Thursday, November 23, 2017

Friday Thinking 24 Nov. 2017

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



Progress, as they say, is slow. In science, this is often true even for major breakthroughs; rarely is an entire field of research remade in a single swoop. The Human Genome Project took a decade. Finding the first gravitational waves took multiple decades. So it’s hard to overstate the enormous leap forward that astronomy took on Aug. 17, 2017.

On that day, astronomers bore witness to the titanic collision of two neutron stars, the densest things in the universe besides black holes. In the collision’s wake, astronomers answered multiple major questions that have dominated their field for a generation. They solved the origin of gamma-ray bursts, mysterious jets of hardcore radiation that could potentially roast Earth. They glimpsed the forging of heavy metals, like gold and platinum. They measured the rate at which the expansion of the universe is accelerating. They caught light at the same time as gravitational waves, confirmation that waves move at the speed of light. And there was more, and there is much more yet to come from this discovery. It all happened so quickly and revealed so much that astronomers are already facing a different type of question: Now what?

“Even people like me, who have been waiting for this for a long time and preparing for this, I don’t think we’re ready,” said Edo Berger, an astronomer at Harvard who studies explosive cosmic events. “Now it’s a question of, do we have the right instrumentation for doing all the follow-up work? Do we have the right telescopes? What’s going to happen when we have not just one event, but one a month, or one a week — how do we deal with that flood?”

When the wave crashed through Earth, it caused a tiny shift in the path of laser beams traveling down long corridors in observatories called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), in the U.S., and the Virgo interferometer, in Italy.1 On Aug. 17, LIGO’s twin detectors and Virgo each felt the wave, which allowed astronomers to roughly triangulate from which direction it rolled in. They swung every bit of glass they had, both on Earth and in the heavens, in that general direction. In space, the Fermi space telescope glimpsed a burst of gamma radiation. Within an hour, astronomers made six independent discoveries of a bright, fast-fading flash: A new phenomenon called a kilonova. Astronomers saw the telltale sign of gold being forged, a major discovery by itself. Nine days later, X-rays streamed in, and after 16 days, radio waves arrived, too. Each type of information tells astronomers something different. Richard O’Shaughnessy, an astronomer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, describes the discovery as a “Rosetta stone for astronomy.” “What this has done is provide one event that unites all these different threads of astronomy at once,” he said. “Like, all our dreams have come true, and they came true now.”

Two Stars Slammed Into Each Other And Solved Half Of Astronomy’s Problems. What Comes Next?

Favouring output over outcomes, or quantity over quality, can also create a ‘perversion of natural selection’. Such a system is more likely to weed out ethical and altruistic researchers, while selecting for those who better respond to perverse incentives. The average scholar can be pressured to engage in unethical practices in order to have or maintain a career. Then, as per Mark Granovetter’s ‘Threshold Models of Collective Behaviour’ (1978), unethical actions become ‘embedded in the structures and processes’ of a professional culture. At this point, the conditioning to ‘view corruption as permissible’ or even necessary is very strong. Compelling anecdotal testimony, in which accomplished and public-minded professors write about why they are leaving a career they once loved, is emerging. The Chronicle of Higher Education has even coined a name for this genre: Quit Lit. In Quit Lit, even senior researchers provide perfectly rational explanations for leaving their privileged and prized positions, rather than compromise their principles in a hypercompetitive, perverse-incentive environment. One is left to wonder whether minority students or women rationally and disproportionately decide to opt out of the system more so than the groups who tend to persist.

In brief, although quantitative metrics provide a superficially attractive approach to evaluating research productivity in comparison with subjective measures, once they are a target they cease to be useful and can even be counter-productive. Continued overemphasis of quantitative metrics might compel all but the most ethical scientists to produce more work of lower quality, to ‘cut corners’ whenever possible, decrease true productivity, and select for scientists who persist and thrive in a perverse-incentive environment. It is hypothetically possible that the realities of modern academia affect the persistence of women and minorities at all phases of the academic pipeline.

Science is broken

Artificial intelligence will drive the development of quantum computing, and then quantum computing will further drive the development of artificial intelligence. This mutual acceleration could grow beyond human control and understanding. Scientific and technological leaders, advanced research institutes, and foundations are exploring how to anticipate and manage this issue.

