GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – AUGUST 2019

China Giving Away Location Trackers To Its Children

 Over 17,000 students at 60 elementary schools in Guangzhou received free fancy new gadgets for their wrists last month.

Called “Safe Campus Smartwatches,” the wearables send the children’s locations in real time to their respective parents’ smartphones, and allow them to make a call in the case of an emergency.

The local government says it is part of an initiative to help parents keep their kids safe. Participation is voluntary, and so far 8,000 students have registered their watches and brought them online. The project soon plans to issue more than 30,000 in total, as well as a similar “safety bracelet” for the elderly.

The watches are equipped with a positioning chip, developed by BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, China’s GPS equivalent. It also includes an indoor positioning system module and is compatible with GPS. The company says it can pinpoint a wearer’s position within 10 meters.

No chance of misuse by state authorities, I presume?

Gut Bacteria May Play Role In Neuro-Diseases

 A compelling new study has described a novel association between viral infections, neurodegenerative disease, the gut microbiome, and our immune system.

The research suggests gut bacteria disruptions can allow harmful viruses to trigger neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

A growing body of research is hypothesising viral infections of the central nervous system (CNS) to be fundamentally related to the onset of a number of chronic neurological and psychiatric disorders. Alzheimer’sParkinson’s and multiple sclerosis have all, at some point, been implicated as initiated by a CNS viral infection.

We also are increasingly realising the diverse population of bacteria residing in our gut seems to be fundamentally interlinked with our immune system. For example, recent research has found antibiotics can significantly disrupt our gut microbiome, resulting in everything from impairing the efficacy of vaccines to enhancing the spread of a flu infection.

This new study, from the University of Utah School of Medicine, set out to examine what role the gut microbiome could be playing in the onset of neurodegenerative disease.

Editing Plant Genes To Reduce Global Warming

Researchers at the Salk Institute are approaching plant gene editing with some very big-picture thinking, looking to edit the genes of humankind’s most commonly sown crops so they store more carbon dioxide underground as a way of fighting climate change. And in a paper published last month, they describe their first big breakthrough.

The “Harnessing Plants Initiative” is a team of scientists from California’s Salk Institute who hope to leverage gene-editing technologies so that plants can help stem the tide of global warming.

But not just any plants. Corn, soybean, rice, wheat, cotton and rapeseed are the species in the scientists’ sights as they probe the molecular mysteries of plant life.

And with very good reason, as team member Wolfgang Busch, explains: “We are interested in achieving the biggest impact on storing carbon in the soil,” Busch, a molecular biologist and author on the new study, also says:

“To make a meaningful impact on atmospheric CO2 levels is a massive challenge. Agriculture is one of the most enormous human activities and performed on vast scales. These six species are among the most prevalent crops and are grown on almost 800 million hectares of land worldwide. That means that the impact that can be achieved by focusing on these six crops is potentially enormous if, on a significant fraction of the land that is occupied by these crops, carbon-sequestration-enhanced varieties of these crop plants can be grown.”

Walmart Is Rolling Out The Robots

Walmart Inc. is expanding its use of robots in stores to help monitor inventory, clean floors and unload trucks, part of the retail giant’s efforts to control labour costs as it spends more to raise wages and offer new services like online grocery delivery.

The USA’s largest private employer said at least 300 stores this year will add machines that scan shelves for out-of-stock products. Autonomous floor scrubbers will be deployed in 1,500 stores to help speed up cleaning, after a test in hundreds of stores last year. And the number of conveyor belts that automatically scan and sort products as they come off trucks will more than double, to 1,200.

The company said the addition of a single machine can cut a few hours a day of work previously done by a human, or allow Walmart to allocate fewer people to complete a task, a large saving when spread around 4,600 U.S. stores. Executives said they are focused on giving workers more time to do other tasks, and on hiring in growing areas like e-commerce.

Instead, Walmart is spending to battle Amazon.com Inc. and serve more shoppers buying online. Walmart has hired around 40,000 store workers to pick groceries from shelves to fulfil online orders. The company is also raising wages, adding worker training, and buying e-commerce start-ups.

