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Conflicting Reports Follow SpaceX’s Secret Zuma Mission

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 09:01 AM PST

What Happened?

Conflicting reports are surfacing after SpaceX’s seemingly successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with a secret government payload, code-named Zuma. While it appeared that the launch went off without a hitch, the full launch and separation of the nose cone, which surrounded the secret satellite, was not streamed as it normally is, due to the classified nature of the mission.

Reports coming from the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are claiming that Zuma burned up upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. These reports are partially based upon a briefing supposedly given to lawmakers and congressional staffers indicating that the satellite did not separate from the rocket as planned.

SpaceX did not report any problems with the launch; however, while the company usually announces a successful launch regardless of the classification of the payload, no confirmation was given by SpaceX or Northrup Grumman, the company that manufactured the secret satellite.

Futurism reached out to SpaceX and obtained the following statement from Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, "For clarity: after review of all data to date, Falcon 9 did everything correctly on Sunday night. If we or others find otherwise based on further review, we will report it immediately. Information published that is contrary to this statement is categorically false. Due to the classified nature of the payload, no further comment is possible.”

Sticking the Landing

To confuse matters further, the Falcon 9’s first stage was able to successfully land back on Earth, indicating that the rocket was still fully operational.

Even more so, the US Strategic Command added an entry to its Space-Track catalog of artificial objects orbiting the planet, indicating that the new satellite was able to make at least one orbit. That was before another confusing piece was added: their spokesman Navy Captain Brook DeWalt stated that Strategic Command had "nothing to add to the satellite catalog at this time." This could either indicate that there is nothing to add in addition to the new satellite entry, or that the Zuma satellite is no longer in orbit.

The conflicting reports, coupled with the seemingly incongruous aftermath, are adding a rocket-load of mystery to an already mysterious launch. 

Space Junk: The Pollution Problem of Tomorrow
Click to View Full Infographic

Yet SpaceX seems confident that it played its part in the Zuma mission well, and the company does not foresee this mission disrupting its schedule. According to Shotwell, "Since the data reviewed so far indicates that no design, operational or other changes are needed, we do not anticipate any impact on the upcoming launch schedule.”

She continued: “Falcon Heavy has been rolled out to launchpad LC-39A for a static fire later this week, to be followed shortly thereafter by its maiden flight. We are also preparing for an F9 launch for SES and the Luxembourg Government from SLC-40 in three weeks."

The post Conflicting Reports Follow SpaceX’s Secret Zuma Mission appeared first on Futurism.

Reproductive Tech Will Let Future Humans Inhabit the Body They Truly Want

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 08:00 AM PST

When Caleb Wilvich read about the first woman in the U.S. to have a baby via a uterine transplant in early December, they were stoked. Wilvich, who uses the pronoun "they," has always wanted to give birth, and never had a uterus. Wilvich is 29 and works an office job in a suburb of Seattle; in their free time, they're a piano player and an a capella singer. They identify as genderqueer and transfeminine, assigned male at birth and living in a more ambiguous, feminine gender today.

Their gender dysphoria, they tell me, "is hard to describe to a cis [non-trans] person." Suffice it to say that being male-assigned, with a beard and leg hair, means it's not easy for them to inhabit the body they imagine for themselves. "Since before puberty, I've wanted the ability to be able to just snap my fingers and become a cisgender woman. I don't even care about conventional attractiveness."

Coming out as transgender was a long process, but starting a couple years ago, Caleb began dressing feminine at work and using gender-neutral pronouns. But for them, the ideal of womanhood — the form of womanhood they have always wanted — includes being able to carry a child. "The whole process of building that bond with a child through this period of pregnancy, through the trauma and joy of childbirth, through being there from their first moments in the world… I have so many strong emotions come up when I imagine being able to do those things."

Image Credit: Shannon Faulk/Baylor Scott & White Health

Lots of trans women share this desire, and the online trans community was abuzz over the first successful birth in the U.S. from a uterine transplant in December. Trans women's dream of carrying a baby fits into a larger dream: to be able to completely embody femaleness, all the way down to the ability to conceive. Uterus transplants are the first of what might be many technologies that will enable people with gender dysphoria to inhabit the form they truly desire.

The problem for the future is in deciding who should have access to that dream. Psychiatrists, doctors, and insurance companies are the gatekeepers of trans surgeries today, and for most trans people, surgery isn't easy to access. "They're probably never gonna let trans people do it," says Wilvich of uterine transplants. "Even if we are allowed to, will any of us be able to afford it?"

Wilvich touches on one of the biggest questions facing the future of procedures for trans people: Who will be able to access them? Right now many insurance plans don't cover gender confirmation surgeries at all. No one knows how many transgender people who want surgeries currently aren't able to get them, a problem that even the most advanced, cutting-edge procedures can't fix.


Uterine transplants are still in their infancy, so to speak; the first baby was born from a transplanted womb in Sweden in 2014.

These operations are not a dramatic shift from what has already been possible with reproductive technology over the past 10 years or so. Over the last couple decades, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) has become more common — some 210,000 women sought IVF treatment in the U.S. in 2015. It's usually used for those who are having trouble conceiving a child the old-fashioned way. In IVF, a doctor removes eggs from the ovaries and fertilizes them in the lab to create embryos that the doctor can then insert into a healthy uterus.

IVF is expensive (a single treatment can cost $12,000 to $35,000, depending on the the recipient’s age and health), but it’s appealing for people struggling to get pregnant due to ovulation disorders, uterine fibroids, a partner’s low fertility, or unexplained infertility. Some queer couples also use IVF to get pregnant via a sperm donor or surrogate. Scientists have also figured out how to create embryos using genetic material from two mothers and a father, and they're working on the possibility of two-father babies (though even attempting that is still at least a few years out).

In a survey, nearly one in three obstetrician-gynecologists said they believe uterine transplants are unethical.

