AM PST

The Mental Effects of Aging

As animals get older, the electrophysiology of their hippocampal connections begins to degrade. A new study appears to have identified the family of genes that are responsible, demonstrating how a single gene can have a broad effect on age-related decline.

The key component seems to be a protein called FKBP, which is responsible for calcium release within neurons. In the study, rats were injected with viruses engineered to promote overexpression of FKBP1b, and then observed as they attempted to find an underwater platform in a water maze. They were later euthanized so that the researchers could analyze gene expression in their hippocampi.

The rats who received the treatment were found to perform much better than control animals of the same age. What’s more, the hippocampal expression levels of over 800 other genes had been altered as well as the FKBP1b overexpression. The vast majority of these changes caused levels to resemble younger rats more closely than older rats.

Excessive calcium release had already been linked to age-related decline by an earlier study, where increased FKBP expression was seen to increase cognitive function in older rats. The new findings raise further questions, but there are hopes that it could lead to some new ideas in how we respond the mental changes humans experience in old age.

Brain Power

The next step for the researchers involved with this project is to figure out why FKBP levels decrease as animals get older, and what can be done to prevent this from happening. It’s been suggested that metabolic conditions or changes to other cells might be the culprit.

“Another key question is whether Ca2+ dysregulation is why aging is the leading risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” wrote the paper’s lead author J.C. Gant in email correspondence with Futurism. “In most neurodegenerative disorders age is a major risk factor and it may be that changes in neuronal calcium are a trigger for multiple diseases. This we do not know, yet.”

Of course, there’s a need for clinical trials to determine whether FKBP expression could be safely manipulated in humans. Gant is hopeful that such trials could take place sooner rather than later, given that we’re already seeing studies using adeno-associated viral vectors to increase gene expression in specific areas of the brain. A microsyringe would be used to inject the virus into the region where it’s needed (in this case the hippocampus).

“Although clinical trials must be run to determine the viability, the debilitating nature of memory loss in normal aging and extreme cases such as Alzheimer's makes minimally-invasive measures such as this seem more and more viable with respect to alternative consequences of not treating the disease,” explained Gant.

The findings of this study don’t necessarily mean that we have a solution to the way our brains wane as we get older. However, they do offer up some intriguing possibilities when it comes to figuring out what is actually happening inside our bodies that causes this decline to take place.

The post A Single Gene Could Have a Huge Impact on Age-Related Mental Decline appeared first on Futurism.

In 2017, the US Led the World in Successful Orbital Launches

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 07:17 AM PST

Countdown to Launch

In 2017, the United States led the world in annual orbital launches with a total of 29 launches.

The Rockets That Put Us Into Space [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

SpaceX contributed 18 launches to the count, the last of which was the Falcon 9 launch in December. Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was responsible for eight launches: six Atlas V missions and two additional Delta launches.

The nations with the most launches after the U.S. were Russia (20 launches) and China (18 launches). While all of the U.S.’ launch attempts were successful, Russia and China had one failure each, a Soyuz rocket in November and a Long March 5 rocket in July, respectively.

In 2016, the U.S. tied China with 22 launches, and from 2004 through 2015, Russia held the top spot. The last time the U.S. was the launch leader was 2003, the year the space shuttle Columbia burned up during re-entry.

But Wait, There’s More

2017 was a big year for space flight, but 2018 could be even bigger.

In the U.S., SpaceX is aiming to increase their launch count significantly. "We will increase our cadence next year about 50 percent," SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell told SpaceNews in November 2017. "We'll fly more next year than this year, knock on wood, and I think we will probably level out at about that rate, 30 to 40 per year."

The most anticipated of those is the long-awaited launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. After multiple delays, the reusable rocket is now set to launch this month, and if everything goes as planned, SpaceX could be kicking off a year of launches with a major bang.

While Russia is not expected to add more launches to its schedule, China has shared its intentions to launch more rockets in 2018, meaning it could overtake the U.S. and become the new leader in orbital launches.

GBTimes has reported that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has set a goal of 35 launches. Both the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), the Chinese space program’s main contractor, and Landspace Technology Corporation, a Beijing-based private aerospace business, have plans for launches as well.

