Thursday, September 19, 2013

Life: Extension, Existence and Extrapolation

Top news... if it proves out... The amplituhedron, a  jewel-like geometric object at the heart of quantum physics: As a physicist, I find this one of the most exciting advances (again, if true) in quite a while. Einstein said something like "follow the elegance" and if this is true, then it is elegance. It is also lovely in its weirdness.

== Health, Lifespan & Such ==

TelomeresAging
Why are American Health Care Costs So High? A bizarrely sensible and entertaining perspective from author John Green.  And amazingly, it is not political!  Well, it does demand reason and common sense and a willingness to step away from pre-conceptions… so nowadays just doing that is a political act.  But do watch it.

A study shows for the first time that lifestyle changes -- in diet, exercise, stress management and social support -- may result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect aging, possibly enabling life extension.

Oh, but a century won't suffice, no?  A kickstarter campaign seeks funding for The Last Generation to Die, a provocative short science fiction film about the near future -- when we must wrestle with the arrival of age reversal or rejuvenation. The tradeoffs and emotional quandaries. And for my own take on the tradeoffs, take a look at my essay: Do We Really Want Immortality?

While we're on the subject, see Larry Page's most recent effort to use his wealth (with some help from friends) to fund Calico, a win-win initiative to fight aging and disease, and help us all to live longer.

GrouchyFutureAh, but more and more we are splitting between those who are (sometimes recklessly) gung-ho about the future and those who are (often dyspeptically) grouchy about it.  This one is sure to spark screaming matches: Adderall for All: A Defense of Pediatric Neuroenhancement.

== It's about Life! ==

A stunning example of terrifying yet inspiring animal altruism. A giant leopard seal tries to teach a diver how to survive.

Actually, now that I think about it… the story is almost identical to a scene in Existence!

Aw heck, recall the G'Keks in Brightness Reef? In the spirit of last week's discovery of an insect that uses gears, watch this short video about the incredible tongue of a hummingbird, an astonishing organ that works in a way never before known. Another bio-engineering marvel! But the greatest feats may be yet to come...

FreemanDysonSimply flat out mind-boggling cool:  Freeman Dyson on Warm-blooded Planets in the Outer Solar System . I attended this talk by my brilliant friend, whose stunning ideas about exolife -- "greenhouse organisms" that could sustainably colonize and "green" icy moons in space, is utterly fascinating.  This was at the recent Starship Century conference at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.

== And artificial (gulp!) life! ==

I've been warning you folks about the billions that Goldman-Sachs and others are pouring into High Frequency Trading -- that this investment will not only warp and distort financial markets in hugely unfair ways, but that also might threaten us with the very worst kinds of emergent artificial intelligence (AI). 

In a new paper, Abrupt Rise of New Machine Ecology beyond Human Response Time, researchers have studied these ultra-rapid computational processes and determined that: "far from simply generating faster versions of existing behaviour, we show that this speed-up can generate a new behavioural regime as humans lose the ability to intervene in real time."

They add that "transition to a new all-machine phase (is) characterized by large numbers of sub-second extreme events."  They even use some terminology similar to mine, concluding that these results are: "consistent with an emerging ecology of competitive machines featuring ‘crowds’ of predatory algorithms."

== Space Updates! ==

The next year or two should be big for planetary science.  A possible (unlikely) "comet of the century"… plus another comet skating past Mars. The Dawn expedition will reach Ceres in 2015. The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft will be escorting the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko around the sun that year, while NASA's New Horizons mission will be reaching Pluto and its moon Charon.

Getting a little closer to home… So cool. You get to see what no ancestor saw before 1960: a full rotation of the moon, from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) data.

Even closer. Congratulations to Orbital Sciences for launching a supply capsule to the space station in September. Competition with SpaceX is a good thing.  Though the two endeavors are not exactly comparable. For example, while Elon's SpaceX has developed its own new rocket and thousand innovations entirely in-house, Orbital Sciences is struggling to find a reliable engine for its rocket: "The NK-33 engine that powered Antares’ first flight was built decades ago by Russia’s Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet’s remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s." Well, they are at least proving there's a niche for clever recycling!

