The Venus Project Plans to Bring Humanity to the Next Stage of Social Evolution. Here’s Ho

June 29, 2017

Since 1975, Roxanne Meadows has worked with renowned futurist Jacque Fresco to develop and promote The Venus Project. The function of this project is to find alternative solutions to the many problems that confront the world today. She participated in the exterior and interior design and construction of the buildings of The Venus Project’s 21-acre research and planning center.



Daniel Araya: Roxanne, could you tell me about your background and your vision for The Venus Project? How was the idea originally conceived?

Roxanne Meadows: My background is in architectural and technical illustration, model making, and design. However, for the last 41 years, my most significant work has been with Jacque Fresco in developing models, books, blueprints, drawings, documentaries and lecturing worldwide. We are the co-founders of The Venus Project, based out of Venus, Florida where we have built a 21-acre experimental center. The Venus Project is the culmination of Jacque Fresco’s life’s work to present a sustainable redesign of our culture.

In our view, The Venus Project is unlike any political, economic or social system that’s gone before it. It lays out a sustainable world civilization where technology and the methods of science are applied to redesigning our social system with the prime concern being to maximize quality of life rather than profit. All aspects of society are scrutinized – from our values, education, and urban design to how we relate to nature and to one another.

The Venus Project concludes that our social and environmental problems will remain the same as long as the monetary system prevails and a few powerful nations and financial interests maintain control over and consume most of the world’s resources. In Jacque Fresco’s book The Best That Money Can’t Buy, he explains “If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must ultimately declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all of the world’s people. Anything less will result in the same catalogue of problems we have today.”

DA: One of the more interesting aspects of The Venus Project vision is its futuristic design. Have you been approached by companies or governments interested in using The Venus Project as a model? Do you foresee experiments in smart urban design that mirror Jacque Fresco’s thinking?

RM: No company or government, as yet, has approached The Venus Project to initiate a model of our city design, but we feel the greatest need is in using our designs to usher in a holistic socio-economic alternative, not just our architectural approach itself. As Jacque very often mentions, “Technology is just so much junk, unless it’s used to elevate all people.”

We would like to build the first circular city devoted to developing up-to-date global resource management, and a holistic method for social operation toward global unification. The city would showcase this optimistic vision, allowing people to see firsthand what kind of future could be built if we were to mobilize science and technology for social betterment.

I have not seen what is called smart urban design mirror Jacque Fresco’s thinking. I see smart cities as mainly applying technology to existing and new but chaotically designed, energy- and resource-intensive cities without offering a comprehensive social direction or identifying the root causes of our current problems. Our technology is racing forward but our social designs are hundreds of years old. We can’t continue to design and maintain these resource- and energy-draining cities and ever consider being able to provide for the needs of all people to ensure that they have high-quality housing, food, medical care and education. Smart cities within a terribly dysfunctional social structure seem contradictory to me.

DA: My understanding is that technological automation forms the basis for The Venus Project. Given ongoing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics, do you imagine that we are moving closer to this vision?

RM: Our technological capacity to initiate The Venus Project is available now, but how we use artificial intelligence today is very often for destructive purposes through weaponry, surveillance, and the competitive edge for industry, often resulting in technological unemployment. In the society we are proposing, nothing is to be gained from these behaviors because there is no vested interest. In our project, we advocate concentrating on solving problems that threaten all of us— climate change, pollution, disease, hunger, war, territorial disputes, and the like. What The Venus Project offers is a method of updating the design of our society so that everyone can benefit from all the amenities that a highly advanced technologically-developed society can provide.

DA: I know The Venus Project is envisioned as a post-capitalist and post-scarcity economy. Could you explain what you mean by resource-based economics?

RM: Money is an interference factor between what we want and what we are able to acquire. It limits our dreams and capabilities and our individual and societal possibilities. Today we don’t have enough money to house everyone on the planet, but we do still have enough resources to accomplish that and much more if we use our resources intelligently to conserve energy and reduce waste. This is why we advocate a Resource Based Economy. This socio-economic system provides an equitable distribution of resources in an efficient manner without the use of money, barter, credit or servitude of any kind. Goods and services are accessible to all, without charge. You could liken this to the public library where one might check out many books and then return them when they are finished. This can be done with anything that is not used on a daily basis. In a society where goods and services are made available to the entire population free of charge, ownership becomes a burden that is ultimately surpassed by a system of common property.

