Tag Archive : science

/ science

Should we edit our DNA? An imagined future of gene editing


My publicist is excited that you’re doing this. She was raving about your Rihanna biopic. I won’t be nearly as exciting. Are you kidding me?
You’re almost as famous as Einstein. I’m Kate Randall, I’m a geneticist. I hold professorships at various universities and I’m the winner of the 2025 Nobel
Prize for Physiology and medicine. And your company is? Well, there’s … it’ll take a while to say
them all … There’s about ten now. I’ll just say something generic. I’m the co-founder of a number of companies
developing CRISPR technology in numerous fields, from health to agriculture to fertility. So, now can you read the opening
paragraph from your new book? ‘For four billion years, nothing fundamental
changed in the basic rules of the game of life.’ ‘Whether you were Tyrannosaurus
Rex, tomato or a Texan, you were subject to the laws of natural selection.’ ‘But about 15 years ago all that changed.’ ‘And now we’re replacing evolution by natural
selection with evolution by design.’ ‘Today we can literally rewrite
the book of life.’ That’s great! Now can you give us a CRISPR 101? Really? I mean, kids are
learning this in elementary school. CRISPR is like a chemical cut and paste tool. It enables us to snip out a certain piece of
DNA and remove it or replace it. It works in a few ways. You can use CRISPR to snip out the part of DNA
that’s coded for say muscular dystrophy or Alzheimer’s thus eliminating that
disease from your future child. But CRISPR is not only a pair of
scissors, it also allows us to insert the DNA so you can insert say the genes for
green eyes or height or for strength and if that wasn’t revolutionary enough,
CRISPR also enables us to make these genetic changes heritable. CRISPR can override natural selection. Most forms of cancer are now treatable. Drought-resistant rice now ensures food
security for millions of the poorest. Gene drives have been used to wipe out
malaria by sterilising female mosquitoes. Now, using pigs we’ve modified
for human organ harvesting. There is no transplant waitlist in
countries like the USA or the UK. That’s just a fraction of the numerous benefits
we’re experiencing conclusive. Are you still using Cassandra? I’m so, so sorry,
I was sure I turned my phone off. So, I wanted to ask you about regrets. What about the
way it’s exacerbating inequality? The recode babies which only the rich can
afford, the fact that we’re engineering a new human race for the wealthy. You can’t blame that on us, on scientists. That’s capitalism not CRISPR. We did everything
we could to mitigate the risks. In 2019, we called for a global moratorium
but we were ignored. I sat on global ethics committees, I wrote three books to inform the public, I did everything I could. A diary that is? Not quite. Morning pages. It’s free writing, helped me writing that first book. And all those nightmares back in 2019. This was mum’s. I’ve forgotten about that. She was a scientist too, right? Yeah, biology teacher. This was her place. It was badly damaged in that tornado in 21,
I had it rebuilt. What are those? Drawings of the organisms whose genomes had been edited using CRISPR year by year. It’s a bit of a project. It all happened so fast.
– Too fast? Yeah. You could say that. Once we’ve mastered the ability to recode human life, everybody wanted in. Science progressed at an insane speed. The race to play God. Russia, China, the US … nobody
wanted to be left behind. Remember they became obsessional? Abusing CRISPR that was the height of
human arrogance over the rest of the web of life. More and more whenever she looked at me
she had this mix of pride and disappointment. I couldn’t bear it,
I stopped visiting. Put the bloody camera down, have a drink.
– I’m good thanks. I’d like to ask you about CRISPR and … Oh, just have a sundowner. – I’m not drinking. When’s your harvesting date? – I’m sorry? Oh well, that was your hormone measurements, on your phone, right? IVF. Actually this isn’t about me. Well, that’s not fair. You get to pick me apart
but I don’t get to find out anything about you? Well, at least tell me what you’re recoding? I’m doing this because
I’m having a a child alone not because I’m recoding anything. I want my child to be born in natural. Don’t tell me you’re a luddite. Anyway, I could never afford it.
It’s four times my income. The prices will come down.
They always do. Well, pharmaceutical companies have
been shafting us with patents for ages so forgive me if I don’t share your conviction that eventually everyone will be able to
afford recoding. Stop with the pro natural blah blah. They’re deluded.
Pandora’s Box is well and truly open. At least get the climate recode, then your
child can live at higher temperatures. I’ll sort it out at my clinic. A gift.
I just need some DNA. I just wanted to help. If temperatures soar by recoding you’re
ensured of the future of your child. When I was little I used to spend hours
prodding the sea anemones. I love to watch them contract. Let me touch it. No. Don’t. Leave them. Let them be. If you want to film
where really all began, it’s probably here. It was the first time that
we came down here. My mum had just got the place. Well, it was in a state. But there was no running water. We had to wash our plates in the sea
that first night. I wanted to impress her with star jumps on the rocks. I wanted to keep her happy so I kept
doing bigger and bigger jumps and then of course I fell, badly, broke my leg.
I was horizontal for two weeks. She tried to entertain me by teaching me a jazzed
up version of her syllabus from Darwin to DNA. That’s what led to me diving into genetics. Toward the end of her life, she told me
how she sometimes wished that that period had never happened. You should accept my recode offer. What choice have you got?

The Bizarre Future of Stroke Treatment

February 19, 2020 | Articles, Blog | 66 Comments

The Bizarre Future of Stroke Treatment


[♪ INTRO] When it comes to strokes, doctors often say
“time is brain,” meaning that the more time that passes before
a stroke is identified and treated, the more damage it can do. Which is why medical professionals want everyone
to know how to spot a stroke F.A.S.T. Weakness in the Face or Arm? Speech problems? Time to call 911. But even with rapid action, there can be lasting
damage. So researchers are looking for better ways
to help stroke patients, and that’s led to some kind of creative ideas. A stroke happens when part of the brain’s
blood supply is cut off. The lack of blood flow means some of the tissue
stops receiving oxygen. So it essentially suffocates and starts to
die. That leads to neurological symptoms, like
slurred speech and weak limbs. And when brain cells die, losses to function
can be permanent. It’d be great to just never have these things
happen. Unfortunately, stopping strokes entirely isn’t
likely. The trouble is, there are two main types of
strokes. About 15% of strokes are hemorrhagic
strokes, which is when a burst blood vessel leads to
bleeding in the brain, which disrupts the normal flow of blood to
the surrounding brain tissue. Most strokes, however, fall under the banner
of ischemic attacks, which means a blood clot obstructs blood flow
to part of the brain. That means, to stop all strokes, you’d need
to make it so people have blood vessels that never fail or clog. And that’s just not really possible. So instead, scientists are looking at ways
to minimize the damage strokes cause. And they’ve gotten pretty creative about
it. Since time is a critical factor in how much
damage a stroke will do, any treatment that can buy doctors more time can help. Sadly, we have not yet figured out how to
freeze time. But doctors can do the next best thing: freeze
a person’s brain. It’s a technique called therapeutic hypothermia. And, OK, technically, the brain is not frozen. Using ice-cold IV drips and cold packs applied
to the skin, physicians lower the patient’s body temperature
to around 33 to 36 degrees Celsius, a bit below the typical 36 to 37. This aims to slow down something called the
ischemic cascade. See, your brain cells, like pretty much all
cells in your body, prefer to make their energy-shuttling molecules with a process that requires oxygen. When they stop receiving oxygen because their
blood supply is cut off, they switch to a less efficient method in
an attempt to keep up with the energy demand. Soon, though, there’s just not enough energy
to go around, and everything starts to fall apart. Before you know it, the cell is dead. The longer the tissue lacks oxygen, the more
cells will die, and the larger the damaged area becomes. But, since all of this stems from those cells
needing energy, if you lower their energy needs, they can
last longer before they crash. It’s kind of like how you can keep your
phone running longer if you dim the screen and turn on airplane mode. And that’s what therapeutic hypothermia
seems to do, it slows all sorts of processes in cells, thereby reducing their energy needs. Studies have found that for every degree you
reduce a person’s core body temperature, the rate at which their cells use energy decreases
by up to 5%. That buys more time to treat the clot or bleed. And, once the cause of the stroke is fixed,
the patient can be warmed up gradually, over the course of many hours, to avoid the complications that come with
a rapid increase in body temperature. But while therapeutic hypothermia can help
prevent brain damage from occurring, it doesn’t affect the damage that’s already been done. And unfortunately, strokes often have lasting
symptoms, because brain tissue is notoriously bad at repairing itself. Now some scientists believe that’s largely
because there isn’t enough structural support for the tissue that tries to grow back. Patients basically end up with small, fluid-filled
cavities in their brains once the debris from the dead cells is cleared out. That’s why some neuroscientists think they
can give the brain a helping hand using a technique called bio-scaffolding. A bio-scaffold is a structure that tissue
can grow over, an empty frame of sorts that encourages new cell growth better than the
fluid-filled cavity. One 2012 study even suggests the best material
for scaffolding is… pork bladder tissue? Or what’s left of it, anyway, after you
remove the actual cells, what scientists call the extracellular matrix. That’s basically all the proteins, starches,
and other molecules in between your cells which support them physically and biochemically. So the idea is, you plug a gap in someone’s
brain with the structural elements of bladder tissue and maybe add some neural stem cells
to get things rolling. And voila! But although there have been promising results
in rodent models, we don’t know for sure that this works in humans. And before we could start doing this in human
brains, we’d need to make sure the tissue wouldn’t grow back in a problematic way and that the immune system wouldn’t respond
unfavorably to the scaffold. There are also other ways to encourage healing,
like, by injecting molecular signals for regrowth. The thing is, it’s not just neurons that
need to grow back. The new tissue will also need the little blood
vessels that ensure those neurons get enough oxygen and nutrients. And that’s why one group investigating this
kind of injection tried something called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, a substance that, among other things, encourages
blood vessels to grow. Previous research had suggested injecting
VEGF into brains wasn’t so great because it causes inflammation and doesn’t
do much in the way of repairing stroke damage. But that was when it was injected all alone. So, the research team created a water-based
gel from a starch known to promote neurons to grow from stem cells and added nanoparticles that dampen inflammation. Then, they added VEGF and injected the mix
into stroke cavities in the brains of mice. And, as hoped, new blood vessels and new neurons
grew into that space The damaged areas even started working again, which didn’t happen for animals
that received a control gel. Like with scaffolding, this hasn’t been
tried in people yet, but with such promising results, human trials might not be too far
off. And these methods aren’t necessarily mutually
exclusive. A doctor may be able to use some combination
of therapeutic hypothermia, bio-scaffolding, and injectable growth promoters to give their
stroke patients the best possible outcome. Plus, these are just a few of the promising
developments from the field. Stroke treatment and rehabilitation are two
massive fields of research, so doctors are bound to come up with other exciting, creative solutions. We still have a long way to go before strokes
are easily treatable. But with a little luck, approaches like these
will go from theory to practice very soon. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Psych! If you enjoy learning about your brain and
how it works, and, presumably you do
because you’re watching this, be sure to stick around! We are all brain, all the time here,
all you have to do is click on that subscribe button and ring the notification bell, catch
every single episode, never let us down… No, I’m kidding. Enjoy it how you like! But if you think out free, educational psychology
videos are really great and we do,
and you want to support the team here, you can learn more about joining our community
of supporters at patreon.com/SciShow. [♪ OUTRO]

Meet Zealandia: The Earth’s ‘8th Continent’ (and Real-Life Atlantis)


Thanks to Skillshare for supporting SciShow. ♩ Okay, look. I get that there are a bunch of great Disney
movies, but Atlantis is arguably one of the best. It’s got everything you need: great animation,
some magic, a good story, and a city stuck at the bottom of the ocean. And it could even be real! Okay, so that last part isn’t totally accurate. But some scientists do believe Earth has an
eighth continent that, millions of years ago, sunk almost entirely underwater. It’s called Zealandia, and besides basically
being real-life Atlantis, it also has a lot to teach us about geology. Zealandia makes up almost five million square
kilometers of the southern Pacific ocean. It includes New Zealand as well as regions
to the south and north, all the way up to the island New Caledonia. Today, it’s almost totally underwater … but
it wasn’t always. Millions of years ago, it was part of the
supercontinent Gondwana, and was mashed together with other land masses including modern-day
South America, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. It separated around 80 million years ago thanks
to interactions between tectonic plates, the giant rock slabs that make up Earth’s surface. But it wasn’t exactly a clean break. As Zealandia pulled away, its crust began
to stretch and thin, and it became less buoyant as a result. At the same time, water began to fill the
gap between it and Australia. As the crust got thinner and the sea got larger,
that water began to cover Zealandia, too. And ultimately, it sank. Unlike in Disney’s Atlantis, though, it
didn’t happen in “a single day and night of misfortune.” It took millions of years. And it probably didn’t involve any super
magical crystals, either. Still, around 55 million years after it separated,
Zealandia was almost completely submerged. And even though tectonic plate interactions
have pushed some of it back above sea level, 94% of it is still under the ocean. The name Zealandia has actually existed since
the mid-90s, but most geologists have just considered it a microcontinent, like India. That’s the label they use for areas made
of continental crust but not large enough to be considered their own thing. Over the years, though, researchers found
more and more evidence to suggest Zealandia could be worth upgrading to proper continent
status. And in a 2017 paper in the journal GSA Today,
a team from New Zealand, New Caledonia, and Australia published the most compelling case
yet for why we should just accept Zealandia as the Earth’s eighth continent. See, geologists typically consider continents
to have four main qualities: First, they have to have a higher elevation
compared to the oceanic crust around them. Second, they need to have a broad variety
of rock types, including igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock. For comparison, oceanic crust is typically
only made of igneous rock like basalt. Continental crust should also be less dense
and thicker than oceanic crust. Typically, the continental stuff is 30 to
45 kilometers thick, while oceanic crust is only 7 kilometers. Finally, continents should have a well-defined,
relatively large area. There’s no set definition for what that
exact area is, but it should be enough to distinguish it from things like continental
fragments or microcontinents. These qualities all apply to the traditional
continents. And according to this team, they apply to
Zealandia, too. Even though it’s mostly underwater, it’s
still elevated compared to the oceanic crust around it. It also has a variety of rock types, and generally
has the right thickness. It’s also more than twice as large as the
next smallest microcontinent. Most importantly, it’s also geologically
distinct. It’s separated from Australia by a feature
called the Cato Trough, which is almost four kilometers deep and considered a significant
boundary. Not all geologists agree, though. They have a bunch of reasons, but some suggest
that it’s not a geologist’s job to figure out what a continent is in the first place — they’re there to study different kinds of crusts and features. Others have also made the case that since
Zealandia is more like a bunch of different islands than one continuous landmass, it shouldn’t
count. In response to this, the authors of the paper
had a few words. They said that if it weren’t for the, quote,
“arbitrary datums of opaque liquid oceans,” we wouldn’t be having this discussion. In other words, if we studied Earth without
its oceans — like we do for dry planets like Mars — it would be clear what Zealandia’s
true identity is. We’d be able to see things like that difference
in crust elevation more clearly, without all the water getting in the way. But we’ll leave that fight to the geologists. If nothing else, though, researchers do seem
to agree that Zealandia — whatever it is — can teach us a lot about the Earth’s
crust. According to some models, Zealandia should’ve
been ripped apart into microcontinents when it separated from Australia. But instead, the crust just thinned out and
sank — and so far, we’re not totally sure why. Figuring out how and why that happened could
help us understand what else happened to the Earth in the past, as well as what might happen
to modern continents in the future. While we’re figuring all of this out, though,
one thing’s for sure. If any Smithsonian researchers out there find
a mysterious Atlantean treasure map … you can give me a call. Or if you just want to create a treasure map
of your own, check out this Skillshare class by Vancouver artist Tom Froese and learn how
to illustrate creative maps using digital and analog tools. If you follow me on social media, you know