Tattoos Become The Ultimate Health Wearable

Many people get a tattoo as a means of making a statement. Thanks to new research into permanent tattoos that change colour in response to certain biomarkers, that statement could one day be something along the lines of, “My pH levels are being monitored.”

The technology is being developed by a team from Germany’s Technical University of Munich, led by researcher Ali K. Yetisen.

Basically, the idea is that patients with chronic conditions would receive permanent tattoos, the colour of which would switch in response to changing levels of given metabolic substances in their bloodstream. Therefore, if the patient or their doctor noticed a change in tattoo colour, they would know that the condition had either worsened or improved, depending on the colour. A smartphone app – which the scientists have already developed – could help them to objectively “read” the tattoos.

In lab tests on pieces of pig skin, the researchers experimented by injecting various dyes through the epidermis and into the underlying dermis. This is the same manner in which permanent tattoos are applied to humans.

NASA Backs Cryogenic Hydrogen As Fuel For Electric Planes

The University of Illinois has announced that NASA is underwriting a project to develop a cryogenic hydrogen fuel cell system for powering all-electric aircraft.

Funded by a three-year, US$6 million contract, the Center for Cryogenic High-Efficiency Electrical Technologies for Aircraft (CHEETA) will investigate the technology needed to produce a practical all-electric design to replace conventional fossil fuel propulsion systems.

The jet engine in all its variations has revolutionized air travel, but with airline profit margins running wafer thin in these ecologically conscious times, there’s a lot of interest in moving away from aircraft powered by fossil fuels and toward emission-free electric propulsion systems that aren’t dependent on petroleum and its volatile prices.

The CHEETA project is a consortium of eight institutions that include the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Research and Technology, General Electric Global Research, Ohio State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Arkansas, the University of Dayton Research Institute, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Although the project is still in its conceptual stage, the researchers have a firm vision of the technology and its potential.

Never Take Antibiotics To Treat The Flu – They’ll Make It Worse

 The over-prescription of antibiotics is a major problem in the world today, leading to the dramatic rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. New research led by scientists from the Francis Crick Institute in London is suggesting not only are antibiotics ineffective for individuals suffering from influenza, but they can actually worsen the initial viral infection.

The first line of defence against a flu infection is in our lungs. This is where the notorious virus usually begins its infection. The new study describes how the body’s early defence strategy involves a process called type I interferon signalling. This primary immune response triggers antiviral genes in cells lining the lung, which subsequently inhibit the speed of a replicating virus.

“Previous studies have focused on immune cells, but we found that the lining cells are more important for the crucial early stages of infection,” says Andreas Wack, senior author on the new study. “They are the only place that the virus can multiply, so they are the key battleground in the fight against flu.”

Investigating what can modulate this interferon signalling and affect how well our body fights back in the earliest stages of a flu infection, the researchers discovered an antibiotic treatment of just two to four weeks directly inhibits this process.

Online Gambling Suddenly Became A Very Risky Pursuit

 A team of computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and the Facebook AI Research lab has created an AI system that, for the first time, has defeated several poker professionals in six-player Texas hold-em. Unlike earlier iterations of the system, the researchers will not publicly release this algorithm’s code, for fear it could decimate the online poker world (Right! – Ed.).

Back in early 2017 a team of Carnegie Mellon researchers demonstrated a new AI poker system called Libratus. Over a decade’s worth of work culminated in an impressive 20-day event in which Libratus beat four poker professionals across 120,000 hands of no limit Texas hold ’em.

Libratus was not perfect though. As well as only functioning effectively in two-player, head-to-head versions of the game, it relied on an extraordinary amount of supercomputer power to work. Libratus needed 15 million CPU core hours to just develop a blueprint strategy, and during live gameplay still relied on 1,400 CPU cores to function.

Now, in 2019, the researchers have revealed Pluribus, an extraordinary evolution of the poker playing system, which can now win multi-player poker games while using only a fraction of the processing power of its predecessor – 12,400 core hours to compute its blueprint strategy and just 28 CPU cores in live play.

(How can they resist the temptation?)

 

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