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Robots Smaller Than a Human Hair Can Starve and Shrink Cancerous Tumors

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 10:21 AM PST

Cutting Off Blood Supply

How to kill cancerous tumors is a problem that researchers around the globe are trying to solve, with limited success. Now, an international group of scientists is trying a new technique to destroy tumors — using nanobots to limit tumors’ blood supply, effectively starving them out.

In a recent study published in Nature Biotechnology, scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST), of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, demonstrated how effective these nanorobots were at addressing tumor growth. The mini robots were able to cut-off the blood supply to breast cancer, melanoma, ovarian and lung cancer tumors in mice. After just two weeks of treatment, the researchers reported that the tumor tissue was shrinking.

These nanorobots target cancerous cells. Source: Jason Drees, Arizona State University.

Hao Yan, director of the ASU Biodesign Institute’s Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, explained in a press release, “We have developed the first fully autonomous, DNA robotic system for a very precise drug design and targeted cancer therapy.” He continued, “Moreover, this technology is a strategy that can be used for many types of cancer, since all solid tumor-feeding blood vessels are essentially the same.”

DNA Origami

These robots were inspired by origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. This isn’t the first origami-inspired technology. Origami has inspired everything from spacecraft to shields, and DNA origami — creating different shapes one thousand times smaller than a human hair using DNA strands — is an emerging field that could revolutionize drug delivery and treatment. Each of these tumor-targeting nanorobots is made up of a flat DNA origami sheet only 90 nanometers by 60 nanometers in size. The sheet is saddled with an enzyme that makes clots in the blood vessels that feed the tumor.

This new technology eliminates previous issues that scientists faced with trying to create tumor-killing nanorobots. Previous attempts were not as successful at destroying tumors without harming healthy tissues and cells. So instead of going directly after tumors, this research team simply sought to cut-off the tumors’ blood supply. By “starving” the tumors, they can shrink and kill them without going on the offensive and potentially harming healthy cells in the process.

Not only do these robots starve the tumors, but they safely shrink them too. “These nanorobots can be programmed to transport molecular payloads and cause on-site tumor blood supply blockages, which can lead to tissue death and shrink the tumor,” said Baoquan Ding, a professor at the NCNST, in the press release.

While the field of nanomedicine is growing, there are still many hurdles to cross before nanorobots are used in human clinical trials. But the results of this new study are promising — Yan and the research team are now hoping to pursue clinical testing. If they succeed, it would break new ground in the field. From treating tumors to delivering medicine to specific areas in the body, the future would look brighter with nanorobots in it.

The post Robots Smaller Than a Human Hair Can Starve and Shrink Cancerous Tumors appeared first on Futurism.

AI Will Give Rise to “Superhuman Workers,” Says Google X Co-Founder

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 09:44 AM PST

An AI Coworker

For many, artificial intelligence (AI) and the human workforce are at odds. These people are concerned that intelligent machines powered by increasingly sophisticated AI will take over human jobs, leaving some people with no source of income. Even more frightening is the prospect of a complete AI labor takeover if/when we reach the technological singularity.

According to Sebastian Thurn, co-founder of Google’s secret X laboratory, they may be worrying over nothing. During a talk at the ongoing World Government Summit in Dubai, Thurn said he believes AI will make humans into “superhuman workers” capable of doing more with the help of technology than without it, reported CNBC.

“AI is a tool and what AI can do really, really well is getting rid of repetitive work,” said Thurn. “So, if you are a worker, say a medical doctor or a lawyer who spends day in and day out doing the same thing, then having AI look over your shoulder and learn those skills from you will make you a superhuman, a more powerful person.”

However, not all jobs will survive the rise of AI, said Thurn, who’s now the chairman of online education firm Udacity and CEO of flying car startup Kitty Hawk.

“Now, that means that some jobs will go away, very repetitive work, of course,” Thurn continued. “But it will be replaced by created work, so we have to move from a repetitive working society into a creative society where we invent new things.” Think Altered Carbon, Netflix’s futuristic science fiction flick in which a hotel’s only employee is an AI manager that looks and talks like Edgar Allan Poe.

Less Work

Thurn isn’t the first to put forth this idea that AI will make us “superhuman.” Famous futurist Ray Kurzweil, who is currently Google’s top engineer, once said that AI will not displace humans, but instead will enhance them.

The Age of Automation: Welcome to the Next Great Revolution
Click to View Full Infographic

In terms of how soon this could happen, most agree that we will see intelligent machines taking over jobs in the next decade or so. Some say the transition has already begun.

