Way back in February of 2011, I wrote an extensive article for H+ on 3D printing and how it would allow a transition between an economy based on material “value” and scarcity to one based on nonmaterial “value” and abundance.
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Investor Peter Thiel has inspiring advice for wanna-be entrepreneurs, but he is unrealistic about where technology really comes from.
Is the technology investor Peter Thiel brilliant, or is he just strange? He is nothing if not industrious. Since he cofounded PayPal, in 1998, Thiel has had a hand in some of the most important and unexpected tech companies of our era. His success has made him an oracular presence in Silicon Valley.
Thiel’s contrarianism is notorious, and he appears to delight in saying or doing the unexpected, even at the risk of ridicule. Each year, his nonprofit gives a handful of college students $100,000 to drop out of school and pursue a risky startup. He has declared himself to be not only against taxes but against “the ideology of the inevitability of death.” And when the Seasteading Institute—a utopian group intent on building floating cities so as to escape the intrusions of government—sought funding a few years ago, Thiel ponied up half a million dollars.
If one wanted to emulate Peter Thiel’s success, would one have to do more than just the opposite of everyone else? His new book—a polished version of some lectures he gave at Stanford for aspiring entrepreneurs in 2012—suggests that there is such a creed as Thielism. His theories on what makes a good technology company and how such companies can improve society are by turns brazen, thoughtful, and precise; the challenge lies in separating the truth from the truthiness. Thiel insightfully diagnoses the failings of today’s technology (see Q&A), but the cures he suggests are questionable.
According to Thiel, most startups funded by his fellow Silicon Valley investors shouldn’t exist. All prospective entrepreneurs, he suggests, should ask themselves a simple and essential question: “What valuable company is nobody building?” If they don’t have an answer, they should do something else.
Squid and other cephalopods control their skin displays by contracting color-filled cells. A team of engineers attempted the same using elastomer and electrical pulses.
Displays are becoming flatter and flexible, so why not stretchable as well? A study published today in Nature Communications describes a paper-thin, elastic film that lights up when stimulated by an electric pulse. It’s a technology that could some day be used to make fold-up light sources, on-demand camouflage, or possibly even the Tron jumpsuit you’ve always wanted.
The engineers of the film were inspired by the skin of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish, which can change color using tiny, ring-shaped structures called chromatophores. Each chromatophore is pigment-filled and ringed with tiny muscles. By contracting or expanding the chromatophores in different patterns, the cephalopods can create dazzling displays, or camouflage themselves from sight.
The new soft, stretchable elastomer is chemically combined with artificial, fluorescent-color versions of chromatophores, called mechanophores. Electrical pulses activate the mechanophores and create flourescant patterns. Different pulse strengths change the colors, and once the pulse is shut off the pattern instantly clears.
“Algorithm” is a word that one hears used much more frequently than in the past. One of the reasons is that scientists have learned that computers can learn on their own if given a few simple instructions. That’s really all that algorithms are mathematical instructions. Wikipedia states that an algorithm “is a step-by-step procedure for…
The future will not be like the past. The future will be built by those who will take risks and action to invent the world they want.
Our civilization’s needs are expanding rapidly, as seven billion people reach for the lifestyle of the 700 million most well off while our physical resources cannot keep pace.
We’re getting more stupid. That’s one point made in a recent article in the New Scientist, reporting on a gradual decline in IQs in developed countries such as the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. Such research feeds into a long-held fascination with testing human intelligence. Yet such debates are too focused on IQ as a life-long trait that can’t be changed. Other research is beginning to show the opposite.
This apparent stability in IQ scores makes intelligence look relatively constant, whereas in fact we are all becoming more intelligent across and within our lifetimes. The IQ test and the IQ scoring system are constantly adjusted to ensure that the average IQ remains at 100, despite a well-noted increase in intellectual ability worldwide.
For instance, should your robot car kill you to save the life of another in an unavoidable crash?
An artificial leaf converts water and light to oxygen, and that's good news for road-tripping to places beyond Earth.
One of the persistent challenges of manned space exploration is that pesky lack of oxygen throughout much of the universe. Here on Earth, trees and other plant life do us a real solid by taking in our bad breath and changing it back to clean, sweet O2.
So what if we could take those biological oxygen factories into space with us, but without all the land, sun, water, soil, and gravity that forests tend to require? This is the point where NASA and Elon Musk should probably start paying attention.