When we use our technology to produce abundance, goods become too cheap to monetize. There is only a price on things that are scarce. For instance, air is a necessity but we don’t monitor or charge for the amount of breaths we can take. Air is abundant. If apple trees grew everywhere and were abundant you couldn’t sell apples. If all the money disappeared, as long as we have the technical personnel, automated processes, topsoil, resources, factories and distribution we could still build and develop anything we need.

DA: I know that the scientific method forms the basis for decision making and resource management within your project. Could you explain how this approach is applied to social behavior? For example, what is the role of politics in The Venus Project?

RM: Today, for the most part, politicians serve the interest of those in positions of wealth and power; they are not there to change things,  but instead to keep things as they are. With regard to the management of human affairs, what do they really know? Our problems are mostly technical. When you examine the vocations of politicians and ask what backgrounds they have to solve the pressing problems of today, they fall far short. For instance, are they trained in finding solutions to eliminating war, preventing climate change, developing clean sources of energy, maintaining higher yields of nutritious, non-contaminating food per acre or anything pertaining to the wellbeing of people and the protection of the environment?  This is not their area of expertise. Then what are they doing in those positions?

The role for politics within the scientific and technologically organized society that The Venus Project proposes would be surpassed by engineered systems. It is not ethical people in government that we need but equal access to the necessities of life and those working toward the elimination of scarcity. We would use scientific scales of performance for measurement and allocation of resources so that human biases are left out of the equation. Within The Venus Project’s safe, energy-efficient cities, there would be interdisciplinary teams of knowledgeable people in different fields accompanied by cybernated systems that use “sensors” to monitor all aspects of society in order to provide real-time information supporting decision-making for the wellbeing of all people and the protection of the environment.

DA: In your view, is abundance simply a function of technological innovation? I mean, assuming we get the technology right, do you believe that we could eventually eliminate poverty and crime altogether?

RM: Yes, if we apply our scientists and technical personnel to work towards those ends. We have never mobilized many scientific disciplines giving them the problem of creating a society to end war, produce safe, clean transportation, eliminate booms and busts, poverty, homelessness, hunger, crime and aberrant behavior. For instance, one does not need to make laws to try and eliminate stealing, when all goods and services are available without a price tag.  But scientists have not been asked to design a total systems approach to city design, let alone to planetary planning. Scientist have not been given the problem to develop and apply a total holistic effort using the methods of science, technology and resource management to serve all people equitably in the development of a safe and sustainable global society. Unfortunately, only in times of war, do we see resources allocated and scientists mobilized in this way.

DA: I assume schooling and education are important to Jacque’s vision. How might schools and universities differ from the way they are designed today?

RM: The education and values we are given seem to always support the established system we are raised in. We are not born with bigotry, envy, or hatred – we do pick them up from our schools and culture. In fact, even our facial expressions, the words we use, notions of good and bad, right and wrong, are all culture bound.  A healthy brain can, in fact, simply become a Nazi faster in a Nazi society.  It has no way of knowing what is significant or not, that is all learned by experience and background.  The manipulation is so subtle that we feel our values come from within.  Most often we don’t know whom our values are really serving.

Yes, education will differ considerably from that of today. As Fresco explains in his book The Best That Money Can’t Buy “The subjects studied will be related to the direction and needs of this new evolving culture. Students will be made aware of the symbiotic relationship between people, technology, and the environment.”

DA: I can only assume that critics routinely dismiss The Venus Project as a kind of hopeful utopia. How do you respond to that criticism?

RM: Critics very often reject or dismiss new ideas. What is utopian thinking is to believe that the system we are living under today will enable us to achieve sustainability, equality or a high standard of living for all when it is our system which generates these very problems in the first place. If we continue as we are, it seems to me that we are destined for calamity. The Venus Project is not offering a fixed notion as to how society should be. There are no final frontiers. It does offer a way out of our dilemmas to help initiate a next step in our social evolution.

Many are working at going to other planets to escape the problems on this one, but we would be taking our detrimental value systems with us. We are saying that we have to tackle the problems we face here on the most habitable planet we know of.  We will have to apply methodologies to enable us to live together in accordance with the carrying capacity of Earth’s resources, eliminate artificial boundaries, share resources and learn to relate to one another and the environment.

What we have to ask is, what kind of world do we want to live in?

