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Category Archives: Futurism

New Brain-Reading Computers Let the Paralyzed Communicate Using Their Thoughts – Futurism

Posted: February 25, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Typing With Thought

Researchers from Stanford University have built a new brain-computer interface (BCI) that allows paralyzed people to type with their brains at a rate faster than was previously possible.

For their study, they worked with threeparticipants with severe limb weakness, two due to Lou Gehrigs disease and one with limited movement due to a spinal cord injury. All three participants had electrode arrays embedded in their brains to record signals from the motor cortex, which controls muscle movement. A cable then transmitted the brain signals to a computer, and they were then translated by algorithms into point-and-click commands that prompted a cursor to move over letters. Basically, participants were able to move the cursor by imagining their own hand movements.

While it took some training, the subjects were able to achieve BCI results that outperformed any available platform today. One patient was able to type 39 correct characters per minute, which is around eight words per minute, proving that BCIs have the potential to enhance communication among people with impaired movement. It should be noted that these typing-rates were achieved without the use of automatic word-completion.

The performance is really exciting. Were achieving communication rates that many people with arm and hand paralysis would find useful. Thats a critical step for making devices that could be suitable for real-world use, says Chethan Pandarinath, one of the authors of the paper, told Stanford.

The Stanford teams contribution toward advancing peoples ability to control machines with just their thoughts reflects the progressbeing made in this field. In addition to this breakthrough, a team from the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, Switzerland, built a BCI that can decipher thoughts of people with complete locked-in syndrome, giving them the ability to answer yes or no questions. Meanwhile, researchers at Harvard are using BCI tech to restore sight in the blind.

In the U.S. alone, millions of people suffer from paralysis, some from degenerative conditions like ALS and others from unfortunate accidents that cause severe spinal cord injury.This point-and-click approach developed at Stanford could be the key to making a more efficient BCI geared toward improving the quality of life for those people. It could restore their ability to communicate while teams like that at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE)work on ways to use BCIs to help the paralyzed walk again.

With some modifications, the team believes its system could be applied to other devices, including smartphones or tablets. Were approaching half of what, for example, I could probably type on a cell phone, neurosurgeon and co-senior authorJaimie Henderson of Stanford University told Scientific American. This study reports the highest speed and accuracy, by a factor of three, over whats been shown before. In the future, the team hopes to refine the technology so that it becomes wireless, fully implanted, and self-calibrating, thus being able to provide around-the-clock support.

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Our Computers Are Learning How to Code Themselves – Futurism

Posted: at 2:44 pm

On the Hunt for Code

Those of you who followed the first season of HBOs Westworld know that one of the things that made an artificially intelligent (AI) host in the show truly intelligent, so to speak, was the ability to write its own code. Its a form of reasoning with itself something that current AI technology is still far from capable of doing. One company is trying to close that gap viadeep learning algorithms that use probabilistic programming,and now, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Cambridge are bringing us closer to self-coding AI with a system they call DeepCoder.

DeepCoder is a machine learning system that can write its own code. It does this using a technique called program synthesis. Essentially, it creates new programs by combining existing lines of code taken from other software, which is what human coders do. With a particular output in mind, DeepCoder was able to determinewhich lines or pieces of code would be particularly useful.

The approach is to train a neural network to predict properties of the program that generated the outputs from the inputs. We use the neural networks predictions to augment search techniques from the programming languages community, including enumerative search and an SMT-based solver, writes the research team, which is led by Alexander Gaunt from Microsoft Research and Matej Balog from Cambridge. Their study is currently being reviewed for the 5th International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR 2017) this coming April.

DeepCoder successfully plowed through the basic, input-output style challenges usually set by programming competitions. It was able to search through lines of code more thoroughly and widely than a human coder could, piecing together code in a manner humans might not think of and more quickly. And because DeepCoder is essentially a deep learning algorithm, every time its given a new problem, it gets better at combining lines from source codes.

Ultimately, this algorithm can make programming accessible to non-coders, allowing anyone to easilybuild simple programs. Researcher Marc Brockschmidt, one of DeepCoders creators from Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, believes that their approach would make it possible for non-coders to just describe a program and leave the system to build it. All of a sudden, people could be so much more productive, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) associate professor Armando Solar-Lezama, who wasnt part of the research,told New Scientist. They could build systems that it [would be] impossible to build before.