Thanks to the advent of reusable rockets and the efforts of a number of private companies, the space industry is booming. Space is becoming more accessible than ever, and eventually, we may look back on these days of double-digit annual launches as merely the beginning of a new era in exploration.

The post In 2017, the US Led the World in Successful Orbital Launches appeared first on Futurism.

Tesla Is Building Another Massive Battery in Australia

Posted: 05 Jan 2018 07:01 AM PST

Green Thumbs

If you’ve ever doubted the power of social media, consider this: a series of tweets sent by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in March 2017 led to the creation of the world’s largest battery.

That 100-megawatt capacity Powerpack battery storage system was officially turned on in South Australia on December 1, 2017, after a speedy 100-day build. Now, AFR is reporting that Tesla has been tapped by the Australian state of Victoria to build another massive battery system Down Under.

The new project won’t be quite as robust as the last, nor will it adhere to Musk’s previously “100 days or it’s free” guarantee. This 20 MW battery system will be designed to support the yet-to-be-built Bulgana Green Power Hub, a 204-MW wind farm in Western Victoria, and won’t come online until mid-2019.

Developing the Bulgana Wind Farm is French renewable energy company Neoen. They were also responsible for the development of the Hornsdale Wind Farm paired with Tesla’s battery in South Australia, so a relationship with Musk’s company is already established.

Power for the People

The battery in South Australia was built specifically for the purpose of addressing the state’s unreliable power grid and ensuring that its citizens are never without electricity.

The one in Bulgana, however, will primarily support the 40-hectare Nectar Farms glasshouse in Stawell, though Neoen's managing director Franck Woitiez did tell Electrek it could eventually be connected to the state’s grid.

As we’ve seen recently in Puerto Rico, Australia, and other parts of the globe, energy insecurity is a major issue facing the modern world.

By transitioning to renewable sources of energy, we can avoid the power outages caused by natural disasters and warming temperatures while simultaneously addressing the carbon emissions at the root of climate change. That’s something worth tweeting about.

The post Tesla Is Building Another Massive Battery in Australia appeared first on Futurism.

Trump Gives Green Light for Offshore Drilling Near Every U.S. Coast

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 02:59 PM PST

Offshore Drilling

The waters of the United States will be soon open for offshore drilling, the Trump administration has announced.

The New York Times reports that the administration’s plan would make most coastal areas — including Pacific waters near California, Atlantic waters near Maine and the eastern Gulf of Mexico — available for fossil fuel exploration and extraction, in a bid to revive the domestic energy industry.

In April President Trump signed an executive order to overturn the Obama-era offshore drilling plan, which was intended to stop new leases in areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. That measure, Trump said, "deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth." Now, the day of oil rigs peppering America’s coasts is getting ever closer.

Trump’s new five-year plan would give the green light to 47 auctions for drilling rights off nearly every U.S. coast. This includes 19 potential lease sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic region, according to a Think Progress report. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed, according to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

As he unveiled the plan, Zinke said: "We're embarking on a new path for energy dominance in America, particularly on offshore. This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance. We are going to become the strongest energy superpower."

Opposition Up In Arms

The measure was met with enthusiastic approval by the leaders of the fossil fuel industry. As reported by the New York Times, Thomas J. Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, said: “These are our lands. They're taxpayer-owned and they should be made available."

But environmental organizations all over the country are up in arms over the project. Kate Addleson, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club said in a statement:
“This plan was hastily concocted, has no basis in science, employs faulty economics and blatantly disregards the flood of public opinion that strongly opposes opening the Atlantic Ocean to risky, dirty and unnecessary offshore drilling.”

Opposition is also expected from a number of governors on both sides of the political aisle who fear for the safety of their states’ coastlines.

The post Trump Gives Green Light for Offshore Drilling Near Every U.S. Coast appeared first on Futurism.

Ethereum and Ripple Just Hit All-Time Highs

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 01:59 PM PST

A Big Day for Crypto

While 2017 saw market leader bitcoin making frequent headlines thanks to its soaring valuations, 2018 is already proving to be a big year for the second and third most popular cryptocurrencies, ripple and ethereum, respectively.

On January 4, ripple hit a new all-time-high of $3.317 per unit, and at the time of writing, it has a market cap of $137 billion.

Ethereum also hit a new high on the 4th, breaking the $1,000 threshold for the first time. The cryptocurrency currently sits at $1,027.27 with a market cap of just over $99 billion.

The value of a single unit of ripple or ethereum is still far below that of a unit of bitcoin (currently $15,125 per), and the leading crypto’s market cap of $253 billion is almost twice that of its nearest competitor.

However, the silver and bronze cryptos are quickly closing that market cap gap, with ripple’s market cap increasing by $49 billion and ether’s by $26 billion just in the four days since 2017 drew to a close.

The Future of Money

Overall, the crypto market has surged from $17 billion to almost $770 billion in the past year. Based on the latest figures for ripple and ether, society’s interest in cryptocurrencies clearly extends beyond a single coin.

As more and more people invest in crypto, be it bitcoin, ether, or ripple, the likelihood that this new form of currency is here to stay increases.

Governments and financial institutions are already warming to the idea. A future of faster, more secure financial transactions powered by crypto could be just on the horizon.

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 Ethereum and Ripple Just Hit All-Time Highs appeared first on Futurism.

2017’s Cutting-Edge Inventions Mean a World of Change for 2018

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 11:49 AM PST

From a mathematical cake design to self-healing concrete and virtual reality you can taste, this is the ultramodern technology that stood out last year.

The post 2017’s Cutting-Edge Inventions Mean a World of Change for 2018 appeared first on Futurism.

California Is Officially Planning to Ban Polluting Cars by 2040

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 11:39 AM PST

Pollution phase-out

Efforts to free California from polluting vehicles once and for all are finally taking shape, as a bill that would ban fossil fuel-powered cars by 2040 has been officially put on the table by California Assemblymember Phil Ting.

Ting has delivered on the idea he had introduced last month, and now the bill is up for approval.

While the state is already on track to meet its renewable energy goals a staggering 10 years ahead of schedule, this bill, called the Clean Cars 2040 Act, could drastically cut emissions and make California a real pioneer in the fight against climate change.

Now, this bill wouldn’t pull all polluting vehicles from the road,  but it would prohibit the sale of any new car or truck running on fossil fuels. All new passenger vehicles sold in California would have to be “zero-emissions vehicles” like battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars. Speaking about the importance of the new bill, Ting said: “we're at an inflection point: we've got to address the harmful emissions that cause climate change.”

A Zero-Emissions Future

As many work to reduce emissions, especially in the state of California, some might suggest that setting such a rigid timeline is drastic or unnecessary. But Ting explained observed that “until you set a deadline, nothing gets done.”

While emissions come from a variety of sources other than cars, in his speech Ting reminded that “vehicles [that] run on fossil fuels are responsible for nearly 40 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions.”

Not only the new measure could deliver important environmental benefits, but it also makes business sense. The fact sheet accompanying the bill makes a case for staying ahead of the green trend: “Great Britain, France, China, India, and other countries are phasing out gas and diesel-powered vehicles, and requiring new vehicles to be zero emissions,” the document states.

It notes that the four countries account for over 35 million new vehicle sales per year, and the global automobile industry will have to meet the new needs with a full range of zero emission vehicle options. “By aligning its 2040 requirement with these and other countries,” the note adds, “California can keep pace with the world and take advantage of this coming market shift.”

The post California Is Officially Planning to Ban Polluting Cars by 2040 appeared first on Futurism.

Does Life In 2018 Live up to What We Predicted a Century Ago?

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 11:26 AM PST

People in the early 20th century were hopeful about the future innovation might bring. The technology that came out of World War I, and the growing potential brought by electricity (half of all U.S. homes had electric power by 1925) had many looking ahead to the coming century. Futurists of the early 1900s predicted an incredible boom in technology that would transform human lives for the better.

In fact, many of those predictions for the future in which we live weren’t far off, from the proliferation of automobiles and airplanes to the widespread transmission of information. Of course, the specifics of how those devices would work sometimes fell broad of the mark. Yet these predictions show us just how much our technology has progressed in just a century — and just how much further more innovation could take us.

Calling the Future

On a cool February day in 1917, storied inventor Alexander Graham Bell gave the graduating class of McKinley Manual Training School a rousing speech that would later sound a bit like prophecy.