Aerobraking? That's for sissies! How about ... litho-braking!  In a recent experimental test, ESA researchers sent a prototype careening into 10 tons of ice at a deceleration of 24,000 times the force of gravity.  The main shell of the payload survived the deceleration "scuffed."  Next up: tests containing electronics.  Possible an ideal penetrator to study the oceans of Europa?   Oh, so many questions, first!

Will the recent interest in asteroids stay stoked?  Scientists have searched through the current database of around 9000 near-Earth objects looking for those that could be maneuvered into an accessible orbit by changing their velocity by less than 500 meters per second.  Researchers conclude that 12 asteroids meet this criteria.  They call this new class of asteroid “Easily Retreivable Objects” or EROs.  I have been backing this kind of idea ever since reading John Lewis's pioneering and visionary MINING THE SKY: Untold Riches from Asteroids, Comets and Planets, spoke of resource extraction, way back in the 1980s.

NEOShieldPreventing extinction-level events: The European-backed NEOShield Project aims to develop defenses against killer Near Earth Object (NEO) asteroids.  Their plans include orbital reconnaissance, as well as the hypothetical launch of kinetic impact spacecraft that would deflect problematic asteroids from their earth-bound trajectory. Watch the animated simulation video.

==Next Steps in Exploration==

China announced Wednesday that it plans to put a rover on the Moon by the end of the year. The Chang’e-3 Lunar probe will include a six-wheeled lunar rover, which will work on the surface for about three months. China's goal: landing humans on the Moon. Though there is competition. Private space company Golden Spike plans to land a person on the Moon by the year 2020.  And while China is aiming for the Moon, another great Asian power, India, is aiming to put a probe in orbit around Mars this Fall.

And finally...

Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you...and start your life moving in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you ear to what you do with your time tonight...turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. 

You may not get exactly where you thought you'd be...but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in.

Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.

– Astronaut Chris Hadfield

25 comments:

Robert said...

So. Does the theoretical jewel-like geometric objects that comprise subatomic particles give greater or lesser credence to the theory that we are living in a simulation?

Rob H.

Carl M. said...

I sat through the health care costs video. Cute, but a questionable conclusion: we need large scale negotiations. Wrong! We just need negotiations!

There is no large scale negotiations for groceries. Food is cheap in this country. Shopping works. Shopping doesn't work for medical stuff because we don't shop. We have tasked the insurance companies to do this.

Try going to an alternative medicine MD. The prices are clearly posted and reasonable. Why? No insurance. Try going to a regular doctor or hospital and get a clear price on what a procedure will cost. Most of the time you cannot get one. It's all negotiated with the insurance company AFTER THE FACT.

Most medicine is not emergency medicine. Shopping is possible. Because many people are OVER insured, there is no market. So of course there is "market" failure. Nonexistent markets don't do market things. Duh.

Stephen Peterson said...

@Carl, ah, but groceries aren't the same type of good as medicinal care. It would be really nice to have pricing information for medical stuff, but insurance and prevention isn't the same as food.

Maybe prescription drugs. But you can't really "shop around" for hospitals, in any practical sense, over large swaths of this country. See also the prospects of "shopping around" for power/water/sewer companies in a fixed region.

TheMadLibrarian said...

I can comparison shop for Curad vs. Band-Aids vs. 'house' brand at my grocery store or drug store. It gets more complicated looking for the 'best' way to get gallbladder surgery (if needed, usually not a crisis), and again we have transparency issues. One doctor may have tons of experience, but be tied to a particular hospital or be unavailable for months. Your doctor may say they only do the procedure as an outpatient surgery, but you would prefer the choice of being in a hospital proper. Do you get local or general anesthesia, and what are the associated risks? Can it be done laparoscopically, or do you have to have a big incision? What if you have a bad reaction to something, or an unexpected complication? There are a lot of variables, many not under your control, when you go in for surgery.

TheMadLibrarian
mittres: it's a mattress, and mittens! It's two in one!

sociotard said...

The meatspace equivalent of a greyhat attack: An amateur drone piloted to within feet of German PM Angela Merkel. It looks as if the Dresden cops and the PM herself were good natured about it.

http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/09/german-chancellors-drone-attack-shows-the-threat-of-weaponized-uavs/

rseed42 said...

@Robert: The polyhedron in question is a theoretical construct that is used to simplify the calculations involved in particle collisions. It is not a physical entity, but it has a great explanatory value. There are many such constructs in theoretical physics - N-dimensional phase space, microcanonical ensemble, etc. The cool thing is how the researchers noted patterns in the "brute force" scattering amplitude calculations that lead to this discovery, especially as it hints to interesting new physics. I definitely agree with Dr. Brin that this is a very promising development in theoretical physics. Still, they have a lot of work to do, since the amplituhedron relates to supper-symmetrical formulations of quantum field theory (a speculative theory). So far no super symmetrical particles have been found by the LHC at the predicted energy levels.

sociotard said...

I know you meant "super-symmetrical", but the idea in my head of a symmetrical supper table was funny for some reason.

rseed42 said...

@sociotard: Yeah, right :=)

LarryHart said...

Again from the Forbes article from the last post (which I admit I just can't let go):

Let’s begin by stripping away the collectivism. “The community” never gave anyone anything. The “community,” the “society,” the “nation” is just a number of interacting individuals, not a mystical entity floating in a cloud above them.


Why doesn't the same reasoning apply when the "mystical entity" in question is a corporation?

David Brin said...

IN some of my recent blogs I have mentioned groups who are trying to get "smart mob" work going. Can any of you help me find those citations? Soooo disorganized, I find it hard to even sift my own blogs!

Tony Fisk said...

There's a field at the top of your blog page that lets you search for terms in it.

eg: "smart mobs"

Paul451 said...

Sometimes you humans aren't so bad after all.

"[Paragominas is] a municipality in the Brazilian Amazon with a population of 100,000 is made up largely of migrants from the south of the country who were encouraged by the government to colonise the area and chop down the forest. [In November 2008] the federal environmental police confiscated some lorries piled high with illegally cut logs. The loggers were not happy. That night a few hundred of them entered the town, repossessed some of the trucks, set them and the office of the environmental police on fire and then tried to burn down the mayor's office too.

[The Mayor] called a town meeting and held up two letters he had written. One apologised to the nation for the previous day's events and committed Paragominas to stopping deforestation. The other announced his resignation. The townsfolk chose the first. The mayor stayed in his job, and Paragominas changed its ways."


Brazilian deforestation has dropped five-fold in the last eight years.

http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21585091-biodiversity-once-preoccupation-scientists-and-greens-has-become-mainstream

(Plus a bunch of similar tales in the Special Report sidebar.)

(Via io9.)

Paul451 said...


LarryHart,
"Why doesn't the same reasoning apply when the "mystical entity" in question is a corporation?"

Or indeed "the market".

And you'd expect at least some awareness of how dangerous it is for themselves if they do succeed in convincing everyone else that there's no such thing as "community", pouring such scorn on the idea of sacrificing for the "greater good". Say what you like about them, the old elites understood that they didn't want the masses to stop believing in community, and the idea of sacrifice for others. When you are outnumbered by two orders of magnitude or more, it may be worth giving up a little to keep the masses from taking the rest.

The new guys are dumb. What do they think will happen then those "interacting individuals" who make up the majority really do start acting in their own individual interest against those few who are threatening those interests?

The only reason that the majority currently isn't defending their own interests against this selfish minority is because they do still believe in "community" and "self-sacrifice" to serve the "greater good". That's the only reason the nonsensical "job creator" and "maker vs taker" propaganda still works.

Paul451 said...

The old idea linking mass extinctions with the sun's orbit around the solar system gets a bit more maths, updated for the new knowledge about the layout of the galaxy's arms. Good correlation between crossing arms and major extinctions at 415, 322, 300, 145 and 33 Myr ago.

http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/1309.4838

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart
Why doesn't the same reasoning apply when the "mystical entity" in question is a corporation?

