Is Kiwi Ingenuity a Thing of the Past


OK, apologies for the blogfade. My father in law has gone to rest 3 months after being told he had 3 days to 2 weeks left after a second long battle with cancer. I’ve had lots of things I wanted to blog about, but haven’t had the time or state of mind. But I’m back with bells on.

Lots of things coming up, so please keep an eye out. What’s coming up?

I want to talk some more about health technology and ask why we aren’t using it in our hospitals to the degree that we should even though it can save time, money and most of all, lives.

I also want to explore in depth the Number 8 Fencing Wire way of life in New Zealand and whether it still exists. I want to explore why, when we have so many brilliant minds in New Zealand, it doesn’t result in increased GDP and why the little guy stays little.

I discussed this with a colleague a few days ago and he postulated that we are still celebrating Ernest Rutherford, the Hamilton Jet, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, AJ Hackett and Number 8 fencing wire and some guy who rode an Indian motorcycle faster than it was designed to go and that they are all in the past. He seemed to think we weren’t so smart any more.

So I asked him, what about the Rex, 3D Printing, the Martin Jet Pack or Mark Rocket’s Rocket? He hadn’t heard of any of those and I suspect very few Kiwi’s have.

I have long bemoaned that New Zealand doesn’t take advantage of a fairly unique mindset that makes up many Kiwis. There are so many opportunities, so many capable people, but we seem to be unable to capitalise on them. Yes there are grants, there are incubators, there are clusters, but most good ideas either go by the wayside or fly overseas where investors recognise an opportunity when they see one.

So I’m going to do some digging and some talking and maybe even have the opportunity to help a few people on the way. New Zealand has the potential to be an innovation and center of excellence capital of the world. Whether it is a gadget that stops the paint tin falling off a ladder or nanotechnology, we are great problem solvers.

More people, businesses and government need to recognize and harness our ability and we need to do it differently if we want to get a different result. Our smarts are everywhere but they are disorganized and rudderless. I say we wake up and smell the coffee.

Let’s go Kiwis! Come along for the ride. Don’t just listen, come and join the conversation. Have you got some good ideas? What’s holding you back?

Singularity and ESI’s


I always thought of singularity as being when supercomputers end up being able to match human intelligence. One of the early science fiction films that influenced me in my youth was 2001 A Space Odyssey. I loved all of Arthur C Clarke’s books,but HAL 9000 was my first introduction to the concept of a computer that thinks, reasons and has emotions. I’ve often thought  that if a computer reached that level, it would consider humans to be animals to be eradicated as quickly as possible. The way we humans behave is often totally irrational and inappropriate, we are actively destroying our planet and instead of working together to fix it.

So I was somewhat surprised to read of research by organisations such as DARPA working on the concept of singularity as being a combination of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. I don’t know why I was surprised. First, the concept of Ubermensch probably goes way back before Nietzsche, perhaps even to da Vinci. Some people consider Nietzsche to be the inspiration for Hitler’s concept of the Aryan master-race.

Over the years we have seen many films such as The Terminator, TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and it is only logical that for many reasons, the military, NASA and others need to be able to modify humans to be more powerful. The military can use people who have super vision, night vision, extreme strength and resilience and of course if we are going to send people into space for long periods of time, wouldn’t it be easier if they were able to withstand low or no gravity for long periods of time, perhaps very high gravity, be able to thrive on different diets, different atmosphere etc. Just adding a little justification here.

One of the first areas that the concept of enhanced human beings is a result of the medical world finding ways to aide humans who have had injuries or other conditions, for example having lost an arm or a hand. It is now only mildly surprising to see people with a stump, manipulating a prosthetic hand and managing complex tasks.

The BeBionic Hand in the video above is due for release in June of this year and will make a huge difference to many people. Of course the military and those who can afford it, can add this type of enhancement technology to the able bodied. Imagine having an exoskeleton that would allow you to lift a 200 pound weight 500 times in a row. With millions of dollars of funding from DARPA, Sarcos, a recently purchased subsidiary of Raytheon has built the XOS Exoskeleton which can do that, it’s real technology, not something out of a Marvel comic or a SciFi movie. It’s very real.

They call this a Combat Robot, but imagine the other uses. For example imagine the uses of a suit like this for civil defence emergencies, after an earthquake, or rescuing people from a major motor accident. I’ve said it many times before: Science Fiction is becoming fact at a pace that is mind boggling.

I’ll finish for now with eyesight. Imagine being able to see and focus way beyond what humans can normally do. Did you know that Tiger Woods used to have -11 eyesight, which is about as short sighted as you can get. According to TLC Eye Centres, he wouldn’t have been able to see the ball without glasses until he had Lasik treatment. They say that he now has eyesight significantly better than the average person and that this contributed to his golfing success. According to a story on the Slate website, many athletes are being targeted by marketing offering them an advantage by enhancing their eyesight when there is nothing wrong with it. Last year I wrote about Tanya Vlach who was trying to get someone to provide her with a bionic eye. Checking out her blog, she hasn’t achieved her goal yet, but I suspect she will.

