FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT--
- Scientists successfully infiltrate computer using malware coded into DNA.
- Every company is a tech company now.
- Aviation start-up Volocopter is developing an electrically powered, autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft for the flying air taxi market.
- At some point (sooner than one might think), passwords will be a thing of the past.
by John L. Petersen
Rosemary Ellen Guiley coming to Berkeley Springs
Contact Experiences, Kundalini, and Transformation of Consciousness
The largest-ever global survey of contact experiences with nonhuman intelligent beings (NHIB), released in 2016 by the Edgar Mitchell Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial Encounters (FREE), reveals a broad spectrum of contact that is positive, transformative, and conducive to kundalini awakenings. These findings point to widespread contact with ETs, “energy beings,” angels, the dead, and other intelligent life forms that initiate a marked transformation of consciousness and para-physical changes. How widespread are these contact experiences, and what are the ramifications for humanity’s evolution of consciousness? Come hear Rosemary describe the implications of this landmark study and explain how the evolutionary process may well emerge.
Rosemary Ellen Guiley
This will be an extraordinary opportunity to experience the future in a way that is not available in any other venue. Do come.
Saturday, September 9, 2017, 2 to 4 pm
Ice House Theatre – Mercer & Independence Streets
Berkeley Springs, WV 25411
Complete information can be found here!
AI Is Inventing Languages Humans Can’t Understand. Should We Stop It? – (Fast Company – July 14, 2017)
“It’s important to remember, there aren’t bilingual speakers of AI and human languages,” says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). We already don’t generally understand how complex AIs think because we can’t really see inside their thought process. Adding AI-to-AI conversations to this scenario would only make that problem worse. But at the same time, it feels shortsighted, doesn’t it? If we can build software that can speak to other software more efficiently, shouldn’t we use that? Couldn’t there be some benefit? We absolutely can lead machines to develop their own languages. Facebook has three published papers proving it. “It’s definitely possible, it’s possible that [language] can be compressed, not just to save characters, but compressed to a form that it could express a sophisticated thought,” says Batra. As one insider at a major AI technology company told me: No, his company wasn’t actively interested in AIs that generated their own custom languages. But if it were, the greatest advantage he imagined was that it could conceivably allow software, apps, and services to learn to speak to each other without human intervention.
Scientists Create the First Mutant Ants – (Washington Post – August 10, 2017)
Despite what you might've seen in 1950s monster movies, it's difficult to raise mutant ants. Until now, their complex life cycle has hampered efforts to grow genetically engineered ants. Claude Desplan, a New York University biologist and an author of one of the studies, said that, as far as he could tell, these ants are “the first mutant in any social insect.” The insects are prime targets for studies of epigenetics, the external factors that toggle genes on and off. “Ants are amazing because with the same genome you can be a queen, or a worker, or another class of worker, or a soldier,” Desplan said. Desplan is interested in the way ants alter their longevity, in addition to sensory perception. Workers live to about seven months old. But workers that become pseudo-queens live for four years. That's like one human twin living to age 85 and the other to age 550. “Expanding by a factor of 10 is unheard of,” Desplan said. Workers who become pseudo-queens turn back to workers once they're exposed to queen pheromones. These former queens then die within months. That means there must be a reversible genetic switch that controls the ant life span.
Edited Embryos Mean U.S. Scientists Have Passed a Major Milestone – (NBC – July 27, 2017)
Reports from MIT assert that the very first attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon. According to MIT, the work was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who comes from the Oregon Health and Science University. Although details are scarce at this point, sources familiar with the work assert that the research involved changing the DNA of one-cell embryos using CRISPR gene-editing. Further, Mitalipov is believed to have broken records in two notable ways: He broke the record on the number of embryos experimented upon and he is the first researcher to ever conclusively demonstrate that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases. In this regard, Mitalipov’s work brings us further down the path to understanding exactly how CRISPR works in humans, and reveals that is it possible to avoid both mosaicism (changes that are taken up not by only some of the cells of an embryo, as opposed to all of them) and “off-target” effects. t is important to note that none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days, and that the team never had any intention of implanting them into a womb. However, it seems that this is largely due to ongoing regulatory issues, as opposed to issues with the technology itself.
