Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friday Thinking 24 March 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



It is a mistake to dismiss these stories as “fake news”; their power stems from a potent mix of verifiable facts (the leaked Podesta emails), familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.

Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

Our analysis challenges a simple narrative that the internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.” If technology were the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gatekeeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric.

What we find in our data is a network of mutually-reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics,” combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. “Fake news,” which implies made of whole cloth by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck of Facebook advertising dollars, rather than propaganda and disinformation, is not an adequate term. By repetition, variation, and circulation through many associated sites, the network of sites make their claims familiar to readers, and this fluency with the core narrative gives credence to the incredible.
Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts of Berkman and Ethan Zuckerman of MIT

Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population—some 1 billion people—have a disability, according to the World Bank. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 5 people in the United States will be 65 or older by 2030. And 20 percent of Japan’s population is already 65 or older. Many elderly people develop conditions that affect their hearing and vision, making it more challenging for them to benefit from technology.

3 Life-Changing Technologies at the 2017 Assistive Technology Conference

This is a great 4 min video by RSA and David Graeber about work - a good piece for thinking about the future of work in a condition of the automation of all that can be automated.

‘Brand consultant’? ‘PR researcher’? Why the ‘bullshit jobs’ era needs to end

If capitalism is supposed to value work, why has it led much of the workforce into the age of seemingly meaningless tasks, titles and functions? This brief animation by the British artist Jack Dubben uses audio excerpted from a presentation at the RSA by the US-born, UK-based anthropologist and activist David Graeber advocating against what he frequently refers to as ‘bullshit jobs’, and in favour of an economic reformation that places greater value on meeting today’s most pressing human needs.

Here’s a great concept for creating secure and potentially a global form of ID for anyone.
Blockchain offers an immutable, transparent, and distributed ledger that can provide a secure means of identifying every person on Earth. Think of blockchain as a universal, secure digital lockbox that could store information with your legal ID, such as property title, education certificates, and medical records, all in one place.

How Blockchain Could Give Everyone a Legal ID

Digital identification can replace birth certificates and other legal documents
Nearly a fifth of the world’s population—about 1.5 billion people—do not have official identification documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card, including 230 million children younger than 5, according to the United Nations. Without a way to prove identity, it is more difficult to protect people’s human rights and to offer them the same opportunities as those who do have such documents. Refugees, for example, can be exploited, and undocumented children are more vulnerable to trafficking schemes. One way to solve the problem is to use blockchain technology to create a legal-ID system.

The possibles of the near future - in terms of cognitions and experience are very hard to imagine - from a cognitive interface with a world of sensor to choice of cognitive experience - imagination is the barrier we face in generation of a new sense of self.
As soon as the doctors turned his implant on, he felt different, cured — normal. The suddenness of the shift, he says, was bizarre. Gone, he says, were “the ball and chain” that he’d been “dragging around” for decades. “I only wish it had come 30 or 40 years ago,” he continues. “I would have had a different life.” His wife says it may have saved them. “John’s DBS has given the both of us our lives back,” she says.

Brain-Altering Science and the Search for a New Normal

An electrical implant known as a deep-brain stimulator is giving some patients a new start.
Together with an electrical pulse generator — a boxy rectangle, like a small external hard drive — sewn into Murphy’s chest cavity, the electrode would stimulate the region of her brain that the doctors believed to be responsible for her depression. The device, known as a deep-brain stimulator (DBS), is meant to regulate neural activity and bring the brain’s patterns back to normalcy. A wire from the pulse generator snakes up to the electrode, carrying electricity, which the electrode then transmits to the brain.

Together with an electrical pulse generator — a boxy rectangle, like a small external hard drive — sewn into Murphy’s chest cavity, the electrode would stimulate the region of her brain that the doctors believed to be responsible for her depression. The device, known as a deep-brain stimulator (DBS), is meant to regulate neural activity and bring the brain’s patterns back to normalcy. A wire from the pulse generator snakes up to the electrode, carrying electricity, which the electrode then transmits to the brain.

These success stories are touching. But deep-brain stimulation doesn’t always work for depression. On a large scale, in fact, it has been so unsuccessful that at least two trials have been discontinued, including the 2013 Brodmann Area 25 Deep Brain Neuromodulation trial, overseen by St. Jude Medical. A mid-study analysis reportedly revealed that the trial had a maximum 17.2 percent chance of succeeding. Nonetheless, new research projects are underway, some funded by the Obama administration’s BRAIN Initiative, which has invested millions in research designed to provide a real-time understanding of how the brain works in sickness and in health. Agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have used some of this money to fund deep-brain-stimulation projects.

This is a very interesting develop - the use of Blockchain technology to provide a ledger of all uses of a patient’s personal medical data. Transparency and privacy.
“Our mission is absolutely central, and a core part of that is figuring out how we can do a better job of building trust. Transparency and better control of data is what will build trust in the long term.” Suleyman pointed to a number of efforts DeepMind has already undertaken in an attempt to build that trust, from its founding membership of the industry group Partnership on AI to its creation of a board of independent reviewers for DeepMind Health, but argued the technical methods being proposed by the firm provide the “other half” of the equation.
“There are a lot of calls for a robust audit trail to be able to track exactly what happens to personal data, and particularly to be able to check how data is used once it leaves a hospital or NHS Digital. DeepMind are suggesting using technology to help deliver that audit trail, in a way that should be much more secure than anything we have seen before.”
In the long-run, Suleyman says, the audit system could be expanded so that patients can have direct oversight over how and where their data has been used. But such a system would come a long time in the future, once concerns over how to secure access have been solved.

Google's DeepMind plans bitcoin-style health record tracking for hospitals

Tech company’s health subsidiary planning digital ledger based on blockchain to let hospitals, the NHS and eventually patients track personal data
Google’s AI-powered health tech subsidiary, DeepMind Health, is planning to use a new technology loosely based on bitcoin to let hospitals, the NHS and eventually even patients track what happens to personal data in real-time.

Dubbed “Verifiable Data Audit”, the plan is to create a special digital ledger that automatically records every interaction with patient data in a cryptographically verifiable manner. This means any changes to, or access of, the data would be visible.

DeepMind has been working in partnership with London’s Royal Free Hospital to develop kidney monitoring software called Streams and has faced criticism from patient groups for what they claim are overly broad data sharing agreements. Critics fear that the data sharing has the potential to give DeepMind, and thus Google, too much power over the NHS.

Another of an endless flood of articles on automation of jobs.
What determines vulnerability to automation is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar but whether or not it is routine
those worried that automation will cause mass unemployment are succumbing to what economists call the “lump of labour” fallacy. “This notion that there’s only a finite amount of work to do, and therefore that if you automate some of it there’s less for people to do, is just totally wrong,

Automation and anxiety

Will smarter machines cause mass unemployment?
Dr Barani (who used to be an oncologist) points to some CT scans of a patient’s lungs, taken from three different angles. Red blobs flicker on the screen as Enlitic’s deep-learning system examines and compares them to see if they are blood vessels, harmless imaging artefacts or malignant lung nodules. The system ends up highlighting a particular feature for further investigation. In a test against three expert human radiologists working together, Enlitic’s system was 50% better at classifying malignant tumours and had a false-negative rate (where a cancer is missed) of zero, compared with 7% for the humans. Another of Enlitic’s systems, which examines X-rays to detect wrist fractures, also handily outperformed human experts. The firm’s technology is currently being tested in 40 clinics across Australia.

A computer that dispenses expert radiology advice is just one example of how jobs currently done by highly trained white-collar workers can be automated, thanks to the advance of deep learning and other forms of artificial intelligence. The idea that manual work can be carried out by machines is already familiar; now ever-smarter machines can perform tasks done by information workers, too. What determines vulnerability to automation, experts say, is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar but whether or not it is routine. Machines can already do many forms of routine manual labour, and are now able to perform some routine cognitive tasks too. As a result, says Andrew Ng, a highly trained and specialised radiologist may now be in greater danger of being replaced by a machine than his own executive assistant: “She does so many different things that I don’t see a machine being able to automate everything she does any time soon.”

Figures published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis show that in America, employment in non-routine cognitive and non-routine manual jobs has grown steadily since the 1980s, whereas employment in routine jobs has been broadly flat (see chart). As more jobs are automated, this trend seems likely to continue.

This is an interesting blog - this issue talks about the difference between politics adopting software and software disrupting politics - it very short and accessible. It is a very sparsely formated site - but worth the read.

Software "Adoption" is Bullshit

I have spent a good deal of time in the last decade involved one way or another in enterprise software: helping to build it, helping to sell it, helping to buy it, writing about it, reading about it. The world of enterprise software runs on the doctrinal antithesis to the idea that software is eating the world: the world is adopting software. Specifically through existing organizations adopting it via a controlled, deliberate, strategic process. There is an entire cottage industry -- and I have participated in it more than I like to admit -- devoted to "strategic" thinking about how to "adopt" software and turn it into "competitive advantage" and "digitally transform" the business model. And loudly celebrating supposed "success stories."

This entire cottage industry, I concluded a few years ago, is unadulterated bullshit.

There are only three ways for an organization to relate to software: you're buying it like you buy potatoes, a pure commodity, while being loudly theatrical about it, or you're getting eaten by it, or you've made the only meaningful strategic decision: to jump to the disruptive "eating" side on a particular contest. There is no regime worthy of the label "strategic adoption." And nothing illustrates this three-way potatoes-prey-predator model more dramatically than the two-decade history of software in the US Presidential elections. So let's review that story and try to extract some generic (and harsh) lessons for enterprise software "adoption" and "digital transformation".

This is a very interesting discussion of our current state of the art of how search results are presented to our queries and how that raises more questions around our issues for speed and accuracy.


Our answer machines have an over-confidence problem. Google, Alexa, and Siri often front that they’re providing a definitive answer to questions when they’re on shaky ground—or outright wrong.

Google’s Featured Snippets Are Worse Than Fake News, writes Adrianne Jeffries, pointing out the downsides of Google’s efforts to provide what Danny Sullivan calls the “one true answer” as fast as possible. About 15% of Google searches offer a featured snippet, that text excerpt that shows up inside a big bold box at the top of the results. It’s presented as the answer to your question. “Unfortunately, not all of these answers are actually true,”

The problem is compounded in voice interfaces like Echo or Google Home, where just a single answer is offered, giving the impression that it’s the only answer.

There are two problems here: bad info and bad presentation. I’ve got some thoughts on how designers of data-driven interfaces can get better at the presentation part to help caution users about inevitable bad info.

The domestication of DNA takes another step.
“We’re shortcutting evolution by millions of years,” says bioengineer Patrick Cai, who first became acquainted with the project as a post-doc in Boeke’s lab in 2010. “Our goal here is not engineering a particular kind of yeast, but the kind of yeast that is amenable to engineering.” Cai now runs his own lab at the University of Edinburgh, where he’s building that extra 17th chromosome. It’s the only chromosome that’s built completely from scratch.

A New Lab-Built Fungus Eats Sugar and Burps Out Drugs

In seven papers published today in Science, representing a decade of work by hundreds of scientists across four continents, the Synthetic Yeast 2.0 project reports the first fully designed, and partially completed, made-from-scratch eukaryotic genome. Eukaryotes—organisms whose cells have a nucleus and other defined organelles—encompass all complex life: yeasts, plants, hamsters, humans. So writing a custom genome for one is a big deal by itself. But the artificial yeast will have a more stable, easily manipulable genome for scientists to work with, and for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and energy industries to use for a new generation of drugs, biofuels, and novel materials.

Sc2.0 began as a project to make yeasts better at producing chemicals useful to humans. Evolution optimized yeast for lots of things, but not for industrial production of enzymes or antibiotics. That didn’t require remaking the yeast genome verboten, just removing destabilizing DNA from the genome and refactoring the whole thing so future researchers could customize their yeast for whatever compound they wanted to crank out.

One of the biggest changes the researchers introduced was to place 5000 DNA tags throughout the genome that act as landing sites for a protein called “Cre” that can be used to create on-demand mutations. When the protein comes in contact with estrogen it scrambles the synthetic chromosomal sequences—deleting, duplicating, and shuffling genes at random.

By building in these “SCRaMbLE” sites—it stands for Synthetic Chromosome Recombination and Modification by LoxP-mediated Evolution—scientists can start with a test tube filled with a million genetically-identical synthetic yeast cells, randomly reshuffle their genes, and then expose them to different stresses, like heat and pressure, or ask them to make different molecules. It’s kind of like natural selection on speed, and allows scientists to easily identify new strains that can survive better in specific environments, or be better factories for things like fuels and drugs.

