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Mark Bruce
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Macro Photography on Your Smartphone for $2

I grabbed a clip-on 8-in-1 mobile phone lens pack from Ebay for $16 delivered. You simply screw the lens you want onto the clip and place over your smartphone camera. This pack included (i) 2x telephoto zoom, (ii) circular polarised filter, (iii) fisheye, (iv) extreme fisheye, (v) wide angle, (vi) extreme wide angle, (vii) macro, and finally (viii) the extreme macro, which I used to go around the house with today snapping pretty cool close ups that I've shared below.

This Album

I've made a bunch of collages that show the normal shot of one or two scenes and combined with macro-close-ups of things in that scene, and after this sequence you can see the individual macro shots as big as you want. Note these lenses invariably result in blurring around the edges. Collages have info / descriptions for each macro shot. The macro shots aren't perfect of course, and are all hand-held, but for a tiny $2 lens clipped to your phone camera it still feels like a superpower to be able to zoom in and see such detail.

I have a video of the ants that is cool as hell that I'll share soon too, as well as some ideas I have for the extreme fisheye.

Highlights - Be Sure to Check Out

- The mosquito perched on my thumb.
- The tiny ants tending to a fallen comrade.
- Body shots such as my eye.
- Individual pixels on me computer screen. 
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+Mark Bruce Amazing shots Mark. Can you please tell me whether the grip of the clip on to the phone would lead to potential physical damage or not. Thank you.
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InterPlanetary File System

This is a good introduction to IPFS or the InterPlanetary File System project, which is described by Wikipedia as a content-addressable, peer-to-peer hypermedia distribution protocol with nodes in the IPFS network forming a distributed file system and allowing IPFS to realise the Permanent Web. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/InterPlanetary_File_System

IPFS re-imagines and is attempting to re-engineer the Web as a fully distributed peer-to-peer file storage and name system with cryptography, block-exchange, trust management built into its foundations. Listening to Juan Benet cover the rationale for building it, the implementation for enabling it, and the benefits it could bring in the future is worthwhile.

IPFS is the result of a grand, elegant vision and it is hard to argue that this or a system like this isn't the future of the Web; it is certainly worth learning more about and getting involved if you have the skills and inclination.

Side Note
Also interesting to note that even some of the larger vendors such as Google appear to be slowly introducing IPFS-type features into some of their products, for example, the latest Hangouts app allows peer-to-peer data exchange, messaging, and calls over a local network without having to go back and through Google's centralised servers. 
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Just from https://github.com/ipfs/ipfs/blob/master/README.md in the Quick Summary seems to suggest the IPFS name service IPNS that functions as a global namespace that can map to DNS and other designations as needed. 
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 06/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/02/better-gene-delivery-better-dna.html 

Better gene delivery, Better DNA aptamers, Light effect transistor, Rejuvenation advances, Atomically precise materials, Integrated photonics modem, Electronic nematicity, Deep learning chips, Graphene lenses & electrodes, Flexiramic materials. 

1. Delivering Genes Across the Blood Brain Barrier
Using high-throughput screening techniques combined with methods of directed evolution, researchers screened millions of viral variants to create a novel, modified adeno-associated virus that is able to efficiently get past the blood-brain-barrier and deliver genes and genetic engineering tools to neurons and other cells of the brain http://www.caltech.edu/news/delivering-genes-across-blood-brain-barrier-49679. This obviates the need to drill a hole through the skull to inject these vectors and provides a far more elegant tool that can be used for CRISPR-powered modifications. In related news rats have been cured of a genetic liver disorder with a more effective CRISPR-delivery system involving a different adeno-associated virus carrying guide RNA and repaired-gene-insert and lipid nanoparticles carrying Cas9 mRNA instructions http://news.mit.edu/2016/crispr-curing-disease-repairing-faulty-genes-0201; 6% of liver cell transformations are sufficient for disease curing, which is 15 times more effective than other methods, but the group hope to boost this % in future. 

2. Better DNA Aptamer Technology
DNA aptamers can be artificially engineered to target and bind any molecular target in the body - proteins, viruses, bacteria, cells, tumours - but are limited by poorer binding-efficiency and instability due to enzymatic digestion. These two limiting factors have now been addressed http://www.a-star.edu.sg/Media/News/Press-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/4496.aspx with (i) the inclusion of an artificial base into the DNA that boosted binding ability by 100 times compared to existing aptamers, and (ii) the inclusion of a DNA-mini-hairpin structure that serves to restrict enzymatic digestion and boost lifetime in the body from hours to days. DNA aptamers like these could in theory be used instead of antibodies for therapeutic and diagnostic applications but are cheaper, quicker, and simpler to produce and obviate potential inflammatory side effects. 