Still, there seems to be a growing demand, from cisgender women and trans women alike, to bring uterus transplants to a larger population. For the next few years at least, the experimental operation is limited to cisgender women with unhealthy uteruses, or who were born without them. The procedures so far have implanted uteruses from living and deceased donors into otherwise healthy recipients. Once the uterus is fully integrated into the body, doctors insert embryos fertilized via IVF; the procedures so far have used the patient’s own eggs.

It's an invasive, and still somewhat experimental, procedure: both the recipient and the donor undergo invasive surgeries that come with risks, and the recipient takes immunosuppressant drugs to keep her body from rejecting the organ. It's one of the few transplant procedures that's not intended to be permanent or life saving; the transplanted uterus can be used for one or two pregnancies and is removed after about four years. Sometimes the transplant is rejected, and pregnancies accomplished in this way have all been high-risk.

There's a lot of questions about whether such an operation is necessary at all.

"A lot of people have questions about whether this is a valid allocation of health care resources," says Megan Allyse, a bioethicist at the Mayo Clinic. Uterine transplants involve an operation on at least one, sometimes two otherwise healthy people — many transplant surgeons believe they should only do such invasive procedures on someone who is sick, and for lifesaving purposes.

And although there's clearly a demand for this surgery, not everyone agrees that the desire to carry a baby falls into the category of medical necessity; in one recent survey of over 400 obstetrician-gynecologists, nearly one in three said they believe uterine transplants are unethical. Allyse says infertility is neither life-threatening (though it's categorized as a disease by the World Health Organization) nor does it pose any known long-term risk to physical health, though it can certainly cause mental distress. When medical ethicists consider a $300,000-$500,000 operation (how much a uterine transplant might cost when it becomes more widely available, according to Allyse), and the research to develop it, they also consider other needs those resources could be going to instead.

There are other ethical concerns. Some fear that women may feel compelled — by their partners or families, or from society in general — to carry children. And then there’s the question of who gets to give and receive a womb, and whose needs should be prioritized. Right now, international law prohibits the sale and purchase of organs; in the U.S., there are also strictly-organized donor lists and psychological screening for donors and recipients. No such systems exist for uterus transplants yet, as the procedure is so new.

In a very hypothetical future in which none of these safeguards exist for uteruses, and in which unethical zealots are running things, Allyse says, people might end up with little choice about donating or receiving a uterus. "You're looking at something like a Handmaid's Tale scenario," she says.

Illustration by Tag Hartman-Simkins

Trans Medicine Under The Knife

The well-publicized uterine transplants conducted over the past few years in the U.S. and in Europe have been limited to cisgender women. But some have been tried on trans women in the past. In 1931, a trans woman received one of the world's first uterine transplants and died from complications, as this was long before immunosuppressants made organ transplantation viable (her story was the subject of the recent film The Danish Girl).

In a future in which uterine transplants are commonplace, it's not clear whether transgender women would make it to the top of the list to receive a donated uterus. Over the last 50 years, trans medicine has gradually become less marginal, with more research to show the positive effects of treatments such as hormone therapy and gender-related surgeries. As the interventions have matured, so has the rationale for using them.

Arguments in favor of gender confirmation surgery have often hinged on the slippery concept of medical necessity: healthcare services appropriate for the condition as determined by doctors, health insurers, and federal and state legislation. Transgender people are still woefully under-researched in almost all areas of medicine, in part because sample sizes for studies have often been minuscule. Even so, the studies that do exist have shown that trans people's mental health is improved by access to hormones and gender-confirming operations, adding weight to the argument that doctors should prescribe hormones and surgeries, and insurers should cover them.

In the future, trans women who want a womb would likely argue that the procedure would improve their mental health and help complete their transition to womanhood.

But the current framework for trans health is already outdated, says Eric Plemons, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona and the author of The Look of a WomanFacial Feminization Surgery and the Aims of Trans- Medicine. When gender confirmation surgeries were first performed 50 years ago, they were based on trans people's desires, but also on the cultural belief that your gender and your genitals must always be aligned. "The idea has been that what a trans person needs from medicine is to transform their sex, defined as genital or reproductive anatomy category, from one binary sex into the other," Plemons says.

The focus on genital surgery is gradually shifting, and his research shows that, while genital surgeries may be important to some people, many transgender people are equally or more concerned with changes that allow them to be perceived and treated as the gender they identify with. In other words, a surgery that's considered "cosmetic" might actually be more psychologically important.

Plemons studies facial feminization surgery, a series of operations for trans women that typically involves reshaping their noses, cheeks, brows, and lips to appear more feminine. Along with laser hair removal and hormone therapies, many trans women say facial feminization is a priority for them because of its immediate effect on how people see them. "Listening to trans patients, genital surgery may not be what's most transformative for them," Plemons says.

"…Genital surgery may not be what's most transformative for [trans patients].”

Surgeries like facial feminization and breast implants, which have a direct effect on how trans women are seen in the world, are still considered cosmetic by most doctors and insurance companies, and they do not fall into the category of medical necessity. To this end, it's not yet clear whether uterine transplants would ever be categorized as a medical necessity for trans women.

Gender theorists and some activists have also begun to argue that sex itself is socially constructed. Many people (an estimated one in one thousand) are born intersex, with ambiguous genitalia or chromosomes. Right now, intersex people are still routinely put through nonconsensual surgeries as children so that their genitals conform to a binary sex designation. Many intersex adults have fought against these surgeries — they want to allow intersex kids choose their own gender, or maintain an ambiguous sex if they so choose. Transgender people also often live in bodies that are a mix of male and female traits, complicating the argument that a particular procedure is a "medical necessity." In a way, advocates are pushing for a more diverse menu of options for trans people based on a rapidly changing theory of gender and sex.

How can, or should, medical procedures keep pace with these rapidly advancing conversations?

