This Week’s Awesome Stories From Around the Web (Through May 26)

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

How the Enlightenment Ends
Henry A. Kissinger | The Atlantic
“Paradoxically, as the world becomes more transparent, it will also become increasingly mysterious. What will distinguish that new world from the one we have known? How will we live in it? How will we manage AI, improve it, or at the very least prevent it from doing harm, culminating in the most ominous concern: that AI, by mastering certain competencies more rapidly and definitively than humans, could over time diminish human competence and the human condition itself as it turns it into data.”

BLOCKCHAIN

How to Get Blockchains to Talk to Each Other
Mike Orcutt | MIT Technology Review
“Hardjono and two colleagues at MIT argue in a new paper that today’s blockchain developers should borrow a concept from the internet protocol suite called the datagram, which is a common unit of information that can move across different networks. ‘Every network that sees it knows how to parse it and knows how to forward it,’ Hardjono says. ‘What is the datagram equivalent for blockchain systems?’”

PRIVACY & SECURITY

Facebook and Google Hit with $8.8 Billion in Lawsuits on Day One of GDPR
Russell Brandom | The Verge
“On the first day of GDPR enforcement, Facebook and Google have been hit with a raft of lawsuits accusing the companies of coercing users into sharing personal data. The lawsuits, which seek to fine Facebook 3.9 billion and Google 3.7 billion euro (roughly $8.8 billion in dollars), were filed by Austrian privacy activist Max Schrems, a longtime critic of the companies’ data collection practices.”

SPACE

4 Critical Tests for a New Spacecraft That Will Clean Up Space Debris
Jeremy Hsu | IEEE Spectrum
“Other researchers have proposed using lasers or electrified cables to nudge space junk into orbits that lead it to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency attempt to test an electrodynamic tether failed in 2017 because the tether was unable to unroll and deploy. Several other missions have tested passive removal, which involves aged satellites using their own boosters or deploying drag sails to force self-immolation.”

INNOVATION

Meet the 2018 CNBC Disruptor 50 companies
Editorial Staff | CNBC
“Unseating corporate giants is no easy feat. But we ranked those venture capital–backed companies doing the best job. In aggregate, these 50 companies have raised nearly $78 billion in venture capital at an implied Disruptor 50 list market valuation of more than $350 billion, according to PitchBook data. Many already are part of our daily lives, whether or not we know it.”

Image Credit: Tithi Luadthong / Shutterstock.com

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The Standard Model of Particle Physics: The Absolutely Amazing Theory of Almost Everything

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The Standard Model. What a dull name for the most accurate scientific theory known to human beings.

More than a quarter of the Nobel Prizes in physics of the last century are direct inputs to or direct results of the Standard Model. Yet its name suggests that if you can afford a few extra dollars a month you should buy the upgrade. As a theoretical physicist, I’d prefer the Absolutely Amazing Theory of Almost Everything. That’s what the Standard Model really is.

Many recall the excitement among scientists and media over the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson. But that much-ballyhooed event didn’t come out of the blue—it capped a five-decade undefeated streak for the Standard Model. Every fundamental force but gravity is included in it. Every attempt to overturn it to demonstrate in the laboratory that it must be substantially reworked—and there have been many over the past 50 years—has failed.

In short, the Standard Model answers this question: What is everything made of, and how does it hold together?

The Smallest Building Blocks

Physicists like things simple. We want to boil things down to their essence, a few basic building blocks. Over a hundred chemical elements is not simple. The ancients believed that everything is made of just five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and aether. Five is much simpler than 118. It’s also wrong.You know, of course, that the world around us is made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms. Chemist Dmitri Mendeleev figured that out in the 1860s and organized all atoms—that is, the elements—into the periodic table that you probably studied in middle school. But there are 118 different chemical elements. There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium…and 114 more.

By 1932, scientists knew that all those atoms are made of just three particles—neutrons, protons, and electrons. The neutrons and protons are bound together tightly into the nucleus. The electrons, thousands of times lighter, whirl around the nucleus at speeds approaching that of light. Physicists Planck, Bohr, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, and friends had invented a new science—quantum mechanics—to explain this motion.

That would have been a satisfying place to stop. Just three particles. Three is even simpler than five. But held together how? The negatively charged electrons and positively charged protons are bound together by electromagnetism. But the protons are all huddled together in the nucleus, and their positive charges should be pushing them powerfully apart. The neutral neutrons can’t help.

What binds these protons and neutrons together? “Divine intervention” a man on a Toronto street corner told me; he had a pamphlet, I could read all about it. But this scenario seemed like a lot of trouble even for a divine being—keeping tabs on every single one of the universe’s 10⁸⁰ protons and neutrons and bending them to its will.

Expanding the Zoo of Particles

Meanwhile, nature cruelly declined to keep its zoo of particles to just three. Really four, because we should count the photon, the particle of light that Einstein described. Four grew to five when Anderson measured electrons with positive charge—positrons—striking the Earth from outer space. At least Dirac had predicted these first anti-matter particles. Five became six when the pion, which Yukawa predicted would hold the nucleus together, was found.

Then came the muon—200 times heavier than the electron, but otherwise a twin. “Who ordered that?” I.I. Rabi quipped. That sums it up. Number seven. Not only not simple, redundant.

By the 1960s there were hundreds of “fundamental” particles. In place of the well-organized periodic table, there were just long lists of baryons (heavy particles like protons and neutrons), mesons (like Yukawa’s pions) and leptons (light particles like the electron and the elusive neutrinos)—with no organization and no guiding principles.

Into this breach sidled the Standard Model. It was not an overnight flash of brilliance. No Archimedes leapt out of a bathtub shouting “eureka.” Instead, there was a series of crucial insights by a few key individuals in the mid-1960s that transformed this quagmire into a simple theory, and then five decades of experimental verification and theoretical elaboration.

Quarks. They come in six varieties we call flavors. Like ice cream, except not as tasty. Instead of vanilla, chocolate, and so on, we have up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. In 1964, Gell-Mann and Zweig taught us the recipes: Mix and match any three quarks to get a baryon. Protons are two ups and a down quark bound together; neutrons are two downs and an up. Choose one quark and one antiquark to get a meson. A pion is an up or a down quark bound to an anti-up or an anti-down. All the material of our daily lives is made of just up and down quarks and anti-quarks and electrons.

The Standard Model of elementary particles provides an ingredients list for everything  around us. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, CC BY

Simple. Well, simple-ish, because keeping those quarks bound is a feat. They are tied to one another so tightly that you never ever find a quark or anti-quark on its own. The theory of that binding, and the particles called gluons (chuckle) that are responsible, is called quantum chromodynamics. It’s a vital piece of the Standard Model, but mathematically difficult, even posing an unsolved problem of basic mathematics. We physicists do our best to calculate with it, but we’re still learning how.

The other aspect of the Standard Model is “A Model of Leptons.” That’s the name of the landmark 1967 paper by Steven Weinberg that pulled together quantum mechanics with the vital pieces of knowledge of how particles interact and organized the two into a single theory. It incorporated the familiar electromagnetism, joined it with what physicists called “the weak force” that causes certain radioactive decays, and explained that they were different aspects of the same force. It incorporated the Higgs mechanism for giving mass to fundamental particles.

Since then, the Standard Model has predicted the results of experiment after experiment, including the discovery of several varieties of quarks and of the W and Z bosons – heavy particles that are for weak interactions what the photon is for electromagnetism. The possibility that neutrinos aren’t massless was overlooked in the 1960s, but slipped easily into the Standard Model in the 1990s, a few decades late to the party.

3D view of an event recorded at the CERN particle accelerator showing characteristics expected from the decay of the SM Higgs boson to a pair of photons (dashed yellow lines and green towers). McCauley, Thomas; Taylor, Lucas; for the CMS Collaboration CERN, CC BY-SA

Discovering the Higgs boson in 2012, long predicted by the Standard Model and long sought after, was a thrill but not a surprise. It was yet another crucial victory for the Standard Model over the dark forces that particle physicists have repeatedly warned loomed over the horizon. Concerned that the Standard Model didn’t adequately embody their expectations of simplicity, worried about its mathematical self-consistency, or looking ahead to the eventual necessity to bring the force of gravity into the fold, physicists have made numerous proposals for theories beyond the Standard Model. These bear exciting names like Grand Unified Theories, Supersymmetry, Technicolor, and String Theory.

Sadly, at least for their proponents, beyond-the-Standard-Model theories have not yet successfully predicted any new experimental phenomenon or any experimental discrepancy with the Standard Model.

