Science Channel - InSCIder

Technology

20 Jan

Scientists Report Evidence for "Planet X," the New Ninth Planet Far Beyond Pluto

In a paper just published in The Astronomical Journal today, two CalTech scientists report compelling circumstantial evidence for the existence of “Planet X.” The mysterious ninth planet. Dr. Michael E. Brown and Dr. Konstantin Batygin base their evidence on extensive computer modeling focusing on the far reaches of the solar system, beyond Pluto.

The tip off comes in the form of six objects observed to be in some kind of orbital cluster. While they have wildly varying elliptical orbits, they all loop and tilt in the same direction. This kind of orbital tracking has been the tip of for the existence of other planets before. In fact, the orbit of Netpune predicted the existence of Uranus. Scientists put the odds of this type of orbital cluster happening naturally at a 1 in 14,000 to 15,000.

It is believed this ninth planet would be somewhere near the size of Neptune and somewhere around 10 times the mass of our Earth. That would dwarf poor Pluto.

The mindblowing aspect of Planet X is its distance. It would be somewhere around 20 billion miles from the sun at its closest, and in its farthest point it would be 100 billion miles. To give you context, Pluto is closest to the sun at 4.6 billion miles. With these kind of numbers it is estimated it would take an astounding 10,000 to 20,000 years to complete just ONE orbit around the sun.

Keep in mind this evidence is circumstantial, but strong. The scientists haven’t actually SEEN the ninth planet yet, but Brown and Batygin believe it could be spotted by telescope in the next five years.

No matter what happens in the next five years, we’ll still always hold a place in our hearts for Pluto. Explore these videos which explain the orbital cluster and show an animation of "Planet X."

 

 

 

7 Jan

The Turntable Is Back. But Why?

In a venue where everything is new, something old school is making a statement at CES. The classic turntable is back, but with high end and functional tweaks for the modern world.

We all know someone who has their crate of vinyl records from days gone by. We also know those musicians who are beginning to release on vinyl again, looking to embrace the difference in sound quality. That’s why Sony and Technics both have turntables on display at CES 2016.

Get the story on Sony’s PS-HX500 turntable, which in addition to improvements in the arm and vibration control has the hugely useful advantage of not only being “analog,” also has a USB which captures the sound quality of your beloved vinyl with high res output allowing you to upload your music to your modern devices. That’s pretty cool, so join us waiting on the release date!

 

The other turntable entry at CES is the return of the Panasonic turntable. Their Technics SL-1200GAE, is the modern version of the original Technics 1200 from way back in 1972.

The hook here is the Technics turntables have been preferred by professional DJs for their sound output and control. When they went out of production in 2010 is caused a huge outcry from audiophiles, so you can imagine the much enhanced, and limited-edition 2016 models are made to crush it with vibration control and more.

The Verge has a great review of what Technics is bringing to the party.

6 Jan

This TV Rolls Up and Fits in Your Closet

One of the first things that has caught people’s eye at CES is LG’s OLED TV that is little more than a flat screen you can roll up like a piece of paper while still maintaining a high quality picture. The company debuted an 18” prototype they are letting people get hands-on with to show the promise of this ultra-thin TV.

While we probably won’t see the TV on shelves for a few years or so, LG has gotten far enough in development that we can see it work and they’re already thinking about bigger screen versions.

Why a roll up TV? The company talks about it being an advance in storage, where you roll it up and stow it in a closet. We can totally see this as a benefit for those living in big-city, tiny apartments.

We’ve been monitoring the chatter around the roll up LG OLED, and it’s also worth noting that gamers and virtual reality fans see the promise of rolling out screens on all their walls and being fully immersed. That’s an interesting prediction!

See the bendy screen in action in this video from BBC News, but don't stop there! LG brought a LOT of products to the show including the 2.57mm thick (think four credit cards stacked together) 4K Smart TVs and UHD models. Fortunately, TechnoBuffalo's Jon Rettinger was on hand to give the detailed wrap up of the LG press conference, covering everything from their TVs, to washing machines and the G Flex 2 Phone.

