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We Still Don’t Have Any Rules Concerning Cryptocurrency Inheritance

Posted: 13 Feb 2018 09:54 AM PST

Issues With Inheritance

In 2013, 26-year-old bitcoin miner Matthew Moody died in a plane crash in Chico, California. Today, his father Michael is still trying to unravel the complicated issue of cryptocurrency inheritance.

While Michael Moody knew his son mined bitcoin, he didn’t know how much Matthew mined, how to find the mined crypto, or what might have happened to it after his death. Two years after the crash, he started to investigate, and as he told Bloomberg, he still has more questions than answers.

"My son was actually one of the earliest people to mine it. He used his computer at home to mine bitcoins when you actually could do it that way, and he had a few, we think,” Moody, a retired software engineer, told Bloomberg.

When Matthew died in August 2013, a single bitcoin was worth less than $100. Today, that same bitcoin would be worth more than $8,000, so if his father is right, that’s roughly $25,000 in crypto currently without an owner.

Decentralized Difficulties

Michael isn’t having trouble recovering information about his son’s bitcoin or the bitcoin itself because of any legal red tape or bureaucracy. The decentralized and unregulated nature of cryptocurrency is the issue.

Michael can’t access his son’s online wallet, which is hosted by blockchain.info, without Matthew’s specific identifying information. A single online wallet can contain an unlimited number of unique identifiers linked to mined bitcoins, so he would need to know all of those as well to access the entirety of his son’s mined cryptocurrency.

What happens to your bitcoin after you die? Image Credit: Leamsii / Pixabay
What happens to your bitcoin after you die? Image Credit: Leamsii / Pixabay

The Moodys’ problems with cryptocurrency inheritance aren’t unique. "There is no authority that could be appealed to fix this,” Nolan Bauerle, director of research at cryptocurrency analysis website CoinDesk, told Bloomberg. If someone who owns bitcoin or another cryptocurrency passes away without sharing their account information, those coins are simply abandoned, explained Bauerle.

Matthew was rather young, so he may not have given much thought to what could happen to any of his possessions, let alone his cryptocurrency, if he died unexpectedly. If crypto continues to gain momentum, however, anyone who does draw up a will could include information about their online wallets right alongside their bank accounts and other assets.

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 We Still Don't Have Any Rules Concerning Cryptocurrency Inheritance appeared first on Futurism.

Electronic Skin That Heals Could be the Future of Prosthetics, Robotics

Posted: 13 Feb 2018 09:33 AM PST

Like Real Skin, But Better

The skin is an organ that’s easily taken for granted, but it actually does a great deal of work. Human skin is sensitive, able to receive varied stimuli. At the same time, it’s robust enough to endure bruises and cuts, while being able to heal itself in a relatively short time. As scientists develop so-called electronic skin, or e-skin, the challenge is to incorporate all of these properties.

That’s what researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder (UC Boulder) have attempted with a new type of e-skin. In a study published recently in the journal Science Advances, UC Boulder researchers describe an electronic skin that’s malleable but also durable. It’s an improvement on previous e-skin versions, which weren’t very durable.

A diagram of the electronic skin developed at UC- Boulder, showing how temperature and flow sensors provide sensation, and how two solutions can heal the skin if damaged.
Image credit: Jianliang Xiao/University of Colorado Boulder

“It’s definitely more robust than people’s skin,” study co-author Wei Zhang told Live Science. To top it off, this electronic skin is also recyclable and capable of healing itself.

"What is unique here is that the chemical bonding of polyimine we use allows the e-skin to be both self-healing and fully recyclable at room temperature," researcher Jianliang Xiao, a UC Boulder mechanical engineering assistant professor, said in a statement. This makes good economic and environmental sense, Xiao added.

Varied Applications

An e-skin can work as an enhancement to real skin, as it can house sensors that allow it to be connected to various kinds of electronic devices. It’s not difficult to imagine future applications that embed sensors into these e-skins to make them function like wearable smart devices. Zhang and his colleagues are now looking to work with experts in artificial intelligence and biomedical engineering to expand the applications for their e-skin. 

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

One such application is in prosthetics. The UC Boulder electronic skin could definitely enhance modern prostheses, giving them a more sensitive but robust touch — quite literally. It’s more manageable too, as the e-skin and even its embedded sensors can “heal” just with the application of a three-compound ethanol mix that’s commercially available.