After five decades, far from requiring an upgrade, the Standard Model is worthy of celebration as the Absolutely Amazing Theory of Almost Everything.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image Credit: general-fmv / Shutterstock.com

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IEET Fellow S.L. Sorgner Published New Collection: Ethics of Emerging Biotechnologies

Together with Prof. Maria Sinaci, IEET Fellow Prof. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner just edited another essay collection. It is entitled “Ethics of Emerging Biotechnologies” and is available open access at the following website https://ift.tt/2KTaMUN

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Augmented World Expo

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AWE (Augmented World Expo) is the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo with annual dates in the USA, Asia and Europe.

These events bring together a mix of CEOs, CTOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors, and top press in a fantastic opportunity to learn, inspire, partner, and experience first hand the most exciting industry of our times.

AWE is back for its 9th year in the USA in Santa Clara on May 30-June 1, 2018, and this year’s event will illustrate why every organization, startup, and investor must get into XR (short for AR, VR, MR) or be left behind.

The AWE USA 2018 stage will showcase speakers, startups and organizations who are already using AR & VR to drive economic growth, encourage empathy and collaboration, democratize healthcare and education, and change the world. It’s time to GO XR or GO HOME.

—Event Producer

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High-quality carbon nanotubes made from carbon dioxide in the air break the manufacturing cost barrier

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Carbon dioxide converted to small-diameter carbon nanotubes grown on a stainless steel surface. (credit: Pint Lab/Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt University researchers have discovered a technique to cost-effectively convert carbon dioxide from the air into a type of carbon nanotubes that they say is “more valuable than any other material ever made.”

Carbon nanotubes are super-materials that can be stronger than steel and more conductive than copper. So despite much research, why aren’t they used in applications ranging from batteries to tires?

Answer: The high manufacturing costs and extremely expensive price, according to the researchers.*

The price ranges from $100–200 per kilogram for the “economy class” carbon nanotubes with larger diameters and poorer properties, up to $100,000 per kilogram and above for the “first class” carbon nanotubes — ones with a single wall, the smallest diameters**, and the most amazing properties, Cary Pint, PhD, an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at Vanderbilt University, explained to KurzweilAI.

A new process for making cost-effective carbon nanotubes

The researchers have demonstrated a new process for creating carbon-nanotube-based material, using carbon dioxide as a feedstock input source.

  • They achieved the smallest-diameter and most valuable CNTs ever reported in the literature for this approach.
  • They used sustainable electrochemical synthesis.***
  • A spinoff, SkyNano LLC, is now doing this with far less cost and energy input than conventional methods for making these materials. “That means as market prices start to change, our technology will survive and the more expensive technologies will get shaken out of the market,” said Pint. “We’re aggressively working toward scaling this process up in a big way.”
  • There are implications for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.****

“One of the most exciting things about what we’ve done is use electrochemistry to pull apart carbon dioxide into elemental constituents of carbon and oxygen and stitch together, with nanometer precision, those carbon atoms into new forms of matter,” said Pint. “That opens the door to being able to generate really valuable products with carbon nanotubes.” These materials, which Pint calls “black gold,” could steer the conversation from the negative impact of emissions to how we can use them in future technology.

“These could revolutionize the world,” he said.

Reference: ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces May 1, 2018. Source: Vanderbilt University

* This BCC Research market report has a detailed discussion on carbon nanotube costsGlobal Markets and Technologies for Carbon Nanotubes. Also see Energy requirements,an open-access supplement to the ACS paper.

** “Small-diameter” in this study refers to about 10 nanometers or less. Small-diameter carbon nanotubes include few-walled (about 310 walls), double-walled, and single walled carbon nanotubes. These all have higher economic value because of their enhanced physical properties, broader appeal toward applications, and greater difficulty in synthesis compared to their larger-diameter counterparts. “Larger diameter” carbon nanotubes refer to those with outer diameter generally less than 50 nanometers, since after reaching this diameter, these materials lose the value that the properties in small diameter carbon nanotubes enable for applications.

*** The researchers used mechanisms for controlling electrochemical synthesis of CNTs from the capture and conversion of ambient CO2 in molten salts. Iron catalyst layers are deposited at different thicknesses onto stainless steel to produce cathodes, and atomic layer deposition of Al2O3 (aluminum oxide) is performed on nickel to produce a corrosion-resistant anode. The research team showed that a process called “Ostwald ripening” — where the nanoparticles that grow the carbon nanotubes change in size to larger diameters — is a key contender against producing the infinitely more useful size. The team showed they could partially overcome this by tuning electrochemical parameters to minimize these pesky large nanoparticles.