If you’d like to know more about enhanced humans and DARPA, I’ll leave the last word to Wired Magazine who have an excellent article (already 3 years old) about some of the amazing developments that have probably already been dramatically improved on and we haven’t even started on nanotechnology.

Haptic Virtual Reality Suits


Lots of people escape the world through the internet, some with games, perhaps web environments like Second Life, but what’s happened to Virtual Reality that promised so much so many years ago. From what I understand the only thing really holding things back is the cost.

One thing that I would love to see is Sport VR. Imagine if you could don a suit and be your favorite All Black or soccer star. You could see what they see and feel (desensitised off course) the tackles and the thrill of the game.

There are already a range of body suits such as the Inlabs Motion Capture Suit that can be used to capture body motion data for a variety of purposes. These can be used for sports medicine, training and biomechanical research. Forms of this technology have been used to help develop movie models for animation, allowing models to look like they are real by taking motion information from people.

VR is used by the military to train pilots and the US Navy has VR parachute trainers so that they can experience everything, the visuals, the thump when the chute opens and the harness touch points grip your body.

In the future VR will support remote medicine using robots to perform surgery. In some cases the surgeon will be there, in other cases it might be through telemedicine where experts can influence or control surgery remotely from anywhere in the world with reliable broadband connections. Micro surgery is already taking place today which is far less invasive and allows recovery to be much quicker than normal.

VR would make a lot of sense in remote and dangerous locations, for example space exploration. There are major issues with space travel where the distances, event to other planets in our solar system represents years in each direction. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the dexterity (or better) of a human without having to actually send a human to Mars.

Virtual Reality is a natural progression of technology that we have already become used to. Look at the number of phones inlcuding iPhone and Windows Mobile devices from brands such as HTC which have gyroscopes that recognise which way the device is facing and automatically change the screen format accordingly. Wii fitness has become incredibly popular, combining a video game with exercise has rapidly propelled Nintendo back into leadership in the TV games world.

Worlds like Second Life, using VR could mean that the avatars become totally lifelike and the whole gaming world is in for a shakeup. Imagine all the action games where you are actually running and shooting, driving and crashing cars and feeling all the bumps and hits.

Of course the more fun this becomes the greater the risks that people will prefer VR to real life. In Japan there have been problems for a number of years where children prefer to stay in the rooms every day just living on their computers and don’t want to go into the real world. They are known as hikikimori. People like that are now appearing around the world, where virtual reality is preferable to real life.

Of course there are those who are elderly or severely disabled where VR could give them some semblance of normal experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t. Imagine being restricted to your bed or a wheelchair, but being able to experience the sensations of walking or running, or even sex.

I won’t delve too far into this, but the ultimate in safe sex could be VR sex. People who are severely disabled, or who find it difficult to find partners could have their experience without risk. It appears that they haven’t yet been manufactured in a form that is safe, but it is coming. Michael Anissimov has some good ideas and I will leave the last word to him from his accelerating future blog.

 

Living longer with Cryonic Suspension


Cryogenics has been the subject of science fiction for as long as I can remember, but it has now become an accepted science in many ways.

Cryogenics is now commonplace for use in fertility health. It is quite common now for people to store eggs or embryo’s for future implantation. Organisations like Fertility Associates in New Zealand have had success with freezing sperm, eggs and much more.

More and more people are starting to freeze the umbilical cord of newly born babies with a view to being able to use the cells to aid in treating serious immune conditions such as cancer with a guarantee of acceptance of the cells by the person, because they are in fact their own genetic matter.

Now there are companies like the American Cryonics Society who are offering a service to freeze human bodies with a view to restoring them to life at a later date. This may be a matter of freezing a sick person for an illness that we currently have no cure for, for people who are well, but know that there will be treatments available in the future to prolong life, or perhaps those who want to be able to experience the future.

You would think that this would be an expense that only extremely wealthy people can access, but there are now opportunities through people like Rudi Hoffman who are offering insurance plans that will cover the costs of cryogenics when they are needed. This means that you can plan to live longer if you wish to take the risk that it will be viable. He is also looking into your needs if and when you are revived. The insurance and investments will ensure that you have an income available to you if you do come back and also protecting your property from others who are looking for an inheritance.

One of the common questions, including mine are the damage that would be caused by ice crystals forming in the body, and especially the brain, but as Ben Best says in his Cryonics FAQ, we already use compounds to stop crystalisation such as propylene glycol which stops ice cream from crystalising and keeps it smooth. In cryogenics there are chemicals used to cause vitrification, thus preserving the tissue without damage.