If biological sex itself is less binary than our society has led us to believe, surgery could represent endless possibilities. Babies carried by male-assigned people are only the beginning. Plemons says plastic surgeons are already considering whether they should construct ambiguous genitalia for trans people who request it — for example, some transgender men who get a penis via phalloplasty, which creates a penis through skin grafts, may want to keep their vaginal opening.

New technology could certainly bolster the surgical possibilities for trans people. Right now, trans men have the option of mastectomies or breast reduction, hysterectomies, and phalloplasty. Trans women can undergo facial feminization, receive breast implants, remove one or both testicles (orchiectomy), or have a vaginoplasty, which uses skin and tissue from the woman's own body to create a vagina. Most current research is focused on improving the safety and efficacy of these operations — for example, some surgeons now use the Da Vinci robot, a robotic surgery tool, to perform genital surgeries because the robot can operate with more precision than a human hand. And biomedical engineers are working to create implants of all kinds that better imitate the human body in order to construct realistic breasts, vaginal canals, vulvas, clitorises, penises, and testicles.

A lab-grown vagina, created in Dr. Atala’s lab. Image Credit: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Stem cell research could even more dramatically alter the ways we can update and adapt our bodies, gender-related or otherwise. Scientists know how to use a person's cells to grow and shape new organs in the lab that can eventually be implanted. A lab at Wake Forest University in North Carolina has done vaginal and urethral implants already; the project's lead doctor, Anthony Atala, says the lab is currently researching how to create 30 different organs, such as bladders and tracheas. To grow these organs in the lab, scientists need original tissues from the person receiving the implant to reduce the risk that the patient's body will reject the organ. Collagen scaffolding guides the shape into which the organs grow. Atala's experiments with lab-grown organs require more study of the long-term effects, but they could become more widely available soon.

To Caleb Wilvich, these developments are very exciting. "If I could wave a magic wand, it would be possible to not only transplant a uterus, but have a transplant body part exchange, where people who didn't want their uterus or vagina or penis or breasts for various reasons, including trans identity, would be able to give those body parts to another person."

The Future Is Transmorphological

As researchers develop more techniques to alter the human body according to a person's desires, the procedures will likely become even safer. People could alter their bodies more easily and more frequently, which might also mean pushing the body into new shapes and structures. "Is it good to have unlimited constant body modification in search of a potential best self? I don't think there's a single answer to that question," says Plemons. "That's partly based on how we define what's wrong with people."

Valkyrie Ice McGill, a transgender woman and self-identified advocate of "morphological freedom," loves the idea of constant body modification in search of a best self. She says when she looks in the mirror, she sees a four-foot-eleven pixie with horns and hooves — a demonic feminine succubus. In reality, McGill says, she's male-assigned, six-and-a-half feet tall, and hairy "like a gorilla." Morphing her own body has been a lifelong dream, one that's led her to the outer edges of fantasy about how the human body could be changed by technology.

"We can rebuild every part of the human body: teeth, bone, just about anything," she says excitedly. "What we don't know how to do at the moment is put all of this together into one single cohesive piece: the Da Vinci surgeon robot that takes a 3D map of your body and then plans a series of microsurgeries to slowly transform you from one thing to another."

That's what she means by "morphological freedom" — the ability to transform what she calls "vanilla human" forms into those with cloven hooves, wings, pixie ears, different bone structures. Her vision is a radically different idea of how things play out in the genetic lottery, a sort of surgical libertarianism: at some point, we grow up, and get to take whatever form we want. "I tend to be on the extreme side," she concedes — she doesn't know of any physicians who agree that pushing the human form in this way is likely, or ethical.

For now, McGill's daydreams about changing form aren't currently possible. She can't even afford hormone therapy, which she would have to pay for out of pocket. She spends a lot of time on Second Life, a virtual reality game in which you get to choose and design an avatar. So for her, maybe daydreaming about the future —in which sex or gender is fluid, and species itself is mutable — isn't an ethical quandary, but a way out of her present reality.

"If I'm completely miserable being a six-and-a-half-foot-tall NFL linebacker looking like a gorilla, and I'd much rather be the cute happy-go-lucky succubus that I am on Second Life, why is it anyone's business?" McGill says. "I'm not out to hurt anybody. This is all about me being able to look in the mirror and not want to scream."

Disclaimer: the editor of this piece was a recipient of the Mayo Clinic’s 2017 journalist residency for surgery, where she met one of the sources quoted in this piece. The residency was paid for by the Mayo Clinic; however, neither the clinic nor any of its affiliates has editorial review privileges.

The post Reproductive Tech Will Let Future Humans Inhabit the Body They Truly Want appeared first on Futurism.

Scientists Grow First-Ever Working Human Muscle From Stem Cells

Posted: 09 Jan 2018 02:02 AM PST

Working Muscle

In a world first, biomedical engineers from Duke University have created the first functioning human skeletal muscle from pluripotent stem cells, which are capable of producing any form of body cell or tissue. Published January 9 in Nature Communications, this work builds upon work by researchers at Duke in 2015, in which they were able to grow working human muscle tissue from cells extracted in muscle biopsies.

This most recent progress, where muscle is grown from non-muscle, could open the door to much more advanced applications like cell therapies, drug discovery, and the ability to grow larger amounts of muscle, as well as expanding our own understanding of human biology.


“Starting with pluripotent stem cells that are not muscle cells, but can become all existing cells in our body, allows us to grow an unlimited number of myogenic progenitor cells,” said Nenad Bursac, professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, in a press release. “These progenitor cells resemble adult muscle stem cells called ‘satellite cells’ that can theoretically grow an entire muscle starting from a single cell.”

In their study, the research team was able to create muscle fibers that reacted to stimuli, such as an electric shock or chemicals similar to neuronal signals, just like natural muscle tissue. When the stem cell-grown tissue was implanted into adult mice, the team found that it survived and functioned for at least three weeks, all while integrating into the animals’ native tissue.

