Devin Murphy sent this one in: - The Synthetic Biology Company Your Building Blocks of Life. It looks like you can order gene sequences, embedded in host organisms. There's even a mix-and-match program called Gene Designer. They also check with a CDC database, hopefully to keep people from ordering smallpox or 1918 influenza.
Jeb sent this in. A researcher tried to desalinate seawater with a radio-frequency generator he developed to treat cancer. He discovered that as long as the salt water was exposed to the radio frequencies, it would burn. The radio frequencies act to weaken the bonds between the elements that make up salt water, releasing the hydrogen, Roy said. Once ignited, the hydrogen will burn as long as it is exposed to the frequencies, he said.
David Brin comments: This is only the beginning. I have long figured that fine-tunable masers should be able to do countless things, like dig holes. In this case, of course, I very much doubt that you’ll find a net energy gain. But as a desalinization method...
The Neuroscience of Empathy: To neuroscientist Jean Decety, empathy resembles a sort of minor constellation: clusters of encephalic stars glowing in the cosmos of an otherwise dark brain. See how they flash, decety says, pointing to the orange-lit anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula on an fmri scan. This person is witnessing another person in pain. ... What‘s interesting is that this network of regions is also involved in the firsthand experience of pain.
David Brin comments: This is a fascinating article dealing with a topic that has long fascinated me in many ways, ranging from fiction to pondering the over-used assumption that advanced extraterrestrials will automatically be altruistic.
What is under-mentioned in the article about Jen Decety and empathy is the perspective of evolution. Yes, it was somewhat advantageous to be able to sympathize with others, in order to create bonds and facilitate social interaction. But that is more recent. I contend that the real roots of empathy lie in something far deeper, older and more feral... predation. Specifically, the advantages that fall upon a predator who is able to empathize with, and thus imagine the thought patterns of, his prey. I have pointed out before the irony that this might be the background source of our capability to imagine that we are the “other”... and that sympathy is actually an emergent property. The feral empathy ability becomes sympathetic empathy when the right conditions appear. The gregarity of social apes. The self-interested desire to make alliances. Cutlural teachings that encourage sympathetic reactions. And above all, satiation.
Ponder. Contemplate. Comments welcome.
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See a presentation "Nanotechnology and the Future of Warfare" given by Mike Treder, my colleague at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology,
at the recent World Future Society conference.
Life, But Not as We Know It – (Australian – August 13, 2007)Scientists have discovered that inorganic material can take on the characteristics of living organisms in space, a development that could transform views of alien life. An international panel from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Sydney found that galactic dust could form spontaneously into helixes and double helixes and that the inorganic creations had memory and the power to reproduce themselves.
Our Lives, Controlled from Some Guy’s Couch – (New York Times – August 17, 2007)If you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems. Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century. Yawn!!!
The Enthusiast – Technology Review – September, 2007)A controversial biologist at Harvard claims he can extend life span and treat diseases of aging. He may be right. David Sinclair's basic claim is simple, if seemingly improbable: he has found an elixir of youth. The 38-year-old professor of pathology discovered that resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, extends life span in mice by up to 24% and in other animals, including flies and worms, by as much as 59%.
And I (and - I think - only I) keep trying to explain to these people that NONE of these studies of bacteria and flies and mice have ANYTHING to do with human beings! We are different because we are already the Methuselahs of mammals, getting three times as many heartbeats as mice or elephants. We needed long lives, to sustain culture and raise long-childhood offspring. Hence, we have already turned on all of the chemical switches that expand lifespan in any straightforward way. See:
Do We Really Want Immortality? for a splash of cold water on the extropians' dreams. Hey, I hope I am wrong!
(Lately, I've been hoping that about a lot of things.)