According to Alcor, the other Cryogenics company in the USA less than 100 people have been frozen to date, but the exciting thing is that they have.

I find this fascinating, but am left with lots of questions:

  • People talk about proof that animals have been frozen using cryonics and then reanimated, but I couldn’t find any evidence on the web.
  • If you are already sick or dying, what is the likelihood that you could be brought back to life? What are the odds that if you could, that they would treat your condition over and above people living at the time you were brought back, unless you have huge financial resources to cover the costs.
  • Will your brain still function normally after it has been frozen?
  • If you come back, are you still you? Is your essence the same?
  • Would your chances be better if you didthis while you are still young and can take advantage of future sciences to keep you young, as opposed to someone who already has old cells that aren’t reproducing with the same youthfull excellence, in effect your body has already significantly deteriorated?

Then of course there are all sorts of religious and ethical issues which I’ll leave for someone else to ponder over.

This is fascinating and there are all sorts of opportunities for the future. For example the ability to freeze astronauts so that they can travel light years away without physically or mentally ageing.

I suspect this technology has to come, but there are so many surrounding issues that will need to be considered and I’m sure it won’t be an option for me in my lifetime. This is another example of Science Fiction becoming reality and babies are being born without defects from frozen eggs, sperm and embryos. Admittedly they are less complex than human adults, but the fact that this works suggests that it is only a matter of time before people can be frozen and reanimated. But when will this be achieved? Don’t hold your breath.

I would love to be frozen and come back for a year in every 10, but I also want to enjoy my family today. Other than dying of an incurable disease you would have to be very selfish and self indulgent to turn your back on your family in order to outlive them.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

In Vitro Grown Meat – Feeding the Future


The other day I was thinking about the proposed manned Mars trip and trying to get my head around how to feed a number of astronauts for a 1,000 day trip in a small space craft. The thought was started while reading an article about Cosmic Rays, which are a potential threat to astronauts, but that is entirely another discussion.

Our planet today has a number of problems in being able to feed a growing population, which combined with major droughts in some parts of the world and heavy rains in others, exacerbated or caused by global warming, we are already in a situation of food crisis. If you are reading this blog, you probably don’t personally have a problem, but the problem is nevertheless there.

The first problem, which is the most difficult, is poverty. According to the World Hunger Education Service, almost 1 billion people have incomes of no more than US$1 per day. That doesn’t buy a whole lot of food.

Given the climate conditions, growth of population, finding the ground to plant sufficient crops that are not labour and water intensive is difficult and another issue is lack of certain key needs such as proteins.

One option for this going forward could be to grow food in vats. All kinds of food could be grown in vats and they have been doing this in Science Fiction books for close to 100 years. Now vegetable matter, fungus and yeast are relatvely easy, meat is a different story.

As I continued on my thread, I was thinking about chicken being one of the most popular if not the most popular meat being eaten today. The way they bread chickens in poultry farms for meat or eggs is commonly regarded as cruelty although the farmers will argue that they have little choice.

Tissue engineering is a science that has been around for quite a while. In fact if you have a child today, you already have the option of harvesting the stem cells from your baby’s umbilical cord. Cordbank in New Zealand offers cryogenic storage of your baby’s umbilicus, so that if your child ever got cancer and needed fresh stem cells, they are there and ready. The Stem Cells have your child’s exact DNA, so there are no risks of rejection if they are needed and at this stage they have no age damage. Stem cells have the inherent ability to become pretty much any human organ.

Tissue engineering has the potential to not only save lives, but also to prolong it. In future it could be used to help people recover from brain injuries and perhaps condiions such as Parkinsons Disease. It can help with regenerating heart tissue and much much more.

It can also be used to generate food. Distasteful as it may sound, I’m sure in the future if you were offered fish chunks that were made in a lab in a double blind test with real fish of the same sort, you would struggle to tell whch one was real. This isn’t Sci-Fi, it has already been achieved. One of the motives for this research was the type of space travel I mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

If you could eat nice white chicken meat that was tender and had the same texture you expected, but no chickens were mistreated or battery grown in cramped conditions, i.e. no sentience and no pain. Why wouldn’t you? If you could provide healthy food to millions of people in environments where they otherwise couldn’t get it and would suffer from malnutrition and eventually die a horrible death, why not?

I’m not sure what, if any research in tissue engineering is happening in NZ, but we have the credentials to do it and government support for biotechnology. In the medical world there is plenty happening such as the orthopaedic research at Otago University. If I’m lucky, I could live longer because of this research. I would love to see 120 or 130 years on this planet, and not vegetating in a rest home, wouldn’t you?