Meanwhile, human life expectancy has increased from 46 years at birth in 1950 to 72 years now. Child mortality, poverty, contagious disease, and illiteracy have all decreased. The global nervous system of humanity is on the road to completion: 52% of the world—over 3.8 billion people—are now connected to the Internet, about two-thirds of the world has a mobile phone, and over half have smart phones.

The Millennium Project’s State of the Future Index shows the world is expected to continue improving over the next 10 years (see Chapter 2); however, environmental conditions, armed conflicts, terrorism, and organized crime are getting worse.

The IMF expects growth of the world economy to increase from 3.1% percent in 2016 to 3.5% in 2017 and then 3.6 % in 2018. Given population growth at 1.11%, global income per capita is growing 2.39% annually. Although extreme poverty fell from 51% in 1981 to 13% in 2012 and to less than 10% today, the concentration of wealth is increasing, income gaps are widening, jobless economic growth seems the new norm, and return on investment in capital and technology is usually better than labor.

As labor costs go up and AI and robot costs go down, manufacturing and service unemployment rates will increase. Hence, new forms of economics seem inevitable if we are to avoid the social disasters of large-scale worldwide structural unemployment that have been forecast by many.

The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to grow another 2.2 billion in just 33 years (by 2050), putting pressure on food production, environmental management, and financial support systems. Although the world is aging, biological breakthroughs could dramatically extend the lives of healthy, mentally alert people way beyond what is believed today.

Future migrations from low-income, high-youth-employment regions to high-income aging societies seem inevitable. Eco-smart Cities are being built around the world, and older cities are being retrofitted with intelligent systems. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative could lend up to $8 trillion for infrastructure in 68 countries to better connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, making it one of the greatest infrastructure projects in history, hopefully incorporating the latest ecosmart systems with AI.

It may be that global urbanization is becoming too complex to manage without artificial intelligence. Moving workers to jobs creates massive traffic jams around the world. New technologies will make it increasingly easy to move jobs to workers. Recent calls for a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” that uses AI for all elements of production from market research to manufacturing and sales that are all connected in the cloud is expected to extend to everything from transportation and water management to power production and use.

State of the Future version 19.0

This is an very important signal for all of us concerned with an open digital environment that serves everyone fairly and productively.

Tim Berners-Lee: I invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone
Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the worldwide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities, and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool that serves all of humanity.

We live in the century of complexity, uncertainty and entanglement - bringing challenges for epistemology and science. We now need not only multiple lines of evidence but also multiple ways of reasoning - as each form of reason has an implicit aesthetic framework that is the foundation from which facts are determined.
Clinical trials determine average effects of a treatment on a population of people. Those averages may not be applicable to treating a given individual.
“RCTs are primarily used to provide evidence for claims about the average treatment effect, and their primary results provide no evidence about individual treatment effects,” Blunt writes. “But information about average treatment effects is an insufficient basis to make recommendations.”

Philosophical critique exposes flaws in medical evidence hierarchies

Rankings of research reliability are logically untenable, an in-depth analysis concludes
Scientific research supposedly provides reliable evidence for physicians to apply to treating patients. In recent years “evidence-based medicine” has been the guiding buzzword for clinical practice. But not all “evidence” is created equal. So many experts advocate the use of an evidence hierarchy, a ladder or pyramid classifying different types of studies in the order of their evidentiary strength. Anecdotes, for instance, might occupy the lowest level of the evidence pyramid. At the apex you’d typically find randomized controlled clinical trials, or perhaps meta-analyses, which combine multiple studies in a single analysis.

In a Ph.D. thesis submitted in September 2015 to the London School of Economics, philosopher of medicine Christopher Blunt analyzes evidence-based medicine’s evidence hierarchies in considerable depth (requiring 79,599 words). He notes that such hierarchies have been formally adopted by many prominent medicine-related organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. But philosophical assessment of such hierarchies has generally focused on randomized clinical trials. It “has largely neglected the questions of what hierarchies are, what assumptions they require, and how they affect clinical practice,” Blunt asserts.