 

 

5 Jan

What’s Next In Tech? Five CES Predictions

The annual Consumer Electronic Show is officially scheduled to open tomorrow, but of course the big players in new technology have been leaking their latest products to the press to start the “wow factor.” Fortunately, our expert friends at TechnoBuffalo and AndroidAuthority are there on the show floor to capture the news and decipher the gamechangers from the hype.

Their first report gives us five great predictions of categories where we’ll see the most action. From VR to wired cars, TechnoBuffalo will take us up close to what’s trending. We’ll also be taking a look at some of the standouts so watch this space and let us know what YOU think will take off!

Our DNews Minute at 9 will have a wrap up on Friday at 9PM, so you’ll be covered from start to finish so update your calendars!

 

15 Oct

What’s So Important About Being Awe-Struck?

We’ve all the heart pounding moment. Maybe it is from a cloud formation or water spout in the ocean you’ve never seen before, hearing an astronaut tell a story of near death, seeing your child be born, or perhaps it’s show on how the universe came into being. It’s that mind-blowing, “wow” moment where you are awe-struck.

You may not think of it this way, but awe is actually an emotion. Many in science and psychology didn’t think much about it until studies were done about 10 Years ago to find out what it really meant to be awestruck and whether it was important to us as a part of our other range of emotions.

What exactly IS awe? According to researchers, awe is having a feeling you’ve seen, heard, or met someone or something much larger than your everyday experience. It stops you and makes you think. With it goes seems to go the sense of needing to pay it forward and tell someone about it. To spread the knowledge or vision gained.

This insight comes from psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt decided to try and decipher the science of awe in 2003. After asking people to make a face describing awe, it was eyes wide open and mouth dropped. It seems awe is not funny or smile producing. It’s something serious and can be triggered by seeing something positive or negative, but the one result is this emotion makes you think when you experience it and want to discuss it with others in an attempt to understand or rationalize what you’ve experienced.

Other researchers noted it’s also not necessarily a “comfortable” emotion because you are processing and thinking about something you’ve never seen or heard before and you don’t necessarily know the the outcome. Is awe the recognition of the unknown?

Another researcher, Melanie Rudd, assistant professor of the University of Houston found people described it as “timeless.” When experiencing awe time seems to stand still or not exist at all reported study subjects.<< cont. below>>

 

So we know awe is an emotion tied to thought, understanding and needing to understand and share something we don’t understand. A wow moment can be beautiful or terrifying, like seeing an eclipse for the first time, or a tornado starting to form. What purpose could being stopped in our tracks possibly serve?

The researchers studying awe came up with two evolutionary explanations. If you are awe-struck you may pause to think about danger, cause, and the best possible reaction. From an evolutionary level being awed and cautious may have saved us from life or death situations, allowing humankind to survive and evolve, gathering knowledge along the way.

The other explanation is the need to explain the awe inspiring experience and to involve others. In other words, at a basic level it is a way of pulling a group together to understand a phenomenon. It could be defensive and for self preservation as spreading the word about a giant tornado formation might be. Or, it could be the twinge of curiosity about something and the desire to gain knowledge for others – such as studying the movement of the heavens to define time.

Whether awe causes us to be cautious or curious, the primal outcome is the same. Being awe-struck helps us come together and continue to evolve as a species.

If the basic outcome of awe is coming together, researchers such as Rudd and Keltner continue to study how this shapes our every day behavior. It is linked to every day curiosity, listening to each other and a sense of humility, open-mindedness, and connection.

Awe is something we can see hard enough if we look everyday as well. It doesn’t have to be the large, Earth changing event. It could be visiting a new country, or learning about how something complex is made – we certainly see that in Mike North’s face as he visits the LG TV factory in Korea and gets a lesson in the new OLED technology. His curiosity for “How does this work??” is paid forward to us as he dives into questioning the LG Team.

