The insecure nature of work is a result of decisions by corporations and policymakers.
But this narrative is wrong. The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.
This insight is crucial for anyone concerned about the insecurity and other shortcomings of the gig economy. For it reminds us that far from being an unavoidable consequence of technological progress, the nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. It is not a result of an algorithm; it is a collection of decisions by corporations and policymakers.
Researchers at IIT-H working on narrating historical incidents in digital form
The city’s history is taking a giant digital leap, from fading pages to virtual reality headgears, promising to add dimensions to the experience of “experiencing” heritage.
Researchers at the Design Department of Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad are working on conserving the city’s heritage through virtual reality (VR), giving narration a digital but a life-like feel. Stories being told, at the moment of those from the Qutb Shahi era, aim to teleport one to the time in which the historical incidents occurred.
For poorer people in India and many other countries, a computer engineer has found a way to detect breast cancer without radiation.
He knew that whatever device he designed would have to be usable by community health care workers, the backbone of most developing countries’ health systems. It would also have to be portable and battery operated. And screening would have to affordable and painless.
Using a new ceramic sensor technology developed at Drexel University’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems in Philadelphia to detect subtle variations in breast tissue, Mr. Shah and his colleague Matthew Campisi developed iBreastExam, a battery-operated wireless machine that records variations in breast elasticity. It’s hand-held and allows health care workers to perform breast examinations in five minutes, anywhere. Painless and radiation-free, it provides results just a few minutes after the exam through a mobile app, which also records patients’ data
Amazon’s Plan to Reach 500 Million Indians: Speak Their Language
BANGALORE, India — Only 10 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet most of the country’s e-commerce services have been offered only in English, closing off online shopping to the vast majority of people here.
Now Amazon is aiming to break through that language barrier. The e-commerce giant on Tuesday offered a hearty “namaste” to this country’s half a billion Hindi speakers by making its local website and apps available in India’s most popular language. Users of the India site or app will be able to choose Hindi as their preferred language, much as American users can choose Spanish.
The big picture: From Dubai to the U.S., Tokyo to Moscow, Tel Aviv to Beijing and more, billionaires, privateers and political leaders are vying to land on the Moon, colonize Mars, mine asteroids — and just get off the Earth. "Whatever we have evolved into hundreds and thousands of years from now, we'll look at these decades as when the human race moved off the planet," said Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X-Prize Foundation.
Jeff Hawkins Is Finally Ready to Explain His Brain Research
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — In the global race to build artificial intelligence, it was a missed opportunity.
Jeff Hawkins, a Silicon Valley veteran who spent the last decade exploring the mysteries of the human brain, arranged a meeting with DeepMind, the world’s leading A.I. lab.
Scientists at DeepMind, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, want to build machines that can do anything the brain can do. Mr. Hawkins runs a little company with one goal: figure out how the brain works and then reverse engineer it.
The meeting, set for April at DeepMind’s offices in London, never happened. DeepMind employs hundreds of A.I. researchers along with a team of seasoned neuroscientists. But when Mr. Hawkins chatted with Demis Hassabis, one of the founders of DeepMind, before his visit, they agreed that almost no one at the London lab would understand his work.
Private businesses and rising powers are replacing the cold-war duopoly
Some 4,500 satellites circle Earth, providing communications services and navigational tools, monitoring weather, observing the universe, spying and doing more besides. Getting them there was once the business of the superpowers’ armed forces and space agencies. Now it is mostly done by companies and the governments of developing countries.
The use of drones to make household deliveries has not taken off as quickly as expected. But with operators gaining experience, regulators have begun to relax the rules, especially away from built-up areas. People living in parts of Reykjavik can get restaurant food delivered to their backyards. A drone in Singapore will soon ferry supplies to ships moored offshore. Residents of central Manhattan may have to wait a while longer
Why Doctors Reject Tools That Make Their Jobs Easier
From the thermometer’s invention onward, physicians have feared—incorrectly—that new technology would make their jobs obsolete
I want to tell you about a brouhaha in my field over a “new” medical discipline three hundred years ago. Half my fellow doctors thought it weighed them down and wanted nothing to do with it. The other half celebrated it as a means for medicine to finally become modern, objective, and scientific. The discipline was thermometry, and its controversial tool a glass tube used to measure body temperature called a thermometer.