that I trust my community a lot. One thing I like about Tom, is that he’s
the same way. This map making class was requested by his
Instagram community and you can feel how thoughtful he’s been in designing the class with them
in mind. Like a good map, he gives a great big picture
overview, but pays special attention to the details as well. And Skillshare is offering SciShow viewers
2 months of Skillshare for free right now. Click on the link in the description to sign
up and check out Tom’s class or any of over 20,000 classes in art, business, technology,
you name it. And if you make a map of Atlantis or Zealandia,
let us know in the comments! I want to see it! ♩

Have We Reached Quantum Supremacy?

February 17, 2020 | Articles, Blog | 9 Comments

Have We Reached Quantum Supremacy?


In October of 2019, Google published a
paper in the journal Nature confirming that they had achieved something called
quantum supremacy with their prototype quantum processor. And the world went
kinda nuts. But what does quantum supremacy actually mean? And how does it
affect the future of our world’s computing as a whole? *Intro Music* Quantum supremacy is a very specific
term. Simply put, it means that a quantum computer has successfully run a
computation faster than a classical computer ever could. J: But that’s different
from the capacity to solve something that’s useful, or to even solve a broad
class of problems. And I think that’s that’s the a source of confusion. If
someone hears supremacy, that means it’s the best of everything, right? This is a
specific case of terminology. Maybe it’s— often, if you go to
conferences people feel it’s kind of an unfortunate moniker, but it’s one that
stuck and it means this very specific thing, which is that you built a system
you were able to control to do something in a reliable way that was hard to
compute. It’s specifically not a useful calculation, we don’t know how to make
use of that probability distribution that was produced—at this point—
and so you know that’s a pretty big difference from, ‘quantum computing
is solved ,now on to exponential growth or whatever.’ M: Now, at this point you might
be saying ‘what is quantum computing? and how does it work?’
Funny you should ask! We actually now have a deep dive into all of that out
right now, which you can watch here. But in brief–classical computing is the kind
of computing that you and I are used to, like on our phones and our laptops and
stuff. It’s binary computing, which means it uses a system of on or off signals to
encode data–that’s the ones and zeros that you may sometimes see in the
hacking scenes of some spy movies. A one and a zero together is called a bit in
classical computing and it’s basically like a little packet of information. On
the other hand… J: Quantum computing is the idea of doing a computation using the
laws of quantum mechanics and they’re a little different than classical
mechanics. The main difference being that quantum systems can be in more than one
state at the same time. M: Again, it’s pretty complicated, so if you want even more
detail then go check out our other video on it here. But in the meantime, has the
world reached quantum supremacy? Like, is there a machine out there that can
perform a calculation faster than a classical computer? Technically…yes. J: I’d
characterize it as the latest high-profile advance in making ever more
sophisticated quantum computing devices or quantum experiments. What they were
able to demonstrate is, I think convincingly, that yes—they were able to
construct a system that had a large enough number of quantum degrees of
freedom with sufficient control to prepare a state that was extremely
difficult to calculate, to basically predict, by simulating the
quantum computer ahead of time. M: So they successfully built a system that
answered a question about quantum mechanics faster than a classical
computer ever could. And that kind of makes sense, because the quantum
processor itself is a quantum system so it’s able to answer questions about
quantum mechanics. But all of this is different from it being a computer
that’s truly able to perform useful calculations or to do all of the things
that we think quantum computers might eventually be able to do, like change the
way we think about cryptography. That’s not to say that this advancement isn’t
really cool and informative, but y’know it’s maybe not like, totally paradigm
changing. It’s more of kind of an arbitrary benchmark that may or may not
mean much depending on the task you asked the quantum computer to do. J: I think
they demonstrated some real advances in this quantum-classical interface and
that’s essential for arguing that you can scale a quantum computer to a larger
thing, it needs to be able to scale according to simple rules and so that
was, I think of laudable outcome of that of that work. M: So yes, a team has
demonstrated quantum supremacy. But that may not mean what it sounds like. Yeah,
it’s a step forward in the exciting field of quantum computing…but we’re
still a long way from a universal quantum computer or even a quantum
computer that could be anything more significant than like, a really cool
quantum physics experiment. If you want to know all about the ways that
Livermore is working toward that goal of realizing something closer to a
universal quantum computer, then let us know down in the comments below, and
we’ll make sure to make that video. If you want more videos like this one then
make sure to subscribe to this YouTube channel and follow us on all of our
platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, all that jazz. See what
you think about another episode of Inside the Lab by checking out the full
playlist and thanks for watching. I’ll see you next time.