Stem Cell Origins

To create this functioning muscle tissue, researchers began with human pluripotent stem cells taken from adult non-muscle tissues like skin or blood. These cells were then “reprogrammed” so that they were much simpler and undefined. These stem cells were then overwhelmed with the molecule Pax7, which signaled them to start becoming muscle as they grew.

“It’s taken years of trial and error, making educated guesses and taking baby steps to finally produce functioning human muscle from pluripotent stem cells,” said Lingjun Rao, a postdoctoral researcher in Bursac’s laboratory and first author of the study, in the press release. “What made the difference are our unique cell culture conditions and 3-D matrix, which allowed cells to grow and develop much faster and longer than the 2-D culture approaches that are more typically used.”

This successful development could have staggering medical applications in terms of research, furthering understanding through models of rare diseases, and treatment options for muscle damage.

However, there’s still work to be done; though the stem cell-derived muscle tissue contained more of the “satellite-like cells” needed to repair damage, it’s not as strong as native muscle or muscle grown from biopsies. In the future, the researchers hope they might be able to use the stem cell-derived tissue for regenerative therapies or in combination with genetic therapy, which could fix malfunctions in a patient’s stem cells and then grow new patches of completely healthy muscle.

The post Scientists Grow First-Ever Working Human Muscle From Stem Cells appeared first on Futurism.

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CES 2018: Five Things to Expect From This Year’s Biggest Tech Show

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 03:26 PM PST

Consumer Electronics Show

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is nearly upon us. Every year, companies from around the world travel to Las Vegas to tease, unveil, and detail new ideas. These advances in technology could revolutionize the gadgets we use and the ways in which we use them, though many of the things we’ll see at CES 2018 will probably be a way’s off from public release.

This year’s show should be particularly interesting, as it’s sure to give us an idea of where certain technology is headed, and how soon people can expect to incorporate it into their lives. Autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI), and virtual reality (VR) were notable, breakout topics at last year's CES. Now, this year’s show should demonstrate how reliable and practical those technologies can truly be.

Here’s what you can expect to see, hear, and read about this week coming out of the CES in Las Vegas:

Virtual Reality

Lots happened in the VR space last year. August 2017 saw the debut of the first ever mind-controlled VR game, and in October Russia Today released a 360-degree video of a spacewalk. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the standalone VR Oculus Go headset in October too.

But conversations about VR as an actual product have been relatively scarce; it's time for VR companies to show people why the technology matters. CNBC notes that HTC, makers of the HTC Vive headset, will be at the event, so maybe there will be new announcements regarding that hardware.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality may overtake VR in terms of both popularity and practicality, though. AR is much easier to engage with, and can provide improved experiences on smartphones. Look no further than the popular game Pokémon Go, which received a substantial upgrade to its AR capabilities, as proof of that. Magic Leap debuted their AR headset in December, though the company was pretty secretive when it comes to details. Considering the excitement and interest surrounding Magic Leap’s hardware, other companies are probably eager to draw the same level of attention. Larger-scale AR hardware and experiences are due to make an appearance, and CES could be the ideal stage.

Autonomous Vehicles

Ford’s new CEO Jim Hackett is delivering the keynote address at this year’s CES, so it’s safe to expect some talk about vehicles and the future of transportation. Nothing says “future transportation” like self-driving cars, though, which took to the streets en masse last year.

We already know that Nissan is preparing to demonstrate its new Brain-to-Vehicle technology at the event. The Verge also noted that many other companies will be attending to parade their autonomous transportation and self-driving tech. Lyft and the automotive company Aptiv are two such companies; they’ve partnered up to offer rides in their self-driving taxis to attendees.


We’ve heard relatively little about 5G networks aside from the fact that Nokia is working on the technology, and AT&T has been testing 5G mobile networks since 2016. But the latter recently announced it would launch 5G in 12 cities in 2018. Melissa Arnoldi, president of Technology and Operations at AT&T, said in a statement, “5G will ultimately deliver and enhance experiences like virtual reality, future driverless cars, immersive 4K video and more." Smartphones are the definition of a consumer device, making CES 2018 one of the best places for companies to begin discussing 5G technology and how it will improve on 4G and LTE”s capabilities.


It can be difficult to think about robots without wondering how automation will affect how we work, but the robots coming to CES aren’t ones looking to replace people. Most of the robots being brought to CES are designed to work alongside people to improve quality of life. Honda announced in December that it would bring four robots to the event that belong to its 3E (Empower, Experience, Empathy) Robotics Concept. Each of the robots — 3E-A18, 3E-B18, 3E-C18, and 3E-D18 — have been designed for various purposes, including companionship, mobile storage, mobile chair, and an off-road vehicle.

LG is also coming to CES with three robots of its own for use in hotels, airports, and supermarkets, with appropriate names like the Serving Robot, Porter Robot and Shopping Cart Robot. They will help deliver meals, carry luggage, and guide shoppers to specific products, respectively. But an LG spokesperson recently told CNBC the robots are “a long way from ready to go public.”

This is just a sample of some of the technology we can expect to see coming out of CES this week. Technology like electric vehicle concepts, hyperloop transportation, AI assistants, and “smart homes” will likely in be in the mix too. Fortunately, CES 2018 kicks off on January 9, 2019, so we won’t have to speculate much longer.

The post CES 2018: Five Things to Expect From This Year’s Biggest Tech Show appeared first on Futurism.

Enough Is Enough. We Need to Elect More Scientists to Congress.

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 02:31 PM PST

A Rocky Relationship

Ever since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the United States government’s relationship with science has been strained. Over the course of the past year, his administration has called for significant cuts to scientific research budgets, left vacant dozens of top science-based government positions, and even removed mentions of “science” from government websites.

