This Week's 'Planet Earth' Report --"Human Hibernation to Release of the 'JFK Motherload' to NASA and the Future of Food"
Our weekly pick of interesting articles on threats, solutions, observations and odds and ends about life on our home planet. Just for fun we've tossed in a raging conspiracy theory or two.
NASA Made This Technology for Space—Now, It Will Improve What We Eat
“The human eye has to be one of the cruelest tricks nature ever pulled.” These were Abi Ramanan’s opening words in a talk called “The Future of the Food Chain,” presented at Singularity University’s Global Summit in San Francisco last week. Ramanan explained that all the human eyes can see is a tiny cone-shaped area of light in front of our faces, and it’s restricted to a very narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“We can’t see around walls, we can’t see electricity or radio signals, we can’t see out of this bit,” she said, pointing to the corner of her eye. “And we have wound up with the utterly mad and often fatal delusion that if we can’t see something, it doesn’t exist.”
Ramanan is the CEO and co-founder of Impact Vision, a company that’s using hyperspectral imaging technology to provide fast, noninvasive information about foods and their quality attributes in the supply chain.
“You can think of it as a type of fingerprinting technology,” she said. “It allows you to understand what the constituents of food products are, how much of them there are, and in fact, whether they should be there at all.”
A dossier of JFK assassination documents previously kept classified is about to be released to the public. Conspiracy theorists have been trying to pick apart the assassination of President John F Kennedy for decades, and they’re about to receive a huge shipment of help. This October, a massive dossier of relevant documents and recordings compiled by the CIA and FBI will be made available to the American public for the first time. That is, unless President Trump decides to keep them classified.
According to the National Archives, where the dossier is kept, the release will include 3,810 documents in total. That’s twice the size than the mother load was initially thought to be. Newsweek reports that a third of the documents are from the CIA, another third are from the FBI, and the remaining third includes information from the Justice Department, the State Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and several committees established during the 60s to investigate the assassination and possible ties to Cuba and Russia.
In 2003, a national poll showed that 70% of Americans believe President Kennedy was shot as part of a large plan, rather than murdered by a single gunman who was acting alone. The leading conspiracy theories suggest a few explanations. Some believe Nikita Khrushchev ordered a hit on Kennedy because he was embarrassed about the Cold War. A retired KGB officer told the press years after Kennedy’s murder that Russia was involved. Other conspiracy theorists blame Cuba, the Italian mob, President Lyndon Johnson, and the CIA.
Joe Quirk has a bold vision for the future. “In mere decades I think our children will be living on floating, sustainable societies, based on the voluntary choices of the people who live there,” Quirk tells Inverse. “They’ll look back on our primitive governments founded in previous nation states and wonder why we had to argue between two choices, when they have such a proliferation of choices.”
Quirk might seem like a dreamer, but he’s well-versed in thinking about floating communities of the future: He’s president of the Seasteading Institute and author of the new book, Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians.
Yet a surprising factor in our future might make the seasteading dream more realistic: sea level rise, which threatens to drown coastal real estate. The wealthy will pay good money to live near the beach, and when the beach is gone, alternative coasts will surely rise.
“The Seasteading insight is that the technology for affordable floating on the ocean is quickly approaching,” says Quirk. “Obviously, it’s much easier to build a house on land than to build a floating house on the ocean, but that’s changing. Material science is getting cheaper and greener.”
Climate change is pushing more water into the atmosphere—with bizarre consequences. Humans have begun an international project to move water around the world, far more ambitious than any network of aqueducts or hydroelectric dams ever constructed or conceived. The drivers of this global system are billowing vapors, which trap heat and propel the world’s water faster and farther around the globe. The first results of this project may already be seen in the outrageous rainfall totals of storms like Hurricane Harvey, or in landslides on remote mountain hillsides, and even in the changing saltiness of the oceans.
The Earth system is getting warmer. Water is evaporating faster. There’s more of it in the air. It’s moving through the system faster. As a result, the coming centuries will play out under a new atmospheric regime, one with more extreme rain, falling in patterns unfamiliar to those around which civilization has grown.
“Basically the idea is that as the climate warms there’s more energy in the atmosphere,” says Gabriel Bowen, a geochemist at the University of Utah. “That drives a more vigorous water cycle: Evaporation rates go up, precipitation rates go up—there’s just more water moving through that cycle faster and more intensely.”
Nothing says interstellar travel like a hibernation pod. The heroes of the 2016 holiday blockbuster Passengers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, embark on a century-long journey to a planet outside our solar system. Hibernation pods extend their lifespans for the long trip, but they wake from torpor 90 years earlier than scheduled. Then they set about trying to fix the ship and trying to put themselves back to sleep.