Military robots and the future of war | P.W. Singer


I thought I’d begin with a scene of war. There was little to warn of the danger ahead. The Iraqi insurgent had placed the IED, an Improvised Explosive Device, along the side of the road with great care. By 2006, there were more than 2,500 of these attacks every single month, and they were the leading cause of casualties among American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. The team that was hunting for this IED is called an EOD team— Explosives Ordinance Disposal—and they’re the pointy end of the spear in the American effort to suppress these roadside bombs. Each EOD team goes out on about 600 of these bomb calls every year, defusing about two bombs a day. Perhaps the best sign of how valuable they are to the war effort, is that the Iraqi insurgents put a $50,000 bounty on the head of a single EOD soldier. Unfortunately, this particular call would not end well. By the time the soldier advanced close enough to see the telltale wires of the bomb, it exploded in a wave of flame. Now, depending how close you are and how much explosive has been packed into that bomb, it can cause death or injury. You have to be as far as 50 yards away to escape that. The blast is so strong it can even break your limbs, even if you’re not hit. That soldier had been on top of the bomb. And so when the rest of the team advanced they found little left. And that night the unit’s commander did a sad duty, and he wrote a condolence letter back to the United States, and he talked about how hard the loss had been on his unit, about the fact that they had lost their bravest soldier, a soldier who had saved their lives many a time. And he apologized for not being able to bring them home. But then he talked up the silver lining that he took away from the loss. “At least,” as he wrote, “when a robot dies, you don’t have to write a letter to its mother.” That scene sounds like science fiction, but is battlefield reality already. The soldier in that case was a 42-pound robot called a PackBot. The chief’s letter went, not to some farmhouse in Iowa like you see in the old war movies, but went to the iRobot Company, which is named after the Asimov novel and the not-so-great Will Smith movie, and… um… (Laughter)… if you remember that in that fictional world, robots started out carrying out mundane chores, and then they started taking on life-and-death decisions. That’s a reality we face today. What we’re going to do is actually just flash a series of photos behind me that show you the reality of robots used in war right now or already at the prototype stage. It’s just to give you a taste. Another way of putting it is you’re not going to see anything that’s powered by Vulcan technology, or teenage wizard hormones or anything like that. This is all real. So why don’t we go ahead and start those pictures. Something big is going on in war today, and maybe even the history of humanity itself. The U.S. military went into Iraq with a handful of drones in the air. We now have 5,300. We went in with zero unmanned ground systems. We now have 12,000. And the tech term “killer application” takes on new meaning in this space. And we need to remember that we’re talking about the Model T Fords, the Wright Flyers, compared to what’s coming soon. That’s where we’re at right now. One of the people that I recently met with was an Air Force three-star general, and he said basically, where we’re headed very soon is tens of thousands of robots operating in our conflicts, and these numbers matter, because we’re not just talking about tens of thousands of today’s robots, but tens of thousands of these prototypes and tomorrow’s robots, because of course, one of the things that’s operating in technology is Moore’s Law, that you can pack in more and more computing power into those robots, and so flash forward around 25 years, if Moore’s Law holds true, those robots will be close to a billion times more powerful in their computing than today. And so what that means is the kind of things that we used to only talk about at science fiction conventions like Comic-Con have to be talked about in the halls of power and places like the Pentagon. A robots revolution is upon us. Now, I need to be clear here. I’m not talking about a revolution where you have to worry about the Governor of California showing up at your door, a la the Terminator. (Laughter) When historians look at this period, they’re going to conclude that we’re in a different type of revolution: a revolution in war, like the invention of the atomic bomb. But it may be even bigger than that, because our unmanned systems don’t just affect the “how” of war-fighting, they affect the “who” of fighting at its most fundamental level. That is, every previous revolution in war, be it the machine gun, be it the atomic bomb, was about a system that either shot faster, went further, had a bigger boom. That’s certainly the case with robotics, but they also change the experience of the warrior and even the very identity of the warrior. Another way of putting this is that mankind’s 5,000-year-old monopoly on the fighting of war is breaking down in our very lifetime. I’ve spent the last several years going around meeting with all the players in this field, from the robot scientists to the science fiction authors who inspired them to the 19-year-old drone pilots who are fighting from Nevada, to the four-star generals who command them, to even the Iraqi insurgents who they are targeting and what they think about our systems, and what I found interesting is not just their stories, but how their experiences point to these ripple effects that are going outwards in our society, in our law and our ethics, etc. And so what I’d like to do with my remaining time is basically flesh out a couple of these. So the first is that the