DA: My last question is about the challenges ahead. Rather than taking the necessary steps to reverse climate change, we seem to be accelerating our pollution of the Earth. Socially, we are witnessing a renewed focus on nativism and fear. How might the values of The Venus Project manage against these negative tendencies in human beings?

RM: The notion of negative tendencies in human beings or that we possess a certain “human nature” is a scapegoat to keep things as they are. It’s implying that we are born with a fixed set of views regarding our action patterns. Human behavior is always changing, but there is no “human nature,” per se.  Determining the conditions that generate certain behaviors is what needs to be understood.

As Jacque elaborates, “We are just as lawful as anything else in nature. What appears to be overlooked is the influence of culture upon our values, behavior, and our outlook. It is like studying plants apart from the fact that they consume radiant energy, nutrients, require water, carbon dioxide, gravity, nitrogen, etc. Plants do not grow of their own accord, neither do humans values and behavior.”

All social improvement, from the airplane to clean sources of energy undergoes change, but our social systems remain mostly static. The history of civilization is experimentation and modification. The Free Enterprise System was an important experiment and tremendous step along the way that generated innovation throughout our society. What we now advocate is to continue the process of social experimentation, as this system has long outlived its usefulness and simply cannot address the monumental problems it is facing today. We desperately need to update our social designs to correspond with our technological ability to create abundance for all. This could be the most exciting and fulfilling experiment we as a species could ever take on; working together cooperatively to deal with our most pressing problems which confront us all and finding solutions to them unencumbered with the artificial limitations we impose upon ourselves.


Daniel Araya is a researcher and advisor to government with a special interest in education, technological innovation and public policy. His newest books include: Augmented Intelligence (2016), Smart Cities as Democratic Ecologies (2015), and Rethinking US Education Policy (2014). He has a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is an alumnus of Singularity University’s graduate program in Silicon Valley. He can be found here:www.danielaraya.com and here: @danielarayaXY.

https://futurism.com/the-venus-project-plans-to-bring-humanity-to-the-next-stage-of-social-evolution-heres-how/

Advertisements

MIT Technology Review: Google’s AI Explosion in One Chart

June 29, 2017

Nature. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The Journal of the American Medical Association.

These are some the most elite academic journals in the world. And last year, one tech company, Alphabet’s Google, published papers in all of them.

The unprecedented run of scientific results by the Mountain View search giant touched on everything from ophthalmology to computer games to neuroscience and climate models. For Google, 2016 was an annus mirabilis during which its researchers cracked the top journals and set records for sheer volume.

Behind the surge is Google’s growing investment in artificial intelligence, particularly “deep learning,” a technique whose ability to make sense of images and other data is enhancing services like search and translation (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Deep Learning”).

According to the tally Google provided to MIT Technology Review, it published 218 journal or conference papers on machine learning in 2016, nearly twice as many as it did two years ago.

https://cloud.highcharts.com/embed/ilenexa

 

We sought out similar data from the Web of Science, a service of Clarivate Analytics, which confirmed the upsurge. Clarivate said that the impact of Google’s publications, according to a measure of publication strength it uses, was four to five times the world average. Compared to all companies that publish prolifically on artificial intelligence, Clarivate ranks Google No. 1 by a wide margin.

Top rank

The publication explosion is no accident. Google has more than tripled the number of machine learning researchers working for the company over the last few years, according to Yoshua Bengio, a deep-learning specialist at the University of Montreal. “They have recruited like crazy,” he says.

And to capture the first-round picks from computation labs, companies can’t only offer a Silicon Valley-sized salary.  “It’s hard to hire people just for money,” says Konrad Kording, a computational neuroscientist at Northwestern University. “The top people care about advancing the world, and that means writing papers the world can use, and writing code the world can use.”

At Google, the scientific charge has been spearheaded by DeepMind, the high-concept British AI company started by neuroscientist and programmer Demis Hassabis. Google acquired it for $400 million in 2014.

Hassabis has left no doubt that he’s holding onto his scientific ambitions. In a January blog post, he said DeepMind has a “hybrid culture” between the long-term thinking of an academic department and “the speed and focus of the best startups.” Aligning with academic goals is “important to us personally,” he writes. Kording, one of whose post-doctoral students, Mohammad Azar, was recently hired by DeepMind, says that “it’s perfectly understood that the bulk of the projects advance science.”

Last year, DeepMind published twice in Nature, the same storied journal where the structure of DNA and the sequencing of the human genome were first reported. One DeepMind paper concerned its program AlphaGo, which defeated top human players in the ancient game of Go; the other described how a neural network with a working memory could understand and adapt to new tasks.