“Now, it is very interesting and instructive to look back over the various changes that have occurred and trace the evolution of the present from the past,” Bell said, after recalling the incredible transformation wrought by electricity and automobiles alone. “By projecting these lines of advance into the future, you can forecast the future, to a certain extent, and recognize some of the fields of usefulness that are opening up for you.”

In 1876, Bell himself had patented the device known as the telephone, which used wires to transmit the sound of human speech. As this device spread, its capabilities allowed voices to cross enormous distances. In 1915, one such “wireless telephony” system had allowed a Virginia man to speak to another in Paris while a man in Honolulu listened in — a distance of 4,900 miles (about 7,886 kilometers), setting the record for the longest distance communication at that time.

Bell placing the first New York to Chicago telephone call in 1892. Image Credit: Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Bell marveled at this achievement and the change it had already created, predicting that “this achievement surely foreshadows the time when we may be able to talk with a man in any part of the world by telephone and without wires.” At the time of Bell’s speech, the U.S. had an estimated 11.7 million working telephones; by the year 2000, that number had risen to nearly 103 million.

Extrapolating forward, Bell predicted a future in which this technology allowed people to pretty much anything remotely: “We shall probably be able to perform at a distance by wireless almost any mechanical operation that can be done at hand,” he said. And he wasn’t wrong.

Transportation of the Future

People a century ago were obsessed with the travel of the future. By 1914, the Ford Motor Company had developed the first moving assembly line, allowing the company to produce 300,000 cars in a single year. With transit beginning to transform society, futurists began imagining a world in which every person from Miami to Moscow could own their very own automobile. In that regard, they weren’t too far off — 95 percent of American households own cars, according to a 2016 government report. But those imagined automobiles looked a bit different from the ones we know today.

An illustration from the 1918 Scientific American article “The Motor Car of the Future.” Image Credit: Scientific American

On January 6, 1918, the headline of an article in The Washington Times announced that the “Automobile of Tomorrow Will Be Constructed Like a Moving Drawing Room.” The author was writing about a prediction in Scientific American that described the car of the future. It would be water-tight and weather-proof, with sides made entirely of glass, and seats that could be moved anywhere in the vehicle. It would be decked out with power steering, brakes, heating, and a small control board for navigation. A finger lever would replace the steering wheel. Other designs imagined that cars would roll around on just three wheels, or on air-filled spheres to remove the need for shocks.

Future-forecasters of the early 1900s were enthralled by the idea that our everyday travel would not be confined to land. Take, for example, the series of postcards produced between 1899 and 1910 by French artist Jean-Marc Côté and his collaborators, who seemed confident that by the year 2000, we would have already colonized both sky and sea — and recruited some of their residents for our transit purposes.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Air travel was foremost in people’s minds: The Wright brothers made their first successful flight of a powered airplane in 1903, spurring other inventors and engineers to test innumerable aircraft designs before World War I. As such, it’s not surprising that Côté’s minute works imagined that, by the year 2000, nearly every form of transportation would be via air. Aerial taxi services, floating dirigible battleships, a flying postman, and air-based public transportation all appear in the whimsical depictions of our predicted current day.

Some craft, like an aerial rescue service or planes outfitted for warfare, are now an everyday part of military forces (though we don’t yet have the “French invisible aeroplane” that Scientific American promised was forthcoming in 1915).

Other predicted technologies, like personal flight devices that allow humans to hunt or play tennis aloft, may become features of our near future once jet packs become available.

Artist Albert Robida imagines (circa 1882) a night at the opera in the year 2000, by which time we would all have personal flying cars. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, personal flying machines are a prominent feature of the 21st century as envisioned from the 19th and 20th — particularly the concept that personal flying cars would become commonplace. Forward-looking Victorians, such as artist Albert Robida in 1882, assumed the skies would be thick with flying cars by 2018.

In the May 1923 issue of Science and Invention, science fiction writer Hugo Gernsback described his vision for these flying cars, which he dubbed the “helicar,” as a solution to the automobile traffic he already saw jamming the streets of New York City:

The only practical solution is to combine the automobile with an airplane and this no doubt will happen during the next few decades. The Helicopter Automobile or, for short, the helicar, will not take up very much more room than the present large 7-passenger automobile, nor will it weigh much more than our present-day car, but instead of rolling down the avenue, you will go straight up in the air, and follow the air traffic lines, then descend at any place you wish.