New Device Can Heal with a Single Touch, and Even Repair Brain Injuries – (USA Today – August 7, 2017)
A new device developed at The Ohio State University can start healing organs in a "fraction of a second," researchers say. The technology, known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), has the potential to save the lives of car crash victims and even deployed soldiers injured on site. It's a dime-sized silicone chip that "injects genetic code into skin cells, turning those skin cells into other types of cells required for treating diseased conditions," according to a release. In lab tests, one touch of TNT completely repaired injured legs of mice over three weeks by turning skin cells into vascular cells. And, it not only works on skin cells, it can restore any type of tissue, Chandan Sen, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies, said. For example, the technology restored brain function in a mouse who suffered a stroke by growing brain cells on its skin. This is a breakthrough technology, because it's the first time cells have been reprogrammed in a live body.
Slimy Slugs Inspire Potentially Lifesaving Medical Glue – (BBC News – July 28, 2017)
A defensive mucus secreted by slugs has inspired a new kind of adhesive that could transform medicine, say scientists. The "bio-glue" is incredibly strong, moves with the body and crucially, sticks to wet surfaces. The team at Harvard University have even used it to seal a hole in a pig's heart. The university's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering turned to the "Dusky Arion" slug, which creates sticky mucus as a defense against predators. "We engineered our material to take on the key features of slug mucus and the result is really positive," researcher Dr Jianyu Li said. The bio-glue they produced has two components - the actual adhesive and a biochemical "shock absorber". The incredible stickiness comes from the trinity of the attraction between the positively charged glue and negatively charged cells in the body; covalent bonds between atoms in the cell surface and the glue, and the way the glue physically penetrates tissue surfaces. But it is the shock-absorbing component that is crucial - it takes the physical stress and strain, so the adhesive component stays stuck. The material could be used as a patch on the skin or as a liquid injected into wounds deeper in the body.
First Hints Parkinson's Can Be Stopped – (BBC News – August 4, 2017)
In Parkinson's, the brain is progressively damaged and the cells that produce the hormone dopamine are lost. Therapies help manage symptoms by boosting dopamine levels, but the death of the brain continues and the disease gets worse. To date, no drug has been found that stops that happening. In the trial, half of patients were given the diabetes drug exenatide and the rest were given a placebo (dummy treatment). All the patients stayed on their usual medication. As expected, those on just their usual medication declined over 48 weeks of treatment. But those given exenatide were stable. And three months after the experimental treatment stopped, those who had been taking exenatide were still better off. Professor Foltynie said: "This is the first clinical trial in actual patients with Parkinson's where there has been anything like this size of effect. Researchers say that they need to trial the drug for much longer periods of time. An effective drug would need to hold back the disease for years in order to make a significant difference to patients. Parkinson's progresses slowly and the difference in this 60-week trial was definitely there, but was "trivial" in terms of the impact on day-to-day life, say the researchers.
The Fertility Doctor Trying to Commercialize Three-Parent Babies – (Technology Review – June 13, 2017)
A U.S. fertility doctor has started a company with a provocative vision for older women: become pregnant by having their DNA shifted into a young woman’s egg. The company, Darwin Life, was quietly established last year by John Zhang, also founder of a New York City clinic called New Hope Fertility Center, to deploy a cutting-edge fertility technology called “spindle nuclear transfer.” It was originally developed as a way to prevent women from passing certain rare diseases on to their children. Zhang says it can also be used to create rejuvenated eggs. He calls it a “cure for infertility” and says Darwin Life will begin offering it to women aged 42 to 47, an age at which the chance of becoming pregnant declines dramatically. Last year, Zhang carried out the first successful use of the technique in Mexico, which employs delicate hollow needles to swap the chromosomes of a woman’s egg into the egg of a donor. The process is controversial because it is largely untested and because some consider it a form of genetic modification. In March, after lengthy public debate, the U.K. became the first country to formally allow the use of a similar treatment, but only when a couple is at very high risk of having a child with a life-threatening genetic disease. See also: The 'three-parent baby' fertility doctor needs to stop marketing the procedure, FDA says. Zhang has promised that until the FDA gives him permission, his company Darwin Life wouldn’t generate any more modified embryos in the US.
The Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone Is the Biggest Ever Seen – (WABE – August 3, 2017)
It's become a rite of summer. Every year, a "dead zone" appears in the Gulf of Mexico. It's an area where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive. And every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) commissions scientists to venture out into the Gulf to measure it. This week, NOAA announced that this year's dead zone is the biggest one ever measured. It covers 8,776 square miles — an area the size of New Jersey. And it's adding fuel to a debate over whether state and federal governments are doing enough to cut pollution that comes from farms. "Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus that drives this problem comes from the upper Midwest," Scavia says. "It's coming from agriculture." Farmers use it on their fields as fertilizer. Rain washes it into nearby streams and rivers. And when it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, those nutrients unleash blooms of algae, which then die and decompose. That is what uses up the oxygen in a thick layer of water at the bottom of the Gulf, in a band that follows the coastline. "Fish that can swim will move out of the way. Organisms that are living on the bottom, that the fish feed on, can't move, and they often die," says Don Scavia, a top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who now is a professor of environment and sustainability at the University of Michigan. The record-breaking dead zone this year is the result of unusually heavy rains in the Midwest, which flushed a lot of nutrients into the Gulf.
Newly Discovered Garbage Patch in the South Pacific Is 1.5 Times the Size of Texas – (Weather Channel – July 26, 2017)
A largely unstudied area of the South Pacific Ocean is home to a newly discovered garbage patch that researchers estimate to be 1.5 times the size of Texas, according to a recent study. This new patch found in the ocean's gyre is estimated to be as large as 965,000 square miles, reports ResearchGate. Gyres are areas of the ocean that are surrounded by circulating currents. They help circulate ocean waters around the world, but they also suck in pollution. Algalita Marine Research and Education scientist Cpt. Charles Moore and his team of volunteer researchers made the discovery during a six-month expedition. “We discovered tremendous quantities of plastic,” said Moore, who was the first to discover the North Pacific garbage patch in the 1990s. The South Pacific patch is primarily made up of tiny pieces of plastic that are even smaller than a grain of rice. Microbeads are among the most common types of plastic found in the world’s waterways. These are tiny bits of plastic smaller than 5 mm that can be found in our toothpastes, soaps, face washes and cleaning products. These plastics never really go away because they can last for decades, fragmenting over and over again into smaller pieces. Researchers estimated that 8 trillion microbeads are being released into U.S. aquatic habitats per day. Once tiny particles of plastic make their way into the gyre, they’re nearly impossible to clean up. “Gone are the silly notions that you can put nets in the ocean and solve the problem. This cloud of microplastics extends both vertically and horizontally. It’s more like smog than a patch..”
The Guy Who Invented Those Annoying Password Rules Now Regrets Wasting Your Time – (GizModo – August 8, 2017)
We’ve all been forced to do it: create a password with at least so many characters, so many numbers, so many special characters, and maybe an uppercase letter. Guess what? The guy who invented these standards nearly 15 years ago now admits that they’re basically useless. He is also very sorry. The man in question is Bill Burr, a former manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In 2003, Burr drafted an eight-page guide on how to create secure passwords creatively called the “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A.” This became the document that would go on to more or less dictate password requirements on everything from email accounts to login pages to your online banking portal. The only problem is that Bill Burr didn’t really know much about how passwords worked back in 2003, when he wrote the manual. “In the end, [the list of guidelines] was probably too complicated for a lot of folks to understand very well, and the truth is, it was barking up the wrong tree.” Bill is not wrong. Simple math shows that a shorter password with wacky characters is much easier to crack than a long string of easy-to-remember.
Every Company Is a Tech Company Now (Yes, even Blue Apron) – (CNBC – August 10, 2017)
If you're thinking of Blue Apron as a food company, you're missing something important -- just like the people in 1995 who thought Amazon was just a bookseller, selling a super-low-margin product over what happened to be a new channel, the web. Then again, the term "tech" has almost become meaningless when talking about business. Because these days, every company is a tech company. Any company that starts up today has to change the industry it's competing in in order to excel. That comes through clever application of technology. This is how Amazon has flipped from just a retailer to one of the most valuable companies on the planet. It used its expertise in logistics to allow customers to order goods and have them on their doorsteps in two days. As it learned how to do this, it applied its hard-won expertise to move into new businesses -- for instance, it learned how to run massive data centers at scale, and turned that expertise into Amazon Web Services, the market-dominating cloud computing service. The very idea of a sharing economy is itself a tech story. How many times have we heard the phrase "It's the Uber of X" when start-ups begin pitching new ideas? We use apps to book rides, reserve tables at restaurants and to pay our bills and send money to friends. Uber might just be a "ride sharing service" but it's very much a tech company. It exists almost entirely on its logistics and data collection. Efficiency is the beating heart of business. Technology is what businesses use to become more efficient. It's like electricity, or air. That's why larger companies that may have dominated their sector for decades are now looking to invest in or swallow tech start-ups as a sort of heart transplant. That's why Wal-mart bought Jet.com -- a $3 billion heart transplant. Or why Ford invested $1 billion in self-driving car start-up Argo.