DeepCoders current version only allows it to handle programming challenges with around five lines of code. Brockschmidt said that future versions of DeepCode could facilitate building routine programs that do information scraping from websites without the need for human coders.The potential for automation that this kind of technology offers could really signify an enormous [reduction] in the amount of effort it takes to develop code, Solar-Lezama said. No need for programmers to start updating their resumes, though, as this tech wouldnt replace humans. Instead, DeepCoder could handle the more tedious parts of programming, while human coders could focus on more sophisticated work.

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Should Gene Editing Be a Human Right? – Futurism

Posted: February 24, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Genetic Editing for All

We are all subject tothe genetic lottery. Thats how its always been, and for a while, we thought that was how it would always be.

Then, in 2014, a gene-editing technology called CRISPR was introduced. With CRISPR, geneticists could edit sections of the genome to alter, add, or remove parts of the DNA sequence. To date, it is by far the easiest way weve found to manipulate the genetic code, and itis already paving the way for more efficient and effective treatments of conditions with a genetic component. However, the technology brings with it the potential to manipulate and remove simply unwanted genes.

While most of the proposed CRISPR applications are focused on editing somatic (non-reproductive) cells, altering germline (reproductive) cells is also a very real possibility. This prospect of editing germline cells and making changes that would be passed on from generation to generation has sparked a heated ethical debate.

The potential to change someones DNA even before they are born has led to claims that CRISPR will be used to create designer babies. Detractors were appalled at the hubris of science being used to engineer the human race. Supporters, on the other hand, are saying this ability should be a human right.

To be fair, most advocates of genetic editing arent rallying for support so CRISPR can be used to create a superior human race. Rather, they believe people should have free access to technology that is capable of curing diseases. Its not about rigging the genetic game its about putting the technique to good use while following a set of ethical recommendations.

To that end, a panel made up of experts chosen by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine released a series of guidelines that essentially gives gene editing a yellow light. These guidelines supports gene editing on the premise that it follows a set of stringent rules and is conducted with proper oversight and precaution.

Obviously, genetic enhancement would not be supported under these guidelines, which leaves some proponents miffed. Josiah Zaynor, whose online company The ODINsells kits allowing people to conduct simple genetic engineering experiments at home, is among those who are adamant that gene editing should be a human right. He expressed his views on the subject in an interview with The Outline:

We are at the first time in the history of humanity where we can no longer be stuck with the genes we are dealt. As a society we have begun to see how choice is a right, but for some reason when it comes to genetics, some people think we shouldnt have a choice. I can be smart and attractive, but everyone else should be ugly, fat, and short because those are the genes they were dealt and they should just deal with it.

However, scientific institutions continue to caution against such lax views of genetic editings implications. Apart from the ethical questions it raises, CRISPR also facesopposition from various religious sects and legal concerns regarding the technology. Governments seem divided on the issue, with nations like China advancing research, while countries like the U.K., Germany, and the U.S. seem more concerned about regulating it.

The immense potential of gene editing to change humanity means the technology will continue to be plagued byethical and philosophical concerns. Given the pace of advancement, however, its good that were having this debate on what and who it should be used for right now.

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Tesla Is on Track to Deliver Us Into the Next Age in Energy – Futurism

Posted: at 5:46 pm

In Brief

From its incorporation ofsolar glass technologyto its affordable $35,000 price tag, the Tesla Model 3 has been making headlines since it was announced. In the 36 hours following that announcement, Tesla secured over 270,000 preorders for the vehicle,but whats even more exciting is the fact that this highly anticipated zero-emission car may actually arrive on time.

According to a letter to investors, the Model 3 is expected to begin production in July, and deliverieswill begin later in 2017. Tesla is already building prototypes of the vehicle, and the company has noted that production will begin at 5,000 vehicles per week and slowly ramp up to 10,000 vehicles per week in 2018.

