Archive for the ‘Genetic Engineering’ Category

This video traces the trail of foreign gods that were introduced to the Israelites in Egypt and still remain with us, all the way to the present day. They will play a major role in the coming deception as being portrayed as our creators and as an advanced alien race just as described in the movie Prometheus. They are of course fallen angelic beings and they wish to destroy mankind the end game is approaching.

According to the Book of Enoch, 200 fallen angels descended to the top of Mt. Hermon before Noah’s flood. These corrupt angels entered Earth through a “space portal” and proceeded to pollute the human genome. What is their connection to the UFO crash in Roswell? Was this an orchestrated event? How is this connected to the Transfiguration?

“Keep your nose to the ground and your eyes to the sky.”

JP

This week the U.S. military took one step toward making the freakish humanoid robots of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Terminator films a reality. For real. Thank heavens there’s friendlier (and tastier!) bot news, too.
 

petman

Bot Vid: DARPA’s New Pet Is Petman

DARPA just announced its most recent Robotics Challenge, a “game” that solicits innovative solutions to hypothetical future war problems. Mere moments later … it announced a winner! What gives? Well, since the new Challenge was for humanoid robots, and DARPA is funding a hugely advanced Terminator-like machine from Boston Dynamics called PETMAN….it’ll be of no surprise to learn PETMAN is the winner. To celebrate, there’s a new PETMAN video to send Arnie-like chills right up your spine.

Bot Vid: Sushi Bot

Sushi is an art–just check out the astonishingly charming film Jiro Dreams of Sushi for proof–but it’s also a delicious kind of food with global popularity, prompting mechanization of the delicate production process to suit the mass market. Cue Suzumo company’s new SushiBots, which can kick out up to 3,600 maki rolls an hour, all with the reported subtle touches that a human would apply, without cutting so much as a grain of rice.

Bot Vid: Shapely Balls

Once considered by the world’s thinkers to be the “perfect” shape, a sphere is evidently a pretty ideal form for many obejcts to take, because it can roll and smoothly be transported through chutes and pipes as well as being structurally strong. Now there’s a bot that borrows the sphere aesthetic and marries it to a standard hexapod walking system to make a compound machine that can maneuver using three different modes dependent on terrain and user requirements. It’s called MorpHex.

Bot News

Robots to protect the Titanic. Concerned that the effects of nearby shipping and tourist deep-dive vessels visiting the site are causing the wreck to rapidly degrade, the original discoverer of the Titanic’s broken body on the floor of the Atlantic ocean, Robert Ballard, is now proposing that a fleet of deep-sea robots permanently “man” the location. They would paint the vessel with anti-fouling paint so that bacteria wouldn’t eat any more of its iron skin and also monitor human visitor missions to make sure they don’t touch the wreck or damage it in any way. As of now, the 100 year-old shipwreck is a UNESCO-protected heritage site.

Did NASA’s robot find life on Mars in 1976? The robot Viking missions were a striking and powerful symbol of our early successes in space exploration, landing on the distant surface of Mars in the mid-’70s and returning photographs and science data from Mars that were the most revelatory ever about its makeup and life-bearing potential. At the time scientists concluded its experiments designed to search for the evidence of life drew a blank. But now new analysis of the data (which survives as printouts) has suggested that there really was evidence of complex behavior indicative of life in the soil samples the doughty little robot investigated. And if we want proof, the University of Southern California team suggests, all we need to do is fly a sufficiently powerful microscope to Mars…and we’d see microbes.

UAVs get a new launch trick. Utah Water Research scientists have looked at the rather tricky question of how best to launch surveillance drones into the air, and have come up with a fabulously biblical solution: A slingshot launch system. Their bungee-slingshot UAVs are being used to map the environment. 

Bot Futures: Robot production line workers

The ongoing, sticky mess involving worker conditions in Foxconn’s plants in China has this week resulted in almost unprecedented access for a journalist to the iPad production line. What we see is a highly human-centered process, but with countless pieces of machinery assisting almost every step of the assembly:

We know that Western public condemnation of worker conditions has pushed Apple to make unmatched efforts to improve the situation (even though much of the “condemnation” may be a little misplaced, particularly when it comes to worker salaries of “$14 a day,” due to misunderstanding global currency economics), but it’s definitely evident that the production line jobs are tedious and repetitive to the nth degree. That’s something Foxconn’s CEO has pledged to change, by augmenting his factories with still more robotic assistance.

But the rise of China as a manufacturing force for all sorts of goods, not just electronics, may actually change the local and global stage of robotic workers. That’s partly because of rising wages, which make 24-hour-reliable robots more efficient employees, partly due to the improved perfection a robot can achieve, and partly due to international criticisms of Chinese working conditions. Kuka robots, Europe’s most successful maker of industrial bots, is now reported to be building a Chinese hub…making 5,000 robots a year in the nation instead of the 1,000 or so it was making just two years ago. Other robot firms across the EU, in Japan, and the U.S. are also predicting rapid growth in China’s demand for robot production line units, and this rush is pushing the global market value of industrial robots skyrocketing to about $41 billion by 2020. China may swifty outpace Japan and South Korea as the most robotized nation.

Which is both good news and bad news for Chinese workers. What if the robots don’t just displace workers from tedious or dangerous roles into ones where humans excell and robots’ can’t match just yet (such as quality assurance) but displace them out of work? And then there’s a bigger question of the rise of robotic workers across the world. Some vocal Apple critics demaned that it reposition its manufacturing facilities in the U.S.–but can you picture a future where Apple did this, but peopled its floors with thousands upon thousands of robot workers, rather than fleshy ones? This could get complicated for the Teamsters.

Article Source Link: http://www.fastcompany.com/1830837/this-week-in-bots?partner=gnews

JP

Robots that ‘bleed’ like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator have come one step closer to reality.

Scientists have created a plastic ‘skin’ that oozes red blood when cut.

It can also ‘heal’ itself, building tiny molecular bridges inside in response to damage.

The red ‘blood’ might sound like a pointless Halloween novelty – but the idea is that the ‘skin’ can warn engineers that a structure such as an aicraft wing has been damaged.

The material could provide self-healing surfaces for a multitude of products ranging from mobile phones and laptops to cars, say researchers.

When cut, the plastic turns from clear to red along the line of the damage, mimicking what happens to skin.

It reacts to ordinary light, or changes in temperature or acidity, by mending broken molecular ‘bridges’ to heal itself.

U.S. scientists told how they created the material at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in San Diego, California.

Lead researcher Professor Marek Urban, from the University of Southern Mississippi, said: ‘Mother Nature has endowed all kinds of biological systems with the ability to repair themselves.

‘Some we can see, like the skin healing and new bark forming in cuts on a tree trunk. Some are invisible, but help keep us alive and healthy, like the self-repair system that DNA uses to fix genetic damage to genes.

‘Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes.’

The material could flag up damage to critical aircraft structures, said Prof Urban. A decision could then be taken whether to replace the component or ‘heal’ it with a burst of intense light.

Scratches on vehicle fenders could be repaired the same way.
Prof Urban’s team is now working on incorporating the technology into plastics that can withstand high temperatures.

 
 
JP

Most people think of a cashless society as something that is way off in the distant future.  Unfortunately, that is simply not the case.  The truth is that a cashless society is much closer than most people would ever dare to imagine.  To a large degree, the transition to a cashless society is being done voluntarily.  Today, only 7 percent of all transactions in the United States are done with cash, and most of those transactions involve very small amounts of money.  Just think about it for a moment.  Where do you still use cash these days?  If you buy a burger or if you purchase something at a flea market you will still use cash, but for any mid-size or large transaction the vast majority of people out there will use another form of payment.  Our financial system is dramatically changing, and cash is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  We live in a digital world, and national governments and big banks are both encouraging the move away from paper currency and coins.  But what would a cashless society mean for our future?  Are there any dangers to such a system?

Those are very important questions, but most of the time both sides of the issue are not presented in a balanced way in the mainstream media.  Instead, most mainstream news articles tend to trash cash and talk about how wonderful digital currency is.

For example, a recent CBS News article declared that soon we may not need “that raggedy dollar bill” any longer and that the “greenback may soon be a goner”….

It’s what the wallet was invented for, to carry cash. After all, there was a time when we needed cash everywhere we went, from filling stations to pay phones. Even the tooth fairy dealt only in cash.

But money isn’t just physical anymore. It’s not only the pennies in your piggy bank, or that raggedy dollar bill.

Money is also digital – it’s zeros and ones stored in a computer, prompting some economists to predict the old-fashioned greenback may soon be a goner.

“There will be a time – I don’t know when, I can’t give you a date – when physical money is just going to cease to exist,” said economist Robert Reich.

So will we see a completely cashless society in the near future?

Of course not.  It would be wildly unpopular for the governments of the world to force such a system upon us all at once.

Instead, the big banks and the governments of the industrialized world are doing all they can to get us to voluntarily transition to such a system.  Once 98 or 99 percent of all transactions do not involve cash, eliminating the remaining 1 or 2 percent will only seem natural.

The big banks want a cashless society because it is much more profitable for them.

The big banks earn billions of dollars in fees from debit cards and they make absolutely enormous profits from credit cards.

But when people use cash the big banks do not earn anything.

So obviously the big banks and the big credit card companies are big cheerleaders for a cashless society.

Most governments around the world are eager to transition to a cashless society as well for the following reasons….

-Cash is expensive to print, inspect, move, store and guard.

-Counterfeiting is always going to be a problem as long as paper currency exists.

-Cash if favored by criminals because it does not leave a paper trail.  Eliminating cash would make it much more difficult for drug dealers, prostitutes and other criminals to do business.

-Most of all, a cashless society would give governments more control.  Governments would be able to track virtually all transactions and would also be able to monitor tax compliance much more closely.

When you understand the factors listed above, it becomes easier to understand why the use of cash is increasingly becoming demonized.  Governments around the world are increasingly viewing the use of cash in a negative light.  In fact, according to the U.S. government paying with cash in some circumstances is now considered to be “suspicious activity” that needs to be reported to the authorities.

This disdain of cash has also grown very strong in the financial community.  The following is from a recent Slate article….