Scientists Successfully Infiltrate Computer Using Malware Coded into DNA – (The Verge – August 11, 2017)
In what reads like science fiction becoming reality, researchers at the University of Washington have been able to successfully infect a computer with malware coded into a strand of DNA. In order to see if a computer could be compromised in that way, the team included a known security vulnerability in a DNA-processing program before creating a synthetic DNA strand with the malicious code embedded. A computer then analyzed the “infected” strand, and as a result of the malware in the DNA, the researchers were able to remotely exploit the computer. “We wanted to understand what new computer security risks are possible in the interaction between biomolecular information and the computer systems that analyze it,” the researchers wrote, led by Tadayoshi Kohno, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington.
Apple Park Employees Revolt over Having to Work in Open-plan Offices – (Dezeen – August 10, 2017)
Some Apple workers hate the open-plan layout of their new Foster + Partners-designed campus so much they might quit, according to reports circulating around Silicon Valley. A $5 billion development eight years in the making, the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California began welcoming the tech giant's employees in April. The remaining employees expected to work in the building are due to move in later this year. However, John Gruber, who runs the Apple-focused site Daring Fireball, said in his podcast that he has received a number of complaints via email from Apple employees reluctant to accept the working conditions of the campus. Gruber said the criticism centered on Apple Park's open floor plan, which is based around "pods" – huge open workspaces with shared tables. It has apparently rankled some of the company's engineers and developers, who are used to private offices or cubicles. There are 80 pods on each of the four floors of Apple Park. Furnished with custom pieces by Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa, the soundproof spaces feature huge collaboration tables made from European white oak. Gruber said that Apple's internal critics included high-level employees, and related a third-hand, unconfirmed account of Apple's senior vice-president of hardware technologies Johny Srouji refusing to work in the new facility. Open-plan offices have become more common since the 1990s but have come under scrutiny in recent years. A recent Haworth's white paper said that open-plan offices are "sabotaging" employees' ability to focus at work, with office workers losing 28% of their productive time due to interruptions and distractions.
Grid Batteries Are Poised to Become Cheaper Than Natural-Gas Plants in Minnesota – (Technology Review – July 12, 2017)
According to the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab, starting in 2019 and for the foreseeable future, the overall cost of building grid-scale storage there will be less than that of building natural-gas plants to meet future energy demand. According to the analysis, bringing lithium-ion batteries online for grid storage would be a good way to stockpile energy from renewables for when it’s needed, and it would prove less costly than building and operating new natural-gas plants. The finding comes at an interesting time. For one thing, the price of lithium-ion batteries continues to plummet, something that certainly has the auto industry’s attention. And grid-scale batteries, while still relatively rare, are popping up more and more these days. The Minnesota report, then, suggests that such projects may become increasingly common—and could be a powerful way to lower emissions without sending our power bills skyrocketing in the process.
India Is Rolling out Trains with Solar-powered Coaches That’ll Save Thousands of Liters of Diesel – (Quartz – July 17, 2017)
On July 14, Indian Railways rolled out its first train with rooftop solar panels that power the lights, fans, and information display systems inside passenger coaches. Although the train will still be pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive, a set of 16 solar panels atop each coach will replace the diesel generators that typically power these appliances. The railway estimates that a train with six solar-powered coaches could save around 21,000 liters of diesel every year. The first of these trains will be pressed into service on the suburban railway network of New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, before two dozen more coaches are fitted with similar rooftop solar systems. Retrofitting each coach with these system, including an inverter to optimize power generation and battery for storing surplus power.
The Volocopter Is a Radical Eighteen Rotor Autonomous Air Taxi – (Daily Mail – August 3, 2017)
German automobile firm Daimler and other investors have has invested more than $29 million dollars in aviation start-up Volocopter. Volocopter plans to use the money to invest in further developing its electrically powered, autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft and 'conquer' the market for flying air taxis. Volocopter's 'Volocopter 2X' is a fully electric VTOL with 18 quiet rotors and a maximum airspeed of 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour - and it can transport two passengers without a pilot. The fully electric vehicle has a maximum airspeed of 62 miles per hour and travel for 27 minutes on a charge. Later this year, the company will work with Dubai's Road and Transport Authority on first tests. The trial operations and certification program is expected to continue for five years.
