Volume 20, Number 08 - 06/01/17 Twitter  Facebook  JLP Blog  


FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS

DID YOU KNOW THAT--
  • Methylene Blue shows promise of reversing aging in human skin.

  • Your car will eventually live-stream video of your driving to the cloud.

  • Montreal-based startup Lyrebird synthesizes speech using anyone’s voice given only a minute-long sample.

  • A new, far more powerful generation of aerial surveillance is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time.


PUNCTUATIONS
by John L. Petersen

Charles Eisenstein coming to Berkeley Springs

Emissaries from the Future


Charles Eisenstein
Charles Eisenstein, one of the most thoughtful analysts and original thinkers in the world about the possibilities we could build into the new world rushing at us from the horizon, is coming again to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks.

There is only a small handful of individuals who think about the incoming future in the rich depth and breadth that he does, both describing the options available to us in concrete and practical terms... while, at the same time, acknowledging the intrinsic multidimensional nature of our reality.

Be with us on Saturday, June 17 when we will delve into the future in a highly experiential way and explore the possibility that you can enter two-way communication with people in the distant future.

Charles will guide us using a technique that straddles the blurry boundary between improvisational role-playing and telepathic channeling. Each participant will get a chance to ask questions of a being from the future, as well as to actually connect with such a being and channel the answers.

This will be an extraordinary opportunity to experience the future in a way that is not available in any other venue. Do come.

Saturday, June 17, 2017, 2 to 4 pm

Ice House Theatre – Mercer & Independence Streets
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411


Complete information can be found here!









THINK LINKS



INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Trump Supporters Have Built a Document with the Addresses and Phone Numbers of Thousands of Anti-Trump Activists – (Buzz Feed – May 21, 2017)
This is a fairly geeky article (contains coding details, etc.) that shows in detail what can happen when an online petition gets hijacked. The hijacked document focused on here appears to contain the biographical information of thousands of people who signed a public petition from April condemning the Trump administration. The document posted by kanuke7 has since been removed, but according to a copy of it obtained by BuzzFeed News, it contains the names, addresses, and phone numbers of thousands of people, as well as links to their social media accounts. The document appears to be incomplete, but it has guidelines for how to add to it. It also makes a point of attempting to identify the religious affiliation and sexual orientations of people listed. It also comes with instructions on how to find and compile information on people, a process called doxing. Update: The organizers of the original petition have released a statement.



NEW DISCOVERIES

The Mystery of Antarctica's Blood Falls Has Been Solved – (SF Gate – April 29, 2017)
The mystery of Antarctica's Blood Falls has finally been solved – and it's a scientific phenomenon 1 million years in the making. Blood Falls has long baffled researchers and spooked the general public with its gruesome red flows that ooze upon the stark tundra of Taylor Glacier. First discovered by Australian geologist Griffith Taylor in 1911 (for whom the aforementioned glacier is named), the fall's fiery hue was initially believed to be the work of red algae. In 2003, almost 100 years after Taylor first stumbled upon the waterfall, scientists theorized that the color was due to oxidized iron and water, which was likely draining from an underground saltwater lake. Researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado College finally confirmed the oxidization theory in a study published in the Journal of Glaciology.

Psychedelic Drugs Push the Brain to a State Never Seen Before – (New Scientist – April 19, 2017)
Measuring neuron activity has revealed that psychedelic drugs really do alter the state of the brain, creating a different kind of consciousness. “We see an increase in the diversity of signals from the brain,” says Anil Seth, at the University of Sussex, UK. “The brain is more complex in its activity.” Seth and his team discovered this by re-analysing data previously collected by researchers at Imperial College London. Robin Carhart-Harris and his colleagues had monitored brain activity in 19 volunteers who had taken ketamine, 15 who had had LSD, and 14 who were under the influence of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms. Carhart-Harris’s team used sets of sensors attached to the skull to measure the magnetic fields produced by these volunteers’ neurons, and compared these to when each person took a placebo. Previous work had shown that people in a state of wakefulness have more diverse patterns of brain activity than people who are asleep. Seth’s team has found that people who have taken psychedelic drugs show even more diversity – the highest level ever measured. These patterns of very high diversity coincided with the volunteers reporting “ego-dissolution” – a feeling that the boundaries between oneself and the world have been blurred. The degree of diversity was also linked to more vivid experiences. There’s mounting evidence that psychedelic drugs may help people with depression in ways that other treatments can’t. “I think there’s an awful lot of potential here,” says Seth. “If you suddenly see things in a different way, it could give your outlook a jolt that existing antidepressants can’t because they work on the routine, wakeful state.”