Throughout his thesis, Blunt examines the facts and logic underlying the development, use and interpretation of medical evidence hierarchies. He finds that “hierarchies in general embed untenable philosophical assumptions….” And he reaches a sobering conclusion: “Hierarchies are a poor basis for the application of evidence in clinical practice. The Evidence-Based Medicine movement should move beyond them and explore alternative tools for appraising the overall evidence for therapeutic claims.”

Medical practitioners and hierarchy advocates need to realize, Blunt suggests, that evidence from individual studies in isolation, regardless of methodology, is typically not as strong as an “evidence base” comprising results from numerous different kinds of studies using different methods.  

Replicability is deemed a gold standard that determines real science results - but the ability to replicate findings/results hinges on the capacity to replicate the initial conditions of any study. When research is about complex and living systems - it is impossible to guarantee that any attempt to replicate a study can replicate the initial conditions with the identical range of variables.
Nosek thinks that peer review might sometimes actively hinder clear and swift testing of scientific claims. He points out that, when in 2011 a team of physicists in Italy reported evidence of neutrinos that apparently moved faster than light (in violation of Einstein’s theory of special relativity), this astonishing claim was made, examined, and refuted,  very quickly thanks to high-energy physicists’ efficient system of distributing preprints of papers through an open-access repository. If that testing had relied on the usual peer-reviewed channels, it could have taken years.

The Trouble With Scientists

How one psychologist is tackling human biases in science.
Sometimes it seems surprising that science functions at all. In 2005, medical science was shaken by a paper with the provocative title “Why most published research findings are false.” Written by John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, it didn’t actually show that any particular result was wrong. Instead, it showed that the statistics of reported positive findings was not consistent with how often one should expect to find them. As Ioannidis concluded more recently, “many published research findings are false or exaggerated, and an estimated 85 percent of research resources are wasted.”

It’s likely that some researchers are consciously cherry-picking data to get their work published. And some of the problems surely lie with journal publication policies. But the problems of false findings often begin with researchers unwittingly fooling themselves: they fall prey to cognitive biases, common modes of thinking that lure us toward wrong but convenient or attractive conclusions. “Seeing the reproducibility rates in psychology and other empirical science, we can safely say that something is not working out the way it should,” says Susann Fiedler, a behavioral economist at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, Germany. “Cognitive biases might be one reason for that.”

Psychologist Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia says that the most common and problematic bias in science is “motivated reasoning”: We interpret observations to fit a particular idea. Psychologists have shown that “most of our reasoning is in fact rationalization,” he says. In other words, we have already made the decision about what to do or to think, and our “explanation” of our reasoning is really a justification for doing what we wanted to do—or to believe—anyway. Science is of course meant to be more objective and skeptical than everyday thought—but how much is it, really?

This is a great signal for all those interested in open-access for all science publications.

German Scientists Resign from Elsevier Journals’ Editorial Boards

These researchers join around 200 research institutions that have cut ties with the publishing giant to support the ongoing push for open access and favorable pricing.
Eight German researchers have announced their resignation from the editorial and advisory boards of a handful of Elsevier’s journals since last Thursday (October 12) to show support for German research institutions as they attempt to establish a new, nationwide licensing agreement with the Dutch publishing giant.

“It's a symbolic gesture—obviously, scientists could be replaced on editorial boards,” says Wolfgang Marquardt, an engineer and the chairman of the Jülich Research Center in Germany. Marquardt is stepping down from the editorial boards of three Elsevier journals—Computers and Chemical Engineering, Current Opinion in Chemical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering Science. “I think it’s important to show that the science community is not happy with the way the negotiations went.”

Others who have stepped down include Marino Zerial of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Jörg Raisch at the Technical University of Berlin, and Anton Möslang of the Karhlsrule Institute of Technology.

This is the latest development in the ongoing fight for favorable pricing and open access by the DEAL project, an alliance of German institutions led by the German Rectors’ Conference. DEAL is pushing for publishers to adopt a “publish and read model,” where one combined fee would include access to all of Elsevier’s journals and “golden open access,” which would allow all papers with German first authors to be freely accessible to readers around the world.

This is a very significant signal - changing geopolitics and geo-economics.

Beijing's Zhongguancun unseats San Francisco's Silicon Valley to become world's top tech hub

Beijing's Zhongguancun has unseated San Francisco's Silicon Valley as the top technology hub in the world, according to a report by Expert Market, a US-based business resource company.