Another application is in robotics. "Let's say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby," Zhang explained in the press release. "In that case you would integrate e-skin on the robot fingers that can feel the pressure of the baby. The idea is to try and mimic biological skin with e-skin that has desired functions."

With sensors that measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and air flow, this electronic skin could eventually feel like real skin — but in certain aspects, even better.

The post Electronic Skin That Heals Could be the Future of Prosthetics, Robotics appeared first on Futurism.

Jobs Are Going Extinct. But That Doesn’t Mean We Have To.

Posted: 13 Feb 2018 09:15 AM PST

If you work in an ad agency, a robot is probably going to take your job. If you drive a taxi, or work for a ride-hailing service like Uber, a robot is definitely going to take your job — and will probably do so in the next couple of years. If robot autonomy doesn’t take your job (but just an FYI, it probably will) you are going to get paid less because of a robot.

We hear these facts on a near constant basis. New reports continually add to the list of the soon-jobless, saying that automation is going to steal work from lawyers, from writers, and even from the information technology experts developing and installing computer systems today. Estimates say up to a third of the workforce could become automated just over the next decade.

So, just how much do you have to worry?

To find out, Futurism’s Alex Klokus spoke at the World Government Summit with Daniela Rus, the Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT, about automation and the world that AIs are already creating.

Rus attended the Dubai summit to speak about the next great revolution: the autonomous revolution. Just as the agricultural, industrial, and cyber revolutions led to fundamental shifts in how we live and work, so is the age of autonomy reshaping the very fabric of our society.

Will Automation Steal My Job?
Click to View Full Infographic

Soon, Rus says, AI will be woven into every aspect of our existence. Yet she does not see this future as one of despondency and despair. Far from the economic upheaval and mass job loss portended by some, Rus envisions a future in which humans benefit from the fruits of AI labor.

When the topic of AI comes up, Rus noted that people frequently jump to the downsides: “Some people get very anxious and start asking about Skynet and when robots will start taking over their jobs. Well, I believe that everyone stands to benefit from AI,” Rus proclaimed.

When asked how she thinks governments can ensure that AI advances do, in fact, benefit humans, Rus stated that such guarantees will require grandiose shifts in how we think about education. Currently, Rus explained, we think that education has an end point, a point at which it doesn’t make sense to go any further. This needs to change.

“In the future, we will have a very parallel approach to working and learning,” Rus said. “We study, and study, and study, and then we say, ‘okay you learned enough, you can start working now.’ In the future, we will have to blend studying and working.”

This parallel approach is something that, Rus believes, governments and companies will need to figure out soon. Will companies be responsible for constantly training and retraining their workers so that they can keep pace with new facets of their work? Or will governments be responsible for this lifelong learning?

At the present juncture, there are no clear answers. This work hasn’t yet been carried out— or really even begun.

A Better Way of Seeing

As the world works to prepare itself for the age of automation, Rus says it must also prepare its citizens to have a different outlook on developments in AI and autonomy. Instead of jumping to killer robots and job loss, we need to provide alternative ways of thinking that allow people to understand the benefits of AI.

One such benefit can already be seen in the autonomous driving industry. Though level 5 autonomy is not quite here yet, and autonomous cars are not yet ready for public roads, Rus pointed out that driverless cars are already capable of driving people around places that have less congestion and hazards, such as parks and retirement homes. To whit, in her presentation Rus showed a short video of a golf cart-like car picking up an elderly passenger and driving her from her retirement home to meet her friend for lunch on the boardwalk nearby. This, Rus notes, is an example of a benefit of AI, and of how autonomous features can restore freedom and mobility to those who are confined to their apartments and houses.

“Notice that this car does not have a driver, but we should not see this is displacing work because this is a service that does not exist,” Rus said optimistically. (This incited a quiet laugh from philosopher Nick Bostrom, beside me, at her vision of a world where autonomous cars don’t replace human drivers.)

Rus also noted in her talk that health and medicine AI systems make a number of errors when analyzing medical images for signs of cancer — in 7.5 percent of cases, to be exact. Humans? They hovered around 3.5 percent. Yet together, humans working with AI machine systems lowered the error rate to just 0.5 percent. “Doctors will be able to offer the most advanced treatments by working in tandem with machines,” Rus said. She continued by noting that this is just one example which proves that AI will not replace human workers, but augment the work that they do. Some in the audience looked skeptical.

Rus reinforced her argument by noting that, when talking about job loss, lawyers are often right at the top of the list. However, she asserts these stories are hype and highly exaggerated. “Natural language systems can read entire libraries of books and provide information at just the right time, right when it is needed,” she said. “This doesn’t mean that machines are becoming lawyers. Machines are just changing the work that lawyers do.”