GENETICS/HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/BIOTECHNOLOGY

Scientists Create Artificial Womb That Could Help Prematurely Born Babies – (NPR – April 25, 2017)
So far the device has only been tested on fetal lambs. A study involving eight animals found the device appears effective at enabling very premature fetuses to develop normally for about a month. The device consists of a clear plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. A machine outside the bag is attached to the umbilical cord to function like a placenta, providing nutrition and oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide. The device in the fetal lamb experiment is kept in a dark, warm room where researchers can play the sounds of the mother's heart for the lamb fetus and monitor the fetus with ultrasounds. Previous research has shown that lamb fetuses are good models for human fetal development. "We've been extremely successful in replacing the conditions in the womb in our lamb model," says Alan Flake, a fetal surgeon at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia who led the study. "They've had normal growth. They've had normal lung maturation. They've had normal brain maturation. They've had normal development in every way that we can measure it," Flake says. Flake says the group hopes to test the device on very premature human babies within three to five years. Dena Davis, a bioethicist at Lehigh University, worries about whether this could blur the line between a fetus and a baby. "Up to now, we've been either born or not born. This would be halfway born, or something like that. Think about that in terms of our abortion politics," she says.

Giving Cancer Cells an Inner Glow to Help Surgeons Remove Them – (New Atlas – March 28, 2017)
When it comes to removing tumors, surgeons rely on what they can see with their eyes, but at a smaller scale, cancerous cells could be left behind that could grow into new malignancies. Conversely, overly cautious approaches could mean healthy tissue is cut away. A new technique from researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU) could lead to glow-in-the-dark tumors that would help guide surgeons to the exact tissue that needs to be extracted. The technique, developed by Haiying Liu, a chemistry professor at MTU, builds upon a current method that gets cancer antibodies coated with enzymes to stick to tumors. Liu simply added a marker that clings to the enzyme, known as beta-galactocidase, and fluoresces in the near-infrared range of light. This means that once the solution is taken up by the body, it can be seen even deep within tissues once the light is applied. This certainly isn't the first experimental procedure to make cancer glow. Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) developed a way to achieve the same results in 2015 by using a compound known as naphthalocyanine that not only lit up cancerous cells to help guide surgeons, but could also be heated to help kill the cancer off. Another technique uses graphene quantum dots, which could someday be used to light up malignancies in the body as well. With all of these processes, the next step for the researchers is to work with medical professionals to see how the different approaches could scale up for use in actual surgery.

Eyeball Transplanted onto Tail Lets Blind Tadpoles See Again – (New Atlas – March 30, 2017)
While transplants involving organs such as the heart and lungs have been conducted successfully for years now, those involving sensory organs like the eyeballs are yet to become a reality because scientists have not figured out how to reconnect them to the brain. However, a new study, in which blind tadpoles were able to use transplanted eyes on their tails to see, suggests there might be another way to restore sight in human beings. One of the major challenges in regenerative medicine involves figuring out how to promote innervation, or the supply of nerves, to a body part. Of interest is whether there is another way to integrate a sensory organ into the nervous system without connecting all the neurons. Scientists at Tufts University wanted to find out if there was another way to stimulate nerve growth, specifically by using zolmitriptan, a migraine treatment drug that influences serotonin levels and neural development. During the study, the researchers found that the treated specimens grew new nerves that provided the central nervous system with sensory input without making changes to the tadpoles' original nervous system. The fact that zolmitriptan could stimulate the growth of neural connections in these animals suggests drugs used to treat neurological and psychiatric diseases could potentially be repurposed for use in regenerative procedures involving organ transplants. (Editor’s note: The design of the experiments to find out if the tadpoles could see or not is very clever.)

A Scientist Is 3D Printing Blood Vessels for Sick Children – (Futurism – April 7, 2017)
Since it was introduced, 3D-printing technology has taken the world by storm. Even the medical community is warming up to the new technology, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $211,000 Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant to an engineer at the University of Texas at Arlington to develop 3D-printable materials for developing new blood vessels for children. Engineer Yi Hong, in partnership with Guohao Dai of Northeastern University, is setting his sights on fighting vascular defects in children. Children are more difficult to treat than adults because their bodies grow much quicker than any graft, meaning that these grafts are in need of constant replacement with multiple invasive surgeries. In light of this problem, the bioengineering duo is attempting to create a range of 3D-printed materials that can be transformed into flexible, patient-specific blood vessels. These materials can then be mixed with human cells to create a fixture among biological blood vessels. Their elasticity could significantly improve the lives of children with vascular defects who currently need multiple invasive surgeries per graft. The printed blood vessels might also reduce the risk of thrombosis compared to that posed by traditional grafts.

Human Umbilical Cord Blood Restores Brain Function in Old Mice – (New Atlas – April 19, 2017)
The fountain of youth might be coursing through human umbilical cords. At least that's part of the findings from a team of researchers at Stanford University that saw some impressive results when the substance was injected into old mice suffering from cognitive decline. The discovery might help combat age-related mental impairments. The work of the researchers builds on previous studies from the same lab that showed that injecting blood plasma from young mice into old mice helped improve the senior rodent's memory and learning abilities. In this study, the scientists injected old mice with blood plasma – the fluid that carries blood cells – taken from human umbilical cords. The mice, which had been bred to be immunodeficient so that their bodies wouldn't reject the plasma, received an injection every four days for two weeks. Afterwards, the researchers compared those mice with those in three other groups: those that got blood plasma from young adults, those that got plasma from older people, and those in a control group that only got saline. Sure enough, the mice that received the human umbilical-cord plasma showed the sharpest increase on memory and learning tests.