That Guy Dressed Up as a Car Seat to Solve a Robocar Riddle – (Wired – August 8, 2017)
Somewhere in northern Virginia, a man dressed as a car seat (see attached video) seeks the answers to vital questions about how autonomous vehicles interact with the public. Car Seat Man is part of a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study into human-vehicle interactions—information automakers and tech companies like Google will find invaluable as they loose thousands of self-driving cars onto the country's roads. The Institute notes on its website that it hopes to observe how humans react to robocars, and determine whether the folks making such vehicles should consider design tweaks to ease any tension or avoid any confusion. This is a key question, because eliminating the driver eliminates many of the visual cues—eye contact, a friendly wave of the hand, an extended middle finger—that pedestrians, cyclists, and others often rely on as they navigate city streets. “There’s a lot of debate right now about whether autonomous vehicles need signs of some sort to communicate their intent,” says Bryan Reimer, who studies autonomous vehicle and human interaction at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Figuring this out is tricky because everyone testing robocars on public streets puts an engineer behind the wheel to ensure the car doesn't do something stupid. Those humans might make eye contact with pedestrians, or subtly nod their head toward another motorist. Their very presence could affect the way people respond to the vehicles in their midst. The only way around that is to eliminate the person behind the wheel.
Amazon Looks to New Food Technology for Home Delivery – (Reuters – August 11, 2017)
Amazon.com Inc is exploring a technology first developed for the U.S. military to produce tasty prepared meals that do not need refrigeration, as it looks for new ways to muscle into the $700 billion U.S. grocery business. The world's biggest online retailer has discussed selling ready-to-eat dishes such as beef stew and a vegetable frittata as soon as next year, according to officials at the startup firm marketing the technology. The dishes would be easy to stockpile and ship because they do not require refrigeration and could be offered quite cheaply compared with take-out from a restaurant. The pioneering food-prep tech, known as microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS, was developed by researchers at Washington State University, and is being brought to market by a venture-backed startup called 915 Labs, based in Denver. The method involves placing sealed packages of food in pressurized water and heating them with microwaves for several minutes, according to 915 Labs. Unlike traditional processing methods, where packages are in pressure cookers for up to an hour until both bacteria and nutrients are largely gone, the dishes retain their natural flavor and texture, the company said. They also can sit on a shelf for a year, which would make them suitable for Amazon's storage and delivery business model. "They obviously see that this is a potential disruptor and an ability to get to a private brand uniqueness that they’re looking for," said Greg Spragg, a former Wal-Mart Stores Inc executive and now head of a startup working with MATS technology. Spragg's company, Solve for Food, plans to acquire a MATS machine from 915 Labs that can make 1,800 packages an hour. The company aims to use the machine at a new food innovation center in northwest Arkansas, near the headquarters of Wal-Mart. 915 Labs also has an Arkansas connection: it is designing the beef stew and other dishes with a chef at the Bentonville-based Brightwater Center for the Study of Food.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Chinese Satellite Sends Hack-proof Message – (BBC News – August 10, 2017)
The Micius satellite beamed messages to two mountain-top receiving stations 645 km (400 miles) and 1,200 km away. The message was protected by exploiting quantum physics, which says any attempt to eavesdrop on it would make detectable changes. Using satellites avoids some limitations that ground-based systems introduce into quantum communication. Complicated optics on the Chinese satellite protect messages with entangled photons - sub-atomic particles of light manipulated so that some of their key properties are dependent on each other. The curious laws of the quantum realm dictate that any attempt to measure these key properties irrevocably changes them. By encoding a key to encrypt data using entangled photons, it becomes possible to send messages confident that they have reached a recipient free of interference. Ground-based encryption systems that use entangled photons have been available for years. However, the maximum distance over which messages can be sent securely is about 200km because the fiber-optic cables through which they travel gradually weaken the signals.