3. Developing a Light-Effect-Transistor
Prototype light effect transistors have been developed with the aim of replacing standard field effect transistors in future chip designs https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600702/the-nanodevice-aiming-to-replace-the-field-effect-transistor/. A light effect transistor comprises a wire that conducts electricity when exposed to light and insulates when it is dark; a light-controlled switch in which light functions like a gate and with benefits including no reliance on dopant atoms and the ability to achieve smaller size dimensions to continue Moore’s Law. The demonstrations include semiconducting nanowires whose conduction changes by six orders of magnitude when switched, and can also function as an optical amplifier that performs logic operations when two or more laser beams are used. But the biggest unsolved question is how a chip would accurately address more than a billion nanowires with light? 

4. Rejuvenation via Senescent Cell & Amyloid Clearance 
First, venture-backed company Unity Biotechnology joins competition with Oisin Biotechnology aiming to develop and launch therapeutics that clear senescent cells from adult animals https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/02/25-median-life-extension-in-mice-via-senescent-cell-clearance-unity-biotechnology-founded-to-develop-therapies.php. Their latest work extends the median lifespan of mice by 25% and should help to attract additional funding and support for this approach; investors will want to get this into humans as soon as possible. And back in the lab another group finds a 35% lifespan extension by clearing senescent cells http://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-researchers-extend-lifespan-by-as-much-as-35-percent-in-mice-2/. Second, a partnership between companies Pentraxin and GSK is slowly bearing fruit with clinically-tested drug therapies that very effectively clear amyloid (misfolded protein clumps that accumulate) deposits from tissues and body fluids, intended for Alzheimer’s and other diseases but providing a platform for this area of rejuvenation therapies https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/02/what-next-for-transthyretin-amyloid-clearance-therapies.php. Boosting mitophagy also rejuvenates cells to a more youthful state http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/nu-mst020316.php

5. Atomically Precise Materials and Devices
Structural DNA technology can self-assemble nanoparticles into diamond-shaped crystal lattices https://www.bnl.gov/newsroom/news.php?a=11810. The DNA forms the rigid frame of the material, while complementary DNA binding ensures the nanoparticles bind in specific locations, leading to a diamond lattice about 100 times larger than conventional diamond; interesting platform for novel materials development. Bacteria produce self-assembled microcompartments to concentrate enzymatic production of certain molecules, and these compartments are being used as templates to engineer variants with novel functions and molecular production capabilities https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2016/02/04/toward-nanoscale-chemical-factories/, slowly building a platform of contained molecular production machinery that might one day be introduced inside human cells for exmample. 

6. NASAs Integrated Photonics Modem
NASA is building the first fully integrated photonics modem, simplifying optical on-chip systems design, and reducing the size of the large prototype down to conventional system-on-chip scales http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/nasa-engineers-tapped-to-build-first-integrated-photonics-modem. The chip uses lasers to encode and transmit data at 10 - 100 times faster than equipment available today. While testing of the device in space won’t begin until 2020 we might see commercial applications of this earlier, particularly in data centers and Internet backbone lines. 

7. Electronic Nematicity Key in Superconductivity
New studies indicate that the phenomenon of electronic nematicity, in which electron clouds in a material snap into an aligned and directional order, is a generic property common to high-temperature superconductors https://uwaterloo.ca/stories/waterloo-physicists-discover-new-properties. The electrons involved in superconductivity form patterns that exhibit different symmetries that preferentially align in one direction and which can compete with, co-exist, or enhance superconductivity. Hopefully this understanding allows for the future design of higher-temperature superconductors. 

8. Dedicated Deep Learning Chips on Smartphones
Eyeriss is a newly designed and developed dedicated deep learning chip for use in smartphones and other low-power applications http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/semiconductors/processors/a-deep-learning-ai-chip-for-your-phone. The chip is designed to allow these devices to run computationally demanding neural network algorithms quickly and efficiently on the device without offloading to the cloud, and using only one tenth of the energy of a typical mobile GPU. Agnostic to the type of neural network being run the chip can process image, sound, and other types of data as  needed and might also find deployment in autonomous platforms such as cars and drones. In related news Google’s DeepMind game-playing AI can now also navigate environments in first-person-shooters https://www.newscientist.com/article/2076552-google-deepmind-ai-navigates-a-doom-like-3d-maze-just-by-looking/ and I wonder if this can be transferred to robots to help in realworld environments, perhaps by using these dedicated chips. 

9. Graphene Lenses and Electrode Benefits
First, graphene has been formed into a clever fresnel lens by using a laser to pattern concentric rings of graphene oxide on its surface, and allowing optical focusing in the visible and infrared down to scales of 200nm http://www.swinburne.edu.au/news/latest-news/2016/01/focus-on-results.php. Second, graphene-coated electrodes turn out to be an excellent option for applications involving interfacing with neurons http://graphene-flagship.eu/graphene-based-interfaces-do-not-alter-target-nerve-cells. Finally, graphene cages formed around silicon anodes appear to enable higher capacity batteries that avoid the problem of cracking that such materials are usually limited by http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/materials/graphene-cages-cover-silicon-anodes-for-high-capacity-batteries

10. Flexiramics: Ceramics that Act Like Paper
A new material dubbed flexiramics is being developed and commercialised by a company called Eurekite http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/02/dutch-researchers-have-created-flexiramics-flexible-ceramics-for-circuit-boards/. Flexiramics appear to be a new class of materials that possess the mechanical properties of paper or thin textiles in being thin, foldable, and flexible while also exhibiting the properties of ceramics in being fireproof and nonconducting. The fabrics withstand 1,200 degrees Celsius for 24 hours without burning or melting. Printed PCBs will be the first application apparently but the possibilities are endless. 