David Birch, a director at Consult Hyperion, a firm specializing in electronic payments, says a shift to digital currency would cut out these hidden costs. In Birch’s ideal world, paying with cash would be viewed like drunk driving—something we do with decreasing frequency as more and more people understand the negative social consequences. “We’re trying to use industrial age money to support commerce in a post-industrial age. It just doesn’t work,” he says. “Sooner or later, the tectonic plates shift and then, very quickly, you’ll find yourself in this new environment where if you ask somebody to pay you in cash, you’ll just assume that they’re a prostitute or a Somali pirate.”

Do you see what is happening?

Simply using cash is enough to get you branded as a potential criminal these days.

Many people are going to be scared away from using cash simply because of the stigma that is becoming attached to it.

This is a trend that is not just happening in the United States.  In fact, many other countries are further down the road toward a cashless society than we are.

Up in Canada, they are looking for ways to even eliminate coins so that people can use alternate forms of payment for all of their transactions….

The Royal Canadian Mint is also looking to the future with the MintChip, a new product that could become a digital replacement for coins.

In Sweden, only about 3 percent of all transactions still involve cash.  The following comes from a recent Washington Post article….

In most Swedish cities, public buses don’t accept cash; tickets are prepaid or purchased with a cell phone text message. A small but growing number of businesses only take cards, and some bank offices — which make money on electronic transactions — have stopped handling cash altogether.

“There are towns where it isn’t at all possible anymore to enter a bank and use cash,” complains Curt Persson, chairman of Sweden’s National Pensioners’ Organization.

In Italy, all very large cash transactions have been banned.  Previously, the limit for using cash in a transaction had been reduced to the equivalent of just a few thousand dollars.  But back in December, Prime Minister Mario Monti proposed a new limit of approximately $1,300 for cash transactions.

And that is how many governments will transition to a cashless society.  They will set a ceiling and then they will keep lowering it and lowering it.

But is a cashless society really secure?

Of course not.

Bank accounts can be hacked into.  Credit cards and debit cards can be stolen.  Identity theft all over the world is absolutely soaring.

So companies all over the planet are working feverishly to make all of these cashless systems much more secure.

In the future, it is inevitable that national governments and big financial institutions will want to have all of us transition over to using biometric identity systems in order to combat crime in the financial system.

Many of these biometric identity systems are becoming quite advanced.

For example, just check out what IBM has been developing.  The following is from a recent IBM press release….

You will no longer need to create, track or remember multiple passwords for various log-ins. Imagine you will be able to walk up to an ATM machine to securely withdraw money by simply speaking your name or looking into a tiny sensor that can recognize the unique patterns in the retina of your eye. Or by doing the same, you can check your account balance on your mobile phone or tablet.

Each person has a unique biological identity and behind all that is data. Biometric data – facial definitions, retinal scans and voice files – will be composited through software to build your DNA unique online password.

Referred to as multi-factor biometrics, smarter systems will be able to use this information in real-time to make sure whenever someone is attempting to access your information, it matches your unique biometric profile and the attempt is authorized.

Are you ready for that?

It is coming.

In the future, if you do not surrender your biometric identity information, you may be locked out of the entire financial system.

Another method that can be used to make financial identification more secure is to use implantable RFID microchips.

Yes, there is a lot of resistance to this idea, but the fact is that the use of RFID chips in animals and in humans is rapidly spreading.

Some U.S. cities have already made it mandatory to implant microchips into all cats and all dogs so that they can be tracked.

All over the United States, employees are being required to carry badges that contain RFID chips, and in some instances employers are actually requiring employees to have RFID chips injected into their bodies.

Increasingly, RFID chips are being implanted in the upper arm of patients that have Alzheimer’s disease.  The idea is that this helps health care providers track Alzheimer’s patients that get lost.

In some countries, microchips are now actually being embedded into school uniforms to make sure that students don’t skip school.

Can you see where all of this is headed?

Some companies are even developing RFID technologies that do not require an injection.

One company called Somark has developed chipless RFID ink that is applied directly to the skin of an animal or a human.  These “RFID tattoos” are applied in about 10 seconds using micro-needles and a reusable applicator, and they can be read by an RFID reader from up to four feet away.

Would you get an “RFID tattoo” if the government or your bank asked you to?

Some people out there are actually quite excited about these new technologies.

For example, a columnist named Don Tennant wrote an article entitled “Chip Me – Please!” in which he expressed his unbridled enthusiasm for an implantable microchip which would contain all of his medical information….

“All I can say is I’d be the first person in line for an implant.”

But are there real dangers to going to a system that is entirely digital?

For example, what if a devastating EMP attack wiped out our electrical grid and most of our computers from coast to coast?

How would we continue to function?

Sadly, most people don’t think about things like that.

Our world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and we should be mindful of where these changes are taking us.

Just because our technology is advancing does not mean that our world is becoming a better place.

There are millions of Americans that want absolutely nothing to do with biometric identity systems or RFID implants.

But the mainstream media continues to declare that nothing can stop the changes that are coming.  A recent CBS News article made the following statement….

“Most agree a cashless society is not only inevitable, for most of us, it’s already here.”

Yes, a cashless society is coming.

Are you ready for it?