This all began in 1717, when Daniel Fahrenheit moved to Amsterdam and offered his newest temperature sensor to the Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave.* Boerhaave tried it out and liked it. He proposed using measurements with this device to guide diagnosis and therapy.
A new genetic-engineering technology should be used with care
The extermination that the creatures in Mr Simoni’s lab are designed to take part in is less viscerally gratifying—but far more consequential. The mosquitoes are being fitted with a piece of dna called a gene drive. Unlike the genes introduced into run-of-the-mill genetically modified organisms, gene drives do not just sit still once inserted into a chromosome. They actively spread themselves, thereby reaching more and more of the population with each generation. If their effect is damaging, they could in principle wipe out whole species.
To engineer an extinction is quite a step. But it is not unprecedented. In 1980 Variola, the smallpox virus, was exterminated from the wild. That marked the eradication of a disease which, from 1900 to 1980, killed around 300m people. If gene drives like those being worked on at Imperial and elsewhere were to condemn to a similar fate the mosquitoes that spread malaria, a second of humankind’s great scourges might be consigned to history.
It need not stop with malaria. Gene drives can in principle be used against any creatures which reproduce sexually with short generations and aren’t too rooted to a single spot. The insects that spread leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, dengue fever, chikungunya, trypanosomiasis and Zika could all be potential targets. So could creatures which harm only humankind’s dominion, not people themselves. Biologists at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a gene-drive system for Drosophila suzukii, an Asian fruitfly which, as an invasive species, damages berry and fruit crops in America and Europe. Island Conservation, an international environmental ngo, thinks gene drives could offer a humane and effective way of reversing the damage done by invasive species such as rats and stoats to native ecosystems in New Zealand and Hawaii.
Needless to say, the enthusiasm is not universal. Other environmental groups worry that it will not prove possible to contain gene drives to a single place, and that species seen as invasive in one place might end up decimated in other places where they are blameless, or even beneficial. If drives are engineered into species that play a pivotal but previously unappreciated ecological role, or if they spread from a species of little ecological consequence to a close relative that matters more, they could have damaging and perhaps irreversible effects on ecosystems.
UK mathematician Hannah Fry on the promise and danger of an AI world.
In the introduction to her new book, Hannah Fry points out something interesting about the phrase “Hello World.” It’s never been quite clear, she says, whether the phrase—which is frequently the entire output of a student’s first computer program—is supposed to be attributed to the program, awakening for the first time, or to the programmer, announcing their triumphant first creation.
Perhaps for this reason, “Hello World” calls to mind a dialogue between human and machine, one which has never been more relevant than it is today. Her book, called Hello World, published in September, walks us through a rapidly computerizing world. Fry is both optimistic and excited—along with her Ph.D. students at the University of College, London, she has worked on many algorithms herself—and cautious. In conversation and in her book, she issues a call to arms: We need to make algorithms transparent, regulated, and forgiving of the flawed creatures that converse with them.
I reached her by telephone while she was on a book tour in New York City.
We should be thinking more about how much A.I. has changed our lives already, and the future of human-algorithm collaboration.
When it comes to the future of artificial intelligence, we seem to be stuck in a loop. We tell the same stories about A.I. over and over again: society is destroyed (the “Terminator” movies), the machines emulate and replace us (“Ex Machina”), the machines become gods pulling the strings (“The Matrix”). This is a dangerous way to think about A.I., because the stories we tell influence the decisions we make about how such systems should operate.
None of the three scenarios I just described represents a future in which we would want to live. They are all trajectories in which superintelligent machines simply leave us behind. If we spend all of our time looking over our shoulders for killer robots, that means we are not looking ahead to discern the outcomes we might actually want. A study of A.I. representations in film and television by Christopher Noessel underscores the problem: We have lots of stories about the power and the duplicitous nature of A.I., but almost none exploring what he calls the “Untold A.I.” themes: accountability, effective policy and broad literacy around these technologies.