**** “According to the EPA, the United States alone emits more than 6,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  Besides being implicated as a contributor to global climate change, these emissions are currently wasted resources that could otherwise be used productively to make useful materials. At SkyNano, we focus on the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide into all carbon-based nanomaterials which can be used for a variety of applications. Our technology overcomes cost limitations associated with traditional carbon nanomaterial production and utilizes carbon dioxide as the only direct chemical feedstock.” — SkyNano Technologies

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High-quality carbon nanotubes made from carbon dioxide in the air break the manufacturing cost barrier

https://ift.tt/2KU6EUy

Carbon dioxide converted to small-diameter carbon nanotubes grown on a stainless steel surface. (credit: Pint Lab/Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt University researchers have discovered a technique to cost-effectively convert carbon dioxide from the air into a type of carbon nanotubes that they say is “more valuable than any other material ever made.”

Carbon nanotubes are super-materials that can be stronger than steel and more conductive than copper. So despite much research, why aren’t they used in applications ranging from batteries to tires?

Answer: The high manufacturing costs and extremely expensive price, according to the researchers.*

The price ranges from $100–200 per kilogram for the “economy class” carbon nanotubes with larger diameters and poorer properties, up to $100,000 per kilogram and above for the “first class” carbon nanotubes — ones with a single wall, the smallest diameters**, and the most amazing properties, Cary Pint, PhD, an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at Vanderbilt University, explained to KurzweilAI.

A new process for making cost-effective carbon nanotubes

The researchers have demonstrated a new process for creating carbon-nanotube-based material, using carbon dioxide as a feedstock input source.

  • They achieved the smallest-diameter and most valuable CNTs ever reported in the literature for this approach.
  • They used sustainable electrochemical synthesis.***
  • A spinoff, SkyNano LLC, is now doing this with far less cost and energy input than conventional methods for making these materials. “That means as market prices start to change, our technology will survive and the more expensive technologies will get shaken out of the market,” said Pint. “We’re aggressively working toward scaling this process up in a big way.”
  • There are implications for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.****

“One of the most exciting things about what we’ve done is use electrochemistry to pull apart carbon dioxide into elemental constituents of carbon and oxygen and stitch together, with nanometer precision, those carbon atoms into new forms of matter,” said Pint. “That opens the door to being able to generate really valuable products with carbon nanotubes.” These materials, which Pint calls “black gold,” could steer the conversation from the negative impact of emissions to how we can use them in future technology.

“These could revolutionize the world,” he said.

Reference: ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces May 1, 2018. Source: Vanderbilt University

* This BCC Research market report has a detailed discussion on carbon nanotube costsGlobal Markets and Technologies for Carbon Nanotubes. Also see Energy requirements,an open-access supplement to the ACS paper.

** “Small-diameter” in this study refers to about 10 nanometers or less. Small-diameter carbon nanotubes include few-walled (about 310 walls), double-walled, and single walled carbon nanotubes. These all have higher economic value because of their enhanced physical properties, broader appeal toward applications, and greater difficulty in synthesis compared to their larger-diameter counterparts. “Larger diameter” carbon nanotubes refer to those with outer diameter generally less than 50 nanometers, since after reaching this diameter, these materials lose the value that the properties in small diameter carbon nanotubes enable for applications.

*** The researchers used mechanisms for controlling electrochemical synthesis of CNTs from the capture and conversion of ambient CO2 in molten salts. Iron catalyst layers are deposited at different thicknesses onto stainless steel to produce cathodes, and atomic layer deposition of Al2O3 (aluminum oxide) is performed on nickel to produce a corrosion-resistant anode. The research team showed that a process called “Ostwald ripening” — where the nanoparticles that grow the carbon nanotubes change in size to larger diameters — is a key contender against producing the infinitely more useful size. The team showed they could partially overcome this by tuning electrochemical parameters to minimize these pesky large nanoparticles.

**** “According to the EPA, the United States alone emits more than 6,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  Besides being implicated as a contributor to global climate change, these emissions are currently wasted resources that could otherwise be used productively to make useful materials. At SkyNano, we focus on the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide into all carbon-based nanomaterials which can be used for a variety of applications. Our technology overcomes cost limitations associated with traditional carbon nanomaterial production and utilizes carbon dioxide as the only direct chemical feedstock.” — SkyNano Technologies

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Is It Moral to Seek Immortality? A Discussion at the Vatican

Earlier this month, I participated in a discussion/debate at the Vatican on the topic of “The Morality of Immortality.”

The discussion was moderated by CNN medical anchor Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and included Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, Elder Dale Renlund, Reverend Father Dr. Nicancor Austriaco and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.

