Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Technology promises a bright future, 2009

First, a great site about jellies found underneath vthe Arctic sea. They are stunningly beautiful.
And an interesting if somewhat creepy news that I won't comment.
Robot attacked Swedish factory worker (and almost killed him)
Today:

  1. Evolving Robots Learn To Lie To Each Other
  2. A cordless future for electricity?
  3. Evolution machine speeds up search for better bugs
  4. The Key to the Battery-Powered House
  5. Gene therapy improves vision

Evolving Robots Learn To Lie To Each Other

By Stuart Fox Posted 08.18.2009 at 5:59 pm
In an experiment run at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems in the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale of Lausanne, Switzerland*, robots that were designed to cooperate in searching out a beneficial resource and avoiding a poisonous one learned to lie to each other in an attempt to hoard the resource.

The experiment involved 1,000 robots divided into 10 different groups. Each robot had a sensor, a blue light, and its own 264-bit binary code "genome" that governed how it reacted to different stimuli. The first generation robots were programmed to turn the light on when they found the good resource, helping the other robots in the group find it.

The robots got higher marks for finding and sitting on the good resource, and negative points for hanging around the poisoned resource. The 200 highest-scoring genomes were then randomly "mated" and mutated to produce a new generation of programming. Within nine generations, the robots became excellent at finding the positive resource, and communicating with each other to direct other robots to the good resource.

However, there was a catch. A limited amount of access to the good resource meant that not every robot could benefit when it was found, and overcrowding could drive away the robot that originally found it.

After 500 generations, 60 percent of the robots had evolved to keep their light off when they found the good resource, hogging it all for themselves. Even more telling, a third of the robots evolved to actually look for the liars by developing an aversion to the light; the exact opposite of their original programming! source

My comment: That is amazing study for me! Absolutely amazing, since it kind of proves the evolutionary meaning of lies! I personally have a problem with lying, because for me, if it's easier to tell the truth, then you simply should tell it. But note how quickly the little guys found a way to not only deceive, but also to detect deceiving. It's hard to say what's the moral here - obviously, lies serve a purpose in specific set of conditions, but after all, it was the programmers who set the conditions for the robots. And they acted withing this set of reactions! While on Earth, resources are not so often completely limited and what's more - if something is inaccessible, we can in most cases find a way to get it with a fair exchange. So let's not get overexcited about lies being part of our life. They are not. But still, I somewhat admire people who can lie easily. I don't like them, but I admire their talent.

A cordless future for electricity?

September 2, 2009
By John D. Sutter

(CNN) -- WiTricity's version of wireless electricity -- which converts power into a magnetic field and sends it sailing through the air at a particular frequency -- still needs to be refined a bit, he said, but should be commercially available soon.

Giler, whose company is a spinoff of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research group, says wireless electricity has the potential to cut the need for power cords and throw-away batteries.

It also will make electric cars more attractive to consumers, he said, because they will be able to power up their vehicles simply by driving into a garage that's fitted with a wireless power mat.

Treffers said there may be health risks associated with the magnetic fields created in the MIT process. Giler said the technology would produce magnetic fields that are "about the same density as the earth's magnetic field."

Ideas about wireless electricity have been floating around the world of technology for more than a century. Nikola Tesla started toying with the ability to send electricity through the air in the 1890s.

For example, in 2003, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, company called Powercast used radio waves to light a low-power LED bulb that was 1.5 miles from its power source, said Harry Ostaffe, spokesman for the company.

But radio waves can't transfer the larger amounts of electricity needed to power laptops or mobile phones, he said.

Another type of wireless electricity technology can send large amounts of power over very small distances, often not more than a few centimeters.

Treffers said consumers soon should be able to buy one power pad that would charge all of their electronic devices. It might look like a placemat, and cell phones, remote controls and appliances would charge automatically when they're placed on the pad. source
My comment: Lol, the idea of charging pads so reminds me of Stargate Universe. Ancients, we're coming for you! Eh, if only. Anyway, I find all the ideas quite exciting. Of course, the one with the magnetic field sounds great, but I also have some doubts about the health impact. But just imagine not having to plug your laptop, or your speakers, or your heating devices. That would bring the whole idea of indoors wiring to another level. And life will become so much easier. Or what about batteries of medical stuff like pacemakers? This is simply amazing idea. I love it and can't wait for it. Because once we've figured that out, it would be so much easier to gather all the electricity you can from the environment. That's absolutely cool!