Combine that with the technological singularity, which some predict will arrive in the 2040s, and a human-AI labor meld could happen sooner than we might expect.

At the very least, finding ways to use AI as a tool rather than a replacement will keep human workers relevant. Between a future in which AIs do everything and one in which AIs make humans into “superhuman workers,” the latter is probably preferable for most.

The post AI Will Give Rise to “Superhuman Workers,” Says Google X Co-Founder appeared first on Futurism.

Here’s What We Know About the Crazy New Startup Where Scientists Use Crypto to Buy Your Genetic Data

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 08:21 AM PST

If innovators have their way, you’ll soon start seeing blockchain beyond the realm of cryptocurrency. People have been thinking creatively about how to use the technology powering Bitcoin to do things like shake up how people vote or access their birth records.

Now, pioneering Harvard and MIT geneticist George Church (of CRISPR and mammoth-resurrection fame) has a new startup that plans to use blockchain technology for genome sequencing — but it’s not yet clear whether it will be popular enough to edge out the competition.

The startup, dubbed Nebula Genomics, seeks to change how companies handle an individual’s DNA. Though companies like 23andMe have become popular and thousands of people have gotten their genomes tested for things like their ancestry and health conditions they might pass on to their children, most people still haven’t had their DNA sequenced. Some of the reasons may be that the test is still fairly pricey, plus consumers aren’t assured much privacy in doing so.

That’s where Nebula thinks it can do better — consumer-patients can get paid for submitting their genomic information, and ensure it’s safe in the process, according to a white paper the company recently published.

Here’s what we know about Nebula’s plans so far. It’s simple, until it’s not:

  1. Companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA are “middlemen,” acquiring people’s DNA, then selling it to pharmaceutical and research companies for millions of dollars. Nebula wants to eliminate them. In their place, DNA/data owners will interface directly with DNA/data buyers. There will be no “middlemen,” as Nebula puts it.
  2. Nebula will sequence the DNA itself, but it’ll be pricey, at least at first. Sequencing a single person’s DNA will start at $1,000, though Nebula expects it to drop to less than $100 “in a few years.”
  3. Owners don’t have to sell their information. After a person gets their results from Nebula, an app will allow them to “interpret their personal genomic data without sharing it with any third party.” As the app analyzes more DNA sequences, the information available to consumers will become more comprehensive.
  4. All data will be privately stored on Nebula’s network. Initial access is granted only to the owner, though they can give others access to it as well. Owners can also choose to store their data wherever they want, including on Dropbox.
  5. Organizations that want to buy users’ DNA have to be upfront about who they are, and all transactions will be recorded on the Nebula blockchain. It’s unclear if real names are required, or if something like “DNA_Enthusiast93” will suffice.
  6. Nebula tokens will be the sole currency on the network. Individuals use Nebula tokens to pay Nebula for their personal genome sequencing. Entities looking to buy genomic data will pay tokens to gain access to genome sequences, purchased with traditional currency. Interestingly, Nebula acknowledges that the value of Nebula tokens will decrease as DNA sequencing becomes cheaper. It’s still pretty unclear what this would mean for the network, or how exactly people will exchange tokens.
  7. Buyers, such as pharmaceutical companies or academics, can conduct surveys targeted at DNA owners and provide Nebula tokens in exchange. These buyers can also offer to pay an individual’s genome sequencing cost if the survey reveals information that is particularly interesting to the buyer.

Given the way genome sequencing industry currently works, integrating blockchain seems pretty revolutionary. But Nebula isn’t so unique, in fact— other startups such as EncrypGen, Luna DNA, and Zenome have indicated that they might build platforms for people to sell their own DNA, as Tech Crunch notes. The company won’t officially launch until later this year, giving the competition plenty of time to catch up.

A harder question to answer: will people trust paying with Nebula tokens? As STAT News points out, both bitcoin and Ripple have experienced sizable drops in their respective values in 2018, and bitcoin’s might even fall farther. The idea of investing in a new cryptocurrency that comes with an expiration date may be a hard sell.

And Nebula has some steep competition. Tests from 23andMe are popular, and incredibly simple (just give them your spit). The affordable $80 – $160 price is just low enough to seem worth it.

The post Here’s What We Know About the Crazy New Startup Where Scientists Use Crypto to Buy Your Genetic Data appeared first on Futurism.

