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Using rust and water to store solar energy as hydrogen | e! Science News

How can solar energy be stored so that it can be available any time, day or night, when the sun shining or not? EPFL scientists are developing a technology that can transform light energy into a clean fuel that has a neutral carbon footprint: hydrogen. The basic ingredients of the recipe are water and metal oxides, such as iron oxide, better known as rust. Kevin Sivula and his colleagues purposefully limited themselves to inexpensive materials and easily scalable production processes in order to enable an economically viable method for solar hydrogen production. The device, still in the experimental stages, is described in an article published in the journal Nature Photonics. The idea of converting solar energy into hydrogen is not a new one; researchers have been working on it for more than four decades. During the 1990s, EPFL joined the fray, with the research of Michaël Grätzel. With a colleague from University of Geneva, he invented the photoelectrochemical (PEC) tandem solar cell, a technique for producing hydrogen directly from water. Their prototypes shared the same basic principle: a dye-sensitized solar cell -- also invented by Michael Grätzel -- combined with an oxide-based semiconductor.

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Google Lunar X Prize: Israeli firm will be world's first private company to land on the Moon (Wired UK)

Google Lunar X Prize: Israeli firm will be world's first private company to land on the Moon (Wired UK) | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
An Israeli team has booked a rocket ride to the Moon - the first group in the Google Lunar X Prize to do so.

SpaceIL are the first team in the competition to lodge a contract with the organisers, thus triggering an extension in the prize's deadline to the end of 2017. To win the competition, a team must land on the Moon, roam for at least 500m and return high resolution video and images to Earth. The winning team will be awarded $30m (£19.5m).

SpaceIL intends to visit the lunar surface with a unique 'hopping' probe, launched by a SpaceX rocket. Most space exploration vehicles drive across surfaces, but the Israeli team has designed a vehicle that will 'hop'. The spacecraft will land on the surface of the Moon before taking off again with fuel left in its propulsion system, saving mass and fuel. It will then perform another landing, 500 metres away, in accordance with the prize's criteria.

If successful, the team will be the first Israeli mission to the Moon as well as the world's first privately funded lunar mission. The launch is scheduled for late 2017.
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AI machine achieves IQ test score of young child

AI machine achieves IQ test score of young child | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Some people might find it enough reason to worry; others, enough reason to be upbeat about what we can achieve in computer science; all await the next chapters in artificial intelligence to see what more a machine can do to mimic human intelligence. We already saw what machines can do in arithmetic, chess and pattern recognition.

MIT Technology Review poses the bigger question: to what extent do these capabilities add up to the equivalent of human intelligence? Shedding some light on AI and humans, a team went ahead to subject an AI system to a standard IQ test given to humans.

Their paper describing their findings has been posted on arXiv. The team is from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an AI research group in Hungary. The AI system which they used is ConceptNet, an open-source project run by the MIT Common Sense Computing Initiative.

Results: It scored a WPPSI-III VIQ that is average for a four-year-old child, but below average for 5 to 7 year-olds

"We found that the WPPSI-III VIQ psychometric test gives a WPPSI-III VIQ to ConceptNet 4 that is equivalent to that of an average four-year old. The performance of the system fell when compared to older children, and it compared poorly to seven year olds."

They wrote, "In the work reported here, we used the March 2012 joint release of ConceptNet 4 implemented as the Python module conceptnet and AnalogySpace implemented as the Python module divisi2.3. In this paper 'ConceptNet' refers to this combination of AnalogySpace and ConceptNet 4 unless explicitly stated otherwise."

The title of their paper is "Measuring an Artificial Intelligence System's Performance on a Verbal IQ Test For Young Children," and the authors are Stellan Ohlsson, Robert Sloan, György Turán and Aaron Urasky. They represent academic disciplines of statistics, computer science and psychology.

The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI-III), which is the test they used, is for children ages 2 years and 6 months to 7 years and 3 months, and is made up of 14 subtests.

The test is called Wechsler after David Wechsler, PhD, cognitive psychology pioneer. Wechsler described intelligence as "the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment."