Royal College of Art graduate Julian Melchiorri has created the first man-made, biologically functional leaf that takes in carbon dioxide, water, and light and releases oxygen. The leaf consists of chloroplasts -- the part of a plant cell where photosynthesis happens -- suspended in body made of silk protein.
"This material has an amazing property of stabilizing (the chloroplast) organelles," Melchiorri says in the video below. "As an outcome I have the first photosynthetic material that is living and breathing as a leaf does."
In addition to its potential value to space travel, Melchiorri also imagines the technology literally providing a breath of fresh air to indoor and outdoor spaces here on Earth. The facades of buildings and lampshades could be made to exhale fresh air with just a thin coating of the leaf material.
But perhaps best of all, a man-made breathing leaf could be the key to not just space travel but space colonization. No need to figure out how to till that dry, red Martian dirt to get some nice leafy trees to grow; we could just slap them on the inside of the colony's dome and puff away.
Researchers at Aalborg University, MIT and Caltech have developed a new mathematically-based technique that can boost internet data speeds by up to 10 times, by making the nodes of a network much smarter and more adaptable. The advance also vastly improves the security of data transmissions, and could find its way into 5G mobile networks, satellite communications and the Internet of Things.
Instead of using pure mathematics to prevent things like the same person spending the same money twice, Document Coin will rely on personal reputation to keep all transactions in order.
Bitcoin turned money into something completely virtual. Using a worldwide network of machines and the power of pure mathematics, it put currency in the hands of computer programmers, free from the rules and regulations of big government and big banks. But J. Chris Anderson wants to do something even more radical.
Anderson is starting a new digital currency project tentatively dubbed Document Coin. It’s a bit of an odd duck, but it’s intriguing, and Anderson is worth listening to. He’s the co-founder and chief software architect of Couchbase, a kind of new-age database with some serious cred among Silicon Valley developers.
Instead of using pure mathematics to prevent things like the same person spending the same money twice, Document Coin will rely on personal reputation to keep all transactions in order. And each unit of currency created using Document Coin could have different values in different situations. If you use a coin in one place, it might be worth more then if you use it in another. The goal, Anderson says, is to get people to completely rethink the entire idea of money.
James Dyson: The biggest thing holding invention back is our impatience. With enough time and support, young engineers will develop the technology we need
The doom-mongers deem us past our creative peak, unable to invent like we used to. According to the US economist Robert Gordon, whose comments were reported in the Wall Street Journal last week, all the "important stuff" has been created; we have run out of the big, life-changing ideas needed to spur rapid economic growth and engineers are now just tweaking at the edges. Innovations such as mobile phones, Gordon says, have had less impact than, say the invention of indoor plumbing.
But this is a misunderstanding of how engineers work. There is no "Eureka!" moment. The steam engine, computer and aeroplane: none sprung up out of the blue. Instead, a gut feeling was followed by years of stubborn, hard graft, thousands of prototypes and dogged perseverance. Invention cannot be reduced to a single date on the calendar.
Developing new technology is incremental; little by little, you inch closer to the right answer. You build upon the work of those before you, thinking about what could be done better; what could be improved. It's an unending task. Michael Faraday invented the first electric motor. But Faraday's breakthrough followed William Sturgeon's invention of the electromagnet, and Alessandro Volta's invention of the battery before that. Faraday would have expected future engineers to pick up the baton later down the line.
The crops under consideration were engineered by Dow AgroSciences, a Dow Chemical Company subsidiary. They’re part of what Dow calls the Enlist Weed Control System: Enlist, a proprietary mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D herbicides, and the plants onto which Enlist can be sprayed without causing them harm as it kills surrounding weeds.
Berlin thinks it is making religious history as Muslims, Jews and Christians join hands to build a place where they can all worship. The House of One, as it is being called, will be a synagogue, a church and a mosque under one roof.
An architecture competition has been held and the winner chosen. The striking design is for a brick building with a tall, square central tower. Off the courtyard below will be the houses of worship for the three faiths - the synagogue, the church and the mosque. It is to occupy a prominent site - Petriplatz - in the heart of Berlin.
The location is highly significant, according to one of the three religious leaders involved, Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin. "From my Jewish point of view the city where Jewish suffering was planned is now the city where a centre is being built by the three monotheistic religions which shaped European culture," he told the BBC.
Can they get on? "We can. That there are people within each group who can't is our problem but you have to start somewhere and that's what we are doing."