There is some truth to these claims. Take, for example, the legal technology company LawGeex, which created an AI algorithm that automatically reviews contracts. Automating such processes that are little more than paper-pushing has saved law firms a lot of money; however, the true advantage of these autonomous systems is saving attorneys’ time. Indeed, as one participant noted in an earlier round table talk on AI, “No one went to law school to cut and paste parts of a regulatory document.”

Universal Basic Income: The Answer to Automation?
Click to View Full Infographic

Overall, Rus says, she has two concerns: “One is about the quality of the job, and the other is about wages,” she said. “I am not concerned about whether we will have enough jobs, I am concerned about whether we will have enough good jobs.” For example, Rus described how GPS made it possible to become a taxi driver without knowing the maps and road systems. This lowered the entry point for work, but it also lowered wages.

In truth, the concerns don’t end there. Initially, robots will augment our work; yet if autonomous systems continue to progress, becoming faster and smarter, what is the guarantee that humans will truly have a place? Of course, there is none. Yet our social, political, and economic systems can evolve. And so can we.

Machines have the power to support us or to hurt humanity; it is up to us to decide how we interact with them, how we govern them, and how we set the rules for machines — as well as the necessary legislation to govern humanity — to ensure that all of these advances are for the greater good.

The post Jobs Are Going Extinct. But That Doesn’t Mean We Have To. appeared first on Futurism.

Elon Musk Is Arguing With Spaceflight CEOs on Twitter. Again.

Posted: 13 Feb 2018 08:36 AM PST

Elon Musk is feeling confident following last week’s successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. The SpaceX CEO took to Twitter to state that he would “eat his hat with a side of mustard” if the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) upcoming Vulcan rocket is able to fly a national security spacecraft before 2023.

This comment came after ULA CEO Tory Bruno corrected a tweet by Musk that compared the costs associated with Falcon Heavy and Delta IV Heavy. Musk said that the former cost $150 million while the latter cost in excess of $400 million, while Bruno suggested that the cost of launching with his company’s rocket was actually around $350 million.

Unsurprisingly, Musk didn’t back down. Instead, he revised his own $400 million estimate for the Delta IV, suggesting that fixed costs that are in effect going forward will swell the cost of a mission using the rocket beyond $600 million.

Bickering with the head of a company he’s in competition with is nothing new for Musk – just before the Falcon Heavy launch, he engaged in a passive-aggressive exchange with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.

However, the cost associated with Falcon Heavy is a pressure point, because the comparatively low price tag of a launch using the rocket is one of its greatest strengths. Musk’s stunt of sending a Tesla Roadster into space may have grabbed headlines, but the fact that its two side cores returned to Earth unscathed is the real advance here. The fact that these components can potentially be re-used makes launches very cost-effective, as noted in a report by Wired.

Musk wants Falcon Heavy to become a go-to option for missions ranging from the launch of a satellite to sending equipment to the International Space Station. With that in mind, we can see why he’s liable to get defensive – he wants to make it clear that his rocket costs less and will be available before his competitors’.

The post Elon Musk Is Arguing With Spaceflight CEOs on Twitter. Again. appeared first on Futurism.

Are Delivery Drones Actually Better for the Environment?

Posted: 13 Feb 2018 08:21 AM PST

Droning On

The idea of using drones to carry out deliveries is quickly coming to fruition around the world. The French postal service began a trial in 2016 and Amazon has made no secret of its plans for the technology. Now, a new study has shown that drone delivery might be more than just cool and convenient: it could also be good for the environment.

Research published in Nature Communications compared the impact of multi-copter drones (which are, for the time being anyway, the design most well-suited for deliveries) with traditional, diesel-powered delivery trucks.

Drones yielded lower energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for small packages of around 0.5 kilograms. However, the results were mixed when it came to packages weighing 8 kilograms: greenhouse gases were 9 percent lower in California, but 50 percent higher in Missouri. That figure comes as a result of the state’s carbon-intensive electricity grid.

There are other caveats to the benefits of drone delivery services. Crucially, while there’s an obvious benefit to shifting away from delivery trucks that rely on fossil fuels toward the use of battery-operated drones, the logistics of using drones presents a greater need for warehousing.

Implementing any drone delivery service would require warehouse facilities to be spread across a wider area, which would allow for trips between the warehouses and the recipient’s address to be as short as possible. We can’t ignore the impact that this additional infrastructure will have on the environment.