As for the computer's ability to answer questions successfully, the authors discussed the limitations.
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Science Would Like Some Rules for Genome Editing, Please

Science Would Like Some Rules for Genome Editing, Please | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The ability to edit a genome as easily as cutting-and-pasting with a word processor is quickly becoming a world-changing, moneymaking technology. Just about every scientist working with agrees on that. But as to the rules guiding what they are and aren’t allowed to do with it? That’s a different story.

It’s a story, though, that those researchers are trying to tell—especially this week, at an international meeting in Washington DC that has attracted most of the major players from the US, Europe, and even China, where many of the ethical edge cases have made their way out of labs. That work is on everyone’s minds, from an attempt to work with human embryos last year to last week’s word of customized pet micro-pigs.

The pigs, from the genomics institute BGI in Shenzhen, got a lot of headlines. Everyone loves cute little piggies. But they also caught a lot of international flack.

And more is coming. In April, a group of 40 of the nation’s top researchers met in Beijing to push the federal government to move even faster to develop regulations on what kinds of human related research will or won’t be allowed. The pressure to publish research papers or come up with a new reproductive options for parents is forcing this science. So too, is the fact that it is an incredibly powerful tool, according to Qi Zhou, deputy director of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing.

“It’s the most interesting question in science,” Qi says. “They are already starting to do lots of applications with animal models.” In fact, Chinese scientists are using Crispr techniques on monkeys, pigs, goats, rats, silkworm, and wheat, according to Duanqing Pei, director of the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, who also was at the Washington meeting. Right now, the Chinese government allows its scientists to create human embryos for research purposes; the NIH does not, and doesn’t fund that kind of work.
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Playing 20 Questions by 'Telepathy'? Big Score for Brain-to-Brain Communication - Singularity HUB

Playing 20 Questions by 'Telepathy'? Big Score for Brain-to-Brain Communication - Singularity HUB | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Interpersonal communication just got a lot more intimate.

So intimate, in fact, that two strangers — physically separated by a mile — can literally get into each other’s heads to solve problems together, using only their brain waves, a special computer interface and the internet.

The results, published last week in PLOS One, is the latest push towards engineering highly sophisticated human brain-to-brain interfaces (BBIs) that directly link up the consciousness of human beings, thus eschewing the need for language or non-verbal signs to get our messages across vast distances of space.

Sounds fantastical? You decide — here’s how the setup worked.

Five pairs of participants, aged between 19 and 39, were randomly paired to play a game similar to 20 questions. In each pair, one participant picked out an object from a list of eight choices, and the other tried to guess the object using a series of yes-or-no questions.

Scientists hooked up the first group of participants, dubbed the “respondents,” with an electroencephalography (EEG) cap that captures and records their brain waves.

The second group, or the “inquirers,” sat in a dark room on campus roughly a mile away, wearing heavy-duty earplugs to reduce any stimulation from their environment.

Their heads were locked in place by a two-pronged headset, with a magnetic coil placed over the visual cortex. The coil, shaped like a figure eight on top of a short handle, generates magnetic fields of various intensities, which in turn stimulate the brain. When the intensity reached a certain threshold, the inquirers saw a bright flash of light in the corner of their eye called a phosphene.
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Fusion reactors ‘economically viable’ in a few decades, say experts | KurzweilAI

Fusion reactors ‘economically viable’ in a few decades, say experts | KurzweilAI | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, replacing conventional nuclear power stations, according to new research at Durham University and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, U.K.

The research, published in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design, builds on earlier findings that a fusion power plant could generate electricity at a price similar to that of a fission plant and identifies new advantages in using new superconductor technology.

Such findings support the possibility that, within a generation or two, fusion reactors could offer an almost unlimited supply of energy without contributing to global warming or producing hazardous products on a significant scale.

No radioactive waste or leaks

Fusion reactors generate electricity by heating plasma to around 100 million degrees centigrade so that hydrogen atoms fuse together, releasing energy. Fission reactors work by splitting atoms at much lower temperatures.

The advantage of fusion reactors is that they create almost no radioactive waste and high-level radioactive material to potentially leak into the environment. That means disasters like Chernobyl or Fukushima are impossible because plasma simply fizzles out if it escapes.

Fusion energy would also not produce weapons-grade products that proliferate nuclear arms. It is fueled by deuterium (“heavy water”), which is extracted from seawater, and tritium, which is created within the reactor, so there is no problem with security of supply either.

