Friday, July 7, 2017

Fusion deficient

Humans' ability to harness energy, propelled tactically by the Sun, remain meager. Unfortunately, they have not even been able to replicate the processes in the Sun that apparently throws of seemingly unlimited free energy. Fusion, hot and cold, eluded the struggling species, with nearly 30% still without proper food, clothing and shelter. Lifting humanity from despair remains to be an energy problem, something not many are focused on.

The simplest of processes, fusing two Hydrogen atoms into one of Helium and releasing an abundance of energy, still remains outside the grasp of the engineers. Recent news from the famous defense contractor was encouraging but the path to practical implementation still seems too long. And the crooks who raised false hope on cold fusion seem to have gone away. Tactical conversion of Sun's power - solar and wind - still seem too expensive and rather cumbersome. And, if the energy secretary ever goes to school and perhaps learn something, he may learn that fossil fuel is not the answer either.

The answer appears to be tantalizingly close in fusion. The template is readily available and a generation of great technologists stand ready to convert dreams into practical applications. What is missing is imagination, something that cannot be taught or bought. Perhaps, we need a bit of luck.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The code

Humans and their cousins, the apes, have been exceptional in facial recognition. Their life depended on it for the ability to recognize a friend from a foe was crucial for survival. Recent research from Caltech (1) appears to get closer to the neural code for face recognition. The trick appears to be specialization with singular neurons, focused on specific features. The idea appears to validate recent advances in deep learning for image recognition and it could provide further impetus to the acceleration of artificial intelligence.
The idea that single neurons encode specific features has been tantalizing for deep learning enthusiasts. It allows scalability in deep neural networks with increasing specialization in layers. The single feature specificity at the neuron level and its ability to make binary decisions provide further evidence of micro compartmentalization and voting based decision-making. Complementarity, communication and cooperation appear to dominate in goal seeking and that has implications for future research in computerized image recognition and more broadly, artificial intelligence.
The neural code developed by primates, an efficient and massively parallel processed algorithm that helped them survive and evolve, could be replicatable. Hopefully, those who get hold of this will use it wisely.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


The space administration's plans to throw a refrigerator at an incoming small asteroid (1) to demonstrate fancifully worded, "kinetic impactor technique," is ample proof that humans are sitting ducks on the blue planet surrounded by big and fast objects. Momentum has been known for a while and if one can impact the direction of the approaching object slightly, it could be beneficial. But to be effective, such a maneuver has to be very early in the trajectory of the approaching object. Combined with a lack of knowledge of projectiles moving toward us, it remains to be a probability game - and the odds are likely against the species, still trying to kill each other around the world.

If the state of the art is studying the effect of an impact of a heavy projectile on an approaching asteroid, it seems that we have not advanced sufficiently to survive. If the best minds in practical space exploration are engaged in tactics, we may be in more terrible shape than could be imagined. Aided by policy making ignoramuses in the capitol, trying to cut funding for fundamental research, we now have a stagnant knowledge regime, unable to advance science and humanity. To make matters worse, we have engineers and technologists focused on applying old ideas just to win funding. 

Stupidity has a price. In most past failed experiments in civilizations, it ended up with an ignorant leader perpetuating tactics surrounded by those currying for favor by applying old ideas to solve new problems.  


Sunday, June 25, 2017

The quantum phone call

Ever since the phenomenon of entanglement was discovered, humans have been enthralled by visions of communication at faster than the speed of light. Recent experiments with the Micius satellite (1) appear to move us closer to practical satellite based quantum communication. Bringing entanglement to applications could propel humanity to a different level.

Humans have been constrained optimizers. From inception, they have been prisoners of space and time. Their ability to physically transport their inelegant bodies has been inferior to most animals that surround them and their inability to see for half the day, made them vulnerable. Later, they will find that they cannot communicate faster than the speed of light and they cannot travel faster than a fraction of this theoretical limit. To make matters worse, they were greeted by silence in close quarters, albeit their space broadcasting and listening methods, remain embarrassingly archaic. Humans remain to be prisoners of space and time and it appears that it would be forever.

Entanglement provides a mild hope out of these hard constraints. Beating light can lift the spirits of humans and open up the universe that largely remains unapproachable.