That’s not to say that making deliveries via drone won’t have some positive effect on the environment, but it does highlight the need to pay attention to all the contributing factors. In order for us to really improve upon current freight techniques, the advantages of drones, the drawbacks of expanded warehousing, and the potential of trucks that don’t rely on fossil fuels must all be considered.

The post Are Delivery Drones Actually Better for the Environment? appeared first on Futurism.

Boston Dynamics’s SpotMini Just Unveiled a New Trick

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 03:33 PM PST

SpotMini, Boston Dynamics’s dog-like quadruped robot, is back, and it’s learned a new trick. The robot, which was unveiled in June 2016 and then updated in November 2017, can now open doors and hold them open.

While opening a door is slightly old hat for a Boston Dynamics robot — Atlas barreled through a push-bar door two years ago — SpotMini’s operation is more eloquent. The robot uses its fifth appendage, an arm mounted essentially where a canine’s head would be, to swiftly assess the door, locate and twist the handle, and pull the door open.

In a video released by Boston Dynamics, not only does the new-and-improved SpotMini open the door for itself, it even holds it open for its robot colleague. A portrait of professional collegiality, this is a big step up from the solo activities of washing dishes or rolling over.

Boston Dynamics has made steady progress in their efforts to build robots that move in a life-like manner, whether it’s Atlas’ Homo sapiens-like saunter or SpotMini’s four-legged gallop. The same month they debuted their updated SpotMini, the company made headlines by releasing a video showing their Atlas robot’s back-flipping antics.

The SpotMini’s latest development is confirmation that progress continues to march on behind Boston Dynamics’s doors. But while biomimetic robots are certainly useful — the ability to copy human motion enables these robots to dexterously manipulate objects and navigate complex terrain — they still inspire more fear than awe in many people.

Outlets such as The Verge and Popular Mechanics have noted the similarities between SpotMini and the door-opening velociraptors of Jurassic Park splendor — not exactly a calming comparison, so if you envision these robots taking over the world, you’re not alone.

The post Boston Dynamics’s SpotMini Just Unveiled a New Trick appeared first on Futurism.

Now Hackers Are Mining Crypto On Government Websites

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 02:42 PM PST

If you know any bitcoin investors, you might notice that they seem a little bummed lately. After months of an upward trend, the value of bitcoin (along with some lesser-known cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum and Ripple) recently slumped, leading to some predictions that that the “bubble” of its inflated value is beginning to pop, that cryptocurrency in general is on its way out.

But hackers don’t believe it — they’re all in on crypto. They’re in so deep, in fact, that they’re hijacking thousands of websites, including those that belong to reputable entities like the U.K.’s National Health Service and the U.S. court system, to mine the stuff, according to The Register.

You might ask: What do so many disparate sites have in common? They all use a plug-in called Browsealoud, which allows blind or partially-sighted people to listen to the text that appears on screen. That’s what the hackers used to hijack the websites.

That’s right. The culprits exploited accessibility software to mine cryptocurrency. Real classy.

In the early hours of February 11, 2018 malware intended to mine lesser-known cryptocurrency monero was added to Browsealoud’s code. It ran on some 4,200 affected websites for several hours. So whenever an unsuspecting visitor accessed those sites, the mining script would run in their web browser, without the users’ consent, generating cryptocurrency for the hackers. By the afternoon, Browsealoud’s team had realized the issue and shut down its service while it repaired its code.

Authorities aren’t yet sure who the hackers are. But the company at least has been clear: the hackers’ actions were illegal.

The breach is bad news for more than just Browsealoud, and for the sites that use it. It reveals a weakness of the modern internet as a whole. Most web sites rely on just a few providers of various services — almost half of the web sites that track user activity via cookies, for example, use the same software. That means that if hackers can crack that one common software, they can take advantage of thousands, or even millions, of sites that rely upon it. 

The web sites themselves have little control over it. And even though Browsealoud had been preparing for such a breach over the past year, according to a company statement, there wasn’t much their clients could do after the attack.

Yes, breaches are bad, but ultimately, consumers didn’t suffer too much from this one. The hackers didn’t steal any user information (that could be particularly bad for users typing in their most personal identifying information to government web sites), they didn’t infect computers with buggy software. They just mined some cryptocurrency, and probably made the environment just a bit worse off for it.

And in that regard, they’re far from the only ones.

 

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 Now Hackers Are Mining Crypto On Government Websites appeared first on Futurism.

