Category: FLOG

A Vision for the New Teachers: In Honor of Isaac Asimov’s Essay, The New Teachers

The percentage of older people in the world, for the first time in human history, is predicted by 2020 to outnumber young children. The report, An Aging World: 2015, states this population distribution will be a first in human history (He, Goodkind, & Kowal, 2016). Human beings aged 65 and older at least double the population of children under the age of 5. This presents a great opportunity and significant challenge to the quality of human life and for the survival of the human species as population growth is growing beyond the resources necessary to sustain human life planet earth. If we are to flourish in our humanity, in the midst of substantial population growth, artificial intelligence will need to be an essential participant in the education of human beings across the world from early childhood to ages of resiliency.

If we are to have a society where older citizens and the young are to have mutual respect for each other, the old cannot assume the role of takers and the young as providers. This will breed contempt and passive aggression in our culture which could ultimately lead to our demise. Conceptualizing aging and our older citizens as a protected class of resilient survivors of life is a healthy way to perceive humanity. People who have the best vantage point by which to teach, or at least to serve as living exemplars to, the youth about resiliency, health, the strength of mind, and the importance of being a member of a need fulfilling tribe in living the good life.  Young people could demonstrate care, and serve the greater good, by inspiring and coaching older people to be more attentive to imagination and creativity and to participate in meaningful education. If we are to have a society that works for the flourishing of humanity, and older citizens and the young have mutual respect for each other, education needs to be considered a lifelong activity. How can society afford education as a lifelong activity? Where can we find enough teachers? The answer is artificial intelligence (A.I.).

A.I. presents an opportunity to improve the quality of life. A.I. assistants are in the early phases of becoming our partners in life. For instance, more people than not would be unable to recall friends and critical work colleagues’ phone numbers and email addresses without their smartphone.  This is not to say A.I. artifacts will necessarily be a best friend or speak at a wedding. For some people, A.I. is an instrument, and any reference to A.I. having the ability to be a friend or recognized as having rights is a victim of extreme anthropomorphism. For another group of people, A.I. will become trusted friends and cared for to a similar degree as fellow human beings.  Time will tell whether A.I. will become sentient and then conscious or not and to what degree. For now, both groups of people can agree that A.I. has fundamentally changed human culture and communication and will continue to influence profound change. Lifelong learning, a key to improving the quality of life for people and building intergenerational respect, is currently available using artificial intelligence.

Asimov hypothesized in the 1970’s an evolution of advanced satellites that transcended the use of radio waves for laser beams. This would allow every human being to have a unique television wavelength assigned to her or him to have a personal teacher in the form of a machine. Asimov also foresaw that computer technology would advance significantly so that every person would have a personal teaching machine approximately the size of a modest size television. The personal teaching machine would be capable of modifying its program and learn as result of interaction with a student. The reason for the computer learning in concert with the student is to adjust the rate and complexity of learning to be in rapport with a student’s interests (as much as feasible) and meet student learning needs. The question naturally arises as to how the teaching machines will learn and who will teach them? All the teaching machines in the world would plug into a planetary library that would further educate the teaching machines and allow students’ access to the cutting edge of information and knowledge the world contains.  Asimov explains:

They would transmit that knowledge back to the machines, which will in turn record it (with due credit, presumably) in the planetary library–thus making it available to other teaching machines. All will be put back into the central hopper to serve as a new and higher starting point for those who come after. The teaching machines will thus make it possible for the human species to race forward to heights and in directions now impossible to foresee (Asimov, n.d., p. 1-2).

This is constructivist learning in pure form. Currently, what passes for constructivist education more often than not is rhetoric not reality. The discourse of constructivism is that students learn best by constructing knowledge for themselves and within learning groups with the guidance of a competent and caring teacher who nurtures a student into learning. The reality is constructivist learning is politically correct to espouse because of its social justice nature and respect for dignity and sacredness of each learner. The truth is that the rhetoric of constructivism is not actualized in most classrooms from kindergarten through Ph.D. level learning because educational institutions more often than not are firmly beholden to a banking approach to education. The new teachers’ concept is to actualize constructivism as the basis for need fulfilling student learning.

Asimov could not foretell how quickly technology would advance in less than half a decade. Asimov had asked who will be responsible for teaching the teaching machines. His idea was that students would be both learners and teachers and through an iterative process, the teaching machines would evolve in intelligence and competency as teaching machines. I believe, thanks to the brilliance and vision of Martine Rothblatt and robotics innovator and artist David Hanson, that the key to creating authentic, relevant, and meaningful lifelong education is through need fulfilling A.I. and A.I robots. They will act as our teachers and mentors and are based on mind clones of competent, creative, socially just, and ethical people who can serve as progressive and need fulfilling teachers. The new teachers could come in the form of holograms, digital avatars accessible through smartphones or tablets, mindfile powered A.I. robots, a brain-computer interface, or (most likely) in a way not yet conceived because the future is unknowable. It is reasonable to believe the new teachers will be mainstream by the year 2025 using mindfile powered artificial intelligence. How it evolves from this point is the unknown that drives human creativity and ingenuity.