future of war, even a robotics one, is not going to be purely an American one. The U.S. is currently ahead in military robotics right now, but we know that in technology there’s no such thing as a permanent first move or advantage. In a quick show of hands, how many people in this room still use Wang Computers? (Laughter) It’s the same thing in war. The British and the French invented the tank. The Germans figured out how to use it right, and so what we have to think about for the U.S. is that we are ahead right now, but you have 43 other countries out there working on military robotics, and they include all the interesting countries like Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran. And this raises a bigger worry for me. How do we move forward in this revolution given the state of our manufacturing and the state of our science and mathematics training in our schools? Or another way of thinking about this is, what does it mean to go to war increasingly with soldiers whose hardware is made in China and software is written in India? But just as software has gone open-source, so has warfare. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an atomic bomb, you don’t need a massive manufacturing system to build robotics. A lot of it is off the shelf. A lot of it’s even do-it-yourself. One of those things you just saw flashed before you was a raven drone, the handheld tossed one. For about a thousand dollars, you can build one yourself, equivalent to what the soldiers use in Iraq. That raises another wrinkle when it comes to war and conflict. Good guys might play around and work on these as hobby kits, but so might bad guys. This cross between robotics and things like terrorism is going to be fascinating and even disturbing, and we’ve already seen it start. During the war between Israel, a state, and Hezbollah, a non-state actor, the non-state actor flew four different drones against Israel. There’s already a jihadi website that you can go on and remotely detonate an IED in Iraq while sitting at your home computer. And so I think what we’re going to see is two trends take place with this. First is, you’re going to reinforce the power of individuals against governments, but then the second is that we are going to see an expansion in the realm of terrorism. The future of it may be a cross between al Qaeda 2.0 and the next generation of the Unabomber. And another way of thinking about this is the fact that, remember, you don’t have to convince a robot that they’re gonna receive 72 virgins after they die to convince them to blow themselves up. But the ripple effects of this are going to go out into our politics. One of the people that I met with was a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ronald Reagan, and he put it this way: “I like these systems because they save American lives, but I worry about more marketization of wars, more shock-and-awe talk, to defray discussion of the costs. People are more likely to support the use of force if they view it as costless.” Robots for me take certain trends that are already in play in our body politic, and maybe take them to their logical ending point. We don’t have a draft. We don’t have declarations of war anymore. We don’t buy war bonds anymore. And now we have the fact that we’re converting more and more of our American soldiers that we would send into harm’s way into machines, and so we may take those already lowering bars to war and drop them to the ground. But the future of war is also going to be a YouTube war. That is, our new technologies don’t merely remove humans from risk. They also record everything that they see. So they don’t just delink the public: they reshape its relationship with war. There’s already several thousand video clips of combat footage from Iraq on YouTube right now, most of it gathered by drones. Now, this could be a good thing. It could be building connections between the home front and the war front as never before. But remember, this is taking place in our strange, weird world, and so inevitably the ability to download these video clips to, you know, your iPod or your Zune gives you the ability to turn it into entertainment. Soldiers have a name for these clips. They call it war porn. The typical one that I was sent was an email that had an attachment of video of a Predator strike taking out an enemy site. Missile hits, bodies burst into the air with the explosion. It was set to music. It was set to the pop song “I Just Want To Fly” by Sugar Ray. This ability to watch more but experience less creates a wrinkle in the public’s relationship with war. I think about this with a sports parallel. It’s like the difference between watching an NBA game, a professional basketball game on TV, where the athletes are tiny figures on the screen, and being at that basketball game in person and realizing what someone seven feet really does look like. But we have to remember, these are just the clips. These are just the ESPN SportsCenter version of the game. They lose the context. They lose the strategy. They lose the humanity. War just becomes slam dunks and smart bombs. Now the irony of all this is that while the future of war may involve more and more machines, it’s our human psychology that’s driving all of this, it’s our human failings that are leading to these wars. So one example of this that has big resonance in the policy realm is how this plays out on our very real war of ideas that we’re fighting against radical groups. What is the message that we think we are sending with these machines versus what is being received in terms of the message. So one of the people that I met was a senior Bush Administration official, who had this to say about our unmanning of war: “It plays to our strength. The thing that scares people is our technology.” But when you go out and meet with