According to a report, microbiologists at M.I.T. have “swapped out the genes of the R. eutropha bacterium so that it can create isobutanol — an alcohol that can replace or blend with gasoline used by vehicles.”
“We’ve shown that, in continuous culture, we can get substantial amounts of isobutanol,” said one researcher.
Bear in mind, however, the opening paragraph of the piece:
A humble soil bacteria has become a genetically engineered factory capable of making fuel for cars. But the project still has to get out of the lab and scale up to industrial-size production.
That “but” means everything. Biotechnology moves very slowly. There is always a gaping disconnect between the knowledge and abilities of applied scientists at any given time and the hyped media portrayal of them as ushering in an immediate revolution in medicine or energy. For instance, when compared to the hype that has accompanied every major advance in cancer research over the past four decades – including the discovery of recombinant DNA methods – the fruits of such advances have been relatively modest.
This research project still sounds in its primitive stages. What tipped me off? The fact that the reporter had to resort to writing about the hopes of the researchers rather than the actual results:
For their next trick, the MIT researchers hope the genetically engineered bacteria could eventually transform carbon dioxide into fuel — a way of using up the greenhouse gas that contributes heavily to global warming. The bacteria already naturally use hydrogen and carbon dioxide for growing.
The researchers “hope.” These are supremely intelligent, talented scientists. But “hope” in the world of biotechnology is measured not in years but in decades.
Image courtesy shutterstock / Julien Tromeur
More on Science and Futurism at PJ Lifestyle:
How should our defense strategy evolve in a world of easily accessible mini-drones, lethal nanobots, and DIY warfare?
You walk into your shower and find a spider.
You are not an arachnologist. You do, however, know that one of the following options is possible: The spider is real and harmless. The spider is real and venomous.
Your next-door neighbor, who dislikes your noisy dog, has turned her personal surveillance spider purchased from “Drones ‘R Us” for $49.95 loose and is monitoring it on her iPhone from her seat at a sports bar downtown. The pictures of you, undressed, are now being relayed on several screens during the break of an NFL game, to the mirth of the entire neighborhood.
Your business competitor has sent his drone assassin spider, which he purchased from a bankrupt military contractor, to take you out. Upon spotting you with its sensors, and before you have any time to weigh your options, the spider shoots an infinitesimal needle into a vein in your left leg and takes a blood sample. As you beat a retreat out of the shower, your blood sample is being run on your competitor’s smartphone for a DNA match. The match is made against a DNA sample of you that is already on file at EVER.com Everything about Everybody, an international DNA database with access available for $179.99.
Once the match is confirmed a matter of seconds, the assassin spider outruns you with incredible speed into your bedroom, pausing only long enough to dart another needle, this time containing a lethal dose of a synthetically produced, undetectable poison, into your bloodstream. Your assassin, who is on a summer vacation in Provence, then withdraws his spider under the crack of your bedroom door and out of the house, and presses its self-destruct button. No trace of the spider or the poison it carried will ever be found by law enforcement authorities.Smaller, Cheaper Weapons & DIY Drones
This is the future. According to some uncertain estimates, insect-sized drones will become operational by 2030. These drones will be able to not only conduct surveillance, but to act on it with lethal effect. Over time, it is likely that miniaturized weapons platforms will evolve to be able to carry not merely the quantum of lethal material needed to execute individuals, but also weapons of mass destruction sufficient to kill thousands. Political scientist James Fearon has even speculated that at some more distant point in time, individuals will be able to carry something akin to a nuclear device in their pockets.
Related futurism and robots at PJ Lifestyle:
Chateau Heartiste (AKA Roissy) has a provocative post called “Porn Is A Portent Of Sexbotopia” that I read with interest:
Sexbots. The very word sends chills down the spines of low sexual market value women. They fear competition or, worse, replacement….