We’re Officially On the Path to a Global Pandemic

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 02:32 PM PST

We have a problem. A serious one. At any moment, a life-threatening global pandemic could spring up and wipe out a significant amount of human life on this planet. The death toll would be catastrophic. One disease could see as many as 100 million dead.

It sounds like a horrifying dream. It sounds like something that can’t possibly be true. But it is. The information comes from Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization. He spoke today at the World Government Summit in Dubai, and according to his assessment, things are not looking good.

“This is not some future nightmare scenario,” said Tedros (as he prefers to be called by Ethiopian tradition). “This is what happened exactly 100 years ago during the Spanish flu epidemic.” A hush fell across the audience as he noted that we could see such devastation again, perhaps as soon as today. Tedros was equal parts emphatic and grave as he spoke: “A devastating epidemic could start in any country at any time and kill millions of people because we are still not prepared. The world remains vulnerable.”

What is the cause of this great vulnerability? Is it our inability to stave off Ebola? Rising incidents of rabies in animal populations? An increased number of HIV and AIDS cases?

No. The threat of a global pandemic comes from our apathy, from our staunch refusal to act to save ourselves — a refusal that finds its heart in our indifference and our greed.

“Universal health coverage is the greatest threat to global health,” Tedros proclaimed. As the audience shifted in their seats uncomfortably, he noted that, despite the fact that universal health coverage is “within reach” for almost every nation in the world, 3.5 billion people still lack access to essential health services. Almost 100 million are pushed into extreme poverty because of the cost of paying for care out of their own pockets.

The result? People don't go to the doctor. They don't seek treatment. They get sicker. They die. And thus, as Tedros explained, “the earliest signals of an outbreak are missed.”

A black fluorescent light shows where a simulated bodily fluid containing a mock Ebola virus landed on a care team’s personal protective equipment, during a training exercise at Madigan Army Medical Center’s Andersen Simulation Center.

Surveillance is one of the most vital forms of protection the world’s public health agencies can offer, but these agencies rely on the money of the governments they serve. And in the United States, which is presently enduring a flu season of record-breaking severity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced they would be cutting their epidemic prevention programs back by 80 percent. Programs for preventing infectious diseases, such as Ebola, are being scaled back in 39 of the 49 countries they’ve been employed in, according to The Washington Post.

The reason? Quite simply, governments are pulling money from these programs, and it’s not clear whether any more will ever be allocated — at least, not in the U.S. during the current administration.

It might seem a bit obtuse. But, as Tedros pointed out, too often we “see health as a cost to be contained and not an investment to be nurtured.”

Aside from the obvious — avoiding a global pandemic that ravages humanity — healthy societies are advantageous for reasons that are more economic than epidemiological. “The benefits of universal health coverage go far beyond health,” Tedros said. “Strong health systems are essential to strong economies."

We know that the quality of pre- and post-natal care a person receives when a child is born has a direct impact on how soon they’re able to return to work (if they choose to). If we want our children to grow up healthy enough to become functioning, contributing members of society, then the quality of care they receive from birth throughout childhood can’t be underestimated.

“We do not know where and when the next global pandemic will occur,” Tedros admitted, “but we know it will take a terrible toll both on human life and on the economy.”

While Tedros acknowledged there’s no guarantee we’ll one day create a completely pandemic-free world, what is within our reach — if we have the investment and support — is a world where humans, not pathogens, remain in control. We can do better. And if most of us are to survive in the long term, we must.

The post We’re Officially On the Path to a Global Pandemic appeared first on Futurism.

Spacex May Be Launching Its First Global Internet Satellites Next Week

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 02:26 PM PST

Global Internet Satellites

Three years ago, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled a project that would work to build the world’s first global internet satellite network. If reports and tweets on the matter are correct, the company’s Starlink network will launch its first prototype global internet satellites into orbit on February 17. The Microsat 2a and 2b satellites will reportedly be included as secondary payloads on the company’s next Falcon 9 launch.

SpaceX has not officially confirmed that the Starlink prototypes are on board; only that the launch will include a 1360 kg (3000 lb) radar observation satellite, called Paz, from the Spanish company hisdeSAT.

SpaceX has been keeping Starlink development tightly under wraps thanks to stiff competition, most notably from OneWeb, which has a partnership with SpaceX rival Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin. OneWeb is expecting to launch the first of its test satellites later in 2018, with plans to begin preliminary operations in 2019.