We might not yet have a flying machine parked in every garage, but organizations such as Uber and NASA, the Russian defense company Kalashnikov, Toyota for the 2020 Olympics, and numerous smaller companies are developing personal flying cars, so this too may not be far off.

Alexander Graham Bell addressed the possibility of transportation by air, noting that travel by boat was cheaper than travel by rail, because no tracks had to be laid. Bell suggested that a “possible solution of the problem over land may lie in the development of aerial locomotion.” He continued: “However much money we may invest in the construction of huge aerial machines carrying many passengers, we don’t have to build a road,” — a sentiment echoed by one of his fictional successors.

Technology Gets Personal

In 1900, Smithsonian curator and writer John Elfrith Watkins, Jr., penned an article titled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” for The Ladies’ Home Journal. Looking forward at the fresh new century, Watkins imagined a world in which technology wasn’t left in the hands of industry or the military — instead, it would be redirected to entertain and convenience everyday people.

Though he didn’t foresee television in its current form, Watkins predicted that technology would one day bring distant concerts and operas to private homes, sounding “as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theatre box,” and that “persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.” He also predicted that color photographs would one day be quickly transmitted around the world, and that “if there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later.” One can only guess what he would have thought of the selfie.

Jean-Marc Côté’s 1910 imaginings of the “correspondence cinema” of the 21st century aren’t too far from today’s Skype or FaceTime. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Watkins imagined that technology would transform our homes and diets. Though the mechanically-cooled refrigerator wasn’t invented until 1925, and wouldn’t become widely used until the 1940s, Watkins predicted that “refrigerators will keep great quantities of food fresh for long intervals,” and that “fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea” would deliver fruits and vegetables from around the world to provide produce out-of-season. He even called the development of fast-food delivery, anticipating “ready-cooked meals… served hot or cold to private houses.” He believed these meal deliveries would replace home-cooking entirely (for some city-dwellers with Seamless accounts, that’s not too far off), and might arrive by pneumatic tubes as well as by “automobile wagons.”

Some of Watkins’ predictions might have been close to reality, but he was pretty far off about other aspects of life in the 21st century. He thought that man would have exterminated pests like roaches, mice, and mosquitoes, as well as all wild animals, which would “exist only in menageries.” This prediction was surprisingly common in the early 1900s, and might have been a reaction to then-recent extinctions like that of the quagga (1883), the passenger pigeon (1914), and the thylacine (1934). Though we are now going through another global extinction caused by human activity, we can be grateful that we haven’t quite reached the level of extinction most Victorian futurists expected. That’s not a world most of us would want to live in.

Watkins also thought that we would have eliminated the letters C, X or Q in the everyday alphabet, as they were “unnecessary;” that humans would essentially make ourselves a into super-species, with physical education starting in the nursery, until “a man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.” Unfortunately, our global obesity problem shows the reality was, in fact, quite the opposite.

Thematically, though, these predictions are sound: As the use of electricity spread, and technology like automobiles and telephones became more affordable to use, Watkins could envision an age in which technology was entirely integrated into our lives. To futurists of the early 1900s, it seemed obvious that robots and automation would be essential to 21st century people, serving as our chauffeurscleaning the housescheduling the laundry, and even electrically transmitting handshakes.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Graham Bell also predicted this trend, and he thought it heralded something particularly promising for the McKinley graduates he addressed in 1918. Foreseeing the rise of an industry centered around technology and an exploding need for scientists and engineers, he told them: “It is safe to say that scientific men and technical experts are destined in the future to occupy distinguished and honorable positions in all the countries of the world. Your future is assured.”

A Future of Clean Energy

Perhaps the most surprising predictions from the past century regard fossil fuels and the environment. Yes, today some people still resist transitioning away from fossil fuels and ignore the scientific consensus on climate change. But bright minds of the early 20th century were already theorizing that we would one day have to quit our fossil fuel habit.

