A Momentary Flow

Updating Worldviews one World at a time

Interactive Bionic Man, featuring 14 novel biotechnologies
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The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering has launched the “NIBIB Bionic Man,” an interactive Web tool that showcases cutting-edge research in biotechnology. The bionic man features 14 technologies currently being developed by NIBIB-supported researchers. Examples include a powered prosthetic leg that helps users achieve a more natural gait, a wireless brain-computer interface that lets people who are paralyzed control computer devices or robotic limbs using only their thoughts, and a micro-patch that delivers vaccines painlessly and doesn’t need refrigeration. (via Interactive Bionic Man, featuring 14 novel biotechnologies | KurzweilAI)

Interactive Bionic Man, featuring 14 novel biotechnologies
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The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering has launched the “NIBIB Bionic Man,” an interactive Web tool that showcases cutting-edge research in biotechnology. The bionic man features 14 technologies currently being developed by NIBIB-supported researchers. Examples include a powered prosthetic leg that helps users achieve a more natural gait, a wireless brain-computer interface that lets people who are paralyzed control computer devices or robotic limbs using only their thoughts, and a micro-patch that delivers vaccines painlessly and doesn’t need refrigeration. (via Interactive Bionic Man, featuring 14 novel biotechnologies | KurzweilAI)

The Future of Travel Has Arrived: Virtual-Reality Beach Vacations
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I’m the only person in the hotel lounge. It’s night, and darkness lingers beyond the windows. Despite the room’s emptiness, there’s a feeling of warmth; a fireplace crackles, and music mixes with the hum of subdued conversation and clinking glasses. Ahead of me on the wall is a topographic map of Hawaii. I approach it slowly, looking around the room as I go. There’s a long bar to my right, clusters of low-slung tables and chairs to my left, some with laptops on them—MacBook Airs, from the look of them. There’s a chess set on one of them. Closer to the map, I begin hearing new sounds. A ukulele. Crashing surf. A red ring on the map starts to pulse. I’m directly in front of it now. Suddenly, I’m drawn into the map. The terrain lines warp around me, creating a tunnel. With a whoosh, I shoot through the wormhole onto a black-sand beach. The sky is blue, the palms are swaying, the ocean laps at the shoreline. For a moment, everything is completely, utterly serene. I am in Maui. “Actually,” a voice says from somewhere beyond my headphones, “you might want to take a small step forward.” That’s because I’m not in Maui at all. I’m 2,500 miles east of it, actually, in the Los Angeles offices of visual-effects firm Framestore. The company’s invited me to check out the latest build of the Teleporter, a new virtual-reality experience from Marriott Hotels. We’re a week or so away from the official Sept. 18 unveiling, though, so while the team is scrambling to apply that final layer of polish, there are still some minor issues to work out, like precisely calibrating the camera that tracks my position. Thankfully, this isn’t Framestore’s first time at the VR dance. Earlier this year, the company engineered Ascend the Wall, a Game of Thrones experience that let you ascend the fantasy saga’s mighty Wall; now, the company is leveraging its experience and expertise to blur the lines between CGI and video, and create one of the first premium VR applications outside of gaming and entertainment. (via The Future of Travel Has Arrived: Virtual-Reality Beach Vacations | WIRED)

The Future of Travel Has Arrived: Virtual-Reality Beach Vacations
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I’m the only person in the hotel lounge. It’s night, and darkness lingers beyond the windows. Despite the room’s emptiness, there’s a feeling of warmth; a fireplace crackles, and music mixes with the hum of subdued conversation and clinking glasses. Ahead of me on the wall is a topographic map of Hawaii. I approach it slowly, looking around the room as I go. There’s a long bar to my right, clusters of low-slung tables and chairs to my left, some with laptops on them—MacBook Airs, from the look of them. There’s a chess set on one of them. Closer to the map, I begin hearing new sounds. A ukulele. Crashing surf. A red ring on the map starts to pulse. I’m directly in front of it now. Suddenly, I’m drawn into the map. The terrain lines warp around me, creating a tunnel. With a whoosh, I shoot through the wormhole onto a black-sand beach. The sky is blue, the palms are swaying, the ocean laps at the shoreline. For a moment, everything is completely, utterly serene. I am in Maui. “Actually,” a voice says from somewhere beyond my headphones, “you might want to take a small step forward.” That’s because I’m not in Maui at all. I’m 2,500 miles east of it, actually, in the Los Angeles offices of visual-effects firm Framestore. The company’s invited me to check out the latest build of the Teleporter, a new virtual-reality experience from Marriott Hotels. We’re a week or so away from the official Sept. 18 unveiling, though, so while the team is scrambling to apply that final layer of polish, there are still some minor issues to work out, like precisely calibrating the camera that tracks my position. Thankfully, this isn’t Framestore’s first time at the VR dance. Earlier this year, the company engineered Ascend the Wall, a Game of Thrones experience that let you ascend the fantasy saga’s mighty Wall; now, the company is leveraging its experience and expertise to blur the lines between CGI and video, and create one of the first premium VR applications outside of gaming and entertainment. (via The Future of Travel Has Arrived: Virtual-Reality Beach Vacations | WIRED)

