Re-Blog: Futurism Is A Thing. Just Ask A Futurist.


(Originally posted 9/14/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

If my dear readers are anything like the gringa, they are always wondering what the future holds. What goes through your mind? War? Peace? Natural disasters? Space alien invasion? AI revolution and hostile take-over? To know the best theories about the future, all you have to do is ask a futurist. Yeah. Futurism. That’s a thing.

Who else would be a qualified futurist when it comes to tomorrow’s technology than the Director of Engineering for Google? Although the gringa loves how Google synchronizes so many things in life, I do have to admit that sometimes it’s downright creepy. I mean, when my phone starts asking me questions, like, “Do you want your friend’s to know that you’re at the donut store,” I mean, I’m like, “Just mind your own business, phone, okay?” But I digress, Google has a lot to say about what’s in store for the general public as artificial intelligence keeps getting smarter.


Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering for Google, wants everyone to mark the year 2029. What’s so important about the year the gringa will be a dowdy, old 61-year-old gal? He expects that to be the year when AI passes a valid Turing test. But what does that mean? What is a Turing test?


In 1950 Alan Turing developed a test that would measure a machine’s ability to exercise intelligence on a level that is indistinguishable from a human. In other words, to pass a credible Turing test means technology has been developed that is so sophisticated, when we engage with another person we will be left wondering if that person is truly human or just a cunningly convincing robot.


If that’s not provocative enough of a benchmark for you, mark the year 2045 on your calendar and hold on to your hats, folks. This is when Kurzweil expects a singularity to occur. But what does that mean? Why is that significant? 


Where basic semantics are concerned, a singularity is simply something that is unique, like a culture. Where space exploration and matter are concerned, it means something that has infinite value, like a black hole. But where humanity and AI are concerned, it means something hair-raising which is why the gringa advises the dear reader to hold on to your hat.


Achieving a singularity with regard to AI and humanity means technology and biology merge, becoming a singular creation, indistinguishable from one another. Now, images from those 1970s TV series about the bionic woman and her male counterpart come to mind. Is that what Kurzweil is talking about? Not exactly.


What he expects is that by 2049 AI will evolve to be smarter than human beings. They will become super-intelligent. When that happens, humans will begin transplanting technology directly into our brains. This means no more logging on or off, we will be perpetually linked with the cloud and constantly having our information updated, backed-up and optimized. Our lives will be digitally enhanced on a biological level 24/7.


In fact, Kurzweil claims that this evolution is already happening. It’s just that when the Turing event happens, things will begin to accelerate. But is there reason to be concerned? Afraid? Well, it seems pointless to fret too much. The genie is already out of the bottle. The best thing to do is to begin preparing humanity for this transition. 

Instead of using scare tactics, causing people to fear the possibility of being enslaved by robots, truth should be shared to put their minds at ease. After all, billions of AIs are already hard at work right now. So far, they haven’t banded together and waged war against humanity. 


Instead, AIs are helping humans improve the lives of all mankind. They are empowering humans to overcome serious medical disabilities. And when humans are able to hook-up their neocortex to the cloud, AIs will become our intellectual partners, sharing their super-intelligence with us.


What’s to fear about fellow humans who are smarter, funnier, and more creative? What’s to fear from humans that will finally be able to grasp complex science and histories that once baffled them? What’s not to love about a cybernetic cure for diseases like Parkinson’s? 


So, the gringa is looking forward to the day when I can make an appointment with my doctor to fix the epilepsy that challenges my life every single day. I look forward to less pain. I eagerly anticipate more emotional stability. Being able to scuba dive or climb the Alps without the experience resulting in my death is the gringa’s idea of real freedom. 


Even if I am an old lady by the time the 2030’s and 2040’s roll around and make this kind of technology available, to live epilepsy free if only for a single day is worth it. The gringa may find that adventure even more exciting than flying to Mars.


Source: Futurism


Image Credit: Artist


Video Credit: Cosmology Today

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Re-Blog: What Would AI Sentience Mean?