Dark Matter May Be a Product of Gravitational Waves with a Twist

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 08:11 AM PST

Breaking Symmetry

For decades now, the exact composition of matter in the universe has baffled astronomers and physicists alike. It would seem that, given the basic assumptions about the origins of the universe, there is still no way to account for the “missing” dark matter that makes up for as much as a quarter of all matter in the universe. That’s why a trio of researchers has proposed a new dark matter theory, which could explain how dark matter came about.

We know dark matter exists because we can observe how its gravity interacts with visible matter and electromagnetic radiation. There is something there, although we can’t yet see it, or put a finger on what it is. 

What Is Dark Matter?
Click to View Full Infographic

In the new study, Evan McDonough and Stephon Alexander from Brown University, with David Spergel from Princeton University, suggest that a mechanism involving gravitational waves — basically, ripples in the fabric of space and time, first theorized by Einstein and confirmed to exist only in 2016 — could explain how dark matter came to be.

McDonough’s team used a model of the primordial universe that assumed the presence of particles called dark matter quarks, which aren’t the same as today’s dark matter. These dark quarks could have a property called chirality, referring to the way the particles twist, similar to neutrinos. The chirality or “handedness” of these dark quarks could have then interacted with the chiral gravitational waves in the early universe, producing the kind of dark matter we have today.

Lighter and Wimpier

Supposedly, as the universe settled into a cooler state, the interactions between chiral dark quarks and chiral gravitational waves resulted in a small excess of the former. These condensed into a quirky state of matter called a superfluid, which could still exist as a background field today. What we know to be dark matter are proposed as excitations of this background field, in the same way photons are excitations of an electromagnetic field.

Interestingly, the dark matter particles resulting from such a model would be lighter than what’s known as weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), which many researchers believe could make up dark matter. There hasn’t been enough evidence to suggest, however, that this is the case. At any rate, being lighter than WIMPs would mean that dark matter wouldn’t interact with normal matter. "It's much wimpier than WIMPs," Spergel told New Scientist.

As such, this dark matter theory could change how we should “look” for dark matter, as it wouldn’t be possible to see such particles directly at all. Unlike WIMPs, these particles would also be distributed more evenly across the galaxy. At the same time, the ratio of dark matter and normal matter wouldn’t necessarily be constant throughout the universe.

Spergel explained, however, that this unique behavior could also provide us with a way to find dark matter. A more uniform, non-clustered distribution of dark matter could spill over into cosmic microwave background — the Big Bang’s residual radiation — and produce a unique signature. It could even affect the formation of larger-scale structures, like galaxy clusters. It could also, perhaps, have an effect on gravitational waves.

In any case, any new dark matter theory is certainly a welcome one, as experts continue exploring other possibilities to account for dark matter — or even dismiss it altogether.

"It's a cool idea," Stanford University’s Michael Peskin, who wasn’t part of the study, told New Scientist. "Right now, dark matter is completely open. Anything you can do that brings in a new idea into this area, it opens a door. And then you have to walk down that corridor and see whether there are interesting things there that suggest new experiments. This opens another door."

The post Dark Matter May Be a Product of Gravitational Waves with a Twist appeared first on Futurism.

Russian Nuclear Scientists Got Busted Mining Bitcoin Using Their Work Supercomputers

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 07:00 AM PST

Russian Roulette

The average crappy employee leaves work early, online shops on company time, and gossips about their coworkers. A really, really bad employee attempts to hack the supercomputer at the top-secret Russian nuclear warhead facility where they work in order to mine cryptocurrency.

That’s the sort of thing you just know is going to come up in your next performance review.

In early February several engineers at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) in Sarov lost their jobs, and likely their future freedom, when they attempted to connect the institute’s supercomputer to the internet. This triggered a security alert that led to their arrest.

Tatyana Zalesskaya, head of the research institute’s press service, told Interfax that the workers’ goal was to use the system for crypto mining. I guess the salary of a nuclear engineer just wasn’t cutting it for them.

Zalesskaya said the offending engineers will face criminal charges. Apparently, they aren’t the first to risk time in a Russian prison in exchange for some of their employer’s sweet processing power. According to Zalesskaya, other companies have caught employees trying to mine on their advanced computing systems.

On the Fence

Indeed, crypto mining is on the rise all over Russia, possibly to Vladimir Putin’s chagrin. Or possibly not.

The Russian president has had something of an on again/off again relationship with crypto. In June 2017, he met with Vitalik Buterin, the creator of Ethereum, one of world’s most popular cryptocurrencies. He seemed pretty high on crypto for a few months, but by early October 2017, he was publicly linking it to money laundering and terrorism. Then, in January 2018, he called for the creation of a national cryptocurrency.

