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May 4, 2009

Forever Young

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, futurism, human trajectories, media & arts, space

(Crossposted on the blog of Starship Reckless)

Eleven years ago, Random House published my book To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek. With the occasion of the premiere of the Star Trek reboot film and with my mind still bruised from the turgid awfulness of Battlestar Galactica, I decided to post the epilogue of my book, very lightly updated — as an antidote to blasé pseudo-sophistication and a reminder that Prometheus is humanity’s best embodiment. My major hope for the new film is that Uhura does more than answer phones and/or smooch Kirk.

Coda: The Infinite Frontier

star-trekA younger science than physics, biology is more linear and less exotic than its older sibling. Whereas physics is (mostly) elegant and symmetric, biology is lunging and ungainly, bound to the material and macroscopic. Its predictions are more specific, its theories less sweeping. And yet, in the end, the exploration of life is the frontier that matters the most. Life gives meaning to all elegant theories and contraptions, life is where the worlds of cosmology and ethics intersect.

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May 3, 2009

Unknown internet 2: Could the net become self-aware?

Posted by in category: robotics/AI

New Scientist

30 April 2009 by Michael Brooks

Yes, if we play our cards right — or wrong, depending on your perspective.

In engineering terms, it is easy to see qualitative similarities between the human brain and the internet’s complex network of nodes, as they both hold, process, recall and transmit information. “The internet behaves a fair bit like a mind,” says Ben Goertzel, chair of the Artificial General Intelligence Research Institute, an organisation inevitably based in cyberspace. “It might already have a degree of consciousness”.

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May 3, 2009

Swine Flu Update: are we entering an Age of Pandemics?

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, nanotechnology, space, sustainability

May 2: Many U.S. emergency rooms and hospitals crammed with people… ”Walking well” flood hospitals… Clinics double their traffic in major cities … ER rooms turn away EMT cases. — CNN

Update May 4: Confirmed cases of H1N1 virus now at 985 in 20 countries (Mexico: 590, 25 deaths) — WHO. In U.S.: 245 confirmed U.S. cases in 35 states. — CDC.

“We might be entering an Age of Pandemics… a broad array of dangerous emerging 21st-century diseases, man-made or natural, brand-new or old, newly resistant to our current vaccines and antiviral drugs…. Martin Rees bet $1,000 that bioterror or bioerror would unleash a catastrophic event claiming one million lives in the next two decades…. Why? Less forest, more contact with animals… more meat eating (Africans last year consumed nearly 700 million wild animals… numbers of chickens raised for food in China have increased 1,000-fold over the past few decades)… farmers cut down jungle, creating deforested areas that once served as barriers to the zoonotic viruses…” — Larry Brilliant, Wall Street Journal


May 2, 2009

From financial crisis to global catastrophe

Posted by in categories: economics, existential risks

From financial crisis to global catastrophe

Financial crisis which manifested in the 2008 (but started much earlier) has led to discussion in alarmists circles — is this crisis the beginning of the final sunset of mankind? In this article we will not consider the view that the crisis will suddenly disappear and everything returns to its own as trivial and in my opinion false. Transition of the crisis into the global catastrophe emerged the following perspective:
1) The crisis is the beginning of long slump (E. Yudkowsky term), which gradually lead mankind to a new Middle Ages. This point of view is supported by proponents of Peak Oil theory, who believe that recently was passed peak of production of liquid fuels, and since that time, the number of oil production begins to drop a few percent each year, according to bell curve, and that fossil fuel is a necessary resource for the existence of modern civilization, which will not be able to switch to alternative energy sources. They see the current financial crisis as a direct consequence of high oil prices, which brace immoderate consumption. The maintenance is the point of view is the of «The peak all theory», which shows that not only oil but also the other half of the required resources of modern civilization will be exhausted in the next quarter of century. (Note that the possibility of replacing some of resources with other leads to that peaks of each resource flag to one moment in time.) Finally, there is a theory of the «peak demand» — namely, that in circumstances where the goods produced more then effective demand, the production in general is not fit, which includes the deflationary spiral that could last indefinitely.
2) Another view is that the financial crisis will inevitably lead to a geopolitical crisis, and then to nuclear war. This view can be reinforced by the analogy between the Great Depression and novadays. The Great Depression ended with the start of the Second World War. But this view is considering nuclear war as the inevitable end of human existence, which is not necessarily true.
3) In the article “Scaling law of the biological evolution and the hypothesis of the self-consistent Galaxy origin of life”. (Advances in Space Research V.36 (2005), P.220–225” http://dec1.sinp.msu.ru/~panov/ASR_Panov_Life.pdf) Russian scientist A. D. Panov showed that the crises in the history of humanity became more frequent in curse of history. Each crisis is linked with the destruction of some old political system, and with the creation principle technological innovation at the exit from the crisis. 1830 technological revolution lead to industrial world (but peak of crisis was of course near 1815 – Waterloo, eruption of Tambora, Byron on the Geneva lake create new genre with Shelly and her Frankeshtain.) One such crisis happened in 1945 (dated 1950 in Panov’s paper – as a date of not the beginning of the crisis, but a date of exit from it and creation of new reality) when the collapse of fascism occurred and arose computers, rockets and atomic bomb, and bipolar world. An important feature of these crises is that they follow a simple law: namely, the next crisis is separated from the preceding interval of time to 2.67+/- 0.15 shorter. The last such crisis occurred in the vicinity of 1991 (1994 if use Panov’s formula from the article), when the USSR broke up and began the march of the Internet. However, the schedule of crisis lies on the hyperbole that comes to the singularity in the region in 2020 (Panov gave estimate 2004+/-15, but information about 1991 crisis allows to sharpen the estimate). If this trend continues to operate, the next crisis must come after 17 years from 1991 , in 2008, and another- even after 6.5 years in 2014 and then the next in 2016 and so on. Naturally it is desirable to compare the Panov’s forecast and the current financial crisis.
Current crisis seems to change world politically and technologically, so it fit to Panov’s theory which predict it with high accuracy long before. (At least at 2005 – but as I now Panov do not compare this crisis with his theory.) But if we agree with Panov’s theory we should not expect global catastrophe now, but only near 2020. So we have long way to it with many crisises which will be painful but not final. (more…)

Apr 29, 2009

DIYbio.org

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, education, engineering, ethics, human trajectories, open access, open source

About

DIYbio is an organization that aims to help make biology a worthwhile pursuit for citizen scientists, amateur biologists, and DIY biological engineers who value openness and safety. This will require mechanisms for amateurs to increase their knowledge and skills, access to a community of experts, the development of a code of ethics, responsible oversight, and leadership on issues that are unique to doing biology outside of traditional professional settings.

What is DIYbio in 4 minutes?

Get Involved

You can read about current events and developments in the DIYbio community by reading or subscribing to the blog.

Get in contact or get involved through discussions on our mailing list, or by attending or hosting a local DIYbio meetup.

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Apr 29, 2009

Ugolog Creates Surveillance Website To Watch Anyone, Anywhere

Posted by in categories: ethics, geopolitics

Ugolog Creates Surveillance Website To Watch Anyone, Anywhere

Written on April 28, 2009 – 2:43 am | by keith kleiner |

big_brother

What if people all over the world randomly decided to setup motion detection webcams and then send feeds from these webcams to a single website that would centralize the video data for anyone to search, view, and manipulate? Hot off of the heels of our story yesterday about the implications of cameras recording everything in our lives comes a website called Ugolog that does exactly this. The concept is both spooky and captivating all at once. The privacy implications are just out of control, opening the door to all sorts of immoral and illegal invasions of people’s privacy. On the other hand, the power and usefulness of such a network is extremely compelling.

When you go to the Ugolog website you are immediately impressed with the simplicity of the site (I sure hope they keep it this way!). No advertisements, no stupid gimmicks, no complicated interface. The site offers a bare bones, yet elegant design that allows you to do one thing quickly and easily: setup a motion detecting webcam and send the feed to Ugolog. No software is required, only a web browser and a properly configured camera. Don’t know how to setup the camera? No problem! The site has tutorials that tell you everything you need to know. Once Ugolog has a feed from one or more of your cameras, the data will be available for you and anyone else in the world to view along with all of the other feeds on the site.