Beijing's Zhongguancun tech community has became the top destination for the brightest tech talents around the world, due to its favorable climate for early stage funding, good performance in startup output and the city's affordable cost of living, revealed the Top Tech cities in the World 2017 report.

About 10 data points were used to determine the rankings, such as the average salaries for software engineers, how long it takes to get a business up and running, cost of living and monthly rent prices, growth index and startup output, Forbes reported citing the methodology of the study.

Berlin ranked second, down from the top spot, which it held in 2016, and San Francisco, where Silicon Valley is located, took the third spot. Shanghai grabbed the sixth place as a new entrant to this year's list, with high growth index, relatively low monthly rent and good startup experience.

The report shows how fast moving and internationally competitive the tech industry is and although Silicon Valley still excels in a number of key areas, international competitors have overtaken the original tech hub city, especially when it comes to attracting the brightest new tech talents, said Jared Kelher, editor of Export Market, as reported by Forbes.

Thinking about China - this is a powerful signal of what’s to come to the domain of work - a 3 min video is worth thousands of words. Fully Automated Warehouse in Shanghai (Nasdaq: JD) is the largest online retailer in China. With over 258.3 million customers, we have a vast network of warehouses and delivery stations, and deliver most orders in less than a day.

Here’s a 3 min video of another robot doing work in the construction industry.

TyBot - An Autonomous Rebar-tying Robot

This is a great - must read, 5 min read - providing a very clear description of economic change and an relatively simple explanation of why things have been guided as they have.

Steering the economy toward growth.

The Federal Reserve is responsible for regulating the economy so that there isn’t too much inflation or high unemployment. The “Fed” primarily relies upon a single control valve—adjusting interest rates charged to banks. However, in recent years, this solution has proven to have very little impact, with many years of high unemployment following the financial crisis. Even now, there is weak economic growth and high underemployment.

In the New England Complex Systems Institute’s latest paper, we study economic activity through the flow of money. We discovered it is not enough to consider the overall activity of the economy. Instead, we must consider two dominant flows, highlighted in red in Fig. 1. On the left is the Labor loop. Workers receive wages and use them to buy products and services. The second flow on the right is the Capital loop. Investors, particularly wealthy individuals, invest in new equipment and facilities to produce goods and services, and they receive returns on their investments. As the economy grows, the flow in these loops increases. However, how much each of them increases is important because they have to be balanced against each other.

Right away, we see that a single control mechanism cannot both lead to growth and achieve balance between these two flows. Relying on only one control is like driving a car with only a gas pedal and brakes, without a steering wheel…..

…..we need to start steering the economy in a more constructive direction. The excess of money flowing into the Capital loop should be diverted to the Labor loop. It doesn’t help to increase the uninvested savings of the wealthy through more tax cuts. Reducing taxes for the low and middle income earners, increasing wages and social benefits and relieving debt for Labor will fuel new consumption, allowing for increased returns on investment. Alleviating the strain of inequality will restore balance to the economy, leading to beneficial growth for everyone.

We should all be familiar with what seems the ubiquitous use of fear to shape news that is inherently divisive and manipulative. Here’s an interesting signal.

A Yale psychologist's simple thought experiment temporarily turned conservatives into liberals

Social scientists say conservative political views can be fueled by fear.
A new study suggests that making people feel safe from harm can change their stance on hot-button social issues.
The new research gives insight into the role of the unconscious mind in the voting booth.

This is an interesting signal related to idea of universal basic income and uses a decades old effort as an exemplar - well worth the read.
The casino money made it possible for him to support his young family, but the money his children will receive is potentially life-altering on a different scale. “If you’ve lived in a small rural community and never saw anybody leave, never saw anyone with a white-collar job or leading any organization, you always kind of keep your mindset right here,” he says, forming a little circle with his hands in front of his face. “Our kids today? The kids at the high school?” He throws his arms out wide. “They believe the sky’s the limit. It’s really changed the entire mindset of the community these past 20 years.”


SKOOTER MCCOY WAS 20 years old when his wife, Michelle, gave birth to their first child, a son named Spencer. It was 1996, and McCoy was living in the tiny town of Cherokee, North Carolina, attending Western Carolina University on a football scholarship. He was the first member of his family to go to college.