With that said, Teslas Gigafactory will be booming. With 550 new hires and an additional $350 million investment, the Nevada factory will produce the electric motors and gear boxes for the newest and most affordable Tesla, while other parts will be manufactured in California.

Teslas most recent rollout,the Model S, costs around $70,000, so the Model 3 will be just what the company needs to finally be able to compete with other affordable electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt, which sit within a similar price range of the Model 3.

All we have to do now is count the seconds until the second half of 2017.

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Norway Just Added 50000 More Seeds to Its Doomsday Vault – Futurism

Posted: at 5:46 pm

Buried in the side of a mountain in Svalbard,a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the Global Seed Vault stores virtually every kindof seed.

And on Wednesday, that seed vault got even more seeds almost 50,000 new samples to help preserve biodiversity. Those returning samples include the ones sent out in 2015 to replace a collection that had been damaged by the Syrian civil war.

Cary Fowler, the man considered the father of the seed vault and a former executive director of the international nonprofit organization Crop Trust, compares it to asafety deposit box:the point of the vault is not for apocalyptic scenarios, but servesmore asa sort of back-up drive.

Fowler told Business Insider in Octoberthat the vault is used to store duplicates of existing seed banks that have been collecting seeds for 100 years. That way, if a regional seed vault loses something, the Svalbard collection can replace the sample.

Take a look inside the vault:

The vault is located in Svalbard, an archipelago thats part of Norway. Its a cold area filled with polar bears and snow scooters, along with brightly colored houses.

The archipelago is located in the Arctic Ocean, midway between the North Pole and Norway, where the warmest temperature this year was 58 degrees Fahrenheit. The winters remain below 0 and -1 degrees Fahrenheit.

The entrance to the vault sticks out of a mountain, illuminated with a light installation by Dyveke Sanne.

Inside the entrance, theres a tunnel that runs from the entrance to the vaults rooms, 426 feet deep into the mountain.

Fowler said there are some misconceptions about what the vault is used for. People will say, how can you have enough seeds up there? Thats not the point, its not for planting. This is really a genetic resource for plant breeding.

Svalbard was an ideal location. Because its so cold, the seeds can stay frozen in the permafrost. Importantly, says Fowler, the seeds dont have to be used as is. Instead, researchers can use them to study potentially beneficial traits, like those for withstanding disease or climate change, and hopefully one day incorporate those into current crops.

Every year, gene-banks provide samples to crop breeders to test out, which in turn becomes different varieties of crops. Below, people taste tomatoes at a Seed Savers Exchange in the US.

We dont need to experience apocalypse in order for the Seed Vault to be useful and to repay its costs many times over, Fowler wrote in his book. We were not anticipating the end of the world. We were pragmatists. We wanted to address a problem we were already experiencing: the loss of diversity in individual gene-banks.

Fowler said the sample of the seeds taken out and now replaced from Syria are a great example of the banks function. It illustrates why we built it, Fowler said. Loss of that collection would be irreplaceable. I tell people its a great story a sad story of the seed vault functioning as an insurance policy.

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Brian Cox: The LHC Disproves the Existence of Ghosts and the Paranormal – Futurism

Posted: at 5:46 pm

In Brief

Looks like the Ghostbusters have some competition, and its renowned physicistand science communicator Brian Cox. But rather than bust some ghosts, it looks like hes more in the business of destroying the idea of the paranormal entirely. He wasnt justlooking to spread some knowledge to the4 in 10 Americans who believe in ghosts, though he was sharing a simple conclusion he has reached by working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The LHC is the largest and most powerful particle accelerator that humanity has ever built. Itfeatures a ring 27 kilometers (16 miles) long with superconducting magnets and accelerating structures specifically built to boost the energy of particles that scientists hope to study. Within the accelerator, two high-energy beams are forced to collide from opposite directions at speeds close to the speed of light. Agood analogy for this would be firing two needles toward each other from 10 kilometers (6 miles) apart with a precision that makes sure they meet halfway.

Over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries work together at this structure below the France-Switzerland border to help us learn aboutthe fundamental properties of physics. They testdifferent properties of elementary particles, and thus far, they have learned about particle decay, found hints of new particles, and reexamined what we know about the Big Bang. Its from this evidence-based research that Brain Cox believes he can dismiss the existence of the paranormal entirely.