Methylene Blue Shows Promise of Reversing Aging in Human Skin – (New Atlas – May 30, 2017)
Don't be surprised if in a few years television commercials for skin cream start touting that they are "now formulated with methylene blue." That's because research out of the University of Maryland (UMD) has shown that the common antioxidant can reverse the effects of aging on our skin. First synthesized in 1876, methylene blue (also called methylthioninium chloride) has historically been used as a dye as well as a means of treating urinary tract infections and cases of cyanide poisoning. It's also shown promise in fighting Alzheimer's disease, and is generally regarded as a valuable antioxidant – a chemical that neutralizes free radicals in our bodies. In 2015, the UMD team showed that methylene blue was able to almost completely repair skin cells that were damaged by a condition known as progeria, a disease in which certain components of aging are accelerated in the body. Now, researchers there have done work that shows that methylene blue could also be effective in helping healthy individuals attain younger skin. The UMD scientists first applied a methylene blue solution to skin cells from healthy middle-aged donors. They found that the chemical was able to lower the rate of cell death, up the rate of cell division and reduce the number damaging molecules known as reactive oxygen species in the cells over the course of four weeks.




ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES/CLIMATE

The US Is Playing a Dangerous Game of Musical Chairs with Nuclear Waste – (Wired – April 20, 2017)
Recently, a giant tank of radioactive sludge in Hanford, Washington, sprung a new leak. Hanford is home to 177 of these decades-old tanks, and workers have been scrambling to shuffle nuclear waste from tank to tank as they become leaky with age. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the current plan for dealing with the US’s dangerous high-level radioactive waste. This was not Plan A, of course. Plan A was a geological repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where radioactive waste could be entombed for at least 10,000 years. Yucca Mountain was supposed to open—take a deep breath—in 1998. But politics have dragged the Yucca Mountain plans through five presidents, and the Obama administration effectively mothballed it in 2010. So the radioactive sludge continues to sit in Hanford’s aging underground tanks. Hanford started accumulating radioactive waste during the Manhattan Project, when the site cranked out plutonium for nuclear bombs. By the time the Cold War ended and Hanford stopped its plutonium production, 53 million gallons of high-level waste had piled up. The once top-secret atomic city morphed into the site of the biggest environmental cleanup project in the world. At the same time Yucca Mountain has stalled, the cleanup at Hanford has blown through deadline after deadline, despite $19 billion over 25 years from the Department of Energy. The radioactive waste in the tanks was supposed to have been “vitrified” into glass logs for permanent storage in 1998. The vitrification facility at Hanford is still under construction, and vitrification has been pushed back to 2032. With no Yucca Mountain, that vitrified waste still has no permanent place to go. But maybe everything will be sorted out by 2032?

World’s Largest Beach Clean-up: Trash-Ridden to Pristine in 2 Years – (Nation of Change – May 29, 2017)
In 2015, Afroz Shah moved to an apartment near Versova beach, an ignored strip of ocean near slums. Shah, a young lawyer and environmentalist in Mumbai, was shocked by the pollution that he saw – the beach was covered in rotting garbage. Nobody could walk along the beach, let alone swim in the water, without being assaulted by the smell. “[The plastic] was 5.5 feet high. A man could drown in the plastic,” Shah said. “I said I’m going to come on the field and do something. I have to protect my environment and it requires ground action.” At first, Shah and his neighbor, an 84-year old man, would go out and pick up as much trash as they could. After a while, Shah realized that he had to expand his team if he was going to make a dent in what was essentially an environmental crisis. He began knocking on doors and talking with local residents, explaining the harm caused by marine pollution. His determination inspired a lot of people and soon dozens, hundreds and eventually more than a thousand volunteers from all walks of life pitched in. Cleanups were ironically called “dates with the ocean,” because they were really arduous affairs, “shin-deep in rotting garbage under the scorching Indian sun,” according to the UN. Now, after 21 months of toil, they picked up 11,684,500 pounds of trash, most of it plastic, that had accumulated along the shoreline. They also cleaned 52 public toilets and planted 50 coconut trees. Statistics: Each year, 8 to 13 million tons of plastic make it into the world’s oceans each year – the equivalent of two garbage trucks filled with plastic every minute. Throughout the world, there are about five plastic bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline. By 2050, plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans. But if Shah’s work proves anything, individuals can transform their relationship to garbage.