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Apr 5, 2009

On Being Bitten to Death by Ducks

Posted by in categories: biological, complex systems, education, ethics, futurism, policy

(Crossposted on the blog of Starship Reckless)

Working feverishly on the bench, I’ve had little time to closely track the ongoing spat between Dawkins and Nisbet. Others have dissected this conflict and its ramifications in great detail. What I want to discuss is whether scientists can or should represent their fields to non-scientists.

There is more than a dollop of truth in the Hollywood cliché of the tongue-tied scientist. Nevertheless, scientists can explain at least their own domain of expertise just fine, even become major popular voices (Sagan, Hawkin, Gould — and, yes, Dawkins; all white Anglo men, granted, but at least it means they have fewer gatekeepers questioning their legitimacy). Most scientists don’t speak up because they’re clocking infernally long hours doing first-hand science and/or training successors, rather than trying to become middle(wo)men for their disciplines.

prometheus

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Mar 23, 2009

Detecting Disease by Tattoo

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, nanotechnology

If you ever swore to yourself (or to another) that you’d never get a tattoo, you may just want to reconsider. You may within just a couple of years have a very good reason to get one made out of “nanoink”.

As recently reported on Discovery News, “nanoink” allows for monitoring blood glucose in real-time right under the skin. It does so by using a hydrophobic nanoparticle that changes colors as glucose levels rise and fall. The ink consists of a glucose-detecting molecule, a color changing dye and a molecule that mimics glucose. These three particles continuously swish around inside a 120-nm orb. When glucose is present, the glucose-detecting molecule attaches and glows yellow; if absent, the ink turns orange.

The use of this technology has the advantage over traditional glucose monitoring, of course, in that there is a one-time needle stick for placing the tattoo over the tens of thousands of sticks that a diabetic will need to have over a lifetime.

Another advantage of nanoink tattooing: they can be removed. At least one researcher from Brown University has developed tattoo ink with microencapsulated beads coated with a polymer that when broken with a single laser treatment can simply be expelled from the body, as opposed to multiple laser removal treatments for conventional tattoos.

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Mar 13, 2009

Q&A: The robot wars have arrived

Posted by in categories: defense, engineering, futurism, military, robotics/AI

March 12, 2009 10:00 AM PDT

Q&A: The robot wars have arrived

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Mar 12, 2009

Crowdsourced Women’s Health Books Released by CureTogether

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, information science, open access, open source

Over 300 Women Share Experiences, Treatments for Painful, Common Chronic Conditions

CureTogether, a Health 2.0 Startup based in Silicon Valley, has released the first crowdsourced books on vulvodynia and endometriosis: two common, poorly understood conditions causing daily pain for millions of women. Assembled from the input of 190 and 137 women living with these respective conditions, “Vulvodynia Heroes” and “Endometriosis Heroes” are the product of an ongoing online research study at http://www.curetogether.com.

“Patients came together and decided what symptoms and treatments they wanted to track. They went on to diligently gather detailed, quantitative data on their bodies and experiences,” said Alexandra Carmichael, co-Founder of CureTogether. “The hope of this book is to spread awareness, reach out to people in pain who may not have heard of endometriosis, and increase interest and funding for future research.”

“These heroes are pioneers not just in investigating their own condition, but in developing self-cure practices that others can follow.”, said Gary Wolf, Contributing Editor of Wired and Blogger at The Quantified Self. “Many other women who are suffering will find this very helpful and inspiring,” said Elizabeth Rummer, MSPT at the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco. A patient with endometriosis added, “This is great. I am just starting to really appreciate what awesome power CureTogether can have.”

Endometriosis is a painful chronic condition that affects 5–10% of women, and vulvodyna affects up to 16% of women at some point in their lives. They are two of the most active condition communities at CureTogether, with information about symptoms, treatments, and causes added by over 300 women. The books are available at http://www.curetogether.com/VHeroes and http://www.curetogether.com/EHeroes.

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