What Is the Universe? Real Physics Has Some Mind-Bending Answers
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Science says the universe could be a hologram, a computer program, a black hole or a bubble—and there are ways to check
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The questions are as big as the universe and (almost) as old as time: Where did I come from, and why am I here? That may sound like a query for a philosopher, but if you crave a more scientific response, try asking a cosmologist. This branch of physics is hard at work trying to decode the nature of reality by matching mathematical theories with a bevy of evidence. Today most cosmologists think that the universe was created during the big bang about 13.8 billion years ago, and it is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. The cosmos is woven into a fabric we call space-time, which is embroidered with a cosmic web of brilliant galaxies and invisible dark matter. It sounds a little strange, but piles of pictures, experimental data and models compiled over decades can back up this description. And as new information gets added to the picture, cosmologists are considering even wilder ways to describe the universe—including some outlandish proposals that are nevertheless rooted in solid science:

The universe is a hologram

Look at a standard hologram, printed on a 2D surface, and you’ll see a 3D projection of the image. Decrease the size of the individual dots that make up the image, and the hologram gets sharper. In the 1990s, physicists realized that something like this could be happening with our universe.

Classical physics describes the fabric of space-time as a four-dimensional structure, with three dimensions of space and one of time. Einstein’s theory of general relativity says that, at its most basic level, this fabric should be smooth and continuous. But that was before quantum mechanics leapt onto the scene. While relativity is great at describing the universe on visible scales, quantum physics tells us all about the way things work on the level of atoms and subatomic particles. According to quantum theories, if you examine the fabric of space-time close enough, it should be made of teeny-tiny grains of information, each a hundred billion billion times smaller than a proton.

Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind and Nobel prize winner Gerard ‘t Hooft have each presented calculations showing what happens when you try to combine quantum and relativistic descriptions of space-time. They found that, mathematically speaking, the fabric should be a 2D surface, and the grains should act like the dots in a vast cosmic image, defining the “resolution” of our 3D universe. Quantum mechanics also tells us that these grains should experience random jitters that might occasionally blur the projection and thus be detectable. Last month, physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory started collecting data with a highly sensitive arrangement of lasers and mirrors called the Holometer. This instrument is finely tuned to pick up miniscule motion in space-time and reveal whether it is in fact grainy at the smallest scale. The experiment should gather data for at least a year, so we may know soon enough if we’re living in a hologram.

The universe is a computer simulation

Just like the plot of the Matrix, you may be living in a highly advanced computer program and not even know it. Some version of this thinking has been debated since long before Keanu uttered his first “whoa”. Plato wondered if the world as we perceive it is an illusion, and modern mathematicians grapple with the reason math is universal—why is it that no matter when or where you look, 2 + 2 must always equal 4? Maybe because that is a fundamental part of the way the universe was coded.

In 2012, physicists at the University of Washington in Seattle said that if we do live in a digital simulation, there might be a way to find out. Standard computer models are based on a 3D grid, and sometimes the grid itself generates specific anomalies in the data. If the universe is a vast grid, the motions and distributions of high-energy particles called cosmic rays may reveal similar anomalies—a glitch in the Matrix—and give us a peek at the grid’s structure. A 2013 paper by MIT engineer Seth Lloyd builds the case for an intriguing spin on the concept: If space-time is made of quantum bits, the universe must be one giant quantum computer. Of course, both notions raise a troubling quandary: If the universe is a computer program, who or what wrote the code?

