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Thu, 17 Aug 2017
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The ethical consequences of immortality technology

© Wikipedia
Detail from The Fountain of Youth (1546) by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Immortality has gone secular. Unhooked from the realm of gods and angels, it's now the subject of serious investment - both intellectual and financial - by philosophers, scientists and the Silicon Valley set. Several hundred people have already chosen to be 'cryopreserved' in preference to simply dying, as they wait for science to catch up and give them a second shot at life. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical implications of the highly speculative 'solutions' being mooted?

Of course, we don't currently have the means of achieving human immortality, nor is it clear that we ever will. But two hypothetical options have so far attracted the most interest and attention: rejuvenation technology, and mind uploading.

Like a futuristic fountain of youth, rejuvenation promises to remove and reverse the damage of ageing at the cellular level. Gerontologists such as Aubrey de Grey argue that growing old is a disease that we can circumvent by having our cells replaced or repaired at regular intervals. Practically speaking, this might mean that every few years, you would visit a rejuvenation clinic. Doctors would not only remove infected, cancerous or otherwise unhealthy cells, but also induce healthy ones to regenerate more effectively and remove accumulated waste products. This deep makeover would 'turn back the clock' on your body, leaving you physiologically younger than your actual age. You would, however, remain just as vulnerable to death from acute trauma - that is, from injury and poisoning, whether accidental or not - as you were before.


Justice Dept. to strengthen forensic science guidelines amid research showing crime scene evidence scientifically flawed

The Justice Department will begin work on two projects centered around improving forensic science practices amid nationwide concerns over certain kinds of forensic evidence presented in criminal trials.

On Monday at a private gathering of forensics professionals in Atlanta, Georgia, US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that the DOJ will revive a project aimed at setting federal guidelines for what forensic scientists can say in court.

The department will be creating a "forensic science working group" focused on monitoring the accuracy of forensic testimony, due to more and more research showing that hair, handwriting analysis, bite-mark evidence and some ballistic tests found at crime scenes are scientifically flawed, according to a Department of Justice press release.



Amazon planning fleets of mobile drone facilities on trains, vehicles, boats

© Amazon USPTO
Diagram from Amazon's patent filing showing drones being deployed from a maintenance facility on a train.
Amazon is heavily investing in drones, and one day hopes to use the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to revolutionise deliveries.

Right now, it's all still early stages - but public patent filings can offer us tantalising glimpses of what Amazon's engineers are thinking about and experimenting as they develop the tech.

For example, a key problem facing any drone deliveries is batteries and maintenance. When your drones are in the shop getting fixed, they're not helping you make any money - so how do you keep them charged and in the air for as long as possible?

One possible answer: An ambitious fleet of mobile maintenance facilities based on trains, in vehicles, and on boats.

Microscope 2

'Breakthrough' penny-sized nanochip pad stimulates healing in injuries and stroke damage in mice trials

© The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
This small device uses tissue nanotransfection to regenerate full organs at the touch of a finger.
What was once the stuff of science fiction is now becoming a reality: entire organs may soon be "healed" by simply touching a small chip.

A team of researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Ohio State's College of Engineering, both in Columbus, developed a groundbreaking technology that could soon restore almost any organ.

The device changes cell function in a non-invasive way. It relies on a type of nanotechnology called tissue nanotransfection, which can reprogram living adult cells into any other type of cell.

The new study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, and the research was jointly led by Dr. Chandan Sen, who is director of Ohio State's Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies, and L. James Lee, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Ohio State's College of Engineering.

People 2

Guevedoces: Children thought to be female turn into boys at puberty due to rare genetic disorder

Catherine and his cousin Carla, Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic

Girls in a remote Caribbean village are becoming boys when they hit puberty due to a rare genetic disorder.

One-in-90 children born in Salinas in the Dominican Republic grow a penis in a natural transformation from female to male.

Known as the guevedoces, which translates to "penis at 12", these youngsters are referred to in medical terms as "pseudohermaphrodite".

It is so common to be a pseudohermaphrodite in Salinas, that it is accepted as a third sex, alongside male and female.

Comment: See also: The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces


Auroras may explain an anomaly in Earth's ionosphere

A view of Earth’s aurora south of Australia from the International Space Station.
Starting at about 80 kilometers above Earth, the bombardment of solar ultraviolet light and X-rays strips atoms and molecules of their electrons and creates a layer of charged particles called the ionosphere. This layer reflects radio waves back to Earth and creates spectacular auroras. This zone is also the locus of a strange phenomenon called the Weddell Sea Anomaly, which can affect communications vital to security and transportation.