 

Article Source Link: http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/a-cashless-society-may-be-closer-than-most-people-would-ever-dare-to-imagine

JP

By Christina Ng

Mar 20, 2012 11:32am
 

Nokia Patents Vibrating Tattoo, Lets You Feel Alerts

 
ht nokia vibrating tattoo haptic communication ll 120320 vblog Nokia Patents Vibrating Tattoo, Lets You Feel Alerts

(Image credit: United States Patent and Trademark Office)

Finnish cell phone maker Nokia has filed a U.S. patent application for a magnetic vibrating tattoo that could wirelessly connect to a mobile device and alert users of phone calls, texts and battery status–all via vibration.

The apparatus comprises “a material attachable to skin, the material capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin, wherein the perceivable stimulus relates to the magnetic field.”

Diagrams in the patent show examples of the small, square gadget as applicable to a user’s arm, abdominal area or fingernail.

For those wary of an actual tattoo, the patent says the device could potentially be stamped, sprayed, attached with adhesive tape, applied as a decal or even drawn on.

The object could emit different vibrations for “an alert of a message, indication of an incoming call,  indication of a body part in proximity of the electronic device, indication of information displayed on the electronic device, indication of a launch of an application and indication of a least a portion of a displayed image.”

A magnetic field originating from the electronic device would connect to the tattoo device.

The electronic devices may include a cell phone, laptop, music player, tablet, a wrist or neck warn electronic device or a game console, according to the patent.

While the patent does not explain the benefits such a device could provide, one can imagine that it could eliminate the stress of situations where phone ringing is frowned upon—church, theater, work—and the vibrate setting often leads to missed calls. Conversely, the device could lead to an even more intimate, and not necessarily healthy, with cell phones that would become truly omnipresent.

Nokia didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the patent.

Article Source Link: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/technology/2012/03/nokia-patents-vibrating-tattoo-lets-you-feel-alerts/

JP

In this weekly series, Life’s Little Mysteries explores the plausibility of popular sci-fi concepts. Warning: Some spoilers ahead!

If a bunch of sci-fi flicks have it right, a war pitting humanity against machines will someday destroy civilization. Two popular movie series based on such a “robopocalypse,” the “Terminator” and “Matrix” franchises, are among those that suggest granting greater autonomy to artificially intelligent machines will end up dooming our species. (Only temporarily, of course, thanks to John Connor and Neo.)

Given the current pace of technological development, does the “robopocalypse” scenario seem more far-fetched or prophetic? The fate of the world could tip in either direction, depending on who you ask.

While researchers in the computer science field disagree on the road ahead for machines, they say our relationship with machines probably will be harmonious, not murderous. Yet there are a number of scenarios that could lead to non-biological beings aiming to exterminate us.

“The technology already exists to build a system that will destroy the whole world, intentionally or unintentionally, if it just detects the right conditions,” said Shlomo Zilberstein, a professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts.

Machines at our command

Let’s first consider the optimistic viewpoint: that machines always will act as our servants, not the other way around.

“One approach is not to develop systems that can be so dangerous if they are out of control,” Zilberstein said.

Something like Skynet – the computerized defense network in “The Terminator” that decides to wipe out humanity – is already possible. So why has such a system not been built? A big reason: Nuclear-armed nations such as the United States would not want to turn over any of the responsibility for launching warheads to a computer. “What if there is a bug in the system? No one is going to take that risk,” said Zilberstein. [What If There Were Another Technologically Advanced Species?]

On a smaller scale, however, a high degree of autonomy has been granted to predator drones flying in the Middle East. “The number of robotic systems that can actually pull the trigger autonomously is already growing,” said Zilberstein.

Still, a human operator monitors a drone and is given the final say whether to proceed with a missile strike. That certainly is not the case with Skynet, which, in the “Terminator” films, is given control of America’s entire nuclear arsenal.

In “The Terminator,” the military creates the program with the objective of reducing human error and slowness of response in case of an attack on the U.S.

When human controllers come around to realizing the danger posed by an all-powerful Skynet, they try to shut it down. Skynet interprets this act as a threat to its existence, and in order to counter its perceived human enemy, Skynet launching America’s nukesat Russia,  provoking a retaliatory strike. Billions die in a nuclear holocaust.Skynet then goes on to build factories that churn out robot armies to eliminate the remainder of humankind.

In a real-life scenario, Zilberstein thinks simple safeguards would prevent an autonomous system from threatening more people than it is designed to, perhaps in guarding country’s borders, for example. Plus, no systems would be programmed with the ability to make broad strategic decisions the way Skynet does.

“All the systems we’re likely to build in the-near future will have specific abilities,” Zilberstein said. “They will be able to monitor a region and maybe shoot, but they will not replace a [human] general.”

Robots exceeding our grasp

Michael Dyer, a computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, is less optimistic. He thinks “humans will ultimately be replaced by machines” and that the transition might not be peaceful. [Americans Want Robots, and They’re Willing to Pay]

The continued progress in artificial intelligence research will lead to machines as smart as we are in the next couple hundred years, Dyer predicts. “Advanced civilizations reach a point of enough intelligence to understand how their own brain works, and then they build synthetic versions of themselves,” he says.