The imam involved, Kadir Sanci, sees the House of One as "a sign, a signal to the world that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and not violent". It's also, he says, a place where different cultures can learn from each other.
Each of the three areas in the House will be the same size, but of a different shape, architect Wilfried Kuehn points out.
“People who are literally able to make the impossible possible,” he added.
Natural selection isn’t nearly enough to explain how life created so many innovations so fast. Fortunately for us, writes SFI External Professor Andreas Wagner in a new book, Nature had something else up her sleeve: robustness.
Even in organisms with relatively few genes, the number of possible combinations of those genes is unimaginably enormous — many, many orders of magnitude greater than the number of hydrogen atoms in the Universe. Even 3.7 billions years isn’t enough to search all those possibilities at random and find all the forms of life we have today.
In Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution's Greatest Puzzle (Current Hardcover , October 2, 2014), Wagner shows how robustness, long a subject of interest at SFI, helped solve the problem. Metabolic systems, protein interactions, and gene regulation networks share a particular kind of robustness: even drastic changes to the underlying structure leaves their operations unchanged. For example, the complex of chemical reactions that metabolize glucose in E. coli can overlap by as little as 20 percent and still function perfectly well.
Read a review of Wagner's book by Mark Pagel in Nature (October 1, 2014)
In the September Scientific American, devoted to human evolution, paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall discusses how a capacity for toolmaking and other cultural developments worked in conjunction with luck to foster the success of Homo sapiens. Luck came in the form of the climate shifts that served to accelerate the rate of evolution and the adaptation of beneficial traits among certain of our archaic forebears.
In the video here Tattersall describes how his field has changed since he first entered it nearly 50 years ago. Students of human evolution long believed that the story of our species origins was linear, “from primitiveness to perfection.” Scientists now know that the evolutionary path from apes to modern man was far more convoluted, populated with many rival hominins (the group including modern humans and their extinct relations) whose survival was periodically challenged by unpredictable climate shifts.
He also speaks of what makes Homo sapiens special. That our species is the only surviving hominin in the world is testament, he says, to how exceptional we are. We are unique in that we use symbols to represent the world, moving them around and recombining them to create “alternatives to existing reality.” This cognitive faculty also means we are able to ponder where we came from. The study of human evolution, Tattersall notes, holds “a special fascination for human beings, who, of course, are a very egotistical species.”
It may be possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods, according to new research.
It may be possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods, according to new research by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and at Massachusetts General Hospital. Published online today in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, a brain scan study in adult men and women suggests that it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy food while also increasing preference for healthy foods.
"We don't start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," said senior and co-corresponding author Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine. "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating -- repeatedly! -- what is out there in the toxic food environment."
Scientists have suspected that, once unhealthy food addiction circuits are established, they may be hard or impossible to reverse, subjecting people who have gained weight to a lifetime of unhealthy food cravings and temptation. To find out whether the brain can be re-trained to support healthy food choices, Roberts and colleagues studied the reward system in thirteen overweight and obese men and women, eight of whom were participants in a new weight loss program designed by Tufts University researchers and five who were in a control group and were not enrolled in the program.
Both groups underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning and end of a six-month period. Among those who participated in the weight loss program, the brain scans revealed changes in areas of the brain reward center associated with learning and addiction. After six months, this area had increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods, indicating an increased reward and enjoyment of healthier food cues. The area also showed decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy higher-calorie foods.
A project recently unveiled at the Sao Paulo Design Weekend turns feelings of love into physical objects using 3D printing and biometric sensors. “Each product is unique and contains the most intimate emotions of the participants’ love stories,” explains designer Guto Requena.
Terrence Sejnowski, Professor and Laboratory Head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory (credit: Salk Institute for Biological Studies) In a study
In a study published July 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Salk Institute for Biological Sciences researchers have found that brain cells called astrocytes — not neurons — can control the brain’s gamma waves.
They also found that astrocytes — a type of glial cell traditionally thought to provide more of a support role in the brain — and the gamma oscillations they help shape are critical for some forms of memory, such as object recognition.
(When you’re expecting something or when something captures your interest, unique high-frequency electrical rhythms called gamma waves sweep through your brain. Gamma waves have been associated with higher-level brain function, and disturbances in the patterns have been tied to schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epilepsy and other disorders.)
Evidence linking gamma waves with attention and memory, influenced by astrocytes
“This is what could be called a smoking gun,” says co-author Terrence Sejnowski, head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “There are hundreds of papers linking gamma oscillations with attention and memory, but they are all correlational. This is the first time we have been able to do a causal experiment, where we selectively block gamma oscillations and show that it has a highly specific impact on how the brain interacts with the world.”