The city of the future, as illustrated in a 1928 edition of Popular Mechanics, would see traffic re-routed below ground to avoid congestion. Image Credit: Popular Mechanics

As early as 1896, scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated that doubling the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would raise Earth’s temperature between 8 and 9 degrees Celsius. Arrhenius was inspired by the startling discovery of his friend Arvid Högbom, who realized that human activities were releasing carbon dioxide at roughly the same rate as natural processes. Because of the rate at which industrial countries burned coal in 1896, Arrhenius believed human-caused warming wouldn’t reach problematic levels for thousands of years. But by the time he published his 1908 book Worlds in the Making, an attempt to explain the evolution of the universe to a popular audience, that rate had increased so much that Arrhenius was convinced that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double within a few centuries.

Scientists as a whole wouldn’t come around to Arrhenius’ ideas, or recognize that burning carbon-based fuels had an adverse effect on our planet, for at least a century. Yet even before scientists understood the climate effects of fossil fuels, futurists were predicting that we would have to drop our use of coal and oil before long. “Coal and oil are going up [in usage] and are strictly limited in quantity,” Alexander Graham Bell said in his February 1917 speech. He continued:

We can take coal out of a mine, but we can never put it back. We can draw oil from subterranean reservoirs, but we can never refill them again. We are spendthrifts in the matter of fuel and are using our capital for our running expenses. In relation to coal and oil, the world’s annual consumption has become so enormous that we are now actually within measurable distance of the end of the supply. What shall we do when we have no more coal or oil!

He went on to note that hydropower was, at the time, limited, and implied that one day it might be possible to generate energy from the tides or waves, or “the employment of the sun’s rays directly as a source of power.”

Bell wasn’t the only one who was sure we would have to find a new source of energy in the next century. In 1917, when a severe coal shortage in the U.S. caused people to call for the resource’s conservation, one writer for the Chicago News asserted that stockpiling coal would ultimately be foolish. He insisted that worrying about the supply of coal would soon be like fretting over the supply of tallow candles: pointless.

“These gifted lunatics who are worrying about the coal supply are in the same class,” the Chicago News writer insisted. “It doesn’t occur to them that in a hundred years people will be saying, ‘Our grandfathers, the poor boobs, actually used coal for heating purposes!'”

We’re not laughing quite yet. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. still gets 17 percent of its energy from coal. Another 28 percent comes from petroleum products, and 33 percent from natural gas; we get only 12 percent of our electricity from the renewable sources that the Chicago News writer — who was sure we’d find a way “to put the sun's energy in storage, and pump it into people's houses thru pipes” — predicted by now. Globally, coal makes up about 27 percent of the world’s energy production, and renewable energy about 24 percent.

The good news is that this distribution is changing as renewable energy becomes cheaper than fossil fuels, edging us ever closer to the bright future that 20th century minds thought we’d be living in. Fingers crossed the whale-bus will be next.

The post Does Life In 2018 Live up to What We Predicted a Century Ago? appeared first on Futurism.

Norway Gets the Go Ahead to Drill Into the Arctic

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 11:21 AM PST

Arctic Drilling

Norway recently unveiled plans to ban the use of oil for heating purposes by 2020, but until then, the country will still drill for oil in places where it feels doing so is justified. In support of the plan is a recent ruling by Norway’s government, in which an Oslo court approved the country’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

As reported by Reuters, the case was brought forward by environmental groups Greenpeace and Nature and Youth Group, who argued the act of drilling went against citizens’ rights to a healthy environment. Specifically, the groups called out a 2015 oil licensing round in the Arctic that awarded gas and oil companies like Chevron, calling it unconstitutional. Their assertion ultimately failed to sway the court, which stated it was “inappropriate” to attempt to use the country’s constitution in their argument (even going so far as to characterize it as a publicity stunt) instead of putting forth better regulations on greenhouse gases.

"The environmental organizations' argument that the plan violates the Constitution's Article 112 has not succeeded," the Oslo district court ruled, according to Reuters. "The state, represented by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, is exonerated."

