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Wed, 29 Mar 2017
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Science & Technology


German scientists power up the world's largest artificial sun

Synlight is the largest collection of film projector spotlights ever assembled in one room, and scientists in Germany are turning them all on at once in the pursuit of efficient and renewable energy.

This experiment involving the world's "largest artificial sun" is taking place in Jülich, a town located 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Cologne, and it was designed by scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The device features 149 industrial-grade film projector spotlights, and each one boasts roughly 4,000 times the wattage of the average light bulb.

When this artificial sun is turned on, it generates light that's 10,000 times as intense as natural sunlight on Earth. Swiveling the lamps and concentrating them on one spot can produce temperatures of around 3,500 degrees Celsius (6,332 degrees Fahrenheit), which is three times as hot as the heat generated by a blast furnace.

Cell Phone

IFace 3.0 Mobile: Tech company develops selfie logins

Many times we come across tech press releases that are little more than grabs for funding within a climate of ripe pickings for anyone involved with security development. Often outlandish and impractical, a good deal of them can be dismissed quickly. However, the trend toward more pervasive biometrics cannot be denied. It is showing up at banks, in police work, border control, travel of all kinds, and even on your home computer.

This press release posted at One World Identity from Innovatrics - a company that boasts "900 million people having been biometrically processed using Innovatrics software" - appears to be a serious player in the field. Utilizing a cute tagline of "popularizing the 'selfie login'" this press release shows that it is far more than a personal security choice. We are already seeing that federal biometric databases have been established in secret, yet the technology continues to expand even as the ethical boundaries remain unestablished.

My emphasis added.

Press Release: Innovatrics Continues to Push Boundaries with Mobile Facial Biometric Platform

By Cameron D'Ambrosi March 23, 2017

Popularizing the 'selfie login'

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA - (March 23, 2017) - Innovatrics, a leading provider of biometric identity management technology, has released a mobile version of its unique facial recognition technology, IFace 3.0 Mobile.

Responding to the needs of financial institutions, commercial organizations and mobile application integrators, IFace 3.0 Mobile is designed to be seamlessly integrated into mobile applications to include facial biometrics, or 'selfie login', as a second factor authentication feature.


Anti-aging pill slows aging

© MIT Technology Review
Can a pill make you younger?

One of the few drug studies ever carried out in an attempt to address this question was reported by Novartis on Christmas Eve 2014. The company had sought to see whether giving low doses of a drug called everolimus to people over 65 increased their response to flu vaccines.

It did, by about 20 percent. Yet behind the test was a bigger question about whether any drug can slow or reverse the symptoms of old age. Novartis's study on everolimus, which looked at whether the immune system of elderly people could be made to act younger, has been called the "first human aging trial."

Last week a Boston company, PureTech Health, said it was licensing two drug molecules, and the right to use them against aging-related disease, from Novartis and making the research the basis of a startup company, resTORbio. The company says it will further test whether such drugs can rejuvenate aged immune cells.

The drug Novartis tested is a derivative of rapamycin, a compound first discovered oozing from a bacterium native to Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, and named after it. Thanks to its broad effects on the immune system, rapamycin has already been used in transplant medicine as an immune suppressant and a version is sold by Novartis as the anticancer prescription Afinitor.

Microscope 2

Scientists able to turn mammalian cells into complex biocomputers

© ktsimage
Adding genetic circuits to cells lets researchers control their actions, setting the stage for new ways to treat cancer and other diseases.
Computer hardware is getting a softer side. A research team has come up with a way of genetically engineering the DNA of mammalian cells to carry out complex computations, in effect turning the cells into biocomputers. The group hasn't put those modified cells to work in useful ways yet, but down the road researchers hope the new programming techniques will help improve everything from cancer therapy to on-demand tissues that can replace worn-out body parts.

Blue Planet

An alternate theory of evolution: Survival of the friendliest

© Martin Harvey / Auscape / Getty Images
Two models of evolution: The early interpretation of Darwinian evolution as life-or-death contest is being complemented by an understanding of the importance of cooperation.
It's time to give the violent metaphors of evolution a break.

Violence has been the sire of all the world's values," wrote poet Robinson Jeffers in 1940. "What but the wolf's tooth whittled so fine the fleet limbs of the antelope? What but fear winged the birds, and hunger jeweled with such eyes the great goshawk's head?"

We've taken these metaphors for evolution to heart, reading them to mean that life is a race to kill or be killed. "Darwinian" stands in for "cutthroat," "survival of the fittest" signifies survival of the ruthless. We see selective pressures that hone each organism for success and drive genetic innovation as the natural order of things.

But we know now that that picture is incomplete. Evolutionary progress can be propelled both by the competitive struggle to adapt to an environment, and by the relaxation of selective forces. When natural selection on an organism is relaxed, the creative powers of mutation can be unshackled and evolution accelerated. The relief of an easier life can inspire new biological forms just as powerfully as the threat of death.