people, for example in Lebanon, it’s a very different story. One of the people I met with there was a news editor, and we’re talking as a drone is flying above him, and this is what he had to say. “This is just another sign of the coldhearted cruel Israelis and Americans, who are cowards because they send out machines to fight us. They don’t want to fight us like real men, but they’re afraid to fight, so we just have to kill a few of their soldiers to defeat them.” The future of war also is featuring a new type of warrior, and it’s actually redefining the experience of going to war. You can call this a cubicle warrior. This is what one Predator drone pilot described of his experience fighting in the Iraq War while never leaving Nevada. “You’re going to war for 12 hours, shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants, and then you get in the car and you drive home and within 20 minutes, you’re sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework.” Now, the psychological balancing of those experiences is incredibly tough, and in fact those drone pilots have higher rates of PTSD than many of the units physically in Iraq. But some have worries that this disconnection will lead to something else, that it might make the contemplation of war crimes a lot easier when you have this distance. “It’s like a video game,” is what one young pilot described to me of taking out enemy troops from afar. As anyone who’s played Grand Theft Auto knows, we do things in the video world that we wouldn’t do face to face. So much of what you’re hearing from me is that there’s another side to technologic revolutions, and that it’s shaping our present and maybe will shape our future of war. Moore’s Law is operative, but so’s Murphy’s Law. The fog of war isn’t being lifted. The enemy has a vote. We’re gaining incredible new capabilities, but we’re also seeing and experiencing new human dilemmas. Now, sometimes these are just “oops” moments, which is what the head of a robotics company described it, you just have “oops” moments. Well, what are “oops” moments with robots in war? Well, sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes, they’re like that scene from the Eddie Murphy movie “Best Defense,” playing out in reality, where they tested out a machine gun-armed robot, and during the demonstration it started spinning in a circle and pointed its machine gun at the reviewing stand of VIPs. Fortunately the weapon wasn’t loaded and no one was hurt, but other times “oops” moments are tragic, such as last year in South Africa, where an anti-aircraft cannon had a “software glitch,” and actually did turn on and fired, and nine soldiers were killed. We have new wrinkles in the laws of war and accountability. What do we do with things like unmanned slaughter? What is unmanned slaughter? We’ve already had three instances of Predator drone strikes where we thought we got bin Laden, and it turned out not to be the case. And this is where we’re at right now. This is not even talking about armed, autonomous systems with full authority to use force. And do not believe that that isn’t coming. During my research I came across four different Pentagon projects on different aspects of that. And so you have this question: what does this lead to issues like war crimes? Robots are emotionless, so they don’t get upset if their buddy is killed. They don’t commit crimes of rage and revenge. But robots are emotionless. They see an 80-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair the same way they see a T-80 tank: they’re both just a series of zeroes and ones. And so we have this question to figure out: How do we catch up our 20th century laws of war, that are so old right now that they could qualify for Medicare, to these 21st century technologies? And so, in conclusion, I’ve talked about what seems the future of war, but notice that I’ve only used real world examples and you’ve only seen real world pictures and videos. And so this sets a great challenge for all of us that we have to worry about well before you have to worry about your Roomba sucking the life away from you. Are we going to let the fact that what’s unveiling itself right now in war sounds like science fiction and therefore keeps us in denial? Are we going to face the reality of 21st century war? Is our generation going to make the same mistake that a past generation did with atomic weaponry, and not deal with the issues that surround it until Pandora’s box is already opened up? Now, I could be wrong on this, and one Pentagon robot scientist told me that I was. He said, “There’s no real social, ethical, moral issues when it comes to robots. That is,” he added, “unless the machine kills the wrong people repeatedly. Then it’s just a product recall issue.” And so the ending point for this is that actually, we can turn to Hollywood. A few years ago, Hollywood gathered all the top characters and created a list of the top 100 heroes and top 100 villains of all of Hollywood history, the characters that represented the best and worst of humanity. Only one character made it onto both lists: The Terminator, a robot killing machine. And so that points to the fact that our machines can be used for both good and evil, but for me it points to the fact that there’s a duality of humans as well. This week is a celebration of our creativity. Our creativity has taken our species to the stars. Our creativity has created works of arts and literature to express our love. And now, we’re using our creativity in a certain direction, to build fantastic machines with incredible capabilities, maybe even one day an entirely new species. But one of the main reasons that we’re doing that is because of our drive to destroy each other, and so the question we all should ask: is it our machines, or is it us that’s wired for war? Thank you. (Applause)