In previous filings with the FCC, Patricia Cooper, SpaceX's vice president for satellite government affairs, explained that developing a satellite system is "highly proprietary and may take several years to finalize, during which time the operators hold details as highly confidential for obvious competitive reasons." It is no surprise that SpaceX is continuing to play its Starlink cards so close to its chest.

SpaceX has filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicating that Starlink will have a number of ground stations, including the project’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington; a station in Brewster, Washington; and another at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Other facilities and ground stations will reportedly find their way to two spots in Texas and Tesla’s headquarters in Fremont, California.

The race toward establishing the world’s first global internet network is likely going to heat up as details begin to become public. Internet connectivity has become an integral part of modern culture, to which far too many people in the world still do not have access. Such a network will be an important part of upgrading the world, and the first company to set it up could hold the upper hand.

The post Spacex May Be Launching Its First Global Internet Satellites Next Week appeared first on Futurism.

Quantum Computing May Unlock the Nature of Space-Time

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 01:51 PM PST

Quantum computing promises to open a new world of cyber possibilities.

The post Quantum Computing May Unlock the Nature of Space-Time appeared first on Futurism.

Australia Could Double Its Solar Capacity by the End of 2018

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 01:42 PM PST

The sunny nation of Australia could double its solar capacity by the end of 2018, analysts predict. The country’s solar energy boom has been spurred by solar projects large and small, with multiple industrial projects paired with the appearance of solar panels on buildings all over the country.

The Guardian reports that last month saw the most rooftop solar installations in January to date, and one of the top five months ever, with 69 percent more panels installed compared to the same time last year.

The state of New South Wales is also working on ten new solar farm projects approved in 2017, and one approved since the start of the new year. Meanwhile, 18 industrial projects are under construction in neighboring state Queensland, the highest number in the country. John Grimes, chief executive of Australia’s Smart Energy Council, told The Guardian that the solar farms could be built “within a matter of weeks. […] They're really quick and simple."

According to a blog post by James Martin of SolarChoice, an Australian power broker company, 1 in 5 Australian homes has now solar on its roof. South Australia — the country’s top solar state, and fittingly the location of Tesla’s massive backup battery — sees solar in 30 percent of homes. Compare that to the United States; though the solar industry is rapidly growing, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates it makes up about one percent of total electricity generation in the nation.

This isn’t just because Australia has more year-round sunshine, though that’s certainly a factor (and a bitter one to acknowledge from within the current Northern Hemisphere winter). Martin explains that electricity prices in Australia are usually high, while solar installations costs in Australia are significantly lower than those in the States. This has driven many a frustrated Aussie to reach for solar panels in the hope of lowering their bills.

Worldwide, however, solar energy capacity is skyrocketing, as is that of other renewables like wind energy. As countries transform their energy systems to prevent worsening climate change, it may be best for all to do as they do Down Under.

The post Australia Could Double Its Solar Capacity by the End of 2018 appeared first on Futurism.

Beyond Flint: Drinking Water Violations Affect 45 Million Americans Annually

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 12:48 PM PST

What’s in Your Water?

Over the past few years, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan has cast a spotlight on the consequences aging infrastructure can have on water quality. However, a new report indicates that similar problems could be more widespread than we realized.

The study looked into health-related violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act that occurred between 1982 and 2015, which pertained to 17,900 community water systems. Using this data, authors Maura Allaire, Haowei Wu, and Upmanu Lall analyzed spatial and temporal trends in problems with the water supply.

The researchers found that during each year within the timeline they examined, between 9 and 45 million people had been affected by violations — accounting for between 4 and 28 percent of the U.S. population.

What happened in Flint is certainly significant in its own right, but the study points toward an even more alarming reality: that it’s part of a much broader trend.

Clear and Pure

The paper does note that generally speaking, people in the U.S. do have good access to clean drinking water. Around 7 or 8 percent of community water systems report at least one violation in a given year, which is said to be relatively low. Still, there’s room for improvement.

The water crisis in Flint is thought to have contributed to public health concerns ranging from an uptick in cases of Legionnaires’ disease to a decrease in birth rates. Though the situation in Flint is perhaps a more extreme case of potential violations, particularly those associated with the use of lead pipes.

Other water quality infractions which may be considered less severe can still cause trouble, though. For example, in the U.S. around 16.4 million cases of acute gastroenteritis are attributed to community water systems every year.