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I smile, true, but in terms of robots that navigate, they're certainly the vanguard, so there's a decent chunk of hardware you could apply it to in a consumer environment. 
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Communication is Hard. Especially When Your Values Differ.

This is an interesting article discussing the the difficulty of communicating with our fellows and the miscommunication that very often results when there is a mismatch between the basic values or culture between those attempting to communicate. It's a little lengthy, and takes a little while to get going, but there are some worthwhile insights peppered throughout.

Interesting Excerpts

What it often comes down to is people with fundamentally different, perhaps totally irreconcilable, values systems assuming “malice or stupidity” where the real explanation is values mismatch and miscommunication.

Over time I built up a fairly robust translation layer, one that I was forced to rely on so much that I didn’t even realize how much latency it added until I met people I could talk to without it, whose communication protocols matched my own. It is difficult to describe the relief, the comfort I feel navigating these interactions with people whose frame of reference is shaped like my own, as if I spent most of my life trying to translate all my thoughts by flipping through a phrase book but suddenly discovered a group with whom I shared a birth tongue.

Me, I want to get less wrong. I thrive in an environment where I can expect others to elevate honing collective knowledge and using it to get shit done over trivial concerns like identity politics and pecking order.

But it is difficult for that to happen when the ways we differ are dismissed out of hand, when we are held to a values system we do not subscribe to and punished for not living up to its standards. Because we are, actually, different.

Via +Samuel Holmes - thanks!
 
I have never quite come to terms with the fact that, mostly, what I want out of a conversation is brief, painful relief from being wrong, no matter what it takes. And that basically no one else wants that.

I'm not good by nature, and not correct by nature. I started out my life knowing nothing. Any relief from ignorance I've ever had has been brief, and the process of getting there has often been painful. I'm more stubborn than I ought to be.

I can't say how I'd feel if I'd been browbeaten out of the right position over and over agian.
Imagine you're telling a story. Great story, unbelievable story. A series of events that if you saw them in a movie you'd roll your eyes and groan, but they actually happened, and you were there to...
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No I haven't started that book yet +Samuel Holmes but it is next on the list, just need to make some regular time to delve into it. 
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Space & Inertia: Absolute, Relative, Relational, Quantised?

I always enjoy revisiting basic, fundamental phenomena such as the classic Newton's Bucket experiment in which one attempts to explain why water rises up the sides of a rotating bucket. The recent Nautilus article This is Why Understanding Space is so Hard http://nautil.us/blog/this-is-why-understanding-space-is-so-hard provides a great chance to revisit this phenomena and the debates and history between some of the giants of physics: Newton, Leibniz, Mach, and Einstein.

So does the water rotate relative to absolute space? Or absolute spacetime? Or is its inertia purely a result of how it relates to other objects? Or how other objects relate to it? Or is it the result of the seething vacuum foam in "empty" space? There is no real consensus or answer to this most basic and fundamental of questions.

And asking such a "why?" question only provides iterated provisional answers, falling short of a final or fundamental answer. Much like Richard Feynman delves into a poorly phrased "why?" question here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM

Wikipedia kick-off: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bucket_argument

GIF ripped from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zip9ft1PgV0 
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+Valdis Klētnieks  I didnt say "space" or "time" wasnt relative. Or that Space-time wasnt relative. 

Why dont you  do a webscan for the word "absolute"  in Einstein's papers,  before declaring other people ignorant of what he said?  You are only declaring you are ignorant of Einsteins opinion about the scope of  his own work. ( many of which were ignored ) .
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Another story from 30 years ago, this time with 2 pages and a picture!
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Spelling was never my strong point ;)
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Simultaneous Observation of Light as Particle & Wave: Afshar Double Slit

I'm very surprised that I never heard of the Afshar double slit experiment until this week; if I had heard of it before I certainly didn't appreciate significance of Afshar's experiment at the time.

Afshar's experiment https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afshar_experiment was carried out in 2004 and is deceptively simple:

1. Take a conventional double slit experiment in which you shine a laser at a sheet with two pinhole openings, and onto a second sheet on which you can see the usual wave-based interference pattern.

2. Remove the second sheet and replace it with a vertical grid of wires positioned in the dark areas or bands of destructive interference.