To thrive in the era of intelligent machines, we need to expand our thinking. Instead of worrying about godlike super-machines, we should tell better stories about all the everyday ways A.I. is already changing the world.
Members of USA Jamat explore frontiers of science and technology
This month, The.Ismaili is focussing on the theme of Science and Technology. Today, we will explore the numerous ways that members of the Jamat in the United States participate in and contribute to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
"....what are the subjects which will be necessary tomorrow? Is the developing world going to continue in this deficit of knowledge? Or are we going to enable it to move forwards in to new areas of knowledge? My conviction is that we have to help these countries move into new areas of knowledge. And therefore, I think of areas such as the space sciences, such as the neurosciences. There are so many new areas of inquiry which, unless we make an effort to share globally, we will continue to have vast populations around the world who will continue in this knowledge deficit."
-Mawlana Hazar Imam, Investiture Ceremony as a Member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, Lisbon, 8 May 2009
Technology promises to make easy things that, by their intrinsic nature, have to be hard.
The story of the wildly exaggerated promises and damaging unintended consequences of technology isn’t exactly a new one. The real marvel is that it constantly seems to surprise us. Why?
Part of the reason is that we tend to forget that technology is only as good as the people who use it. We want it to elevate us; we tend to degrade it. In a better world, Twitter might have been a digital billboard of ideas and conversation ennobling the public square. We’ve turned it into the open cesspool of the American mind. Facebook was supposed to serve as a platform for enhanced human interaction, not a tool for the lonely to burrow more deeply into their own isolation.
It’s also true that Facebook and other Silicon Valley giants have sold themselves not so much as profit-seeking companies but as ideal-pursuing movements. Facebook’s mission is “to make the world more open and connected.” Tesla’s goal is “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Google’s mantra was “Don’t Be Evil,” at least until it quietly dropped the slogan earlier this year.
But the deeper reason that technology so often disappoints and betrays us is that it promises to make easy things that, by their intrinsic nature, have to be hard.
Brain implant lets paralyzed people turn thoughts into text
Participants sent texts, streamed music and browsed the web on unmodified devices
Three people paralyzed from the neck down have been able to use unmodified computer tablets to text friends, browse the internet and stream music, thanks to an electrode array system called BrainGate2. The findings could have a major impact on the lives of those affected by neurologic disease, injury, or limb loss.
The system uses an array of micro-electrodes implanted into the brain which decode, in real time, the neural signals associated with the intention to move a limb. The three people involved in the trial had electrode grids implanted over part of their motor cortex -- the area of the brain that helps control movement -- which picked up neural activity indicating they were thinking about moving a cursor on the screen. Those patterns were then sent to a virtual mouse that was wirelessly paired to the tablet.
Chinese Scientist Claims to Use Crispr to Make First Genetically Edited Babies
The researcher, He Jiankui, offered no evidence or data to back up his assertions. If true, some fear the feat could open the door to “designer babies.”
Ever since scientists created the powerful gene editing technique Crispr, they have braced apprehensively for the day when it would be used to create a genetically altered human being. Many nations banned such work, fearing it could be misused to alter everything from eye color to I.Q.
Now, the moment they feared may have come. On Monday, a scientist in China announced that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies, twin girls who were born this month.
The researcher, He Jiankui, said that he had altered a gene in the embryos, before having them implanted in the mother’s womb, with the goal of making the babies resistant to infection with H.I.V. He has not published the research in any journal and did not share any evidence or data that definitively proved he had done it.
But his previous work is known to many experts in the field, who said — many with alarm — that it was entirely possible he had.
An experiment in China to alter the genomes of embryos in vitro, then implant them in the mother, is a step too far.
Sooner or later it was bound to happen: A rogue scientist in China claims to have edited a gene in two human embryos and implanted them in the mother’s womb, resulting in the birth of genetically altered twin girls. We’re no longer in the realm of science fiction. If true, this hacking of their biological operating instructions, which they will pass on to their children and generations to come, is a dangerous breach of medical ethics and responsible research and must be condemned.