We get “wow, so that’s how it works!” moments of learning why an OLED TV can deliver a “true black.” This new category of televisions use LEDs in them to create the true definition by being able to turning off the light in the pixels that don’t need them. It’s the absence of light, not a dimming or projection of black that makes the difference. Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 3.03.58 PM

Seeing how thin and flexible they are is also amazing. Doc North can actually bend the screen with his hands! To think we’ve come from giant consoles using cathode tubes, to wafer-thin, see-through screens is a pretty awe-inspiring example in the evolution of technology.

LG OLED TVs have been called “perfect” for gamers and movie buffs. Why? It gets back to the awe thing. By being able to play a game that renders the virtual world with such realism and by showing movies with the beautiful, colorful pictures the directors could see in their mind is incredible. You want to play with your buddies and you want to gather your friends to enjoy a brilliant movie so you can all leave with open mouths at whatever your experience of choice was. Far from isolating us like some would claim about new technology, this one actually brings people together.

What does all this prove? That awe is an emotion that can be generated by many things. It depends on the person whether it’s a rainbow or experiencing the vastness of a modern factory. What remains the same is that we all have that twinge that stops us in our tracks, that makes us think, and perhaps build on what has excited us.

It is awe that may spur us to inhabit the Moon or Mars, and combined with curiosity it is an emotion researchers are proving should be respected and nurtured.

Enjoy some other moments of awe:

The History of Television

Ten TV Milestones

29 Sep

Mars Mystery Solved: A Special Report

Tonight at 9p EST, Science Channel will be airing a special segment, including post-analysis from the confirmation there is liquid water on Mars. Mars: A Special Report discussing how they made the discovery and what it means for future Mars exploration.

I can’t wait to hear what the #NASA experts have to say. After viewing the NASA press conference and Q&A yesterday, it seems like at a basic level the mission is to keep moving forward and exploring just what liquid water on Mars means. In short, the discovery opens up more questions than there are answers.

The 900 lb. gorilla of a question in the room, on our website, and on our social media pages is: if there is water, is there life?

BlueMarsAliens. It seems to always comes back to that concept for many of us. My parents read comics about canals on Mars being made by a powerful civilization. I’m of the generation that has seen Hubble open up the vastness of the universe where the sheer odds point to the fact there must be some kind of life out there. Now scientists have done studies that show microbial life doesn’t always have to have oxygen and water to live. Still, if you’ve got water you are likely one step closer to finding something that could be defined as life.

That’s what had the scientists so excited about the future. Now they have been able to secure enough information to confirm the liquid water, they can focus on its composition, its activity, and how we might use it on future missions. There are just so many things to find out about our own life and planet as we start understanding Mars more. There are also new hopes of colonizing the planet in a different way than we might have before. Of course, even many scientists whoooped over the possibility of finding new life - even microbes to start!

I’m going to pump the brakes on speculating about the future for a minute and go back to the mystery and beauty of what we have just found out simply about the topography and nature of Mars.

They finally understand these dark streaks – called recurring slope lineae (RSL) – as being indicators of liquid water that drip down the sides of craters and slopes. This is something scientists had begun to observe and discuss for a few years with data from the Phoenix Lander and pictures from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showing the RSL over various sites.

NASA_Mars_3.jpg

Add the Curiosity Rover into the mix and you have the perfect scientific storm for confirmation of liquid water. As the pictures got clearer, and the Curiosity Rover could take soil samples the story started to take shape. The NASA team mineral mapped the site from the MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM). This data revealed hydrated salts and that brings us to the press conference yesterday and the beautiful photos we have been seeing.