Then, in December, scientists from Google’s research division published the first deep-learning paper ever to appear in JAMA, the august journal of America’s physicians. In it, they showed a deep-learning program could diagnose a cause of blindness from retina images as well as a doctor. That project was led by Google Brain, a different AI group, based out of the company’s California headquarters. It also says it prioritizes publications, noting that researchers there “set their own agenda.”

AI battle

The contest to develop more powerful AI now involves hundreds of companies, with competition most intense between the top tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. All see the chance to reap new profits by using the technology to wring more from customer data, to get driverless cars on the road, or in medicine. Research is occurring in a hot house atmosphere reminiscent of the early days of computer chips, or of the first biotech plants and drugs, times when notable academic firsts also laid the foundation stones of new industries.

That explains why publication score-keeping matters. The old academic saw “publish or perish” is starting to define the AI race, leaving companies that have weak publication records at a big disadvantage. Apple, famous for strict secrecy around its plans and product launches, found that its culture was hurting its efforts in AI, which have lagged those of Google and Facebook.

So when Apple hired computer scientist Russ Salakhutdinov from Carnegie Mellon last year as its new head of AI, he was immediately allowed to break Apple’s code of secrecy by blogging and giving talks. At a major machine-learning science conference late last year in Barcelona, Salakhutdinov made the point of announcing that Apple would start publishing, too.  He showed a slide: “Can we publish? Yes.”

Salakhutdinov will speak at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital event on artificial intelligence next week in San Francisco.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/603984/googles-ai-explosion-in-one-chart/

CRISPR kills HIV and eats Zika ‘like Pac-man’. Its next target? Cancer

June 29, 2017

There’s a biological revolution underway and its name is CRISPR.

Pronounced ‘crisper’, the technique stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat and refers to the way short, repeated DNA sequences in the genomes of bacteria and other microorganisms are organised.

Inspired by how these organisms defend themselves from viral attacks by stealing strips of an invading virus’ DNA, the technique splices in an enzyme called Cas creating newly-formed sequences known as CRISPR. In bacteria, this causes RNA to make copies of these sequences, which help recognise virus DNA and prevent future invasions.This technique was transformed into a gene-editing tool in 2012 and was named Science magazine’s 2015 Breakthrough of the Year. While it’s not the first DNA-editing tool, it has piqued the interest of many scientists, research and health groups because of its accuracy, relative affordability and far-reaching uses. The latest? Eradicating HIV.

At the start of May, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) and the University of Pittsburgh demonstrated how they can remove HIV DNA from genomes of living animals – in this case, mice – to curb the spread of infection. The breakthrough was the first time replication of HIV-1 had been eliminated from infected cells using CRISPR following a 2016 proof-of-concept study.

 

In particular, the team genetically inactivated HIV-1 in transgenic mice, reducing the RNA expression of viral genes by roughly 60 to 95 per cent, before trialling the method on infected mice.

“During acute infection, HIV actively replicates,” Dr. Khalili explained. “With EcoHIV mice, we were able to investigate the ability of the CRISPR/Cas9 strategy to block viral replication and potentially prevent systemic infection.”

Since the HIV research was published, a team of biologists at University of California, Berkeley, described 10 new CRISPR enzymes that, once activated, are said to “behave like Pac-Man” to chew through RNA in a way that could be used as sensitive detectors of infectious viruses.

These new enzymes are variants of a CRISPR protein, Cas13a, which the UC Berkeley researchers reported last September in Nature, and could be used to detect specific sequences of RNA, such as from a virus. The team showed that once CRISPR-Cas13a binds to its target RNA, it begins to indiscriminately cut up all RNA making it “glow” to allow signal detection.

 

Two teams of researchers at the Broad Institute subsequently paired CRISPR-Cas13a with the process of RNA amplification to reveal that the system, dubbed Sherlock, could detect viral RNA at extremely low concentrations, such as the presence of dengue and Zika viral RNA, for example. Such a system could be used to detect any type of RNA, including RNA distinctive of cancer cells.

This piece has been updated to remove copy taken from WIRED US.

http://www.wired.co.uk/article/crispr-disease-rna-hiv

QuintilesIMS Institute Study: U.S. Drug Spending Growth of 4.8 Percent in 2016

June 29, 2017

DANBURY, Conn. & RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.