The relationship between human behavior-experience and microbial profile is more important than we imagine.
“We know there is a constant communication between the gut and the brain, and in IBS and other functional bowel disorders, this communication is altered,” Bercik told The Scientist. “We wanted to understand how the gut microbiota fits in.”
Mice colonized with bacteria from patients with IBS who did not have anxiety symptoms and from healthy individuals did not exhibit anxiety-like behaviors, while mice colonized with bacteria from IBS patients with anxiety symptoms showed similar symptoms in both behavioral tests. Those mice colonized with gut bacteria from IBS patients also displayed signs of immune activation associated with low-grade inflammation compared to mice colonized with bacteria from healthy individuals.

Human Gut Microbe Transplant Alters Mouse Behavior

Fecal transplants from humans with irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety into mice lead to similar symptoms and anxiety-like behavior in the rodents, researchers report.  
Researchers have been unable to pinpoint the causes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a heterogeneous disorder characterized by both diarrhea and constipation. IBS can also be accompanied by symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and, thus, is thought to affect gut-brain communication.

In a study published today (March 1) in Science Translational Medicine, researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and their colleagues demonstrate evidence of a direct link between gut microbes and the symptoms and behaviors of IBS in mice. Germ-free mice that received fecal microbiota from patients with IBS mimicked the symptoms of the disorder, including anxiety-like behaviors, the team reported.

“This [study] is a wonderful demonstration for the functionality of the microbiota, showing gut bacteria from subjects with irritable bowel syndrome can induce both gastrointestinal issues, as well as the anxiety that is co-morbid with IBS,” Sarkis Mazmanian, a professor of microbiology at Caltech who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email to The Scientist.

Here’s a very interesting geoengineering - Terra-forming project. A long read but there’s a 60 min audio version available and a 26 min video.

Welcome to Pleistocene Park

In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change—by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths.

Pleistocene Park is named for the geological epoch that ended only 12,000 years ago, having begun 2.6 million years earlier. Though colloquially known as the Ice Age, the Pleistocene could easily be called the Grass Age. Even during its deepest chills, when thick, blue-veined glaciers were bearing down on the Mediterranean, huge swaths of the planet were coated in grasslands. In Beringia, the Arctic belt that stretches across Siberia, all of Alaska, and much of Canada’s Yukon, these vast plains of green and gold gave rise to a new biome, a cold-weather version of the African savanna called the Mammoth Steppe. But when the Ice Age ended, many of the grasslands vanished under mysterious circumstances, along with most of the giant species with whom we once shared this Earth.

Nikita is trying to resurface Beringia with grasslands. He wants to summon the Mammoth Steppe ecosystem, complete with its extinct creatures, back from the underworld of geological layers. The park was founded in 1996, and already it has broken out of its original fences, eating its way into the surrounding tundra scrublands and small forests. If Nikita has his way, Pleistocene Park will spread across Arctic Siberia and into North America, helping to slow the thawing of the Arctic permafrost. Were that frozen underground layer to warm too quickly, it would release some of the world’s most dangerous climate-change accelerants into the atmosphere, visiting catastrophe on human beings and millions of other species.

In its scope and radicalism, the idea has few peers, save perhaps the scheme to cool the Earth by seeding the atmosphere with silvery mists of sun-reflecting aerosols. Only in Siberia’s empty expanse could an experiment of this scale succeed, and only if human beings learn to cooperate across centuries. This intergenerational work has already begun. It was Nikita’s father, Sergey, who first developed the idea for Pleistocene Park, before ceding control of it to Nikita.

Here’s an interesting idea for harvesting bioenergy from the ocean.

Robotic Kelp Farms Promise an Ocean Full of Carbon-Neutral, Low-Cost Energy

At the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, a company called Marine BioEnergy was showing a potential new way of producing an enormous amount of low-cost energy in a way that doesn’t compete for land area. Their idea is to use drone submarines to farm kelp out in the open ocean, and then process it into carbon-neutral liquid biofuel. Turns out there are a lot of reasons why this might be a very good idea.

Liquid biofuels are, in theory, a great idea: You take plants and turn them into something that can fill up your car, but you don’t have to feel guilty about it because the carbon that your car emits into the atmosphere was sucked out of the atmosphere by the plant first, making the carbon emissions neutral. The problem is that it takes water, fertilizer, human effort, and so forth to grow the biofuel crop in the first place, and the overall process is relatively inefficient. Plus, you’re taking up land area that could be used to grow food instead.

Marine BioEnergy’s concept for open ocean kelp farms solves many of these problems. Land area is not a concern because the kelp is grown out in the open ocean, where there’s plenty of uncontested room. You don’t have to water the kelp because kelp lives in salt water, which is convenient. Kelp grows mind-blowingly quickly, up to 30 centimeters per day, and no weeding, pesticides, fertilizers, or any other kind of resource-intensive micromanagement is required. It has a photosynthetic efficiency that’s up to four times higher than terrestrial plants, and you can harvest it non-destructively. Kelp is also relatively easy to process into liquid biofuel because of its low cellulose content.

This is for any interested in the domain of physics. A breakthrough in developing a new state of matter that may enable a more rapid progress in quantum computing. Worth the read if you want a peek into the future of physics.

It's Official: Time Crystals Are a New State of Matter, and Now We Can Create Them

Earlier this year, physicists had put together a blueprint for how to make and measure time crystals - a bizarre state of matter with an atomic structure that repeats not just in space, but in time, allowing them to maintain constant oscillation without energy.

Two separate research teams managed to create what looked an awful lot like time crystals back in January, and now both experiments have successfully passed peer-review for the first time, putting the 'impossible' phenomenon squarely in the realm of reality.

"We've taken these theoretical ideas that we've been poking around for the last couple of years and actually built it in the laboratory," says one of the researchers, Andrew Potter from Texas University at Austin.

"Hopefully, this is just the first example of these, with many more to come."
Time crystals are one of the coolest things physics has dished up in recent months, because they point to a whole new world of 'non-equilibrium' phases that are entirely different from anything scientists have studied in the past.

Here’s another interesting development about new forms of material.

First Stretchable Holographic Display Unveiled

Embedding gold nanorods in contact lens material makes an entirely new kind of holographic display possible.
One of the great advances in materials sciences in recent years has been the development of metamaterials and metasurfaces with optical properties that are not found in nature. These materials contain repeating elements that interact with electromagnetic waves to reflect, bend, and distort light.

In this way, researchers have built materials with negative refractive index, super-resolution lenses, and even invisibility cloaks. The same kind of tricks are possible with reflective surfaces too. Researchers have made metasurfaces that act as flat lenses, vortex beam generators, and even as computer-generated holograms.
And that raises an interesting question—just how much further can materials scientists take this technology?

Today we find out thanks to the work of Stephanie Malek and pals at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. They’ve printed a hologram onto a metasurface and shown how it changes as the film is stretched. The work points the way toward a new kind of display that switches the information it displays as it stretches.

Making science affordable unleashes the amateur to explore new possibilities.

MEMS based Atomic Force Microscope shrinks to Dime-sized Device and with mass production could make atomic force microscopes affordable for high school and home labs

“A standard atomic force microscope is a large, bulky instrument, with multiple control loops, electronics and amplifiers,” said Dr. Reza Moheimani, professor of mechanical engineering at UT Dallas. “We have managed to miniaturize all of the electromechanical components down onto a single small chip.”

An atomic force microscope (AFM) is a scientific tool that is used to create detailed three-dimensional images of the surfaces of materials, down to the nanometer scale — that’s roughly on the scale of individual molecules.

The basic AFM design consists of a tiny cantilever, or arm, that has a sharp tip attached to one end. As the apparatus scans back and forth across the surface of a sample, or the sample moves under it, the interactive forces between the sample and the tip cause the cantilever to move up and down as the tip follows the contours of the surface. Those movements are then translated into an image.

The MEMS-based AFM is about 1 square centimeter in size, or a little smaller than a dime. It is attached to a small printed circuit board, about half the size of a credit card, which contains circuitry, sensors and other miniaturized components that control the movement and other aspects of the device.

“An educational version can cost about $30,000 or $40,000, and a laboratory-level AFM can run $500,000 or more,” Moheimani said. “Our MEMS approach to AFM design has the potential to significantly reduce the complexity and cost of the instrument.

This is a 10 min video that is awesome in it’s presentation of the scales of the stuff or reality - worth the view.

3D Size Comparison of Everything in the Universe is Awe-Inspiring

Like a cross between the opening credits of Contact and the Simpson’s Universe couch gag, this video gives us an ever expanding look at how the smallest objects in existence compare in size to the largest.

Starting with the fabric of space-time, we zoom out to the singularity of a black hole, then we zoom out to quarks, protons, atoms, DNA, sperm, grains of sand, lions, tigers, bears, whales, jets, zeppelins, skyscrapers, mountains, moons, planets, stars, black holes, galaxies and so much in between. We’re somewhere in there too, forgetting to put the toilet seat down and trying to decide what to eat for dinner.

Be warned, the narrator of this clip isn’t exactly Neil deGrasse Tyson. The voiceover script is alright and has a few funny bits. But as conversations on this subject tend to do, it veers into too-many-bong-hits territory.

Still, this is the kind of sobering demonstration of our place in the universe that we all need from time-to-time.

For everyone who knows chess and likes puzzles - here’s a way to contribute to the study of consciousness.
“There is now evidence that there are quantum effects happening in biology, such as in photosynthesis or in bird migration, so there may be something similar happening in the mind, which is a controversial idea.
“If we find out how humans differ from computers then it could have profound sociological implications. People get very depressed when they think of a future where robots or computers will take their jobs, but it might be that there are areas where computers will never be better than us, such as creativity.”

Can you solve the chess problem which holds key to human consciousness?

The puzzle coincides with the launch of the new Penrose Institute, founded by Sir Roger Penrose, emeritus Professor at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford, who shared the World Prize in physics with Professor Stephen Hawking in 1988 for his work on black hole singularities.

The new institute, which will have arms at UCL and Oxford University, has been set up to study human consciousness through physics and tease out the fundamental differences between artificial and human intelligence.

If successful, it could prove for the first time that the human brain is not simply a gargantuan supercomputer, but may exhibit quantum effects far beyond the realms of current imagining - a controversial theory that many scientists believe to be impossible.

The chess problem - originally drawn by Sir Roger - has been devised to defeat an artificially intelligent (AI) computer but be solvable for humans. The Penrose Institute scientists are inviting readers to workout how white can win, or force a stalemate and then share their reasoning.

The team then hopes to scan the brains of people with the quickest times, or interesting Eureka moments, to see if the genesis of human ‘insight’ or ‘intuition’ can be spotted in mind.

This is certainly a condition I suffer from - maybe many others as well.


Nick Carraway slinks away from Jay Gatsby’s party. In the library he comes across a drunken, bespectacled fat cat who starts going off about the books lining the walls. “They’re real,” he slurs, pointing to them. “What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too — didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?” Uncut pages! If you know how books used to be manufactured, this means one thing and one thing only: Gatsby wasn’t much of a reader. After all, until they’re cut, book pages can’t be turned.

Collecting books and not reading them is, shall we say, textbook behavior. At least for some of you, and you know who you are. Suffering from the condition of racking up book purchases of $100, $200 or $1,000 without ever bending a spine? There’s a Japanese word for you.


Prognosis: terminal. Stats reveal that e-reading doesn’t hold a candle to the joy of reading a physical book. Although e-book sales jumped 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010, 2.71 billion physical books were sold in the U.S. alone in 2015, according to Statista. That’s compared with the 1.32 billion movie tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada. As if every American were reading an average of more than eight books annually.

Certainly, it’s unlikely you’re going to hear the word tsundoku on the subway. But in a language where there are words for canceling an appointment at the last minute and the culture-specific condition of adult male shut-in syndrome, how can you be surprised? Other, similar words like tsūdoku (read through) and jukudoku (reading deeply) are in praise of sitting down with a book (doku means “to read”). But we think tsundoku is particularly special: Oku means to do something and leave it for a while, says Sahoko Ichikawa, a senior lecturer at Cornell University, and tsunde means to stack things.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Friday Thinking 17 March 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


Dogs Use Deception to Get Treats, Study Shows

The electricity industry is in the midst of a transformation, as technology and innovation disrupt traditional models from generation to beyond the meter.

Three trends in particular are converging. First, electrification is taking place across large sectors of the economy such as transportation and residential heating. Second, decentralization of resources has increased, spurred by the sharp decrease in costs as well as by public support for distributed energy resources (DERs) like distributed generation, distributed storage, energy efficiency and demand response. Third, digitalization of the system is mounting, both before the meter with smart metering and digital network infrastructure, and beyond the meter with the advent of the Internet of Things and a surge of power-consuming connected devices.

Together, these trends at the “edge” of the electricity grid pave the way for an energy system where traditional boundaries among producers, distributors and consumers are blurred – and the complexity of system governance intensifies.

What’s the payoff? This smarter, more decentralized yet more connected electricity system has the potential to increase reliability, security, environmental sustainability and asset utilization, and create new opportunities for services and business.

4 ways to unleash the electricity grid of the future

People expect AI to be human-like. I've been stressing the fact that there are different types of thinking and the chief benefit of AI is that it does not think like humans. As an example: Birds flap their wings to fly, but to make humans fly, we had to invent a different type of flying—one that did not occur in nature. And so, similarly, through AI, we’re going to invent many new types of thinking that don't exist biologically and that are not like human thinking. Therefore, this intelligence does not replace human thinking, but augments it.

Every company these days is basically in the data business and they're going to need AI to civilize and digest big data and make sense out of it—big data without AI is a big headache.

The breakthrough that has not yet happened that will completely rearrange the current landscape of AI is using an extremely small dataset to train AI systems. Right now, AI requires very large training data sets to learn. And we have proof in the human toddler that we can actually have learning with very small data sets. Somebody in the future will figure out how to do that well. That will be a really huge shift, and it will be very liberating in many ways.
I think another one in the future is unsupervised learning, where the machine learns largely on its own. We're only just beginning to deal with that.

Besides those, there’s a real need for symbolic reasoning and alternative routes to intelligence that I believe are going to be necessary to make more robust AI tools. We've been exploring how far you can go with deep learning and some people think we can go all the way. That may be so, but I think deep learning is just one mechanism that needs to be used with others, much in the way that a gear or a pendulum is just one mechanism that makes a clock work.

What is the best way to prepare people for the types of jobs that may emerge as AI becomes more pervasive in our lives?
There's no silver bullet. But it's also important to remember that this is not a technical issue. We know how to retrain people en mass. We do it with the U.S. military all the time. This is a political issue. Are we collectively willing to invest the time and money in this? The market cannot do it alone. It needs government, too.

And we should start teaching it in our schools—the essential techno-literary skills of learning how to learn, learning how to relearn, and becoming a lifelong learner.

Kevin Kelly: “Through AI, we’re going to invent many new types of thinking.”

This is a longish read from Nature online about the way collective memory is shaped and transforms. Well worth the read.

How Facebook, fake news and friends are warping your memory

Research on collective recall takes on new importance in a post-fact world.
Strange things have been happening in the news lately. Already this year, members of US President Donald Trump's administration have alluded to a 'Bowling Green massacre' and terror attacks in Sweden and Atlanta, Georgia, that never happened.
The misinformation was swiftly corrected, but some historical myths have proved difficult to erase. Since at least 2010, for example, an online community has shared the apparently unshakeable recollection of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s, despite the fact that he lived until 2013, leaving prison in 1990 and going on to serve as South Africa's first black president.

Memory is notoriously fallible, but some experts worry that a new phenomenon is emerging. “Memories are shared among groups in novel ways through sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blurring the line between individual and collective memories,” says psychologist Daniel Schacter, who studies memory at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “The development of Internet-based misinformation, such as recently well-publicized fake news sites, has the potential to distort individual and collective memories in disturbing ways.”

Collective memories form the basis of history, and people's understanding of history shapes how they think about the future. The fictitious terrorist attacks, for example, were cited to justify a travel ban on the citizens of seven “countries of concern”. Although history has frequently been interpreted for political ends, psychologists are now investigating the fundamental processes by which collective memories form, to understand what makes them vulnerable to distortion. They show that social networks powerfully shape memory, and that people need little prompting to conform to a majority recollection — even if it is wrong. Not all the findings are gloomy, however. Research is pointing to ways of dislodging false memories or preventing them from forming in the first place.

To combat the influence of fake news, says Micah Edelson, a memory researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, “it's important to understand not only the creation of these sites, but also how people respond to them”.

Talking about memory and experience this is a great 20 min TED Talk by Daniel Kahneman - well worth the view.

The riddle of experience vs. memory

Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our "experiencing selves" and our "remembering selves" perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.

This is another article outlining the growing number of players (including Microsoft vs IBM) and versions of emerging Blockchain approaches to problems of accounting and tracking transactions and inventory. Worth the read.
“We believe with 100 percent certainty that it’s going to matter,” Mark Russinovich, the head of Microsoft’s blockchain efforts, said of the technology. “It’s a question of where’s its going to matter and how it’s going to matter.”

Blockchain: A Better Way to Track Pork Chops, Bonds, Bad Peanut Butter?

Frank Yiannas has spent years looking in vain for a better way to track lettuce, steaks and snack cakes from farm and factory to the shelves of Walmart, where he is the vice president for food safety. When the company dealt with salmonella outbreaks, it often took weeks to trace where the bad ingredients came from.

Then, last year, IBM executives flew to Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas to propose a solution: the blockchain.
As Mr. Yiannas studied their pitch, he said, “I became increasingly convinced that maybe we were onto the holy grail.”

The blockchain — the buzzy, bewildering technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin — is starting to be applied to real-world problems like tracking pork chops, shipping containers and footwear with a speed and security not currently possible. The IBM-Walmart partnership is one of the biggest practical tests to date.
Last month, the government of Dubai said it was working with IBM to trace the goods flowing through its ports.

Yet success is far from assured.
Rival Microsoft said this past week that it was working with JPMorgan Chase and several other corporate giants on a system that competes against IBM’s, based on the virtual currency network known as Ethereum. Many banks are concerned that IBM could push them into a version of the blockchain that would lock them into IBM’s software.

Here’s an interesting signal of the emergence some of the advertising shown in Minority Report. Right now seems only directed to likely rich ‘targets’ but soon it may be everyone. There’s short illustrative video.

Moscow Billboard Targets Ads Based on the Car You’re Driving

The rise of digital billboards spawns the idea of targeted highway ads, with tests in the U.S. planned for this summer.
Last November if you were driving a BMW x5 or a Volvo XC60 on the highway ringing Moscow, you might have noticed a digital billboard on the side of the road flash an ad just as you approached, one for a new SUV from Jaguar.

If it was evening, you saw an ad with a dark background, helping the car stand out. In bad weather, you saw it maneuvering in the snow.
Targeted advertising is familiar to anyone browsing the Internet. A startup called Synaps Labs has brought it to the physical world by combining high-speed cameras set up a distance ahead of the billboard (about 180 meters) to capture images of cars. Its machine-learning system can recognize in those images the make and model of the cars an advertiser wants to target. A bidding system then selects the appropriate advertising to put on the billboard as that car passes.

Marketing a car on a roadside billboard might seem a logical fit. But how broad could this kind of advertising be? There is a lot an advertiser can tell about you from the car you drive, says Synaps. Indeed, recent research from a group of university researchers and led by Stanford found that—using machine vision and deep learning—analyzing the make, model, and year of vehicles visible in Google Street View could accurately estimate income, race, and education level of a neighborhood’s residents, and even whether a city is likely to vote Democrat or Republican.

Now here’s another signal of not just the quantified self - but of verifiable performances.

High-Tech Condom Ring Coming Out To Measure Boink Performance

“Users will have the option to share their recent data with friends, or, indeed the world,” the manufacturer promises.
For the full “Terminator” bionic man effect comes a brave-new-world condom ring to measure almost everything guys have wanted to know about their sexual performance.

The i.Con bills itself as the “World’s First Smart Condom.” (“Welcome to the future of wearable technology in the bedroom,” notes manufacturer British Condoms.)
In fact, the device is a ring that men can wear with a condom during sex to track a number of pertinent facts. It’s not actually available yet, but the company is taking “early bird” registrations around the world for the product, which will sell for about $75 once it’s released sometime in 2017.

The i.Con tracks speed, “average thrust velocity,” duration, skin temperature, girth, calories burned (no joke) and frequency of sessions. Most importantly for many, no doubt, will be how a wearer stacks up to the average and “best” performers — though a sexual partner will likely have an insight or two about that. Statistics are tracked via an i.Con app.

While not ready for prime time this is a big breakthrough for the future of the electric vehicle and many other energy storage uses.

Lithium-Ion Battery Inventor Introduces New Technology for Fast-Charging, Noncombustible Batteries

A team of engineers led by 94-year-old John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, has developed the first all-solid-state battery cells that could lead to safer, faster-charging, longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices, electric cars and stationary energy storage.

Goodenough’s latest breakthrough, completed with Cockrell School senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga, is a low-cost all-solid-state battery that is noncombustible and has a long cycle life (battery life) with a high volumetric energy density and fast rates of charge and discharge. The engineers describe their new technology in a recent paper published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The researchers demonstrated that their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries. A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, so a higher energy density means that a car can drive more miles between charges. The UT Austin battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge (minutes rather than hours).

And another breakthrough in energy storage battery.
“So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth. And it actually has good performance,” said Dai. “Who would have thought you could take graphite, aluminum, urea, and actually make a battery that can cycle for a pretty long time?”

Stanford engineers create a low-cost battery for storing renewable energy

A new low-cost, high-performance battery could provide an inexpensive storage solution for solar power, which is abundant during the day but must be stored for use at night.  
A battery made with urea, commonly found in fertilizers and mammal urine, could provide a low-cost way of storing energy produced through solar power or other forms of renewable energy for consumption during off hours.

Developed by Stanford chemistry Professor Hongjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell, the battery is nonflammable and contains electrodes made from abundant aluminum and graphite. Its electrolyte’s main ingredient, urea, is already industrially produced by the ton for plant fertilizers.

Energy geo-politics continues an accelerating shift toward renewables.

UK carbon emissions drop to lowest level since 19th century, study finds

Ditching dirty coal benefiting environment as gas and renewables increase their share in electricity generation
The UK’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to their lowest level since the 19th century as coal use continues to plummet, analysis suggests.

Emissions of the major greenhouse gas fell almost 6% year-on-year in 2016, after the use of coal for electricity more than halved to record lows, according to the Carbon Brief website, which reports on climate science and energy policy.

The assessment suggests carbon emissions in 2016 were about 381m tonnes, putting the UK’s carbon pollution at its lowest level – apart from during coal mining disputes in the 1920s – since 1894.
Carbon emissions in 2016 are about 36% below the reference year of 1990, against which legal targets to cut climate pollution are measured.

Emissions of carbon dioxide from coal fell 50% in 2016 as use of the fossil fuel dropped by 52%, contributing to an overall drop in carbon output of 5.8% last year compared with 2015, Carbon Brief said.
The assessment reveals that coal use has fallen by 74% in just a decade.

Even if the current energy incumbents work to delay the advent of renewable - near-zero marginal cost energy - the trajectory is inevitable.
"Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability," SPP Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew said in a statement.

Wind power provides half of the electricity on US grid for first time ever

'Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It's not even our ceiling,' electricity
Wind briefly powered more than 50 percent of electric demand on Sunday, the 14-state Southwest Power Pool (SPP) said, for the first time on any North American power grid.
SPP coordinates the flow of electricity on the high voltage power lines from Montana and North Dakota to New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

Wind power in the SPP region has grown significantly to over 16,000 MW currently from less than 400 megawatts in the early 2000s and is expected to continue growing. One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.

Here’s a sign of a transformation of energy geopolitics for Canada.

Shell Is Abandoning Canada’s Oilsands

Shell says it’s focused on becoming a “company of the future,” and that future apparently doesn’t include the Alberta oilsands.
The petroleum giant plans to sell its 60 percent holding in Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP) to Canadian Natural Resources Limited, one of its partners. The sale will also include its assets at the Peace River Complex and a number of other undeveloped oilsands leases. In another deal, both Shell and CNR will purchase petroleum producer, Marathon Oil Canada, which owns a 20 percent stake in the AOSP.

That means Shell is looking at mostly getting out of Alberta, with a consideration of $7.25 billion.
The AOSP includes a section of the north half of Alberta that has been criticized as some of the dirtiest, and least sustainable, oil extraction in the world. When oil prices dropped in 2014 and never recovered, the maintenance of such an expensive oil extraction venture in unfriendly economic climates become the focus of much discussion.

Here’s a great new moment in the emergence of large scale 3D printing. There are two short videos - well worth the view.

This house was 3D-printed in just 24 hours

As we start to 3D-print everything -- including houses, of all things -- it's pretty impressive that a company built one in just 24 hours.

Located in Russia, this 400-square-foot home (37 square meters) was built in just a day, The main components of the house, including the walls, partitions and building envelope were printed solely with a concrete mixture.

Fixtures like windows and furnishings were later added on, and a shiny coat of paint added to the exterior of the house.
The total construction cost of the house? $10,134.

Imagine if automated systems had ‘mirror neurons’? We might not be able to provide such systems with such neuron but by creating mind-system interfaces it might seem like they have them.
“Imagine being able to instantaneously tell a robot to do a certain action, without needing to type a command, push a button or even say a word,” says CSAIL Director Daniela Rus. “A streamlined approach like that would improve our abilities to supervise factory robots, driverless cars, and other technologies we haven’t even invented yet.”
“As you watch the robot, all you have to do is mentally agree or disagree with what it is doing,” says Rus. “You don’t have to train yourself to think in a certain way — the machine adapts to you, and not the other way around.”

Brain-controlled robots

CSAIL system enables people to correct robot mistakes using brain signals.
For robots to do what we want, they need to understand us. Too often, this means having to meet them halfway: teaching them the intricacies of human language, for example, or giving them explicit commands for very specific tasks.

But what if we could develop robots that were a more natural extension of us and that could actually do whatever we are thinking?

A team from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and Boston University is working on this problem, creating a feedback system that lets people correct robot mistakes instantly with nothing more than their brains.

This is a short article on a concept of a self-flying passage drone. The animation is worth the view.

Airbus reveals a modular, self-piloting flying car concept

Airbus has been talking about its Vahana flying autonomous vehicle project for a while now, but at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, it’s showing off a concept design created in partnership with Italdesign. The demonstration vehicle offers modular functionality, meaning it an operate both on the ground and in the air, and Airbus thinks it’s one potential answer to the growing problem of urban traffic congestion.

As you can see, it’s suitably sci-fi in its design sensibilities, but it’s designed with practicality in mind. The concept vehicle is intended to work with others to form a network that can be summoned on demand, with passengers hailing a ride form an app on their mobile device. The capsule-based design can connect to either ground or air conveyance modules, letting customers specific their preferred method of transit. It’s also designed to be used in concert with other, existing transportation methods for maximum efficiency.

The domestication of DNA and an integration with nanotechnology progresses - this is an interesting breakthrough.
A molecular robot is an artificial molecular system that is built by integrating molecular machines. The researchers believe that realization of such a system could lead to a significant breakthrough - a bio-inspired robot designed on a molecular basis.

Shape-shifting molecular robots respond to DNA signals

A research group at Tohoku University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a molecular robot consisting of biomolecules, such as DNA and protein. The molecular robot was developed by integrating molecular machines into an artificial cell membrane. It can start and stop its shape-changing function in response to a specific DNA signal.

This is the first time that a molecular robotic system has been able to recognize signals and control its shape-changing function. What this means is that molecular robots could, in the near future, function in a way similar to living organisms.

Using sophisticated biomolecules such as DNA and proteins, living organisms perform important functions. For example, white blood cells can chase bacteria by sensing chemical signals and migrating toward the target. In the field of chemistry and synthetic biology, elemental technologies for making various molecular machines, such as sensors, processors and actuators, are created using biomolecules.

The molecular robot developed by the research group is extremely small - about one millionth of a meter - similar in size to human cells. It consists of a molecular actuator, composed of protein, and a molecular clutch, composed of DNA (Fig. 1 A). The shape of the robot's body (artificial cell membrane) can be changed by the actuator, while the transmission of the force generated by the actuator can be controlled by the molecular clutch (bottom of Fig. 1 A).

This is a fascinating piece on a very small and important life form. As we learn to domesticate DNA the complexity of life seems to increase. The 5 min video is worth the view.

Meet the obscure microbe that influences climate, ocean ecosystems, and perhaps even evolution

Chisholm has found hidden complexity within Prochlorococcus, a cyanobacterium that is the smallest, most abundant photosynthesizing cell in the ocean—responsible for 5% of global photosynthesis, by some estimates. Its many different versions, or ecotypes, thrive from the sunlit sea surface to a depth of 200 meters, where light is minimal. Collectively the "species" boasts an estimated 80,000 genes—four times what humans have, and plenty to deal with whatever the world's oceans throw at it. "It's a beautiful little life machine and like a superorganism," Chisholm says. "It's got a story to tell us."

And tell it Chisholm has, to anyone and in any way possible. Her work on the microbe has led to a meeting with a U.S. president, a debate with the Dalai Lama, and co-authorship of science-themed children's books. She even once tried to get the hip-hop star GZA to incorporate the bacterium's mouthful of a name into a rap song for an album he was considering on oceans. "She's really driven to sell Prochlorococcus," says Allison Coe, Chisholm's longtime lab manager. "She wants everyone else to be as passionate and to consider it as amazing as she thinks it is."

The microbe's long climb to recognition mirrors Chisholm's own. Early in her career, as the lone woman, and lone biologist, in the civil engineering department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, she had to overcome both scientific and cultural hurdles, adopting the latest techniques to reveal Prochlorococcus's secrets while working with other female faculty to get MIT to address gender discrimination. Her quiet persistence inspired others. Chisholm, who in recent years has been awarded the National Medal of Science and named as one of MIT's 13 Institute Professors, sent "an important message for future academicians," says Heidi Sosik, a biological oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. "You don't have to be a blustery, high-profile white guy to make it."

Here’s some good news regarding some of those antibiotic resistant bacteria.
“Pentamidine can breathe life into drugs we don’t usually use for Gram-negative infections because they wouldn’t have been able to cross the exterior membrane,” comments Robert Hancock, a University of British Columbia microbiologist who characterized Gram-negative pathogens early in his career and now focuses on battling antibiotic resistance. “And another exciting thing is that pentamidine is already a drug,” he adds. So there’s a possibility it could be fast-tracked by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration because it’s already been proven safe in humans.

Dual therapy first weakens, then kills antibiotic-resistant pathogens

The drug pentamidine disrupts the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, allowing antibiotics inside to finish the job
Among the most nefarious human pathogens are bacteria with two sets of membranes protecting their innards. The doubled armor can prevent antibiotics from penetrating these so-called Gram-negative bacteria, and it can help them develop resistance to antibiotics. Now a team led by Eric Brown at McMaster University has found a way to weaken the outer membrane of Gram-negative microbes so that previously unusable drugs can penetrate and kill the pathogens—including several multidrug resistant strains (Nat. Microbiol. 2017, DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.28).

In late February, the World Health Organization published a list of our planet’s most problematic bacterial pathogens: The top three are multidrug-resistant Gram-negative microbes from the Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas, and Enterobacteriaceae families. They can cause life-threatening pneumonia or systemic infections, and patients are increasingly acquiring them in hospitals. As a last resort, doctors can treat infected patients by prescribing antibiotics that are toxic to nerve and kidney cells. But bacteria are even developing resistance to these suboptimal drugs, threatening “to cause a serious breach in our last line of defense against multidrug resistant Gram-negative pathogens,” Brown explains.

The beginning of science was initiated by amateurs and even today amateurs contribute significantly to the advance of sciences. Do It Yourself science has many dimensions.

This Lab-in-a-Box Could Make Gene Therapy Less Elitist

Genetic repairs are curing patients—but only at a few elite centers.
Jennifer Adair carried out her first gene therapy experiment several years ago. A cancer treatment, it involved collecting blood from a patient, and then adding to these cells a new strand of DNA—a gene—that would protect them from a powerful chemotherapy. The altered cells were then reinfused into their veins.

The study, involving 11 patients, proved fairly successful. But Adair, who runs a gene-therapy lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, says it took three sleepless scientists around 96 hours just to process a single person’s cells in a multimillion-dollar clean room. “I said, ‘Wow, we really need to simplify this,’ ” Adair recalls.

Gene therapy is moving quickly from experiment to medical reality. But with potential treatments for cancer and rare diseases now showing promise, scientists are worried that the technology is so complex that patients will not benefit as quickly as they should because of a shortage of trained technicians and suitable facilities. For the most successful gene therapies, those that require modifying blood cells outside the body, the procedures are offered only by a dozen or so research centers, all in major cities like New York, Seattle, Milan, and Paris.

In October, Adair demonstrated a new technology she thinks could democratize access to gene therapy. Tweaking a cell-processing device sold by German instrument maker Miltenyi, she mostly automated the process of preparing blood cells with a gene therapy for HIV that her center is also testing. Cells dripped in one end came out the other 30 hours later with little oversight needed. She even added wheels. Adair calls the mobile lab “gene therapy in a box.”

For all of us who seriously wonder or despair about how organizations can get ‘there’ from ‘here’ - Here’s one possibility.

MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award Nomination Form

We are now accepting nominations for the first-ever MIT Media Lab Disobedience Award, which carries a $250,000 cash prize, no strings attached.
This award will go to a person or group engaged in what we believe is an extraordinary example of disobedience for the benefit of society.

What does this mean? Societies and institutions lean toward order and away from chaos. While necessary for functioning, structure can also stifle creativity, flexibility, and productive change–and ultimately, society's health and sustainability. This is true from academia, to corporations, governments, the sciences, and our local communities.

With this award, we honor work that impacts society in positive ways, and is consistent with a set of key principles. These principles include non-violence, creativity, courage, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. This disobedience is not limited to specific disciplines; examples include scientific research, civil rights, freedom of speech, human rights, and the freedom to innovate.

Deadline for submissions is May 1, 2017. Award recipient will be announced live on July 21, 2017.

For Fun & Interest
The key insight for me is the idea of how alcohol consumption was so widespread (as a safer alternative to drinking water) and how coffee as a drug helped change consciousness. :) And of course made water safer because of boiling.

How Alcohol and Caffeine Helped Create Civilization

No two drugs have arguably defined human civilization the way alcohol and caffeine have.

Nature created both to kill creatures much smaller than us — plants evolved caffeine to poison insect predators, and yeasts produce ethanol to destroy competing microbes.

True to its toxic origins, alcohol kills 3.3 million people each year, causing 5.9% of all deaths and 25% of deaths among people aged 20 to 39. Alcohol also causes liver disease, many cancers, and other devastating health and social problems.

On the other hand, research suggests that alcohol may have helped create civilization itself. Alcohol consumption could have given early homo sapiens a survival edge. Before we could properly purify water or prepare food, the risk of ingesting hazardous microbes was so great that the antiseptic qualities of alcohol made it safer to consume than non-alcoholic alternatives — despite alcohol’s own risks.

And caffein is good for you.

Caffeine Boosts Enzyme That Could Protect Against Dementia

Researchers have discovered 24 compounds, including caffeine, that have the potential to boost NMNAT2, an enzyme shown to help protect against dementia.
A study by Indiana University researchers has identified 24 compounds — including caffeine — with the potential to boost an enzyme in the brain shown to protect against dementia.

The protective effect of the enzyme, called NMNAT2, was discovered last year through research conducted at IU Bloomington. The new study appears today in the journal Scientific Reports.

“This work could help advance efforts to develop drugs that increase levels of this enzyme in the brain, creating a chemical ‘blockade’ against the debilitating effects of neurodegenerative disorders,” said Hui-Chen Lu, who led the study. Lu is a Gill Professor in the Linda and Jack Gill Center for Biomolecular Science and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, a part of the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences.

Previously, Lu and colleagues found that NMNAT2 plays two roles in the brain: a protective function to guard neurons from stress and a “chaperone function” to combat misfolded proteins called tau, which accumulate in the brain as “plaques” due to aging. The study was the first to reveal the “chaperone function” in the enzyme.

Well for anyone who’s owned a dog this seems like a candidate for an Ignoble Award. However, just in case you’ve never owned a dog before and are contemplating have a dog companion in your life - you can now be prepared.

Dogs Use Deception to Get Treats, Study Shows

When a human partner withheld tasty snacks, the dogs got sneaky
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that dogs, in addition to looking adorable in sweaters, possess fairly sophisticated cognitive abilities. They recognize emotion, for example, and respond negatively to antisocial behavior between humans. Man’s best friend can also get pretty tricksy when it comes to scoring snacks. As Brian Owens reports for New Scientist, a recent study found that dogs are capable of using deceptive tactics to get their favorite treats.

The study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, was led by Marianne Heberlein of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Experimental Studies at the University of Zürich. Heberlein told Owens that the idea for the study was born when she observed her pet pooches engaging in deceptive behavior; one sometimes pretends to see something interesting outside, prompting the other to give up his sleeping spot.