So for all of you who in our forums who have said we’ve known about water on Mars for years, you are right in some ways. We HAVE known about ancient frozen water – not liquid. It is also true NASA has also been studying this current phenomenon since 2010. The announcement was not held for any other reason than it is only now when the perfect mix of technology and research allowed the scientists to put the pieces together. They like being right. They're funny like that.

As I saw how the pieces came together for them I took a moment to look out my window into the sky. I am so incredibly proud of NASA and the science community. The collective work of hundreds of people (likely a lot more) went into to this discovery and a few of the others I picked up yesterday. This is the information that will one day allow the next generation to explore Mars and beyond.

  • There is a water cycle on Mars; it doesn’t rain but it does snow
  • Mars has seasons, just like Earth. The RSL change dependent on the seasons, which was another clue.
  • The water probably pretty shallow more like trickles and drips rather than rolling streams – but we don’t know that didn’t happen in the past or what is happening under the surface.

That's what wowed little old me; what wowed you?

As you'd expect, we were all smiles here at Science Channel yesterday during the live broadcast because we loved seeing the scientists be able to share this breakthrough, and we loved being a part of sharing it. We can't resist sharing the faces of of those who produce such exciting live events and those who stand watch in our broadcast center to make sure everything is beautiful on our air!   Image1

We also love being able to bring you the update at 9P, will explain more about how they found the water, why is is so important to the future, what are they going to do next?

It’s also exciting we could share this experience with our colleagues around the globe. We have video from our colleagues at Discovery News. We’ve seen people in our worldwide divisions talk about it on social media. Here are a few posts for you to enjoy, and we hope to see you for a night of Mars programming, with our special update at 9P.

Discovery News Video

Discovery Networks International:

Discovery Science France:

Announcement

Reveal

Discovery Channel Turkey:

Photos

Discovery Channel South Africa: Photos

Discovery Channel Arabia: Photos

 

26 Sep

Evolving Technology and the Art of Being Human

Mark Burstiner at TechnoBuffalo is always getting his hands on the latest and greatest tech stuff. Whether it’s the latest smartphone or TV, he examines every aspect of a product and fills us in on what puts them at the cutting edge. In the video below, gets up close with the new LG OLED TV and explains what the technology means both on phones and on the new smart TV from LG. 

A short way of describing the difference is the OLED TVs do not require the backlighting that LCD panels do. The “organic light emitting diodes” are so efficient they are only activated when they need to be; when not in use they dim or turn themselves off. What that means for you and me is the black is a true black, and when you have that you have a picture with amazing contrast and clarity.

When I (Science Channel's Geek in Residence) first saw it my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. I couldn’t look away when I saw scenes where stars and galaxies popped. That got me to thinking, if I can’t look away, it’s likely others will have the same reaction and will be glued to this new TV.

  

Being the science geek I am, I remembered the debate that has been raging for a few years now. It’s about the sociology around adopting new technology; the root of the debate is the question of dehumanization.

Will we become so tethered to our devices and technology, that we will become less sociable and less personally invested in each other and our communities? As we stare at our screens – whether it’s our phones or our TV’s, will we no longer be able to relate to each other in real life? Will our only connections be in the virtual world – and can you really call those human relationships?

It almost goes without saying there are many people on the other side of the debate over the latest technology in phones, devices, and TVs. Rather than being the death of human interaction, they argue the new social platforms that develop with technology takes our connection to others to another level. It’s easier to keep up with people, be a part of shared world experiences like watching and tweeting the World Cup, or finding relevant communities and causes that drive us to action in real life.

It’s an interesting question, so I set out to find some answers. What I found were observations and studies that had numbers to back up BOTH sides of the debate.

Not surprisingly I’m not the only one stymied by the lack of clarity. In July 2015, The Wall Street Journal ran an article, “Is Technology Making People Less Sociable?” They had researchers from both sides make their case for the growth of technology and its effect on our relationships.

In a widely circulated, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “Is technology making people less sociable?” professors Dr. Larry Rosen and Dr. Keith Hampton argue the pros and cons of technology and its effect on our relationships.

In the ‘cons’ corner, Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University who says, “Technology is distracting us from our real world relationships.” Rosen argues there is a big difference between connecting or checking in with someone on social media than there is an actually communicating face to face. 

Backing that up, Dr. Rosen pointed to a study they conducted, which showed even though we can communicate emotions in the virtual world, it’s just a virtual sentiment. The study showed offering empathy online “is only one-sixth as effective in making the recipient feel socially supported compared with that empathy which was proffered in the real world. A hug feels six times more supportive than an emoji.”

In the ‘pros’ corner. Dr. Keith Hampton, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, worked with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project in 2011. Their study indicated we are not losing our ability to truly communicate and share with each other it’s just that we are doing it differently as a natural adaptation to rapidly growing technology.  Hacking-the-universe-homepage

The Life Project found that people who used Facebook regularly throughout the day were 43% more likely than other Internet users to trust others and 9% said they had close relationships with others on Facebook. 43% said they would be more likely to vote.

The ability for technology to get us talking and connecting, also seems to have the long tail effect of encouraging us to take action, which is pretty amazing.

The Pew Center followed up with another study in July 2015, which addressed the gaming aspects of online social interaction. The research found that 83% of teen gamers played with others in person. 75% also played with others online. That indicates these heavy technology consumers don’t feel alone or isolated at all.

Plus it’s not just gaming technology that pulls people together. The growth of technology and social platforms has fundamentally changed the way we receive our news and information, and what we do with it. 

People can tweet or take video of a random event and it could become worldwide news. Anyone can stream an event live and we can talk to them in real time about what’s happening on the other side of the world. In doing so it could be said we become part of a group making history, via an online conversation.

Many would argue our being able to use our technology to become part of world events is what helps us actually become more human.

A good example is the Syrian Refugee Crisis. We watch footage on TV of the desperate people with nowhere to go on the news as we eat our breakfast. Or while sitting on the bus on the way to work you get an email on your phone from a friend who has sent another video with a link on how to help. At work, you head to a news website which has additional stories about the crisis, curated by a human behind the scenes who knows it’s a trending topic. You read about a few charities and reach out to one of your social media groups to confirm they do good work. Then you donate through an app or hashtag.

At the end of the day however, looking strictly at the research, it becomes a he said/she said story. Looking just at the science we can only say that each side has its numbers and studies that are very real for those who participated. 

Until the official journal is called for and published, one can honestly to come to the conclusion that technology is taking our attention away from humanity and making us less sociable. What we can say is it likely a question of perspective.

We keep creating new technology and we use it in myriad of different ways. In the end, the choice of how to engage with new platforms and new devices is up to the individual and likely how they interact their peer group, and their influencers.  

You know what? Sometimes it’s ok to not have a definitive answer to a complex question like whether a new phone or TV will make you less sociable. If you want to watch your OLED with some friends because the football game looks amazing on it, that’s fine. If you just want to use your smartphone to check in on your parents, that’s fine too. You don't have to live tweet the game just because you can, nor do you need to insist your parents get Skype. Trust me.

In my humble opinion, it’s having the ability to make a choice on how we use our technology that defines us a human and how we choose to socialize in the first place.

For me, my choice is to keep leaning in to new technology and learning everything I can about it. I’ve found friends, support groups, and entertainment I would never have expected to find even five years ago.

So when I first saw the new LG OLED, and Mark was remarking it was a gamer's dream, my very first thought was it would be amazing to binge watch The West Wing on it with a few friends.

Mark and I are two people who by the nature of our jobs use a lot of technology every day, but when we thought about what we'd do with a new TV you got two different ideas. Even if you have two people on the same side of the debate that technology makes us more social, you still see the human side come out as we made choices.

Fortunately, the new LG OLED does what new technology should do best, and delivers for many different desires.

Sources:

Business Insider

Digital Trends

The New York Times

Pew Institute

Smithsonian Magazine

The Wall Street Journal

Wired

 

 

 

30 Jul

Secret Space Escapes

What’s it like to leave earth to explore the unknown? How does it feel to be in space? What happens when you’re in space and something goes terribly wrong? Science Channel’s SECRET SPACE ESCAPES reveals terrifying accidents, fights for survival, and stories of close calls and near misses by the astronauts who survived them. This all-new series offers chilling accounts of the challenges of space exploration as told only by the explorers who lived them and the men and women in mission control who helped each team avert disaster. SECRET SPACE ESCAPES premieres on Science Channel Nov. 10 at 10 PM.

Recounting missions as recent as 2013, SECRET SPACE ESCAPES will draw viewers into the emotional experience of space exploration. Through first-hand accounts by the astronauts who relied upon science, training, colleagues on earth and, most importantly, their wits, in order to survive launches, space walks, landings, collisions, outages and other dangerous situations that occurred during their missions.  This is the first time that these near-disasters-turned-triumphs have been told solely from the point of view of the men and women who problem-solved each event – there is no narration in the series, and the stories unfold solely in the words of the people who were there. S98e5276

“The personal stories of the astronauts in SECRET SPACE ESCAPES have never been seen like this before on television,” said Rita Mullin, General Manager of Science Channel.   “These men and women have pushed space exploration forward with each mission, and their stories will haunt, entertain, educate and inspire.”

Featuring rare and never before seen footage, the astronauts and stories featured in SECRET SPACE ESCAPES will include:

  • Robert Curbeam and Thomas Jones trained for years to install a new American module on the International Space Station (ISS). During their long-anticipated spacewalk, a valve malfunctions and toxic ammonia flakes from the cooling system pour all over Curbeam. He struggles desperately to stop the leak before the vital cooling system fails. Covered like a snowman with ammonia flakes, Curbeam cannot risk re-entering the spacecraft, where the toxic ammonia could sicken or blind the crew. His only option is to stay outside, zooming at 17,000 miles per hour, 225 miles above the earth, and wait for the sun to melt away the contaminants.
  • When a new solar panel on the ISS tears, Scott Parazynski ventures out on a 90-foot arm to make improvised repairs. The solar panels carry enough voltage to fry Dr. Parazynski in his oxygen-filled suit -- but if he fails in his task, the ISS is doomed.
  • In 1997, Mike Foale is on an extended mission aboard the Russian Mir space station when it is struck by a resupply vessel. The station springs a leak, losing power rapidly and launching into an out of control spin. Under extreme pressure, Foale makes an ad hoc calculation using the position of the stars to determine the speed and direction of the spin. He and his Russian colleagues Vasily Tsibliyev and Aleksandr “Sasha” Lazutkin are able to use the rockets inside the attached Soyuz capsule to stop the roll, save the ship -- and their lives.
  • Hoot Gibson and Mike Mullane are on the second shuttle to launch after the Challenger disaster. It’s 1986 and STS-27 is a classified mission to launch a spy satellite. During liftoff, a video of the launch reveals a fragment of the booster rocket’s insulation breaking off and striking the underbelly of the space shuttle, Atlantis, damaging many of the protective heat shield tiles that leave parts of the shuttle exposed to 5,000 degree heat upon re-entry. Gibson thinks he’s going to die and Mullane suspects they may be facing certain disaster. They have no alternatives – there are no stations to dock to, there is no time to send another Shuttle to aid them and no way to conduct a spacewalk to fix the issue. Miraculously, even with vulnerable unshielded spots on her, Atlantis withstands the heat of reentry because a steel plate just happens to protect the aluminum hull where it is most exposed.
  • In 1969, the Soyuz 5 capsule tumbles to earth in a fireball because a malfunction does not jettison an extra equipment module. It’s like a car dragging a U-Haul trailer. When the capsule finally rights itself and the extra modules are jettisoned, its parachutes only partially deploy and the rockets that aid a soft landing barely function. Cosmonaut Boris Volynov lands way off target. Covered in blood from his broken teeth sustained in the crash landing, he manages to climb out of the wreckage and find his way to the door of a very surprised peasant.

SECRET SPACE ESCAPES is produced for Science Channel by ITV Studios America where Vincent Kralyevich and Patrice Andrews serve as executive producers. For Science Channel Neil Laird and Rocky Collins serve as executive producers and Lindsey Foster Blumberg is producer. Bernadette McDaid is vice president of production for Science Channel.

23 Jun

The Very Real Project To Upload A Human Brain

Understanding how our brain works is the holy grail of neuroscience. Our brains are estimated to be made of 85 to 100 billion neurons with electrochemical signals jumping between them, creating thought, decisions, bodily functions, and the essence of who we are. If we understand how these neurons and synapses operate then we could cure diseases, prolong our health and memory, and maybe – just maybe – we could copy those patterns to a computer or to host bodies.

The creation of a “substrate independent minds” sounds like science fiction or the subject of fringe science. The fact is, the project to upload a human mind to a computer is happening right now with neuroscientist Randal Koene as a chief advocate.

For Koene, the idea is very simple. If you map the brain and identify the patterns by which the neurons fire, you could effectively copy them as basic binary computer code. If you do this correctly you would copy those unique synapses that make up our emotions, skills, and personalities. Koene believes that if all the basic functions of the brain are copied and the complexities of how the neurons communicate are rendered accurately, then the computerized version of your brain would be self-aware.

Are you freaked out? Do you have questions? Of course you do.

This is a big idea that raises a lot of unknowns. While something may be possible, it doesn’t mean that we know exactly how it will work. That’s much like the story in the movie Self/Less – just because we could upload our brains to another, younger body doesn’t mean we know what would happen.

  

Koene has theorized that we could potentially live in host bodies – human, or even human ones that our computerized brains have adapted to different living environments. Koene also thinks we could simply live in a digital environment much like the “Cloud.” While we know how our brains react to each other as humans, we don’t know how our brains would act towards each other in bodies we don’t recognize now or even just as a digital brain occupying space in the Cloud. Our synapses for memories and behavior would probably have to evolve.

This evolution or expansion of our consciousness is exactly why Randal Koene believes uploading the human brain is a good thing. As a species we need to find a way to evolve to meet the rapidly changing future and infrastructure around us, and this could be the answer. After all, many prominent minds like Stephen Hawking haven’t been shy about stating they believe the very artificial intelligence and robots we’ve created will one day evolve themselves beyond our intelligence and eventually take over. Suddenly it doesn’t sound like science fiction any more, but perhaps a necessity to keep our species – or at least the intelligence and essence of it alive.

In fact, it isn’t science fiction it’s science fact that Koene’s research and those of others’ are real. There is an open source movement called “The Open Worm Project” that has already created a virtual brain of a roundworm and uploaded it into a Lego robot. YOU can even participate in refining that project to begin to get comfortable with creating virtual intelligence.

There is also the research being done at USC and Wake Forest where in 2011 scientists created the world’s first artificial neural implant which works in a rat. They targeted the rat’s hippocampus where neurons and electrical signals create the memory to perform tasks. The scientists copied the patterns of the signals and placed them on a chip. Next, they removed the rat’s hippocampus and the rat couldn’t do the tasks. Adding in the chip? The memory to complete tasks was restored.

It’s cutting edge science, but no longer science considered on the fringes. In 2013 the EU and US announced initiatives to boost the field of brain research and hopefully move the goals into the mainstream.

We’ve come a long way, but we all know worm and rat brains are far from the beautiful, complex machine that is the human brain. Koene’s continued work on mapping the brain with the goal of creating a “whole brain emulation” could take years and years to complete. So each neural pathway Koene and other neuroscientists explore is critical in achieving a full understanding of the brain and how to replicate it.