Sexbots that can simulate real women are still one silicone foot in the fantasy world, but the tech is rapidly progressing. Whoever said necessity is the mother of invention was wrong; the male sex drive is the mother of invention. (Though, I suppose you could argue that satisfying the male sex drive IS necessity.) So, for now, the agog crowd can rest easy that no major sexbot invasion is about to storm our shores….
What sexbots will do is widen the already growing chasm between the sexes, until only the fittest of the fit — and fitness is whatever gets one’s genes to the next generation, whether beneficial to civilization or not — can successfully leap across it to woo a human companion in the way that our genetic overlord intended.
When I was researching for my forthcoming book, I found (with the help of Vox Day) that the 80/20 rule really applied. Twenty percent of the alpha males were getting about 80% of the women. Those men who have more trouble getting women turn to porn and seem to ignore or be oblivious to women. I wonder how sexbots will further change the landscape?
What do you think? Will sexbots be an asset or libility to men in the future? What about to society? These are the important questions.
And see more visions of the future at PJ Lifestyle:
Updated: related today at PJ Lifestyle:
By now, many of us are aware of the Leap Motion, a small, $70 gesture control system that simply plugs into any computer and, apparently, just works. If you’ve seen the gesture interfaces in Minority Report, you know what it does. More importantly, if you’re familiar with the touch modality — and at this point, most of us are — the interface is entirely intuitive. It’s touch, except it happens in the space in front of the screen, so you don’t have to cover your window into your tech with all those unsightly smudges.
To understand how subtly revolutionary Leap will be, watch the video below, shot by the folks at The Verge, where you’ll also find more juicy details on the device’s specs and inner workings.
Unlike a touchscreen interface, with the Leap, there’s no friction. That sounds trivial, but it isn’t. It’s the difference between attempting to conduct a symphony with a wand and attempting to conduct the same symphony by sketching out what the orchestra should do next via chalk on a blackboard.
Plus, Leap operates in three dimensions rather than two. Forget pinch-to-zoom; imagine “push to scroll,” rotating your flattened hand to control the orientation of an object with a full six degrees of freedom, or using both hands at once to control either end of a bezier surface you’re casually sculpting as part of an object you’ll be sending to your 3D printer.
The future looks bright and exciting.
What does the future of mankind look like? Is it bright? That’s the impression one gets from reading Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.
The book argues that advances in technology will solve all of our problems. Food, water, energy, medicine — our capabilities have been rapidly improving on all of these fronts for decades and we’re on pace to advance even faster in coming years. In fact, according to the book, the only reason we don’t see how terrific our future will be is because of our cognitive biases towards pessimism and gloom. It notes,
…Our brain’s filtering architecture is pessimistic by design…(and) good news is drowned out, because it’s in the media’s best interest to overemphasize the bad.
Therefore we tend to ignore the advances in robotics, nanotechnology, computers, genetically engineered crops, vertical farming, cultured meats, smart grids, and innumerable other technological advances that have put us on the cusp of taking a great leap forward as a species.
This isn’t just hot air either. The book goes into detail about the extraordinary breakthroughs that we’re approaching: algae that can produce thirty times more energy than conventional biofuels per acre, computer assisted irrigation that will dramatically reduce the water usage needed for farming, autonomous cars that will reduce commute times and almost eliminate accidents, human body parts that can be grown as replacements for our worn out organs, and diagnostic advances that will allow thousands of dollars’ worth of medical tests to be done for pennies. These are exciting ideas that have the potential to uplift the lives of human beings all across the globe.
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus opens with one of the most spectacular and beguiling scenes ever put on film. The camera sweeps across a planet that might be ours, or not, to find a creature who might be human, or not, in the act of what might be suicide or seeding the world with life. Or both. A large, unidentified space ship twists away into the clouds as the creature drinks some goo, shows a look of surprise, and disintegrates. Or more accurately, falls apart from his DNA outward. It’s the kind of scene that would have been impossible to create just a few years ago, and that leaves you wondering “What did I just see?” while you await more.