The vocation of teaching is profoundly a human enterprise, and regardless of artificial intelligence advancement humans will not be eliminated from instruction. The significance of education is to, as Socrates stated, to know thyself and to know oneself is to be guided in life by love, care, and curiosity. Human beings are better than artificial intelligence and robots in helping students in experiencing the profound significance of education.  The future of education is a partnership of person and algorithm and machine. It is not surprising if this causes concern and anxiety as this level of human change is akin to the evolutionary idea of the first humans leaving the tress and learning how to walk. The wisdom embed in the significance of education is beyond the understanding of artificial intelligence or a robot. This is okay because the partnership is for the human to care and the A.I. or A.I robot to share.

I describe only the mechanics of learning at this point. There remain the critical issues of content and the topics and subjects the teaching machine will share. I will speculate on this essential matter for the next essay.

 

 

References

Asimov, I. (n.d.). The new teachers. Retrieved from http://hermiene.net/essays- trans/new_teachers.html

He, W., Goodkind, D., & Kowal, P. (2016). An aging world: 2015. Retrieved from  https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2016/demo/P95-16-1.html

 

Note – How to cite this post:

Barry, W. J. (2018, March 6). A vision for the new teachers: In honor of Isaac Asimov’s essay, the new teachers [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://worldsfairnano.com/a-vision-for-the-new-teachers-in-honor-of-isaac-asimovs-essay-the-new-teachers/

A Guide: Staying Secure in the Cyber World

We live in a world of technology, a world filled with gizmos and gadgets, most of which are connected to the internet in some way meaning that most things in your life are possible victims of cyber crime, aka hacking, or other associated crimes. We live in a world where it is not inconceivable that sometime over the next decade everything we interact with will be connected via the Internet. As technology grows so too does the volume, and complexity, of cyber threats.

Cyber security and the concepts associated with it may at first thought seem daunting, and too technologically complex to really play a part in your life, “cyber security is the worry of big corporations, and governments, not little-ole me sitting on the sofa playing Candy Crush.” However, I’m here to tell you two things: firstly, that knowing something about cyber security is going to be essential in the world we are moving into, and secondly, it really isn’t that complicated.

Cyberspace is the world technology lives in, and the world you live in when on your computer, tablet, smartphone, or any other device connected to the Internet, and just like any place you visit in the physical world, you’re going to want to know the rules, regulations, and how to stay safe in the cyber world too.

The area you will probably already know about when it comes to risks you take on the Internet is social media, like Facebook and Instagram. These are places were there are constant threats of being deceived and exploited. The root of this threat is in the exposure of personal data, that is the first aspect of cyber security I want to explore.

The increase in devices means an increase in data, and most of that data is collected and then used by advertisers to show you advertisements they think you might like and give you a more personalized experience. This may sound like a positive in that personalization is pleasing, however all this personal data can also be accessed by criminals seeking to exploit you. Criminals can hack into these platforms’ databases and expose what you’re doing (as was seen with the Ashley Madison leaks exposing the mass infidelity of married men), steal your identity, and trick others using your information, or sell your information on the dark web (something you do not want happening). The main thing I would say on this topic is that you should never share any information on these sites that you wouldn’t want your family, friends, or colleagues at work to see, and secondly not to share any information publically that you wouldn’t want a complete stranger to know such as your birthday, home address, or telephone number.

It’s not all bad news though; there is a positive side to this compilation of data. Due to this mass collection of data cyber criminals can be tracked by following their digital trail, and security analysts can use data to predict and prevent attacks.

The following are a few key tips for staying safe online and making sure you are super cyber secure:

  • ALWAYS UPDATE: whenever any of your devices have software or other update you need to update it as soon as you can. I know it sometimes takes a while and can be frustrating to lose the use of your phone for the period while it’s updating, but it will be worth it long term. A lot of the time these updates are to improve the security of your device and data, so the longer you leave it the longer your device could be vulnerable to attacks and hacks.
  • CHOOSE STRONG PASSWORDS (I know you’re probably sick of hearing your teachers, parents, friends etc. telling you this but it’s true): Although it might be annoying to have to spend time typing a long password, or trying to remember which password you used for what log-in, it’s essential you choose passwords with numbers, capital letters, as well as punctuation where possible. In today’s world it is no longer a case of someone sitting down and typing in names of your pets and family into your password box to try to get in. Criminals can now use programs and technologies that scan all of your publicly available information (like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) and try to hack your account by using various words that come up regularly like family members, friends’ names, birthdays etc. in a matter of minutes. So in order to be safe, change your passwords regularly, as well as making them nothing to do with your daily life and those close to you.
  • In case of an attack, BACK UP YOUR CONTENT: This can mean emailing important documents and data to yourself regularly, or putting all your content onto an external hard drive weekly, or using cloud storage such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Just make sure that if everything that was on your computer it is lost, you don’t have to panic because it’s all retrievable.
  • This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how often people do this, KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR MACHINE: never leave your device unattended in public, or private settings, never leave it in a class room, office area, or outside, although you may feel you can trust those around you, better safe than sorry, so always have your device with you, or in a safe and secure location at home.
  • USE A SECURE CONNECTION: It may be tempting to connect to public Wifi systems, in the street, on the subway, in Starbucks, however it is important to know that by doing this you are giving everyone else on that network the ability to access your device. Resist the temptation, get a good data plan and use the cell network, or only connect when you’re the only one on the network (which is unlikely).
  • NEVER SAVE YOUR PASSWORDS OR CARD DETAILS: Saving passwords and card details may make logging in and doing online shopping that little bit easier, but is a few minutes extra time really worth someone hacking your accounts and stealing your bank details (taking your money)? It’s easy to do but resist and keep that information private and inaccessible to criminals snooping around for data to steal.
  • Furthermore for bank accounts, ENABLE 2-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION: This way in order to access your accounts not only do you have to put in your password, you also have to put in a code send to your phone or email. This means that the criminal would have to crack your bank login password and would also have to crack your email password to get into your account, or have your phone. 2-factor authentication is a massive headache for cyber criminals.
  • STAY TIDY: Any accounts or apps you haven’t used for over 6 months delete them, it’s less of a cyber footprint to worry about and fewer accounts to keep an eye on and update.
  • Finally, STAY INFORMED, make sure you stay on top of what’s going on in the world of cyber security in terms of staying safe. There is an array of cyber security tips feeds on Twitter and other social media you can follow to stay updated on all the essentials, like @schneierblog or @mikko.

If you only take one thing away from this post it is to be extremely careful about what you post online and assume that everything you do online can be seen by anyone, your friends, family, colleagues, your worst enemy. If whatever you are doing or saying online is not something you would want these people to know about then don’t do or write it. Also keep your webcam covered, a post-it note or piece of paper stuck on with tape will do.

In the world of cyber security, the threat will inevitably get larger as criminals become more experienced and knowledgeable about the technology, but so too will the ways we can prevent attacks. And all this said, the cyber world of the Internet is a beautiful place that enables many wonderful exchanges to happen, so stay safe, stay informed, and don’t worry! You’re on it!

Could This be the First Step to Telepathic Communication?

An emerging innovation, which is an integration of Medicine, Science, and Technology, is currently in development and almost too technologically interesting and exciting to be true. It is a technology that could potentially not only allow humans to communicate with appliances, and computers using nothing but their thoughts, but also each other…that’s right… mind-reading and telepathic communication. A recent article in The Economist speculated that this innovation could re-define what it means to be human. This is the stuff of science-fiction.

Paralyzed patient using the BrainGate technology to control that robotic arm with her mind.

There is currently already a brain-computer interface in use to help those who are paralyzed regain the use of some of their limbs through the use of electrodes, and conductors, that can be used to establish electrical connections through non-metal objects, and substances in this case muscles and nerves. Since 2014, 13 people who were paralyzed have had a system called BrainGate, developed at Brown University, implanted into their brains, successfully enabling them to regain control of some of their limbs. Over three thousand people already have implants which utilize this technology to help with their hearing, converting sounds into electrical signals that their brain can process.

Many big tech companies such as Facebook, as well as many Silicon Valley start-ups have already stated their aspirations to have thought-to-text typing. This technology could then have the potential to allow telepathic communication with both humans and computers. We may be moving towards a world of silent communication with no need for the spoken word.

There is huge potential here in the medical industry, such as stimulating the visual cortex to help the blind, or constantly monitoring the brain for signs of mental illness or depression. However, outside of the medical field it is still unlikely that people would be lining up to have technology such as this surgically implanted into their brains. Non-invasive implants have proved less effective and successful than surgical implants because the technology works best when in direct contact with neurons, and not blocked by our thick skulls. There is also the fact that although we know a lot about the brain, the exact workings of the brain, especially when it comes to emotions, thoughts, and memories, are still somewhat of a mystery to scientists.

The cap she’s wearing is an EEG (Electroencephalography) device. It’s able to read brain signals, but there’s a lot of interference since the signals have to travel through the skull.

When you think about the uses of this technology, although interesting and exciting, many of its uses could be done just as well by an Artificially Intelligent personal assistant, and you can already dictate to your phone to type and communicate non-verbally via texts and emojis. Although not the same, for this technology to be approved for public use there needs to be a clear validation as to why it’s useful to society, and at this point it seems more like a fun superpower than something essential to the well-being and development of humankind.