At present, state enforcement agencies do not have a systematic method of determining which water systems are in need of additional monitoring and inspection. While samples are taken from systems with recent violations on a more regular basis, Allaire, Wu, and Lall’s paper suggested maintaining high standards could be made easier if authorities identified “hotspots,” and the circumstances that seem to lead to violations.

To that end, the paper highlighted hotspots in parts of Texas and Oklahoma — two areas where water systems with repeat violations are more common. Though, in general, these violations seem to be more common in rural parts of the country as opposed to urban areas. In any case, low-income communities are often hit hardest. Conversely, privately-owned utilities and systems that purchase their water from other utilities experience fewer violations.

By paying more attention to spatial and temporal trends in drinking water violations, we might be able to allocate resources to the systems in need of scrutiny. However, the modernization efforts necessary to address these problems present a host of challenges: aging infrastructure, impaired or contaminated water at the source, and a lack of community finances are all flagged as contributing factors to this ongoing problem.

The post Beyond Flint: Drinking Water Violations Affect 45 Million Americans Annually appeared first on Futurism.

Trump Wants to Put the ISS in the Hands of Private Industry

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 12:27 PM PST

While the Trump administration intends to end funding for the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024, it’s not necessarily destined to be completely abandoned — or even removed from orbit. According to an internal NASA document acquired by The Washington Post, the ISS could transition from being used by the U.S. government to becoming a privately-operated real estate venture.

"The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time — it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform," reads the document. "NASA will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit."

The document does not, however, adequately explain how the transition would work, or which private companies might take over. The Washington Post reported a financial budget, set to be released on Monday, will ask for $150 million in fiscal year 2019, as well as additional funding in the following years, in order to develop “commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS — potentially including elements of the ISS — are operational when they are needed."

If the U.S. moves on from the ISS it would leave the nation without a major foothold in space — though, President Trump has expressed a desire to ensure the U.S. is a leader in the space industry. As it stands, the ISS requires billions of dollars each year to remain operational. If the ISS was no longer a government concern, that money could be allocated elsewhere — perhaps, even, to other off-world ventures. Could that money be used to send astronauts to the Moon — or one day finance a mission to Mars?

Of course, the U.S. is not the only country with interest in the ISS; other countries have plans for the station’s fate, too. Last year, Russia revealed plans to build a luxury hotel on the station — however, the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding in 2024 would make it impossible for the hotel to turn a profit sooner than that. Even so, if the station were to be turned over to private companies and maintained beyond 2024, Russia’s space hotel could still stand a chance.

The same could be said for aerospace companies like Boeing and SpaceX, which have sent payloads to the ISS and used it for research purposes in the past. Both are planning manned missions to space between 2019 and 2024, and controlling the ISS could enable them to operate without additional restrictions and oversight.

The potential is there for private companies to capitalize on a chance to control the ISS and the low Earth orbit it resides in. It could also be too soon for the private sector to have such an asset, a concern expressed by Mark Mulqueen, Boeing's space station program manager. In a statement provided to The Washington Post over the weekend, Mulqueen said attempting such a transition before private companies are prepared to support it could have “disastrous consequences for American leadership in space and for the chances of building space-focused private enterprise.”

If the document is anything to go by, such a disaster has not been foreseen. The Trump administration instead envisions “the emergence of an environment in [low Earth orbit] where NASA is one of many customers of a non-governmental human space flight managed and operated the enterprise while providing a smooth and uninterrupted transition."

It should be noted again, however, that the document neglects to suggest which companies are in a position to take over the ISS, and what they could realistically do with it.

The post Trump Wants to Put the ISS in the Hands of Private Industry appeared first on Futurism.

Everything You Need to Know About SpaceX’s Secret Falcon Heavy Payload

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 12:22 PM PST

Secret Payload

Last week, the world watched as SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket with a Tesla Roadster stowed aboard. However, the rocket also carried something else, and while SpaceX’s secret Falcon Heavy payload may not have generated the same headlines as the Roadster, it could have even bigger implications for humanity’s future in space.

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Inside of the Roadster, SpaceX hid an Arch (pronounced “ark”). The tiny, disc-shaped object is one of the longest-lasting storage devices ever built. It’s expected to withstand millions to billions of years in the harsh conditions of space (or potentially even on the surface of a cosmic object or distant planet).

The Arch isn’t just durable, though. It’s also able to store enormous quantities of data for extended periods of time. Each crystal disc, which looks like a throwback to the “mini-discs” of the early 2000s, can theoretically hold up to 360 terabytes of data. The longevity of the Arch is due to the technology used to inscribe the data and the medium: 5D optical storage in quartz.