Monday, June 5, 2017

The autoimmune era

Humans, it appears, have successfully conquered external biological threats to them, at least in the short run. One implication of this dominance is the alarming rise of autoimmune diseases that now account for most of the healthcare costs. Their finely tuned and powerful immune system has become a great liability for the modern humans, devoid of bugs. Boredom of overdesigned systems appear to be as deadly as anything else. Recent discovery of rare diseases in which the immune system attacks the brain itself is a constant reminder that the biggest threat for humans in the long run is their own immune systems.
Heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, COPD, asthma, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension account for over 80% of the healthcare costs. The bugs are not implicated in any and it appears that the body has begun to attack itself. Original design deficiencies in Homo sapiens have certainly caught up with them. The plumbing was never designed to last more than a few decades and the body, now stretched to twice the original design life, seems to struggle to get rid of the waste products both in the brain and in the circulation systems. To make matters worse, humans invented agriculture recently and this has fundamentally changed the course of their health. They have been feeding themselves material that neither the body nor the bacteria in their guts have ever been designed to efficiently digest.
We are in the autoimmune era, in which most humans will die because of the efficiency of their immune systems or the inability of the circulations systems to discharge waste products. Medicine and Engineering are certainly converging, but not in a way that technologists imagined.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Artificially Intelligent Pain

Recent observations (1) from the University of Cambridge that machine learning could identify the amount of pain suffered by sheep from their facial expressions is a good tangent to pursue. It may even have applications in humans, unable to communicate because of  recent or permanent loss of auditory and visual functions. Machines have been growing in stature and they seem to trump humans in most routine tasks. But increasingly, they are filling the gaps that humans are unable or untrained to do. There is no turning back from the AI train as it had left the station nearly 3 decades ago. Now cheaper and faster computers are making what could not be done by pure imagination.

On the other hand, humans generally get over-excited about emerging technologies and they believe problems could be solved in the matter of months, if not, days. Often, they have been wrong and many examples are available, in air travel, the internet, human genome based medicines and most recently, machine learning. Humans have been slow leaners, in spite of the massive energy hog they have been endowed with and they are programmed to look to the future rather than the past. That is a good thing but looking too far and over the hills may get them into trouble, something that did not exist for most of their evolution.

Understanding pain from facial expressions is a good step forward but a 67% accuracy (1) is not sufficiently robust for practical applications. Machine learning can easily create models of that accuracy from random and noisy data. Before declaring victory, much work is in store to think about what it could mean.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vancomycin 3.0 - The fight continues

Recent news (1) that a new breed of antibiotics, possibly many orders of higher potency than what is currently available, is entering the fight against the Earth's oldest inhabitants, could be welcome news for extension of life for humans. However, the long term implications of such leapfrogs remain uncertain. Bacteria, the most robust form of life known, have been fighting and improving for nearly 4 billion years. The upstarts, humans, seem to have turned them back incrementally. But the aggregate number of evolutionary experiments possible matter and here, the single cell organism reign supreme and for ever.

Bacteria have crowded out the human gut and they supply a large number of genes incorporated into the human architecture. There has been some evidence that bacteria control the human brain from the gut using nerve ends and they have occasionally even breached the blood-brain barrier. The original Extra-terrestrials have been potent and high achieving, seemingly able to dominate anything thrown their way. They even dance in unison and communicate by telepathy, notions higher order animals, find hard to appreciate. Lack of sight and biases helped them cooperate across species and evolve into the most dominant life form on Earth.

The winner of this race is predetermined as the early arrivals to the blue planet have captured the soul and imagination of the irrelevant speck in the universe.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Sleep discrimination

A recent study (1) concludes that the world is heading toward sleepless nights with climate change driving temperatures up. A mere 1 degree temperature rise at night could result in a 10% loss in sleep. This is a problematic trend, with a skewed impact on the poor who can't afford air conditioning. More importantly, loss of sleep has significant deleterious effects on health and cognition, with possible broad impacts on students and young adults. This is another reminder that changes in the environment could have negative effects on the population in many different ways. Anything that affects the rapid progression of millennials is not something humanity could afford, at this critical juncture, if they were to leap to a level 1 society.

As they ventured out of Africa, humans encountered harsh winters in the North with their systems adjusting rapidly by changes in skin and hair colors. Those who went South had an easier time and appear to be well positioned for the rising temperatures of the modern world. However, the organ they carry on their shoulders hogs energy and has to be kept cool for them to slumber. A rise in the ambient temperature is problematic for the human system and especially for the CPU. Perhaps, it is time for newer technologies that let a cooler bubble around the human brain. Evolution of the human brain has been slow. Massive leaps achieved a few hundred thousand years ago by animal fat have been tempered significantly by the advent of agriculture. And, modern humans appear to show slow degradation of cognitive capabilities, perhaps aided by substance abuse.

It is unlikely that humans can turn back the temperature dial but perhaps they can find more creative ways to cool the brain cells and sleep better.