Acknowledging Global Warming

Norway hasn’t completely lost sight of its green agenda, however, which includes being carbon neutral by 2030, converting all cars to electric, and the construction of an electric highway. The country’s government said it’s taking note of global warming’s effects on ice in the Arctic, and any new drilling projects wouldn’t start for another 10-15 years. The Arctic’s output is also relatively small compared to other areas, with Reuters noting it may provide ways to replace oil production in areas in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea.

Still, Norway remains one of Europe’s largest producers of oil and gas. It’s continued oil drilling goes against the environmentally friendly decisions it’s made in the past, as well as its support of the Paris Agreement. It may be that in the 10-15 years the country has said will elapse before it starts any new drilling operations in the Arctic, new rules and regulations will be put in place to prevent further drilling. As climate scientists have already warned, the impact of losing more Arctic ice would have devastating consequences for millions around the world.

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A Colorado Town’s Municipal Broadband Will Ensure Local Net Neutrality

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 10:55 AM PST

A Neutral Network

The city council of Fort Collins, Colorado has voted unanimously to pursue a project that would provide municipal broadband internet to the city. In November 2017, residents of Fort Collins approved a ballot question on the topic — despite lobbying and advertising campaigns by the cable industry — giving authorities clearance to move forward with flans to build the necessary infrastructure.

This plan has even greater importance given the Federal Communication Commission’s recent vote to disassemble Net Neutrality legislation put in place in 2015. The municipal network will not be subject to data caps, and will provide completely neutral internet service to the residents of Fort Collins.

“The network will deliver a ‘net-neutral’ competitive unfettered data offering that does not impose caps or usage limits on one use of data over another (i.e., does not limit streaming or charge rates based on type of use),” reads a new planning document. “All application providers (data, voice, video, cloud services) are equally able to provide their services, and consumers’ access to advanced data opens up the marketplace.”

This step forward grants a $1.8 million loan, taken from the city’s general fund, to the electric utility. The money will be used for first-year costs, with bonds set to be issued at a later date to pay for further work.

Internet service using the municipal broadband network is set to be offered in two tiers. Gigabit service is expected to cost $70 per month, and a cheaper option will also be available.

There is a considerable amount of work to be done in order to establish the network, and Fort Collins’ authorities are estimating that it should be complete within five years. When it’s done, the network will join a growing pool of over 500 communities that offer some form of local broadband, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mount Washington, Massachusetts, and Fort Collins’ neighboring Longmont, Colorado. It’s possible that other local councils might pursue similar efforts in order to enforce similar protections to net neutrality on a regional basis.

However, Fort Collins has a significant head start. There are various logistical hoops to jump through for such an effort. If other municipalities wait to see how this project works out before starting work, residents could have to deal with less-than-ideal internet access for a significant period of time.

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The World Health Organization Identifies Gaming Disorder as a Mental Health Condition

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 10:13 AM PST

Gaming Disorder

In 2018, the World Health Organization plans to add "gaming disorder" – characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior – to its list of mental health conditions.

According to the beta draft site, the WHO’s 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) defines a number of diseases, disorders, injuries and other related health conditions, which are listed in a comprehensive, hierarchical fashion. It enables the sharing of health information between countries and facilitates the analysis of "health information for evidence-based decision-making." The previous version of the ICD was approved in 1990 by the 43rd World Health Assembly. The current draft that lists "gaming disorder," is not final, nor does it list prevention or treatment options. The beta draft site, updated daily, is also not approved by the WHO.

The WHO's impending beta draft for the next ICD classifies gaming disorder as a pattern of behavior with "impaired control over gaming," in terms of its frequency, intensity, duration, and the capacity to quit. The disorder falls under the parent category of "Disorders due to addictive behaviors," and is characterized by giving increased priority to gaming over other daily activities.

Applying to both online and offline video gaming, the condition is also defined by the "continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” In order to be diagnosed, these behaviors must be evident over a period of at least 12 months, according to the draft.

image credit: creative commons

A Matter of Contention

"The WHO designation is now generally in line with the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)'s description of internet gaming disorder (IGD)," Nancy Petry, a professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center, told Futurism. The main difference though, Petry said, is that the DSM-5 didn't consider the data sufficient to classify IGD as a unique mental health condition. Rather, it's categorized under "conditions for further study."

The WHO's decision highlights a schism among psychologists: some think the new designation is a welcome one, but others don’t see enough evidence to justify it.