Scientists Hail Frozen Smoke as Material That Will Change World – (Timesonline – August 19, 2007)A MIRACLE material for the 21st century could protect your home against bomb blasts, mop up oil spillages and even help man to fly to Mars. Aerogel, one of the world’s lightest solids, can withstand a direct blast of 1kg of dynamite and protect against heat from a blowtorch at more than 1,300C. Nicknamed “frozen smoke”, it is made by extracting water from a silica gel, then replacing it with a gas such as carbon dioxide. The result is a substance capable of insulating against extreme temperatures and of absorbing pollutants such as crude oil.
Celestial Add-on Points Google Earth at the Stars – (New Scientist – August 27, 2007)Amateur stargazers have a new way to explore the heavens - with an update to Google's free global mapping application Google Earth. The new feature, called Sky, adds a wealth of astronomical data to Google Earth, including images of more than 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies. At the press of a button, a user sees their perspective shift upwards, revealing the correct constellation of stars for their selected position on Earth. They can then pick out particular stars or planets manually, or using the search field, and zoom upwards to see more detailed images and additional information. Some 20,000 celestial objects can be searched for by name using the Sky feature.
Eight-million-year-old Bug is Alive and Growing – (New Scientist – Augsut 7, 2007)An 8-million-year-old bacterium that was extracted from the oldest known ice on Earth is now growing in a laboratory, claim researchers. If confirmed, this means ancient bacteria and viruses will come back to life as ice melts due to global warming. This is nothing to worry about, say experts, because the process has been going on for billions of years and the bugs are unlikely to cause human disease.
Segway Inventor Focusing on Green Cars – (EcoGeek – August 11, 2007)Dean Kamen has spent over $40 million in the last decade developing stirling engines which convert heat directly into mechanical energy by use of an expanding and contracting gas inside a cylinder. His stirling engines are already being used in developing countries. There are a couple in India that can power an entire village by burning cow patties. But Kamen started to realize that stirling engines would never be economical until they were mass produced. Which is when he met the CEO of the electric car company, THiNK, and decided that he'd found his method of mass production.
Psycho Paintball & Drug Drones – (Wired – August 23, 2007) and drug-spraying robots sound like something for The Joker rather than the Marine Corps. But these are two of the more promising new methods for administering nonlethal chemical weapons (sorry, calmatives) being developed by the Pentagon. For larger targets such as a crowd, there are a number of new projectiles under development for carrying chemical agents including 81mm mortar and 155mm howitzer rounds.
So High, So Fast – (ABC News – August 17, 2007)At virtually any moment — day or night — you can look up and know that somewhere over Earth there's a U-2 pilot at the edge of outer space, watching and listening. Developed in secret for the CIA more than 50 years ago, the U-2 first detected the movement of Soviet nuclear weapons into Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the U-2 is not just a piece of Cold War history. Since this spring it is flying more missions and longer missions than ever before — nearly 70 missions a month over Iraq and Afghanistan, an operational tempo that is unequaled in history. The pilots fly for 11 hours at a time, sometimes more than 11 hours up there alone. By flying so high, the U-2 can look off to the side, peering 300 miles or more inside a country without actually flying over it. It can "see" in the dark and through clouds. It can also "hear," intercepting conversations 14 miles below.
In the past month, the Bush administration has ordered employees to ignore congressional subpoenas, asserted broad new parameters for executive privilege and issued an executive order that could permit seizing assets of Americans deemed at its discretion to be hurting the war effort in Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration continues to spy on its own citizens, including widespread data mining of telephone records and emails. The American Freedom Campaign is working to build bipartisan grassroots support "to reverse the abuse of executive power and restore our system of checks and balances." The Campaign is designed to be an online hub for Americans concerned about the country's democratic system and who are ready to act to protect the Constitution.
There are now almost 200,000 private "contractors" deployed in Iraq by the United States government. This means that U.S. military forces in Iraq are now outsized by a coalition of corporations whose actions go largely unmonitored. In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely profitable for a few unaccountable private companies. "I think it's extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its foreign policy or national security objectives," says veteran U.S. Diplomat Joe Wilson, who served as the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War.