COMMUNICATIONS/COMPUTING

Smart TV Hack Embeds Attack Code into Broadcast Signal—No Access Required – (Ars Technica – March 31, 2017)
A new attack that uses terrestrial radio signals to hack a wide range of Smart TVs raises an unsettling prospect—the ability of hackers to take complete control of a large number of sets at once without having physical access to any of them. The proof-of-concept exploit uses a low-cost transmitter to embed malicious commands into a rogue TV signal. It worked against two fully updated TV models made by Samsung. By exploiting two known security flaws in the Web browsers running in the background, the attack was able to gain highly privileged root access to the TVs. By revising the attack to target similar browser bugs found in other sets, the technique would likely work on a much wider range of TVs. "Once a hacker has control over the TV of an end user, he can harm the user in a variety of ways," Rafael Scheel, the security consultant who publicly demonstrated the attack, told Ars. "Among many others, the TV could be used to attack further devices in the home network or to spy on the user with the TV's camera and microphone." Scheel's exploit relies on a transmitter that's based on digital video broadcasting—terrestrial, a transmission standard that's built into the vast majority of TVs. TVs that are connected to the Internet, are currently tuned to a DVB-T-based station, support the hybrid broadcast broadband TV standard, and contain at least one critical vulnerability that can be exploited without showing any outward signs anything is amiss. The exploit, which Scheel developed for Swiss security consulting company Oneconsult, was demonstrated in February at the European Broadcasting Union Media Cyber Security Seminar. Once completed, the attack gave Scheel the ability to remotely connect to the TV over the Internet using interfaces that allowed him to take complete control of the device. The infection was also able to survive both device reboots and factory resets.

Google Chromebook Is Still Spying on Grade School Students – AppleInsider – April 19, 2017)
Two years after it filed a federal complaint against Google alleging that it was "collecting and data mining school children's personal information, including their Internet searches," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has issued a new status report detailing how Google is still working to erase minor students' privacy "often without their parents notice or consent, and usually without a real choice to opt out." The latest EFF report noted that "the way the educational system treats the privacy of students is undergoing profound changes," due to a massive rollout of low-priced Chromebooks paired with educational services that "are often available for a steeply reduced price, and are sometimes even free." The privacy groups investigation has "found that educational technology services often collect far more information on kids than is necessary and store this information indefinitely," tying personally identifying information (including names and birthdays) with children's "browsing history, search terms, location data, contact lists, and behavioral information." The EFF noted that "some programs upload this student data to the cloud automatically and by default. All of this often happens without the awareness or consent of students and their families."

AI Software Learns to Make AI Software – (Technology Review – January 18, 2017)
Progress in artificial intelligence causes some people to worry that software will take jobs such as driving trucks away from humans. Now leading researchers are finding that they can make software that can learn to do one of the trickiest parts of their own jobs—the task of designing machine-learning software. In one experiment, researchers at the Google Brain artificial intelligence research group had software design a machine-learning system to take a test used to benchmark software that processes language. What it came up with surpassed previously published results from software designed by humans. Several other groups have also reported progress on getting learning software to make learning software. They include researchers at the nonprofit research institute OpenAI (which was cofounded by Elon Musk), MIT, the University of California, Berkeley, and Google’s other artificial intelligence research group, DeepMind. Yoshua Bengio, a professor at the University of Montreal, who previously explored the idea in the 1990s, says the more potent computing power now available, and the advent of a technique called deep learning, which has sparked recent excitement about AI, are what’s making the approach work. But he notes that so far it requires such extreme computing power that it’s not yet practical to think about lightening the load, or partially replacing, machine-learning experts. See also: “Artificial intelligence is getting more powerful, and it's about to be everywhere.”



SHELTER/ARCHITECTURE

Celebrating the Very Best in Sustainable Buildings – (New Atlas – April 21, 2017)
Each year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) reveals its 10 most sustainable buildings. Representing some of the best high-profile green architecture you're likely to see in one place, this year's selection includes solar-powered schools, super-efficient universities, and a Singaporean hospital that uses 69% less energy than its typical US counterpart. This article highlights three of the editor’s favorites below, but hit the gallery to see the rest of the projects.



ENERGY DEVELOPMENTS

Researchers Think They're Getting Closer to Making Spray-On Solar Cells a Reality – (Bloomberg – March 21, 2017)
Imagine a future when solar cells can be sprayed or printed onto the windows of skyscrapers or atop sports utility vehicles -- and at prices potentially far cheaper than today’s silicon-based panels. It’s not as far-fetched it seems. Solar researchers and company executives think there’s a good chance the economics of the $42 billion industry will soon be disrupted by something called perovskites, a range of materials that can be used to harvest light when turned into a crystalline structure. The hope is that perovskites, which can be mixed into liquid solutions and deposited on a range of surfaces, could play a crucial role in the expansion of solar energy applications with cells as efficient as those currently made with silicon. One British company aims to have a thin-film perovskite solar cell commercially available by the end of 2018. Not everyone is sold on perovskite as a game-changer from the industry’s heavy reliance on silicon photovoltaic cells. That said, recent research pointing to the material’s potential continues to grip the solar energy research community. The World Economic Forum picked the material as one of its top 10 emerging technologies of 2016. Meanwhile, solar panel makers and top universities in Europe, the U.S. and Asia are racing to commercialize the technology, with researchers churning out as many as 1,500 papers a year on the material.



TRANSPORTATION

Your Car Will Eventually Live-stream Video of Your Driving to the Cloud – (Computer World – April 27, 2017)
As self-driving cars become more advanced with a greater number of onboard computers, sensors, cameras and WiFi, the amount of data is expected to balloon, providing automakers, insurers and others with rich information to harvest. A single autonomous car could generate as much as 100GB of data every second. If extrapolated out to the entire U.S. fleet of vehicles -- 260 million in number -- autonomous cars and trucks could potentially produce about 5,800 exabytes, said Barclays analyst Brian Johnson. In other words, on a daily basis, there would be enough raw data to fill 1.4 million Amazon AWS "Snowmobile" mobile data center tractor-trailer trucks with 100 petabytes of storage each, for a convey reaching 11,000 miles long. "Even with data compression of 10,000x, that would still be a one-mile long convey," Johnson stated. "The car can become a roving data gathering vacuum," Johnson said in the report. "Think of millions of Google StreetView vehicles capable of refreshing live views of every street everywhere several times a day. Not only can this data be added as layers on top of traditional HD-maps in near-real time, it can also be potentially mined for a variety of insights." For example, video data could be used to determine how full a store parking lot is at any given time of day and what prices are advertised in a store window, according to Johnson.

Truck Drivers Can Now Control a Fleet of Vehicles From Over 3000 Miles Away – (Futurism – April 24, 2017)
Have you ever wanted to drive a bulldozer? What about a bulldozer that’s miles away? What about a fleet of bulldozers that are all 3000 miles away? At the 2017 Edison Awards, attendees had a chance to see a demonstration of Caterpillar’s (CAT) driverless technologies—technologies that are already saving lives. As Tazio Grivetti, the Innovation Viability Manager at Caterpillar Inc., notes, mining is sometimes a dangerous business, with drivers being forced to navigate up and down steep and precariously thin inclines. If they aren’t navigating inclines, then drivers are often tasked with maneuvering enormous vehicles around other mining equipment, which, of course, require operators of their own. To that end, the company has installed a host of advanced intelligence tech in their vehicles in order to save lives. Ultimately, the semi-autonomous features allow operators to control vehicles from the comfort of their office, and the perception technologies installed on the equipment serve as a kind of “kill switch” that stops vehicles from hitting other machinery (or people).



SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE

Cops Use Murdered Woman's Fitbit to Charge Her Husband – (CNN – April 25, 2017)
The attack, as Richard Dabate described it to police, was horrific. A masked intruder barged into his Connecticut home, he said, tied up and tortured him and -- when his wife came home -- shot and killed her. His story, however, would not hold up with investigators. And when cops ultimately charged him with murdering his wife, they relied on evidence gathered from an unlikely source: The Fitbit his wife was wearing. Technology has increasingly played a larger role in helping to solve crimes. Earlier this year, recordings from an Amazon Echo were used in a murder case. Last year, Ohio investigators used evidence retrieved from his pacemaker to build an arson case against him.

Russia Trains Robot to Shoot Guns: Can Humans Prevent Rise of Terminator-Like Killing Machines? – (Tech Times – April 17, 2017)
In photos and a short video clip shared on social media, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin showed off the new skill of the humanoid robot Fedor: shoot guns using both of its arms. Fedor (Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research) is a robot designed for space missions. It is set for launch to the International Space Station by 2021 to do tasks that are considered too dangerous for astronauts to do in space. Rogozin assured that Russia is not creating a Terminator-like killing machine and explained that the training helps hone artificial intelligence. Fedor was also trained to do a range of other tasks such as screwing a light bulb, operating a drill and driving a car.

The World's First Robot Police Officer Just Debuted in Dubai – (Entrepreneur – May 22, 2017)
“Robocop,” the newest member of the Dubai police force, debuted on May 22 at the Fourth Gulf Information Security Expo and Conference, where it greeted guests. At approximately 70 inches tall and weighing nearly 220 pounds, Robocop seeks to engage with city residents and tourists. Featuring an “emotion detector,” the robot can recognize a person’s gestures and body language from nearly five feet away. Robocop’s skills don’t stop there -- the emotionally intelligent bot can detect if a person is happy, sad and even angry by studying his or her facial expression. And just like your human friends would do, if Robocop sees you’re unhappy, it will try to lift your spirits. More importantly, when it comes to fighting crime, the robot uses the internet of things, artificial intelligence and other smart technologies to spot offenders using facial recognition. Its navigation skills grant it the ability to map out areas and travel on its own. Equipped with a built-in tablet, Robocop can communicate with people, speak six languages, respond to public queries, shake hands and even military salute.

This New Tech Can Copy Anyone’s Voice Using Just a Minute of Audio – (Futurism – April 27, 2017)
Montreal-based startup Lyrebird ’s latest application program interface (API) synthesizes speech using anyone’s voice. Lyrebird’s tech only needs a minute-long sample of the voice it’ll synthesize. As if that’s not impressive enough, Lyrebird’s new service doesn’t require a speaker to say any of the actual words it needs. It can learn from noisy recordings and put different intonations into the generated audio to indicate varied emotions, also. Lyrebird’s API makes it easy for someone to generate a new recording that truly sounds like it was spoken by a particular person and not created by a computer. This raises some rather interesting questions, and not only does Lyrebird acknowledge these, the company actually wants everyone else to as well: "Voice recordings are currently considered as strong pieces of evidence in our societies and in particular in jurisdictions of many countries. Our technology questions the validity of such evidence as it allows to easily manipulate audio recordings. This could potentially have dangerous consequences such as misleading diplomats, fraud, and more generally any other problem caused by stealing the identity of someone else. We hope that everyone will soon be aware that such technology exists and that copying the voice of someone else is possible. More generally, we want to raise attention about the lack of evidence that audio recordings may represent in the near future." (Editor’s note: In other words, audio data can now be “photoshopped” just as easily as a photograph – and can just as easily not be what it appears to be.)