Alexander Blaszczynski, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Sydney, Australia told Futurism he is concerned about "the absence of clear diagnostic criteria determining what constitutes a gaming disorder, and the validity of applying existing addiction criteria to a behavior." He noted that there is a range of behaviors now being identified as addictions — everything from salsa dancing, to smartphones, to in vitro fertilization. "At what point does an activity transform from an entertainment to a disorder?" he said.

The controversy ultimately reflects some deeper philosophical debates that have dogged most areas of medicine for many years, Ronald Pies, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine, told Futurism. "What should or should not count as “disease” or “disorder”? Do we require physiological, biochemical, or neurological “markers” of a putative disease entity in order to validate it, or is it sufficient to document substantial impairment and dysfunction in activities of daily living, responsibilities, etc., as the WHO criteria emphasize?"

Chris Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University in Florida told Futurism that he does not support the WHO's designation. "Basically I don’t think the research is there yet to support this as a diagnosis and there is considerable risk of harm due to a “junk diagnosis.”

He said research suggests what we’re calling “gaming disorder” isn’t really a solitary diagnosis. Ferguson said some people certainly overdo gaming, as others may “overdo” or develop addictions to myriad other activities like shopping, exercise, and sex. "But the data we have suggests that usually individuals have a preexisting mental health condition like depression or anxiety first, then use these activities as coping mechanisms."

Pies said he shared many of Ferguson's concerns, saying he was "more skeptical than not" of the designation. "While some recent neurophysiological studies suggest that IGD may be a discrete disorder, there is still no scientific consensus on this point. It is unclear whether IGD is truly a “stand alone” condition; whether it is mostly explained by other underlying conditions, such as anxious or depressive disorders; or whether it is merely a subtype of so-called “behavioral addictions”, which are themselves sources of scientific controversy," Pies said.

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Others, like Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, see this as a big step in the right direction. Gentile compared where we are with gaming "addiction" as "similar to where we were with alcoholism in the 1960s." At that time, alcoholism was considered a moral failing — people thought 'it's your own damn fault,'" he told Futurism. "It took another 30 years for people to agree that a medical model for alcoholism makes sense and now people can get the help they need."

Gentile doesn’t think our culture is ready to accept the medical model of video gaming, and still sees it as a moral failing — mostly by the children's parents. "We have lots of people who could be helped, but aren't being helped. If you walk into a doctor or psychiatrist's office, they either won't treat it or you have to pay out of pocket."

Ferguson isn't sure "why the WHO is so obsessed with gaming when a wide range of behaviors can be overdone." Given that other potential addictions, like food or sex, have as much research as gaming, it seems likely that the WHO’s kneejerk reaction comes from a broader moral panic over video games and technology, he said.

But Gentile counters that the WHO's acknowledgement that video gaming could be a problem "puts truth back on the table," Gentile said. "We need to treat games with more respect. We play them because we want to be affected, but then say they have no effects."

Access Is a Predictor Of Addiction

As our video game experience expands with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), the argument gets even murkier. "One thing that we do know about addictions, generally, is that the number one predictor [for] if you're going to become an addict is access," said Gentile. "If you can't get drugs, you can't become addicted to them. Now that we've made gaming this ubiquitous — on phones, with gaming tech and VR tech in-house — we've made access open to everyone."

Gentile isn't certain that VR games are more addicting than their traditional counterparts. "We don't know if greater immersion makes the games more addictive. To say that VR will be more addictive is making the argument that seeing things in three dimensions is more addictive than seeing them in two." But he added that we we don't have the scientific evidence to support that.

Scientists do tend to agree on one thing: that the designation will ensure researchers pay more attention to the problems that can arise from excessive gaming. "It is important that people with this condition receive help, and that research progresses in a manner consistent with state of the art science applied toward other mental health conditions," said UCONN's Nancy Petry.

Moreover, the WHO designation could help those diagnosed with video gaming disorder in another way: if they’re able to access treatment, it could be covered by insurance. However, Ronald Pies warned that "social goods” of this sort do not amount to a scientific justification for a disease category, and even among supporters of the diagnosis, there is no consensus regarding what the effective “treatment” would be.

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