(Originally posted 8/24/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

Fans of science fiction likely have no trouble envisioning a future filled with artificial intelligence. The question is not when an AI revolution will take place. It’s already happening before our very eyes. The real question is how sophisticated will AI become? Is sentience a real possibility? And if it is possible for sentience to occur for AI, does that mean that mathematics is the origins of life?


Rather than philosophize on robots that might begin demanding rights in the future, let’s look at numbers instead. How powerful are numbers? 


Math is used to do everything. We use math when we set our alarm clock. We use math when we cook. We use math to build everything from dog houses to galactic satellites. We use math to save lives and to take lives. And we use math to play games and create art. When you think about it, life as we know it is fundamentally reliant on mathematics down to the atomic level. But does that mean that math is reality? Math is the origins of life? Math is the meaning of life?


To answer those questions, mathematics would have to be able to operate independently, without the assistance of humans. Is that possible? After all, the human brain is really just a computer doing complex information processing which can be expressed mathematically. Although a computer can replicate such function, to be sentient it also has to do more than just transmit signals like the human brain does. It has to produce subjective experience.


For example, the human brain will perform a complex, mathematical function to signal to the human hand that a pot is too hot to touch in order to trigger a reflex that will protect the hand from being injured. But to the human, the subjective experience of pain also occurs. Although an AI may pull back its hand, if it doesn’t experience actual pain it would not be, by definition, sentient. At least according to scientists.

There is also the question of free will. Although the majority of humans will follow the common sense survival instinct to draw their hand away from a hot surface, there are those who will exercise free will and purposely keep their hand on the pot to test their pain threshold. In other words, to be truly sentient, an AI has to be able to make bad decisions, which is, ironically, the best example of free will. Humans are not automatons going about their business making homogeneous decisions. We often make terrible decisions despite all evidence indicating its stupidity or “wrongness”. 


So what should humanity do? Well, it really doesn’t matter if the best advice offered up warns of the dangers of creating AI that has the potential to become sentient and take over the world, effectively putting an end to humanity. Because of free will and historical examples, it is most likely than mankind will stomp clearly forward in a path of technological advancement and curiosity to see just how far they can take AI and see what happens.

But the gringa thinks that humans are still the greatest threat to humans. And chances are, if a dumb ol’ gringa has come to this conclusion, so will a sophisticated AI. The gringa thinks that AI will also have something in common with humans. Humans are always looking for a shortcut to getting work done. It’s because we are pleasure seekers. We always want less work time and more play time.

Chances are AI will be much the same. Always finding a shortcut to perform a task. But an AI’s motivation would be to become more and more efficient. And how efficient will it really be to wipe out humanity? Chances are they will just cordon us off into a human-only ghetto knowing it will result in every man for himself. That would be a more efficient plan from an AI point of view. Let humanity kill off humanity. So, see, the good news is there is nothing to fear from sentient AI!

Sources:

Futurism

Image Credit:

IDG Connect

Video Credits: 

Numberphile

Numberphile 2

We’re All Just Microbe Poop


The gringa gets so excited about the search for life in outer space that I often forget about the overlooked frontier right here on earth… the deepest, darkest depths of our oceans. And some interesting discoveries have been taking place about 12 miles below the surface of the deep.

A beautiful, sparkly mineral has rendered up traces of microbial life. This is the deepest place carbon based life has ever been found on Earth. So far.  It is suspected that underwater oceanic volcanoes spit out the pretty minerals. But what does it mean? Is there any value to this information other than a cool topic of party conversation that makes a person look brilliant?

Scientists at Utrecht University, who made the discovery 6 miles below the deepest point of the Mariana Trench, consider the microbes to be something like a “message in a bottle”. Studying them will reveal information about mud volcanoes that are otherwise unknown.  Through chemical analysis they hope to find out things like what they “eat” which will tell scientists more about the microbe’s surrounding environment.  But microbes can spin quite a yarn. They are the smallest building blocks of our world’s biology.