No doubt the newly arrested RFNC-VNIIEF engineers are hoping Putin’s relationship with crypto is on one of its upswings when it’s time for their sentencing. If not, he may use their case to set an example of what happens to criminals who mess with crypto. We can’t imagine that will go well for them.

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 Russian Nuclear Scientists Got Busted Mining Bitcoin Using Their Work Supercomputers appeared first on Futurism.

NASA’s Testing a Space Submarine to Use in Titan’s Seas. It Will Be Cool. It Won’t Be Easy.

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 06:46 AM PST

When we think about where life might exist in our solar system, Mars typically gets called to mind first. Neptune? Who cares. Saturn? Come on. The moons of other planets, for the most part, barely get a blip.

And yet: There’s a moon orbiting Saturn that’s simply brimming with seas and lakes. And where there’s water, there’s often life. Titan is the only place in our solar system where we’ve found surface liquids (thanks for the data Cassini, RIP). That makes NASA think it’s a great place to look for extraterrestrial life.

While this might sound promising, some elements of Titan’s makeup aren’t exactly conducive for us to go there and find life. The rivers and lakes on Titan’s surface, for example, also carry a lethal mixture of methane and ethane — not exactly something we’d want to dive into headfirst.

That is, at least without the right equipment. NASA might be taking on the task. The agency is considering sending a craft the 1.4 billion kilometers (886 million miles) to Titan in 2025, and it needs a submarine to plunge into its noxious seas.

Researchers from Washington State University are helping NASA navigate some very uncharted waters. The team announced it will simulate Titan’s hydrocarbon seas in a test chamber here on Earth. Inside the super-cold chamber, there will be methane-ethane rain and snow, which the researchers will observe via a tiny camera. That footage will hopefully give them enough information to complete their other task: to engineer an autonomous submarine that could roam the moon’s liquid surface.

But, as you might have guessed by now, developing a sub that can withstand Titan’s harsh environment isn’t a small ask. There’s a whole host of hurdles researchers will have to overcome to get there first.

These are a few of the most challenging:

It’s cold. Very, very cold. That methane-infused water? It flows at somewhere around -179° C (-290° F). Unlike on Earth, where rivers are shaped by rock and lava, Titan’s water is sold cold that it itself alters the moon’s surface, and can fill entire lakes with liquid natural gas.

But there’s a sliver of good news: the Washington State University team determined that due to a small amount of nitrogen the lakes freeze at lower temperatures than the surface water, -198° C (-324° F). "That's a big deal,'' Ian Richardson, former graduate student in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at WSU, said in a press release. "That means you don't have to worry about icebergs."

No replay of the Titanic on Titan, it would seem.

…But the submarine won’t be. And the heat is a real problem. To figure out how generated heat would affect Titan’s liquid oceans, the WSU team plopped a two-inch heater into its test chamber simulating Titan’s seas. If the thing is too hot, nitrogen bubbles form, which would mess up the sub’s trajectories on Titan and it could float or sink. So scientists will have to develop a ballast system that reacts fast enough for the submarine to remain stable.

Pics or it didn’t happen. This may have happened to you before: You hit the ski slopes with a fully-charged cell phone. Suddenly, your iPhone battery’s shot. Now imagine trying to get a camera to work at -179° C. In the test chamber, the researchers managed to film rain and snow made of ethane and methane by using a borescope (a rigid tube with an eyepiece at one end) and camera that could withstand these extreme temperatures. But recreating these results on Titan isn’t guaranteed.

The team has many challenges ahead of it. Communicating with the submarine would be nearly impossible if it were submerged. Scheduling a trip to Titan without getting lost, burning up in Titan’s atmosphere as the spacecraft descends without completely destroying the submarine would each be a massive feats alone. And we’d need all that to go off without a hitch on a hypothetical mission — but hey, progress is progress.

If Titanians exist, well, hopefully we’ll see them soon.

The post NASA’s Testing a Space Submarine to Use in Titan’s Seas. It Will Be Cool. It Won’t Be Easy. appeared first on Futurism.

Robert De Niro Says the U.S. Replaced Science With Ignorance. And He’s Right.

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 12:28 PM PST

Climate change was on everyone’s mind at today’s World Government Summit in Dubai. It’s not hard to see why. American Samoa was being hit by a tropical storm. Flooding caused a state of emergency in Harlan County, Kentucky. And earlier in the week, parts of New Zealand also entered a state of emergency due to powerful storms.

During one session, actor Robert De Niro took to the stage to call for bold action. He began by blasting the United States, calling it a place replete with ignorance and science denial. “I flew here last night from a backward country,” he began, “It is a place where science once reigned. It has been replaced by ignorance.”

De Niro continued by discussing several recent political developments, the far-reaching ramifications of which highlight the sad state of science in the U.S. today. “In the country I am describing, government ministries have been warned against using terms like ‘science-based’ and ‘evidence-based.'”

He continued, “Let’s just say we are suffering from a case of ‘temporary insanity,'” and told the room he believed Trump would eventually be voted out and replaced. The room broke out in applause.

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

De Niro justified his criticism by noting that the academic world accepts the reality of climate change, while the Trump administration staunchly denies it. “There is a consensus among scientists that man-made climate change increases the size and intensity of major weather events,” he said.

And he’s right. Our planet has already been irreparably altered by global warming, and those changes are not something we’ll need to look hard for in the years to come. The evidence is all around us. Extreme weather patterns are causing costly and unprecedented devastation, arriving in the form of flooding, hurricanes, and forest fires. Warming temperatures are destroying the planet, hastening extinctions, and altering the course of human evolution, most immediately through our migration patterns.

Humans are both directly responsible, due to our stubborn reliance on energy sources that aren’t clean and renewable, but also indirectly through our lackadaisical attitude and outright denial of the situation’s current — and growing — severity.

Reiterating the need for immediate action, De Niro called upon individuals and nations alike to heed the words of scientists and commit to international cooperative efforts to reverse the devastation caused by man-made climate change.

In the end, whether or not the governments, citizens, and corporations of the world are ready and willing to accept responsibility, what’s undeniable is that every decision we make (or fail to make) has a ripple effect. Influence is not limited to those in the immediate vicinity of the catalyst — indeed, climate change is proof of that. “We can and do have an effect on our brothers and sisters 10,000 miles away,” De Niro said.

We may not have control over the chain of events that follows the decisions we make, but once we recognize that we’re part of a global community, we can make decisions in support of a better world.

The post Robert De Niro Says the U.S. Replaced Science With Ignorance. And He’s Right. appeared first on Futurism.

Yesterday, World Leaders Gathered at a Secretive Meeting to Decide the Fate of AI

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 12:12 PM PST

Today, top individuals from around the world convened at the World Government Summit to discuss the agenda that should govern the next generation of governments. Yesterday, a select few of these leaders gathered in a secretive meeting to discuss the guidelines that nations should use as they help their people come to terms with no longer being the only sentient species on the planet.

Of course, this was just one of the many topics discussed. Officials also deliberated on the most immediate ways they can implement AI technologies to make our lives better, who should govern AI, and how to best navigate the perilous roads ahead.

The event 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 goal of the day was a noble one. The closed-door roundtable was intended to lay out guidelines for the global governance of AI — a roadmap for all nations to adopt.

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

It was a gathering that attracted some of the most powerful and influential minds in the world. Representatives from IEEE, OECD, and the U.N. 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.

Futurism was fortunate enough to have exclusive access to the event.

At times, the room was full of inspiration. At others, I found myself wading through the despair that surrounded me. Yet, even when the conversation turned to topics fraught with the most frustration — whether or not it’s possible to ban certain kinds of AI research; if humans could ever take power from truly sentient AI — there was hope.

The day is young. The dawn of AI is just beginning. We yet have time.

When H.E. Omar bin Sultan Al Olama opened the day, it was with great optimism. He addressed the crowd, which included luminaries such as Stuart Russell, Sui Yang Phang, Jaan Tallinn, IBM’s Francesca Rossi, and Amazon’s Anima Anandkuma, saying, “This day is going to change history. Whenever a group of individuals of such diverse backgrounds comes together, great things happen.”

He continued more soberly, noting that the last time the world faced a threat of this consequence, it resulted in the creation of the Manhattan project. But this time, he added, the stakes are higher.

“I'm not trying to be negative, but it has to happen now.”

Throughout the day, the participants reiterated this sentiment: if we do not act now, we lose, and we will lose everything. “I'm not trying to be negative, but it has to happen now,” John C. Havens, Executive Director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, noted during one break.