That thought — What did I just see? — kept pace with me throughout the entire movie. From one plot turn to the next, What did I just see? was my most common reaction. Something moves at a character’s feet — What did I just see? The android, a machine Alien fans know not to trust, does something quickly with his hands — What did I just see? That uncertainty is not due to image quality or camera work; in fact, Prometheus is visually staggering. Incredible. The film editing is understated, not choppy the way many action films tend to be. The cinematography and special effects are as good as any that have been put to film. With one exception, the cast is top notch. Michael Fassbender as the android David is pitch perfect, sometimes childlike, sometimes outwardly evil, though as a robot he cannot be. His true motives stay off screen, obscure and inscrutable. Charlize Theron is regal and icy; Noomi Rapace as scientist Elizabeth Shaw combines Sigourney Weaver’s tough mind with the vulnerability of Newt, the little girl from Aliens. The one case of miscasting is that of Logan Marshall-Green as scientist Charlie Holloway. He is never believable as a scientist driven to spend years traveling to the other side of the galaxy just for the sake of knowledge, and is a drag on the film.
Prometheus‘ pace is fast despite the long, steady shots of underground caverns that may or may not be natural, and the too-few face-offs with actual aliens who may be something more or less than mere living things. The pace is almost too quick to allow the audience to figure out what is motivating the characters to do what they’re doing, and one particular plot twist involving the geologist made no sense at all, other than to insert a very standard horror film trope of separating the characters to commence the kills. I won’t say too much about it, though, because like nearly all turns in this story, saying too much gives too much of the plot away.
Russia 2045 is a new futurist/transhumanist movement started by a group of Russian scientists. Here’s their vision of mankind’s evolution over the next 30 years (the text from the conclusion of the above video):
In February of 2012 the first Global Future 2045 Congress was held in Moscow. There, over 50 world leading scientists from multiple disciplines met to develop a strategy for the future development of humankind. One of the main goals of the Congress was to construct a global network of scientists to further research on the development of cybernetic technology, with the ultimate goal of transferring a human’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier.
2012-2013. The global economic and social crises are exacerbated. The debates on the global paradigm of future development intensifies.
New transhumanist movements and parties emerge. Russia 2045 transforms into World 2045.
Simultaneously, the 2045.com international social network for open innovation is expanding. Here anyone interested may propose a project, take part in working on it, or fund it, or both. In the network, there are scientists, scholars, researchers, financiers and managers.
2013-2014. New centers working on cybernetic technologies for the development of radical life extension rise. The ‘race for immortality’ starts.
2015-2020. The Avatar is created — A robotic human copy controlled by thought via ‘brain-computer’ interface. It becomes as popular as a car.
2020. In Russia and in the world appear — in testing mode — several breakthrough projects:
Android robots replace people in manufacturing tasks; android robot servants for every home; thought-controlled Avatars to provide telepresence in any place of the world and abolish the need business trips; flying cars; thought driven mobile communications built into the body or sprayed onto the skin.
2020-2025. An autonomous system providing life support for the brain and allowing it interaction with the environment is created. The brain is transplanted into an Avatar B. With Avatar B man receives new, expanded life.
2025. The new generation of Avatars provides complete transmission of sensations from all five sensory robot organs to the operator.
2030-2035. ReBrain — The colossal project of brain reverse engineering is implemented. World science comes very close to understanding the principles of consciousness.
2035. The first successful attempt to transfer one’s personality to an alternative carrier. The epoch of cybernetic immortality begins.
2040-2050. Bodies made of nanorobots that can take any shape arise alongside hologram bodies.
2045-2050. Drastic changes in social structure, and in scientific and technological development. All the
for space expansion are established.
For the man of the future, war and violence are unacceptable. The main priority of his development is spiritual self-improvement.
A new era dawns: The era of neohumanity.
This scene from Waking Life (a film that came out in 2001) comes to mind: