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Posts tagged Science

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Mysterious AIDS-like disease discovered


Researchers have identified a mysterious new disease that has left thousands of people in Asia and some in the United States with AIDS-like symptoms even though they are not infected with HIV. A report was issued in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) regarding the mystery disease.

According to reports, the patients’ immune systems become damaged, leaving them unable to fend off germs as healthy people do. What triggers this isn’t known, but the disease does not seem to be contagious. Dr. Sarah Browne, a scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who helped pen the NEJM report, believes that the mystery disease is another kind of acquired immune deficiency that is not inherited and occurs in adults, but doesn’t spread the way AIDS does through a virus.

Although little is know about this new acquired immune deficiency disease, doctors say that the disease seems to develop around age 50 on average, but does not run in families, which makes it unlikely that a single gene is responsible. But, It’s still possible that an infection of some sort could trigger the disease, even though the disease itself doesn’t seem to spread person-to-person.

Filed under News disease science new aids

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Chinese Physicists Smash Distance Record For Teleportation

The ability to teleport photons through 100 kilometres of free space opens the way for satellite-based quantum communications, say researchers


Teleportation is the extraordinary ability to transfer objects from one location to another without travelling through the intervening space.  

The idea is not that the physical object is teleported but the information that describes it. This can then be applied to a similar object in a new location which effectively takes on the new identity. 

And it is by no means science fiction. Physicists have been teleporting photons since 1997 and the technique is now standard in optics laboratories all over the world. 

The phenomenon that makes this possible is known as quantum entanglement,  the deep and mysterious link that occurs when two quantum objects share the same existence and yet are separated in space. 

Teleportation turns out to be extremely useful. Because teleported information does not travel through the intervening space, it cannot be secretly accessed by an eavesdropper. 

For that reason, teleportation is the enabling technology behind quantum cryptography, a way of sending information with close-to-perfect secrecy. 

Unfortunately, entangled photons are fragile objects. They cannot travel further than a kilometre or so down optical fibres because the photons end up interacting with the glass breaking the entanglement. That severely limits quantum cryptography’s usefulness. 

However, physicists have had more success teleporting photons through the atmosphere. In 2010, a Chinese team announced that it had teleported single photons over a distance of 16 kilometres. Handy but not exactly Earth-shattering.

Now the same team says it has smashed this record. Juan Yin at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai, and a bunch of mates say they have teleported entangled photons over a distance of 97 kilometres across a lake in China.   

That’s an impressive feat for several reasons. The trick these guys have perfected is to find a way to use a 1.3 Watt laser and some fancy optics to beam the light and receive it. 

Inevitably photons get lost and entanglement is destroyed in such a process. Imperfections in the optics and air turbulence account for some of these losses but the biggest problem is beam widening (they did the experiment at an altitude of about 4000 metres). Since the beam spreads out as it travels, many of the photons simply miss the target altogether. 

So the most important advance these guys have made is to develop a steering mechanism using a guide laser that keeps the beam precisely on target. As a result, they were able to teleport more than 1100 photons in 4 hours over a distance of 97 kilometres.  

That’s interesting because it’s the same channel attenuation that you’d have to cope with when beaming photons to a satellite with, say, 20 centimetre optics orbiting at about 500 kilometres. “The successful quantum teleportation over such channel losses in combination with our high-frequency and high-accuracy [aiming] technique show the feasibility of satellite-based ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation,” say Juan and co.

So these guys clearly have their eye on the possibility of satellite-based quantum cryptography which would provide ultra secure communications around the world. That’s in stark contrast to the few kilometres that are possible with commercial quantum cryptography gear.

Of course, data rates are likely to be slow and the rapidly emerging technology of quantum repeaters will extend the reach of ground-based quantum cryptography so that it could reach around the world, in principle at least. 

But a perfect, satellite-based security system might be a useful piece of kit to have on the roof of an embassy or distributed among the armed forces. 

Something for western security experts to think about.