Here are a few compelling perspectives and insights from our discussion.

Moral Evolution

Is immortality moral? It’s important to recognize that our morals change over time.

Today, if I told you someone had the heart of a dead person transplanted into their chest to save their life, it would be considered a miracle. Go back 1,000 years, however, and the notion of organ transplantation would have been considered black magic.

Surrogate pregnancy is another modern-day miracle that, in another era, would not have been accepted.

I believe we’ll soon make a similar ethical and moral jump to extreme longevity.

Biblical Perspective on Longevity

At the start of our panel, Dr. Gupta asked Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, to provide a historical context from the Old Testament about aging.

“Adam lived to 930 years old,” stated Rabbi Reichman. “Methuselah lived to 969 years old. Abraham lived 175 years… Moses died at 120, and it is after Moses (in the Bible) that the human life span is set at its maximum to 120 years.”

Rabbi Reichman continues: “At the time of the flood of Noah, God pronounced that [humans] will be 120 years old. That did not occur immediately. [It] took roughly 750 years for the longevity of man to gradually taper down from roughly 900 years old to 120 years old.”

Rabbi Reichman cited the work of Nathan Aviezer, a contemporary scientist and physics professor in Israel who writes on the Torah from an Orthodox Jewish perspective. Aviezer’s interpretation is that, during this period, a divine intervention introduced specific genes that curtailed longevity, and it took several generations for these genes to proliferate and shorten the human lifespan.

“It could perhaps be that we are attempting to identify those genes that God introduced at that stage of history and now reverse it to achieve that longevity again,” explained Reichman.

Natural Selection, Intelligent Direction, and Divine Intervention

From an evolutionary perspective, longevity wasn’t an advantage for most of history.

The selfish gene theory has no use for humans after reproductive age (typically age 13). By age 26, your child was now having a child, and, before food was abundant (e.g. Whole Foods), the best thing you could do was not take food out of the mouths of your grandchildren and instead give “your bits back to the environment.”

“Aging is not just a running down of the system,” said Dr. Collins. “It is a programmed process. Evolution probably had an investment in having the lifespan of a particular species not go on forever. You’ve got to get the old folks out of the way so the young ones have a chance at the resources.”

Today, thanks to an ever-increasing abundance of food, we’re able to live into old age without consuming resources that should have gone to our children and grandchildren.

Nearing Longevity Escape Velocity

When I was in medical school, I saw a documentary on certain species of whales, turtles, and sharks that could live hundreds of years, and in theory, as long as 700 years.

I remember thinking, “If they can, why can’t we?”

As an engineer, I figured it was either a hardware or a software problem.

Today we are finally entering an era where we are developing the tools to read the software and modify the hardware.

In his panel remarks, Dr. Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project and is the current director of the National Institutes of Health, shared how we’re already able to manipulate the longevity of simple organisms like the roundworm C. elegans.

“Research has shown that there is a limited set of genes that determine the lifespan of that little wriggly creature, and that with an appropriate manipulation of those genes, you can cause those worms not just to [live longer], but maybe as long as four or five times their normal lifespan,” Dr. Collins explained. “Imagine applying that to humans.”

My friend Ray Kurzweil, who co-founded Singularity University with me and is a Director of Engineering at Google, talks about the concept of “longevity escape velocity.” It’s the notion that, in the near future, science will be able to extend our lives by over a year for every year we live.

Ray’s prediction is that we’ll reach longevity escape velocity in just 10 to 12 years.

What does that mean?

It means that my two seven-year-old boys can have a potentially indefinite lifespan, simply because they’ll intercept a multitude of exponentially growing technologies as they age.

Can we extend the healthy human lifespan past 120? Can humans live indefinitely?

We’ll find out—and I believe we’ll discover the limits of longevity-extending technology in the next 20 or 30 years, not the next 50 or 100 years.

Conclusion

Longevity enables a variety of positive externalities. Why retire at 70 years old, at the peak of your earning capacity, when you could potentially contribute to society for another 30+ years?

Extending the human lifespan by 30 years—and postponing the retirement age—would generate the biggest global GDP boom ever.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, you’ll soon have the option to take advantage of life-extending technology. And if you don’t want to live to 250, you don’t have to.

In closing, I found it promising that all the religious leaders on my panel agreed that adding a healthy extra 30 years would be desirable. I agreed and said, “I’m happy with an age-span target of 120 healthy years, after that we can negotiate another extension.”

Image Credit: Brian KinneyShutterstock.com

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