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We Can Now Use Stem Cells to Grow Functioning Kidney Tissue

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 07:21 AM PST

Medical Marvel

In a remarkable medical first, research funded by The Medical Research Council and Kidney Research U.K. helped researchers create human kidney tissue inside of a living organism. The tissue was even capable of producing urine. This amazing achievement could one day yield novel treatments for kidney disease.

To do this, the research team, led by Professors Sue Kimber and Adrian Woolf from the University of Manchester, started with human embryonic stem cells grown in a culture broth specifically designed for kidney development. They turned these cells into microscopic kidney pieces.

Building a mini-kidney. Image Credit: University of Manchester
Building a mini-kidney. Image Credit: University of Manchester

These pieces were combined with a gel that worked as connective tissue. This mixture was then injected under the skin of mice. Thanks to careful design, three months later the researchers found something, well,  incredible.

The substance had developed into microscopic structural and functional kidney units known as nephrons. Most of the parts found in human nephrons were present in the experimental mice. These parts worked together to filter blood and excrete a detectable amount urine, which the researchers confirmed with a fluorescent stain. This study is published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.


While these “mini-kidneys,” are lacking a vital artery that would allow them to function on their own, “We have proved beyond any doubt these structures function as kidney cells by filtering blood and producing urine — though we can’t yet say what percentage of function exists,” Kimber said in a press release.

Bioprinting: How 3D Printing is Changing Medicine
Click to View Full Infographic

This is only a proof-of-principle study, so it simply represents a first step that will be followed up by much more research and exploration. Woolf explained in the press release that “we must now turn to developing an exit route for the urine and a way to deliver this technology to diseased kidneys.”

Sill, with further development, this kidney tissue technique could one day replace or improve existing tools for treating kidney disease. Such a medical advancement could improve and even lengthen the lives of millions.

“Worldwide, 2 million people are being treated with dialysis or transplantation for kidney failure, and sadly another 2 million die each year, unable to access these treatments,” Woolf noted in the press release. “So we are tremendously excited by this discovery — we feel it is a big research milestone which may one day help patients.”

The post We Can Now Use Stem Cells to Grow Functioning Kidney Tissue appeared first on Futurism.

Experts Assert That All Nations Should Have a “Minister of AI”

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 01:00 PM PST

Today, world leaders gathered in a secretive meeting on the global governance of artificial intelligence. It was attended by more than 50 of the world’s leading experts in AI. From IBM to Facebook and from Amazon to the U.N., representatives from all sectors and levels of government convened to map the future of AI. Futurism was fortunate enough to be there for the event.

The goal of the roundtable, organized by the AI Initiative from the Future Society at Harvard Kennedy’s School of Government and H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, was to address the challenges and opportunities AI bring and develop the strategies, guidance, and governance to help safely advance its evolution.

To be clear, it’s not that we’re lacking ideas or applications for AI. It has seemingly endless potential within almost any industry you can imagine and, increasingly, it’s becoming part of our everyday lives. The technology has already established its role in the fields of law and medicine, but it has also had an unequivocal influence on lighter fare, too. Think, entertainment.

The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

What has lagged behind, and ultimately impeded our progress, is regulation and appropriate guidance. It’s a struggle that’s well-known to many panelists.

"Governments need to move faster,” said one. Another agreed, noting that nations had to realize that AI is creating a faster, more efficient world day-by-day. “Governments have to know that today is the slowest day of the rest of their life,” he said. The rest agreed.

And so the topic turned to how officials can accelerate the adoption of AI. “You need to have a minister of AI like Dubai does,” one panelist said. While it seems like a straightforward concept, to other members of the roundtable, it’s a slippery slope. If you have a minister of AI, why not have a minister of anything — of everything? They ventured, could you have, for example, a minister of DNA? Real solutions, they argued, were more granular and less grandiose.

“Is it okay if government lags industries in innovation, especially because AI poses so many risks?”