The desire to do so might come from attempts at establishing our own immortality – and that opportunity might be too much for humanity to resist. (Whowouldn’t want to spend their ever-after with their consciousness walking around in a robot shell?)

Maybe that sort of changeover from biology to technology goes relatively smoothly. Other rise-of-the-machines scenarios are less smooth.

Dyer suggests a new arms race of robotic system could result in one side running rampant. “In the case of warfare, by definition, the enemy side has no control of the robots that are trying to kill them,” Dyer said. Like Skynet, the manufactured might turn against the manufacturers.

Or an innocuous situation of overdependency on robots spirals out of control. Suppose a factory that makes robots is not following human commands, so an order is issued to shut off power to the factory. “But unfortunately, robots happen to manage the power station and so they refuse. So a command is issued by humans to stop the trucks from delivering necessary materials to the factory, but the drivers are robots, so they also refuse,” Dyer says.

Perhaps using the Internet, robotic intelligences wrest control of a society that depends too much on its automata. (“The Animatrix,” a 2003 collection of short cartoons, including some back stories for “The Matrix” movies, describes such a situation.)

Overall, a bit of wisdom would prevent humankind from falling into the traps dreamed up by Hollywood screenwriters. But the profit motive at companies has certainly engendered more automation, and the Cold War’s predication on the threat of mutually assured destruction points out that rationality does not always win.

“Doomsday scenarios are pretty easy to create, and I wouldn’t rule out that kind of possibility,” said Zilberstein. “But I’m personally not that worried.”

Plausibility rating: Military leaders and corporations probably will not be so stupid as to add high levels of programmed autonomy to catastrophically strong weapon systems and critical industrial sectors. We give the “robopocalypse” two out of four Rocketboys.

Article Source Link: http://news.yahoo.com/science-fiction-fact-could-robopocalypse-wipe-humans-175403124.html;_ylt=ApN8d.EGDv74bFaZSfNwaBsPLBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTNqODY0ZXZoBGNjb2RlA2N0LmMEcGtnA2JjYzgwZjFkLTQyODAtMzJlYy05YWIyLTVlMGNlZDIxYmZjZgRwb3MDNgRzZWMDbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHZlcgNhN2Y0MTZlMC01ZjExLTExZTEtOWZkYi0wYTFkNGIzNWY0ZTk-;_ylg=X3oDMTFycGwxa2xhBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANzY2llbmNlBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25zBHRlc3QD;_ylv=3

Radical human modification is coming, like it or not, by the end of this century—if not earlier. How much are you willing to alter yourself?

eskobionics-body.jpg

This is my first column on TheAtlantic.com, which will regularly cover the interface between new discoveries in the life sciences and how it impacts people and society — and other random topics.

Last fall at the TEDMED meeting in San Diego I watched a man walk who was paralyzed from the waist down. Injured a year earlier, Paul Thacker hadn’t been able to stand since breaking his back in a snowmobile accident. Yet here he was walking, thanks to an early-stage exoskeleton device attached to his legs.

This wasn’t exactly on the level of “exos” we’ve seen in sci-fi films like Avatar and Aliens, which enable people to run faster, carry heavier loads, and smash things better. But Thacker’s device, called eLEGS — manufactured by Ekso Bionics in Berkeley, California — is one harbinger of what’s coming in the next decade or two to treat the injured and the ill with radical new technologies.

Other portents include first-generation machines and treatments that range from deep brain implants that can stop epileptic seizures to stem cells that scientists are using experimentally to repair damaged retinas.

No one would deny that these technologies, should they fulfill their promise, are anything but miraculous for Paul Thacker and others who need them. Yet none of this technology is going to remain exclusively in the realm of pure therapeutics. Even now some are breaking through the barrier between remedies for the sick and enhancements for the healthy.

Take the drug Adderall. A highly addictive pharmaceutical prescribed for patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the drug works as a stimulant in people without ADHD — and is now used by at least one out of five college students to bump up their energy and attention when they want to perform well on tests or pull all-nighters.

Saying that college students are popping pills is like Claude Rains in Casablanca saying to Humphrey Bogart: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” Yet the widespread use — and acceptance — of Adderall and other stimulants by students to enhance their academic performance is bumping up against something new. It’s pushing us into a realm where taking powerful pharmaceuticals that boost, say, attention or memory is becoming acceptable beyond pure recreation.

Can we be too far from a greater acceptance of surgically implanted devices that increase our ability to hear or see? Or new legs that allow us to run like cheetahs and scramble up walls like geckos?

Or that allow us to run in the Olympics like Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who may qualify for the games in London this year despite missing his lower legs? He runs using two sleek, metallic “legs” that combine with his natural speed and skill to do far more than overcome a disability.

Which leads us to the crucial question for the approaching age of human enhancement: How far would you go to modify yourself using the latest medtech?

Would you replace perfectly good legs with artificial ones if they made you faster and stronger?

Would you take a daily pill that not only stimulated your brain to help you do your best on a test, but also bumped up your memory?

Would you sign up for a genetic alteration that would make you taller and stronger?