(Business Wire) Growth in U.S. spending on prescription medicines fell in 2016 as competition intensified among manufacturers, and payers ramped up efforts to limit price increases, according to research released today by the QuintilesIMS Institute. New medicines introduced in the past two years continue to drive at least half of total spending growth as clusters of innovative treatments for cancer, autoimmune diseases, HIV, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes become accessible to patients. The prospects for innovative treatments over the next five years are bright fueled by a robust late-phase pipeline of more than 2,300 novel products that include more than 600 cancer treatments. U.S. net total spending is expected to increase 2-5 percent on average through 2021, reaching $375-405 billion.

Drug spending grew at a 4.8 percent pace in 2016 to $323 billion, less than half the rate of the previous two years, after adjusting for off-invoice discounts and rebates. The surge of innovative medicine introductions paused in 2016, with fewer than half as many new drugs launched than in 2014 and 2015. While the total use of medicines continued to climb—with total prescriptions dispensed reaching 6.1 billion, up 3.3 percent over 2015 levels—the spike in new patients being treated for hepatitis C ebbed, which contributed to the decline in spend. Net price increases—reflecting rebates and other price breaks from manufacturers—averaged 3.5 percent last year, up from 2.5 percent in 2015.

“After a year of heated discussion about the cost and affordability of drugs, the reality is that after adjusting for population and economic growth, total spending on all medicines increased just 1.1 percent annually over the past decade,” said Murray Aitken, senior vice president and executive director of the QuintilesIMS Institute. “Understanding how the dynamics of today’s healthcare landscape impact key stakeholders is more important than ever, as efforts to pass far-reaching healthcare legislative reforms remain on the political agenda.”

In its report, Medicine Use and Spending in the U.S. – A Review of 2016 and Outlook to 2021, the QuintilesIMS Institute highlights the following findings:

  • Patients age 65 years and over have accounted for 41 percent of total prescription growth since 2011. While the population of seniors in the U.S. has increased 19 percent since 2011, their average per capita use of medicines declined slightly—from 50 prescriptions per person in 2011 to 49 prescriptions per person last year. In the age 50-64 year population, total prescriptions filled increased 21 percent over the past five years, primarily due to higher per capita use, which reached 29 prescriptions per person. The largest drivers of prescription growth were in large chronic therapy areas including hypertension and mental health, while the largest decline was in pain management.
  • Average patient out-of-pocket costs continued to decline in 2016, reaching $8.47 compared to $9.66 in 2013. Nearly 30 percent of prescriptions filled in 2016 required no patient payment due in part to preventive treatment provisions under the Affordable Care Act, up from 24 percent in 2013. The use of co-pay assistance coupons by patients covered by commercial plans also contributed to the decline in average out-of-pocket costs, and were used to fill 19 percent of all brand prescriptions last year—compared with 13 percent in 2013. Those patients filling brand prescriptions while in the deductible phase of their commercial health plan accounted for 14 percent of prescriptions and 39 percent of total out-of-pocket costs. Patients in the deductible phases of their health plan abandoned about one in four of their brand prescriptions.
  • The late-phase R&D pipeline remains robust and will yield an average of 40-45 new brand launches per year through 2021. At the end of 2016, the late-phase pipeline included 2,346 novel products, a level similar to the prior year, with specialty medicines making up 37 percent of the total. More than 630 distinct research programs are underway in oncology, which account for one-quarter of the pipeline and where one in four molecules are focused on blood cancers. While the number of new drug approvals and launches fell by more than half in 2016, the size and quality of the late-phase pipeline is expected to drive historically high numbers of new medicines.
  • Moderating price increases for branded products, and the larger impact of patent expiries, will drive net growth in total U.S. spending of 2-5 percent through 2021, reaching $375-405 billion. Net price increases for protected brands are forecast to average 2-5 percent over the next five years, even as invoice price growth is expected to moderate to the 7-10 percent range. This reflects additional pressure and influence by payers on the pricing and prescribing of medicines, as well as changes in the mix of branded products on the market. Lower spending on brands following the loss of patent protection is forecast to total $140 billion, including the impact of biosimilar competition, through 2021.

The full version of the report, including a detailed description of the methodology, is available at www.quintilesimsinstitute.org. The study was produced independently as a public service, without industry or government funding.