In response to the Trump administration’s seemingly anti-science stance, an estimated one million scientists and their supporters convened in Washington, D.C. and 600 other cities across the globe on April 20, 2017, for the March for Science, a day dedicated to defending science’s place in politics.

Geologist Jess Phoenix was one of the scientists to speak at the Los Angeles March for Science rally, but her ambitions to influence political policy extend far beyond a single speech on a single day. In November, she hopes to be elected to represent the people of the 25th Congressional District in California.

Phoenix recently spoke with Futurism about why we need more scientists in politics, how Trump’s science policies could impact the U.S., and what else Americans can do to repair the nation’s relationship with science.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Futurism: You say there is a “war on science”? Can you explain what this war is and who is behind it?

Jess Phoenix: The war on science is one of the most troubling developments of the 21st century. It's part of a movement pushed by Trump and many of his associates, such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Senator James Inhofe, and Representative Steve Knight, that aims to discredit scientists, the scientific method, and the work of scientists around the world and across fields of research.

Science drives the current economy and the American way of life, and these attacks on science itself mean the foundation of our country is jeopardized. Along with cutting funding for scientific research on climate change, diseases, technology, and other areas, Trump and his cronies are denying basic scientific facts and trying to sell the American people a steady diet of lies.

Without elected officials who acknowledge both the validity and importance of science in every aspect of our lives, the United States is heading for disaster of epic proportions.

F: Why would scientists be better elected officials than those currently in power?

JP: Scientists would be wonderful legislators for a number of reasons.

All scientists are, by definition, trained in the scientific method. That's the process of using data gained through observations to remove uncertainties around a hypothesis in an effort to ascertain the truth. In other words, we use facts to understand our world.

In addition, I’m a field scientist. My work is done in the most extreme, dangerous conditions on the planet: active volcanoes, remote mountains, and scorching deserts. I lead expeditions of people who’ve never even camped before. It’s my job to keep them safe and do good science.

Creative problem solving is the key to field research. I’ve fixed a blown tire sidewall with bubblegum, a ballpoint pen, and duct tape. Other scientists deal with similar problems every single day.

We need scientists to help lead the way as we tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

As a group, scientists are adaptable, creative, and logical. We are trained to look at all available facts to work toward eliminating uncertainties. It’s our job, and it’s the job of a field scientist to find information that will save lives. That seems like a perfect skill set for Congress to me!

Trump and his cronies have proposed harsh cuts to critical scientific programs, including the earthquake early warning system, the tsunami warning system, the hurricane warning system, and NASA's climate research programs.

The amount of money they'll make available to organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) is not enough to fund critical research that will help us cure diseases or solve big problems, such as climate change. We need scientists to help lead the way as we tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

F: What is 314 Action and how did you get involved with the group?

JP: 314 Action is a nonprofit 501(c)4 that is dedicated to encouraging scientists to run for office. I approached them for support when I decided to run for Congress, and they provided assistance in the early stages of my campaign.

F: Why might scientists be reluctant to run for government office? What unique challenges do they face while campaigning and serving?

JP: Scientists have been afraid to speak out politically since Robert Oppenheimer, one of the physicists who spoke out against nuclear proliferation during the era of McCarthyism, was persecuted by government officials. In order to protect their research funding, many scientists learned to keep quiet about anything that could be viewed as political.

With the current administration's war on science, however, more scientists than ever are engaging politically.

The biggest obstacle we face as scientists running for office is raising money. Most scientists do not have a network of wealthy potential campaign donors, which is how lawyers and businesspeople are able to raise the vast amounts of money needed to campaign successfully under our current system.

Electing leaders who will push to overturn Citizens United and pass campaign finance reform will help more people from all professional backgrounds, including scientists, run for office.

F: Beyond electing more scientists to government offices, what can be done to repair society’s relationship with science?

JP: It is essential that we continue to educate our children about good, sound science. That means we need an educational system that supports and encourages scientific inquiry and discovery and doesn't shy away from talking about important topics, such as evolution and sexual education.

An educated generation is a generation that can accomplish great things, and our first duty must be to protect our children's education, since they are so impressionable. The very fate of our country depends on our ability to embrace the contributions that science makes to society and our planet.

The post Enough Is Enough. We Need to Elect More Scientists to Congress. appeared first on Futurism.

Despite Delay, SpaceX Successfully Launches Mysterious Zuma Spacecraft

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 02:23 PM PST

Zuma Takes Flight

January 7 saw SpaceX finally launching the mysterious Zuma spacecraft, nearly two months after its previously scheduled November launch. Very little is known about the spacecraft and its mission, as many details have been classified by the United States government, but we do know that the mission utilizes SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, and its payload will be carried into low Earth orbit (LEO).

LEO covers a vast range of altitudes in which other spacecraft reside, including the International Space Station and satellites used for reconnaissance and gathering weather data, so we’re still unable to nail down what the goal of the Zuma mission is.

This isn’t the first time SpaceX has embarked in a secret mission: back in September, it launched a Falcon 9 carrying the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space drone.

The launch of the Zuma went smoothly, with the spacecraft taking off from the SLC-40 launch facility at Cape Canaveral. Midway through the process, the first stage booster of the Falcon 9 separated and returned to Earth as intended.

Future Launches

While Zuma may be SpaceX’s first successful launch of the new year, it comes after an impressive string of 18 successful operations that took place in 2017, with each set off and landing forwarding the company’s goals to develop reusable rockets. According to Space.com, SpaceX has reused five Falcon 9 boosters and two Dragon cargo spacecraft so far.

With the Zuma launch now largely out of the way, SpaceX plans to refocus its efforts on the long-awaited launch of the Falcon Heavy — another reusable rocket designed by the aerospace company. After multiple delays, it’s now set to launch in January, also from Cape Canaveral. If the launch is successful, it would be another notch on the SpaceX’s belt, proving that reusable rockets are worth investing in, and that SpaceX is capable of carrying out a wider assortment of missions.