A test fusion reactor based a tokamak design, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), is about 10 years away from operation in the South of France. Its aim is to prove the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy. MIT also plans to create new lower-cost, compact version of a tokamak fusion reactor, also based on improved superconductors, which are required to produce the high current needed to produce magnetic fields.

“Fission, fusion, or fossil fuels are the only practical options for reliable large-scale base-load energy sources,” said Professor Damian Hampshire, of the Centre for Material Physics at Durham University, who led the study. “Calculating the cost of a fusion reactor is complex, given the variations in the cost of raw materials and exchange rates. However, this work is a big step in the right direction” he said.
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Neutrino 'flavours' win physics Nobel Prize - BBC News

Neutrino 'flavours' win physics Nobel Prize - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics has been won by Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald, for discovering how neutrinos switch between different "flavours".

Neutrinos are ubiquitous subatomic particles which rarely interact with matter and are very difficult to study.

The winners, who were named at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, join a prestigious list of 199 other Physics laureates recognised since 1901.

They will share prize money of eight million kronor (£0.6m).

The physics Nobel is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also decides on the chemistry prize - announced tomorrow.

The first of the 2015 Nobel Prizes, for physiology or medicine, was awarded on Monday by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet. It was shared by researchers who developed pioneering drugs against parasitic diseases.
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If the face fits: science of attraction is based on personal experience – study

If the face fits: science of attraction is based on personal experience – study | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
If your partner has a face that could curdle milk, you only have yourself to blame. Scientists have found that the faces we fancy are shaped more by our personal experiences than genetics or other influences.

Their study into facial attraction showed that when it came to rating people as hot or not, even identical twins who grew up together disagreed. In fact, genetics turned out to explain only a fifth of the variation in people’s tastes, meaning very little was inherited.

The greatest influence on people’s preferences was their own life experiences - a mass of factors that could include the friends they make, the odd chance encounter, and even the face of their first love.

“If you think about your first romantic relationship, that person’s face, or someone who looks like them, might be attractive to you for years to come,” said Laura Germine, a psychologist who co-led the study at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston.

“On the one hand, it’s common sense that our individual experiences will be important for who we find attractive, but on the other hand, we know that people’s ability to recognise faces is almost entirely down to differences in genes,” she said.

Some aspects of beauty are widely agreed on. For example, most people find symmetrical faces more attractive than wonkier ones. Facial symmetry is thought to reflect good development and to find it attractive might be written in our genes.
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Humanity+ » THE END OF THE BEGINNING | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The process of creating this book began by collecting formal essays, some of which are quite general and abstract, others of which focus on particular technological innovations. As we read the essays, we found that we had questions for the authors, some of which led to very interesting email exchanges. We decided to edit some of these email discussions into Question and Answer Dialogues. These dialogues follow the chapters, which are organized into the following sections.

Part One: Where are we going? When will we get there?

Following the introduction you are now reading, the first section of the book presents three chapters giving broad (speculative, yet rationally considered) overviews of the potential developments during the next century.

Chapter One: Predicting the Age of Post-Human Intelligences by Ted Goertzel and Ben Goertzel.

Scientific futurism has had some significant successes as well as some well-known bloopers. In this chapter, five traditions are examined for insight into the coming of the age of post-human intelligence: (1) environmental futurism, (2) Kondratiev long-wave analysis, (3) generational cycle analysis, (4) geopolitical futurism and (5) the study of technological revolutions. Three of these traditions offer similar predictions leading us to predict a period of intense technological innovation in the 2040’s and another in the 2100’s. If these theories are correct, Artificial General Intelligence and The Singularity are likely to come in one of these periods, depending on the success of engineering models currently being completed and on the availability of funding to implement them.

The Chapter is followed by a Dialogue between Weaver (David Weinbaum), Ted Goertzel, Ben Goertzel and Viktoras Veitas follows the chapter.

Chapter Two: A Tale of Two Transitions by Robin Hanson

This chapter compares and contrasts two quite different scenarios for a future transition to a world dominated by machine intelligence. One scenario is based on continuing on our current path of accumulating better software, while the other scenario is based on the future arrival of an ability to fully emulate human brains. The first scenario is gradual and anticipated. In it, society has plenty of warnings about forthcoming changes, and time to adapt to those changes. The second scenario, in contrast, is more sudden, and potentially disruptive.