3. Beyond the wires place a focusing lens, two mirrors and two detectors.

Results

With this setup light goes through the pinholes as a wave, producing the characteristic interference pattern, and so isn't hindered by the wires, and yet can be focused by the lens and mirrors onto separate detectors to simultaneously determine which hole each photon passed through. See the Wikipedia link for a diagram that makes this clear.

The conclusion is that this experiment shows the same photons in the same experiment simultaneously showing both complementary wave and particle characteristics at the same time. This experiment thus violates the conventional quantum principle of complementarity that holds that these properties can never be observed or measured at the same time.

This experiment has been replicated and validated many times.

Implications

This single, simple experiment directly challenges the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, and Bell's Inequalities. Regarding the nature of reality it appears to show support for different interpretations such as the Transactional and Hidden Variable / Bohmian Mechanics Interpretations.

At least according to some physicists.

This has been very controversial within the physics community however, with many critics disagreeing and arguing against the results and interpretations, although interestingly most critics disagree with each other's arguments and interpretations. Their only common ground seems to be the desire for Afshar's interpretation to not be true.

All in all I find this utterly fascinating, both from new concepts and data with which to consider the fundamental nature of reality, and also the implications for the history of science and the cultural evolution of scientific models and the influence they carry. The experiment was done in 2004; imagine if it was done in 1914, would quantum physics have turned out differently?

Reference

Many thanks to author / philosopher Steve Patterson for his article Quantum Physics and the Abuse of Reason available here http://steve-patterson.com/quantum-physics-abuse-reason/ that I stumbled across this week. This discusses the absurdity of some quantum interpretations and how they have been abused by quacks to mislead people about deep questions concerning life and the Universe. It is also where I discovered the Afshar experiment and the reason for this post.

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+Mark Bruce Indeed it's more like consistent histories. It's been about 35 years since I studied this, mind you. An instantaneous quantum state corresponds to a ray in a Hilbert space (which is a vector space). The Schrödinger equation is a linear differential equation that describes the time evolution of that state, which is smooth. When you choose an observable you choose a corresponding decomposition of the vector space as the sum of orthogonal subspaces. If you assume yourself (or the universe) to always be in a unique classical state, at the moment you measure the observable there's discontinuous "collapse" of the state of the measured quantum system to its projection onto one of these orthogonal subspaces (as are determined by the choice of observable); with probabilities according to the Born rule. That's the Copenhagen interpretation.

Note the difference made by the fact that states are rays rather than vectors of the space: the discontinuity at collapse doesn't impact mass (as it seems if you represent for yourself the rays by unit vectors along them). 

More modern interpretations, including Many Worlds, have as principal ingredient the consideration that at the instant of measurement or interaction the phase space initially considered ceases to be valid. You really need to refactor the description from the beginning, with a vaster Hilbert space to describe both the initial system and you with your instruments. When you plug that instead into Schrödinger's equation, it can be smoothly run over the act of measurement, and what happens at the moment of measurement is that your own state gets entangled with that of the initially considered quantum system, which means the part that describes you becomes a superposition of versions of you having observed each of the possible outcomes, weighted according to the Born rule... but (given in particular that the equation is linear) these versions of you don't interact and are blissfully unaware of each other, like the dead cat and the live cat of Schrödinger's box.
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A Proactionary Overhaul for the Medical Establishment and its Regulation

Medical research is controlled and driven by the precautionary principle; any new medication or device must be proven to cause no harm before it will be approved. Such a requirement for proof, for the illusion of perfect knowledge, is a huge undertaking for any person or organisation embarking on this route. Regulations in this area lead to the growing collective insanity of fewer new drugs being approved and each new drug entering the market costing $2.5 billion - $5 billion; a figure arrived at by averaging the total investment to bring all drugs to market over the total number of drugs that actually make it. This is a perversion of our humanity and an insult to our sensibilities. Ultimately if we don’t take collective action then we get the regulatory system, ineffective medical industry, and hugely overpriced marginal band-aid drugs that we deserve.

One of the key things that such an approach misses, and that regulators consistently ignore in approving drugs, is the cost of not approving a particular medication. The harm caused by not approving a drug sooner. The tens or hundreds of thousands of lives that might otherwise be saved if a drug was made available a year or five earlier, and all due to what amounts to little more than bureaucratic red tape and trigger-happy lawyers in an environment of general scientific illiteracy in our communities.

In addition to criticisms of the precautionary approach actually causing more harm and suffering, there is also the issue of the precautionary approach generally blocking innovation and slowing progress, and indeed demanding the utter impossibility of perfect knowledge and zero risk in a world where uncertainty rules. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_principle#Criticisms

The entire system is in drastic need of a proactionary overhaul. A proactionary approach acknowledges the risks of acting and not acting and the harms and benefits offered by each and seeks to encourage and drive experimentation, innovation, and progress across the board. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proactionary_principle. A proactionary approach would allow drugs to be made available much sooner and would manage the risks for example by requiring mandatory monitoring for suitable periods of all who took the drug early, perhaps after cheap Phase 1 safety trials.