Brian Cox made the claim during a recent broadcast of BBC Radio Fours The Infinite Monkey Cage that focused on the intersection of science and the paranormal:

If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. Thats almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was also on the show, went on to press him for a clarification: If I understand what you just declared, you just asserted that CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, disproved the existence of ghosts. Cox replied with a simple Yes.

Coxs point relies heavily on the LHCs ability to pick up the tiniest bursts of energy found in particle collisions. That mean that any energy signatures from paranormal entities should be easy to detect. Thus far, no such evidence has been found. Does this mean that you can no longer enjoy horror movies? No, it just means you dont have to be scared.

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For $500 Billion, Scientists Think They Can Refreeze the Arctic – Futurism

Posted: at 5:46 pm

A $500 Billion Project

The world is spending a lot of money in an attempt to reverse the effects of climate change. Investments are being made to fund the creationof emission-free vehicles, infrastructure is being built to support sustainability, research is being conducted to find new sources of non-carbon-emitting energy, and technology is being developed to prevent us from feeling the full brunt of a deteriorating environment.

Now, a group of scientists want to add $500 billion to the climate change war chest.

Due to climate change, the Arctic has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather thats causing the ice to melt. The money the scientists are asking for would go toward building 10 million wind-powered pumps that will bring water from beneath the ice to the surface in an effort to refreeze the Arctic. In theory, the water that is pumped to the surface will automatically freezein the below-zero temperatures and thus add to the ice sheets thickness.

The scientists behind the paper estimate that these wind-powered pumps will have to be deployed across 10 percent of the region. They believe theyd need 100 million tons of steel to build the pumps over the course of 10 years. If they could do that, they think they could restore the Arctic to what is was roughly 15 years ago.

The scientific community is working hard to find more novel solutions to the Arctic crisis, which they argue the 2015 Paris Agreement wont do enough to remedy. Proposals such as this highlightthe need for tangible initiatives that arent solely focused on limiting fossil fuel usage.

Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels. Its a good idea, but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctics sea ice from disappearing, said Steven Desch in an interview with The Guardian.

While the proposalis noteworthy, not everyone is convinced that this plan to refreeze the Arctic is at all feasible.

Global warming in response to rising CO2 concentrations would continue despite efforts to grow ice in the Arctic, Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told CNN.Thus, the excess heat at lower latitudes would still be transported towards the Arctic via atmospheric and oceanic circulation and this would counter efforts to grow ice in the Arctic.

If we do nothing, however, the Arctic will significantly disrupt the ecosystem of the region, leading to the endangerment of various species. It will also trigger more warming across the Earth. Essentially, the Arctic ice serves to reflect the solar radiation that enters the planets atmosphere back into space. Without it, the Earth will experience more erratic weather in the Northern Hemisphere and the permafrost will melt, which will release more carbon into the atmosphere.

Whether or not this is the plan that will solve the Arctic crisis, its important that we find some solution soon. According to studies, if we do nothing about the worlds carbon emissions and let the Arctic continue on as it is, summer Arctic sea ice will disappear by 2030.

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Last Week, the Temperature in One US City Was 43 Degrees Higher Than Normal – Futurism

Posted: at 5:46 pm

100 Degrees in Winter

Magnum, Oklahoma, saw temperatures close to 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) last week. This would be nothing exceptional in the tropics on a summer day, but this spike occurred in the Northern Hemisphere in the dead of winter.In fact, this weather was so extreme it broke a daily record in the state, which had an average February high of 13 degrees Celsius (56 degrees Fahrenheit) prior to this phenomenon.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an emergency burn ban due to the sweltering heat, but a grass fire that caused some residents to evacuate their homes still broke out. Temperatures have since returned to the normal range for the region.

Fire hazards aside, most would normally welcome a rare warm February. However, it should be noted that such extreme shifts in temperature are very unusual during the winter, and they tangibly illustrate the effects of climate change on our environment. Warm temperatures during traditionally cold months are enough to disrupt and destabilize the natural ecosystem. The balmy weather may prompt trees and flowers to bloom, only to suffer frost damage when the temperatures return to normal. That may seem like a very minor thing, but it can have a ripple effect on the industries that are dictated by the seasons, such as agriculture.