Chapter Three: Longer Lives on the Brink of Global Population Contraction: A Report from 2040 by Max More.

Written from the perspective of an analyst in 2040, this essay explains why the world’s population is shrinking due to birth rates declining more than many experts had predicted. The population would have shrunk even more if the average life span had not increased. Lower birth rates have meant that less expenditure is needed for education, and a declining population places less stress on the environment. But economic growth is slower with a declining population, especially if the proportion of retired people increases. Fortunately, the health of elderly people has improved, and older people continue to be economically active later in life. Life extension research is now valued as one means of slowing the rate of population decline.
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The Martian got me cheering, but why go to Mars?

The Martian got me cheering, but why go to Mars? | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The penultimate object in the spectacular Cosmonauts exhibition, just opened at the Science Museum in London, is a spacesuit for a mission to Mars. It is lightweight, almost fragile and the pink-brown colour of the Martian sky. It suggests that after the fraught Cold War dynamics of the old space race, the inevitable next destination is the red planet.

Folks at NASA will be cheering Ridley Scott’s new film, The Martian, because its central message is that humanity will take this second giant leap, and, individually and collectively, we have the ingenuity to overcome the immense risks entailed. Inspirationally, it answers the question of how the voyage will be made, but it also begs the deeper question of why.

The story (trying to avoid major spoilers) is simple: astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind when a sudden storm forces the abandonment of a scientific expedition to Mars. Unexpectedly alive, Watney has to improvise the means of survival until a rescue mission arrives.

The Martian is the latest, and I think brightest, of a meteor shower of recent space films, including the Oscar-winning Gravity, the black hole time travel yarn, Interstellar, the fun Guardians of the Galaxy and lesser blockbusters, such as Oblivion (with Tom Cruise) and Scott’s own Prometheus. We are in the midst of another wave of sci-fi movie enthusiasm, comparable to the cycle from 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968) to Star Wars (1977).

But, especially in terms of science and technology, the films are very different. The Martian is no fantasy monster flick or comedy caper. It takes the technological near future, and science’s contribution to it, to its heart. The science in its closest sibling, Gravity, was in fact positively Aristotelian: Sandra Bullock’s stranded astronaut is in peril because of the alien, dangerous, circular motion of space debris. She is then challenged by each of the Aristotelian elements – water (ice), fire, air (lack of) – before falling to earth. In contrast, the science in The Martian is modern: problem-solving, interdisciplinary creativity, a blend of individual insight and teamwork.
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A 21st-century higher education: training for jobs of the future

A 21st-century higher education: training for jobs of the future | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Only the brave or foolhardy would claim knowledge about the shape of jobs for the next decade, let alone the rest of the 21st century. We know that the end of local car manufacturing alone will involve the loss of up to 200,000 jobs directly or indirectly, and there will be no large-scale manufacturing to replace them.

We also cannot assume that employment in health and human services will continue to expand in their place. Globally, millions of dollars are being invested in robotic monitors, nurses and companions for the elderly. The driverless car is almost with us, meaning that even Uber’s moment in the sun may be brief.

So if we’re not sure what the jobs of the future will look like, what kind of tertiary education can prepare students for the world of work? Various forces will be at play including economic (such as continued globalisation and intensification of competition), social (such as the ageing of Australia’s population), and technological (automation, digitalisation). There are also powerful environmental constraints.
What kind of education can prepare us for the future?
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Hygge: A heart-warming lesson from Denmark - BBC News

Hygge: A heart-warming lesson from Denmark - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A UK college has started teaching students the Danish concept of hygge - said to make homes nicer and people happier. But what exactly is it and is it exportable?

Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking mulled wine and stroking a dog - probably surrounded by candles. That's definitely "hygge".

Eating home-made cinnamon pastries. Watching TV under a duvet. Tea served in a china set. Family get-togethers at Christmas. They're all hygge too.

The Danish word, pronounced "hoo-ga", is usually translated into English as "cosiness". But it's much more than that, say its aficionados - an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world's happiest country.