GLOBAL RELATIONS

Russia Has Reawakened 3 Mystery Satellites — and No One Knows What They Are For – (Business Insider – May 20, 2017)
Three Russian satellites that were sent into low orbit in 2013 are on the move again. Having been idle for more than a year, one of the satellites went hundreds of meters off its orbit last month to within 1,200 meters of a piece of a Chinese weather satellite that China smashed in a 2007 anti-satellite rocket test. The maneuver, which is pretty impressive for such a small spacecraft, is also rather close by orbital standards. No one (apart from Russian space agency personnel) quite knows what the satellites are for, but some experts say they could be "technology-demonstrators" or even "precursors to orbital weapons." Code named Kosmos-2491, Kosmos-2499 and Kosmos-2504, the three satellites maneuvered several times in the last three years to within a few dozen feet of their old booster shells. This means that they could be inspection satellites that can scan and match the orbit of other spacecraft, possibly even interact with it physically for repairs, modifications or to dismantle it. It's also possible that these satellites could be used for warfare. Russian space agency chief Oleg Ostapenko stated in 2014 that the satellites were for peaceful purposes. (Editor’s note: What’s clear is that numerous countries are tracking everything in low space, everyone is curious about everything, and a lot of it is junk debris. See an article on that below in the section on Contact and the Exploration of Space.)



LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES

Refugees Fill Job Gaps As More Americans Fail Drug Tests – (Vibe – March 27, 2017)
Employers are turning their attention to refugees, a group Donald Trump has committed to shutting out, as more American workers test positive for illegal drug use. The percentage of Americans failing drug tests has climbed steadily to its highest level in a decade in part by the legalization of recreational marijuana in certain states and rural America’s heroin epidemic, CNN reports. At least 40 refugees from Syria to Bhutan have filled in gaps at Sterling Technologies, a plastic molding company located near Lake Erie, due to this ongoing issue. “Twenty percent of the people are failing,” the company’s president Cary Quigley revealed. “We’re seeing positive tests anywhere from marijuana through amphetamines, right all the way through crystal meth and heroin.” According to Shannon Monnat, a rural sociology professor at Penn State University, Erie, Pa. has lost over half its manufacturing jobs since the 1980s as the city faces rising rates of drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related deaths. “When business owners are telling you that they can’t find native residents who will do these jobs, or they can’t find enough people in the community to pass a drug test, what are they to do?” she said. “They need to seek out employees somewhere. And for now, immigrants are a really good source of that labor.”

New Surveillance Technology Can Track Everyone in an Area for Several Hours at a Time – (Washington Post – February 5, 2017)
Shooter and victim were just a pair of pixels, dark specks on a gray streetscape. Hair color, bullet wounds, even the weapon were not visible in the series of pictures taken from an airplane flying two miles above. But what the images revealed — to a degree impossible just a few years ago — was location, mapped over time. Second by second, they showed a gang assembling, blocking off access points, sending the shooter to meet his target and taking flight after the body hit the pavement. When the report reached police, it included a picture of the blue stucco building into which the killer ultimately retreated, at last beyond the view of the powerful camera overhead. As Americans have grown increasingly comfortable with traditional surveillance cameras, a new, far more powerful generation is being quietly deployed that can track every vehicle and person across an area the size of a small city, for several hours at a time. Although these cameras can’t read license plates or see faces, they provide such a wealth of data that police, businesses and even private individuals can use them to help identify people and track their movements. Defense contractors are developing similar technology for the military, but its potential for civilian use is raising novel civil liberties concerns. In Dayton, where Persistent Surveillance Systems is based, city officials balked last year when police considered paying for 200 hours of flights, in part because of privacy complaints.

Schools Replace Punishment with Meditation and See Drastic Results – (Miami Herald – September 23, 2016)
Students who are misbehaving are usually taken out of class and sent to the principal, who punishes the child by revoking privileges, calling home or sometimes suspending them. But students in some Baltimore schools are sent somewhere different when they are acting out: a designated meditation room where they can calm down and decompress before rejoining their classmates. The Mindful Moment room is equipped with bean bags and dim lighting, and students go through calming exercises with trained staff. At Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, teachers and staff can refer students to the room for an emotional “reset” when they are worked up. The student is led through breathing exercises and is encouraged to discuss the emotions that led to an outburst. They work with the adult to come up with a plan to use mindfulness in a similar situation in the future, to prevent an outburst. After about 20 minutes in the room, they rejoin classmates. The Holistic Life Foundation was started by two brothers, Atman and Ali Smith, along with friend Andres Gonzalez, who wanted to give children in low-income and high-crime neighborhoods a better way to deal with anger and stress. The foundation has now implemented the program in more than 14 Baltimore area schools with the goal of improving student behavior without leveling harsh punishments that tend to have no impact on student behavior. The program also includes a “Mindful Moment” twice a day, which leads students in breathing exercises for 15 minutes over the PA system. Students can also participate in yoga classes. It has drastically reduced suspensions, with zero reported in the 2013-14 school year.



CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE

Thousands of Tiny Satellites Are About to Go into Space and Possibly Ruin It Forever – (Washington Post – April 21, 2017)
The European Space Agency's new film is about space trash. So six minutes in, we're stuck a mere 800 miles above Earth, watching a wasp swarm of defunct satellites whip around the globe to a frenetic soundtrack that sounds like the end of “The Dark Knight.” It's a dramatic simulation of what low Earth orbit looks like today. You can even watch it in 3-D. Because the European Space Agency really, really wants you to pay attention to the space debris problem. The problem is about to get worse, experts say, as cheap, tiny satellites are shot through the stratosphere in unprecedented numbers. Worst-case scenario: a massive, unstoppable, chain-reaction traffic wreck above our heads. So much for escaping Earth to distant galaxies. Hundreds of thousands of bits of space junk are orbiting Earth, according to NASA. These include tiny paint flecks that can take out a space shuttle window, and some 2,000 satellite shards left by a collision of Russian and American satellites several years ago. At the International Space Station, astronaut Thomas Pesquet described what the space station crew has to do when a piece of debris whizzes past: Climb into an escape shuttle, wait and hope. The basic concern is this: A thing hits another thing at 25,000 mph or so. Those things then explode into more things, which hit yet more things, initiating a catastrophic chain reaction of collisions that makes low Earth orbit totally unusable. Article includes video clip.

New NASA Discovery --"Our Sun and Planets Are Surrounded by a Gigantic Round Magnetic Field That Fills the Solar System" – (Daily Galaxy – April 24, 2017)
The sun releases a constant outflow of magnetic solar material—called the solar wind—that fills the inner solar system, reaching far past the orbit of Neptune. This solar wind creates a bubble, some 23 billion miles across, called the heliosphere. Our entire solar system, including the heliosphere, moves through interstellar space. The prevalent picture of the heliosphere was one of comet-shaped structure, with a rounded head and an extended tail. But new data from NASA's Cassini mission, combined with measurements from the two Voyager spacecraft and NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX covering an entire 11-year solar activity cycle show that may not be the case: the heliosphere may be rounded on both ends, making its shape almost spherical. "Instead of a prolonged, comet-like tail, this rough bubble-shape of the heliosphere is due to the strong interstellar magnetic field—much stronger than what was anticipated in the past—combined with the fact that the ratio between particle pressure and magnetic pressure inside the heliosheath is high," said Kostas Dialynas, a space scientist at the Academy of Athens in Greece and lead author on the study.



NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES

This New Solar-powered Device Can Pull Water Straight from the Desert Air – (Science Mag – April 13, 2017)
Wringing water from the desert sky is now possible, thanks to a new spongelike device that uses sunlight to suck water vapor from air, even in low humidity. The device can produce nearly 3 liters of water per day, and researchers say future versions will be even better. That means homes in the driest parts of the world could soon have a solar-powered appliance capable of delivering all the water they need, offering relief to billions of people. There are an estimated 13 trillion liters of water floating in the atmosphere at any one time, equivalent to 10% of all of the freshwater in our planet’s lakes and rivers. Over the years, researchers have developed ways to grab a few trickles, such as using fine nets to wick water from fog banks, or power-hungry dehumidifiers to condense it out of the air. But both approaches require either very humid air or far too much electricity to be broadly useful. To find an all-purpose solution, researchers led by Omar Yaghi, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, turned to a family of crystalline powders called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs. n 2014, Yaghi and his colleagues synthesized a MOF that excelled at absorbing water, even under low-humidity conditions. That led him to reach out to Evelyn Wang, a mechanical engineer at MIT. The system Wang and her students designed consists of a kilogram of dust-sized MOF crystals pressed into a thin sheet of porous copper metal. That sheet is placed between a solar absorber and a condenser plate and positioned inside a chamber. The system works well; now the researchers need to find a way to make it widely affordable.

Scientists Are Developing a Contact Lens That Tells You When You're Sick – (Gizmodo – April 4, 2017)
Imagine a biosensing contact lens that can tell when your blood sugar is getting too low, or if there’s something wrong with one of your organs. By leveraging the power of ultra-thin transistor technology, researchers have taken us a step closer to achieving that goal. A research team led by Oregon State University professor Gregory Herman has developed a transparent biosensor that, when added to a contact lens, could conceivably be used to detect symptoms an array of health conditions. Currently, a lab-tested prototype can only detect blood glucose levels, but in the future, the team believes it could detect other medical conditions, possibly even cancer. It’ll be a few years before we see such futuristic contact lenses on pharmacy shelves, but the technologies required to build this noninvasive diagnostic device largely exist already. Herman estimates that more than 2,500 biosensors could be imbedded in a 1-millimeter square patch of semiconductor composed of the compound gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) contact lens, each of them designed to measure a different bodily function.