McCoy’s father had ruined his body as a miner, digging tunnels underneath lakes and riverbeds, and his son had developed a faith that college would lead him in a better direction. So McCoy was determined to stay in school when Spencer came along. Between fatherhood, football practice, and classes, though, he couldn’t squeeze in much part-time work. Michelle had taken an entry-level job as a teacher’s aide at a local childcare center right out of high school, but her salary wasn’t enough to support the three of them.

Then the casino money came.
Just months before Spencer was born, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened a casino near McCoy’s home, and promised every one of its roughly 15,000 tribal members—among them Skooter and Michelle—an equal cut of the profits. The first payouts came to $595 each—a nice little bonus, McCoy says, just for being. “That was the first time we ever took a vacation,” McCoy remembers. “We went to Myrtle Beach.”

Once Spencer arrived, the checks covered the family’s car payments and other bills. “It was huge,” McCoy says. He graduated college and went on to coach football at the local high school for 11 years. Two decades later, McCoy still sets aside some of the money the tribe gives out twice a year to take his children—three of them, now—on vacation. (He and Michelle are separated.) And as the casino revenue has grown, so have the checks. In 2016, every tribal member received roughly $12,000. McCoy’s kids, and all children in the community, have been accruing payments since the day they were born. The tribe sets the money aside and invests it, so the children cash out a substantial nest egg when they’re 18. When Spencer’s 18th birthday came three years ago, his so-called “minor’s fund” amounted to $105,000 after taxes. His 12-year-old sister is projected to receive roughly twice that.

These biannual, unconditional cash disbursements go by different names among the members of the tribe. Officially, they’re called “per capita payments.” McCoy’s kids call it their “big money.” But a certain kind of Silicon Valley idealist might call it something else: a universal basic income.

If you aren’t convinced about the inevitability of Universal Basic Income - this 17 min TED Talk does a good job of summarizing all the issues.

Why we should give everyone a basic income | Rutger Bregman | TEDxMaastricht

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. Rutger Bregman (1988) studied at Utrecht University and the University of California in Los Angeles, majoring in History. In September 2013 Bregman joined the online journalism platform De Correspondent. His article on basic income was nominated for the European Press Prize and was published by The Washington Post.

In September 2013 Bregman joined the online journalism platform ‘De Correspondent’. His article on basic income was nominated for the European Press Prize and was subsequently also published by the American newspaper The Washington Post. In September 2014 his newest book ‘Gratis geld voor iedereen En nog vijf grote ideeën die de wereld kunnen veranderen’ came out.

Complementing Universal Basic Income is the need to make education at all levels free. This too is an inevitable trajectory if we want a citizenry that can adapt to exponential change.

China now produces twice as many graduates a year as the US

A record-breaking 8m students will graduate from Chinese universities in 2017. This figure is nearly ten times higher than it was in 1997 and is more than double the number of students who will graduate this year in the US.

Just two decades ago, higher education in China was a rare privilege enjoyed by a small, urban elite. But everything changed in 1999, when the government launched a program to massively expand university attendance. In that year alone university admissions increased by nearly 50% and this average annual growth rate persisted for the next 15 years, creating the largest influx of university educated workers into the labour market in history.

In 2013, Chinese citizens started blogging about the “hardest job hunting season in history” – and each year it seems to get harder for Chinese graduates. In 2017 there will be 1m more new graduates than there were in 2013. And yet, the graduate unemployment rate has remained relatively stable – according to MyCOS Research Institute, only 8% of students who graduated in 2015 were unemployed six months after graduating.

But if you delve a little deeper it’s clear that unemployment rates mask the more subtle issue of “underemployment”. While most graduates eventually find work, too many end up in part-time, low-paid jobs.

Six months after graduating, one in four Chinese university students have a salary that is below the average salary of a migrant worker, according to MyCOS data. History, law and literature have some of the lowest starting salaries, and also the lowest employment rates.

This is an great update on robotics - preparing for the baby boomers as they reach their 90s and more. Also an important signal for changes in the workforce. It’s a 15 min TED Talk.