Morley College, in central London, is teaching students how to achieve hygge as part of its Danish language course. "We have long, cold winters in Denmark," says lecturer Susanne Nilsson. "That influences things. Hygge doesn't have to be a winter-only thing, but the weather isn't that good for much of the year."

With as little as four sunshine hours a day in the depths of winter, and average temperatures hovering around 0C, people spend more time indoors as a result, says Nilsson, meaning there's greater focus on home entertaining.

"Hygge could be families and friends getting together for a meal, with the lighting dimmed, or it could be time spent on your own reading a good book," she says. "It works best when there's not too large an empty space around the person or people." The idea is to relax and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life's worries.

The recent growth in Scandinavian-themed restaurants, cafes and bars in the UK is helping to export hygge, she adds, with their intimate settings, lack of uniformity in decor and concentration on comforting food. Most customers won't have heard of the term, but they might get a sense of it.

In the US, the wallpaper and fabric firm Hygge West explicitly aims to channel the concept through its cheery designs, as does a Los Angeles bakery, called Hygge, which sells traditional Danish pastries and treats.
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"Designless" brain-like chips created through artificial evolution

"Designless" brain-like chips created through artificial evolution | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have devised a new type of electronic chip that takes after the human brain. Their device is highly power-conscious, massively parallel, and can manipulate data in arbitrary ways – even though it doesn't need to be explicitely designed to perform any task. The advance could pave the way for computers that think more like we do.
(When the) chips are down

Electronic chips as they are currently designed come with plenty of drawbacks. Even the simplest operations, like adding or subtracting, need large numbers of transistors arranged in a very specific, well thought-out pattern. These transistors quickly add up and drain power even when idle (unless specific measures are taken). Moreover, most circuits can't effectively process information in parallel, leading to a further waste of time and energy.

All of these factors make it especially hard for today's computers to perform many crucial tasks quickly and on little power – particularly the kinds of tasks that the human brain can tackle with ease, like recognizing a visual pattern or understanding human language. In fact, when it comes to simulating brain-like functionality, many researchers have opted to abandon traditional computer architectures altogether.

Alternative chip designs that try to mimic the prowess and efficiency of the brain usually do so by either resorting to massive parallelism or by using neuron-like structures as their basic building blocks. But these approaches retain one big drawback: they still rely on fallible human minds to design their hardware and software.
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Zuckerberg to the UN: The Internet Belongs to Everyone

Zuckerberg to the UN: The Internet Belongs to Everyone | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A reputation is a hard thing to shake. Like when a UN moderator introduces Mark Zuckerberg by commenting that he is almost unrecognizable without his hoodie. Zuckerberg hasn’t worn a hoodie in nearly three years. In fact, he was looking remarkably comfortable in his suit at the UN last weekend as he joined a group of speakers from global NGOs.

Zuckerberg had come to the United Nations to advocate for universal Internet access. Speaking to a body of heads of state and UN delegates, he made an impassioned plea that the Internet is a key enabler of human rights. “Insuring access is essential to achieving global justice and opportunity,” he said.

He made the speech on the day he partnered with Bono, the rockstar founder of the advocacy group ONE, to publish a connectivity declaration, which calls on global leaders to prioritize Internet access. The pair penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which they announced their intentions to start a global movement. Dozens of people have signed it already, including Richard Branson and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Zuckerberg wants the world to understand that Internet access should be a basic human right, like access to healthcare or water. Secondarily, he wants people to understand that Facebook’s role in this effort is driven primarily by his deep social conviction that such connectivity is the best way to alleviate poverty. “Research shows that when you give people access to the Internet, one in ten people is lifted from poverty,” he said.
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How much consciousness does an octopus have? Or an iPhone? (Wired UK)

How much consciousness does an octopus have? Or an iPhone? (Wired UK) | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
What about an iPhone? And how much consciousness can we meaningfully ascribe to someone in a coma?

Animals ranging from parrots to elephants continue to challenges our perception of consciousness, long-held as a uniquely human trait. But the reaches of consciousness don't stop at animals. As artificial intelligence gets smarter, we are faced with moral dilemmas of how machines could one day not just think but also feel.