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Could the Next Smartphone be Double-Sided? Samsung Thinks So.

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 02:17 PM PST

Double-Sided Smartphone

When it comes to smartphone screen design, Samsung seems to be bending possibilities more than other mobile phone manufacturers. Or at least, they beat the others to it. The South Korean tech giant was the first to launch a phone with a screen that curves at the sides. The company also filed a patent in 2017 for bendable screens to use in its upcoming foldable phones. Now, Samsung wants to make its smartphones double-sided, adding a second screen on the back of the device.

In a design originally submitted for patent at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in April 2017, Samsung put forward three potential smartphone models including one that has a screen on the back.

Double-sided smartphones could be the way of the future.
Image credit: Samsung/WIPO.

The other two designs feature a screen that curves at the bottom and a display curving all the way around the phone’s right side. For all three designs, sensors work to identify how the smartphone is being held. In the case of the back screen, a sensor can tell if the user is looking at the front or the back display.


An extra screen on the back of a smartphone has its uses, supposedly. The most obvious of which is that users need not flip to the front to check an incoming call or text message. Notifications can be quickly viewed using this alternate screen, in a manner that’s perhaps better than in Samsung’s existing curved screen phone models.

However, Samsung isn’t the first or only smartphone maker that’s considered the idea of a phone with a screen on the back. In 2015, a crowdfunded, dual-screen smartphone project called the Siam 7x surfaced. Then, two years later, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Meizu released a phone with an additional, smaller screen at the back, almost similar to the one in Samsung’s patent.

While Samsung hasn’t confirmed if any of these new designs would make it to production, the idea of a dual-sided phone seems particularly interesting. Judging by when Samsung filed for the patent for the curved screens in their Galaxy Edge models, it only took a year or so before a phone sporting the design made it onto shelves.

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We Need to Expand Access to $256 Trillion in Real-World Assets

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 12:40 PM PST

Tremendous Potential

The total value of all the real-world assets on Earth — every bar of gold, every barrel of oil, every piece of real estate — is an estimated $256 trillion, and every day, people all across the globe invest in these assets. They buy those they think will offer the best return, and sell those whose value they believe has peaked, generating income through savvy investing.

Unfortunately, the processes used to trade these assets are outdated. Transactions can take weeks or even months to complete and may include massive amounts of red tape, numerous fees, and geographical restrictions. For these reasons and more, investors may be wary of taking part in these potentially lucrative markets. However, a new startup is poised to change that, and they’re using a cutting-edge technology to do so.

TrustToken is a San Francisco-based startup that provides a much-needed bridge between real-world assets and blockchain, the breakthrough digital ledger technology currently surging in popularity worldwide.

The TrustToken team includes attorneys, blockchain engineers, and machine learning engineers out of Stanford, Palantir, and Google, and BlockTower Capital, FJ LabsStanford-StartX, and Sterling Trustees are a few of the platform’s current investors and partners.

These early supporters already see how TrustToken fills a vital role in the blockchain space, but to get to the core of the platform’s potential, let’s consider the asset that accounts for a whopping 84 percent of that $256 trillion: real estate.

A Worthy Investment

As of 2016, the total value of all the real estate in the world was $217 trillion (an increase of 334 percent in roughly six years), and the benefits of investing in the market are plentiful.

Real estate is a fairly low-risk investment class with a high tangible asset value. Unlike a stock, which could plummet in value overnight, a piece of real estate is unlikely to experience dramatic fluctuations in value.

If anything, the value can be fairly quickly increased — just look to those who’ve made fortunes renovating and “flipping” properties. That added control over the value of the asset is yet another benefit to investing in real estate.

Additionally, real estate can be used to generate income through renters or timeshare occupants, helping offset the cost of ownership. It also has tax advantages over other investments and can serve as a hedge against inflation.

Despite the many benefits of real estate over other investment opportunities, though, the market is notoriously difficult to enter, and the primary barrier to entry is the problem of liquidity.

An asset with a high degree of liquidity can be quickly bought or sold without experiencing a value fluctuation. Cash is the most liquid asset; it can be quickly and easily traded without causing a ripple in the currency’s value. Real estate, however, is a highly illiquid asset; converting a piece of real estate into cash or vice versa is traditionally a complicated and fairly slow process.

Locating a buyer or seller can require considerable effort, and after that, the transaction may take months to complete. A traditional real estate transaction also involves a slew of parties beyond the buyer and seller (banks, title companies, lawyers, etc.), each of whom has the potential to slow down the process. Trying to buy or sell real estate across international borders further complicates the transaction, so many investors are limited to nearby markets.

The initial capital required to purchase real estate is another barrier to market entry. The buyer may be required to pay for the property in full or provide enough of a downpayment to secure a loan. The additional parties involved add to the costs of purchasing real estate as they must be paid for their work, and often, the buyer or seller won’t even know the specifics of that additional cost until they’re already well into the process.

Tokenized Real Estate

Blockchain is eliminating these barriers and opening up the real estate market to a previously shut-out segment of the population.

Though the technology first gained traction as a more secure, frictionless alternative to traditional currencies, the world is now catching on to the tremendous potential of tokenization — the process of using blockchain technology to convert real-world assets into digital tokens. These tokens can then be sold in exchange for equity in the asset, voting rights in how it’s managed, or anything else the owner of the asset wants to include in the token’s smart contract.

The benefits of tokenization in the real estate market are tremendous.

Perhaps most significantly, it increases the liquidity of the market by streamlining the process of buying and selling real estate. An owner can tokenize all or just part of their property, then sell those tokens to buyers for whom the purchase is no more complicated than buying stock in a company. If the property generates income through rentals or is sold for a higher value than when the tokens were purchased, the profits are split amongst all the owners accordingly.