ECONOMY/FINANCE/BUSINESS

AI Annihilates The Stock Market Achieving Eye-Popping Returns, Study Shows – (Wall St. Pit – March 23, 2017)
Based on the results of a study conducted by an international team of researchers at the School of Business and Economics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), AI-based algorithms can function as stock market traders. And they’re not just good at it. They’re actually much better than real live traders (man, that hurts). And they seemed to do particularly well during times of financial turmoil. To arrive at these results, the team –headed by Dr. Christopher Krauss of the Chair for Statistics and Econometrics at FAU — studied the S&P 500 Index which basically consists of the top 500 US stocks. For the period from 1992 to 2015, they used different methods, specifically, ‘deep learning, gradient boosting, and random forests’, to generate daily predictions for each of the 500 stocks. As different as the methods were, the models they trained learned one particular complex function — to define the relationship between features that were price-based and the future performance of the different stocks. Armed with this knowledge, the models were able to perform astonishingly well in the market. Dr. Krauss said, “Our quantitative algorithms have turned out to be particularly effective at such times of high volatility, when emotions dominate the markets.” The study proves without doubt how much wider the applications of deep learning are, especially in cases when human emotions tend to affect actions and decisions negatively. Dr. Krauss and his team are now working on follow-up projects that involve ‘larger data sets and very deep network architectures’ that will hopefully result in even better forecasting models.



PROVOCATIVE IDEAS

Gardens Don't Tend Themselves: Portraits of the People Behind LA's Luxury – (NPR –April 11, 2016)
Los Angeles is a city of extremes: There are neighborhoods so luxurious only millionaires can afford them and neighborhoods so poor that residents work several jobs to pay the rent. Now, a young LA painter is bringing these neighborhoods together on his canvases. Ramiro Gomez paints modernist houses in Beverly Hills, perfectly appointed kitchens and exclusive shops on Melrose Avenue. His pictures have nothing, and everything, to do with his background. Gomez's mother is a janitor, and his father works the graveyard shift driving a truck. Workers like his Mexican immigrant parents show up in his paintings — part of the invisible landscape of luxury LA. His work shows mostly Latino gardeners tending perfect lawns, maids cleaning tiles in gleaming bathrooms and nannies gathered in the park. These images show "the lush, easy lifestyle of L.A., which is entirely undergirded by armies of domestic workers," says New Yorker magazine writer Lawrence Weschler. He's done a long essay on Gomez for the new coffee table book, Domestic Scenes. The first Gomez painting to catch Weschler's eye was a nearly precise reproduction of a work by David Hockney. In A Bigger Splash, Hockney shows turquoise water in a big pool with a diving board and a big splash of water. In Gomez's version, the water darkens to cobalt and instead of a splash there's a man cleaning the pool. He's trawling for debris in the water. And over toward the back, a woman — she's faceless, like all his figures — sweeps the patio near a wall of windows. Gomez calls it No Splash.

World Map Shows What a Hyperloop Future May Look Like – (Architect Magazine – January 24, 2017)
In 2008, Mark Ovenden designed the World Metro Map you see illustrated in the article. Like all subway maps, it's definitely short on geographic accuracy. But that misses the bigger picture, which is that an interconnected, worldwide transportation could, maybe, be possible, given the appropriate technology and political will and determination. And the appropriate technology might be on its way. Elon Musk's idea for a pneumatic-tube-esque Hyperloop system has spurred a bunch of startups to work on the technology. The Hyperloop and its future tech has the chance to rewrite the standard of transportation. It’s the sort of time savings that could reshape the global economy, and with an intercontinental transit network, could allow for rapid Europe-Asia trips in a matter of hours.

Can’t Explain It – Just Watch – (YouTube – September 1, 2011)
What if someone handed you a pair of glasses that allowed you to really see what’s going on around you?



FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.

NASA Will Reach Unique Metal Asteroid Worth $10,000 Quadrillion Four Years Early – (Forbes – May 26, 2017)
NASA has fast-tracked the Psyche mission to visit a one-of-a-kind asteroid worth $10,000 quadrillion. Unlike most asteroids that are either icy or rocky, 16 Psyche is composed almost entirely of metallic iron and nickel, similar to the core of the Earth. If anyone could mine that asteroid, the resulting riches would collapse the paltry Earth economy of around $74 trillion. For the scientists, 16 Psyche is alluring because it may in fact be a planetary core that has been stripped of its rocky outer layers by a series of violent collisions in its past. “16 Psyche is the only known object of its kind in the Solar System, and this is the only way humans will ever visit a core. We learn about inner space by visiting outer space," said Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the lead scientist on the NASA mission and the director of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.



JUST FOR FUN

Funny Examples of Pareidolia – (SadandUseless.com – no date)
Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations. Here is a photo collection of face patterns. Apart from the humor, it’s a lovely example of how we humanize the world around us.



A FINAL QUOTE

The past can't see you, but the future is listening. ~ Terri Guillemets, quotation anthologist



A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Steve McDonald, Diane Petersen, Bobbie Rohn, Gary Sycalik, Hal Taylor, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.
johnp@arlingtoninstitute.org




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