First of all, let’s talk about this “waking” from hibernation business. Hibernation may involve lying down with one’s eyes closed, but there’s no sleeping going on; in fact, a long stretch of it leaves the body sleep-deprived. If this movie were true to life, the first thing that would happen when Jennifer Lawrence opened her long-lashed eyes in the hibernation pod would not be her listening to the ship computer’s crew update. It would be her closing those long lashes again and descending straight into sleep.
That’s because sleep is one of the bodily functions that can’t be done properly in hibernation. During the periodic arousal states that punctuate hibernation, animals warm their bodies and go straight into a long, deep sleep. Oxford neuroscientist Vlad Vyazovskiy did his master’s work at the Institute for Problems of Cryobiology and Cryomedicine at Kharkov National University in Ukraine, where he studied ground squirrels in torpor.
“Originally hibernation was considered a continuation of sleep, but physiologically it is very different because your metabolism is totally suspended, although it is still regulated,” says Vyazovskiy. “Torpor, this extreme metabolic challenge, seems to do something to the brain or body which necessitates sleep, which in turn provides some type of restoration.”
Suspended animation in deep-space flight has been a movie trope since the dawn of science fiction, and for just as long NASA has been working to make it real. John Bradford of SpaceWorks Enterprises has been contracted by NASA to develop just such a technology. Inspired by the unique physiologies of animal hibernators, he is working on overriding the body’s steady 37-degree-Celsius core temperature in a technique called targeted temperature management. Metabolism slows by about 7 percent for every degree of cooling. Though uncontrolled hypothermia can be fatal, a constant 32-degree body temperature still allows for normal nerve functions that are critical for breathing and heartbeats.
“Humans can’t hibernate, but we can mimic how animals hibernate,” he says. “Earlier in our evolutionary history we did hibernate, but now it’s turned off.”
Every second of every day Google processes over 40,000 search queries – that’s about 3.5bn questions a day or 1.2tn a year. But there’s one question that Google apparently doesn’t want answered: is Google a monopoly?
Barry Lynn, until this week a senior fellow at Washington thinktank the New America Foundation, has spent years studying the growing power of tech giants like Google and Facebook. He believes the answer is yes. And that opinion, he argues, has cost him his job.
This week Lynn and his team were ousted from New America after the New York Times published emails that suggested Google was unhappy with his research. The tech giant, along with executive chairman Eric Schmidt, have donated $21m to New America since 1999. Schmidt chaired the organisation for years and its main conference room is called the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab”.
“I’ve been there for 15 years,” Lynn told the Guardian. “And for 14 everything was great. In the last year or so it has got more difficult. And from every piece of evidence that we are seeing that has to do with pressure from Google. Every day I see people waking up to the power of Google, Facebook and Amazon. We have to do something as a people, we have to do something through our government and address the power of these companies. The number of congressmen and others making statements on Capitol Hill about this is growing very rapidly. The number of businesses who are saying that something must be done about the power of these companies and the way they use their power.”
Google enjoyed a long honeymoon where it was seen as a force for good. But as fears over tech oligopolies grow, industry giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook have found themselves the subject of greater scrutiny from governments and skeptics in academia.
And you thought nukes were bad. Ever since the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the most powerful militaries in the world have been those that have nuclear weapons. After all, a massive army means little compared with the ability to level entire cities with a single explosion. But technologies change over time, and [a new report] suggests artificial intelligence could soon surpass nuclear weapons as the world’s greatest military threat.
The report, which comes from Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the request of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s research arm, suggests A.I. could give smaller countries unable to amass big armies or develop nuclear weapons a way to rival even superpowers militarily. While the United States does figure to particularly benefit from its huge investments in A.I., it doesn’t take overwhelming resources for a country to use machine-learning systems to create dangerous cyberwarfare applications. A small, malicious hack could be enough to cripple huge swaths of another country’s weapons capabilities — including its ability to launch nukes.
Sci-fi on Netflix has almost never been better. The genre of science fiction is a lot more than just casual spacefaring romps through galaxies near and far. It’s also about galaxies “far, far away” and even computerized simulations that we’re probably living in right now. Unfortunately, it can also be about dark visions of the future.
Across this list of the best sci-fi that Netflix has to offer, you’ll encounter more than a few dark futures meant to frighten you, tried and true exploration sci-fi classics, cautionary tales of more than one kind, and even props to everyone’s favorite Eggo-loving telekinetic.