Those who purchase tokens get the benefits of investing in real estate without having to worry about paying all the additional fees associated with typical real estate transactions. They can easily purchase real estate anywhere in the world, and they have added control over their investment, able to buy or sell tokens as any point in time.

Shared ownership also lessens the risk of investing in a property and the burden of managing it. Rather than falling on the shoulders of just one owner, the risk is split amongst many, and a token investor can reap the financial benefits of being a landlord without having to worry about details like property repairs or rent collection.

By increasing the liquidity of the real estate market, tokenization not only eliminates barriers to entry, it can also increase the market’s value. Assets that are easily tradable are typically worth more than those that aren’t. This is called the “liquidity premium,” and it can increase an asset’s value by 20 to 30 percent. In real estate, that would be a whopping $65 trillion in total added value.

The benefits of tokenization aren’t limited to real estate, either; any of the world’s $256 trillion in real-world assets can be tokenized. However, existing blockchain platforms designed to facilitate the process are all missing the same key element: a bridge to legal-financial authorities. TrustToken provides that bridge.

The Missing Link

If you bought tokens representing ownership of a property in Spain, and the creator of those tokens sold the property, how could you ensure you were paid a portion of the profits?

Other tokenization platforms offer no strong guarantees over the underlying assets with insurance or criminal enforcement, and if a token holder can’t establish ownership that's recognized by both blockchains and legal-financial authorities, they can’t reliably redeem the asset's tokens for the underlying asset. Essentially, that renders the tokens worthless.

TrustToken is the first platform that allows users to tokenize and trade real-world assets on blockchains in a way that is legally enforced, audited, and insured.

It does this via a special type of trust called a SmartTrust. This legal contract drafted by top attorneys appoints ownership of the asset — be it that property in Spain or a bar of gold — to a smart contract on a blockchain. It guarantees ownership with legal and financial authorities as well as criminal penalties for breaking the rules of the contract.

The SmartTrust also legally binds a fiduciary to act according to whatever directions are established in the smart contract for the tokenized asset. Essentially, this fiduciary is a trustworthy third-party that will perform any necessary “real world” actions as agreed to by the token owners.


While the SmartTrust is the key legal instrument of the TrustToken platform, it also incorporates several other elements.

Clients, fiduciaries, insurers, and other parties involved in the process can meet at the decentralized TrustMarket to negotiate prices, provide services, or leave reviews — activities monitored and defined by the TrustProtocol. TrustTokens are the reward parties receive for trustworthy behavior, and they are also used to insure assets and create an audit trail.

Blockchain already has the potential to provide anyone, anywhere with frictionless access to the $256 trillion in real-world assets. However, the world still needs a way to establish ownership that's recognized by both blockchains and legal-financial authorities, and that’s a need TrustToken was built to meet.

The preceding communication has been paid for by TrustToken, and Futurism has a small financial stake in TrustToken's token launch. This communication is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer or solicitation to sell shares or securities in TrustToken or any related or associated company. The TrustToken tokens are not being structured or sold as securities or any other form of investment product, and consequently, none of the information presented herein is intended to form the basis for any investment decision, and no specific recommendations are intended. This communication does not constitute investment advice or solicitation for investment. Futurism expressly disclaims any and all responsibility for any direct or consequential loss or damage of any kind whatsoever arising directly or indirectly from: (i) reliance on any information contained herein, (ii) any error, omission or inaccuracy in any such information or (iii) any action resulting from such information.

Each recipient of this communication expressly acknowledges that the TrustToken tokens are being sold solely for the purpose of providing purchasers of such tokens with access to the services associated with the tokens, and that such persons are not being offered, and will not be purchasing, any tokens for any other purposes, including, but not limited to, any investment, speculative or other financial purpose. Each recipient further acknowledges that they are aware of the commercial risks associated with TrustToken and the network associated with its tokens.

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New Virgin Hyperloop One Details Revealed at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 11:45 AM PST

All Aboard

At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the recently renamed Virgin Hyperloop One unveiled two products that show just how far the concept has come since its inception. The most notable reveal was a detailed look at the first generation design of the pod that will be used to ferry people and cargo. Officially called the Virgin Hyperloop One XP-1 pod, it reached speeds of 387 kilometers per hour (240 mph) during the company’s third phase of testing.

Virgin Hyperloop One intends to begin construction on a hyperloop route in 2019, with full-scale production tests to follow in 2021. However, we still know very little about how passengers will book their trips once the pods become operational. Will people be able to buy tickets online, or would they have to go to a hyperloop location?

A potential answer to the second question may be in the second product Virgin Hyperloop One revealed at CES 2018: a mobile app that’s meant to “simplify and customize hyperloop trip planning.” The app, set to release later this year, enables people to schedule and pay for their hyperloop trips ahead of time, as well as other forms of transportation such as public, private, and ride-sharing services. They can also tailor the app to show them only the fastest, cheapest, or greenest transportation options.

"We're giving the public a taste of what a Virgin Hyperloop One experience will be like by publicly unveiling our pod and demonstrating how passengers will experience booking a hyperloop trip from their pocket," said Rob Lloyd, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, in a statement. "Every hardware and software milestone brings us closer to commercializing hyperloop."

Futuristic Transport

Its capabilities don’t end there: since Virgin Hyperloop One collaborated with HERE Technologies and used their Mobile Software Development Kit for Business to develop the app, it can also provide advanced location, mapping, and navigation capabilities for 136 countries. As if that wasn’t enough, there will also be public transit information for nearly 1,300 cities, plus 3D indoor and venue maps.

As Matt Jones, Virgin Hyperloop One's SVP of Software Engineering puts it, "We see hyperloop as the high-speed backbone for mass transit networks, [it’s] far from just a pod in a tube. It's a means to provide a seamless routing experience across multiple transportation modes."