Meet Spot, the robot dog that can run, hop and open doors | Marc Raibert

That science fiction future where robots can do what people and animals do may be closer than you think. Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics, is developing advanced robots that can gallop like a cheetah, negotiate 10 inches of snow, walk upright on two legs and even open doors and deliver packages. Join Raibert for a live demo of SpotMini, a nimble robot that maps the space around it, handles objects, climbs stairs -- and could soon be helping you out around the house.

The speed of change in energy geopolitics is not slowing down.

100% Electric Bus Fleet For Shenzhen (Population 11.9 Million) By End Of 2017

There’s no denying that switching an entire public transportation bus fleet to electricity can drastically curb pollutants and respiratory complications. The city of Shenzhen sees the light, coming to the conclusion that human lives matter more than foreign oil company profits.

One more thing to note: Shenzhen has been working toward this goal for a while. It already has 14,000 electric buses on the street, with only has a few hundred diesel-powered buses left to replace. They will be decommissioned over the last two months of the year. BYD is in charge of providing 80% of the electric buses for the city. It is also heavily vested in electric vehicles (EV), leads the world-leading Chinese EV market, and has introduced its electric bus all over the world, including in Long Beach, California, where we were privileged enough to take its maiden ride.

BYD started the Shenzhen pilot test in 2011. In six years, the giant city (population 11.9 million) managed to implement a complete switch. So, what is taking us so long in the West?

This is an awesome signal of the DIY movement working at the edges to move the center - it’s a 12 min video.

The Fixers Using Recycled Laptop Batteries to Power Their Homes

The rechargeable batteries in your laptop, your cell phone, your headphones: all of these can be used to power your life and take you off the grid. DIY Powerwalls – rechargeable lithium-ion battery installations, made from recycled batteries – are the future of power, whether you know it or not.

We visited Jehu Garcia, a DIY Powerwall builder and enthusiast, and the folks at EV West in Southern California as well as the University of Michigan Battery Lab to see just how DIY Powerwalls can power your home, your car, and even the rest of your neighborhood.

This is a strong signal of an eventual genetic census and the advent of universal big data.
Just a few years ago, linking a gene to a human disease would have made a whole career, and it might have taken as long. Scientists had to painstakingly collect patients and request their DNA, and they often guarded the data like the gold in Fort Knox.

What’s emerging now is a global data exchange where information about the human condition is shared, stored in the cloud, and studied with fast-evolving computer tools. “It’s a sea change in terms of data availability and the open-science movement,” says Benjamin Neale, a geneticist at the Broad Institute, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I do think it puts pressure on others to follow suit. There’s a psychological shift here that matters.”

UK Biobank Supercharges Medicine with Gene Data on 500,000 Brits

A database of DNA and health measurements is offering new clues into everything from who gets diabetes to who likes a pint of beer.
The long-anticipated release of genetic and health data on 500,000 British people last summer by a public consortium in the U.K. is generating a shock wave of genetic discoveries that could speed the development of new drugs and tests, scientists say.

The data from the UK Biobank hit in July, after scientists in charge of 406 different projects had the chance to download several terabytes of data, including DNA data and information on everything from who has diabetes to whether people like coffee or tea.

What’s the relationship between genes and diet? Or between DNA and schizophrenia? With 2,500 different phenotypes—or traits—measured in the British volunteers, on the basis of weigh-ins, surveys, and national hospital records, this data dump is the largest of its kind and the best chance yet to figure it out.

Another significant signal of the advances being made in the project of domesticating DNA.

US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body

Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person’s DNA to cure a disease.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

If it’s successful, it could give a major boost to the fledgling field of gene therapy . Scientists have edited people’s genes before, altering cells in the lab that are then returned to patients. There also are gene therapies that don’t involve editing DNA.

The therapy has three parts: The new gene and two zinc finger proteins. DNA instructions for each part are placed in a virus that’s been altered to not cause infection but to ferry them into cells. Billions of copies of these are given through a vein.

They travel to the liver, where cells use the instructions to make the zinc fingers and prepare the corrective gene. The fingers cut the DNA, allowing the new gene to slip in. The new gene then directs the cell to make the enzyme the patient lacked.

This is a fascinating signal - both for new ways to study the brain and also to possibly eventually create a computer-brain interface

Next-generation optogenetic molecules control single neurons

Researchers at MIT and Paris Descartes University have developed a new optogenetic technique that sculpts light to target individual cells bearing engineered light-sensitive molecules, so that individual neurons can be precisely stimulated.