This is not to say that medicine won’t someday employ gene-editing technologies in similar ways. But that time has not arrived. There are still too many risks, too many unknowns, about tinkering with our heritable genetic blueprints.
How do we govern in the age that will begin with the 2020 election?
This Next America will raise a whole web of new intertwined policy, legal, moral, ethical and privacy issues because of changes in technology, demographics, the environment and globalization that are reaching critical mass.
Where do I start? A good place is with 5G — fifth-generation wireless systems. With the two telecom giants Verizon and AT&T now beginning to deploy 5G technology across the country, the metabolism of business, entertainment, education and health care will dramatically accelerate in the Next America, beginning around … 2020.
Getting the most from artificial intelligence and machine learning — like deploying self-driving vehicles — requires quickly transmitting massive amounts of data with very low latency. We will have that capacity in the Next America. With 5G, a Hollywood movie that now takes six or seven minutes to download onto your iPad will take six or seven seconds and microsensors in your shirt will gather intelligence and broadcast vital signs to your doctor.
As AT&T notes in one of its 5G ads, “Think of this as the next frontier in untethering, giving you the ability to take the ultrafast experience you have in your home or business with you virtually anywhere.’’
It could be as revolutionary as the internet.
But it will require all kinds of new regulations to govern applications from self-driving cars to drone delivery systems to robots that will work as security guards and home health aides.
Bots, artificial intelligence and social media algorithms are shaping the fate of humanity at a startling pace. At what point is control lost and the creations take over? How about now?
But it’s not too much of a reach to see Flight 610 as representative of the hinge in history we’ve arrived at — with the bots, the artificial intelligence and the social media algorithms now shaping the fate of humanity at a startling pace.
Like the correction system in the 737, these inventions are designed to make life easier and safer — or at least more profitable for the owners. And they do, for the most part. The overall idea is to outsource certain human functions, the drudgery and things prone to faulty judgment, while retaining master control. The question is: At what point is control lost and the creations take over? How about now?
It’s a Briefcase! It’s a Pizza Box! No, It’s a Mini Satellite
Orbiting instruments are now so small they can be launched by the dozens, and even high school students can build them.
Recently, officials in California announced that the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, had been fully contained. The achievement was made possible through the hard work of firefighters on the ground, with some help from above: a swarm of tiny, orbiting satellites that represent the next phase of the space age.
The satellites are operated by Planet Labs, a company in San Francisco that runs the world’s largest fleet of Earth-observing satellites. Its craft number around 140. All of them carry cameras and telescopes. In size, most rival a loaf of bread.
As a group, the satellites can view the same spot on the ground once or even twice a day. Until now, commercial satellites could observe a location only weekly or monthly, if at all. The quicker pace enables the close monitoring of rapid environmental change, including fires, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes and the effects of such events on urban areas.
“You can’t fix what you can’t see,” said Will Marshall, the company’s chief executive.
Earth’s magnetic field, the basis for modern global navigation systems, is constantly in some state of flux. However, it now seems to be going haywire, pushing the North Pole closer to Siberia, and no one’s sure why.
The field changes as the molten metals surrounding the earth’s solid iron core churn and flow, creating electric currents and a corresponding magnetic field. As a result, the magnetic poles tend to shift slightly as a matter of course.
However, researchers don’t know what’s causing the magnetic field to now move so quickly.
Earth to be battered by ‘dark matter hurricane’ for next million years Earth to be battered by ‘dark matter hurricane’ for next million years
The north magnetic pole sped across the International Date Line last year at a rate of 55 km per year, more than three times as fast as it moved before the mid-1990s. Now located in the Eastern Hemisphere, it’s moving away from Canada and approaching Siberia.
Scientists think a high-speed jet of liquid iron under Canada could be responsible for the pole’s movement, weakening the magnetic field below and allowing Siberia to draw over the pole, Nature reports.
“The location of the north magnetic pole appears to be governed by two large-scale patches of magnetic field, one beneath Canada and one beneath Siberia,” University of Leeds geomagnetist Phil Livermore told a recent American Geophysical Union meeting. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”
In general, the World Magnetic Model (WMM) is updated at five-year intervals to ensure modern navigation keeps up with the changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. It was due to be reconfigured next in 2020, but was so out-of-whack by 2018 that a more urgent update was needed.