I find this to be one of the most frustrating institutional edifices currently plaguing our society and am perpetually bewildered by the continual lack of political, economic, and moral will needed to tackle the problem, reform the respective institutions, and commit to doing things in a better way. I’ve had the following two articles that relate to this issue bookmarked for a while and wanted to share them as they delve into these issues far better than I could.


The Scientific Institution is Biased Against Shortcuts to the Production of Practical Technology https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2015/01/the-scientific-institution-is-biased-against-shortcuts-to-the-production-of-practical-technology.php and excerpt:

Technology is the application of scientific knowledge. The scientific culture and scientific process as it is practiced today embodies a strong bias against any sort of shortcut towards the production of technology, however. If it seems plausible at a lesser level of understanding of a system that you could achieve some beneficial application, then the peer pressure in the scientific community is always to hold off and work instead towards a full understanding. This situation is not uncommon in medicine: many discoveries are serendipitous, but to try to turn demonstrated positive results in the laboratory into positive results in the clinic will be opposed at every turn until the underlying mechanisms can be fully explained. The bias against action and towards understanding as the primary goal is baked into every level of the research establishment and surrounding institutions.


The Mainstream Approach to Medical Research Must Change
https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2015/08/the-mainstream-approach-to-medical-research-must-change.php and excerpt:

The mainstream approach to medical science is to screen for drug compounds that produce beneficial alterations in cellular mechanisms observed in late stage disease. This almost entirely focuses on proximate causes of harm in a diseased, dysfunctional metabolism, far removed from the root causes that created the medical condition in the first place. It thus produces therapies that do little good in the grand scheme of things since they don't address the real cause of disease. They are rather efforts to make a badly damaged system limp along a little longer with patches and compensations, which is always expensive and doomed to failure, whether we are talking about a mechanical device or a human being. This strategy for medical research and development must change radically if we are to see meaningful progress towards prevention and cure of age-related disease.

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"Just to be clear I wasn't intending to boast "
Too late to make it a humblebrag. :)

"and am in no place to impress anybody "

Too late for that! I immediately spent the next hour after I read that paragraph, thinking about what drugs I can get you to develop. Ive got some good excellent ideas ( which in a more proactive culture, versions ought to be already on the market, due to existing evidence ) . 
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The Phenomenon of Self-Organised Criticality

Self-organised criticality is the name given to a phenomena characterised by dynamic systems that possess a critical transition point as an attractor, a state of being on the edge of a phase transition, on the edge of order and chaos, and heavily influenced by local feedback. It is considered a key mechanism by which complexity in natural systems spontaneously arises. I find it to be a beautiful and fascinating phenomena that seems to saturate the dynamics of living systems at all levels of organisation, from individual biomolecules and replication to brain function and consciousness. Wikipedia provides a starting point: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organized_criticality and some fascinating examples that I’ve had bookmarked for ages and wanted to share include the following.


1. Ubiquity & Adaptive Utility of Criticality in Biological Systems

Information-based fitness and the emergence of criticality in living systems is an excellent open-access article exploring the importance and power of self-organised criticality in living systems, particularly with regard to their evolution, adaptation, and the cooperation between a community of agents. Article here http://www.pnas.org/content/111/28/10095.full and summary:

Recently, evidence has been mounting that biological systems might operate at the borderline between order and disorder, i.e., near a critical point. A general mathematical framework for understanding this common pattern, explaining the possible origin and role of criticality in living adaptive and evolutionary systems, is still missing. We rationalize this apparently ubiquitous criticality in terms of adaptive and evolutionary functional advantages. We provide an analytical framework, which demonstrates that the optimal response to broadly different changing environments occurs in systems organizing spontaneously—through adaptation or evolution—to the vicinity of a critical point. Furthermore, criticality turns out to be the evolutionary stable outcome of a community of individuals aimed at communicating with each other to create a collective entity.


2. Criticality is Crucial for Consciousness and Brain Function

A growing body of experimental evidence suggests that the phenomenon of self-organised criticality is crucial to normal effective brain function and indeed to consciousness itself. As usual Quanta Magazine provides an excellent article titled A Fundamental Theory to Model the Mind on the history of self-organised criticality and the growing recognition of its importance in brain function here https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140403-a-fundamental-theory-to-model-the-mind/ with excerpt:

There can be no phase transitions without a critical point, and without transitions, a complex system cannot adapt. That is why avalanches only show up at criticality, a “sweet spot” where a system is perfectly balanced between order and disorder. They typically occur when the brain is in its normal resting state. Avalanches are a mechanism by which a complex system avoids becoming trapped, or “phase-locked,” in one of two extreme cases. At one extreme, there is too much order, such as during an epileptic seizure; the interactions among elements are too strong and rigid, so the system cannot adapt to changing conditions. At the other, there is too much disorder; the neurons aren’t communicating as much, or aren’t as broadly interconnected throughout the brain, so information can’t spread as efficiently and, once again, the system is unable to adapt.