Yet, solutions were elusive. The attendees agreed that history has long ago shown us it’s impossible to stymie technological and scientific progress. What becomes banned or over-regulated simply relocates to back alleys and hidden rooms. To avoid this, the attendees agreed, the best option seems to be a dual approach: First, nations must incentivize research in areas that provide the most benefit and least risk to humanity. Second, they must invest heavily in AI research and development. It is thought that, by keeping pace with corporations and innovators, governments will be better positioned to anticipate and prevent any problems along the way.

Once leaders take the time to consider, make sense of, and compile all of the findings from yesterday into a report, the hope is that more concrete and actionable steps will emerge.

Though the day itself ended with few clear answers, the attendees were generally positive. “The number of both technical papers and start-up companies has exploded in recent years,” one attendee 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.”

Cyrus Hodes, Vice President and Director of the AI Initiative, shared this optimism. “Such a gathering has been much needed and will help the international community embrace the enormously positive impact of AI while at the same time getting prepared to mitigate potential downsides.”

There is, of course, much work ahead. To date, there have been many initiatives, and plenty of talks, but no answers. Our future depends on how soon we find them. The quest has begun.

The post Yesterday, World Leaders Gathered at a Secretive Meeting to Decide the Fate of AI appeared first on Futurism.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Denial, Political Biases, and Personal Beliefs

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 12:04 PM PST

It’s no secret that Neil deGrasse Tyson has strong feelings when it comes to the intersection of science and belief. Science, he says, is objective. It’s not something that you believe or do not believe; it’s something that you accept or don’t accept. It remains true regardless of your personal beliefs.

At the opening day of the World Government Summit, which took place this weekend in Dubai, Tyson spoke with Futurism about the current state of our world, why some nations refuse to accept science, and the dire consequences we’ll face if those nations continue to reject the truths science reveals.

When asked about how governments around the world are doing in terms of science, whether they are doing right by their citizens and supporting a sound science education, Tyson said the state of affairs is, sadly, “highly unequal.” He continued by noting that, globally, how much investment there is in science and technology varies according to how much available funds a nation has.

“I think it may be considered a luxury to fund scientific research if it’s not completely obvious how that research will help you,” he told Futurism. Though, as he went on to point out, it’s exactly that kind of inquiry — knowledge for the sake of knowledge — that makes scientific advancement possible. Oftentimes, advances come because of random happenstance.

He’s right: from lasers to electricity to X-rays, scientific developments aren’t always the result of someone knowing exactly what it is they are doing. That often comes far, far later. To that end, Tyson noted that it is important for nations to invest heavily in science whenever and wherever they can, as it always pays in the longrun.

“You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

“Innovations in science and technology, we’ve known forever, are the engines of tomorrow’s economy,” Tyson said. “You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

The conversation then turned to the situation in the U.S., where the current (and often controversial) sociopolitical climate is having a demonstrable influence on the ability of scientists to make progress in their research.

“One of the problems — I know the United Stated the best — is that most of our government, most of our elective government, stands for reelection every two years,” Tyson said. “So, if there are people coming in that don’t know science or appreciate it or understand it, then we are susceptible to having them cancel a project that might need a ten-year horizon or a twenty-year horizon to bear fruit.”

This, he noted, is obviously a less than ideal situation. To that end, he suggested that, perhaps, nations should have a dedicated budget set aside for research and development — a dedicated budget that is not subject to the whims of each new politician.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When discussing how nations can overcome the hurdle that exists where personal or cultural beliefs meet science — as happens when talking about gene editing, evolution, and a host of other topics — Tyson took a strong stance.

“It’s only a hurdle if your belief system is in denial of objective reality,” he said. “If you have a belief system that wants to say that something that an emergent scientific truth has established is somehow not true, then you should just give up at that point….if you cannot simultaneously allow both to co-exist, and one has to fight the other, you will have problems.”

Fortunately, there are alternatives to giving up. What has happened in the past is belief systems have adapted.

It is easy to see this throughout our history books. Religion used to say Earth was the center of the universe. Religion used to say that evolution was a myth. Some religious individuals may still cling to these beliefs, but many do not. The solution, it seems, is to simply wait for people to accept the objective reality that is presented to them — to let it speak for itself.

True, at times, it seems like deeply ingrained belief systems that contradict or deny scientific fact are unmovable pillars of life in the United States; stumbling blocks to progress that we simply have to put up with. Still, significant progress is being made around the world by countries willing to make a change. Though some may scream “communism,” India and Scotland are experimenting with a basic income. Sweden has taken powerful steps toward becoming carbon neutral, despite the fact that some think climate change is “fake news.” And advances are being made in embryonic stem cells, though they remain controversial.