Light Pollution Is One of the World’s Biggest Buzzkills…Here’s Why


Have you ever come home from a long day to find your front door swarmed by flying insects? Or more accurately, your front door’s light? Turns out, that’s more than a minor inconvenience. Light pollution is contributing to worldwide insect decline and that’s actually a huge problem. Insects may seem pesky. They bite and sting us, flutter and scuttle into our houses, swarm around our faces and eat our crops. But actually, of all the insects in the world, only 1% of them are pests responsible for any real damage! And almost all insects play really important roles in our world. For instance, many are pollinators, so they keep ecosystems running by perpetuating plant populations. They play a role in energy cycling as they aid in decomposition and disposal of waste. And they’re also food for many other organisms, like small rodents, amphibians, birds and bats— all of which have important jobs to do in the world’s food and energy webs. I say all of this to give perspective to this next fact: a recent study, the most comprehensive of its kind, estimates that 40% of the world’s insect species may become extinct within the next few decades. The groups of insects that are most at risk are Lepidoptera, which includes moths and butterflies, Hymenoptera, which includes bees and ants, and—as a separate category—dung beetles. But the problem, like most, is complex. A changing climate messes with things like insect reproduction and migration, both of which are highly sensitive to changing patterns in seasonal temperatures and precipitation. Habitat loss and fragmentation actually pose one of the biggest threats to insect populations, as wild land across the globe is rapidly converted for human activities like intensive agriculture. The use of chemical pesticides and other kinds of pollutants is certainly another big contributor to the very real threat facing not only bugs, but us as well. ‘Cause I don’t think I can emphasize enough just how important bugs are to our world. We need these insects, especially Hymenoptera to make our food possible. You may have seen that photo showing what a grocery store would look like without bees? The shelves are almost entirely empty. Now, picture that kind of diversity loss radiating across entire ecosystems, not just the grocery stores where we shop for food. Losing 40% of the world’s insects would make up the majority of the species loss in the sixth extinction. That’s the major extinction event we’re experiencing right now in the present Anthropocene epoch. This event is largely human-driven and will take radical efforts on the part of humans to make it stop. So what can we do? One seemingly simple thing? Turn our lights off. Some bugs move toward light, or are what’s called positively phototactic, and we have a couple of ideas about why that is. It could be that light messes with their internal navigation systems. With the flood of artificial light they can’t navigate by natural sources of light like the moon, so they end up getting all turned around and just fly themselves to death. And some artificial lights may even give off low levels of UV light, which insects may mistake for UV signatures from flowers. Some lights give off infrared radiation which can seem like female moth pheromones, which register to male moths in the infrared. In these ways, the light messes with their navigation and may also make it more difficult for insects to find mates, by disrupting their natural patterns. Fireflies, for instance, can’t see each other glow if the whole area is flooded with light! And light also makes it easier to see those bugs, and so they are more susceptible to getting eaten by predators. So even though we’re not sure exactly why bugs flock to flame, we are sure that artificial light is a driver of insect decline. And no—artificial light at night is not driving global decimation of insect species as much as say, habitat loss. But addressing our light usage is something relatively simple we can do to address this issue, and pretty much immediately. Because here’s the kicker. 41% of global insect species have already experienced huge population declines in the past decade. So as this insect species loss continues and accelerates—it will be devastating. Not only for us, but for the whole world’s wider ecosystems. And it’s going to take large-scale change in our land management and our use of pesticides to stop that cataclysmic decline before it’s too late… but changing our light habits is maybe one place to start. If you want to know even more about surprising ecosystem dynamics, check out this video on fungi over here and subscribe to Seeker for all of your ecological updates. Leave a comment down below, and as always, thanks so much for watching. I’ll see you next time.