A collaboration among the labs of Salk professors Sejnowski, Inder Verma, and Stephen Heinemann found that activity in the form of calcium signaling in astrocytes immediately preceded gamma oscillations in the brains of mice. This suggested that astrocytes, which use many of the same chemical signals as neurons, could be influencing these oscillations.
Relief agencies go back to the future with $100,000 vehicles designed to carry vaccines and stretchers in conflict zones
Flying cars are being targeted at humanitarian organisations for use in a variety of missions, from delivering vaccines to transporting medics and patients.
Pégase, a flying car made by the French company Vaylon, is expected to be on the market next year, while a US-designed vehicle, the Maverick, is already on sale – both at about $100,000 (£60,000).
The cars are lightweight vehicles with a propeller at the back and an extendable parachute, rather than wings, which allow them to take off.
"The vehicle is a breakthrough technology," said Vaylon's co-founder, Jérémy Foiche, who is aiming for three main uses for the car: military, humanitarian and leisure. "We are interested in working with the humanitarian sector to determine exactly how it could be used in the field," he added.
Both cars can carry two people and an additional load of about 300kg, with a flying range of almost 200km on a single tank of fuel. They can fly up to 3-5km high and need less than 100m to take off and land.
Dr Ellen Stofan says that missions to the red planet are a priority of the US space agency – and that the best way to search for extraterrestrial life is by setting up a permanent presence. Interview by Nicola Davis
-Is Nasa looking for intelligent life?
Nasa, right now, is really taking a step-wise approach: let's look at our own solar system and the most likely places where we might find life. That's why we are so focused on Mars, because we know Mars had liquid water on the surface and we think that is essential to life. What we expect to find, certainly in our own solar system, are probably simple single or multiple-cell forms of life. To get to intelligent life takes stability of conditions over huge long periods of time. [We're] not sure that condition exists anywhere else in our solar system. But certainly when we go out and look for habitable planets around other stars it's something that we can start thinking about.The Kepler mission has found planets orbiting stars other than our sun. What is the impact?
It's turned around our understanding of how our own solar system formed, because when you only have one solar system to study you make assumptions that are based on that information. [When] you have many solar systems to study, many planets to study, it is really making us rewrite textbooks. We're launching the James Webb space telescope in 2018 that is going to study the atmospheres of those planets around other stars.Some might argue that it's a luxury to be spending money investigating other planets instead of solving Earth's problems …
I always like to say just think you were a doctor with only one patient. You might understand how that person gets sick, how they get better, but you understand nothing about the progression of disease or how humans in general get ill. Now take an Earth scientist: you only have one planet to study. Our studies of other planets are really what we call comparative planetology. Think of the other planets as being simpler versions of the Earth where you've tweaked the physical conditions, maybe the composition, the density of the atmosphere. It allows us to rip apart the physics of some of these problems and give us a better comparison.
A range of new interactive technologies by Local Projects that will let visitors engage with the National Design Museum in a totally novel way.
-Letting Visitors Remake the Archives
The museum still is finalizing details, but either way what follows will be a free-flowing, open-ended experience: with their pen, visitors can download all their selected items into a screen, and begin designing. They could, for example, decorate a room, or modify a classic piece of furniture. Local Projects founder Jake Barton also created an algorithm for drawing on the screens. Draw any shape, and the computer will retrieve similar items from the collection. For instance: If you draw a classic vase shape, you’ll suddenly have a register of all the Cooper Hewitt’s vases at your fingertips.
As experiments in relocating particles advance, will we be able to say, "Beam me up, Scotty" one day soon?
Lately it seems like the research world has launched into a full-throttle game of “what superpower would you choose?” For those who desire invisibility, engineers are developing exotic materials that can bend an object’s light completely out of view. For would-be telepaths, neurobiologists are working on ways to read one person’s brain wave patterns and transmit them into another person’s head.
My personal favorite, though, is perhaps the most outrageous fantasy power of all: teleportation, the ability to arrive without traveling. Imagine being able to dematerialize from your living room and show up the next moment in Venice or the Amazon rainforest or the rings of Saturn (wearing an appropriate space suit, of course). The idea is so seductive that it has been a mainstay of science fiction since the early days of Star Trek and Doctor Who, but it also seems an affront to common sense.