These record-breaking temperatures are invariably associated with humanitys influence on the environment. Carbon emissions caused by our dependence on fossil fuels are trapping heat inside the planets atmosphere, resulting in very erratic temperatures.

As much as climate change deniers would like to classify this weather anomaly as an isolated event, similar extreme weather shifts are happening in various parts of the world, providing overwhelming evidence of climate change: Australia is still recovering from a major heatwave during which temperatures reach 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit); temperatures in the Arcticexceeded the average three times in the last few months; and the North Poles temperature has risen to 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) above its normal average.

Fortunately, it looks like public opinion is changing as anew study just reportedthat a majority of adults in the UK now recognize the reality of man-made climate change. Over just three years, there has been a discernible shift in public opinion towards acceptance that climate change is both happening and mainly caused by human activity, according Andrew Hawkins, chairman of ComRes, the organization behind the study.Seven in ten now believe that almost all, or a majority, of climate scientists believe the same.

Hopefully, governments and policy makers will follow suit. Their support for renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), environmental regulations, and similar initiatives that address climate change is critical to making sure that we protect the planet and work to reverse the damage we have already done.

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A Company Has Finally Said They Will Bring Real Wireless Charging – Futurism

Posted: at 5:46 pm

In Brief

Tech start-up Yank Tech, named after its founder Josh Yank, wants to deliver the first wireless charger that can REALLY wirelessly charge your device. The company set up an Indiegogo campaign to fund their endeavor, and has already far exceeded their$25,000 goal.

The MotherBoxpromises to provide wireless charging of your Android or iOS devices at a rate of two to ten watts, depending on the devices distance from the MotherBox. The device itself looks like a mini soccer ball, and does need to remain plugged in. The company is also offering a smaller battery-operated version that does not need constant power. Also, your device must be fitted with a receiver via its USB charging port.

While the product does have its limitations, this could be the first step in widespread wireless charging for devices. As more devices are joining the Internet of Things, and connecting us in unprecedented ways, traditional wires and plugs are not going to be enough to power the sheer number of devices.

You can reserve your MotherBox via the Indiegogo campaign today, taking advantage of an extended early bird special for $79. The first shipments are scheduled to begin in September of this year.

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Mark Cuban: Universal Basic Income Is One of the Worst Possible Responses to Automation – Futurism

Posted: February 23, 2017 at 12:40 pm

In Brief

When business mogul Mark Cuban tweeted his concerns over the imminent unemployment that could stem from increased automation, Scott Santens assumed that the Dallas Mavericks owner was out to support universal basic income (UBI). Santens, a UBI advocate, replied to Cubans tweet, welcoming Cubaninto Team #Basicincome. Cuban, however, flat out responded by saying that he wasnt in favor of UBI. I think its one of the worst possible responses, he replied to Santens.

In the above conversation, Santens tried to convince Cuban of the merits of a UBI program. One of the arguments he put forward is what he calls the entrepreneurial effect of basic income. Cuban replied, saying that he has spent a lot of time looking at [UBI]. I dont see those countries [running a basic income program] as being apples to apples. Cuban also said that there are existing safety net programs today that need to be more efficient so more money can be distributed with far less overhead.

Under a UBI program, citizens receive a fixed, regular income from the government regardless of their financial background, employment status, or other qualities. The only qualification is that the recipients are citizens, and typically that they are of legal adult age. One reason behind testing a basic income program, proponents argue, is that it offers a better alternative to existing social welfare programs. Santens told Cuban that current welfare programs create disincentives for people to seek jobs. Cuban said its something that can be fixed.

UBI isnt a new idea. Recent concerns over job displacement due to automation, however, have given the UBI discussion a new spark. UBI advocates include economists from various countries and some of the tech industrys top leaders.

As of today, there are also several pilot programs running basic income setups. Theres one in Finland, one in Kenya through a charity organization called GiveDirectly, and there is even one thats blockchain-based courtesy of Grantcoin.

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