Because it is quite obvious that it does offer benefits.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451

Suggesting there is no community might work better for elites. It is easier to start a revolution when you believe there is a community of like minded people acting with the same intention. Conversely, when there is no community, it emphasizes that the individual is alone and powerless.

Alex Tolley said...

Re: Dyson talk

While I enjoy his writings and find his ideas very entertaining because they often take a different slant than most observers, I do find his ideas on life (natural or synthetic) to be less than half baked. This is in marked contrast to his engineering ideas that are far better worked out.

LarryHart said...

Allex Tolley:

Why doesn't the same reasoning apply when the "mystical entity" in question is a corporation?

Because it is quite obvious that it does offer benefits.


Whereas "society" and "community" do not? I'm not sure I get your point.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Suggesting there is no community might work better for elites. It is easier to start a revolution when you believe there is a community of like minded people acting with the same intention. Conversely, when there is no community, it emphasizes that the individual is alone and powerless.


But the Rand acolytes, such as the writer of the Forbes article, seem to be saying that the individual is powerFUL. That if one would just break from the community, one would be that much MORE able to fend for himself.

I'm not agreeing with them, but the meme they seem to push is less like "divided we fall" and more like "Everybody can win the lottery!"

Duncan Cairncross said...

"seem to be saying that the individual is powerFUL"

Anthropological description of a single human in nature

"CAT FOOD"

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - I don't wish to imply that I think community offers no benefits. IMO, community is very important and more than "interacting parts". What I m saying is that corporations do provide benefits. That does not mean that all corporations are a net positive - some clearly are a social net negative.

As for Randians and powerful individuals, I haven't read any Ayn Rand, but I think that the implication is that some individuals can be powerful. Most people are not like John Galt, or indeed real historical figures, but collectivism does provide a counterbalance to those powerful individuals (or state agents) who control individual actions by keeping them isolated and unable to form groups.

If you can instill a general sense of "you are alone in the world" and "what has society every done for you"" mentality, then you are far less likely to work out new solutions with your community to change things for the better for everyone. Divide and conquer.

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - I don't wish to imply that I think community offers no benefits. IMO, community is very important and more than "interacting parts". What I m saying is that corporations do provide benefits. That does not mean that all corporations are a net positive - some clearly are a social net negative.

As for Randians and powerful individuals, I haven't read any Ayn Rand, but I think that the implication is that some individuals can be powerful. Most people are not like John Galt, or indeed real historical figures, but collectivism does provide a counterbalance to those powerful individuals (or state agents) who control individual actions by keeping them isolated and unable to form groups.

If you can instill a general sense of "you are alone in the world" and "what has society every done for you"" mentality, then you are far less likely to work out new solutions with your community to change things for the better for everyone. Divide and conquer.

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley,

Not sure if we're arguing or agreeing or some of each.

You said it is quite OBVIOUS (emphasis mine) that a corporation offers benefits. This was given as a reason why someone asserting that there is no such thing as a "community" or "society" or "nation" is just fine with the convenient fiction that there IS such thing as a "corporation" and that that such thing has the full rights of human beings.

That led me to question why the distinction. To me, society, community, and nation offer benefits at least as OBVIOUSLY to the population as corporations do. In many cases (not all), it's not clear what benefits corporations do provide except to their own shareholders and officers, allowing them to despoil the environment the rest of us have to live in for their short-term benefit. And that Forbes guy thinks the rest of us owe something back to THEM in return for this "benefit"?

The irony is that there really is "no such thing" as a corporation EXCEPT in the context of it being created out of thin air BY the laws governing a community, society, or nation.

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - I think we are agreeing, not disagreeing.

Duncan Cairncross said...

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/09/are_search_engines_and_the_internet_hurting_human_memory.2.html

This article about the effect of Google on our memories is quite cogent to the Rand discussion

Basically we use "other people" for a lot of our memory - and we always have!
So much for the mighty individual!

A lone human is not only cat food he is memory impaired as well