Category Archives: Science

Why Your Brain Hates Other People

By Robert Sapolsky – Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture.

We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalizations that we mistake for rationality.

Pretty depressing.

The brain’s fault lines dividing Us from Them are also shown with the hormone oxytocin. It’s famed for its pro-social effects—oxytocin prompts people to be more trusting, cooperative, and generous. But, crucially, this is how oxytocin influences behavior toward members of your own group. When it comes to outgroup members, it does the opposite… more> https://goo.gl/jv9WTY

The idea of creating a new universe in the lab is no joke

By Zeeya Merali – There’s an established principle in quantum theory that pairs of particles can spontaneously, momentarily pop out of empty space. Alex Vilenkin took this notion a step further, arguing that quantum rules could also enable a minuscule bubble of space itself to burst into being from nothing, with the impetus to then inflate to astronomical scales.

Our cosmos could thus have been burped into being by the laws of physics alone. Many cosmologists have made peace with the notion of a universe without a prime mover, divine or otherwise.

.. flipping the problem around, I started to wonder: what are the implications of humans even considering the possibility of one day making a universe that could become inhabited by intelligent life? As I discuss in my book A Big Bang in a Little Room (2017), current theory suggests that, once we have created a new universe, we would have little ability to control its evolution or the potential suffering of any of its residents. Wouldn’t that make us irresponsible and reckless deities?

We will not be creating baby universes anytime soon, but scientists in all areas of research must feel able to freely articulate the implications of their work without concern for causing offence. Cosmogenesis is an extreme example that tests the principle.

Parallel ethical issues are at stake in the more near-term prospects of creating artificial intelligence or developing new kinds of weapons, for instance.

As Anders Sandberg put it, although it is understandable that scientists shy away from philosophy, afraid of being thought weird for veering beyond their comfort zone, the unwanted result is that many of them keep quiet on things that really matter. more> https://goo.gl/GjCJpd

Updates from GE

The Time To Invent The Technologies That Will Power Our Future Is Now
By David Danielson – The year 2050 sounds pretty far away, doesn’t it? But in terms of the world our children and grandchildren will inherit, 2050 is today: it’s right around the corner.

By 2050, there will be almost 10 billion people on Earth, one-third more than there are today, with essentially all of this population growth predicted to be in currently less-wealthy nations around the world. And the approximately 9 billion people living in these nations in 2050 will be hungry to consume more energy, requiring an almost doubling of energy usage per person to achieve a good standard of living by some estimates.

At the same time, the world’s best scientists have determined that we must simultaneously reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050, relative to today’s levels, in order to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

Scaling and improving today’s clean energy technologies can take us part of the way to the future we all want. Technologies like wind power, solar power, LEDs, electric vehicle batteries, and many others are already rapidly approaching widespread cost-competitiveness with traditional forms of energy.

But these technologies alone will not be enough: it has become clear now that to provide universal energy access around the world while simultaneously achieving required emissions reductions, we must unleash an unprecedented Energy Innovation Revolution today – and over the next few years – to develop the transformative new energy technologies that will be needed to close the gap between the 2050 we are headed for and the 2050 we want. more> https://goo.gl/57jCZr

Understanding The Digital Revolution And What It Means

By Henning Meyer – The digital revolution, used here as shorthand for broader technological change, is one of today’s most hotly debated topics in politics, economics and business.

We are undoubtedly faced with large-scale disruptions in many areas that require adjustments.

To analyse exposure to the digital revolution and potential policy solutions you need to start breaking it down into manageable dimensions. Three areas in particular warrant special attention: What are the forces shaping the application of new technologies? What does the digital revolution mean for the future of work? And what kind of policies could help to address these issues?

There is a general lack of structured analysis of the ways in which technological progress translates into real life. This is an important shortcoming as it leads to a distorted view of real-time developments. Here we try to structure this process and identify five filters that in effect moderate technology’s impact.

First, an ethical filter. This filter restricts research itself as it sets a permission framework for what can be done.

Second, a social filter. Social resistance against technological change is not new and it is likely to be more intense in areas where there is a perceived threat to people’s jobs.

Third, a corporate governance filter.

Fourth, a legal filter also moderates what is possible and what is applied in the real world.

Last but not least a productivity filter. This filter means in principle that the application of new technology does not have a dramatic effect on productivity because either the productivity bottleneck lies elsewhere or diminishing marginal returns mean that there is little real improvement in products or services. more> https://goo.gl/nZdclG

Updates from GE

By Yari M. Bovalino & Tomas Kellner – Frank Herzog was still in elementary school in the historic Bavarian city of Bamberg when he fell in love — with metals. So ardent was his passion that he later quit high school to pursue it. “I was young when I realized that I loved the material,” he says.

More than three decades later, Herzog’s fascination with shiny objects continues. He is the founder and CEO of Concept Laser, a pioneering maker of 3D printing machines, including the world’s largest industrial printer for metals. His machines can print delicate jewelry and dental implants as well as massive engine blocks for trucks.

Last fall, GE acquired a majority stake in Herzog’s company, and Concept Laser is now part of GE Additive, a new GE business dedicated to supplying 3D printers, materials and engineering consulting services.

Herzog, 45, grew up in a state that’s obsessed with engineering. Mechanical engineers alone account for 17 percent of Bavaria’s workforce. more> https://goo.gl/uS55hn

End-times for humanity

BOOK REVIEW

Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction, Author: Claire Colebrook.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Author: Naomi Klein.
Antifragile, Author: Nicholas Taleb.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Author: Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Social Contract, Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

By Claire Colebrook – The panic isn’t merely about civilisational threats, but existential ones. Beyond doomsday proclamations about mass extinction, climate change, viral pandemics, global systemic collapse and resource depletion, we seem to be seized by an anxiety about losing the qualities that make us human.

Social media, we’re told, threatens our capacity for empathy and genuine connection.

How did we arrive at this moment in history, in which humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before, and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile?

What contemporary post-apocalyptic culture fears isn’t the end of ‘the world’ so much as the end of ‘a world’ – the rich, white, leisured, affluent one. Western lifestyles are reliant on what the French philosopher Bruno Latour has referred to as a ‘slowly built set of irreversibilities’, requiring the rest of the world to live in conditions that ‘humanity’ regards as unlivable.

And nothing could be more precarious than a species that contracts itself to a small portion of the Earth, draws its resources from elsewhere, transfers its waste and violence, and then declares that its mode of existence is humanity as such. more> https://goo.gl/1nriI9

Updates from Aalto University

Solar energy to Otaniemi – campus planning invests in energy efficiency
By Satu Kankaala – Right now, the Aalto University main campus is growing and developing rapidly. Campus planning is investing in energy efficiency, which is an important step in the goal towards an energy self-sufficient Otaniemi ‘According to our report, ground heat and solar energy are the most suitable options for Otaniemi, and we are gradually increasing their use’, tells Satu Kankaala, Head of Workplaces and Sustainability at Aalto CRE.

‘The campus is made unique by several culturally significant locations as well as the nearby nature and conservation area. They also impact what kinds of energy technologies can be used in the properties’, she continues.

According to Kankaala, also financial sustainability, the wellbeing of people working in the spaces, and improving the utilization of the spaces are central aspects of responsible campus development.

About 45% of the energy used for heating and 75% of the energy used for cooling the recently repaired Dipoli comes from geothermal energy. Geothermal energy will comprise about 90% of the heating and up to 95% of the cooling of Väre, which will be finished next year. The electricity consumption of campus buildings has considerably been reduced by measures such as shifting to LED lighting and improving the power management of the computer base. With these energy efficiency measures, the carbon footprint of the buildings has been significantly reduced. more> https://goo.gl/crp3uu

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Updates from GE

Beyond Bitcoin: Digital Currency Among Many Industrial Applications For Blockchain
By Mark Egan & Dorothy Pomerantz – Ben Beckmann works as the lead scientist in the complex systems engineering lab at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, New York. In 2012, he made a seemingly inconsequential wager: He bet one of his colleagues that the electronic currency bitcoin would fail.

Bitcoins started trading for pennies after the currency launched in 2009. Today, you can buy one bitcoin for $2,200. Beckmann lost the bet and took his colleague for a nice meal. “If we had taken the $100 we spent on dinner and invested it in bitcoins at the start, we would be millionaires,” Beckmann laughs.

Losing the bet pushed Beckman to take a closer look at the code behind bitcoin. He and others at GE discovered that the real magic that made it work was a public digital ledger called blockchain that keeps a chronological record of all bitcoin transactions. But the currency is just one blockchain application. The technology could be used for tracking trade, contracts, and even renewable energy.

Maja Vujinovic, technical product manager at GE Digital, is leading a push to explore and develop blockchain across the company. She’s looking at everything from purchase orders and budget reconciliation and parts tracking. “The bank receives a fee for every transaction,” Vujinovic  says. “If we can remove the bank and establish a trust mechanism instead, that will save us a lot of money.” more> https://goo.gl/5XIWo7

Updates from Georgia Tech

Decades of Data on World’s Oceans Reveal a Troubling Oxygen Decline
By Takamitsu Ito, Shoshiro Minobe, Matthew C. Long and Curtis Deutsch – A new analysis of decades of data on oceans across the globe has revealed that the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.

The majority of the oxygen in the ocean is absorbed from the atmosphere at the surface or created by photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Ocean currents then mix that more highly oxygenated water with subsurface water. But rising ocean water temperatures near the surface have made it more buoyant and harder for the warmer surface waters to mix downward with the cooler subsurface waters. Melting polar ice has added more freshwater to the ocean surface – another factor that hampers the natural mixing and leads to increased ocean more> stratification.

Falling oxygen levels in water have the potential to impact the habitat of marine organisms worldwide and in recent years led to more frequent “hypoxic events” that killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and many other organisms. more> https://goo.gl/3F17TB

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Updates from GE

Leaner Than Lean: How Digitalization Transforms Manufacturing
By Randy Stearns – If you want to see the future of manufacturing, follow the Tama River about 45 kilometers upstream from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to the GE Healthcare facility in Hino, Japan. Inside this outwardly conventional, low-rise suburban business complex is emerging the blueprint for the future of manufacturing, tweak by painstaking tweak.

The Hino factory makes both parts for large medical scanners and small, precision equipment. Compared with similar facilities, its production lines are exceptionally efficient — fast, with less waste, errors and unplanned downtime — thanks in part to the successful integration of advanced digital information technology with operational systems. GE calls this convergence of hardware and software on the shop floor the brilliant factory.

The Hino plant is where the Industrial Internet meets Kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous improvement pioneered by Toyota after World War II that undergirds Lean methods for eliminating waste in manufacturing. more> https://goo.gl/euCTYE