How America’s New Cyber Foot Soldiers Are Put Through Their Paces – (Fast Company – July 5, 2017)
The Army’s Fort Irwin National Training Center in the desert south of Death Valley is where America’s freshest cyber warriors are put through their paces. It is also where troops are trained to use and respond to the new weapons of war: software tools that can disrupt the operations of a tank or an aircraft, take over the controls of a dam, bring down a power grid, or insinuate themselves into a communications channel in order to send a message that appears to come from a fellow soldier or commanding officer but which really emanates from an adversary’s HQ. None of this is fiction; it is happening today, both on training grounds like Fort Irwin and on battlefields around the world. Of the Army’s 41 cyber mission teams, 34 are already fully operational, says Brigadier General Joseph McGee, Army Cyber Command’s Deputy Commander for Operations. Their top priority is defending military information and operations networks from attacks. But cyber operations have now become part of all phases of any military operation. With the ability to do things like selectively target portions of an adversary’s power grid or communications network, the DoD’s new cyber assault forces could have a significant impact on the battlefield, potentially acting as virtual advance troops clearing the way for a “kinetic” assault by more conventional troops. But Pentagon commanders have yet to align on rules of engagement and best practices–or even what equipment is best to send teams into the field with. And with USCYBERCOM spanning something like a dozen commands across the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, integrating the many disparate systems, training regimens, and command doctrines is another thorny problem that’s yet to be grappled with.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Trump’s Agencies Are Learning to Ignore Their Boss – (Huffington Post – August 11,2017)
As President Donald Trump entered his second 100 days in office, he described an example of his common-sense leadership: New U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, he decreed, would not use high-tech electromagnetic catapults that only “Albert Einstein” could understand, but would go back to old-fashioned steam power. “You’re going to goddamned steam,” he told Time magazine. So what did the Navy do with this plain-spoken directive from the commander-in-chief? Absolutely nothing. It seemed less an act of defiance than an assumption that Trump couldn’t possibly be serious about ordering an expensive and time-consuming redesign of a major weapons system with very little background knowledge ― and in the context of a media interview. “They ignored it,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, said with a laugh. “The United States federal government is now just shrugging at and ignoring some of his statements.” It’s a shrug that is becoming more common in the Trump presidency. Agency heads and lower-level bureaucrats appear to have concluded that the combination of Trump’s impulsive nature and short attention span means that the president’s sometimes random commands can – and should – be safely ignored. Trump’s White House did not respond to queries about the aircraft catapult, or more generally about administration officials ignoring his directives. But examples are rapidly accumulating.
The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War with Iran – (Lobe Log – July 28, 2017)
President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October—the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisors have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed. The unmasking of Trump’s plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran’s fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster—eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October. See also: U.S. Sanctions Iran Over Satellite Rocket Launch.
The Wrath of the U.S. Along the Euphrates River – (Tom Dispatch – July 27, 2017)
You would barely know it, living in this country, but the essence of modern warfare is what our military tends to call “collateral damage”: the killing or wounding of civilians, not combatants. The Global War on Terror -- more than 15 years later a no-name set of conflicts still spreading across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and now the Philippines -- has been typical of this. Civilians have died in startling numbers, both directly and thanks to the hardships these conflicts have brought on. Vast populations have been uprooted from their homes -- at one point more than a million people from the Iraqi city of Mosul alone -- and often sent fleeing across borders. In other words, from Afghanistan to Libya, the war on terror has (not to mince words) been murder on civilian populations. In mainstream news coverage, real attention is paid from time to time (and quite rightly) to the continuing brutality of the Taliban and the Islamic State and the civilian deaths caused by their insurgency. When it comes to the U.S. role in civilian deaths, however, it’s been another matter. Clearly, it’s a subject the Pentagon would prefer that we not think about and yet the human toll is all too real. The latest range of figures offered by the independent website Iraq Body Count for “documented civilian deaths from violence” since the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country is 177,941-199,231 (a conservative figure, given that word “documented,” and yet far higher than the one for combatants). And keep in mind that that’s just Iraq. This website may, for instance, be the only news source that bothered to keep track of the number of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air power since 100 or more revelers were wiped out in a village in Eastern Afghanistan by B-52 and B-1B bombers as 2001 ended. The total: at least eight weddings in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen), including brides, grooms, and even musicians hired to play at the ceremony. In the same spirit, Laura Gottesdiener, who covered the destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan by U.S. air power back in 2015, turns to the American war against ISIS in Syria and the civilian mayhem taking place on the road to the “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article: it contains important information that we are too often sheltered from.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Nest Founder: “I Wake Up in Cold Sweats Thinking, What Did We Bring to the World?” – (Fast Company – July 7, 2017)
Tony Fadell, who founded the smart thermostat company Nest in 2010 and who was instrumental in the creation of both the iPod and later the iPhone as a senior vice president at Apple, has done more to shape digital technology than many of his peers. But in a recent conversation at the Design Museum in London, Fadell spoke with a mix of pride and regret about his role in mobile technology’s rise to omnipresence. “Did we really bring a nuclear bomb with information that can–like we see with fake news–blow up people’s brains and reprogram them? Or did we bring light to people who never had information, who can now be empowered?” The world Fadell describes is one in which screens are everywhere, distracting us and interrupting what’s important, while promoting a culture of self-aggrandizement. The problem? He says that addiction has been designed into our devices–and it’s harming the newest generation. “And I know when I take [technology] away from my kids what happens,” Fadell says. “They literally feel like you’re tearing a piece of their person away from them—they get emotional about it, very emotional. They go through withdrawal for two to three days.” At its root, this is a design problem. Fadell believes that products like the iPhone, as much as they are communication devices, are more attuned to the needs of the individual rather than what’s best for the family and the larger community. This thoughtful article goes on to explore some of the reasons behind those design decisions – and some of the consequences.
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? – (Atlantic – September, 2017)
For many teenagers, mall trips have become infrequent. More often, they spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of an earlier generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, this article is not using her real name.) She said she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.” The author of this article has been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when she was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. “I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation. Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.” The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them. (Editor’s note: If you have time for only one article in this issue and you haven’t thought about how different the world is for the generation who grew up with smartphones and has no experience of a time before the internet was invented, read this article!)
Do-it-yourselfers Unite! – (Nation of Change – July 27, 2017)
Planned obsolescence has long been a consumer expense and irritation. Now brand-name profiteers are pushing a new abuse: Repair prevention. This treacherous corporate scheme does more than gouge buyers on the original purchase. Using both legal ruses and digital lockdowns, major manufacturers are quietly attempting to outlaw the natural instinct of us humanoids to fiddle with and improve the material things we own in order to charge us to fix it. Such an attack on individual and independent fixers is unprecedented – with cabals in industry after industry asserting their ownership control far after sales. This explosive, defining issue of the people’s democratic authority over corporate behavior has received little media coverage, is not on the radar of either major political party, and it is not widely understood – even by people who rely on the repair economy. But that lack of public awareness is about to change. Consumer advocates, small businesses, farm groups, computer activists and environmentalists are coming together in a unified, bipartisan, full-throated rebellion: The “Right-to-Repair” Movement. This year, the grassroots groups got lawmakers in 11 state legislatures to introduce and begin pushing various versions of “Fair Repair” bills. The manufacturers’ influence peddlers have killed this year’s right-to-repair bills in Minnesota and Nebraska, and punted Tennessee’s into the 2018 legislative session. But efforts are still alive in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina and Wyoming.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Milky Way's Origins Are Not What They Seem – (Space Daily – July 27, 2017)
In a first-of-its-kind analysis, Northwestern University astrophysicists have discovered that, contrary to previously standard lore, up to half of the matter in our Milky Way galaxy may come from distant galaxies. As a result, each one of us may be made in part from extragalactic matter. Using supercomputer simulations, the research team found a major and unexpected new mode for how galaxies, including our own Milky Way, acquired their matter: intergalactic transfer. The simulations show that supernova explosions eject copious amounts of gas from galaxies, which causes atoms to be transported from one galaxy to another via powerful galactic winds. Intergalactic transfer is a newly identified phenomenon, which simulations indicate will be critical for understanding how galaxies evolve.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
A Future for Light-powered Wireless Connectivity, Thanks to Graphene – (Ars Technica – July 20, 2017)
Recently, researchers have shown that phase control is possible in a device that is smaller than the wavelength of the light being controlled. Although a rather technical development, this is one key step along the road to high-capacity optical communications that don't involve any fibers. Think mobile communications beyond 5G, or home Wi-Fi that actually isn’t frustrating. The idea that we can control the amplitude and phase of a bunch of emitters seems simple enough… Right – and from there, this article becomes fairly technical. But if you’re interested in developments in this field, such as infrared phased-array antennas, this is a good article.