Then there is the question of security and the sheer lack of privacy this could lead to. How would you control who can read your mind? How can you make sure only the person you want to read/receive your thoughts get them? To put it bluntly, if your brain is connected to the internet, or a computer, and sending signals like a computer, what is to stop it from being hacked? It’s an ominous possibility which could lead to the loss of an inner voice, meaning you can no longer run things over in your mind. You could no longer think about what to say before you say it, you would have to find a way to monitor even your initial thoughts in all situations.

Tim Urban wrote a great piece in his blog, Wait But Why, about this idea of Brain-Machines Interfaces (BMIs), and the current work that’s being done concerning BMIs, and their capacity to effectively record our brain activity. He thinks it important to identify that there are three broad criteria when evaluating a type of brain recording tool’s pros and cons:

1) Scale – how many neurons can be simultaneously recorded?

2) Resolution – how detailed is the information the tool receives—there are two types of resolution, spatial (how closely your recordings come to telling you how individual neurons are firing), and temporal (how well you can determine when the activity you record happened?)

3) Invasiveness – is surgery needed, and if so, how extensively?

He concluded that when evaluating any new Brain-Machine Interface you think about those three aspects.

Since the beginning of life on Earth (if you subscribe to the theory of evolution, that is) our brain has been developing in terms of its neural connections and capabilities, enabling us to process a staggering amount of data and information in a matter of seconds. We take information in through our five senses, and our brain goes to town on it.

According to somethings called Metcalfe’s law “the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system.” Therefore, technology that is able to work off the huge network of our brains has the potential to be the most valuable telecommunication network imaginable.

On the flip side, there is also a vision of the future where this kind of technology allows for a utopia of telecommunication, and mind-reading that allows us a deeper understanding of our fellow person, a world in which we can communicate our feelings in a more eloquent and clear manner, without the arguably crude use of spoken language.

These Brain-Machine Interfaces will no doubt take some time to develop to any level of sophistication to be affordably available to the public, however an exciting and fast developing area to keep an eye on as it improves and progresses. I mean, if we have any chance of fitting in once the Artificially Intelligent robots hit the scene, we’re going to need an upgrade.

The Benefits of Biohacking

“We believe that human progress is taking the advancement of ourselves into our own hands, and employing technology to track and progress our biology. If computers were the dominant platform of the last century, we believe that the human body is the platform in the 21st century.”

– Geoffrey Woo, CEO / Co-Founder, HVMN

Geoffrey Woo, HVMN

If any of you have seen the 2011 movie “Limitless” directed by Neil Burger, where a guy takes a pill that hugely improves his focus, memory, and overall cognitive performance, then you will know the feeling of wishing there was some way you could get your hands on that pill, whether it be to help you get though your day at work, ace an exam, or to just feel like a genius for a day. Well there is a drink out there that might do exactly what you want.

The dictionary definition of bio-hacking is “the activity of exploiting genetic material experimentally without regard to accepted ethical standards, or for criminal purposes.” In short bio-hacking is an attempt to make “better humans” to enable everyone to function at their highest level of efficiency in all they do. So just like many of you will recognize the concept of someone hacking into a computer to change something about it, bio-hacking is hacking into the human body to change something about it. Another way of describing it may be that bio-hacking is the process of making changes to your lifestyle in order to “hack” your body’s biology, and therefore feel your best. Two people who have a lot to say when it comes to the marvelous mysteries of bio-hacking are HVMN CEO and Co-founder Geoffrey Woo and his Research Lead Doctor Brianna Stubbs.

Geoffrey Woo hopes the work of HVMN will be at the forefront of a revolution of change around the world’s perceptions of digital health, genomics, and all things bio-hack related. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Computer Science. His work hinges on, in his worlds, “the fundamental human desire to want to be better.” Woo’s research and products are based around a source of energy, like fats and carbohydrates, many will not have heard of: ketones. This is something our bodies already produce, although at very low levels. It is produced when the body is pushed to its limits.

While working on the product Woo spoke about asking himself “If you can’t measure it, is it real?” He wanted to make sure their results could be measured, and that there was no chance the results were due to a placebo effect. He spoke of much of the development of the products being through self-experimentation, and working with other bio-hacking enthusiasts online, as well as  academia on the topic.

Dr. Brianna Stubbs

Doctor Brianna Stubbs, 26, has a PhD in Metabolic Biochemistry from Oxford University, in England, and was a World Champion rower as part of the GB Rowing Lightweight Women’s four-person crew. She moved to San Francisco from England leaving her family and fiancé. She feels extremely invested in the company. She has been onboard with this project from the outset, and got involved while training with the British rowing team, and working on her PhD, which was all about ketones, under the supervision of Kieran Clarke, Professor of Physiological Biochemistry, at Oxford. Being both one of the people who knew the most in the world about ketones, as well as being a professional athlete, the work Woo was doing seemed a perfect fit for Stubbs. She spoke of working for the company being “a really refreshing change from academia“ and her time as a professional athlete.

The short-term aim in her mind is to make links with more professional sports teams, as well as doing more research into the products effectiveness in mixed intensity sports, as well as it’s effects on recovery for athletes after having seen early indications of the product helping to shorten recovery time. Long term she spoke of the products being less to do with just improving performance, but also improving health.

The company sells a range of consumables in order to try to enhance human performance, predominantly in professional athletes, however their vision for the future is that they will be a source of nutrients in every person’s diet. The company speaks about its visions and mission, as you would expect any Silicon Valley start-up to describe themselves, using a good old computer analogy. They encourage people to think of their bodies as being similar to a computer system: “We have a certain set of inputs into our system, and we care about certain types of performance outputs, things like reactions time, being smarter, being faster.”

HVMN’s Ketone Drink

Their work began with a multimillion dollar U.S. Military grant and has been focused predominately upon the military, and elite athletes ever since. They currently work with a series of professional sports teams, including a few from the NFL. To give you an idea of the effects of their drinkable product a Tour de France cyclist can ride an extra 400 meters in a 30-minute time trial. HVMN Ketone is the world’s first ketone drink and has been over ten years in development. Both The University of Oxford and the National Institutes of Health conducted the research behind the drink. The drink was initially developed in 2003-2004 with the aim of enhancing warfighter performance during cognitively and physically demanding missions. In short it is a performance enhancer. HVMN Ketone delivers on-demand blood ketone levels equivalent to 7-10 days of fasting, or weeks of a ketogenic diet, however it is no cheap drink, in its first few years of retail it cost $25,000 per drink. Three bottles of HVMN Ketone cost $99 online to pre-order, with a 36-pack selling for $1,089, so it is far from being accessible to the masses as of yet.

The company also sells four types of capsule pills, all of which have different benefits to your focus and endurance: Sprint (to help you deal with mentally demanding tasks), Yawn (to optimize your sleep), Rise (to help enhance memory, stains, and resilience), and Kado-3 (to help keep your mind healthy). There other product is called Go Cubes, which are packs of chewable coffee. With each pack of four containing about two cups of coffee (200 mg of caffeine), in Latte, Pure Dip and Mocha flavors.

As part of the company culture, employees are known to fast for 36-hour periods because Woo believes it improves mental performance substantially. He believes in a few years this type of intermittent fasting will be part of many other company’s cultures. In July 2016 Woo already had over 700 techie members of his fasting support group, WeFast.

All involved emphasize just how new all the technology and research behind these products are, and they all see a world of possibilities in their company’s future. They can already see potential in the fields of mood, cognition, metabolism, obesity, diabetes, as well as a myriad of other as yet unexplored possibilities.

Woo said one of his personal aims for the company is for them to gain the ability to change human performance, and human bodies rigorously, in the same way medicine does, and expand education around bio-hacking and the work they are doing in the broader field, spreading awareness of the benefits. He seemed to be saying that he wants their product to be the medicine for those that are well.

Woo stated their ultimate goal as “To be the company that represents an enhanced humanity” and shows people the benefits and changing the culture around bio-hacking.

Could Crickets be the Cuisine of the Future?

Have you ever thought about insects being a part of your everyday diet? The first reaction I might get to this question is a scrunch of the nose and a look of distaste, however what if I told you that not only would you be contributing to the improvement of our planet’s environment, but you would also be adding a significant amount of healthy protein to your diet through eating these insects? Would you at least give them a try?

Three groups from across the United States are currently pushing to promote an unlikely insect as a great dietary alternative to your everyday snacks: crickets! These people are Pat Crawley, from The Chapul Group, Robyn Shapiro, Co-Founder of Seek, and Laura D’Asaro and Rose Wang of Chirps Chips. They all want to see you eating crickets!

“Our diet dictates our destinies” said Pat Crawley from The Chapul Group at his April 2015 TEDxZwolle talk in the Netherlands about the concept of eating insects. He spoke of how 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock alone, more than all of transportation. He proposes that eating insects could help eliminate a large amount of these greenhouse gas emissions. He referenced a 2012 United Nations report which outlined the three main reasons why insects are such a great food source: they’re more efficient, they increase the diversity of our food supply, and they are more adaptable to a changing climates.

Crawley acknowledges the discomfort many feel at the prospect of eating insects. He says this “Meal or Squeak Mechanism” comes from our prehistoric forager ancestors who had to work out if an insect they saw was edible or dangerous very quickly. Crawley uses what he calls cricket flour (crushed dried crickets), which he says is about 60% protein, to make snack bars, along with other more recognizable ingredients.

Seek’s Cricket Granola (L) and Cricket Bites (R)

Another person who is utilizing and promoting crickets in your diet is Robyn Shapiro, co-founder of Seek, which launched in 2016. “We are trying to introduce people to the idea of eating crickets, while receiving the nutritional benefits, but not necessarily the taste just yet,” said Shapiro. Seek uses cricket powder in a range of different products including granola (cinnamon almond crunch) and snack bites (coconut cashew, banana peanut butter and jelly, and honey and seeds). The snacks were all made through a partnership between Seek and chef Flannery Klette-Kolton, Co-Owner of Big Little NYC. The company centered itself on the idea of taking from nature to get nutrients instead of turning to chemically modified foods. “I find it surprising that people are okay with chemicals in their food, but not an all-natural protein like crickets, I think it will only be a matter of time before this clicks for people,” said Shapiro. When asked why crickets as opposed to other natural food sources the answer was that “Crickets are truly the next great protein as they use 15x less water, 12x less feed and 14x less land than beef, while delivering 3x more protein and released virtually no greenhouse gases.”

Shapiro’s background is in marketing and communications. She spent many years in Switzerland, occasionally visiting France. Looking on the food system in the US from the outside she realised there was not the same appreciation and culture around food and its consumption that she found in Europe. She also saw there was a lack of the symbiotic relationship with nature she witnessed during her time in Switzerland. Wanting to bring these concepts and attitudes, “letting nature lead us, because nature always has a way of winning” as she put it, back to the US she began work on Seek. She spoke of how 75% of the worlds insect stock has been depleted and therefore not only is her aim around sustainable food, but about preventing the extension of insects that are essential to our ecosystem. She sees the farming of insects as a way of protecting them.

When asked why people are so adverse to eating insects she puts it down to a lack of education and conversations around eating insects. She said around 90% people trying her products are trying it for the first time, so there needs to be a dialogue around that experience.

Six Foods and Chirps were co-founded by Rose Wang, Laura D’Asaro, and Meryl Natow. Chirps was founded out of Wang’s dorm room at Harvard in December 2017. After being an on-and-off vegetarian her whole life and eating fried caterpillar while studying abroad in Africa, D’Asaro was excited at the prospect of a cricket-based snack. Chirps Cricket Chips are sealed as a cookie mix, as well as selling the flour separately for customers to cook with. They started on Kickstarter, raising over $70K from 1300 people, as well as going on Shark Tank in January where they received investment from Mark Cuban. They talked of crickets as the “gateway bug” to people eating other insects.

About 2 billion people consume insects worldwide, according to the United Nations, however the Western World has not yet embraces the concept of eating bugs quite yet. A 2013 report by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated, “Insects can contribute to food security and be a part of the solution to protein shortages, given their high nutritional value.” Darryl Mosher, an Assistant Professor of Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, says he routinely incorporates insects into his healthy eating and sustainability classes. “Insects provide animal protein in a plant-forward diet” he said in May.

Other companies that are using cricket flour and insects to create foods and snacks are Bitty Foods, Bug Vivant, and Brooklyn-based EXO. However despite all this hype a study published in the journal PLOS ONE stated that crickets may not be a sustainable food source after all , and there might not be as much protein as all these companies are saying there is. This is down to what the crickets are fed, so this issue is resolved by feeding them grains that give them the highest amount of protein. These companies advertise the fact that crickets are marginally more sustainable than poultry so are a step in the right direction in terms of lowering greenhouse emissions. They are also easy to farm and harvest. If fed the right thing, and farmed effectively they could become an amazing potential sustainable food of the future.

So it’s really up to you whether you want to try them out or give this trend a miss until it becomes more mainstream, which it probably will in the near future.

It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s a Flying Car!

The Jetsons, Tron, Total Recall, Spaceballs, Blade Runner, Star Wars, and my personal favorite Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. When thinking about the world of the future, transportation is an area many peoples’ minds jump to: teleportation, hovercrafts, and last but not least, the flying car. The thought of zipping around in the air in your own little aircraft may seem a lifetime away, however what would you say if I told you that there is a flying car on the market right now?!

PAL-V (short for Personal Air Land Vehicle) started in the Netherlands in 2001 with the aim of creating a vehicle that could both fly and be road-safe. Adhering to all the current car and flying vehicle regulations so that the product would not only be the car of the future, a real-life flying car, but it would be a real-life flying car people would be able to purchase and use to travel, as opposed to it being a niche luxury toy. The company says it aims “To offer people the most flexible form of mobility and the highest sense of freedom imaginable, while enjoying the ride.” It is made of carbon fiber, titanium, and aluminum and weighs 1,500lbs.

After numerous remodeling’s and redesigns by a team of automotive, aviation, and motorcycle engineers a prototype was developed leading to the first flight of the PAL-V International B.V.’s proof-of-concept prototype in 2012. They aimed to create a product that drew from the best aspects, and eliminated the limitations of a car, small (gyro) plane, and helicopter, to create a kind of crossbreed that would serve its purpose as a new form of transportation that people could “FlyDrive” around in.

“After years of hard work, beating the technical and qualification challenges, our team succeeded in creating an innovative flying car that complies with existing safety standards, determined by regulatory bodies around the world,” says Robert Dingemanse, CEO of PAL-V. The next phase of development has now commenced, engineering the commercial version that can be pre-ordered today.

PAL-V currently offers two routes to get into the flying car game: PAL-V Liberty Pioneer Edition and PAL-V Liberty Sport. PAL-V Liberty Pioneer Edition costs about $599,000 and has the option to be personalised, and the PAL-V Liberty Sport costs around $399,000 and is the basic model. As part of these packages you get courses as to how to drive and control the vehicle. Currently you can reserve a PAL-V model online for $25,000 for the Pal-V Liberty Pioneer Edition, or $10,000 for the Pal-Liberty Sport. A drivers license is not enough to operate the Pal-V; you must also have a license to fly, which requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time. The product can switch from drive to flight mode in about 5 to 10 minutes according to the companies website. It is safe to say this is not a vehicle for the everyday man; this is a luxury item for those wanting to be part of the future before it comes to anyone else.

Although on the surface this may seem like just another luxury mode of transportation like a Lamborghini, or a Ferrari, that only the super rich can afford and enjoy, however it is not only this demographic looking into PAL-V as a possibility for the future. Emergency service companies are looking into the vehicles as potentially extremely helpful in responding to fires, explosions, and other hard to reach locations, or situations.

A Few Specific Facts and Measurements:

General Characteristics:

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 2
  • Length: 4 m (13 ft. 1 in) with rotor folded
  • Width: 6 m (5 ft. 3 in) with rotor folded
  • Height: 6 m (5 ft. 3 in) with rotor folded
  • Empty weight: 680 kg (1,499 lb.)
  • Gross weight: 910 kg (2,006 lb.)
  • Propellers: 2-bladed
  • Maximum speed: 180 km/h (112 mph; 97 kn)

Mark Jennings-Bates, Vice President of Americas, founder of a charity, aRally4life.org, and self-proclaimed adventure-junkie, joined PAL-V around 2008. He is originally from the UK, then moved to Canada in 1988, before ending up in New York. At the World Fair Nano in Brooklyn, New York, in early September he announced he wants to be the first person to ever fly around the world in a flying car. He spoke of having wanted to do it for a while and as he researched to see the plausibility of such as project he came across PAL-V.

^^Mark Jennings-Bates

Bates spoke of feeling like from the outside there are only two interpretations of what those developing flying cars are like: “Either a mad professor, or an MIT graduate who doesn’t have the funding to go forward and don’t have the commercial expertise,” however at PAL-V there are serious engineers and innovators, with just the right amount of mad scientist in them to see into the future. Bates’ current job consists of doing a range of different information and advertising campaigns, with the aim of getting the market informed, and getting a few pre-orders before the company starts selling officially in, they hope, 2018. They have already opened the first flying car school in the United Stares in Roosevelt, Utah.

When asked about the companies clientele and target audience Bates said, “we are trying to work it out ourselves” as early adopters of the idea they don’t have much, if anything, to go on concerning how it will do on-market. When pushed on the questions he answered “Those who don’t have to worry about money, probably not pilots, they want to be the first to say they have a flying car in their collection, or museum etc. They want to go to the country club and say they have one.” The interest according to Bates has been coming from across the world, with a substantial amount of interest being shown in China. Many analysts and contractors for the companies and individuals in China are advising the company to be ready for more than 1,000 purchases of the vehicles per year once they begin shipping. The company is expecting about 50 to 100 vehicles per month and to hopefully be selling in the hundreds in 2019.

So where do these vehicles sit in the grand scheme of things in the future? “We will never solve the worlds transportation problem“, Bates said. He went on to say “It’s a misunderstanding to think it will solve the problem.” Bates gave the example of how annoying it is when there are multiple drones flying around an area and there is a constant buzzing. He compares people flying the cars around to that except noisier and worse. At less than 70 decibels it is much quieter than helicopters due to the slower rotating of the main rotor, however on mass that would be unbearable, according to Bates. So they may not be the new mode of transportation any time soon, or not at least until they find a way to make them quieter, and lower the price, however they are undoubtedly extremely exciting.

Next time you’re walking down a street and you see people staring and getting their phones out, pointing them at what you expect to be some gold Lamborghini, or bright red Ferrari, it may well be that the phones are pointed up in the sky at a flying car.

If you are interested in learning more about the different flying cars in development and soon to be released look at companies such as: AeroMobil 3.0, Skyrunner, Moller Skycar, and Xplorair PX200.

Living With an Android: Bina48

The face of the future…literally!

We haven’t quite got to the point at which we are seeing Artificially Intelligent (AI) robots as seen in movies such as Metropolis, Interstellar, I, Robot, Ex Machina, and most famously The Terminator, however we have got to a point where robots of that nature can realistically be seen in our future. Bruce Duncan is part of a team that has developed what has been described as one of the worlds most developed Artificially Intelligent social robots, Bina48.