Ref: Teleporting Independent Qubits Through A 97 Km Free-Space Channel

Filed under News Science Teleportation Technology MIT

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Controversial Mutant Bird Flu Paper Published after Months of Intense Debate

After four months of debate on whether the publication of the controversial research on a mutant bird flu strain that can spread easily between mammals should be allowed, the journal Nature has finally published the first of two studies on the experimental deadly influenza virus that U.S. biosecurity experts had feared could be used as a bioterrorism weapon.


After four months of debate on whether the publication of the controversial research on a mutant bird flu strain that can spread easily between mammals should be allowed, the journal Nature has finally published the first of two studies on the experimental deadly influenza virus that U.S. biosecurity experts had feared could be used as a bioterrorism weapon. 

The publication of the research by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on Wednesday comes after months of fierce debate between advocates for science to be free of censorship and those who felt the need to protect the public from a potentially devastating influenza epidemic. 

The controversy started in December when two teams of researchers in the United States and the Netherlands said that they had created a mutant form of the H5N1 avian virus. 

Researchers explained that the goal of their studies were to understand how the H5N1 avian virus, which is highly contagious among birds but is not easily transmitted to mammals, could mutate to spread rapidly between people, and could provide scientists and health officials more information in case of a flu epidemic.

However the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an expert panel that advises the U.S. government, called for Nature and Science, two journals that planned on publishing the flu research, to delete certain parts of the original studies before it should be published. 

Read more …

Filed under News Medicine Science H1N1 flu US government

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Swiss scientists demonstrate mind-controlled robot


Swiss scientists have demonstrated how a partially paralyzed person can control a robot by thought alone, a step they hope will one day allow immobile people to interact with their surroundings through so-called avatars.

Similar experiments have taken place in the United States and Germany, but they involved either able-bodied patients or invasive brain implants.

On Tuesday, a team at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used only a simple head cap to record the brain signals of Mark-Andre Duc, who was at a hospital in the southern Swiss town of Sion 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.

Duc’s thoughts - or rather, the electrical signals emitted by his brain when he imagined lifting his paralyzed fingers - were decoded almost instantly by a laptop at the hospital. The resulting instructions - left or right - were then transmitted to a foot-tall robot scooting around the Lausanne lab.

Duc lost control of his legs and fingers in a fall and is now considered partially quadriplegic. He said controlling the robot wasn’t hard on a good day.

"But when I’m in pain it becomes more difficult," he told The Associated Press through a video link screen on a second laptop attached to the robot.

Background noise caused by pain or even a wandering mind has emerged as a major challenge in the research of so-called brain-computer interfaces since they first began to be tested on humans more than a decade ago, said Jose Millan, who led the Swiss team.

While the human brain is perfectly capable of performing several tasks at once, a paralyzed person would have to focus the entire time they are directing the device.

"Sooner or later your attention will drop and this will degrade the signal," Millan said.

To get around this problem, his team decided to program the computer that decodes the signal so that it works in a similar way to the brain’s subconscious. Once a command such as ‘walk forward’ has been sent, the computer will execute it until it receives a command to stop or the robot encounters an obstacle.

The robot itself is an advance on a previous project that let patients control an electric wheelchair. By using a robot complete with a camera and screen, users can extend their virtual presence to places that are arduous to reach with a wheelchair, such as an art gallery or a wedding abroad.

Rajesh Rao, an associate professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has tested similar systems with able-bodied subjects, said the Lausanne team’s research appeared to mark an advance in the field.

"Especially if the system can be used by the paraplegic person outside the laboratory," he said in an email.

Millan said that although the device has already been tested at patients’ homes, it isn’t as easy to use as some commercially available gadgets that employ brain signals to control simple toys, such Mattel’s popular MindFlex headset.

"But this will come in a matter of years," Millan said

Filed under News Science Tech Transhumanism Computer mind control robot

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Scientist unveils mind-controlled robot for paraplegics


GENEVA — A professor at a Swiss university on Tuesday unveiled a robot that can be controlled by the brainwaves of a paraplegic person wearing an electrode-fitted cap, news agency ATS reported.

A paralysed man at a hospital in the town of Sion demonstrated the device, sending a mental command to a computer in his room, which transmitted it to another computer that moved a small robot 60 kilometres (37 miles) away in Lausanne.

The system was developed by Jose Millan, a professor at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne who specialises in non-invasive interfaces between machines and the brain.

The same technology can be used to drive a wheelchair, Millan said.

"Once the movement has begun, the brain can relax, otherwise the person would soon be exhausted," he said.

But the technology has its limits, he added. The brain signals can be scrambled if too many people are gathered around a wheelchair, for example.

Besides making paraplegics mobile, neuroprosthetics could be used to help patients recover lost senses, researchers said.

Professor Stephanie Lacour and her team are working on an “electric skin” for amputees, a glove fitted with tiny sensors that would send information directly to the user’s nervous system.

Eventually, researchers say they hope to create mechanised prosthetics that are as mobile and sensitive as a natural hand, Lacour said.

Other researchers at Lausanne are working on enabling paraplegics to walk again with electrodes implanted in their spinal cords.

"The goal is that after a year of training with a robotic aide, the patient will be able to walk without a robot. The electrodes would stay implanted for life," said Professor Gregoire Courtine.

He said he is currently setting up clinical trials and hopes to run tests at Zurich’s university hospital within a year.

Filed under News Science Transhumanism Robot Tech Technology

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Planetary Resources is establishing a new paradigm for resource discovery and utilization that will bring the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence. Our technical principals boast extensive experience in all phases of robotic space missions, from designing and building, to testing and operating. We are comprised of visionaries, pioneers, rocket scientists and industry leaders with proven track records on—and off—this planet.

One of the things they’ll be doing; mining asteroids:

There are over 1,500 asteroids that are as easy to get to as the surface of the Moon. They are also in Earth-like orbits with small gravity fields, making them easier to approach and depart.
Asteroid resources have some unique characteristics that make them especially attractive. Unlike Earth, where heavier metals are close to the core, metals in asteroids are distributed throughout their body, making them easier to extract.
Asteroids contain valuable and useful materials like iron, nickel, water, and rare platinum group metals, often in significantly higher concentration than found in mines on Earth.
We are only just beginning to realize the incredible potential of asteroids. The first encounter of a spacecraft to an asteroid was 1991, as the Galileo flew by the 951 Gaspra asteroid on its way to Jupiter. Our knowledge of these celestial neighbors has been revolutionized by a small set of US and international missions carried out since that time. With each visit or fly-by, the science on asteroids has been rewritten.

Planetary Resources is establishing a new paradigm for resource discovery and utilization that will bring the solar system into humanity’s sphere of influence. Our technical principals boast extensive experience in all phases of robotic space missions, from designing and building, to testing and operating. We are comprised of visionaries, pioneers, rocket scientists and industry leaders with proven track records on—and off—this planet.

One of the things they’ll be doing; mining asteroids:

There are over 1,500 asteroids that are as easy to get to as the surface of the Moon. They are also in Earth-like orbits with small gravity fields, making them easier to approach and depart.

Asteroid resources have some unique characteristics that make them especially attractive. Unlike Earth, where heavier metals are close to the core, metals in asteroids are distributed throughout their body, making them easier to extract.

Asteroids contain valuable and useful materials like iron, nickel, water, and rare platinum group metals, often in significantly higher concentration than found in mines on Earth.

We are only just beginning to realize the incredible potential of asteroids. The first encounter of a spacecraft to an asteroid was 1991, as the Galileo flew by the 951 Gaspra asteroid on its way to Jupiter. Our knowledge of these celestial neighbors has been revolutionized by a small set of US and international missions carried out since that time. With each visit or fly-by, the science on asteroids has been rewritten.

Filed under News Asteroids Mining Science Earth Moon

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If You Have a Smart Phone, Anyone Can Now Track Your Every Move

Location services company Navizonhas a new system, called Navizon I.T.S., that could allow tracking of visitors in malls, museums, offices, factories, secured areas and just about any other indoor space. It could be used to examine patterns of foot traffic in retail spaces, assure that a museum is empty of visitors at closing time, or even to pinpoint the location of any individual registered with the system. But let’s set all that aside for a minute while we freak out about the privacy implications.

Most of us leave Wi-Fi on by default, in part because our phones chastise us when we don’t. (Triangulation by Wi-Fi hotspots is important for making location services more accurate.) But you probably didn’t realize that, using proprietary new “nodes” from Navizon, any device with an active Wi-Fi radio can be seen by a system like Navizon’s.

To demonstrate the technology, here’s Navizon CEO and founder Cyril Houri hunting for one of his colleagues at a trade show using a kind of first person shooter-esque radar.

Filed under News Science Tech TEchnology Surveillance Surveillance State Big Brother

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How do you like your meat?

Side Note: On the bright side, this is better than shit burgers (no joke). Any way - meat grown in a lab is coming to a restaurant near you in October 2012.


By William Little

Bioengineers in the Netherlands are now growing meat in a laboratory where the future of food is being prepared – in a Petri dish

Fibres of laboratory-grown meat anchored between strips of Velcro©Jaap Scheeren

Fibres of laboratory-grown meat anchored between strips of Velcro, which help them bulk in size

You wouldn’t normally expect to find a thick red steak quietly pulsating in an oversized Petri dish inside a laboratory. But such is the hype around the team scheduled to produce the world’s first lab-grown cut of meat this October that I can’t help but imagine it. The research being done by bioengineer Dr Mark Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands has provoked global headlines about “test tube meat” and fierce ethical and scientific debate. Getting access to his laboratory is about as exciting as it gets in the world of food engineering.

But when I arrive, the home of in vitro meat is quiet – no research assistants racing to turn out joints of beef, chicken or lamb. Instead, Post slowly opens the door to what looks like a large fridge, or a bioreactor. Within lie row upon row of tiny Petri dishes in which float minute fibres of almost transparent meat. I find it rather deflating but Post is excited. “I’ll need about 3,000 pellets of meat to make a hamburger,” he says.

Read more …

Filed under News Science Meat Lab Science Netherlands Laboratory

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Google execs, director Cameron in space venture



SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and billionaire co-founder Larry Page have teamed up with “Avatar” director James Cameron and other investors to back an ambitious space exploration and natural resources venture, details of which will be unveiled next week.

The fledgling company, called Planetary Resources, will be unveiled at a Tuesday news conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, according to a press release issued this week.

Aside from naming some of the company’s high-profile backers, the press release disclosed tantalizingly few details, saying only that the company will combine the sectors of “space exploration and natural resources” in a venture that could add “trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Planetary Resources will explore the feasibility of mining natural resources from asteroids, a decades-old concept.

"This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources,’" according to the press release.

Planetary Resource was co-founded by Eric Anderson, a former NASA Mars mission manager, and Peter Diamandis, the commercial space entrepreneur behind the X-Prize, a competition that offered $10 million to a group that launched a reusable manned spacecraft. Other notable investors include Charles Simonyi, a former top executive at Microsoft, and K. Ram Shriram, a Google director.

The venture will be the latest foray into the far-flung for Cameron, who dived last month in a mini-submarine to the deepest spot in the Mariana Trench. The plot of his 2009 science fiction blockbuster film, “Avatar,” concerned resource mining on alien planets.

Filed under News Science Google Asteroid Mining NASA Meteor Strike

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What is Singularity University?

By Tony Cartalucci

April 18, 2012 - A paradigm shift is coming that will change everything about the way people work, learn, and interact - it will be the beginning of a new age and the shape that age takes depends greatly on the number of informed people that take part in it and where they decide to steer it. Already, the top minds across a variety of industries are converging and preparing for the shift. One such group, an educational institute called “Singularity University" comprises of innovators, teachers, scientists, and engineers from both the private and public sector. Some could be considered elitists interested in consolidating power, others are truly forward thinking and interested in a better world for all of mankind.

: An introduction as to what “Singularity University” is. It is easy to pick out good and bad people, corporations, and agendas involved in Singularity University, it is much more difficult to determine what its overall agenda is. It may be possible, if average people became informed on a large scale, to steer its agenda toward what benefits humanity as a whole, rather than a handful of corporations. 


The battle that will play out depends entirely on the general public becoming informed and active in the coming paradigm shift, guiding it toward a society of solidarity and progress rather than one of disparity between enslavement and superiority. Analyzing Singularity University’s website and video productions, the impression is one of a multitude of ideas and directions - not a predetermined agenda, so far.

One concept that is omnipresent throughout Singularity University’s activities is cutting edge technology and the possible implications it will have on society. This includes everything from 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and radical advances in genetics and biotechnology. The implications range from the ability for every individual on Earth to “print” at will any conceivable object they are able to obtain the blueprints for or design, to gene therapies capable of extending human life to centuries.

While the public is distracted with gritty political ploys, wars, and engineered destabilization, it is hoped that these emerging technologies can be meshed into the existing power structures and preserve the power of elites who have reigned over humanity for generations. Sabotaging education, ruining family and culture, and perpetuating the futile “rat race” also plays a role in keeping the vast majority of humanity out of the debate, and thus at a clear disadvantage.

: An amazing presentation given by Singularity University’s Daniel Reda discusses the latest breakthroughs in biotechnology and bioinformatics. While some of these breakthroughs carry with them horrifying implications, they are only horrifying if the knowledge and techniques surrounding them remain monopolized in the hands of a select few. Just as many would argue against gun control and the dangers of an unarmed society subjected to the whims of a brutal dictatorship, the same could be said of a technologically and intellectually disarmed population as well. 

Just like Europeans arriving on the shores of the New World - with vastly superior weapons and institutions to perform a campaign of full spectrum domination over natives that has endured ever since, the global elite of today hope to assume a position of vast superiority enabled by quantum leaps in technology while the rest of us, through ploys such as “environmentalism” and “sustainable living” increasingly disarm ourselves industrially and technologically. Polluting our priorities with political issues instead of pragmatism also widens the rift of disparity between the people and the ruling elite.

Read more …

Filed under Commentary Future Tech Technology Science

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New U.S. Interrogation Tool: Science

By Spencer Ackerman

The U.S.’s premier unit for interrogating terrorists is interested in science. No, not junk science like the Sodium Pentothal “truth serum.”* Actual behavioral science to help learn how to make a terrorist talk — quickly, truthfully and, importantly, humanely.

Earlier this month, the secretive unit, known as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, put out a call for “behavioral science research to advance the science and practice of intelligence interviewing and interrogation.” Behind that dry and bureaucratic language is a major success for opponents of torture.

It sounds kind of basic: shouldn’t all interrogations use behavioral science as a jumping-off point? As it turns out, this is something of a controversial position. And it’s going to confront a well-publicized counterattack in the coming weeks.

Within months of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA — for reasons it never disclosed — turned to ex-Air Force psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell for help in designing an exceptionally harsh interrogation regimen for use on al-Qaida detainees. Jessen and Mitchell had never participated in a real interrogation. Nor did they have any particular expertise with al-Qaida. But they claimed to understand the conditions of induced discomfort that would force a detainee to spill. A Senate inquiry in 2008determined that Jessen and Mitchell heavily influenced the Bush administration’s practices of waterboarding; “cramped confinement”; dietary and sleep manipulation; and “stress positions,” among other practices that Bush-era State Department adviser Philip Zelikow recently described to Danger Room as “war crimes.”

Years later, after all this came to light, a group of actual behavioral scientists, military interrogators and terrorism experts came to believe that the torture of al-Qaida detainees was worse than a crime; it was a mistake. Mitchell and Jessen advised the CIA that successful interrogations required stuffing a detainee in a small wooden box containing insects. This loose-knit group considered that both morally repugnant and professionally irresponsible, since it would lead a detainee to say anything to make the pain or fear stop, regardless of the truth.

They set to work creating a blueprint to rectify that mistake — with science.

That blueprint became a two-volume study (the second volume is classified) called “Educing Information.” The public version of “Educing Information” consists of case studies from different wars and police interrogations that urged professionals to build emotional rapport with the detainees they interviewed. It wasn’t a kindness — it was emotional leverage to exploit, so a detainee would disclose information about a terrorist group against his better judgment or his interest.

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Filed under News Torture War Crimes Enhanced Interrogation Science CIA US Military

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How electrical brain stimulation can change the way we think

After my brain was jolted, says Sally Adee, I had a near-spiritual experience


Researchers have found that "transcranial direct current stimulation" can more than double the rate at which people learn a wide range of tasks, such as object recognition, math skills, and marksmanship.

HAVE YOU EVER wanted to take a vacation from your own head? You could do it easily enough with liberal applications of alcohol or hallucinogens, but that’s not the kind of vacation I’m talking about. What if you could take a very specific vacation only from the stuff that makes it painful to be you: the sneering inner monologue that insists you’re not capable enough or smart enough or pretty enough, or whatever hideous narrative rides you. Now that would be a vacation. You’d still be you, but you’d be able to navigate the world without the emotional baggage that now drags on your every decision. Can you imagine what that would feel like?

Late last year, I got the chance to find out, in the course of investigating a story for New Scientist about how researchers are using neurofeedback and electrical brain stimulation to accelerate learning. What I found was that electricity might be the most powerful drug I’ve ever used in my life.

It used to be just plain old chemistry that had neuroscientists gnawing their fingernails about the ethics of brain enhancement. As Adderall, Ritalin, and other cognitive enhancing drugs gain widespread acceptance as tools to improve your everyday focus, even the stigma of obtaining them through less-than-legal channels appears to be disappearing. People will overlook a lot of moral gray areas in the quest to juice their brain power.

But until recently, you were out of luck if you wanted to do that without taking drugs that might be addictive, habit-forming, or associated with unfortunate behavioral side effects. Over the past few years, however, it’s become increasingly clear that applying an electrical current to your head confers similar benefits.

Read more …

Filed under Tech News Technology transhumanism Science Brain Biology US Military UK

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Scientist reveals how he made bird flu that could spread between people

Researcher created a hybrid of H5N1 bird flu and swine flu viruses then isolated a strain that can infect cells in the throat

By Ian Sample

Silhouette of a woman coughing or sneezing

A scientist whose work was deemed too dangerous to publish by US biosecurity advisers revealed for the first time on Tuesday how he created a hybrid bird flu virus that is spread easily by coughs and sneezes.

In a conference presentation that was webcasted live to the public, he detailed how his team created the deadly virus. Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison described experiments that pinpointed four genetic mutations enabling the virus to spread between ferrets kept in neighbouring cages. The animals are considered the best models of how the infection might spread between people.

In December the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) called for sections of Kawaoka’s work to be deleted from a paper in the British science journal Nature, amid fears that a rogue state might use the information to create a biological weapon.

The NSABB raised similar concerns over a paper by Dr Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam. That study, describing another mutant bird flu strain that can also be spread through the air between ferrets, is under consideration at the US journal Science.

The controversy over the papers triggered a crisis in science. Many researchers argued the work must be made fully public so it is available to other experts in the field, such as surveillance teams looking for emergent pandemic strains in Asia and elsewhere. Others said the work should never have been done, or that sensitive details should be shared only with a list of approved experts.

The advisory board reversed its stance on Friday after considering updated versions of the papers and a fresh risk analysis of the studies at a meeting at the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC. The board unanimously approved Kawaoka’s paper for publication in full, and gave the green light to Fouchier’s work after a vote of 12 to 6 in favour. Neither paper had information removed for the review.

Bird flu is considered particularly threatening to people because more than half of the 600 or so people known to have caught the virus have died from the infection. Many scientists fear the virus could trigger a pandemic if it evolved into a form that spread rapidly.

The experiments by Kawaoka and Fouchier were designed to answer the question of whether the bird flu virus could pick up genetic mutations in the wild that would allow it to adapt to humans and spread rapidly like seasonal flu.

Speaking at a Royal Society conference on bird flu, Kawaoka and Fouchier claimed their work highlighted how easily bird flu could mutate into a form that would potentially be transmissible among humans. But their findings showed the mutant strains did not spread as swiftly as seasonal flu, and were not lethal to animals that caught the infection from a neighbouring animal. Both viruses could be controlled by antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, and bird flu vaccines, the researchers added.

Kawaoka created a hybrid flu strain by merging H5N1 bird flu with the “swine flu" virus that caused a pandemic in humans in 2009. Through a series of experiments in ferrets, he isolated a strain with four mutations that helped the virus latch on to and infect cells in the throat. One reason bird flu does not spread well between people is that it cannot bind to cells in the throat and nose, where it can be coughed and sneezed out.

Defending the work, Kawaoka said is was carried out in a high-security laboratory where all of the staff had been vetted by the FBI. The work was “important for pandemic preparedness” and emphasised the need for countries to stockpile vaccines to combat bird flu.

One of the mutations is already common in the wild, Kawaoka said, appearing in all 46 bird flu viruses isolated from people in Egypt between 2009 and 2011. “The risk is out there in nature,” Kawaoka said.

The UK has a stockpile of 16,000 doses of the GSK bird flu vaccine, Pandemrix, which has a shelf life of three to seven years.

Fouchier told the conference he was unable to reveal full details of his own research because the Dutch government has imposed export controls on the information. His team created a mutant strain of H5N1 bird flu by infecting a succession of ferrets until a strain emerged that spread between animals housed in neighbouring cages. Ferrets that had already been exposed to flu viruses were not affected by the mutant strain.

Fouchier was unable to confirm the specific mutations that made the virus more transmissible, but said many had already been spotted in the wild. “Most of the mutations we found we can see in the field, and we are even seeing them in combination,” he said.

"We are looking for strains of mutants that are associated with particular biological traits," Fouchier added. "Just as we want to predict tsunamis and earthquakes, we want to predict pandemics."

Filed under News Science Influenza Pandemic Epidemic flu H5N1 USA Washington DC

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From augmented reality video games to Apple’s Siri digital assistant, technology continues to zip along at lightening speed. Many of the most wild science fiction stories later become real life.  Jules Verne came up with the idea of a fax machine, Arthur C. Clarke conceived the idea for satellites, and Edward Bellamy dreamed up the telephone before its time.  Back in 2002, Phillip K. Dick’s short story was produced into the Hollywood movie Minority Report. In the film, a computer is featured that allows the user to interact with the screen in 3D, grabbing images and items virtually and moving them around the screen. Now that wild piece of sci-fi is quickly on its way to reality.

MIT student Jinha Lee designed a prototype as an intern in the Microsoft Applied Sciences Group which allows a user to physically interact with the objects on a transparent screen. Moving windows forward and backward with your fingers, cameras sense where the users hands are and allows for a true 3D interaction with the content on (or is that “in”) the screen. Linking the pixellated world and that of humans is something that has been dreamed up many times before — with movies like Tron taking the concept as far as it could — to a whole digital world beyond the physical. For Lee, the motivation for this project is to allow interaction with the abstract world inside the screen:

Computer scientist Ivan Sutherland once called a computer display “a looking glass into a mathematical wonderland.” and I have always aspired to walk in this wonderland to interact with those abstract beings.

Just think, it was only a few years ago that Facebook opened up from schools to the public and now it is part of daily life.  Before you know it, our appliances will be talking to us, salesmen at the store will be holograms, and some geeks might just decide to replace their girlfriends with digital avatars. Watch out Siri, a slew of technology is nipping at your heels that might make you look like more of a toaster oven than artificial intelligence.

Filed under News Technology Microsoft Science Science Fiction Reality 3D Transparent Screen Augmented Reality Future Transhumanism

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IBM Reveals Five Innovations That Will Change Our Lives within Five Years


The next IBM 5 in 5 is based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM’s research labs around the world that can make these transformations possible.  

At IBM, we’re bridging the gap between science fiction and science fact on a daily basis. Here are how five technologies will define the future: 

People power will come to life.