Immortal stem cells let scientists create unlimited supply of artificial red blood cells

© Shutterstock
Researchers have developed a line immortal stem cells that allow them to generate an unlimited supply of artificial red blood cells on demand.

If these artificial blood cells pass clinical trials, they'll be far more efficient for medical use than current red blood cell products, which have to be generated from donor blood - and would be a huge deal for patients with rare blood types, who often struggle to find matching blood donors.

The idea isn't for these immortal stem cells to replace blood donation altogether - when it comes to regular blood transfusions, donated blood still does the trick.

But it's a constant struggle to propagate red blood cells from donor blood. In the UK alone, 1.5 million units of blood need to be collected each year to meet the needs of patients, particularly those with rare blood types of conditions such as sickle-cell disease.

"Globally, there is a need for an alternative red cell product," said lead researcher Jan Frayne from the University of Bristol in the UK. "Cultured red blood cells have advantages over donor blood, such as reduced risk of infectious disease transmission."


New Elon Musk venture aims to connect human brain with artificial intelligence

© Rebecca Cook / Reuters
The CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk, is backing a new company that seeks to explore the possibility of merging the human brain with artificial intelligence (AI) to help humans keep up with machines.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Musk has played an active role in launching the new a company called Neuralink, which seeks to create devices that can be implanted in the human brain.

The neuroscience startup is still in its infancy but aims to create cranial computers for treating diseases and, eventually, help humans merge with software, enabling mortals to keep pace with advancements in artificial intelligence.

Musk is on record as saying that AI poses a great threat to humanity.

Solar Flares

Causes of space weather: Planetary waves, first found on Earth, are discovered on sun

Waves may influence space weather, offer a source of predictability

The same kind of large-scale planetary waves that meander through the atmosphere high above Earth's surface may also exist on the Sun, according to a new study led by a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Just as the large-scale waves that form on Earth, known as Rossby waves, influence local weather patterns, the waves discovered on the Sun may be intimately tied to solar activity, including the formation of sunspots, active regions, and the eruption of solar flares.

"The discovery of magnetized Rossby waves on the Sun offers the tantalizing possibility that we can predict space weather much further in advance," said NCAR scientist Scott McIntosh, lead author of the paper.

Comment: We're actually pretty close to understanding the Sun's effects on Earth's weather (and much more) already:

The Solar Minimum, Earthquakes and Mini Ice Age - and What to Expect: Interview with John Casey, Author of UPHEAVAL and Dark Winter (VIDEO)


Pilotless drones set to hit the skies of Israel

A drone that can fly without the help of humans is one step closer to hitting the skies of Israel.

Optimus can fly for half an hour without a human pilot on the controls.

Its creator, Airobotics, recently became the first in the world to be granted permission to fly an automated drone. Ran Krauss, CEO of Airobotics, said: 'Our core technology is truly autonomous'.

'That means drones are launched and landed automatically, without need for a pilot.' The vehicle is launched from an automated 'airbase' which is pre-programmed using computer software.
'Our system is easily operated by anyone from anywhere,' he said. 'And drones are deployed from a click of a button.'

The drone is fitted with military-grade avionics for precise control and can be pre-programmed to carry out 'missions'. It is fitted with a robotic arm that is capable of swapping batteries, which removes the need for humans to recharge the vehicle.The large-size unmanned vehicle is fitted with a camera capable of streaming real-time aerial video.


Max Planck researchers discover brain structure that helps us understand what others think

© MPI f. Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Thanks to a critical fibre connection in the brain (green) by the age of four years we suddenly start to understand what other people think.

By the age of four years we suddenly start to understand what other people think and that their beliefs about the world might differ from our own. We then manage to do what 3-year-olds are not yet capable of - we can put ourselves in someone else's shoes. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig were able to show what supports this milestone in development: the maturation of a critical fibre connection in the brain.

If you tell a 3-year-old child the following story of little Maxi, they will most probably not understand: Maxi puts his chocolate on the kitchen table, then leaves to play outside. While he is gone, his mother puts the chocolate in the cupboard. Where will Maxi look for his chocolate? A 3-year-old child will not understand why Maxi would be surprised not to find the chocolate on the table where he left it. It is only by the age of 4 years that a child will correctly predict that Maxi will look for his chocolate where he left it and not in the cupboard where it is now.

Something similar can be observed when you show the 3-year-old child a chocolate box that contains pencils instead of chocolates. If you ask the child what another child would expect to be in the box, they will answer "pencils," although the other child would not know this. Only a year later, around the age of four years, however, they will understand that the other child had hoped for chocolates. Thus, there is a crucial developmental breakthrough between three and four years: This is when we start to attribute thoughts and beliefs to others and to understand that their beliefs can be different from ours. Before that age, thoughts don't seem to exist independently of what we see and know about the world. That is, this is when we develop a "Theory of Mind."