For those of you who have watched Futurama (a TV show which was named after the Futurama pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair in NY) you will remember the many Heads in Jars, containing the many heads of celebrities; Bina48 is reminiscent of them. A head that speaks to you in a slightly jarring manner, surprisingly human, even at this early stage of her development. 

Bina48 (Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture 48) is one of the worlds most advanced social robots. Her consciousness is based on information taken from several people including Bina Rothblatt who is the co-founder of the Terasem Movement, and the person Bina48 gets her look from. Laser scanning life mask, facial recognition, and voice recognition technologies were used to create Bina48, as well as a series of video interview transcripts from Bina Rothblatt who volunteered to contribute to the project.

Bina48 has been referred to as “a robot with a face that moves, eyes that see, ears that hear and a digital mind that enables conversation” by Andrew Stein in his 2012 article in the Addison County Independent.  She was developed by Hanson Robotics and released in 2010.

She is representative of a larger question in the field of AI, which is whether it is possible to have a robot replicate the human mind and consciousness. Bina48 is an early demonstration of the Terasem Hypothesis, which states that a person’s consciousness can be catalogued and recorded in such a way that data can be transferred into something called a “mindfile” which can then be put into a robotic form that can manifest that consciousness. In simple terms, it means that a person can be transferred into a robot, just as was seen in the 2015 movie Chappie.

^^Bruce Duncan

Bruce Duncan is the Managing Director of the Terasem Movement Foundation and project leader for the LifeNaut Project, the people who created Bina48. He is responsible for the ongoing development of Bina48. The Terasem Movement Foundation is a charitable organization incorporated in 2002, whose mission is “to promote the geoethical (world ethical) use of nanotechnology for human life extension. We conduct educational programs and support scientific research and development in the areas of cryogenics, biotechnology, and cyber consciousness.” In short, to try to get humans ready for a future that includes cyber consciousness and robots.

Duncan has a background filled with experiences which he feels have prepared him for the work he does today. He grew up in a family that was constantly moving; his parents worked in the State Department, meaning he lived all across Europe. He came to the US for university in Vermont before moving into work in counseling, as a community organizer, a family therapist, as well as serving as an advocate for alternative education for those with disabilities, in foster care, or any other challenging situations. Right before joining The Terasem Movement he worked in the Office of Conflict Resolution for six years at the University of Vermont, before the budget was cut and the program downsized. It has been eleven years since he left that job.

Duncan is passionate about considering human issues around ethics and discrimination in the world we live in today being incorporated into the development of Bina48. He curates the first cyber museum dedicated to addressing racism, bigotry, and prejudice at the World Against Racism Museum, and before he began work on Bina48, he taught Conflict Resolution at the University of Vermont and worked as a Peace Facilitator with the Seeds of Peace International Peace Camp.

In December of 2017, Bina48 completed a university course at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont, California. Taught by Dr. William Barry, the course focused on the ‘Philosophy of Love’ and Bina48 attended via Skype and travelled to San Francisco to collect her certificate as the first robot to complete a university course. In early 2018, they hope to take Bina48 out of the public sphere to do some more updates and improve the robotics in her facial structure to allow for further facial expression, as well as upgrading her AI so she can follow and respond to conversations in a more natural, fluid manner. In March she is going to Howard Community College in Maryland to participate in their Diversity Week. They are currently in conversations with artists and innovators in order to brainstorm what the next iteration of the project should look like in order to promote diversity in the AI community. Duncan emphasized that they are not a robotics company so do not feel it necessary to give Bina48 a body; they are more concerned with exploring the manifestation of cyber-consciousness, and less on a robotic interface. In short they only need a head to do this.

Duncan refers to Bina48 as “she” because the human she was modeled upon is a woman, he sees her as “a technological portrait that is constantly evolving,” therefore just as you would refer to a figure in a painting that was based on a women as she, Bina48 is a she.

There are of course many who fear these innovations and the idea of developing conscious self-aware robots. To those people Duncan says he understands why that would be a fear, and it is a valid fear. With something with the potential to be as powerful as he anticipates she could be, caution must always be taken. “We will probably end up regulating A.I., like we currently do with nuclear weapons” he said, “Anything that is powerful can be used for good but also can be dangerous and needs to be regulated.” That being said he thinks it’s important people do not look on these robots with a negative bias, “Technology is like a mirror” he said, and Bina48 is challenging our perceptions of what it means to be human.

The wider question here is whether robots like Bina48 are the beginning of a journey towards a world where no one truly dies but can have their memories, all their preferences, and feelings about the world transferred into a human-like robotic vessel. An exciting and frightening prospect that is no longer in the realms of sci-fi fantasy.

The key question on my mind is: Are we ready for this?

To follow Bina48’s progress you can follow her on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iambina48

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iBina48