The ethics of consciousness, not just in humans but also animals and machines, is complex. To try and make sense of it, research is currently underway to develop a method for objectively measuring consciousness -- a formula that could explain how aware any living, or artificial, being is.
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Which are the best world university rankings in the world?

Which are the best world university rankings in the world? | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings were announced last week to much fanfare, at least in certain corners of academia. They were “bigger, better and more comprehensive”, according to their editor, Phil Baty.

Such ranking exercises are a big and growing industry. This year the Times Higher has assessed 800 institutions, double the number considered last year. And their ranking is now one only one of at least ten different schemes for grading the world’s universities. No institution wishing to compete globally – or even nationally – can afford to ignore them.

And that’s a problem.

Commendably, the Times Higher acknowledges the problem. Its magazine editor, John Gill, previewed the publication of the rankings with a thoughtful editorial that is worth quoting at some length:

What makes the world’s best universities the best in the world? The answer is lots of things, some of them quantifiable, many of them not.

Those that are form the basis of our World University Rankings, which as we always remind critics, measure only what is measurable. But there are other answers to the question: it’s the staff and students, or course; it’s a commitment to quality above all else, to academic integrity and institutional autonomy; it’s excellence in research and teaching; a fertile policy environment and stable funding; openness to ideas (and income) from every corner of the world…
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Perimeter Lecture: "The Astonishing Simplicity of Everything"

The Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada is one of the world’s leading centres for theoretical physics. They run a monthly public lecture series, and I featured the lectures here from April (when I did one) until the start of the summer break. The links to those are below.

The series restarts on 7 Oct, with a talk from the cosmologist Neil Turok, Director of the institute. The pre-talk blurb (or “abstract” as we academics call it) says:

The most sophisticated experiments ever devised are revealing a universe that is surprisingly simple. Explaining this simplicity is the next great challenge facing fundamental physics. Turok will explain how the newfound simplicity represents a very powerful clue that may spark a new scientific revolution.

The Landscape of New Physics
Read more

While I know something about the data he will discuss, I don’t know what he means by the “newfound simplicity”. We are clearly at an interesting point in particle physics and cosmology, with an array of precision observations and experiments such the Planck satellite and the Large Hadron Collider all tending to confirm our current theories (if you neglect a few hints here and there). And yet the current theories leave many questions unanswered. I’ll be interested to hear Turok’s take on it all.

The lecture is on 7 Oct and will appear below. If you want to receive an email alert just before the lecture starts, you can sign up here.
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The Pentagon is figuring out how to make bodies heal themselves

Humans are quite feeble. We break easily, and just about every part of us deteriorates as we age. But the Pentagon’s research division, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), hopes to fix that. Today (Oct. 5), the agency said it had selected seven research facilities—including MIT, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University—to study how to make the human body heal itself using nerve stimulation.

The $80 million research project, called ElectRx, was first announced by President Obama in 2014, and aims to figure out how to monitor and treat the human body with its own nervous system. “The peripheral nervous system is the body’s information superhighway, communicating a vast array of sensory and motor signals that monitor our health status and effect changes in brain and organ functions to keep us healthy,” Doug Weber, the project’s program manager said in a release. “We envision technology that can detect the onset of disease and react automatically to restore health by stimulating peripheral nerves to modulate functions in the brain, spinal cord and internal organs.”

(It’s a a bit like a certain mutton-chopped Canadian mutant.)
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With Winklevoss Bitcoin Exchange, Digital Currency Grows Up

With Winklevoss Bitcoin Exchange, Digital Currency Grows Up | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss were among a group of investors who put $1.5 million into BitInstant, a bitcoin exchange founded by a guy named Charlie Shrem. Shrem was also a founding member of The Bitcoin Foundation, the not-for-profit created to oversee the bitcoin digital currency. He’s now in federal prison.

Shrem was sentenced to two years for aiding and abetting the operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business used to launder Silk Road drug money. BitInstant is no more.

But like many people, the Winklevoss twins still believe in bitcoin—strongly. This morning, they unveiled their own bitcoin exchange, dubbed Gemini, after New York’s financial regulator approved the service for use in the state. The exchange will officially open its doors on Thursday morning.
The New York State Department of Financial Services granted Gemini what’s called a limited liability trust charter under New York banking law. In the past, this kind of charter was used to regulate “trust banks” such as State Street and Rockefeller Trust. But the state says it also allows for the operation of a virtual currency exchange, where people can swap dollars and other fiat currencies for bitcoin and vice versa. The state granted a similar charter to another bitcoin exchange, ItBit, this past May.
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Visions of Future Physics

Visions of Future Physics | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Get Nima Arkani-Hamed going on the subject of the universe—not difficult—and he’ll talk for as many minutes or hours as it takes to transport you to the edge of human understanding, and then he’ll talk you past the edge, beyond Einstein, beyond space-time and quantum mechanics and all those tired tropes of 20th-century physics, to a spectacular new vision of how everything works. It will seem so simple, so lucid. He’ll remind you that, in 2015, it’s still speculative. But he’s convinced that, someday, the vision will come true.On the strength of the torrent of ideas he has produced over the past 20 years—he won the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 “for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes”—Arkani-Hamed, 43, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., is widely considered one of the best theoretical physicists working today. Colleagues point to his knack for simplifying impossibly complex problems, as well as his exceptional mathematical ability, creativity, instincts and vast knowledge of physics. “Nima is amazing in every component of talent space,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical particle physicist at Stanford University.
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A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation | Quanta Magazine

A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation |  Quanta Magazine | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
At first glance, the big news coming out of this summer’s conference on the theory of computing appeared to be something of a letdown. For more than 40 years, researchers had been trying to find a better way to compare two arbitrary strings of characters, such as the long strings of chemical letters within DNA molecules. The most widely used algorithm is slow and not all that clever: It proceeds step-by-step down the two lists, comparing values at each step. If a better method to calculate this “edit distance” could be found, researchers would be able to quickly compare full genomes or large data sets, and computer scientists would have a powerful new tool with which they could attempt to solve additional problems in the field.

Yet in a paper presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put forth a mathematical proof that the current best algorithm was “optimal” — in other words, that finding a more efficient way to compute edit distance was mathematically impossible. The Boston Globe celebrated the hometown researchers’ achievement with a headline that read “For 40 Years, Computer Scientists Looked for a Solution That Doesn’t Exist.”

But researchers aren’t quite ready to record the time of death. One significant loophole remains. The impossibility result is only true if another, famously unproven statement called the strong exponential time hypothesis (SETH) is also true. Most computational complexity researchers assume that this is the case — including Piotr Indyk and Artūrs Bačkurs of MIT, who published the edit-distance finding — but SETH’s validity is still an open question. This makes the article about the edit-distance problem seem like a mathematical version of the legendary report of Mark Twain’s death: greatly exaggerated.
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Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.

About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.
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UN battle looms over finance as nations submit climate plans - BBC News

UN battle looms over finance as nations submit climate plans - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Divisions over money between rich and poor countries re-emerged as nations submitted their plans for tackling climate change to the UN.

India, the last big emitter to publish its contribution, said it would need $2.5 trillion to meet its targets.

The Philippines said that without adequate climate compensation, their cuts in emissions wouldn't happen.

The UN says the plans increase the likelihood of a strong global treaty.

148 countries, out of a total of 196, have met a UN deadline for submitting a plan, termed an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

These INDCs cover close to 90% of global emissions of carbon dioxide. The commitments will form the centrepiece of a new global agreement on climate change that nations hope to agree in Paris in December.

Independent analysts at the Climate Action Tracker said that the plans, when added up, meant the world was on track for temperature rises of 2.7 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

This is above the 2 degree target generally accepted as the threshold for dangerous climate change. But it is a significant improvement on a previous assessment of 3.1 degrees, made when fewer plans had been submitted.

India's contribution, which promised to reduce the carbon intensity of their emissions but didn't commit to peaking their CO2, drew praise from around the world.

"It's highly significant that India is joining the ranks of so many other developed and developing countries in putting serious commitments on the table ahead of the Paris climate talks," said former UK environment minister Richard Benyon MP.
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Peeple app for rating human beings causes uproar - BBC News

Peeple app for rating human beings causes uproar - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A new app that promises to let users review individuals has caused controversy before it has even launched.