The digital age has changed our lives in many parts of the world, inextricably tethering them to the Internet for the simplest to the most sophisticated of tasks. In the first of a new series of articles on how to use digital media safely, Altaf Jiwa outlines the role that the Internet and social media have come to play in our daily lives.
From finding our way to unknown destinations, to finding like-minded people, communities or untapped markets; digital platforms and applications have created a wealth of possibilities and conveniences for many. Google, Amazon, Netflix, Uber — the list goes on and on. While this has in many ways simplified day-to-day life and created great advancement in fields such as education, healthcare, and business, it has not come without a cost. As Jerome Lawrence has said, “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.”
How many of us start and end our days cradling a smartphone? That meal we’re about to eat, a concert or new city, that enviable relationship, some of us document every detail so that we can share it virtually. Experts say the social media ‘Like’ triggers a chemical reaction in the brain resulting in a real, physiological high which is fundamentally the reason we keep going back to it; the more we get it, the more we want it. But being overly connected can cause psychological issues as well, such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and potentially even depression.
Our days can become inundated by frivolous scrolling through endless social media feeds, responding to a constant stream of WhatsApp messages or wishing we were somewhere else, leading other more ‘interesting’ lives. “Don’t believe everything you read on social media,” a friend said to me the other day. It’s true. Many of us are a little guilty of some creative license when it comes to crafting a particular version of ourselves and how we’d like the world to see us. The Internet has also democratised freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean every opinion is worthy of eyeballs. Who remembers the days before the Internet, when you had to pick up the telephone or write a letter to communicate? Now it seems amazing we survived those days (but we did).
In May 2018 I visited Lisbon, Portugal for the first time. Being a regular traveller, I thought there were some helpful tips that I could share with friends who would also be travelling to Lisbon in July for the first time for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration. So on the flight back home to Nairobi I wrote a few pointers and posted them on Facebook. The audience was limited; I had learned the value of privacy settings and the selective sharing of information many years ago, and that you didn’t always want ‘friends’ who may be a mix of close friends, family, acquaintances or business associates to necessarily know everything about you all the time. The morning after my return, my sister read me a few sentences from something she received on WhatsApp from a relative in Canada and asked if I had written it. I had.
Startlingly, it was the very same Facebook post that had somehow found its way from my Facebook feed into a message that was now being circulated on WhatsApp and email around the world. Over the coming weeks, that piece would be sent thousands of times amongst members of the global Jamat, all eager to find out more about planning their visits to Portugal. That’s the power of the digital age. While it can be useful, it can also be a means by which misinformation can spread easily and very fast. Knowing when to hit ‘forward’ or ‘delete’ is an acquired skill.
The Internet has shaken up so many parts of our lives but has also created a lot of collateral damage, especially when it comes to privacy. We often don’t realise the magnitude of our digital footprint, even for the most vigilant. Try Googling yourself — you’ll be surprised at some of the forgotten content you may have posted in the past that turns up in the search results. Some commentators have claimed that companies such as Google and Facebook own endless amounts of data on each of us. This could include your location, gender, age, hobbies, career, interests, relationship status, possible weight, income, where you’ve been, everything you’ve ever searched for (or deleted), every website you’ve ever visited, every Google ad you’ve clicked on, bookmarks, emails, contacts, your Google Drive files, your YouTube viewing history, the photos you’ve taken on your phone, the businesses you’ve bought from, the music you listen to, the pages you’ve shared, and even how many steps you walk in a day.
Even though I have always been an advocate for digital advancement, of late I have begun to feel skeptical about it. How do we take control of our digital lives in a way that does not encroach upon our own humanistic values? Most of us have been willing collaborators in letting technology into our lives and have given companies access to our data, allowing them to sell those insights and earn money from adverts in return for great tools and services.