More recently we had an article in Science Magazine Consciousness may be the product of carefully balanced chaos here http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/01/consciousness-may-be-product-carefully-balanced-chaos discussing how consciousness itself appears to be inherently dependent on the phenomenon of criticality in the brain. Criticality in the brain appears to maximise cortical integration to effectively combine multiple inputs from different sources simultaneously in a single moment.

During wakeful consciousness, participants’ brains generated a flurry of ever-changing activity, and the fMRI showed a multitude of overlapping networks activating as the brain integrated its surroundings and generated a moment to moment “flow of consciousness.” After the propofol kicked in, brain networks had reduced connectivity and much less variability over time. The brain seemed to be stuck in a rut, using the same pathways over and over again. The results suggest that, in the brain, there is an optimal level of connectivity between neurons that creates the maximum number of possible pathways. If each neuron can be thought of as a node in the network, consciousness might result from exploring the network as thoroughly as possible.

Interestingly this also appears to provide support for Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory of consciousness.


3. Quantum Criticality, Thermodynamics, and the Inevitability of LIfe

The Origin of Life And The Hidden Role of Quantum Criticality is another excellent article examining this phenomenon, available here https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/the-origin-of-life-and-the-hidden-role-of-quantum-criticality-ca4707924552#.17fxh48lp. This discusses the importance of self-organised criticality for biomolecules and proteins and the functioning of all life. The biomolecules and proteins exhibit quantum critical conduction profiles and the odds of finding one molecule that stably exhibits a quantum critical state is astronomically small; finding most here suggests an incredibly strong selection pressure for evolution to find these structures. Key excerpt:

Quantum criticality describes the behaviour of electrons in large molecules when they occupy the exotic state that sits at the knife edge between conduction and insulation. Most biomolecules are quantum critical conductors; their electronic properties are precisely tuned to the transition point between a metal and an insulator. In other words, biomolecules belong to an entirely new class of conductor that is not bound by the ordinary rules of electron transport, a discovery that has profound implications for our understanding of the nature of life and its origin.

Finally, I think this other excellent article A New Physics Theory of Life again from Quanta Magazine here https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140122-a-new-physics-theory-of-life/ discusses (what I think is) a closely related phenomena in which thermodynamic efficiency, the ever-more-effective dissipation of heat and energy, drives the inevitable birth of life and self-replicating systems that are much more effective at this than inanimate matter. Another excerpt:

When a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. Self-replication, the process that drives the evolution of life on Earth, is one such mechanism by which a system might dissipate an increasing amount of energy over time.

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Very interesting - I'll definitely have to have a cruise through those links later. 
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Distributed Scientific Services, Products, and the Collective

For years I’ve thought that it would be great to have laboratories and the associated lab equipment and lab services distributed and available online as needed.

The concept here is simply analogous to the conventional Internet model in which you set up a vast data center that is accessible to others to store files, host websites and web services, deploy APIs, and generally obviate the need - should they choose - for users to run, maintain, and host their own servers, bandwidth, and computational capital.

Very basically you’d set up a large warehouse full of automated laboratory equipment, humans (eventually robots) to ferry samples to and from physical mail-delivery and machines, with data and results accessible online as needed; material results can be shipped as required. Direct control of the equipment, including calibration would be offered in some instances if necessary. All experiments and processes would be live streamed to the client as needed.

Once mature and widespread, the benefits to such a set-up include 24/7 asset utilisation, greatly reduced costs of research for scientists, multi-million dollar equipment accessible by citizen scientists, a faster scientific feedback-loop of question-hypothesis-experiment-results, faster scientific advances and technological development, greater experimental repeatability, greater knowledge and visibility of errors and failures.

And perhaps most important of all: avoiding the monumental waste of productive capacity, the waste of different groups working in secret on the same things and spending resources on the same experiments: “Do you really wish to perform that experiment Dr. Bruce? That experiment was already performed in triplicate two months ago and the results are available here.”

Of course the future of the Internet as suggested by innovative approaches like the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) might be wholly distributed with no centralised facilities. In that case the components of such a facility or facilities would be distributed and made accessible in the same fashion; the distributed nature may as well be invisible to the user.

Current Examples

These aren’t wholly original ideas of course; others obviously had them at a similar time and actually acted on them. I first heard about Emerald therapeutics (via http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-07-03/emerald-therapeutics-biotech-lab-for-hire in 2014) and TetraScience (via http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/14/tetrasciences-internet-of-instruments-could-supercharge-research/ in 2015) and thought I’d check up on them to see how they’ve been going.

Emerald Therapeutics http://emeraldcloudlab.com/how-it-works runs the Emerald Cloud Lab and has been set up similarly to the first example. Emerald Therapeutics runs large centralised facilities with a lot of state of the art equipment; users login to their website, design and order an experiment, ship samples if needed, Emerald executes the experiment in their automated laboratory facility, collects and stores results in a large database, and provides data and samples if needed back to the user. By the end of 2016 they hope to be able to offer every standard experiment available in the life sciences.

TetraScience http://tetrascience.com/ however is focused on connecting existing scientific equipment to the Internet and has been set up similarly to the second example. The platform allows a wide range of scientific instruments to be remotely monitored, experiments run, and data captured for analysis. Appropriately resourced and automated TetraScience might enable users to easily access a distributed network of scientific equipment and conduct experiments and much reduced cost and increased convenience.

The Ultimate Vision

Projecting this forward, imagining such organisations growing to maturity in which they continually add ever-more instruments and equipment, and are able to offer near-complete scientific services and abilities. Short of building their own LHC of course.

At some point you’d no longer need to ship samples to the facility, but rather the facility would make the samples for you, with logistical networks long since ensuring the facility was able to access and store any raw material of interest and fabricate compounds and chemicals as needed.

Building on this the facility, fully automated with robots, would begin making its own equipment, which would be continually improved with the unmatched technical research and development capabilities within the facility.

If allowed to grow vast enough the facility might even start fabricating its own robots . . . or just about any product for that matter, scaling up to produce and ship ever more complex and advanced products to users and customers. Even producing its own improved solar panels and other energy harvesting tools to satisfy its energy requirements.

At that point it could spawn and host myriad small businesses and producers, creating and shipping novel products as needed and at zero marginal cost . . . much as giant data centers today have so much surplus capacity they can easily host myriad small Internet, App, and Data businesses, creating and providing access to novel products to users around the world as needed.

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Yes +Eric Jensen that would definitely be the most profitable scenario: if someone orders the same experiment you'd just charge them for it as normal and provide the data you already had . . . perhaps quicker than they would have expected ;-)

But beyond the purely economic and confidentiality argument I still think there are more profound and powerful benefits to having an open system like this and not duplicating effort. I think those who wished to maintain secrecy could do so, i.e. do it themselves, but I think that would mean they would fall behind those who otherwise embraced this model. 
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SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 05/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/01/googles-alphago-wearable-sensors-lego.html

Google’s AlphaGo, Wearable sensors, Lego molecules, Programmed 3D assembly, Scalable bioplastics, Conductive plastics, Nerve magnetic fields, Electric charge wakes, Universal tumour vaccine, Decoding human thoughts. 

1. Google General Machine Learning Masters Go
Google’s new AlphaGo machine learning system is the first to routinely defeat human players at Go, and proved itself by defeating the European champion 5-0 https://googleblog.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/alphago-machine-learning-game-go.html. The system combines advanced tree search with deep neural networks 12 layers deep containing millions of neural connections that let it evaluate a Go board, predict the other player’s next move (57% of the time), and execute its own next move to win. In march AlphaGo will face off against the top Go player in the world. This marks the successful completion of one of the grand challenges of AI, but importantly this is a general machine learning system that figured out itself how to win at Go, and it’ll be exciting to see the system extended to helping with important real-world problems. In related news new methods to grant short-term memory to recurrent neural networks offer significant benefits http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/software/the-neural-network-that-remembers, and another machine learning system automatically fixes bugs in software code http://news.mit.edu/2016/faster-automatic-bug-repair-code-errors-0129

2. Flexible Wearable Sensors
Flexible and transparent pressure sensors just 8 micrometers thick have been created that are able to measure the pressure distribution of rounded surfaces and retain accuracy even when bent over a radius of just 80 micrometers http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-01/uot-fat012216.php. The sensor patch includes carbon nanotubes and graphene to form nanofibers in an elastic polymer as well as organic transistors and electronic switches; testing with small artificial blood vessels showed accurate measurement of small pressure changes. Interesting in wearables, implantables, and robot / device skins. In related news a complete wearable smart sweat sensor detects the wearer’s sodium, potassium, lactate, and glucose levels and sends these via Bluetooth to a smartphone or other device http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/diagnostics/smart-wearable-sensor-takes-sweatmonitoring-to-next-level; very promising platform technology. 

3. Self Assembled Lego Molecules
New chemistry research has created methods to produce libraries of giant molecules out of different precisely arranged modular nano building blocks made of smaller orthogonally functionalised nanoparticles http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-01/acs-fwl012216.php. The orthogonal functionalisation of the building blocks ensures that they can only come together in a specific fashion and in a specific order, and so allowing the controllable or programmable self-assembly of complex molecular superstructures and novel materials. With further work and scale such atomically precise molecular fabrication technology should transform device creation and function. In related news self-assembling block copolymers have formed the first self-assembled superconductor http://phys.org/news/2016-01-self-assembled-superconductor.html.