Let’s up the ante and declare that these fixes had no deleterious side effects, and were deemed safe by a newly appointed U.S. Agency for Human Augmentation. Would this change your mind? (As an aside, I’m trying to imagine what the candidates now vying for the Republican nomination for president would say about an Agency for Human Augmentation.)

And what if everyone else at work — or all of the rest of the kids in your child’s class at school — were taking advantage of these enhancements?

Currently, none of these hypothetical modifications would be ethical, and most are illegal. Yet one doesn’t need to spend too much time delving into the world of near-future medtech to understand that each of these possibilities are likely to occur in one form or another in the lifetime of those college kids now swallowing Adderall.

For now, the device attached to Paul Thacker’s legs is clunky. The apparatus is little more than a pair of sophisticated braces with whirring mechanics attached to a computer he wears on his back — which is guided by a technician walking behind him, holding a control box attached to the computer with a wire. But it won’t be too long until this 37-year-old former champion snowmobile jumper will be walking with ease using an advanced exoskeleton.

In a few more years, you might be wearing your own eLEGS to carry heavy loads around the house, or as a soldier on patrol in some distant corner of the world (assuming we aren’t using only drones). Flash forward a few more years, and you may have the option of permanently implanting in your legs the “eLEGS LXII,” an endo-skeletal implant that stays with you like a futuristic hip or knee implant does today.

Back at TEDMED, Paul Thacker wasn’t thinking about anything nearly as grandiose as this. When I asked him what he wishes for most using the new eLEGS technology, he smiled and said something refreshingly mundane considering he is a herald of the future.

“Right now I’d like to be able to stand up and pee,” he said. “I really miss being able to do that.”

Article Source Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/redesigning-people-how-medtech-could-expand-beyond-the-injured/253236/

JP

 

An intestinal cell monolayer after exposure to nanoparticles, shown in green.
An intestinal cell monolayer after exposure to nanoparticles, shown in green.

Abstract:
Billions of engineered nanoparticles in foods and pharmaceuticals are ingested by humans daily, and new Cornell research warns they may be more harmful to health than previously thought.

Nanoparticles in food, vitamins could harm human health

Ithaca, NY | Posted on February 16th, 2012

A research collaboration led by Michael Shuler, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Chemical Engineering and the James and Marsha McCormick Chair of Biomedical Engineering, studied how large doses of polystyrene nanoparticles — a common, FDA-approved material found in substances from food additives to vitamins — affected how well chickens absorbed iron, an essential nutrient, into their cells.

The results were reported online Feb. 12 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

According to the study, high-intensity, short-term exposure to the particles initially blocked iron absorption, whereas longer-term exposure caused intestinal cell structures to change, allowing for a compensating uptick in iron absorption.

The researchers tested both acute and chronic nanoparticle exposure using human gut cells in petri dishes as well as live chickens and reported matching results. They chose chickens because these animals absorb iron into their bodies similarly to humans, and they are also similarly sensitive to micronutrient deficiencies, explained Gretchen Mahler, Ph.D. ’08, the paper’s first author and former Cornell graduate student and postdoctoral associate.

The researchers used commercially available, 50-nanometer polystyrene carboxylated particles that are generally considered safe for human consumption. They found that following acute exposure, a few minutes to a few hours after consumption, both the absorption of iron in the in vitro cells and the chickens decreased.

But following exposure of 2 milligrams per kilogram for two weeks — a slower, more chronic intake — the structure of the intestinal villi began to change and increase in surface area. This was an effective physiological remodeling that led to increased iron absorption.

“This was a physiological response that was unexpected,” Mahler said.

Shuler noted that in some sense this intestinal villi remodeling was positive because it shows the body adapts to challenges. But it serves to underscore how such particles, which have been widely studied and considered safe, cause barely detectable changes that could lead to, for example, over-absorption of other, harmful compounds.

Human exposure to nanoparticles is only increasing, Shuler continued.

“Nanoparticles are entering our environment in many different ways,” Shuler said. “We have some assurance that at a gross level they are not harmful, but there may be more subtle effects that we need to worry about.”

The paper included Cornell co-authors Mandy Esch, a research associate in biomedical engineering; Elad Tako, a research associate at the Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health; Teresa Southard, assistant professor of biomedical sciences; Shivaun Archer, senior lecturer in biomedical engineering; and Raymond Glahn, senior scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and courtesy associate professor in the Department of Food Science. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation; New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research; Army Corp of Engineers; and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Article Source Link: http://www.nanotech-now.com/news.cgi?story_id=44525

JP

A few years from now, when your doctor prescribes a prescription for you, you might not get a bottle of pills. Instead, your drugs might be delivered under your skin, from a small microchip. At least, that’s the promise of a new invention by MIT researchers Robert Langer and Michael Cima, who worked with MicroCHIPS, Inc. to develop a microchip capable of delivering prescription drugs to patients. The chip, which has been in development for over a decade, just completed its first human test, which it passed with flying colors.

Here’s how the chip works. It’s implanted underneath the skin of the patients (who, in the study, reported that they often forgot it was there.) The chip contains tiny reservoirs that the drugs are placed into. The reservoirs are sealed with a layer of platinum and titanium. When a current is applied to the seal, it melts, releasing the drugs into the patient’s bloodstream. The microchips are programmable, as well, so that the drug delivery can be automated.