Alternative solutions the panel suggested involved more time-tested methods, like using money to inspire — or incentivize — innovation and accelerate AI development. However, some were wary about using this approach. They feared that such moves would result in a lack of government oversight and control, which is the problem the group was trying to mitigate, not increase. “Is it okay if government lags industries in innovation, especially because AI poses so many risks?” one panelist asked.

Another suggested that total open access would put everyone on a level field and put an end to this concern. Others agreed, but they noted that open-access brought with it an entirely new set of problems. As one panelist pointed out, it may not be wise to be completely open, as it increases the chances of nefarious individuals entering the game.

Consequently, it was suggested that governments incentivize only specific tasks and provide open access to only specific things.

The question then, is how do we make this happen? Who determines what to incentivize? Who determines what to make open access?

Here, we circled back to the initial question of guidance. And the most intuitive answer was clear: the AI minister.

The post Experts Assert That All Nations Should Have a “Minister of AI” appeared first on Futurism.

Politicians and Innovators Agree: It’s Impossible to Govern AI

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 12:06 PM PST

This weekend, Futurism got exclusive access to a closed-door roundtable on the global governance of AI. The event was organized by the AI Initiative from the Future Society at Harvard Kennedy and H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence. With over 50 of the world's foremost thinkers, leaders, and practitioners of AI in attendance, the conversation was—to be cliché—a hotbed for debate.

These thought leaders convened with the goal of developing a roadmap for nations to follow as we transition to future where humans are no longer the only sentient species on the planet.

During one session, which was focused on how to develop rules to govern AI, a panelist opened the discussion by implying that values are universal. As such, his thought ran, there really shouldn't be problems when trying to develop a set of basic ethics to govern AI. “Ethics is one. Right? There are not ten,” the panelist said. “I mean, no one thinks that killing is a good thing.”

Broad and deep disagreement was instantaneous.

A Difficult Discussion

A fellow panelist noted that, while the universality of ethics may exist in theory, it exists only in theory. Reality is far more complex. “Once we start talking about privacy rights, everyone has a very different view,” he noted. And he highlighted how nations value even those things we consider the most basic and fundamental, like human life, differently. “Once we start considering rights for women and minorities, nations don't agree,” he said.

There was a general consensus regarding this point, and another panelist offered a potential solution, suggesting that one way forward may be developing regional ethics. “If we are adopting the same policies in the West, and then the nations in the East are adopting the same policies, then those nations should come together to reduce redundancies,” she said. “From there, we can find our commonalities.”

Others spoke out, noting that, as long as various players continue to have competing goals — preserving jobs, preserving the economy, optimizing government efficiency, saving the environment, satisfying investors — there is little hope for any consensus. “What do we want to say we actually value?” asked one exasperated man. “Until we make that decision, all of these talks are just B.S.,” he concluded.

The conversation turned to who should lead the regulatory efforts. They couldn’t even agree on this.

“Who is going to lead an international cooperation? Because we have a lot of international organizations,” one man noted as the conversation turned.

“Do we really want to say this is about 'the world'?” another shot back, asserting that the group had no right to talk about “the world” given that a significant portion of the planet wasn’t represented.”I'm not sure how many people are from the global south. We are blessed with one person from Japan, but we're mostly all western,” he said.

From there, the conversation spun out. “One global hub isn’t possible at this point,” a panelist said, “What we should be pushing for is just more international cooperation.”

The panelist who had posed the question responded, “So you think there is no need to form one cohesive whole for everything that is going on?”

“I think it would be beneficial in some ways,” the respondent conceded, “but it’s just too early.”

Another who had observed the conversation’s many turns succinctly summed the consensus, stating that we have a long way to go before we can begin speaking in definitive terms about international cooperative efforts. “I'm not sure if we are ready for the global level,” he said. “There's so much research still being done. We need to solve many things before we come to this traditional standardization.”