4. Programmatic Assembly of Complex 3D Structures
In related news a fundamental origami fold or tesselation called the Miura-ori is being used to fold a 2D surface into almost any 3D structure http://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2016/01/designing-pop-up-future. This is a fascinating exploration of simple geometry, as the structures can be folded flat before expanding back to their defined 3D shape as needed - think of a surgical tool introduced through a small cut before expanding to a functional shape. The group designed a program that can take an arbitrary 3D structure and calculate the placement and size of folds needed to create it from a 2D surface and fold it flat. And a new 4D printing technique involves the creation of 3D printed hydrogels into structures that fold and change shape over time depending on environmental conditions http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpressrelease/239/

5. Scalable Renewable Bioplastics
A joint venture between DuPont and ADM has successfully created a breakthrough in industrial chemistry for the efficient mass conversion of fructose into one of the key fundamental building blocks used in the mass production of polymers http://www.adm.com/en-US/news/_layouts/PressReleaseDetail.aspx?ID=703. This has been a long-sought-after goal in industrial chemistry and is a platform technology that will enable the cost-efficient production of a wide range of renewable, high-performance chemicals and polymers independent of conventional materials and sources from the oil and petroleum industry. 

6. Plastics Conduct Current 1,000 Times Better
On the topic of advanced new plastics and chemistry, charge transport in certain polymers have boosted by three orders of magnitude http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-01/uu-beu012816.php. These materials are based on relatively conventional semiconducting organic polymers, but by creating a technique able to control the chain and crystallite orientation within the bulk polymer film these materials can now have electron mobilities 1,000 times faster, and all without metallic doping. This is just one order of magnitude shy of electron mobilities in silicon devices, and the result should greatly improve applications in organic solar cells and photodiodes. 

7. External Measurement of Nerve Magnetic Fields
For the first time the tiny magnetic fields produced by individual nerves have been measured non-invasively from outside the body at room temperature http://www.technologyreview.com/view/546146/first-laser-measurements-of-magnetic-fields-of-single-nerves/. The sensor uses a laser beam to detect the effect of a magnetic field on a gas of caesium atoms that polarises light depending on the magnetic field properties; this is a highly sensitive optical magnetometer that has been made to work at room temperature and can be used to detect the precise activity of nerves from several millimeters away. Further improvements might allow the technique to reach larger distances and smaller nerves, perhaps even neurons, and with the possibility of not just measuring activity but directly modulating activity. 

8. New Charge Wake Phenomena on Metal Surfaces
An interesting new phenomenon has been discovered on gold surfaces in which the two-dimensional equivalent of Cherenkov radiation can be produced and controllably steered around the surface http://www.research.a-star.edu.sg/research/7443/left-in-the-wake. This starts by (i) shining polarised light on the surface, (ii) excited electrons produce a wave of charge whose velocity results in (iii) surface plasmon wakes being produced that (iv) can be steered using an array of nanostructured apertures. Interesting nanoscale photonics with possible future applications in holograms and special directional lenses. 

9. Possible Universal Tumour Vaccine
An early experimental cancer vaccine against seeks to target two properties shared by all growing and metastasising tumours, (i) increased proliferation facilitated by active telomerase, and (ii) angiogenesis and blood vessel growth https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/01/one-possible-approach-to-a-universal-tumor-vaccine.php. Co-immunization in mice against both of these factors was shown to have a more potent inhibitory effect on tumours than either alone. The vaccine, which with further tests and development might be a possible universal vaccine against cancer, takes the form of a recombinant adenovirus that expresses key telomerase and angiogenesis proteins and induces potent immune-cell mediated attack of tumour cells and suppression of angiogenesis. 

10. Decoding Human Thoughts in Realtime
Improved signal analysis techniques with electrodes implanted into the brains (temporal lobes) of patients are now able to predict - after training - what class of images the person is viewing with 96% accuracy http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-01/uowh-sdb012716.php. These predictions and measurements are calculated within 20 milliseconds of the patient observing a particular image. The study only investigated a couple of distinct visual phenomena but the promise is that with very high-density electrode arrays you would be able to calculate not only what sensory information the person was taking in in real-time but also perhaps what sensory phenomena they are thinking about. 

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html 
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7, 8, 10 all seem very interesting to me.
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Yuval Harari on Techno-Religions and the State of Ideology

This is a good albeit long talk by Harari and while it takes him a little to get going I found it compelling and interesting to listen to. There's a bunch of new memes and memeplexes in here for consideration and in typical Harari style we get a wide-ranging discussion covering religion, dominant ideologies and the birth of new ideas, world history, society, consciousness, frameworks for decision making, and other things. The Q&A session at the end is as worthwhile as the main talk as he discusses and expands on a number of different topics.

I'm a fan of Harari's Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, which I've previously covered in detail here https://plus.google.com/+MarkBruce/posts/89ArY5vgPv3, and which is the main book I recommend to people to read if I have to choose just one.

Thanks +Matthew J Price for the original share of this talk.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6BK5Q_Dblo
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That's one of the other really nice benefits about working at a place like Google - they bring people like Yuval there to talk. 
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