Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Figuring Out How Not to Die

NewPhilosopher - by Patrick Stokes on March 20, 2015

Everyone, according to Simone de Beauvoir, views their own death as an accident, as something alien, contingent, unnecessary. As Tolstoy has the dying Ivan Ilyich ponder, it’s perfectly fitting that everyone dies, but quite outrageous that I die.
It probably says something telling about human beings that the oldest surviving piece of literature is about our longing to overcome death.

The Sumerian poetry cycle known to us as the Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the hero’s grief at the death of his friend Enkidu, and his journey to the ends of the earth to seek the secret of immortality from Utnapishtim, the survivor of a global flood (a sort of Mesopotamian proto-Noah). Along the way he meets a wise woman named Siduri, who tries to make him see the futility of his mission:

“Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find the life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”

Needless to say, this idea didn’t stop Gilgamesh from trying, and it hasn’t stopped us either. The good news is, we’ve become pretty good at cheating death of late. In the last few decades, life expectancy at birth in Western nations has been growing by several weeks each year. If that growth rate exceeds 52 weeks per year, we’d reach a state that’s only half-jokingly been called “Actuarial Escape Velocity”: the point at which our lives start growing faster than we can live them.

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Amazing Shrinking (and Sideways-Moving) Car!

CNN - 5/8/15 by Lauren Said-Moorhouse

"It is able to reduce it's own size by about 80cm, which makes it almost as small as a bike in length. And with this kind of feature you can go into very tiny parking spaces," he says. "You are still able to turn on the spot, you are still able to drive sideways and you are still able to connect to charging stations, for example."
As cities continue to grow at a dizzying rate, commuters are constantly battling ever-increasing congestion on the roads and a lack of parking, just to get to work.

But now a team of German engineers have come up with an ingenious solution -- a "flexible" electric vehicle capable of shrinking, driving sideways (think like a crab) and turning on a dime.

The EO Smart Connecting Car 2 is an innovative design from DFKI Robotics Innovation Center, based in Bremen, Germany, where a team of software developers and designers, as well as electronics and construction engineers, have been refining the smart micro car project for the last three years.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Scientists will soon be able to switch your blood type

UBC Science

“We produced a mutant enzyme that is very efficient at cutting off the sugars in A and B blood, and is much more proficient at removing the subtypes of the A-antigen that the parent enzyme struggles with.”

What do you do when a patient needs a blood transfusion but you don’t have their blood type in the blood bank? It’s a problem that scientists have been trying to solve for years but haven’t been able to find an economic solution – until now.

University of British Columbia chemists and scientists in the Centre for Blood Research have created an enzyme that could potentially solve this problem. The enzyme works by snipping off the sugars, also known as antigens, found in Type A and Type B blood, making it more like Type O. Type O blood is known as the universal donor and can be given to patients of all blood types.

To create this high-powered enzyme capable of snipping off sugars, researchers used a new technology called directed evolution that involves inserting mutations into the gene that codes for the enzyme, and selecting mutants that are more effective at cutting the antigens. In just five generations, the enzyme became 170 times more effective.

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

A Robot-Funded Future

The Week, April 2, 2015 by James Pethokoukis

To accept Davidow's broad conclusion, though, one also has to believe workers across many sectors would be a lot better off today if the internet had not been invented. That's an unlikely counterfactual. Just look at how the labor market has been doing.
The robopocalypse for workers may be inevitable. In this vision of the future, super-smart machines will best humans in pretty much every task. A few of us will own the machines, a few will work a bit — perhaps providing "Made by Man" artisanal goods — while the rest will live off a government-provided income. Silicon-based superintelligence and robots will dramatically alter labor markets — to name but one example, the most common job in most U.S. states probably will no longer be truck driver.

But what about right now? If you're unemployed or working part-time instead of full-time, or haven't seen a raise in years, should you blame technology?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Smartphones are Reshaping Our Brains

Wired - 12.24.14 by Katie Collins

What this means is that the repetitive movements made by our thumbs as they glide over touchscreens is reshaping the sensory processing from our hands, and this can been adjusted on demand when we are using our phones. The researchers believe this is evidence that "the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by the use of personal digital technology".
Extensive use of smartphone touchscreens is changing the sensory relationship between our brains and our thumbs, a study published in Current Biology has revealed.

The plasticity of the human brain and how it adapts to repetitive gestures has been tested in multiple contexts previously, including in musicians and gamers, but neuroscientists from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich believe smartphones provide a unique opportunity to understand how everyday life can shape the human brain on a huge scale.

Smartphone growth has seen people using their fingers -- and in particular their thumbs -- in a completely new way multiple times a day, everyday. The very nature of the devices means there is usually a record kept of all the things we are doing with our thumbs on our phones, providing the neuroscientists extensive data to work with.

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