As Tyson so eloquently explained, humanity is fully capable of shifting its paradigm. The evidence exists throughout history, and in modern times, we just need to remind ourselves that our beliefs can be molded to facts — not just the other way around. Sometimes, it just requires waiting.

“I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

When asked if he was hopeful about the future and government’s ability (or willingness) to change its tune, Tyson laughed. “I’m neutral,” he said, but quickly added, “I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

The post Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Denial, Political Biases, and Personal Beliefs appeared first on Futurism.

Scientists Tease Out How the Brain Processes Sensory Experiences

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 11:38 AM PST

Building a World

Our raw sensory experiences — what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell — make up our construction the world around us. But how? How does this continuous stream of raw data translate into a seamless understanding of our existence?

Two recent studies from researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies explore how a brain region known as posterior parietal cortex (PPC) influences perception. They showed that, at least in rats, this region contributes to the merging of different sensory information as well as the formation of memories of recent sensory experiences.

One of the two studies, which was published on Jan. 30 in the journal Neuron, reveals how signals that arrive through different channels (from different senses) integrate in this brain region. In this study, researchers wanted to know how we recognize objects without all of its sensory properties. In other words, they wondered how, once we’ve experienced something like an apple, we’re able to know what it is by sight alone (without smelling, tasting, or feeling it).

They explored this by measuring neural activity in the PPCs of trained rats as they interacted with objects. The researchers found that, while neurons varied in how they encoded objects, the neural response was the same for touch, vision, and audition.

“This means that the message of the neurons was the object itself, not the sensory modality through which the object was explored,” Mathew Diamond, senior investigator, said in a press release.

Exploring Senses

In the second paper, published Friday, Jan. 9, in the journal Nature, researchers zeroed in on the exact neural circuit in the PPC that can sometime cause our expectations to actually taint our memories. They examined how recent sensory memories are both formed and kept by training rats to compare the volume of two separated sounds of different volumes — testing them over and over again.

By observing the rats’ PPCs, the researchers found that, as the rodents waited for the second sound, the memory of the latest sound they heard shifted towards the average of all the previous sounds from their previous tests. The results confirmed that PPC can cause memory to slide towards the expected value.

How does the human brain make sense of sensory stimuli like sound? Image Credit: geralt / pixabay
How does the brain make sense of sensory stimuli like sound? Image Credit: geralt / pixabay

These results still have to be replicated in human brains before we can apply the findings to ourselves. But, the deeper we explore into how and why the brain functions as it does, even in model animals like rats, the more insights we can gain to better we understand the human species.

For decades upon decades, scientists have wondered how the raw sensory data that barrages our brains every day shapes our perception of the world. These studies suggest that the PPC takes part in two critical processes: the integration of sensory signals and the storage a retrieval of stimulus memory. They also indicate that three senses — seeing, hearing, and touch feeling — are integrated in the PPC.

If the brain processes observed in rats are similar in humans, then this new understanding could one day have an impact on technology. The neurological basis of our sensory experiences could play a huge role in developing wearable technologies. It could even support growing research into Brain-Computer Interfaces.

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Today, Michio Kaku Described What Life Will Look Like in Twenty Years

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 11:10 AM PST

Earlier today, Michio Kaku spoke at the World Government Summit in Dubai. I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd and, like those around me, I was both astonished and alarmed by what he had to say.

The topic at hand? Change.

It seems that each day brings with it a revolution in artificial intelligence, space travel, and DNA, which is the building block of life itself. Though these developments are inspiring, the rapid pace at which science and technology are advancing is sometimes a little disquieting. And according to Kaku, in the next twenty years, things are going to get really weird.

From toilets that read our proteins to walls that talk to us, Kaku painted a staggeringly beautiful (and somewhat comical) picture of the world of tomorrow.

Earth 2.0

Kaku began by noting that, as the years pass, our vernacular will evolve, keeping pace with advances in technology. What does this mean, practically speaking? That we’ll lose “computers.”

No, we won’t literally lose them, but we will lose that term. “The word ‘computer’ will disappear from the English language,” he said, adding that we will no longer say “computer” because the devices will be truly ubiquitous. From our bodies to our streets, everything will be a computer. There will be nothing that is not a computer.

Kaku continued by discussing how 3D printing will change the fabric of our lives, “We are talking about a new world. A world where, if you can imagine it, you can create it.” He described a world where we’re able to custom print shoes or jewelry or any other bit of attire. And he discussed how, if you want a toy for your child, in the world of tomorrow, all you’ll have to do is download it, and it will be ready for printing in your very own living room.