Typically, the density of electrons is highest in the upper layer of the ionosphere, where X-rays and ultraviolet rays are most intense. Normally, this upper layer also tends to be most electron dense during the day when the sunlight is most intense. But in the Weddell Sea Anomaly, a region near the tip of South America in the southeast Pacific Ocean, the electron density is highest not at midday but at midnight. The odd reversal was discovered in the 1950s by a team of scientists in Antarctica who sent high-frequency radio signals into the ionosphere and recorded the return signals, a measure called an ionogram.


Miniature lab-grown brains made from stem cells could one day halt damage caused by Alzheimer's

Miniature human brains made from human skin cells could be used to halt the damage caused by Alzheimer's disease in the future.

The tiny organs are being grown in a laboratory by British scientists who believe they will one day be able to use them to grow new brain tissue.

The process involves transforming skin cells into neurons, which are then 3D-printed into structures that resemble the brain.

The treatment, if successful, would not be able to reverse memory loss that has already occurred but it could stop further deterioration.

Researchers at Aston University in Birmingham are initially hoping to use the artificially created structures to test treatment methods for dementia and speed up drug development.


What you need to know about online security

There are a few things you need to understand about staying safe and secure online. You need to realize what you're actually up against.

But don't fret, because it's really not a big deal if you always keep in mind how things usually work.

For example, e-mail is never really safe, HTTPS doesn't really always keep your connection secure, you can be tracked online very easily despite what most people will tell you, and you should always use some kind of anti-virus/malware protection no matter what OS you use.

And remember that the OS you use makes very little difference if you've taken some basic precautions... In fact, thinking you're safe because you use Not Windows is probably a bad idea!


Weird things that happen during a total solar eclipse

© UFOvni Disclosure
August 21, 2017
Everyone talks about how visually stunning it is when the darkened Moon fully covers the face of the Sun in a total solar eclipse. And indeed, it is! But there are other unusual, truly strange happenings that occur when the Moon passes in front of the Sun. If you aren't prepared to look for them, some of these weird phenomena are so fleeting that you can miss them. Following are descriptions of a number of those novel occurrences to be looked for on August 21st.

Long before totality (when the Moon is only covering part of the Sun's face), go to a nearby tree and look in the shade of the tree's shadow. You will see hundreds of crescent images of the partially covered Sun all over the ground! In fact, this is a safe way to view all the partial phases of the eclipse without harming your eyes. Where do all these many images come from? The gaps between the tree's leaves act like a pinhole camera by projecting the Sun's image on the ground. Here is a photo that was shot of such a tree shadow during a previous solar eclipse:
© Elisa Israel

Comment: 'Clips' of the eclipse. So much to see and take in, so little time to do so!

Cloud Lightning

A new theory in the ball lightning mystery

© Storm Wolf / Flickr
Explanations for how ball lightning is formed are even more diverse than its physical characteristics. Just a sampling of the theories out there suggest the ball is a cloud of hot silicon particles, a natural nuclear reaction, a lightning-induced epileptic hallucination, a miniature black hole, an aggregate of cellulose and other natural polymers, and a microwave-filled bubble of plasma.
Every so often, given the proper conditions, a small and roughly spherical piece of the atmosphere around us will briefly catch fire. As they are best viewed late into the night and have no obvious natural explanation, it's perhaps no wonder they've inspired a rich mythology.

Names for balls of fire include ignis fatuus, will-o'-the-wisp, ghost lights, and ball lightning. They've been said to hover above graves, dance along the banks of rivers, signal the imminent arrival of an earthquake, and stalk the aisles of airplanes. Even today, we don't have a crystal-clear understanding of how they form and do what they do. Which doesn't mean scientists have, well, dropped the ball. Chinese scientist H.-C. Wu recently offered a compelling new explanation in Scientific Reports.

Some fireballs appear to be the products of living organisms. The decay of organic matter, for example, in marshes and other wetlands (or even a mass grave in a Polish forest) leads to the release of methane and phosphorus-containing gases such as phosphine, which can spontaneously catch fire after encountering oxygen in the atmosphere, producing a flickering light suspended midair. Some, on the other hand, are electrical in origin, sparking within the ground during an earthquake as stressed rocks release a stream of electrons to the surface where, interacting with air, they produce flashes of light. Still others form in the atmosphere, usually during thunderstorms, and go by the name of "ball lightning."

Comment: See also: