Category Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ star collision, Europa plates, Voyager’s old thrusters, spacesuit, Type 2 diabetes, spider beanie, meteorite bronze age


Fancy hanging off the side of your building in this?

Two stars collided — On August 17th, 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. And there was more, and there is much more yet to come from this discovery…  but now what?
~ Do scientists even have the right instrumentation to follow these discoveries up? 

Europa’s icy plate tectonics — According to new research published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Europa has what it takes to support plate tectonics. Using computer models, a team lead by Brown University planetary scientist Brandon Johnson was able to demonstrate the physical feasibility of icy plates driving deep into the icy interior in a processes similar to what’s seen on Earth. This same process could be delivering important minerals to the ocean below, heightening the moon’s status a potentially habitable world.
~ Jupiter’s moon Europa features a ‘warm’ subterranean ocean covered in ice, leading to decades of speculation it might harbour life. 

Voyager 1 just fired up its backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years — Voyager 1, the probe which became the first man-made object to leave the solar system in 2012, has been away from home for a long, long time – approximately 40 years. It’s still been beaming back reams of data. (It’s so lonely.) Now it’s nearly 21 billion kilometeres from Earth. Last week, NASA said it had successfully dusted off the spacecraft’s long-dormant backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years.
~ And, in its off time, 1 has been sending extremely ill-advised texts to possible distant alien civilisations. 

Spacesuit’s Take Me Home button — Imagine, unlike in the film Gravity, a struggling astronaut presses an emergency button which automatically takes her back to the International Space Station or another space-based habitat. Such a system is currently under development at Draper Labs, and it could soon become a standard feature on spacesuits.
~ There goes my Space Life Preserver plan. 

Type 2 diabetes might be reversible — For those suffering from type 2 diabetes, there is good news. Nearly half of the participants in a watershed trial of a new diabetes treatment were able to reverse their affliction. The method is quite simple: an all liquid diet that causes participants to lose a lot of weight, followed by a carefully controlled diet of real solid foods. Four times a day, a sachet of powder is stirred in water to make a soup or shake. They contain about 200 calories, but also the right balance of nutrients. If the patient can keep away from other foods long enough, there is a chance of reversing type 2 diabetes completely.
~ Jenny Craig must be sharpening her pencil. 

Personal urban retreat — A transparent capsule on a roof high above the city may offer a temporary escape in urban environments, while also allowing us to reconnect with our environment. The capsule nestles in the density of the city, but escapes it due to its high position. The shape embraces the buildings since it lies partly on the roof and the facade. Like a mountain retreat, it offers a quiet space to breathe with a new viewpoint.
~ I reckon people would just fill them up with junk as extra storage. 

Artificial spider silk beanie — Best Made Company’s Cap of Courage is a US$198 striped beanie that’s made by combining Bolt’s Microsilk and Rambouillet wool. The run of 100 caps is a proof of concept to show that the elusive science behind crafting synthetic spider’s silk is no longer elusive. It’s partly a product of proteins that mimic spider silk grown in yeast.
~ At least it’s not brewed from dead flies, so the courage part comes from paying that much for a hat, presumably. 

Almost all Bronze Age iron artefacts were made from meteorite iron — According to a new study, it’s possible that all iron-based weapons and tools of the Bronze Age were forged using metal salvaged from meteorites. The finding has given experts a better insight into how these tools were created before humans worked out how to produce iron from its ore.
~ The surprise for me is that iron was smelted at all in the Bronze Age, before the beginning of the official Iron Age.

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Futurology ~ Space weirdness, Quantum Machines, bilingual AI, soft robots, NASA tyres, glacier danger, coal to clean


NASA’s new tyres are virtually indestructible

Asteroid in close pass — (3200) Phaethon is a rock 5km in diameter with an oblong orbit that intersects Earth. It’s scheduled to make a nearby approach on December 16th. You’ll probably hear more fear-mongering shouting about it until then, but it isn’t a rock to worry about in our lifetimes.
~  It will pass a fifth of the distance from Earth to Mars at its closest. Mars is not exactly close. 

Chinese Monkey King satellite has made some odd discoveries — China’s Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite (DAMPE or Wukong in China) is reporting the results of a year-and-a-half of space-staring, measuring the mysterious, high-energy electrons blasting Earth from space. The experiment has directly detected something that some similar experiments have hinted at, but others haven’t: a sudden drop-off in the electrons hitting the satellite. Whatever is going on, it’s weird.
~ But the Earth is still round. 

Space bacteria — Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov took routine samples from the outside of the International Space Station during a spacewalk. These samples were analysed and found to contain bacteria that must have come from somewhere other than Earth or the ISS itself. “Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs,” Shkaplerov told TASS Russian News Agency. “So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.”
The Independent wrote “Finding bacteria that came from somewhere other than Earth would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of science – but much more must be done before such a claim is made.”

Two new Quantum Machines have made actual science discoveries — Two teams of scientists are announcing that their quantum simulators – advanced quantum computers with very specialised scientific purposes – have made some real scientific discoveries.
~ I know I shouldn’t feel sorry for all those trapped atoms, but I do.

Bilingual AI without a dictionary — Two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with no parallel texts – a surprising advance that could make documents in many languages more accessible.
The two new papers focus on unsupervised machine learning. To start, each constructs bilingual dictionaries without the aid of a human teacher telling them when their guesses are right. That’s possible because languages have strong similarities in the ways words cluster around one another. The words for table and chair, for example, are frequently used together in all languages, so if a computer maps out these co-occurrences like a giant road atlas with words for cities, the maps for different languages will resemble each other, just with different names.
~ A computer can figure out the best way to overlay one atlas on another and voila! You have a bilingual dictionary.

Soft robots acquire origami skeletons — Robots are going soft. Literally soft, controlled with liquid or air instead of traditional motors. Soft robotics is hot at the moment. But without the rigidity and powerful motors of your typical robot, soft robots have been weak  until researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Harvard’s Wyss Institute developed a new kind of soft robotic muscle inspired by origami and awesomeness. It’s essentially a bag filled with air, inside of which is an origami structure that functions as a skeleton. By pumping air in and out, the researchers can get the muscle to lift 1000 times its own weight.
~ Could this also be used inside buildings to prevent collapse during earthquakes? 

NASA’s tough titanium tyres — Stretch a Slinky toy too far, and eventually the metal coil will be warped so much it won’t be able to return to its original spring shape. That’s a problem also faced by the metal spring tyres designed to roll across the Moon, and other planets our rovers are exploring. But NASA has created an alternative, made from titanium, that can tackle any terrain and always return to its original tyre shape.
~ A tyre that can last for years with minimal maintenance is important when sending rovers to the other planets in our Solar System.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay could drown us; they are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica — A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites ‘The Doomsday Glacier.’ Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour over three metres (11 feet) of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans, an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.
~ Marine ice-cliff instability is a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet in turn effecting hundreds of millions of people worldwide. 

Dirty coal to clean energy in Germany — The path from dirty coal to clean energy isn’t easy. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is a symbol of the challenges and opportunities facing Germany – and coal-producing states everywhere.
Around the world, as governments shift away from the coal that fueled two ages of industrial revolution, more and more mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that could put them to work for the next revolution in energy, it will have to come soon. One use for retired coal mines is as giant batteries for clean energy. To turn a coal mine into a battery, all you need is gravity.
~ Plus a lot of money.

Futurology ~ weird asteroid, exotic particle, weather tech, Musk hits deadline, robot salad, microbial kill-switches, ancient dogs on the leash


This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that it was travelling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. `Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object, about 400 metres long, and is unlike anything normally found in the Solar System.

Oumuamua also has a weird shape — A few weeks ago an interstellar asteroid, now named Oumuamua, was discovered passing through our solar system. Being the first interstellar asteroid to ever be observed, a flurry of observations soon followed. An article in Nature revealed Oumuamua is more bizarre than originally thought, since it it is elongated, with a 10:1 aspect ratio, and rapidly rotating. This conclusion is based upon comparisons of its time-dependent light curve to those from 20,000 known asteroids.
~ Bye.

Two teams simultaneously unearthed evidence of an exotic new particle — A few months ago, physicists observed a new subatomic particle – essentially an awkwardly-named, crazy cousin of the proton. Its mere existence has energised teams of particle physicists to dream up new ideas about how matter forms, arranges itself and exists. Now, a pair of new research papers using different theoretical methods have independently unearthed another, crazier particle predicted by the laws of physics
~ So here I join in the general excitement that, uh, doubly-b tetraquark could exist. Woot. 

Latest weather-tech in space — A fastidiously clean scanning machine named VIIRS has been launched into Earth orbit on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, just one instrument outfitting a next-generation weather satellite. The Visible Infrared Radiometer Suite is a washing machine-sized sensor, built to capture light and other waves that bounce off the surface of Earth. It collects those reflections, turning them into data about our planet, the oceans, land and vegetation cover, ice caps, volcanic plumes, and global temperatures—allowing accurate weather forecasts, wildfire and fishing fleet tracking, and climate monitoring.
~ I have one in the laundry, although this one actually does the washing, no matter what the weather is doing.

Musk makes it right on time with Australian battery project — Elon Musk will get paid for building the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia, with testing on the 100-megawatt project about to begin ahead of next week’s December 1 deadline to build it in 100 days, or it’s free.
State premier Jay Weatherill has announced that regulatory testing at the site, which is paired with French energy business Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm, 230km north of the capital, Adelaide, will begin within days.
~ Gosh, doesn’t Elon just look so pleased and happy?

Robot salad — A startup called Iron Ox is taking the first steps toward roboticizing greenhouse farming, which has so far stubbornly resisted automation. In the very near future, then, the salad on your table may come from the hand of a robot.
~ Er, the robot has hands, then? Better make the thumbs green. 

UCLA researchers use solar to create and store hydrogen — UCLA researchers have designed a device that can use solar energy to inexpensively and efficiently create and store energy, which could be used to power electronic devices, and to create hydrogen fuel for eco-friendly cars.
The device could make hydrogen cars affordable for many more consumers because it produces hydrogen using nickel, iron and cobalt – elements that are much more abundant and less expensive than the platinum and other precious metals that are currently used to produce hydrogen fuel.
~ Making electricity and fuel with the same device is a real breakthrough. 

Microbial kill-switches — Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue. Researchers have been testing the use of bioengineered microbes for a variety of purposes, from the diagnosis of disease in the human body to the neutering of mosquitoes. But there remain concerns about releasing manipulated microbes into nature. Could their augmented genes have unintended consequences? Could they morph and proliferate?
~ Somehow I’m not convinced this is safer.  

Ancient dogs were already on the leash 8000 years ago — A new analysis of ancient rock art demonstrates that humans hunted with dogs on the Arabian Peninsula over 8000 years ago – and it looks like those dogs wore leashes.
There are a lot of questions around the origin of dog domestication, such as when, where and how it happened. But a newly analysed set of panels depicts scenes of leashed dogs hunting alongside humans. Not only would this be the “earliest evidence of dogs on the Arabian Peninsula,” according to the study published recently in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, but it’s also the “earliest evidence of leashes“.
~ Or maybe it was the dogs that had humans on the leashes … also, did the men really hunt with erections? That seems a little counterproductive if you ask me. 

Futurology ~ Earth-like, antimatter bombardment, cute lil lander, 2040 Museum mag, Quantum computing, human DNA hacked, robots and aged DNA


Museum has already published its 2040 edition.

Earth-sized world just 11 light years away — Astronomers have discovered a planet 35% more massive than Earth in orbit around a red dwarf star just 11 light years from the Sun. Ross 128 b likely exists at the edge of the small, relatively faint star’s habitable zone even though it is 20 times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun. The study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics finds the best estimate for its surface temperature is between -60 degrees Celsius and 20 degrees Celsius.
Proxima Centauri b is closer at less than 4.3 light years away from Earth and in the star system closest to our Sun. Even so, due to a variety of factors, Ross 128 b is tied for fourth on a list of potentially most habitable exoplanets, with an Earth Similarity Index value of 0.86.
~ Meanwhile, we are hell-bent on making our own Earth less Earthlike. 

Mystery of Earth being bombarded by antimatter — New observations of nearby pulsars – lighthouse-like neutron stars beaming energy – seem to have deepened a mystery that’s been bugging scientists for around a decade. The Earth is being hit with too much antimatter from outer space, and no one is sure why.
~ Veritably antimatter-spattered, we are. 

Moon Express MX-1E Lander is heading for the moon or bust — After multiple extensions and a couple of flameouts, five teams are racing toward the March 2018 launch deadline, and the cutest contender might be the MX-1E, an R2-D2–shaped lander designed by space startup Moon Express.
~ The MX-1E fits inside a launch vehicle from partnering with the New Zealand company Rocket Lab.

Museum magazine publishes 2040 issue — The Alliance of American Museums has just published an ambitious Nov/Dec 2040 issue of Museum, the Alliance’s magazine. The columns, reviews, articles, awards, and even the ads describe activities from a 2040 perspective, based on a multi-faceted consensus scenario.
Besides virtual reality centers (and carbon-neutral cities), it envisions de-extinction biologists who resurrect lost species. It also predicts a 2040 with orbiting storehouses to preserve historic artifacts (as well as genetic materials) as part of a collaboration with both NASA and a new American military branch called the US Space Corps. And of course, by 2040 musuems have transformed into hybrid institutions like “museum schools” and “well-being and cognitive health centers” that are both run by museums.
~ Future retro-futurism …

Should we be excited about Quantum Computers? They’re fragile, and need to be kept at temperatures close to absolute zero. Quantum computers aren’t much like the desktop PCs we’re all so familiar with – they’re a whole new kind of machine, capable of calculations so complex, it’s like upgrading from black-and-white to a full colour spectrum. Gizmodo goes further.
~ Solves things so complex we don’t even have the minds to boggle at their complexity. 

Scientists edit DNA within the human body — For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA inside of a patient’s body, in an attempt to cure a genetic disorder by permanently changing the human genome. The news represents a major landmark in science.
~ Now it has been edited, it’s called ‘human DNB’.

Robots advance, dance and enhance — Boston Dynamics’ ATLAS Robot is now a backflipping cyborg supersoldier [you know how we all need that] and wait till you see the firm’s new Robodog, and we’re already robotising our workers – but these are human workers with bionic enhancements working at Ford.
~ Where’s Waldo?

Super-old people get their DNA analysed — Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven’t turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times has chronicled one scientific quest to collect their DNA.
~ So forget good health and sobriety, let’s find a magic bullet instead. 

Futurology ~ space adventures, tech strides and uncovering the past


Saturn’s moon Enceladus has had warm water for potentially billions of years

In space news, an incredible gravitational technique has revealed the oldest spiral galaxy on record so far. Thanks to gravity’s light-bending properties, scientists have spotted a confounding thing in the distance that appears to be the oldest spiral yet. And a remarkable ‘new’ Supernova has also been discovered. Warm water has existed on Saturn’s moon Enceladus for potentially billions of years – with surprising frequency, this ice-covered moon spurts a plume of water into space in a sign that a global ocean should lie beneath.
Australia wants a spaceport in Arnhem Land . The Arnhem Space Centre will be built on the Dhupuma Plateau on the Gulkala escarpment in north east Arnhem Land. The land has been leased to Gumatj Corporation which plans to sublease part of it to Equatorial Launch Australia Pty Ltd. The site is particularly useful for rocket launches as the closer launches get to the equator, the more these launches can make use of the Earth’s rotation by launching east.

In tech news, ‘Quark Fusion’ Produces Eight Times More Energy Than Nuclear Fusion: This new source of energy, according to researchers Marek Karliner and Jonathan Rosner, comes from the fusion of subatomic particles known as quarks. These particles are usually produced as a result of colliding atoms that move at high speeds within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where these component parts split from their parent atoms. It doesn’t stop there, however, as these disassociated quarks also tend to collide with one another and fuse into particles called baryons. It is this fusion of quarks that Karliner and Rosner focused on, as they found that this fusion is capable of producing energy even greater than what’s produced in hydrogen fusion.
IBM raises the bar with a 50-Qubit Quantum Computer, but the announcement does not mean quantum computing is ready for common use. The system IBM has developed is still extremely finicky and challenging to use. Nonetheless, 50 qubits is a significant landmark in progress toward practical quantum computers.
Rocket man … Richard Browning, test pilot for the British tech company Gravity Industries and ‘real life Iron Man’ just set the Guinness World Record for fastest jetpack flight.
Browning made three attempts with the jetpack on before hitting 51.53kph (32.02mph) while flying over a lake near Lagoona Park in Reading, England recently. His last attempt even caused him to go for a dip in the water, but Browning explained that failure is just what happens “when you’re trying to push boundaries.”
Bacterial mosquitoes released: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika. On November 3rd, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus).
Pioneering hospital robot: Tug can’t talk philosophy with you, and Tug can’t do your laundry. But Tug is a pioneer because in hospitals around the world, this robot is helping nurses and doctors care for patients by autonomously delivering food and drugs, shouldering the burden of time-consuming mundanity. And now, it’s rolling more and more into hotels, so get ready to see more of Tug.
The US Airforces wants lasers on its fighter jets by 2021. The Force’s scientific research wing is giving Lockheed Martin $US26.3 million “for the design, development, and production of a high power fibre laser” which it expects to start testing on a tactical fighter jet in four years.

Retrofuturism: using tech to further uncover the past — Art restoration experts need to strip old varnish off old paintings and reapply it when a painting becomes unsightly. In a Twitter video posted by Philip Mould, the art dealer and Fake or Fortune? host showed just how dramatic this transformation can be.
Why were male wooly mammoths more often trapped than female? While conducting an analysis of woolly mammoth DNA, European researchers noticed something a little strange. A disproportionate number of male mammoths were found preserved in traps, such as holes and bogs. The explanation, say the researchers, can be be tied to the behaviour of their distant relatives, modern elephant.

 

Futurology ~ Maybe planets, inside the Magellan, fake faces, ageing, charging colab, Roman wrong vase, Dingo origins


Mirror Lab staffer Linda Warren places the last piece of glass into the mold for Giant Magellan Telescope mirror 5

New planets may lurk in the nearest system to ours — New observations show there’s at least one, but possibly three rings of cold dust around our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. That could indicate the presence of more planets, according to new research.
~ Once we can count them, we can no longer denigrate this galaxy as Aproxima Centauri.

Inside the world’s largest optical telescope — Wired goes 24.3 metres (80 feet) above a mirror 8.38 metres (27.5 feet) in diameter. This disc of glass is one of seven mirrors that will eventually comprise the Giant Magellan Telescope. This mirror has already taken nearly six years – and US$20 million – to make.
~ Who’s the most complex mirror of all? 

NVIDIA’s freakishly fake ‘human’ photos — NVIDIA released a paper recently detailing a new machine learning methodology for generating unique and realistic looking faces using a generative adversarial network (GAN). The result is the ability to artificially render photorealistic human faces of “unprecedented quality.”
~ I’ve even noticed some actual human faces of unprecedented quality. 

Scientists have mathematical proof it’s impossible to stop ageing — Mathematically speaking, multicellular organisms like us will always have to deal with a cellular competition where only one side will win. And ultimately, that means our vitality will always come out as the loser.
~ I’ve always felt that to hate ageing is to hate nature. 

Car companies collaborate for electric charging network — A group of automakers has created a new company to build a network of 400 fast chargers across Europe ahead of the wave of new electric cars they’ve promised in the next few years, as countries push EVs as a way to meet emissions goals. Ionity, announced Friday by BMW Group, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company and the Volkswagen Group, will install a network of 400 high-power EV chargers across Europe by 2020.
~ To make the EeVee EeZee.

Historians wrong about Roman vase — New research shows that the British Museum’s most famous artefact, the Portland Vase, was manufactured by a different technique than the one traditionally assumed by historians and archaeologists.
For centuries, experts in antiquities have said the Portland Vase, along with other Roman cameo glass artifacts, were manufactured by the ancient Romans using a blown glass technique. Australian National University scientist and expert glassmaker Richard Whiteley is now challenging this longheld assumption, arguing that many cameo glass pieces were built with a cold-processing technique now known as paté de verre.
~ Ah, so it was a paté pot and not a vase at all … well, that blows that theory.

At last we know where dingoes came from — It’s underwater now, but there used to be a land-bridge between mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea. A new DNA study shows dingoes migrated across this bridge between 8000 and 10,000 years ago in two waves.
~ They’re very attractive dogs compared to the miserable things that apparently existed in pre-European New Zealand. 

Futurology ~ Interstellar Visitron, robots, Genetic revolution, Neanderthal with social support


This NASA animation shows the path of A/2017 U1 — an object likely of interstellar origin — through the inner solar system. A/2017 U1 made its closest approach to the sun on Sept. 9 and is now zooming away 97,200 mph (156,400 km/h) relative to the sun.Interstellar visitor — For the first time, scientists have observed an object they believe came from outside our solar system. The object is in a hyperbolic orbit that will send it back into interstellar space. The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
It’s unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma (the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet’s core) so the object’s name was amended to its current asteroidal designation.
~ How about we call it ‘Visitron’?Robots, robots, robots — Fanuc is a secretive Japanese company with 12,192 square-metre (40,000-square-foot) factories where robots made other robots in the dark, stopping only when no storage space remains. About 80% of the company’s assembly work is automated, and its robots then go on to assemble and paint cars, build motors, and make electrical components.
The Guardian GT (above) from Sarcos Robotics has 2-metre ( 7-foot) arms that replicate human motions with incredible smoothness and accuracy, but each limb can lift 227kg (500 pound) weight yet also  manipulate the most delicate of objects. Watching it in action is both hypnotic and unsettling.
And in the latest example of Philip K Dick-inspired nightmare becomes real life, Saudi Arabia just became the first nation to grant citizenship to a robot. The robot’s name is Sophia. It is artificially intelligent, friends with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin and arguably, a glimpse into the dark future that will kill us all.
~I’m working on my own robot invention: it’s a double-spherical self-motivating oared boat I’m calling the RowBot. Kickstarter, anyone?

Genetic revolution — The genome editing technology CRISPR revolutionised genetic engineering by allowing scientists to cut and paste tiny snippets of DNA with more precision than ever before. Now, one of the groups responsible for that technology has harnessed the power of CRISPR to also edit RNA, a molecule that, like DNA, is essential in the coding, regulation, and expression of genes. This development could eventually allow scientists to alter the expression of genes in the human body without having to change the genome itself. (And Wired has more.)
~ So now we’re messing with life’s vital macromolecules – a theologian’s nightmare. 

Neanderthals had social support — A re-analysis of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skull shows that, in addition to enduring multiple injuries and debilitations, this male individual was also profoundly deaf. Yet he lived well into his 40s, which is quite old by Paleolithic standards. It’s an achievement that could have only been possible with the help of others, according to new research.
~ And we’re still doing it – look how US senators are still propping up Trump. 

Cosmic lenses, Kilanova, robo-love, electric truck, fibre earthquakes, dolphin brains, Australian army VR


Ultra-powerful radio bursts may be getting a cosmic boost — The Very Large Array spotted a repeating radio burst that continues to puzzle astronomers. So-called fast radio bursts are enigmatic, ultra-brief, ultra-powerful bursts of energy coming from distant galaxies. They last for only a fraction of a second, but in that time they emit the energy of perhaps 500 million suns. Their power and brevity have created an astrophysical puzzle: What could possibly be making such blasts?
James Cordes, an astronomer at Cornell University, thinks he can help explain not only the power of these repeating bursts, but also the seeming irregularity of their eruptions: clouds of charged gas, or plasma, in an FRB’s host galaxy could magnify the burst by as much as a factor of 100.
~ I see a great future for these plasma lenses. 

The ‘Kilanova’ — On August 17, 2017, over 70 observatories around and above the world, including ones like LIGO and the Hubble Space Telescope, all spotted a flash of energy. This light came in many different flavours, and was consistent with a pair of dense neutron stars colliding in a cataclysmic ‘kilonova’ explosion.
So what did we learn from it?
~ Ah those binary star mergers! It will be a monopoly. 

First mass-produced electric truck — Japan’s Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus has unveiled what it says is the world’s first mass-produced electric truck, as automakers around the world go all out to develop cars that run on battery power. The vehicle can carry about 3 tons of cargo and travel about 100 kilometres on a single charge. The truck, unveiled on Thursday, will be used by Japan’s largest convenience store chain, Seven-Eleven.
~ Just chuck some spare batteries in the glovebox for emergencies. 

For the love of robots — In summer 2002, mid-morning in a university research lab on the edge of Osaka, Japan, two girls were dressed in pale yellow, with child-puffy cheeks, black shoulder-length hair, and bangs. They stood opposite each other under fluorescent lights.
More precisely: one was a girl, 5 years old; the other was her copy, her android replica. Things have come a long way since then…
~ I’d prefer an iOS replica, obviously. 

Optical fibre network could be a giant earthquake sensor — Researchers at Stanford have demonstrated they can use ordinary, underground fiber optic cables to monitor for earthquakes, by using innate impurities in the fiber as virtual sensors. They plan a larger test installation in 2018. Their biggest challenge, they say, will not be perfecting the algorithms but convincing telcos to allow their sensor technology to piggyback on existing telecommunications lines.
~ Er, your voice is shaky …

Whales and dolphins grew big brains coz peer pressure — The human brain has evolved and expanded over millennia to accommodate our ever-more-complex needs and those of our societies. This process has given us the big brain we need to communicate, cooperate, reach consensus, empathize, and socialize. The same is true for cetaceans, like whales and dolphins, it seems. These sea creatures also grew big brains in order to better live in societies, according to a study published on Oct. 16 in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
~ Unfortunately, we live tenuously these days by the grace of those with small brains. 

Australian army turns to VR for resilience training — In an effort to help troops with the psychological stress of deployment, University of Newcastle will lead a $2.2 million project to explore what uses virtual reality can have in resilience training.
Christopher Pine, Minister for Defence Industry, has announced $2.2 million of funding by the Defence Science Technology Group and the Australian Army to explore how stress changes the way the brain works.
~ I’m not sure if being virtually resilient will translate to being actually resilient.

Futurology ~ Stolen star, Hauema ring, Titan methane storms, Moon atmosphere, Quantum puzzle, drone-slayer, Deep Learning, robots-camouflage, stay-home Stone Age


Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works

Our nearest neighbouring star may have been stolen — Less than five light years away sit three stars orbiting each other. You probably remember that one of them, Proxima Centauri, has a planet orbiting in its habitable zone — which got us really excited about the possibility of life. But what if that star was stolen?
~ Tell it to the judge, I say.]

Ring discovered around dwarf planet around Haumea — Haumea was recognised by the International Astronomical Union in 2008 as one of five dwarf planets alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake. They are located beyond Neptune, 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth. By comparing what was seen from different sites the La Silla Observatory team could reconstruct not only the shape and size of the object itself but also the shape, width, orientation and other properties of its newly discovered rings.
~ A job for space Jif?

Intense methane rainstorms on Titan — Titan is the largest of Saturn’s 60 moons and is roughly the size of Mercury. It has an atmosphere, volcanoes, mountains, and sand dunes. And like Earth, Titan features free-flowing liquid at the surface, manifesting as rivers, lakes and seas. It has regional weather patterns and severe seasonal liquid-methane rainstorms.
~ Yeah, not really selling it. 

When the Moon had an atmosphere — New research suggests that long ago, an atmosphere briefly popped into existence as a result of intense volcanic activity. Around three to four billion years ago, powerful volcanic eruptions shot gases above the Moon’s surface faster than they could escape, creating a transient atmosphere that lasted for about 70 million years.
~ 70 million years is transient?

Australian scientists save 30-year-old Quantum puzzle — The scientific community has been working on this one for more than 30 years. Australian scientists from Griffith University just worked out how to measure things with with single particles of light to a higher precision than ever before – on a quantum level.
~ Dang, I thought I was about to solve that one. 

Humanity gets a laser-shooting, drone-slaying dune buggy — Small consumer drones are fairly benign nuisances, buzzing around beaches, filming neighbourhoods from 100 metres up, and hopefully keeping clear of airports. To US armed forces fighting overseas, though, small drones can be huge threats. They can be rigged with explosives and firearms, or simply deployed as surveillance tools. So Raytheon has rolled out an answer at the Association of the United States Army Exposition in Washington: a laser-shooting, drone-killing dune buggy.
~ Um, ‘hoorah’?

Deep Learning explained in new theory — The magic leap from special cases to general concepts during learning gives deep neural networks their power, just as it underlies human reasoning, creativity and the other faculties collectively termed ‘intelligence.’ Experts wonder what it is about deep learning that enables generalisation – and to what extent brains apprehend reality in the same way. But a new theory seems to explain it.
~ Experience, basically … why is this so surprising?

Robot camouflage informed by the octopus — Scientists have engineered a material that can transform from a 2D sheet to a 3D shape, adjusting its texture to blend in with its surroundings. They mimicked the abilities of an octopus, which can change both shape and color to camouflage. This is a first step toward developing soft robots that can hide in plain sight, robotics expert Cecilia Laschi writes of the research.
~ Oh no, where did I put that washing machine?

Staying home changed the Stone Age — A new study by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand suggests that at about 58,000 years ago, Stone Age humans began to settle down, staying in one area for longer periods. The research provides a potential answer to a long-held mystery: why older, Howiesons Poort complex technological tradition in South Africa, suddenly disappear at that time.
~ Yet no TV …

Futurology ~ Higgs twin, 3D Graphene, super-accurate time, asphalt batteries, Puerto Rico solar, new chopper, Neanderthal discoveries


Bell finally has its tilt-rotor military helicopter replacement ready

The Higgs Boson’s twin could reveal our universe’s dark sector — The words most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, has failed to find any of the hoped-for particles that would lead physicists beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. But it’s possible the LHC has been producing such pivotal new particles all along, and that we’re just not seeing them.
~ I’m definitely not seeing one. 

Laser light forges graphene into the third dimension — The wonder material graphene gets many of its handy quirks from the fact it exists in two dimensions, as a sheet of carbon only one atom thick. But to actually make use of it in practical applications, it usually needs to be converted into a 3D form. Now, researchers have developed a new and relatively simple way to do just that, using lasers to ‘forge’ a three-dimensional pyramid out of graphene.
~ So soon we may move from ‘wonder’ to ‘usable’?

How accurate a clock do you really need, honestly? A team of physicists lead by Sara Campbell at the National Institute of Standards and Technology used the weirdness of quantum mechanics to create the most precise atomic clock yet. This clock employs atoms vibrating in three dimensions, using laser light to trap them in a sort-of miniature modular bookcase where they count down the tiniest measurable time units. The clock could one day help scientists devise some mind-boggling experiments.
~ They’re my favourite kind of experiments. 

Rice University adds asphalt to speed Lithium metal battery — The Rice lab of chemist James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimeter demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density.
~ So now I’m picturing all the battery manufacturers lining up to get their asphalt. 

Elon Musk says Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries, solar — After Puerto Rico was hit by hurricane Maria, Tesla quickly started shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries there to try and get power back on to some houses with solar arrays. Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to say that Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar on a bigger scale. Puerto Rico’s electricity rates were already quite high at around $0.20 per kWh and reliant on fossil fuels.
~ Unfortunately there are issues arising with installers ripping off desperate clients. 

Osprey-derived V-280  may finally be ready to replace US military helicopters — When fully operational, the V-280 Valor should offer double the speed and range of the conventional helicopters it’s aiming to make redundant. The V-280 is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the massively complex V-22, which dates to the late ’80s. Bell designed and built the V-280 from scratch, always with an eye on making it easy to assemble and maintain, with lessons learned from building the V-22, a joint project with Boeing.
~ This could be a revolution for the military, sure, but easy-to-fly must surely have non-military benefits, to, around freight and accessibility?

Humans today have even more Neanderthal DNA than we realised — A international team of researchers has completed one of the most detailed analyses of a Neanderthal genome to date. Among the many new findings, the researchers learned that Neanderthals first mated with modern humans a surprisingly long time ago, and that humans living today have more Neanderthal DNA than we assumed.
The resulting study, now published in Science, confirms a bunch of things we already knew about Neanderthals, while also revealing things we didn’t know.
~ I think I’d worked this out just from following Twitter and the news. 

Futurology ~ 4th wave, Pluto’s ice shards, low-tech for Venus, EVs, bot builders, McLaren body armour


NASA is going low-tech for an attempt at a usable rover for the inhospitable surface of Venus. It has built in wind turbines that distributes power to the treads

A fourth gravitational wave has been detected  — Astronomers have made a new detection of gravitational waves and for the first time have been able to trace the shape of ripples sent through spacetime when black holes collide. The announcement, made at a meeting of the G7 science ministers in Turin, marks the fourth cataclysmic black-hole merger that astronomers have spotted using Ligo, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
The latest detection is the first to have also been picked up by the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, providing a new layer of detail on the three dimensional pattern of warping that occurs during some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe.
~ Can’t think of a smart-arse thing to say about this, so I will leave that up to the researchers: “Overall, the volume of universe that is likely to contain the source shrinks by more than a factor of 20 when moving from a two-detector network to a three-detector network.” So there. 

Pluto’s skyscraper ice shards — When NASA’s New Horizons space probe zipped past Pluto in 2015, it revealed portions of the dwarf planet’s surface were strewn with what could only be described as gigantic blades of ice, many of which extended into the Plutonian sky for hundreds of metres. Finally, after nearly two years of research, a team of scientists think they have figured out the nature of these odd features and how they came to appear on the surface.
~ I would have picked something to do with temperature …

Low-tech rover destined for Venus — The surface of Venus is, at approximately 450°C (850° Fahrenheit), hot enough for paper to spontaneously combust. Its atmosphere, an oppressive mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and sulfur dioxide, is dense enough to crush a submarine. While certainly inhospitable to humans, is almost just as rough for robots. The last time a bot visited the surface of Venus was in the mid-’80s, when the Soviet Union sent its Vega lander to capture data about the planet’s soil. It lasted for less than an hour.
So NASA is going low-tech and is working on a boxy, tank-like bot that rolls around on treads (main picture, above), making it impervious to Venus’ rough terrain. Those treads are powered via a wind turbine that captures the planet’s whipping wind gusts and stores that power inside springs before distributing to the various systems on the rover.
~ It’s also using light refectors rather than fragile radio. 

Chinese researchers carry out Base Editing  to correct  mutation — Chinese researchers have taken tissue from a beta-thallasemia patient, created cloned embryos from that patient’s cells, and used a genetic editing technique known as Base Editing to correct the gene mutation that causes beta-thallasemia. The embryos were not implanted in a womb, so no actual babies were created during the procedure.
~ “Precise chemical surgery” indeed. 

Toyota, Mazda and, ah, Denso collaborate for electric cars — With governments around the world increasingly mandating some percentage of their countries’ car companies’ sales be of electric vehicles, the onus is on those brands to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to develop new models. Toyota is spearheading a new enterprise with the help of Japanese partner Mazda [which gives Ford a look-in, with it’s 33% stake in Mazda] and electronics powerhouse Denso to create standardised technology for EVs that the car brands can share in the future.
~ One suggestion: Denso should maybe consider changing its name to Clevero. 

Vacuum company Dyson aims to build a radically different electric car — The billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner said 400 engineers in Wiltshire had been working since 2015 on the £2.5 billion project.  Dyson says the car’s electric motor is ready, while two different battery types were under development that he claimed were already more efficient than in existing electric cars. Dyson said consumers would have to “wait and see” what the car would look like.
~ Going by Dyson’s other products, the mind boggles. And unlike most of their other products, they’ll hope it doesn’t suck. 

Bot armies that build things — At SRI International in Silicon Valley, researchers have developed perhaps the most impressive microbot army yet: the MicroFactory. It’s an ant colony made robotic, with half-millimeter machines zipping around to construct truly impressive structures. It could well be a glimpse at a future where 3-D printers give way to swarms of robots that cooperatively build stronger, more complex structures. The setup of the MicroFactory is fairly straightforward. The foundation is a circuit board that generates a magnetic field. The little robots themselves are magnets
~ I will really start to worry when their evolution passes from human direction. 

McLaren body armour — Developed by McLaren Applied Technologies for a “client X”, the armour is designed to “help protect vital organs after surgery”. The fully wearable composite shield does the job of the rib cage — protecting vital organs including the heart and the lungs, with the garment providing further protection from unexpected low energy impact.
According to McLaren, it’s designed to conform precisely to the client’s physique and is manufactured from a combination of materials, including carbon, Zylon and Dyneemafibres, as well as “highly-toughened resin”.
~ I guess this is really throwing down the Zylon and Dyneemafibre gauntlet to the other supercar companies …

Futurology ~ A word about the future, strange in the Solar System, NZ AI baby, cars and wheels, molecular robots, tooth vaccine, Aboriginal migration


A New Zealand company has constructed an artificial intelligence baby that plays the piano

A note about this once-a-weekend blogpost, which I call Futurology (another entry in a succession of words I have tried to invent over the last three decades). I started this as there was a lack of Apple news on weekends and I’d discover all sorts of non-Apple-related links in my week of web crawling. I start out in space, but I don’t stay there: the column moves on to interesting inventions, and when theres revelatory news about the past, back in time, so don’t be put off by a picture of an asteroid or something, glance down to see if there’s anything else that interests you!

Is it an asteroid? A comet? Both? Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope are revealing new details about a strange binary asteroid that’s performing double-duty as a comet. It’s the first time scientists have ever seen such a thing.
Back in 2006, Spacewatch discovered an asteroid named 300163 (2006 VW139). Astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope detected some comet-like activity coming from the object in 2011, so it was also given a comet designation of 288P. But things have changed again. When the object made its closest approach to the Sun last year, a German-led team of scientists used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to make observations, revealing not one but two asteroids. Which means it’s a binary system.
~ Well, I’ve committed that catchy name to memory!

Disturbing New Zealand AI baby plays the piano — A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. BabyX, the virtual creation of Mark Sagar and his researchers, looks impossibly real.. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company’s CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function.
~ And your AI baby future is Aryan … 

Electric cars of the future — This year’s Frankfurt show, the largest of its kind in the world, was packed with designs that preview all those new models coming over the next few years. If you want to see where the auto industry’s headed over the next decade and beyond, just take a whirl through the gallery above, and get ready for a real shock.
~ EVs still aren’t making an impact, but they all soon. 

3-wheeler retro-futurist car — The proposed specs on the NOBE, with a design is clearly based on a late ’50s to early ’60s-era European automotive design vocabulary, are that its electric, making a maximum 45kW, or 60 horsepower –  pretty substantial for something like this. That 60hp seems to be spread over three motors each making 20hp.
~ It has a novel charging method, too. 

Wheels and tyres that adjust to conditions — Continental has a tyre concept that can adjust itself to suit the weather conditions and your driving intentions. The Continental ContiAdapt is a smart wheel which can change between four different pre-set widths to suit wet, uneven, slippery and normal road conditions. “Micro-compressors” in each wheel expand or contract the variable width rim to suit the driving conditions – normal road conditions call for a small contact patch and high tyre pressure, where a larger contact patch and lower pressure means more grip for slippery conditions.
~ So rich people in the best cars can feel even safer, no doubt.

Molecular robot builds molecules — Scientists at The University of Manchester in the UK have created the world’s first “molecular robot” that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms.
~ Anyone seen that molecular robot? 

Chinese vaccine against tooth cavities — Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate to banish tooth decay. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.
~ Hope it fixes rat-breath at the same time!

Australian migrations via Aboriginal artefacts — Decades after collection, hair samples long filed away in small manila envelopes have become a source of DNA for Ray Tobler and Alan Cooper. Specialists in ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, they wanted to know how humans first migrated across this continent, thousands of years ago.
~ Yes, thousands of years before white invaders ‘discovered’ Australia. 

Futurology ~ Goth Jupiter, future tech, lasers, fertile bacteria, supercomputer engineering, hydrogen buses, Voynich manuscript


The Voynich Manuscript has finally been deciphered. No clues from the drawing, then…

Hubble observes ‘Goth Jupiter’ — Over a thousand light years away, there’s a planet that isn’t conforming to your so-called rules. The planet reflects at most 6.4% of the light that hits it. WASP-12b is already a highly-studied planet, according to a Hubble release. The planet has a radius twice Jupiter’s and is incredibly close to WASP-12a, with a year lasting around a single Earth day. Its 2600°C surface stretches like an egg from its nearby sun.
~ Bit hard to get real science from it, surely, at that distance. 

What future tech do you think we’ll actually have in the future? A recent survey conducted by IT training firm CBT Nuggets revealed a little about what we think will and won’t happen in the future. For example, nearly a third of those surveyed didn’t think printable food would ever be possible – but a company managed to do just that by using edible ingredients instead of traditional plastics in 2014.
~ Indeed, even Kitchen Things in NZ sells a pancake printer.

Speaking of which, I always thought we’d have more lasers in this era — This clip from Pete’s Shredder shows an engraver at work, carving out Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 piece “Ohhh…Alright…” onto anodised aluminium. The speed at which the beams work tricks your brain into thinking the video is sped up. It’s not. You’re watching the engraving in real-time.
~ Gatling-laser-art.

Designer bacteria could fertile itself — Peanuts, peas, and many types of beans are climate-friendly because they basically make their own fertiliser. But most of the world’s biggest food crops – corn, wheat, rice – aren’t so hospitable to nitrogen-fixers. Which is why they require so much artificial fertiliser to grow. So if we could redesign those to fertilise themselves
~ It should be a logical next step. After all, most plants already root themselves. [LOL –Antipodean-only joke,]

Astonishing engineering behind supercomputer — Summit, a supercomputer nearing completion at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, opens for business next year. Then it will be the United States’ most powerful supercomputer and perhaps the most powerful in the world. Modelling the astounding number of variables that affect climate change, for instance, is no task for desktop computers in labs. Some goes for genomics work and drug discovery and materials science. If it’s wildly complex, it’ll soon course through Summit’s water-cooled circuits.
~ It sounds like it will generate so much heat, it will be contributing to global warming while it tries to solve it. 

The OneStep 2 is the first camera from Polaroid Originals — This new brand under the Polaroid umbrella is dedicated to revamping the company’s classic cameras for the digital age. The US$99 OneStep 2 takes after the original in plenty of ways, with a compact, molded plastic body in black or white. The viewfinder is tucked into the left-hand corner just above the exposure knob; the red shutter button is on the right. A redesigned rainbow logo runs across the bottom of the camera, paying homage to the original’s striped decal.
~ It even has a film-pack!

Tesla remotely extended the range of its cars for Hurricane Irma — Tesla unlocked its range-limited vehicles for Florida customers, extending the range of their vehicles to facilitate an easier evacuation from the storm.
As a Tesla spokesperson confirmed to Electrek, Florida owners of Model S and Model X 60 and 60D vehicles temporarily received the full mileage capability of the vehicles’ 75 kWh battery packs. The estimated 338km range of the 60 and 60D has been unlocked to achieve approximately 30 more miles.
~ Sounds like an invitation to hack your own Tesla to improve it, if you ask me. 

Australian hydrogen buses — South Australia’s always been on the front foot when it comes to renewable energy – even Tesla has given it the thumbs-up. On Friday, the state government revealed its Hydrogen Roadmap, which “sets out clear pathways to capitalise on South Australia’s competitive advantages” and will “accelerate the State’s transition to a clean, safe and sustainable producer, consumer and exporter of hydrogen”.
One of the key objectives is to get a small fleet of six buses sorted for Adelaide Metro, which will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The government is currently asking for tenders for production and delivery of the vehicles.
~ Hydrogen vehicles have been promised sine the 1950s. 

Last week, the cryptic Voynich manuscript, filled with strange glyphs and diagrams, has left the halls of head-scratchers — Yes folks, thanks to historian Nicholas Gibbs, we finally have a pretty definitive explanation of the purpose of the former literary enigma. Gibbs’ explanation is the first to explain nearly all aspects. In some ways, it was written in an ancient code – if you consider abbreviations and shorthand a form of encryption. Turns out the Voynich manuscript isn’t a reference for magic spells, alien communication or an ancient tabletop role-playing game. In fact, it’s mostly plagiarised medical knowledge, much of it related to herbs.
~ Oh. Boring! Dang.