To this end, your house will be more than a place to call home — it will be a tool in and of itself. Oh, and you will also talk to your wallpaper. Wait, what?

Things to Come: A Timeline of Future Technology [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“In the future, we will have smartpaper,” Kaku elaborated. This paper will be able to show us any information that we request, just like computer screens do today. And it’s not just that we will talk to our walls, they’ll talk back. To this end, the architecture of our living spaces will be transformed — our walls will become our smartphones, laptops, and TV screens.

Imagine sitting in a chair in your living room, speaking aloud, and rushing yourself off to the farthest corners of the digital world. That sounds remarkable. It also sounds isolating and, perhaps, more than a little lonely.

Of course, technology also has the potential to help us connect with people wide and far. Kaku noted this point, outlining how tech will allow us to exchange thoughts and ideas as never before. “You will be able to talk to people in any language because your contact lenses will translate speech,” Kaku predicted.

Want to take a trip? Regardless of whether you’re going near or far, you won’t own your car; you also won’t drive one. Cars will drive you. You’ll also be able to travel much lighter than you do today because, as was mentioned above, you’ll be able to create most of what you want or need on demand.

For the things we do what to buy, Kaku believes we’re headed toward a future that will be socioeconomically unlike anything we’ve experienced.

“We are building up to something that I call ‘perfect capitalism,'” he said, describing the concept as “eliminating the middlemen, eliminating all the frictions of capitalism.” In this society, Kaku said, “the winner” will be all of society. The losers? The middlemen. The Stockbrokers.

The final, lingering question, then, is — what about us?

“Artificial intelligence may give us something that the kings and queens of old could never conquer: the aging process,” Kaku explained. Things get old and die because they accumulate errors. Once we’re able to use AI to compare millions of genomes from old people to millions of genomes from young people, we will identify precisely where aging takes place. Then, we’ll eradicate it.

It is a pretty picture, to be sure. But is it a picture that is accurate? At the present moment, I’m not entirely positive. Check back in twenty years.

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Researchers Claim Special Form of UV Light Can Safely Kill Flu Viruses

Posted: 11 Feb 2018 10:30 AM PST

Killing Illness

In a new study from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), researchers reveal that far ultraviolet C (far-UVC) light can kill flu viruses without negatively affecting human tissues. The researchers suggest that implementing this far-UVC light in places like hospitals, airports, and schools could greatly reduce the incidence of flu infections.

It is not new information that broad-spectrum UVC light has the power to kill bacteria and viruses by breaking molecular bonds — in fact, it is routinely used to sterilize surgical equipment. “Unfortunately,” study leader David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at CUIMC, said in a press release, “conventional germicidal UV light is also a human health hazard and can lead to skin cancer and cataracts, which prevents its use in public spaces.”

UV light is used to sterilize medical equipment but can harm human tissues. This specialized form of UV light effectively kills the flu without damage. Image Credit: sasint / pixabay
A specialized form of UV light effectively kills the flu without being damaging to humans. Image Credit: sasint / pixabay

So placing broad-spectrum UV lights in school hallways would have disastrous effects. But this study didn’t use broad-spectrum UV light — it used far-UVC light, a narrow spectrum of radiation. This type of UV is also effective against illnesses and “has a very limited range and cannot penetrate through the outer dead-cell layer of human skin or the tear layer in the eye, so it’s not a human health hazard,” Brenner said in the press release.

The study was published on February 9 in the journal Scientific Reports.

A Deadly Flu

This year has brought with it an especially deadly flu season in the United States. It is projected to be more deadly than the Swine Flu of 2009-2010, killing about 4,000 people a week. According to Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's acting director, in an interview with Fortune, "We have a lot to learn still about influenza.”

Vaccine Myths
Click to View Full Infographic

But, while researchers continue to work tirelessly to better understand the illness, perhaps more effective and accessible treatments could be developed. Though this study indicates that very low doses of far-UVC light can inactivate flu viruses, the results still need to be replicated and explored in a variety of settings.

However, if it is confirmed that this type of light can kill flu viruses without causing any human harm, it could be a powerful tool. Overhead lights in medical facilities, public spaces, and even homes could effectively eradicate exposed viruses, preventing them from spreading and infecting new victims.

Perhaps, in the future, saving thousands of lives could be as simple as switching out a bulb.

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