(via What Is the Universe? Real Physics Has Some Mind-Bending Answers | Science | Smithsonian)

Diversity is not only about bringing different perspectives to the table. Simply adding social diversity to a group makes people believe that differences of perspective might exist among them and that belief makes people change their behavior. Members of a homogeneous group rest somewhat assured that they will agree with one another; that they will understand one another’s perspectives and beliefs; that they will be able to easily come to a consensus. But when members of a group notice that they are socially different from one another, they change their expectations. They anticipate differences of opinion and perspective. They assume they will need to work harder to come to a consensus. This logic helps to explain both the upside and the downside of social diversity: people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter - Scientific American

The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of informational diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives. This makes obvious sense when we talk about diversity of disciplinary backgrounds—think again of the interdisciplinary team building a car. The same logic applies to social diversity. People who are different from one another in race, gender and other dimensions bring unique information and experiences to bear on the task at hand. A male and a female engineer might have perspectives as different from one another as an engineer and a physicist—and that is a good thing.

How Diversity Makes Us Smarter - Scientific American
This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex - Oxytricha trifallax lives in ponds all over the world. Under an electron microscope it looks like a football adorned with tassels. The tiny fringes are the cilia it uses to move around and gobble up algae. What makes Oxytricha unusual, however, is the crazy things it does with its DNA. Unlike humans and most other organisms on Earth, Oxytricha doesn’t have sex to increase its numbers. It has sex to reinvent itself. When its food is plentiful, Oxytricha reproduces by making imperfect clones of itself, much like a new plant can grow from a cutting. “If they’re well fed, they won’t mate,” said Laura Landweber, a molecular biologist at Princeton University and lead author of a recent study on Oxytricha genetics. But when Oxytricha gets hungry or stressed, it goes looking for sex. When two cells come together (as in the image above), the ultimate result is: two cells. “They’ve perfected the art of sex without reproduction,” Landweber said. The exterior of the two cells remains, but each cell swaps half of its genome with the other. “They’re entering into this pact where each one is going to be 50 percent transformed,” Landweber said. “They emerge with a rejuvenated genome.” In size, Oxytricha’s genome is roughly comparable to ours. It has about 18,500 genes, compared to 20,000 or so for humans. But that’s one of the few things we have in common with this pond-dwelling protist. Unlike the cells of plants and animals (fungi too, for that matter), an Oxytricha cell has at least two nuclei. “You can see them under the microscope if you stain for DNA,” Landweber said. One nucleus contains a working copy of the genome—all the DNA it uses to make the RNA and proteins essential for everyday life. Last year, Landweber’s team discovered that the DNA in Oxytricha’s working nucleus is partitioned into approximately 16,000 “nanochromosomes,” most containing just a single gene. It’s a staggering number—most common plants and animals have somewhere between a dozen and a hundred chromosomes (we humans have 23 pairs). (via This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex | WIRED)


This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex
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Oxytricha trifallax lives in ponds all over the world. Under an electron microscope it looks like a football adorned with tassels. The tiny fringes are the cilia it uses to move around and gobble up algae. What makes Oxytricha unusual, however, is the crazy things it does with its DNA. Unlike humans and most other organisms on Earth, Oxytricha doesn’t have sex to increase its numbers. It has sex to reinvent itself. When its food is plentiful, Oxytricha reproduces by making imperfect clones of itself, much like a new plant can grow from a cutting. “If they’re well fed, they won’t mate,” said Laura Landweber, a molecular biologist at Princeton University and lead author of a recent study on Oxytricha genetics. But when Oxytricha gets hungry or stressed, it goes looking for sex. When two cells come together (as in the image above), the ultimate result is: two cells. “They’ve perfected the art of sex without reproduction,” Landweber said. The exterior of the two cells remains, but each cell swaps half of its genome with the other. “They’re entering into this pact where each one is going to be 50 percent transformed,” Landweber said. “They emerge with a rejuvenated genome.” In size, Oxytricha’s genome is roughly comparable to ours. It has about 18,500 genes, compared to 20,000 or so for humans. But that’s one of the few things we have in common with this pond-dwelling protist. Unlike the cells of plants and animals (fungi too, for that matter), an Oxytricha cell has at least two nuclei. “You can see them under the microscope if you stain for DNA,” Landweber said. One nucleus contains a working copy of the genome—all the DNA it uses to make the RNA and proteins essential for everyday life. Last year, Landweber’s team discovered that the DNA in Oxytricha’s working nucleus is partitioned into approximately 16,000 “nanochromosomes,” most containing just a single gene. It’s a staggering number—most common plants and animals have somewhere between a dozen and a hundred chromosomes (we humans have 23 pairs). (via This Bizarre Organism Builds Itself a New Genome Every Time It Has Sex | WIRED)