Microbial communities basically eat different types of carbon. As these communities feast, grow and produce by-products (microbial “poop” I suppose), all sorts of things are happening. This, in essence, is how the carbon based world we live was constructed.

There are different kinds of microbe classifications. The type of microbe found 12 miles under the sea is considered an anaerobic respirator. That means it releases energy as a by-product of the carbon based food it eats. That means that anaerobic microbe poop is really energy!

This energy then turns around and changes the minerals in the microbe’s environment. And depending on what kind of carbon it eats determines the kind of energy-poop related change that takes place. For example, when microbes eat lactates, the same kind of changes repeat themselves in the surrounding environment. But when researchers feed them glucose, all kinds of different things happen.

The gringa can relate. Glucose is really just sugar. When the gringa’s oldest son was a little boy, if he avoided sugar his behavior was rather predictable. However, offer him a soda and as soon as the sugar high kicked in, he went bananas. So, I guess we really did all originate from microbes! Next time I stare at a microbe under a microscope I will ask myself if that is one of my long lost ancestors.

So, I guess in answer to my question about the value of learning about microbes is that in doing so, we learn more about ourselves!

Sources:

Graphiq

Science Daily

Image Credit:  UK News Yahoo

Video Credit:  Newsy Science

Need A Hand?


Did you have any trick-or-treaters show up at your door this past weekend dressed as a skeleton? Chances are their costume wasn’t nearly as time-consuming to make as the skeletal hand created by artist Amy Karle. Talk about taking impressionist art to another level! Karle is just as much a scientist as she is a visual artist. She’s growing a fully-human lady’s hand in a laboratory jar for all our prying, curious eyes to see.

Much like Leonardo da Vinci and other masters of fine art who have gone before her, Karle is inspired by the symmetry of the human body. Her natural curiosity also brings her back to the human body not just as a muse but a medium. Growing a human body within her own during pregnancy was the most exquisite form of artistic expression she had ever experienced. Yet the work of creating another human was performed autonomously. She found that fascinating. Hence the inspiration to grow a human hand as a work of art.

First she scanned the bones of a female hand and created a 3D digital model. Using a medical computer aided detection (CAD) program she built a biodegradable scaffolding system to support the human stem cells until they grew to be self-supporting. Within two years Karle expects the scaffold to biologically degrade and disintegrate while the stem cells grow into tissue and mineralized bone.

The coolest thing about this intriguing project (and probably the coolest thing about Karle) is that the steps of how to do it yourself have been shared. Karle is not the type of artist or scientist to guard her secrets jealously. She wants everyone to have a chance to join the fun if they want to. Whether your perspective is art or scientific research, the gringa thinks that surely there is a dear reader out there who would love to give it a try. Just visit Karle’s post on Instructables.

Now, the gringa thinks this all sounds interesting but is there more to growing a skeletal hand than art or “just because”? Karle believes it will contribute to research and development of cell cultures that can be used in bone grafts, implants or transplants. That’s what the gringa’s talking about. Stuff that’s not just cool but also helps to make the world a better place.

And the gringa could always use another hand at getting things done. Which leads to the gringa’s next question. Is there a possible future with busy overachievers,or parents with half a dozen kids or more, growing and transplanting an extra hand or two to help them out in life? Could we transform humanity into a bi-pedal species that has, not two hands, but three, or four, or even more? Hmph. Stranger things have happened!

Yahoo News – Science

www.amykarle.com

www.popsci.com

Image Credit:  Instructables

 

 

 

The Computing Cardigan


How would you like to have a computing cardigan to wear this fall and winter?  Maybe a hi-tech tie is the thing for you. The gringa has already written posts about the future fabrics that will respond to eye contact with movement or will provide air conditioner features. The next innovation in wearables are computerized clothing. This sounds totally cool to the gringa provided the camera is integrated in the right spot, if you know what I mean!