But we need to strike a balance and be mindful of our own digital hygiene, or at least watch out for the pitfalls. How do we educate our elders to safely assimilate technology into their lives? How do we ensure our youth have the best possible chance at success without getting trapped in a vicious cycle of peer pressure, digital addiction, or unhealthy social influence? How do we safeguard that our children develop emotionally and psychologically, with the right balance of traditional and modern upbringing? These are all questions to which we need to search for answers. How we respond to the challenges of our digital future rests solely in our hands.
Adding new DNA letters make novel proteins possible
One such, a cancer drug, is now in development
The fuzzy specks growing on discs of jelly in Floyd Romesberg’s lab at Scripps Research in La Jolla look much like any other culture of E. coli. But appearances deceive—for the dna of these bacteria is written in an alphabet that has six chemical letters instead of the usual four.
Every other organism on Earth relies on a quartet of genetic bases: a (adenine), c (cytosine), t (thymine) and g (guanine). These fit together in pairs inside a double-stranded dna molecule, a matching t and c, g. But in 2014 Dr Romesberg announced that he had synthesised a new, unnatural, base pair, dubbed x and y, and slipped them into the genome of E. coli as well.
Kept supplied with sufficient quantities of x and y, the new cells faithfully replicated the enhanced dna—and, crucially, their descendants continued to do so, too. Since then, Dr Romesberg and his colleagues have been encouraging their new, “semisynthetic” cells to use the expanded alphabet to make proteins that could not previously have existed, and which might have properties that are both novel and useful. Now they think they have found one. In collaboration with a spin-off firm called Synthorx, they hope to create a less toxic and more effective version of a cancer drug called interleukin-2.
Thankfully, the technology to combat rogue drones is getting better
Clever jamming techniques and improved radar are coming
For something weighing only a few kilograms and costing less than $2,000, even for a sophisticated model, a small consumer drone can cause an awful lot of havoc. On January 22nd flights in and out of Newark airport, near New York, were suspended temporarily after reports of a drone being aloft nearby. On January 8th Heathrow, London’s biggest airport, also shut briefly because of a drone sighting. And in the busy run-up to Christmas London’s second airport, Gatwick, was closed for more than 36 hours after drones were spotted flying near its runway. EasyJet, the biggest operator at Gatwick, said this week that the grounding of flights had cost it £15m ($19m).
Airport incursions are not the only danger posed by drones. A growing number of close drone encounters are being reported by airline pilots. On December 12th a Boeing 737 belonging to Aeromexico managed to land safely at Tijuana after its nose was badly damaged in a collision with what may have been a drone. Elsewhere, drones are being used to smuggle goods across borders, drugs into prisons, to attack military bases with explosives and in assassination attempts, like that which took place last August on Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela.
The authorities are increasingly concerned. Christopher Wray, the director of America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, said recently that the threat to his country from attacks by rogue drones “is steadily escalating”. There are no easy answers to the problem, although it helps to define the nature of the threat. Irresponsible drone pilots might be kept in check by better education, tough penalties and more manufacturers installing features such as “geofencing” in drones’ mapping software, to prevent them straying into restricted areas. But terrorists and their like will not take any notice of rules and regulations, and will hack software restrictions or build their own drones from readily available components to try to defeat countermeasures. To combat rogue drones will therefore require better technology.
Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us to Use Our iPhones Like This
The devices have become our constant companions. This was not the plan.
Smartphones are our constant companions. For many of us, their glowing screens are a ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest “breaking” news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep.
Steve Jobs would not approve.
In 2007, Mr. Jobs took the stage at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco and introduced the world to the iPhone. If you watch the full speech, you’ll be surprised by how he imagined our relationship with this iconic invention, because this vision is so different from the way most of us use these devices now.
In the remarks, after discussing the phone’s interface and hardware, he spends an extended amount of time demonstrating how the device leverages the touch screen before detailing the many ways Apple engineers improved the age-old process of making phone calls. “It’s the best iPod we’ve ever made,” Mr. Jobs exclaims at one point. “The killer app is making calls,” he later adds. Both lines spark thunderous applause. He doesn’t dedicate any significant time to discussing the phone’s internet connectivity features until more than 30 minutes into the address.