That time may be just what we need to wrap our minds around the enormous consequences of creating our own virtual intelligence means. How long would we be able to live? Would we redefine what it means to be human by programming out undesirable traits? Would we be able to have relationships?

In short, would the rush of being “immortal” be replaced by a reality that brings on more questions than answers? One can theorize, but we can’t yet answer that question. As we find out in the movie Self/Less, it will likely be a very personal question.

Would YOU upload your brain? Let us know!

Resources:

Vice

Pop-Sci

Randal Koene

Carboncopies.org

22 Jun

Hydrogen Fuel Provides Clean Energy Promise

The use of hydrogen as a clean energy source for the future is the subject of much R&D these days. We’ve long since figured out that hydrogen is an element that produces a lot of energy – the key is finding out how to harness it and store it in an efficient fashion so we can use if for everyday purposes like powering our cars or items in the home.

One of the cleanest ways to harness hydrogen is to separate it from a hydrogen heavy resource like water. In a process called electrolysis, an electrical current separates the hydrogen from the oxygen molecules in water. Our colleagues over at TestTube have created this awesome video explaining the process in detail.

 

So it’s relatively easy to harvest the hydrogen, the problem is how do you store it? The reason hydrogen holds so much hope as a fuel source is that it has a high mass energy density – that means it is powerful stuff compared to other fuels. The problem is hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which means it generally takes up a LOT of space to store.

In the past we’ve been able to deal with that given it’s large-scale industrial applications. In fact, NASA used it in the Space Shuttle programs. They used liquid hydrogen (produced when the hydrogen is super cooled) to power those massive rockets to get the Shuttle into space. In that case size wasn’t a barrier.

The key to using hydrogen for slightly less dramatic uses than launching rockets is finding that way to store it in fuel cells. NASA used early versions of hydrogen fuel cells on the Shuttle to power their electrical systems. The only by-product is water, which conveniently the astronauts used to drink.

The system has been improved upon so much over time that NASA is researching how to use it to power spacecraft to explore our solar system. On the smaller, more personal scale we now have cars like the Toyota Mirai that efficiently and cleanly use hydrogen fuel cells. The cars  fill up with water, and utilize it's own air in-take to power the process of electrolysis. The hydrogen is stored in carbon fiber fuel cells and the only footprint it leaves behind is more water.

The Mirai is even more efficient because it combines existing electric car technology where electricity created by the braking mechanism is used to power the electrolysis process that creates the hydrogen.

As this car hits the market, the research on creating the next generation of hydrogen fuel use is underway. Creating new efficiencies in the fuel cells is one area of focus, looking both at what substances can most efficiently aid in the electrolysis process and help store them without corrosion.

One new study from McGill University in Montreal has demonstrated how existing technology of storing hydrogen atoms as hydrocarbons can be driven by ambient solar energy. Going a step further than electrolysis, some current storage applications create hydrocarbons by adding a catalyst chemical that bond with multiple hydrogen molecules. The trick is generating enough energy to “dehydrogenize” the hydrocarbon back into hydrogen to store in the fuel cells that make things go. It’s a process that can take a lot of energy and may be impractical on smaller scales, than say needing to power a rocket.

The researchers have found that plain old sunlight can drive dehydrogenization by using platinum based nanoparticles as the catalyst to pull the hydrocarbons apart without using high energy temperatures.

Some day soon things could be powered on a large scale by the very water and air around us, leaving nothing behind to corrupt the planet. We now have cars that can efficiently create and store hydrogen for clean transportation, and someday soon, huge solar farms could transform and store these high-energy molecules on a large scale to power entire city grids.

That’s a clean energy future we look forward to!

For more information please see our resources:

Alternative Fuels Data Center

Renewable Energy World

Phys.org

Toyota Mirai

 

 

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