In this release, “spending on medicines” is an estimate of the amount received by pharmaceutical manufacturers after rebates, off-invoice discounts and other price concessions have been made by manufacturers to distributors, health plans and intermediaries. It does not relate directly to either the out-of-pocket costs paid by a patient, except where noted, and does not include mark-ups and additional costs associated with dispensing or other services associated with medicines reaching patients. For a fuller explanation of methods to estimate net spending, see the Methodology section of the report.

https://www.quintilesims.com/press-releases/quintilesims-institute-study-us-drug-spending-growth-of-48-percent-in-2016

 

The smartphone is eventually going to die, and then things are going to get really crazy

May 28, 2017

One day, not too soon — but still sooner than you think — the smartphone will all but vanish, the way beepers and fax machines did before it.

Make no mistake: We’re still probably at least a decade away from any kind of meaningful shift away from the smartphone. (And if we’re all cyborgs by 2027, I’ll happily eat my words. Assuming we’re still eating at all, I guess.)

Yet, piece by piece, the groundwork for the eventual demise of the smartphone is being laid by Elon Musk, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and a countless number of startups that still have a part to play.

And, let me tell you: If and when the smartphone does die, that’s when things are going to get really weird for everybody. Not just in terms of individual products but in terms of how we actually live our everyday lives and maybe our humanity itself.

Here’s a brief look at the slow, ceaseless march toward the death of the smartphone — and what the post-smartphone world is shaping up to look like.

The short term

People think of the iPhone and the smartphones it inspired as revolutionary devices — small enough to carry everywhere, hefty enough to handle an increasingly large number of daily tasks, and packed full of the right mix of cameras and GPS sensors to make apps like Snapchat and Uber uniquely possible.

But consider the smartphone from another perspective. The desktop PC and the laptop are made up of some combination of a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The smartphone just took that model, shrank it, and made the input virtual and touch-based.

So take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S8, unveiled this week. It’s gorgeous with an amazing bezel-less screen and some real power under the hood. It’s impressive, but it’s more refinement than revolution.

Samsung Galaxy S8Samsung Galaxy S8.Business Insider

Tellingly, though, the Galaxy S8 ships with Bixby, a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises will one day let you control every single feature and app with just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with Facebook’s Oculus.

The next iPhone, too, is said to be shipping with upgrades to the Siri assistant, along with features aimed at bringing augmented reality into the mainstream.

And as devices like the Amazon Echo, the Sony PlayStation VR, and the Apple Watch continue to enjoy limited but substantial success, expect to see a lot more tech companies large and small taking more gambles and making more experiments on the next big wave in computing interfaces.

The medium term

In the medium term, all of these various experimental and first-stage technologies will start to congeal into something familiar but bizarre.

Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and the Google-backed Magic Leap are all working to build standalone augmented-reality headsets, which project detailed 3D images straight into your eyes. Even Apple is rumored to be working on this.

Microsoft’s Alex Kipman recently told Business Insider that augmented reality could flat-out replace the smartphone, the TV, and anything else with a screen. There’s not much use for a separate device sitting in your pocket or on your entertainment center if all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed into your eyes and overlaid on the world around you.

apple airpods in earApple’s AirPods keep the Siri virtual assistant in your ears.Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

At the same time, gadgetry like the Amazon Echo or Apple’s own AirPods become more and more important in this world. As artificial-intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter, there will be a rise not just in talking to computers but in having them talk back.

In other words, computers will hijack your senses, more so than they already do, with your sight and your hearing intermediated by technology. It’s a little scary. Think of what Facebook glitches could mean in a world where it doesn’t just control what you read on your phone but in what you see in the world around you.

The promise, though, is a world where real life and technology blend more seamlessly. The major tech companies promise that this future means a world of fewer technological distractions and more balance, as the physical and digital world become the same thing. You decide how you feel about that.

The really crazy future

Still, all those decade-plus investments in the future still rely on gadgetry that you have to wear, even if it’s only a pair of glasses. Some of the craziest, most forward-looking, most unpredictable advancements go even further — provided you’re willing to wait a few extra decades, that is.

This week, we got our first look at Neuralink, a new company cofounded by Musk with a goal of building computers into our brains by way of “neural lace,” a very early-stage technology that lays on your brain and bridges it to a computer. It’s the next step beyond even that blending of the digital and physical worlds, as human and machine become one.

Assuming the science works — and lots of smart people believe that it will — this is the logical endpoint of the road that smartphones started us on. If smartphones gave us access to information and augmented reality puts that information in front of us when we need it, then putting neural lace in our brains just closes the gap.