Evolution machine speeds up search for better bugs

The new approach, which is called multiplex automated genome engineering or MAGE, can create hundreds or thousands of mutations in a few days at a cost of a few thousand dollars.

To demonstrate MAGE, the researchers engineered Escherichia coli that churn out five times as much of a chemical called lycopene than their forbearers. Lycopene is an antioxidant abundant in tomatoes that is related to compounds used to fight cancer and malaria.

But instead of trying to directly create double-mutants, Wang and Farren's approach produced hundreds, even thousands of mutations simultaneously, resulting in billions of different strains. Because lycopene colours cells red, the researchers simply selected the brightest bacteria.

MAGE relies on the tendency of cells to incorporate little bits of laboratory made DNA into their dividing chromosomes. Researchers can customise those bits so they modify specific genes and even parts of genes.

This lets scientists exert as much or as little control over the mutations as they see fit.

The team is planning to adapt the technique to yeast soon, and plant and animal cells should also prove amenable to MAGE, they say. source

My comment: Nice, nice, nice. And powerful. The power of statistic! If you think how smart this is, you'll get just as enthusiastic. We're not talking here about the applications - they can be good or bad. But just think of this as a tool. It's great, and it's great because it's using the nature to the max.

The Key to the Battery-Powered House

Without a way to store their power, no number of solar panels will free a home from the electrical grid. Researchers at Utah-based Ceramatec have developed a new battery that can be scaled up to store 20 kilowatt-hours—enough to power an average home for most of a day.

The new battery runs on sodium-sulfur—a composition that typically operates at greater than 600 F. Ceramatec’s new battery runs at less than 200 F. The secret is a thin ceramic membrane that is sandwiched between the sodium and sulfur. Only positive sodium ions can pass through, leaving electrons to create a useful electrical current. Ceramatec says that batteries will be ready for market testing in 2011, and will sell for about $2000. source
My comment: Also great, right?! But it's kind of expensive for now, maybe if they drop one of the zeros. Because let's be realistic, a house would need at least 2 if not even 3 such batteries, to be sure that the energy produces on sunny days will be stored until it's needed. Ok, make it 5, that makes 10 000$ for batteries? It's too much for me, I don't know about you. But I'm optimistic that once it's commercially available the price will fall. It should, it normally does. So let's see. And by the way, in winter days, a room in our house uses ~50kw/a day (at current state of insulation, I know). So we'll need at least 100kw storage for day.

Gene therapy improves vision

November 23, 2009 By Brian Schleter

Now for the first time, the most promising magic bullet yet——has been shown to safely improve vision in children and adults with rare retinal diseases that cause blindness.

Penn husband-and-wife research team Albert M. Maguire and Jean Bennett have been examining inherited retinal degenerations together for nearly 20 years. Their study sought to improve vision in five children and seven adults with Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), which affects fewer than 2,000 people in the United States. The results even surprised them.

“Children who were treated with gene therapy are now able to walk and play just like any normally sighted child,” says Maguire, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Penn and a physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “They can also carry out classroom activities without visual aids.”

In all, 12 patients received the gene therapy via a surgical procedure performed by Maguire starting in October 2007 at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For each subject, Maguire injected the therapeutic genes into the eye with poorer function. Starting two weeks after the injections, all 12 subjects reported improved vision in dimly lit environments.

“This result is an exciting one for the entire field of gene therapy,” says Katherine A. High, the director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics, the facility that sponsored the clinical trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “These findings may expedite development of gene therapy for more common retinal diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration.”

Another result that surprised the team was that the vision of the first patients treated nearly two years ago continues to improve.

The study findings were published in The Lancet and instantly were reported by mainstream media around the globe.

source

My comment: What a wonderful news, right? I felt like crying when I read how vision continued to improve over the years. Just imagine if this could be applied to every organ in our body when it starts aging. You go to a procedure and it rejuvenates. That's certainly a dream came true!

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