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A Fully Solar-Powered Car May Be Hitting the Road by 2019

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 10:24 AM PST

Solar Cars

Lightyear One, a car whose ability to use solar power has been thought of as an impossible feat, just won a Climate Change Innovator Award. Designed by the Dutch startup Lightyear, the “car that charges itself” can supposedly drive for months without charging and has a 400 – 800 km range. But is a solar-powered car feasible?

For years, the concept of “solar-powered cars” has loomed over the electric car industry as a hopeful, possible future. But there are many who argue that this concept is not only impractical, it is basically impossible. For instance, a solar roof that was designed to power the Toyota Prius was found to only be useful in combination with a traditional battery charging system and it only added an additional 4 miles to the range — not that impressive. One engineer even calculated the power capacity of a car with a solar roof under the optimal amount of solar radiation, and the results are underwhelming. Engineers measure the rate at which an engine’s work is done in “horsepower” (hp): the car equipped with a solar roof had a horsepower rate of 6.4. For comparison, engineer Tom Lombardo said, “my riding lawnmower has an 18 hp engine.”

Going Fully Solar

The first 10 Lightyear One cars are due to be released in 2019. Up until now fully solar-powered cars were not considered a realistic prospect, Solar Assisted Electric Vehicles (SAEVs) were considered the best possible option for solar cars, adding up to hundreds of miles to a car’s range.   are set on releasing a vehicle that uses only solar power. But the Dutch Lightyear promises to topple the canon with a car that is not only fully powered by the sun, but also overcomes some of the conventional challenges associated with the technology, such as intermittency and low performance.

The five entrepreneurs have been prototyping and working out the kinks of their concept for years but, as long as the project remains an early-stage design, it is difficult to imagine that anyone would be capable of bridging the gap between SAEVs and fully-solar vehicles with record-breaking range.

But small encouraging signs are emerging all over the world. For example, in 2017, the Byron Bay Railroad Company created the first fully solar-powered train. And, while the vehicle has a very limited range, it shows that solar-powered vehicles are within the realm of possibility.

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Mark Zuckerberg Is Officially Considering Cryptocurrency for Facebook

Posted: 08 Jan 2018 10:01 AM PST

New Year, New Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg is not only the founder and CEO of Facebook, the largest and most popular social networking platform in the world, he’s also a regular user, frequently posting on his profile’s wall.

These posts often include information about his present activities, such as his work with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a foundation he created with his wife, Priscilla Chan, or decisions to add new tools to the Facebook platform, but a recent post tackled a far more forward-looking topic: cryptocurrency.

In the post, Zuckerberg wrote that he challenges himself to learn something new each year, and a huge part of this learning challenge for 2018 seems focused on reexamining the role of technology to “give people the power.”

“I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies…”

“[O]ne of the most interesting questions in technology right now is about centralization vs decentralization,” Zuckerberg wrote. “A lot of us got into technology because we believe it can be a decentralizing force that puts more power in people’s hands.”

The Facebook founder went on to lament how this potential seems to have been corrupted by some big tech firms and governments that instead use technology to monitor people. He said he views cryptocurrency and encryption as potential tools for countering this trend, giving people back the power that’s currently held by centralized systems.

“I’m interested to go deeper and study the positive and negative aspects of these technologies, and how best to use them in our services,” wrote Zuckerberg.

Social Media and Cryptocurrency

The question now is this: Will we see a Facebook cryptocurrency in 2018?

A spokesperson from Facebook told Futurism they couldn’t say anything about this topic just yet. That, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility, and a cryptocurrency linked to a social networking site, especially one as powerful as Facebook, is certainly an interesting idea.

Yonatan Ben Shimon, CEO and founder of Matchpool , a company combining cryptocurrency with social activity, thinks the idea has its merits. He told Futurism that, at the very least, a Facebook cryptocurrency could be used to reward users that create content. He also said Zuckerberg would be wise to look to crypto experts before moving forward.

“If they take a step [toward this plan], it can be awesome,” said Shimon. “But in order to do it right, they have to be with a partner from the crypto space that understands how to build it in a decentralized way.”

Clement Thibault, senior analyst at Investing.com, told Futurism he isn’t surprised that Facebook and other major tech companies, such as Google and Microsoft, are looking into cryptocurrencies.

“They have seen the enormous mainstream attention and amounts of money pouring into cryptocurrencies in 2017,” said Thibault. “Positioning yourself to take advantage of a new tool, new technology, and a potential new business opportunity just makes sense.”

Thibault said that Facebook is already somewhat familiar with blockchain and cryptocurrencies — in December 2017, the company introduced a peer-to-peer payment option to WhatsApp, a chat app they own, in the Indian market.

“We know they are interested in facilitating transactions between people, which is what cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are aiming to do,” said Thibault.

Of course, India is just one country, and WhatsApp isn’t nearly as popular as Facebook.

“How exactly [Facebook] is able find a place in true decentralized peer to peer transactions remains to be seen,” said Thibault. “The question of whether they do [integrate blockchain] depends on how and if they see a viable, profitable business model in doing so.”

If a Facebook cryptocurrency did come to fruition, it could help push the mass adoption of crypto, but Zuckerberg’s interest may have more to do with image than genuine interest, according to Thibault.

“Facebook, with over 2 billion monthly active users, can basically drive the mass adoption of anything,” he said. “For now, I’m confident Zuckerberg’s message on cryptocurrencies is [in] part legitimate interest in a new technology and [partly] just throwing Facebook’s brand in a sentence with cryptocurrencies to show users and investors that Facebook is not behind the curve on innovation.”

Zuckerberg will need to do a great deal of investigating to determine how to integrate blockchain into his bell cow company. Whether a Facebook cryptocurrency could achieve his goal of returning power to the people remains to be seen, but based on his post, Zuckerberg seems determined to find out in 2018.

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.

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