These Patients Had Sickle-Cell Disease. Experimental Therapies Might Have Cured Them.
Success against sickle-cell would be “the first genetic cure of a common genetic disease” and could free tens of thousands of Americans from agonizing pain.
Scientists have long known what causes sickle-cell disease and its devastating effects: a single mutation in one errant gene. But for decades, there has been only modest progress against an inherited condition that mainly afflicts people of African descent.
With advances in gene therapy, that is quickly changing — so much so that scientists have begun to talk of a cure.
In a half-dozen clinical trials planned or underway, researchers are testing strategies for correcting the problem at the genetic level. Already a handful of the enrolled patients, who have endured an illness that causes excruciating bouts of pain, strokes and early death, no longer show signs of the disease.
Why ethical objections to interfering with nature are too late.
Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu has a knack for provocation. Take human cloning. He says most of us would readily accept it if it benefited us. As for eugenics—creating smarter, stronger, more beautiful babies—he believes we have an ethical obligation to use advanced technology to select the best possible children.
A protégé of the philosopher Peter Singer, Savulescu is a prominent moral philosopher at the University of Oxford, where he directs the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. He also edits the Journal of Medical Ethics. Savulescu isn’t shy about stepping onto ethical minefields. He sees nothing wrong with doping to help cyclists climb those steep mountains in the Tour de France. Some elite athletes will always cheat to boost their performance, so instead of trying to enforce rules that will be broken, he claims we’d be better off with a system that allows low-dose doping.
So does Savulescu just get off being outrageous? “I actually think of myself as the voice of common sense,” he says, though he admits to receiving his share of hate mail. He’s frustrated by how hard it is to have reasoned arguments about loaded issues without getting flamed on the Internet. Savulescu thinks we need to become far more adept at sorting out difficult moral issues. Otherwise, he says, the human species will face dire consequences in the coming decades.
I caught up with Savulescu in Australia, where he was on sabbatical. We talked about a wide range of looming ethical issues, from new technology that will change how we’re born and how we die, to transhumanism, to how the world might end.
What ethical challenges are raised by new technologies like genetic engineering and human cloning?
People will vote with their feet once those technologies offer significant benefits. At the moment they have concerns about nature or God, but that will change if you can double somebody’s lifespan with genetic engineering, which we’ve done in animals. People will use genetic engineering if you can ensure that your child won’t get Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease or diabetes. When it offers spare organs and the cure of aging, then of course it will be used.
Human cloning is now off the table. Will that change?
Cloning of farm animals is routine, and cloning in humans is used to produce stem cells for the treatment of disease. It’s now possible to clone a human being. You can split an early human embryo into identical twins. That’s safe and it’s reasonably efficient. You could freeze one of those identical twins and then implant it some years after the first, so you could have identical twins 10 years apart in age. So that technology is already there. It’s not done because there’s no clear point to it, apart from curiosity or the hubris of a scientist. But once there is a real need, people will see the benefits.
Each year, millions of Americans walk out of a doctor’s office with a misdiagnosis. Physicians try to be systematic when identifying illness and disease, but bias creeps in. Alternatives are overlooked.
Now a group of researchers in the United States and China has tested a potential remedy for all-too-human frailties: artificial intelligence.
In a paper published on Monday in Nature Medicine, the scientists reported that they had built a system that automatically diagnoses common childhood conditions — from influenza to meningitis — after processing the patient’s symptoms, history, lab results and other clinical data.
The system was highly accurate, the researchers said, and one day may assist doctors in diagnosing complex or rare conditions.
The invisible border
Technology could make a hard border disappear, but at a cost
Background surveillance would need to be high
It is an all too familiar scene. Long queues of people and vehicles waiting to cross a border, paperwork all in a flutter and stony-faced customs officials rummaging through belongings and peering into the backs of lorries. A question on many minds is whether technology can do away with such perturbations. And the answer is yes. New systems are making it easier to cross borders on land, at ports and in air terminals. Within a few years it should be possible, at least in theory, for a border to become invisible. People and goods would flow through without stopping, leaving all the formalities to take place electronically and out of sight.
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