Until now, it has been challenging to use optogenetics to target single cells with such precise control over both the timing and location of the activation. This new advance paves the way for studies of how individual cells, and connections among those cells, generate specific behaviors such as initiating a movement or learning a new skill.

"Ideally what you would like to do is play the brain like a piano. You would want to control neurons independently, rather than having them all march in lockstep the way traditional optogenetics works, but which normally the brain doesn't do," says Ed Boyden, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and biological engineering at MIT, and a member of MIT's Media Lab and McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

The new technique relies on a new type of light-sensitive protein that can be embedded in neuron cell bodies, combined with holographic light-shaping that can focus light on a single cell.

This is a must see set of visuals - demonstrating the beauty and complexity of natural microbes - highlighting the way biological life evolves and grows in non-linear and deeply social ways. The unit of survival is not the ‘individual’ but always the species-in-environment.  The visuals should inspire a way of imagining how the future unfolds.
The truth, however, is that in the wild, most bacteria are highly gregarious. Some bacteria do swim through their environment as lonely individuals but most bacterial cells — and most species of bacteria — prefer to live in compact societies called biofilms anchored to surfaces. (The individual swimmers often represent offshoots of biofilms, seeking to colonize new locations.)

One might wonder why natural selection would have favored this collective behavior instead of more rampant individualism among the cells. Part of the answer might be what evolutionary theorists call inclusive fitness: In so far as the bacteria within a biofilm are related, individual sacrifices are offset by the increases in fitness to each cell’s millions of cousins. But it may also be that every role within the biofilm has its advantages: Cells at the edge are most exposed to dangers and must reproduce furiously to expand the biofilm, but they also have access to the most nutrients and oxygen. Cells on the inside depend on others for their vital rations but they may survive longer.

Seeing the Beautiful Intelligence of Microbes

Intelligence is not a quality to attribute lightly to microbes. There is no reason to think that bacteria, slime molds and similar single-cell forms of life have awareness, understanding or other capacities implicit in real intellect. But particularly when these cells commune in great numbers, their startling collective talents for solving problems and controlling their environment emerge. Those behaviors may be genetically encoded into these cells by billions of years of evolution, but in that sense the cells are not so different from robots programmed to respond in sophisticated ways to their environment. If we can speak of artificial intelligence for the latter, perhaps it’s not too outrageous to refer to the underappreciated cellular intelligence of the former.

Under the microscope, the incredible exercise of the cells’ collective intelligence reveals itself with spectacular beauty. Since 1983, Roberto Kolter, a professor of microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Microbial Sciences Initiative, has led a laboratory that has studied these phenomena. In more recent years, it has also developed techniques for visualizing them. In the photographic essay book Life at the Edge of Sight: A Photographic Exploration of the Microbial World (Harvard University Press), released in September, Kolter and his co-author, Scott Chimileski, a research fellow and imaging specialist in his lab, offer an appreciation of microorganisms that is both scientific and artistic, and that gives a glimpse of the cellular wonders that are literally underfoot. Imagery from the lab is also on display in the exhibition World in a Drop at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. That display will close in early January but will be followed by a broader exhibition, Microbial Life, scheduled to open in February.

Personal Appeal

Showing and Growing - theSpace is finding its voices.
The first Winter Exhibit hosted by theSpace on Friday 17 November was a great success. People who attended came for all age groups and all of them were genuinely impressed by the quality of the work - in fact about three quarters of the work on display was purchased.

Equally important was the chance for people to see theSpace and begin to understand just how innovative it is as a social enterprise.

In eight months theSpace has moved from an idea to a reality. However, the play between idea and reality continues to provide valuable lessons us to evolve the core concept.

To summarize our insights to date - theSpace offers members is an  apprenticeship for creative self-employment, as well as for building generative community that supports more effective autonomy and self-advocacy.

Please support the Phase 2 – KickStarter
Right now we are at a critical juncture---and after a first year in operation (as of February 2018)--where we need to ensure that we can pay our monthly rent, while continuing to increase our core group of members...and become even more sustainable, as we grow our membership and reputation!
We anticipate that by this time next year...if we can continue to grow at this rate---that we will be completely sustainable !