Ray KurzweilFuturist Ray Kurzweil has been predicting our cyborg futures for a long time now.Tech Insider

Musk has said this is because the rise of artificial intelligence — which underpins a lot of the other technologies, including voice assistants and virtual reality — means humans will have to augment themselves just to keep up with the machines. If you’re really curious about this idea, futurist Ray Kurzweil is the leading voice on the topic.

The idea of human/machine fusion is a terrifying one, with science-fiction writers, technologists, and philosophers alike having very good cause to ask what even makes us human in the first place. At the same time, the idea is so new that nobody really knows what this world would look like in practice.

So if and when the smartphone dies, it’ll actually be the end of an era in more ways than one. It’ll be the end of machines that we carry with us passively and the beginning of something that bridges our bodies straight into the ebb and flow of digital information. It’s going to get weird.

And yet, lots of technologists already say that smartphones give us superpowers with access to knowledge, wisdom, and abilities beyond anything nature gave us. In some ways, augmenting the human mind would be the ultimate superpower. Then again, maybe I’m just an optimist.

http://www.businessinsider.com/death-of-the-smartphone-and-what-comes-after-2017-3

The meaning of life in a world without work

May 18, 2017

Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example. But such professions will probably require more creativity and flexibility, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old unemployed taxi drivers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). And even if the ex-insurance agent somehow makes the transition into a virtual-world designer, the pace of progress is such that within another decade he might have to reinvent himself yet again.

The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms. Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.

The same technology that renders humans useless might also make it feasible to feed and support the unemployable masses through some scheme of universal basic income. The real problem will then be to keep the masses occupied and content. People must engage in purposeful activities, or they go crazy. So what will the useless class do all day?

One answer might be computer games. Economically redundant people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual reality worlds, which would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the “real world” outside. This, in fact, is a very old solution. For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”.

What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions such as Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender” and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas, and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka heaven).

As religions show us, the virtual reality need not be encased inside an isolated box. Rather, it can be superimposed on the physical reality. In the past this was done with the human imagination and with sacred books, and in the 21st century it can be done with smartphones.

Some time ago I went with my six-year-old nephew Matan to hunt for Pokémon. As we walked down the street, Matan kept looking at his smartphone, which enabled him to spot Pokémon all around us. I didn’t see any Pokémon at all, because I didn’t carry a smartphone. Then we saw two others kids on the street who were hunting the same Pokémon, and we almost got into a fight with them. It struck me how similar the situation was to the conflict between Jews and Muslims about the holy city of Jerusalem. When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and the Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.

The idea of finding meaning in life by playing virtual reality games is of course common not just to religions, but also to secular ideologies and lifestyles. Consumerism too is a virtual reality game. You gain points by acquiring new cars, buying expensive brands and taking vacations abroad, and if you have more points than everybody else, you tell yourself you won the game.

You might object that people really enjoy their cars and vacations. That’s certainly true. But the religious really enjoy praying and performing ceremonies, and my nephew really enjoys hunting Pokémon. In the end, the real action always takes place inside the human brain. Does it matter whether the neurons are stimulated by observing pixels on a computer screen, by looking outside the windows of a Caribbean resort, or by seeing heaven in our mind’s eyes? In all cases, the meaning we ascribe to what we see is generated by our own minds. It is not really “out there”. To the best of our scientific knowledge, human life has no meaning. The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.

In his groundbreaking essay, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight (1973), the anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes how on the island of Bali, people spent much time and money betting on cockfights. The betting and the fights involved elaborate rituals, and the outcomes had substantial impact on the social, economic and political standing of both players and spectators.

The cockfights were so important to the Balinese that when the Indonesian government declared the practice illegal, people ignored the law and risked arrest and hefty fines. For the Balinese, cockfights were “deep play” – a made-up game that is invested with so much meaning that it becomes reality. A Balinese anthropologist could arguably have written similar essays on football in Argentina or Judaism in Israel.

Indeed, one particularly interesting section of Israeli society provides a unique laboratory for how to live a contented life in a post-work world. In Israel, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jewish men never work. They spend their entire lives studying holy scriptures and performing religion rituals. They and their families don’t starve to death partly because the wives often work, and partly because the government provides them with generous subsidies. Though they usually live in poverty, government support means that they never lack for the basic necessities of life.

That’s universal basic income in action. Though they are poor and never work, in survey after survey these ultra-orthodox Jewish men report higher levels of life-satisfaction than any other section of Israeli society. In global surveys of life satisfaction, Israel is almost always at the very top, thanks in part to the contribution of these unemployed deep players.

You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of Coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short term.

Hence virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless, and nobody knows for sure what kind of deep plays will engage us in 2050.

In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.

But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.

  • Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/08/virtual-reality-religion-robots-sapiens-book#img-1

Stephen Petranek: Your kids might live on Mars. Here’s how they’ll survive

May 12, 2017

It sounds like science fiction, but journalist Stephen Petranek considers it fact: within 20 years, humans will live on Mars. In this provocative talk, Petranek makes the case that humans will become a spacefaring species and describes in fascinating detail how we’ll make Mars our next home. “Humans will survive no matter what happens on Earth,” Petranek says. “We will never be the last of our kind.”

New nuclear magnetic resonance technique offers ‘molecular window’ for live disease diagnosis

May 7, 2017

University of Toronto Scarborough researchers have developed a new “molecular window” technology based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) that can look inside a living system to get a high-resolution profile of which specific molecules are present, and extract a full metabolic profile.

“Getting a sense of which molecules are in a tissue sample is important if you want to know if it’s cancerous, or if you want to know if certain environmental contaminants are harming cells inside the body,” says Professor Andre Simpson, who led research in developing the new technique.*

[+]

An NMR spectrometer generates a powerful magnetic field that causes atomic nuclei to absorb and re-emit energy in distinct patterns, revealing a unique molecular signature — in this example: the chemical ethanol. (credit: adapted from the Bruker BioSpin “How NMR Works” video at http://www.theresonance.com/nmr-know-how)

Simpson says there’s great medical potential for this new technique, since it can be adapted to work on existing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems found in hospitals. “It could have implications for disease diagnosis and a deeper understanding of how important biological processes work,” by targeting specific biomarker molecules that are unique to specific diseased tissue.

The new approach could detect these signatures without resorting to surgery and could determine, for example, whether a growth is cancerous or benign directly from the MRI alone.

The technique could also provide highly detailed information on how the brain works, revealing the actual chemicals involved in a particular response. “It could mark an important step in unraveling the biochemistry of the brain,” says Simpson.

Overcoming magnetic distortion

Until now, traditional NMR techniques haven’t been able to provide high-resolution profiles of living organisms because of magnetic distortions from the tissue itself.  Simpson and his team were able to overcome this problem by creating tiny communication channels based on “long-range dipole interactions” between molecules.

The next step for the research is to test it on human tissue samples, says Simpson. Since the technique detects all cellular metabolites (substances such as glucose) equally, there’s also potential for non-targeted discovery.

“Since you can see metabolites in a sample that you weren’t able to see before, you can now identify molecules that may indicate there’s a problem,” he explains. “You can then determine whether you need further testing or surgery. So the potential for this technique is truly exciting.”

The research results are published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

* Simpson has been working on perfecting the technique for more than three years with colleagues at Bruker BioSpin, a scientific instruments company that specializes in developing NMR technology. The technique, called “in-phase intermolecular single quantum coherence” (IP-iSQC), is based on some unexpected scientific concepts that were discovered in 1995, which at the time were described as impossible and “crazed” by many researchers. The technique developed by Simpson and his team builds upon these early discoveries. The work was supported by Mark Krembil of the Krembil Foundation and the Natural Sciences Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).


Abstract of In-Phase Ultra High-Resolution In Vivo NMR

Although current NMR techniques allow organisms to be studied in vivo, magnetic susceptibility distortions, which arise from inhomogeneous distributions of chemical moieties, prevent the acquisition of high-resolution NMR spectra. Intermolecular single quantum coherence (iSQC) is a technique that breaks the sample’s spatial isotropy to form long range dipolar couplings, which can be exploited to extract chemical shift information free of perturbations. While this approach holds vast potential, present practical limitations include radiation damping, relaxation losses, and non-phase sensitive data. Herein, these drawbacks are addressed, and a new technique termed in-phase iSQC (IP-iSQC) is introduced. When applied to a living system, high-resolution NMR spectra, nearly identical to a buffer extract, are obtained. The ability to look inside an organism and extract a high-resolution metabolic profile is profound and should find applications in fields in which metabolism or in vivo processes are of interest.