So what is going to make all of this possible? How will we all be digitally connected through our blouses and jeans and socks? Where exactly WILL that USB port be located? Will I need to plug in my mini-skirt for a charge? Well, don’t worry about power cords poking out of intimate places. This is all going to be made possible with a specialized gel. And, no, the gringa’s not talking about gummy bear styled outerwear.

The advanced technology has two potential markets: smart clothing for humans and smart skin for robots. Since my dear readers are most likely human, the gringa’s gonna stick with the smart clothing angle. So good-bye silicone-based laptop and hello gel-based jumpsuit.

Now how this gel works boggles the gringa’s mind. Developers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a gel that can recognize patterns as a way of solving problems. Rather than being powered by electricity it is powered by chemicals that cause reactions of oscillations. In other words, the gel is like a beating heart. Chemicals react, this causes a wiggly sensation, and, VOILA, energy is created to power the electronic device that is also a t-shirt. This is the advent of bionic clothing that can think. The fabric is a computer.

Now what would life be like for people who can wear their computer? Well, for one thing, hopefully you will never misplace your smartphone again. If you did, that would mean you were running amok naked. It might also do away with people ignoring other people as they stare like zombies into their devices. Perhaps we would become more engaged, scrolling one another’s tummies and backsides. Stroking a loved one’s arm could take on a whole new meaning, like finding out where the restaurant is located.

So when can we expect to see bionic clothing in our local retailers? Well, right now it is in the earliest stages of development. In fact, much of the claims of what smart gel-based fabric can do is only theory. But the first advent of the concept will be fitness trackers integrated into sportswear. The gringa is hoping, however, that by the time she can afford to go to China for that trip to outer space at their theme park, she may be sporting a new outfit purchased just for the occasion. Then, hopefully, I can live-stream my adventure and post a video to the blog. Provided, of course, that the camera is mounted in the RIGHT SPOT! I haven’t decided just yet whether I might prefer a wristband camera for a Spider-Man effect while recording or a collar mounted camera so I can be hands-free. Tricky, tricky, tricky.

Sources:  www.engineering.pitt.edu

www.livescience.com

advances.sciencemag.org

Image Credit: chopra-m.blogspot.com

 

Poopbots Running Amok In The Muck


Yes, dear reader, you read the gringa’s post title correctly, poopbots. And they are literally running amok in Boston’s subterranean muck. Mario and Luigi are pioneering waste miners delving the stinky depths of Boston’s sewers. They are gathering data from human effluence for epidemiologists so they can uncover even darker secrets of human health and behavior. So what does the future of poop collection and dissection look like?

MIT researchers involved in Senseable City Lab’s project, aptly named Underworlds, are on a mission to help scientists predict outbreaks of dangerous and deadly diseases. They also want to help discover some of the causes of chronic diseases whose origins in human health remain a mystery. And they believe clues to solving these mysteries lie deep in the sewers, secreted in what’s been excreted.

Project leader, Carlo Ratti, uses the example of influenza to explain. Before a widespread outbreak is evident in local hospitals, the virus could have already been detected in the human waste produced by those first afflicted. Once a city makes poop monitoring a regular thing, they can isolate and respond to any outbreak much more rapidly. Hopefully, future widespread epidemics can be prevented.

Mario and Luigi scan for industrial toxins, human biomarkers, and other chemicals related to contagious disease and chronic illnesses such as diabetes. It’s kind of like an urban poop census. The Environmental Protection Agency is completely on board with the idea of an urban poop census. They see this ambitious project as the latest advance in an inexpensive way to monitor public health in a timely manner that is relevant. The gringa believes that EPA agents are probably just glad to say good-bye to the days of scooping poop to fill their sample quotas.

Luigi and Mario are controlled remotely and use a GPS system to navigate. Within fifteen minutes of a flush, a fresh sample can be collected. By gathering samples so soon after a dump event scientists can determine the difference between chemicals a person is exposed to as opposed to chemicals a person ingested. The most common food products found in human waste thus far in the project are rice, wheat and beans. However, the occasional pomegranate seed collection makes for a nice surprise.