The frustration was palpable in both words and countenances. “I think it's too late for a lot of things, like the governance of people's data in the States [the United States],” one panelist pointed out. The conversation wound down after this lamentable fact was noted.

Yet, the desire to say something decisive, something that seemed to inspire more hope, was strong. One man spoke up and quietly ventured that some solution may not be that far beyond our reach. “I mean, you can regulate [AI] though. We've chosen not to modify human genomes, for example,” he said.

But of course, that’s not entirely true: China does not have strong regulations surrounding gene editing. Already, trials are underway.

Questions and Interest

If the absence of solutions here surprises you, you likely aren’t too familiar with artificial intelligence or how young this industry truly is. There’s still a lot yet to be determined. In fact, at this point, basically, all we have are questions and problems, which is precisely why this roundtable took place — to begin discussions about clear and tangible goals.

And these conversations, intense as they are, serve as proof that, while we’re short on solutions at the moment, there’s no shortage of interest.

Towards the end of the conversation, one panelist noted this point, a slight hint of hope in his voice. “The number of both technical papers and start-up companies has exploded in recent years,” he offered. “It's amazing. But we're still pretty small. We see the same faces at all these conferences. We still have a chance to make solutions.”

Though frustrations abound, and the specifics may still be a bit murky, one thing is clear: if you’re setting out to build the future of AI, there are worse places you could be than in a room with over 50 of the world’s leading minds.

The post Politicians and Innovators Agree: It’s Impossible to Govern AI appeared first on Futurism.

Elon Musk Wants to Ship Tesla Parts Using a Boring Company Underground Tunnel

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 11:56 AM PST

Despite making plans to boost production of its Model 3, Tesla ultimately fell short of its goals in 2017. The problem isn’t expected to persist forever, though, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk is now considering building an underground tunnel using The Boring Company that will connect the Tesla plant to a parts factory 1.6 km (one mile) or so down the road.

The news came from a Tesla earnings call on Wednesday, Feb. 7, during which Inverse quoted Musk as saying it’s “just a matter of time” until the production issues are solved.

“I'm hopeful that people think that if we can send a Roadster to the asteroid belt, we could probably solve Model 3 production,” Musk reportedly said.

In a shareholder’s letter, Tesla revealed it’ll be the first company to utilize its electric, autonomous semi trucks, which Musk intends to use to transport Model 3 components from Gigafactory 1 to a factory in Fremont, Calif.

But increased production of the Model 3 would eventually face a bottleneck. The factory is equipped to handle only so many shipment trucks, meaning if too many trucks started hauling parts to the factory, the parts would take much longer to be unloaded. This is where the tunnel comes in.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“[W]e actually get constrained on how many trucks [we can] dock and undock at the seat factory, which is only, I don't know, half a mile or a mile away from the vehicle plant,” Musk said during the call, according to Inverse. “So it'll be pretty easy to just have a tunnel, do an automated conveyance from seats to the factory."

In other words, the underground tunnel could alleviate Tesla’s shipment congestion just as it’s meant to reduce traffic in other cities.

Using a tunnel for transportation, Musk reportedly said that boosting production to roughly 700,000 cars a year — 600,000 Model 3s and 100,000 Model S and X vehicles — “seams achievable.” The idea isn’t official yet, however, and Tesla would presumably need to receive permission to build another tunnel.

If Musk is anything, though, he’s determined. If he decides another underground tunnel is necessary to finally meet Tesla’s Model 3 production goals, it’ll probably happen. Like he said, they managed to put a Tesla Roadster in space, how hard can it be to move parts around on Earth?

The post Elon Musk Wants to Ship Tesla Parts Using a Boring Company Underground Tunnel appeared first on Futurism.

New Horizons Space Probe Captures the Farthest Photo Ever Taken From Earth

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 11:27 AM PST

While the rest of the world got busy checking out the photos of Starman (SpaceX’s dummy astronaut riding a Tesla roadster to Mars), a NASA space probe went about taking snaps of objects while it was around 6.12 billion kilometers (3.79 billion miles) away from Earth.

