Archive for the ‘ Science ’ Category

Today, cell phone; tomorrow, tricorder

The first MacGuyver-esque cell phone microscope is here! Though not the first iteration of such technologies, this is the first that literally anyone can assemble: all you need is about $20 worth of rubber bands, tape, and a small glass ball, and voilà! you can image blood cells!

This type of laboratory-grade technology available on consumer products platforms could truly globalize medical science. The article mentions being able to transmit a sample to a pathologist in a lab halfway ’round the world and get an accurate diagnosis sent back to the site in real time. Basically, it’s one step closer to having tricorders, and that is a development that would be good for everybody.

A fanboy’s dream deferred

From Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman: The Missile Defense Agency’s latest test of the lightsaber’s official progenitor failed.

As the article notes, however, Pentagon officials remain hopeful that smaller electric lasers are in the offing. There’s still a chance that we’ll have lightsabers in time for the Zombie Apocalypse.

God help us if we don’t.

Modular Prosthetic Limb

Wiring runs straight to the brain

Those who once were lame

Now walk

Robots need not rise

We miss the grave

And meet there

Soldiers must always be first

Flying over sand and stones

They line the beaches

Edges obscured by the waves

The droning of tides

Bypass the spine altogether

The Story #1

The Story #2

Metal Monday: Hallowed be thy Name

What the fuck is Bruce Dickinson standing on? A scaffold to heaven or hell? Clearly, 1982 was a high water point for power metal stagecraft.

This is one of the finest versions of one of the finest songs by one of the finest metal bands to forever be: Iron Fucking Maiden, “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” Check out the awesome array of jean jackets in the audience and the total lack of women. Consider the air guitar, and Eddie looming in the background. The Confucian ideals of harmony come to mind, and I think the smell of body odor and reefer to nose.

Dickinson has a knack for sculpting a narrative.This tale of final night in the Tower of London would make Sartre headbang with its existential fury. “Could it be that this was all just some grand illusion?” the unknown narrator asks. Maybe it is.

And then you’ve got dueling guitars scaling those same scaffolds. Lights pulling in and out like a noose’s tug. The vocalist wearing a gauntlet. Metal as fuck. And as theatre.

Vaccines and Epidemics, or Why Science Matters.

There is a whooping cough outbreak in the state of California. Now, whooping cough isn’t like smallpox – it still exists in the wild, and people get it. It’s also one of those diseases that was, up until a few years ago, so rare that cases of it were taped so that EMT’s would recognize it when they saw it.

Then, someone decided that vaccines cause autism.

I realize it’s much more complicated like that, and there’s a very good Frontline on the subject. But when you start to see diseases that, you know, killed kids come back because parents believe that their child is some special snowflake who will be irrevocably harmed (despite all the evidence showing that it doesn’t happen) by being vaccinated against diseases that kill kids – you start to get a little angry, you know?

Anyway, watch the Frontline episode, wash your hands frequently, and get vaccinated.

After Years of Such Idle Contemplation …

… a fascination with the idea of “digital consciousness” can at last make for a meaningful reflection on humanity’s future prospects.

A recent article in the New York Times sheds some significant light on the Silicon Valley philosophical take on the “Singularity,” or the perfect connection between organic life and technology.

The rapid expansion of new technologies and innovations does not necessarily portend some sort of Singularity. This implies the connection between not only these developments, but everything in the Universe (i.e., another name for “God” or “Nature”). And that connection is in no way guaranteed by present human conditions. These developments may greatly enhance our everyday existence, but I suspect it will be in a piecemeal way, and by no means “progressing” towards anything in particular.

Even if such integrations were to occur as envisioned by Mr. Kurzweil, I do not believe we will go “beyond humanity” in a way that anyone can properly imagine. A team in Maryland recently created a new self-replicating bacteria species using a chemically-constructed genetic code inserted in a living cell, but even project lead Dr. J. Craig Venter readily admits that this does not amount to the creation of new life. For all the knowledge we are currently generating, we still do not understand the animus of life and are stuck using existing structures.

Technological evolution as biological evolution will be seen as a false prophesy in the fanciest of dressings … One of the greatest misunderstandings about Darwin’s original theories is that they implied some sort of improvement (or, in a more stripped-down version, simply a direction) over time. However, to consider a change an “improvement,” we must have some sort of standard to go by, which is inevitably a human construction. When we come to realize that true evolution is defined by chance and randomness, then the only intelligence actually guiding the universe is our own. In that scenario, would we be so willing to let scientists significantly alter our genetic makeup in the name of “progress”? It is religion couched in science, and serves only to cheapen both. Singularitarians of this stripe make a fatal error in importing the constructs of the human mind onto a phenomena, and then call that an underlying “truth” which exists independent of our minds (and ignore the fact that, without our minds, we wouldn’t be having this discussion about the future because it wouldn’t even be a potential reality!).

If we preserve ourselves, then we will not be a new “species,” per se. We may eliminate disease; we may enhance our physical abilities to Kryptonian levels; we may digitize our consciousness and download ourselves to cybernetic bodies and link our minds; but all of this will simply be variations and improvements on the general “human” theme. I even have a sneaking suspicion that, the more we learn about the cosmos as humans, the more fiercely shall we defend our existence (honor?) as such (though, I guess that’d mean we evolved into Klingons; better that then the Borg).

Regardless of what philosophical spin you put on it, I’m a big fan of such technological advances and have geeked out about certain examples on more than one occasion, and the idea to bring technological entreprenuers together in a place like Singularity University inspires the stuff of dreams. But it is not a cure-all for the human condition, and thus must be treated with as much skepticism as everything else, especially skepticism.

Denialism and Orthodoxy.

If you weren’t aware, this month’s week’s  New Scientist’s cover story is on denialism – HIV, anti-vaxxers, global warming, etc. If you remember, I posted on this the other night, so I wanted to highlight one quote from the NS’s coverage and talk about it a little.

THE epithet “denier” is increasingly used to bash anyone who dares to question orthodoxy. Among other things, deniers are accused of subordinating science to ideology. In his book Denialism: How irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lives, for example, Michael Specter argues that denialists “replace the rigorous and open-minded scepticism of science with the inflexible certainty of ideological commitment”.

How ironic. The concept of denialism is itself inflexible, ideological and intrinsically anti-scientific.

Now, I don’t know much about that author, and I don’t want to sling mud, but this is a classic counter-argument to, well, any kind of reality-based argument. I think, and I may be wrong, that it’s known as tu quoque – “you as well.” I think that, in this case, it rather misses the point. Science is a process, not a dogma. For every horror-story denialists and their friends quote about how some brilliant discovery wasn’t recognized in its time and that if we only open our minds we’ll [and so on, whatever] … there are innumerably more about the system working, filtering good data from bad. Denialists – and I’m thinking of climate denialists and anti-vaxxers here mostly – have pushed themselves out of the system; they’ve gone beyond argument about evidence and often right on down into conspiracy theories. What they’re doing is not debate, and it is not a hopeful sign.