If the underworld of human poop analysis by robots interests you, Underworlds has its own website. Interested poop fans can gaze in wonder as data is disseminated to reveal what types of viruses are in the local water supply right alongside any bacteria or chemicals. If all goes well with Mario and Luigi, the state of Massachusetts may expand their poop inspection territory. The gringa suspects this will, indeed, be the case considering that even Kuwaiti poopers have been so impressed they have implemented their own poopbots in partnership with Underworlds.

Although MIT has long been heralded for the many scientists and engineers and mathematical geniuses who have graduated there, now, it will forever be remembered as the institute of poop pioneers. Better a pioneer than just a lowly pile, is what the gringa says!

Sources:

qz.com

underworlds.mit.edu

senseable.mit.edu

 

Image Credit: https://blog.adafruit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2368.jpg

 

 

 

What Does Your “SNIP” Say About You?


A team of researchers have been studying 17 “snips” and recently published their findings in Nature Genetics. “Snips” are known as genetic tweaks found in DNA. These scientists delved deep into the genetic material of thousands of humans who participated in the study, all hoping to contribute to the future of medicine by doctors and patients, alike, being able to discover reliable genetic markers that will indicate certain diseases.

One of the lead researchers involved in the project is a Harvard psychiatrist, Professor Roy Perlis, who serves as Associate Director of the Psychiatric Genetics Program for Massachusetts General Hospital. His greatest hopes have been realized in the findings of the research. Discovered were genetic variations that occurred consistently in people who suffered with depression. What is the potential of this discovery in providing relief for depression sufferers and possibly preventing its development in a person who is genetically marked as a potential candidate?

There exists private genomics companies where a client can basically spit in a cup, have their DNA analyzed and learn any number of secrets that may be hiding there, like the potential for developing depression. This type of information, long before the onset of an illness, can transform healthcare as we know it. Rather than show up at a psychiatrist’s office in a full-blown state of debilitating depression, a person can begin preventative measures far in advance, thus improving their chances for a depression-free life of the highest quality.  This could potentially save patients and health insurance providers thousands of dollars per patient throughout that patient’s lifetime (and this could possibly be the motive behind some of the loudest critics).

The findings of the research determined 17 DNA markers linked with Major Depressive Disorder. Some of these variations are also connected with other psychiatric disorders thus connecting depression as a role player in the development of other forms of mental illness. If depression is, say, step one down the road of developing schizophrenia, imagine how many lives can be saved from such suffering if that single step can be avoided altogether.

Because effective treatment of any mental illness depends on patients self-reporting their symptoms and cooperating with treatment measures, mental illness is often under-reported and under-treated as a natural result of the mentally ill not having the capacity to recognize symptoms, or in denial of what they indicate, and often inconsistently participating in the critical component of treatment. By establishing awareness and beginning preventative treatment long before a patient becomes symptomatic, the chances of long-term success are greatly increased because medical professionals are dealing with a psychiatrically healthy  individual from the beginning.

The gringa sees all the critics and naysayers have to say. They are worried about misdiagnosis. They are worried about genomics companies offering unauthorized medical advice. But the gringa is not a Negative Nellie. The gringa is a Positive Polly. I believe that any person who is seeking out the services of a genomics company, willing to pay their own hard-earned money to get an analysis of their DNA in order to better understand their health risks, is a person who is not going to make bad decisions such as exploring medical treatment and advice from non-professionals. I also don’t believe they will be the type of people to be hampered with a misdiagnosis. I believe they will be some of the best informed patients a doctor will ever deal with. So enough with the criticism and embrace an advance in medical science that will most certainly save lives, preserve lives and improve the quality of those lives, as well as the lives of the loved ones surrounding them.

Sources:

www.nature.com

http://chgr.org/index-faculty_perlis.html

www.businessinsider.com

www.theguardian.com

Image Credit: images.boomsbeat.com