Moving on from its Pluto mission, New Horizons is now en route to the Kuiper Belt, right at the fringes of the solar system. It’s target is a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69. While on its way, the spacecraft turned its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on a cluster of these KBOs and took photos, becoming the first spacecraft ever to take pictures that far from Earth.

KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
KBOs 2012 HZ84 (left) and 2012 HE85. Image credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

This historic photos of KBOs 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85 were taken on Dec. 5, 2017, while New Horizons was roughly 41 times as far from Earth than the Earth is from the Sun. The images were the closest ever taken of the KBOs.

The new images broke the record of another snap taken by the camera of New Horizons of the so-called “Wishing Well” star cluster (seen below), just two hours earlier on the same day while the imager was on a routine calibration.

"Wishing Well" star cluster. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
“Wishing Well” star cluster. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

New Horizons is no stranger to beautiful photos from space. From 2015 to 2016, the space probe had sent the most detailed images of Pluto ever as part of its year-long data dump when it reached the former ninth planet. These photos mesmerized laypeople around the world while at the same time giving astronomers material to study the dwarf planet’s surface.

New Horizons is scheduled to fly by its target in the beginning of 2019. The event will be the farthest planetary encounter since humankind sent probes into space.

Although it isn’t the first spacecraft to have gone that far away from the Earth — such distance was also traveled by the Voyager 1 and 2, and Pioneer 10 and 11 — New Horizons was the only one that’s camera was still operational. The space probe now keeps itself in hibernation as it journeys towards its objective KBOs, where it will continue to send never-before-seen images of the solar system’s most distant space objects.

The post New Horizons Space Probe Captures the Farthest Photo Ever Taken From Earth appeared first on Futurism.

World Leaders Have Decided: The Next Step in AI is Augmenting Humans

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 10:52 AM PST

Think that human augmentation is still decades away? Think again.

This week, government leaders met with experts and innovators ahead of the World Government Summit in Dubai. Their goal? To determine the future of artificial intelligence.

It was an event that attracted some of the biggest names in AI. Representatives from IEEE, OECD, the U.N., and AAAI. Managers from IBM Watson, Microsoft, Facebook, OpenAI, Nest, Drive.ai, and Amazon AI. Governing officials from Italy, France, Estonia, Canada, Russia, Singapore, Australia, the UAE. The list goes on and on.

Types of AI: From Reactive to Self-Aware [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Futurism got exclusive access to the closed-door roundtable, which was organized by the AI Initiative from the Future Society at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence.

The whirlwind conversation covered everything from how long it will take to develop a sentient AI to how algorithms invade our privacy. During one of the most intriguing parts of the roundtable, the attendees discussed the most immediate way artificial intelligence should be utilized to benefit humanity.

The group’s answer? Augmenting humans.

Already Augmented

At first, it may sound like a bold claim; however, we have long been using AI to enhance our activity and augment our work. Don’t believe me? Take out your phone. Head to Facebook or any other social media platform. There, you will see AI hard at work, sorting images and news items and ads and bringing you all the things that you want to see the most. When you type entries into search engines, things operate in much the same manner—an AI looks at your words and brings you what you’re looking for.

And of course, AI’s reach extends far beyond the digital world.

Take, for example, the legal technology company LawGeex, which uses AI algorithms to automatically review contracts. Automating paper-pushing has certainly saved clients money, but the real benefit for many attorneys is saving time. Indeed, as one participant in the session noted, “No one went to law school to cut and paste parts of a regulatory document.”

Similarly, AI is quickly becoming an invaluable resource in medicine, whether it is helping with administrative tasks and the drudgery of documentation or assisting with treatments or even surgical procedures. The FDA even recently approved an algorithm for predicting death.

These are all examples of how AIs are already being used to augment our knowledge and our ability to seek and find answers—of how they are transforming how we work and live our best lives.

Time to Accelerate

When we think about AI augmenting humans, we frequently think big, our minds leaping straight to those classic sci-fi scenarios. We think of brain implants that take humans to the next phase of evolution or wearable earpieces that translate language in real time. But in our excitement and eagerness to explore the potential of new technology, we often don’t stop to consider the somewhat meandering, winding path that will ultimately get us there—the path that we’re already on.

While it’s fun to consider all of the fanciful things that advanced AI systems could allow us to do, we can’t ignore the very real value in the seeming mundane systems of the present. These systems, if fully realized, could free us from hours of drudgery and allow us to truly spend our time on tasks we deem worthwhile.

Imagine no lines at the DMV. Imagine filing your taxes in seconds. This vision is possible, and in the coming months and years, the world’s leaders are planning to nudge us down that road ever faster. Throughout the discussions in Dubai, panelists explored the next steps governments need to take in order to accelerate our progress down this path.

The panel noted that, before governments can start augmenting human life—whether it be with smart contact lenses to monitor glucose levels or turning government receptionists into AI—world leaders will need to get a sense of their nation’s current standing. “The main thing governments need to do first is understand where they are on this journey,” one panelist noted.

In the weeks and months to come, nations around the globe will likely be urged to do just that. Once nations understand where they are along the path, ideally, they will share their findings in order to assist those who are behind them and learn from those who are ahead. With a better roadmap in hand, nations will be ready to hit the road — and the gas.

The post World Leaders Have Decided: The Next Step in AI is Augmenting Humans appeared first on Futurism.

We Know You Don’t Really Read Privacy Policies. This AI Can Do It For You.

Posted: 10 Feb 2018 10:00 AM PST

Visualized Summaries

“I have read and understood…” has got to be one of the biggest lies people commit on a regular basis. It’s the typical ending for the long-winded customer agreements or privacy policies attached to every online service, which few ever read. Or at least, not in their entirety.

When humankind finds something difficult, we typically build a gizmo to do it for us — and this case is no different. It turns out, reading lengthy fine-print is the expertise of a machine-learning artificial intelligence (AI) designed by researchers from the Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL), the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan. Their research began with a question, said lead researcher Hamza Harkous from EPFL.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
Click to View Full Infographic

“What if we visualize what's in the policy for the user?” Harkous said in an interview with WIRED. “Not to give every piece of the policy, but just the interesting stuff.”

The question led to Polisis, which is short for “privacy policy analysis.” It works as a website and browser extension that can read and make sense of terribly long privacy policies in web services that cost users both time and, ultimately, money. Polisis can pull a website’s privacy policy and read it in around 30 seconds. It then comes up with a summary and a graphic flowchart that highlights how the online service handles a user’s data.

Digestible Chunks

The researchers trained Polisis using data sets from 115 privacy policies, analyzed and annotated by Fordham Law students, and 130,000 others taken from Google Play Store apps. What makes this AI appealing is how it’s able to transform a boring, wordy privacy policy into something that’s digestible. And if users are still having trouble with aspects of the agreement, the researchers have another service on their website — an AI-powered chatbot called PriBot that users can discuss privacy policies with.

Google's privacy policy, summarized by Polisis. Image credit: Polisis, screenshot
Google’s privacy policy, summarized by Polisis. Image credit: Polisis, screenshot

Despite internet users claiming to have read a privacy policy, only about 20 percent actually do. Even then, they don’t necessarily understand the legal language embroidered with verbosity in every policy. That’s why Polisis could be so useful — helping internet users protect their privacy similarly to how a lawyer chatbot helped resolve driver’s parking ticket issues.

A bit of a fine print here, though. Even with a powerful tool like Polisis, the barest minimum effort is still required from the human user. In other words, a policy summary is not helpful if you don’t actually bother to read it. The AI can help, but human users have to help themselves first.

The post We Know You Don’t Really Read Privacy Policies. This AI Can Do It For You. appeared first on Futurism.