In the study, the implants were used to deliver a drug to treat 7 women between the ages of 65 and 70 who suffer from osteoporosis. In all seven cases, the chip delivered the correct dose of drugs to the patients, and no adverse side effects were reported.

 

This is a huge benefit for patients with chronic diseases that require daily injections because it automates the process, thereby improving compliance. Let’s face it – most people wouldn’t be thrilled with the thought of injecting themselves with a needle every day. By vastly improving the process, people’s health will benefit.

“Compliance is very important in a lot of drug regimens, and it can be very difficult to get patients to accept a drug regimen where they have to give themselves injections,” said researcher Michael Cima in an MIT press release. “This avoids the compliance issue completely, and points to a future where you have fully automated drug regimens.”

The other benefit of using the microchip is that it can be equipped with biosensors, which means that a doctor can monitor how effectively the drug is treating the disease, and remotely program the device according to adjust to changing circumstances. Right now, the device can only be reprogrammed remotely at very short distances, but the company and researchers are working on improving that aspect.

“This trial demonstrates how drug can be delivered through an implantable device that can be monitored and controlled remotely, providing new opportunities to improve treatment for patients and to realize the potential of telemedicine,” said study co-author Robert Langer in MicroCHIPS’ press release. “The convergence of drug delivery and electronic technologies gives physicians a real-time connection to their patient’s health, and patients are freed from the daily reminder, or burden, of disease by eliminating the need for regular injections.”

The next step for the company is to develop therapeutic regimens for the chip that can work with other diseases. The company intends to apply for regulatory approval to use the devices in 2014.

Article Source Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/02/19/your-next-prescription-might-be-for-a-microchip/

JP

Our ability to “upgrade” the bodies of soldiers through drugs, implants, and exoskeletons may be upending the ethical norms of war as we’ve understood them.

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If we can engineer a soldier who can resist torture, would it still be wrong to torture this person with the usual methods? Starvation and sleep deprivation won’t affect a super-soldier who doesn’t need to sleep or eat. Beatings and electric shocks won’t break someone who can’t feel pain or fear like we do. This isn’t a comic-book story, but plausible scenarios based on actual military projects today.

In the next generation, our warfighters may be able to eat grass,communicate telepathically,resist stress, climb walls like a lizard, and much more. Impossible? We only need to look at nature for proofs of concept. For instance, dolphins don’t sleep (or they’d drown); Alaskan sled-dogs can run for days without rest or food; bats navigate with echolocation; and goats will eat pretty much anything. Find out how they work, and maybe we can replicate that in humans.

As you might expect, there are serious moral and legal risks to consider on this path. Last week in the UK, The Royal Society released its report ” Neuroscience, Conflict and Security.” This timely report worried about risks posed by cognitive enhancements to military personnel, as well as whether new nonlethal tactics, such as directed energy weapons, could violate either the Biological or Chemical Weapons Conventions.

While an excellent start, the report doesn’t go far enough, as I have been explaining to the US intelligence community , National Research Council, DARPA, and other organizations internationally. The impact of neural and physical human enhancements is more far-reaching than that, such as to the question of torturing the enhanced. Other issues, as described below, pose real challenges to military policies and broader society.

Why Enhancements?

Technology makes up for our absurd frailty. Unlike other animals, we’re not armed with fangs, claws, running speed, flight, venom, resilience, fur, or other helpful features to survive a savage world. We naked apes couldn’t survive at all, if it weren’t for our tool-making intellect and resourcefulness.

And therein lies a fundamental problem with how Homo sapiens wage war: As impressive as our weapon systems may be, one of the weakest links in armed conflicts-as well as one of the most valuable assets-continues to be the warfighters themselves. Hunger, fatigue, and the need for sleep can quickly drain troop morale and cause a mission to fail. Fear and confusion in the “fog of war” can lead to costly mistakes, such as friendly-fire casualties. Emotions and adrenaline can drive otherwise-decent individuals to perform vicious acts, from verbal abuse of local civilians to torture and illegal executions, making an international incident from a routine patrol. And post-traumatic stress can take a devastating toll on families and add pressure on already-burdened health services.

To be sure, military training seeks to address these problems, but it can do only so much, and science and technology help to fill those gaps. In this case, what’s needed is an upgrade to the basic human condition. We want our warfighters to be made stronger, more aware, more durable, more maneuverable in different environments, and so on. The technologies that enable these abilities fall in the realm of human enhancement, and they include neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and more.

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While some of these innovations are external devices, such as exoskeletons that give the wearer super-strength, our technology devices are continually shrinking in size. Our mobile phones today have more computing power than the Apollo rockets that blasted to the moon. So there’s good reason to think that these external enhancements someday can be small enough to be integrated with the human body, for an even greater military advantage.

The use of human enhancement technologies by the military is not new. Broadly construed, vaccinations could count as an enhancement of the human immune system, and this would place the first instance of military human enhancement (as opposed to mere tool-use) at our very first war, the American Revolutionary War in 1775-1783. George Washington, as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, ordered the vaccinations of American troops against smallpox, as the British Army was suspected of using the virus as a form of biological warfare. (Biowarfare existed for centuries prior, such as in catapulting corpses to spread the plague during the Middle Ages.) At the time, the Americans largely were not exposed to smallpox in childhood and therefore had not built up immunity to the disease, as the British had.

Since then, militaries worldwide have used caffeine and amphetamines to keep their troops awake and alert, an age-old problem in war. In fact, some pilots are required to take drugs-known as “go pills”-on long-distance missions, or else lose their jobs. And there’s ongoing interest in using pharmaceuticals, such as modafinil (a cognitive enhancer), dietary supplements, as well as gene therapy to boost the performance of warfighters.

The Questions

Some of the issues with military enhancements echo now-familiar debates, such as: whether the use of anabolic steroids by athletes is harmful to their health; whether that would set a bad example for impressionable children; whether Ritalin use in academia is cheating and unfair to others; whether longevity would bankrupt pension plans; whether manipulating biology amounts to ” playing God“; and so on. But there are new concerns as well.

Ethical and safety issues

Established standards in biomedical ethics-such as the Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, and others-govern the research stage of enhancements, that is, experimentation on human subjects. But “military necessity” or the exigencies of war can justify actions that are otherwise impermissible, such as a requirement to obtain voluntary consent of a patient. Under what conditions, then, could a warfighter be commanded (or refuse) a risky or unproven enhancement, such as a vaccine against a new biological weapon? Because some enhancements could be risky or pose long-term health dangers, such as addiction to “go pills”, should military enhancements be reversible? What are the safety considerations related to more permanent enhancements, such as bionic parts or a neural implant? 

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Tactical and logistical implications

Once ethical and safety issues are resolved, militaries will need to attend to the impact of human enhancements on their operations. For instance, how would integrating both enhanced and unenhanced warfighters into the same unit affect their cohesion? Would enhanced soldiers rush into riskier situations, when their normal counterparts would not? If so, one solution could be to confine enhancements to a small, elite force. (This could also solve the consent problem.) As both an investment in and potential benefit to the individual warfighters, is it reasonable to treat them differently from the unenhanced, such as on length of service and promotion requirements? On the other hand, preferential treatment to any particular group could lower overall troop morale.

Legal and policy issues

More broadly, how do enhancements impact international humanitarian law, or the laws of war? The Geneva and Hague Conventions prohibit torture of enemy combatants, but enhanced soldiers could reasonably be exempt if underlying assumptions disappear-that humans respond to a certain level of pain and need sleep and food-as I suggested at the beginning. Further, enhancements that transform our biology could violate the Biological Weapons Convention, if enhanced humans (or animals) plausibly count as “biological agents”, which is not a well-defined term. International law aside, there may be policy questions: Should we allow scary enhancements, which was the point of fierce Viking helmets or samurai masks? Could that exacerbate hostilities by prompting charges of dishonor and cowardice, the same charges we’re now hearing about military robots?

Military-civilian issues

As history shows, we can expect the proliferation of every military technology we invent. The method of diffusion is different and more direct with enhancements, though: Most warfighters return to society as civilians (our veterans) and would carry back any permanent enhancements and addictions with them. The US has about 23 million veterans-or one out of every 10 adults-in addition to 3 million active and reserve personnel, so this is a significant segment of the population. Would these enhancements, such as a drug or an operation that subdues emotions, create problems for the veteran to assimilate to civilian life? Would they create problems for other civilians who may be at a competitive disadvantage to the enhanced veteran who, for instance, has bionic limbs and enhanced cognition.

Soldier 2.0 is a Hybrid

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The military technology getting the most public attention now is robotics, but we can think of it as sharing the same goal as human enhancement. Robotics aims to create a super-soldier from an engineering approach: they are our proxy mech-warriors. However, there are some important limitations to those machines. For one thing, they don’t have a sense of ethics-of what is right and wrong-which can be essential on the battlefield. Where it is child’s play to identify a ball or coffee mug or a gun, it’s notoriously tough for a computer to do that. This doesn’t give us much confidence that a robot can reliably distinguish friend from foe, at least in the foreseeable future.

In contrast, cognitive and physical enhancements aim to create a super-soldier from a biomedical direction, such as with modafinil and other drugs. For battle, we want our soft organic bodies to perform more like machines. Somewhere in between robotics and biomedical research, we might arrive at the perfect future warfighter: one that is part machine and part human, striking a formidable balance between technology and our frailties.

In changing human biology, we also may be changing the assumptions behind existing laws of war and even human ethics. If so, we would need to reexamine the foundations of our social and political institutions, if prevailing norms can’t stretch to cover new technologies. In comic books and science fiction , we can ignore or suspend disbelief about these details. But in the real world-as life imitates art, and “mutant powers” really are changing the world-the details matter.

Acknowledgements: This article is adapted from a research report, in progress, funded by The Greenwall Foundation, with co-investigators Maxwell Mehlman (Case Western Reserve University) and Keith Abney (Cal Poly).

Images: 1. US Marine Corps. 2. Lockheed Martin. 3. US Marine Corps. 4. US Marine Corps. Note: these images have been digitally enhanced.

 
JP