Anything that moves or produces heat has the potential to create energy that can be captured. Walking. Jogging. Bicycling. The heat from your computer. Even the water flowing through your pipes. 

Advances in renewable energy technology will allow individuals to collect this kinetic energy, which now goes to waste, and use it to help power our homes, offices and cities.

Imagine attaching small devices to the spokes on your bicycle wheels that recharge batteries as you pedal along. You will have the satisfaction of not only getting to where you want to go, but at the same time powering some of the lights in your home.  

Created energy comes in all shapes and forms and from anything around us. IBM scientists inIreland are looking at ways to understand and minimize the environmental impact of converting ocean wave energy into electricity. 


You will never need a password again.

Your biological makeup is the key to your individual identity, and soon, it will become the key to safeguarding it.  

You will no longer need to create, track or remember multiple passwords for various log-ins. Imagine you will be able to walk up to an ATM machine to securely withdraw money by simply speaking your name or looking into a tiny sensor that can recognize the unique patterns in the retina of your eye. Or by doing the same, you can check your account balance on your mobile phone or tablet. 

Each person has a unique biological identity and behind all that is data. Biometric data – facial definitions, retinal scans and voice files – will be composited through software to build your DNA unique online password. 

Referred to as multi-factor biometrics, smarter systems will be able to use this information in real-time to make sure whenever someone is attempting to access your information, it matches your unique biometric profile and the attempt is authorized. To be trusted, such systems should enable you to opt in or out of whatever information you choose to provide. 


Mind reading is no longer science fiction 

From Houdini to Skywalker to X-Men, mind reading has merely been “wishful thinking” for science fiction fans for decades, but their wish may soon come true. 

IBM scientists are among those researching how to link your brain to your devices, such as a computer or a smartphone. If you just need to think about calling someone, it happens. Or you can control the cursor on a computer screen just by thinking about where you want to move it.  

Scientists in the field of bioinformatics have designed headsets with advanced sensors to read electrical brain activity that can recognize facial expressions, excitement and concentration levels, and thoughts of a person without them physically taking any actions. 

Within 5 years, we will begin to see early applications of this technology in the gaming and entertainment industry. Furthermore, doctors could use the technology to test brain patterns, possibly even assist in rehabilitation from strokes and to help in understanding brain disorders, such as autism. .


The digital divide will cease to exist.

In our global society, growth and wealth of economies are increasingly decided by the level of access to information. And in five years, the gap between information haves and have-nots will narrow considerably due to advances in mobile technology. 

There are 7 billion people inhabiting the world today. In five years there will be 5.6 billion mobile devices sold – which means 80% of the current global population would each have a mobile device. 

As it becomes cheaper to own a mobile phone, people without a lot of spending power will be able to do much more than they can today. 

For example, in India, using speech technology and mobile devices, IBM enabled rural villagers who were illiterate to pass along information through recorded messages on their phones. With access to information that was not there before, villagers could check weather reports for help them decide when to fertilize crops, know when doctors were coming into town, and find the best prices for their crops or merchandise. 

Growing communities will be able to use mobile technology to provide access to essential information and better serve people with new solutions and business models such as mobile commerce and remote healthcare. 


Junk mail will become priority mail.

Think about how often we’re flooded with advertisements we consider to be irrelevant or unwanted. It may not be that way for long.  

In five years, unsolicited advertisements may feel so personalized and relevant it may seem spam is dead. At the same time, spam filters will be so precise you’ll never be bothered by unwanted sales pitches again. 

Imagine if tickets to your favorite band are put on hold for you the moment they became available, and for the one night of the week that is free on your calendar. Through alerts direct to you, you’ll be able to purchase tickets instantly from your mobile device. Or imagine being notified that a snow storm is about to affect your travel plans and you might want to re-route your flight? 

IBM is developing technology that uses real-time analytics to make sense and integrate data from across all the facets of your life such as your social networks and online preferences to present and recommend information that is only useful to you.  

From news, to sports, to politics, you’ll trust the technology will know what you want, so you can decide what to do with it.

Filed under Tech Technology IBM Biometrics Mind Reading Science Science Fiction Big Brother

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