Peeple will allow members to give star ratings to people they know via the app, much as restaurants and hotels are rated on sites such as Yelp.

The app has caused uproar online, with web users describing it as "creepy" and "terrifying".

Peeple's founders say they will pre-screen for negative abuse.

However, users will not be able to delete comments made about them. Nor will they be able to remove themselves from the site once on it.

Among those raising concern was University of East Anglia law lecturer and privacy advocate Paul Bernal.

"The bottom line is this is extremely creepy," he told the BBC. "It is an ideal trolling tool."

Mr Bernal added that he was sceptical that the app could ensure users knew the person they were rating.

"How are you determining whether somebody knows somebody?" he asked.

"If you're using Facebook friends, do people really know all their Facebook friends? Absolutely not."
Legal 'headaches'

There may be legal difficulties too, according to Steven Heffer, a partner at the law firm Collyer-Bristow.

"I can only see a lot of headaches," he told the BBC. "It looks to me like potentially a recipe for a legal disaster."

Mr Heffer said the app was different from existing social media in that it specifically encouraged users to assess others and that negative comments on individuals would be difficult to police.

"They can't be judge and jury, can they?" he said.

"They might have some kind of safety net, but it's not going to stop people being defamed and suffering damage as well."

The website for Peeple says that negative reviews will be stalled for 48 hours before being published, so that they can be checked by the person being rated.

However, if they are not able to resolve the comment with the person making it within that time, it will go live anyway.
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Yes, You’re Irrational, and Yes, That’s OK - Issue 21: Information - Nautilus

Yes, You’re Irrational, and Yes, That’s OK - Issue 21: Information - Nautilus | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
magine that (for some reason involving cultural tradition, family pressure, or a shotgun) you suddenly have to get married. Fortunately, there are two candidates. One is charming and a lion in bed but an idiot about money. The other has a reliable income and fantastic financial sense but is, on the other fronts, kind of meh. Which would you choose?

Sound like six of one, half-dozen of the other? Many would say so. But that can change when a third person is added to the mix. Suppose candidate number three has a meager income and isn’t as financially astute as choice number two. For many people, what was once a hard choice becomes easy: They’ll pick the better moneybags, forgetting about the candidate with sex appeal. On the other hand, if the third wheel is a schlumpier version of attractive number one, then it’s the sexier choice that wins in a landslide. This is known as the “decoy effect”—whoever gets an inferior competitor becomes more highly valued.

The decoy effect is just one example of people being swayed by what mainstream economists have traditionally considered irrelevant noise. After all, their community has, for a century or so, taught that the value you place on a thing arises from its intrinsic properties combined with your needs and desires. It is only recently that economics has reconciled with human psychology. The result is the booming field of behavioral economics, pioneered by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University, and his longtime research partner, the late Amos Tversky, who was at Stanford University.
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The Technological Singularity | KurzweilAI

The Technological Singularity | KurzweilAI | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The idea that human history is approaching a “singularity” — that ordinary humans will someday be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines or cognitively enhanced biological intelligence, or both — has moved from the realm of science fiction to serious debate. Some singularity theorists predict that if the field of artificial intelligence (AI) continues to develop at its current dizzying rate, the singularity could come about in the middle of the present century. Murray Shanahan offers an introduction to the idea of the singularity and considers the ramifications of such a potentially seismic event.

Shanahan’s aim is not to make predictions but rather to investigate a range of scenarios. Whether we believe that singularity is near or far, likely or impossible, apocalypse or utopia, the very idea raises crucial philosophical and pragmatic questions, forcing us to think seriously about what we want as a species.

Shanahan describes technological advances in AI, both biologically inspired and engineered from scratch. Once human-level AI — theoretically possible, but difficult to accomplish — has been achieved, he explains, the transition to superintelligent AI could be very rapid. Shanahan considers what the existence of superintelligent machines could mean for such matters as personhood, responsibility, rights, and identity. Some superhuman AI agents might be created to benefit humankind; some might go rogue. (Is Siri the template, or HAL?) The singularity presents both an existential threat to humanity and an existential opportunity for humanity to transcend its limitations. Shanahan makes it clear that we need to imagine both possibilities if we want to bring about the better outcome.
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