Starbucks Is Using AI to Make Even More Money off Your Coffee Habit – (Refinery – July 30, 2017)
Starbucks is implementing artificial intelligence to predict what customers want even before they know they want it. Officially called the Digital Flywheel program, the AI links up with Starbucks Rewards members' accounts and uses what is certain to be a combination of very complex algorithms, siren-based sorcery, and customers' insatiable drive for caffeine. The tech will take into account things like order history, the current weather conditions, the time of day, whether it's a weekend or a workday, and even if it's a customer's birthday or not to make drink and food suggestions. "Starbucks is one of the best companies in the world that connects brand, user and consumer experience between digital mobile and the real world," noted Brian Solis, principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter. Matthew Ryan, global chief strategy officer at Starbucks, said that the chain's mobile app will begin to integrate "real-time triggers and push notifications to engage customers more deeply, building on the momentum that is generating the higher spend per members. We are on the forefront of a new movement in consumer engagement, which marries mobile, loyalty and sales with AI to deliver extreme personalization, which Starbucks, is priming itself for and consumers are going to start demanding more." In theory, energy-sapped Rewards members could order directly from a push notification or even a text message if they happen to be in the vicinity of a Starbucks.
The Eyes Have It: Bank of America, Samsung Pilot Iris-scan Logins – (American Banker – August 8, 2017)
Bank of America is piloting technology from Samsung that lets customers log in to mobile banking by taking a picture of their eye. The pilot is part of a broader effort to gauge customers' affinity for various forms of biometric authentication, says Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America. “At some point, passwords will be a thing of the past and we need to take friction out of the authentication and verification process,” Moore said. “It’s not just biometrics. It’s really around who you are, the Bank of America customer, what is your digital ID, and no matter which channel you choose to interact with us, you can use that identity to authenticate and let us know you are who you say you are.” Half of the bank’s mobile app users are using fingerprint authentication, which B of A rolled out in 2015. In addition to the iris scanning pilot, it is exploring the use of facial scanning and voice recognition.
Ghost in the Cloud – (N+1 – Spring, 2017)
This extensively researched and elegantly written essay explores the origins of transhumanism and the current transhumanist movement told through a very personal lens. “Transhumanism offered a vision of redemption without the thorny problems of divine justice. It was an evolutionary approach to eschatology, one in which humanity took it upon itself to bring about the final glorification of the body and could not be blamed if the path to redemption was messy or inefficient. According to transhumanists such as Kurzweil, people who are merged with this technology will undergo a radical transformation. They will become posthuman: immortal, limitless, changed beyond recognition. Kurzweil predicts this will happen by the year 2045. Unlike Kurzweil’s father, he, along with those of us who are lucky enough to survive into the middle of this century, will achieve immortality without ever tasting death. But perhaps the Apostle Paul put it more poetically: ‘We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.’ And though few transhumanists would likely admit it, their theories about the future are a secular outgrowth of Christian eschatology. The word transhuman first appeared not in a work of science or technology but in Henry Francis Carey’s 1814 translation of Dante’s Paradiso.” (Editor’s note: This piece is well worth the time you spend reading it.)
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.
Café Charges Men 18% 'Gender Tax' to Highlight Pay Gap – (CNN – August 8, 2017)
A café in Melbourne, Australia, is giving its male customers a side of gender equity with their lattes. At Handsome Her, men are asked to pay an 18% premium to "reflect the gender pay gap." Men earn an average 17.7% more than women for full-time work in Australia, a government report found. The difference is about 20% in the United States for people employed full time. "All we really wanted was to raise awareness and start conversations about the gender gap," Belle Ngien, the café's manager, told CNN. The voluntary donations are collected during one week every month and given to women's charities, Ngien said. No one has declined paying the extra 18%, she said. In fact, a few customers -- men and women -- have donated more. "Eighteen percent is actually not a lot. Our coffee is $4, and 18% of that is 72 cents," Ngien said. Indeed, men have come from across town to support the cause, owner Alex O'Brien said in a Facebook post. In the end, Ngien said, no one is turned away based on whether they pay extra. So far, Handsome Her has collected a couple hundred dollars for Elizabeth Morgan House Aboriginal Women's Service. And it's definitely fueled a conversation.
JUST FOR FUN
Elegant Flower Time-lapse Footage – (This is Colossal – May 9, 2017)
This is quite lovely, especially when seen full-screen. Filmmaker Jamie Scott spent the last three years filming a massive variety of flowers in this seemingly endless parade of buds opening into blooms titled “Spring.” The entire film was shot on a small mini-stage inside the wardrobe of his New York home, and the results are stitched together into this seamless time-lapse. The visuals and music were created in tandem with composer Jim Perkins who received edits and wrote the music accordingly. (Editor’s note: We’re not sure how anyone could have filmed a portion of this footage – which appears to be taken outdoors – inside a wardrobe. But either way, it’s beautiful.)
A FINAL QUOTE
One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things. – Henry Miller
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, 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.
Edited by John L. Petersen