Preserving Humanity

SpaceX’s secret Falcon Heavy payload is known as Arch 1.2, and it contains Issac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, a sci-fi series that discusses the preservation of humankind — a relevant topic.

Eventually, the disc’s developers at the Arch Mission Foundation plan to add to the collection to create what they’re calling the “Solar Library.” As co-founder Nova Spivack wrote in a post on Medium, “This is only the first step of an epic human project to curate, encode, and distribute our data across the solar system and beyond.”

Ultimately, the nonprofit group hopes their small quartz crystal discs could “preserve and disseminate humanity’s knowledge across time and space, for the benefit of future generations,” according to Spivack.

They already have plans to launch discs to support early colonists on Mars, and eventually, they hope to connect the Arch Libraries in an enormous, decentralized network that will allow for data sharing and storage throughout the solar system. This is certainly a moonshot, but if humans become a multi-planetary species, we’ll need such a system in place.

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Masters of Our DNA: Designer Bodies Are Not Science Fiction

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 11:17 AM PST

Imagine a world where we can design the bodies we want. In this reality we can also create, and recreate, the plants and animals that live alongside us. We can alter organisms and mold them into whatever we want them to be.

This is not the world of tomorrow, though. This doesn’t take imagination. This is the world today.

Right now.

It sounds like science fiction, or even “fake news.” But it’s not. It’s a fact that comes from Juan Enriquez, the Founding Director of the Life Sciences Project at Harvard Business School, and the Managing Director of Excel Venture Management. Enriquez spoke at the World Government Summit. I listened to him, entranced by the eloquent way he discussed how gene editing has allowed humans to become masters of their DNA – the source code of life itself.

This mastery, Enriquez explained, has allowed us to take our evolution – to take our fate – into our own hands. And it’s all thanks to a genome editing technique known as CRISPR. “These instruments, like CRISPR, are allowing us to, in real-time, edit life on a grand scale,” he explained. “We are rewriting the sentences of life to our purposes.” Enriquez continued by discussing what this means from a practical standpoint, saying that we are entering a world of “unrandom selection.”

“Science used to be about discovery, now it is about creation.” 

Enriquez described how scientists are already working on altering the genes of plants and animals so that they can thrive in locations where, previously, they would languish. He detailed how scientists are also engineering plants and animals to die. According to Enriquez, we have already entered a time when we can accurately say, “Instead of letting nature select what lives here, I'm going to select what lives here.” He concluded, saying with great gravity, “Science used to be about discovery, now it is about creation.”

Image Credit: h heyerlein

But with gene editing, we will reshape far more than just our bodies. We will remake our minds.

We will insert memories. We will delete memories. We will alter memories. We will store them and use them in any way we desire. In so doing, Enriquez says we will change more than how our bodies operate – we will become a new kind of human, one that is malleable and, one that can be shaped and reshaped on a whim.

What will we be when we have the ability to literally write and rewrite our memories?

When we think of ourselves, we typically think of our memories. Or memories, we're told, are what make us who we are. What will we be when we have the ability to literally write and rewrite our memories? What will we be when we can delete all the memories of a dead loved one? What will we become when we can remove those memories about that horrible thing we did? When we can insert memories about that heroic thing that we really didn’t do?

Will we still be us? Will we still be human? At the present juncture, it’s not clear. But this question isn’t something that we can leave to future generations, it is something that we must begin to answer today. The technology is already here, and this day is on the horizon.

Image Credit: h heyerlein

And it’s only the beginning.

Enriquez continued by noting that we are not just rewriting our own biology – by editing DNA and manufacturing it in labs, we are able to save lives on an unprecedented, massive scale. “You can make the world's flu vaccine in a week instead of a year. And by the way, this is no longer theoretical.”

"Why would anyone want to do this [altering human DNA]?”  He asked. “Because, at heart, we are explorers. We have to take control of our own evolution if we want to even think about getting somewhere else.” Humans, he argued, are designed to live on Earth. Billions of years of evolution on this planet are engrained in our DNA. We cannot so easily leave this planet in the dust. Not without altering our bodies to suit other worlds – to suit the deserts of Mars and the icy lakes of Europa.

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An Autonomous Ship Can Travel Up to 90 Days Without a Human Crew

Posted: 12 Feb 2018 10:42 AM PST

DARPA has created an unmanned, autonomous submarine hunting warship and, after two years of extensive testing, turned it over to the US Navy.

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