Japan is about to test out plans for a real-life space elevator

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The idea of a space elevator to lift us into orbit is one of the oldest concepts in sci-fi, but thanks to the efforts of scientists in Japan, we might soon be seeing this fantastic feat of engineering become a reality at last.

A mini satellite called STARS-C (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite-Cube) is heading to the International Space Station in the coming months and is a prototype design that could form the basis of a future space elevator.

Once STARS-C has been delivered – on some to-be-determined date after the Northern Hemisphere’s summer – its makers at Shizuoka University will put it to the test: the orbiter will split into two 10-cm (3.94-inch) cubes and spool out a thin 100-metre tether made of Kevlar between them.

If plans for a space elevator are to get off the ground, a super-strong tether like this will one day winch people and supplies up from the Earth, so these tests are going to be crucial in finding if this kind of project can actually work.

The satellite is the invention of engineers Yoshiki Yamagiwa and Masahiro Nomi, who came up with the concept in 2014 and submitted their idea to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). STARS-C will eventually be launched from the Kibo module on the ISS, owned by JAXA.

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A new digital ecology is evolving, and humans are being left behind

Incomprehensible computer behaviors have evolved out of high-frequency stock trading, and humans aren’t sure why. Eventually, it could start affecting high-tech warfare, too. We spoke with a researcher at University of Miami who thinks humans will be outpaced by a new “machine ecology.” For all intents and purposes, this genesis of this new world began in 2006 with the introduction of legislation which made high frequency stock trading a viable option. This form of rapid-fire trading involves algorithms, or bots, that can make decisions on the order of milliseconds (ms). By contrast, it takes a human at least one full second to both recognize and react to potential danger. Consequently, humans are progressively being left out of the trading loop. And indeed, it’s a realm that’s rapidly expanding. For example, a new dedicated transatlantic cable is being built between US and UK traders that could boost transaction speed by another 5 ms. In addition, the new purpose-built chip iX-eCute is being launched which can prepare trades in an astounding 740 nanoseconds. (via A new digital ecology is evolving, and humans are being left behind)

A Polytopia reader - Introductory links to Wildcat writings

(Having been asked for it, this is a re-post for those that missed it)

A Cyber Soaring Humanity

1. A Cyber Soaring Humanity (or The rise of the Cyber Unified Civilization)

2.The Natural Asymmetry of Infocologies

3.This mountain has no top

4.Hybrid futures, Knowmads and the Notion state

5. Hybrid futures and Knowmads (pt2)

6.Knowmads as metabolic reactors of information (Hybrid Future and Knowmads (pt 3)

7.Knowmads as Aesthetic Curators of information (Hybrid Futures & Knowmads pt 4)

8. Knowmads as Critical Relevancies (Hybrid Futures & Knowmads pt 5)

9. Aesthetic Management As The Future Of Joy (or a Foray in InfoBeauty)

Forays in Philotopia

# Polytopia as Rhizomatic Hyperconnectivity- a new form of wisdom emerges

# The Future History of Individualism (Pt.1)

# Parsing Hyper Humanism – a different angle to Posthumanism

# The Luxurious Ambiguity of Intelligence in Hyperconnectivity

Cyber Identity

# Fluid affinities replace nucleic identity

# What is it like to be a ‘Nym’ - A Polytopian Stance

# Some will be Gangsters of Poetry, Some will be Pan-Symbolists

We have always lived in an information economy, a fact that sometimes tends to be displaced by the immense amount of information now available at our fingertips. The huge amount of talk generated by the current infoconomy explosion takes little, if at all, account that ever since knowledge has been passed from parent to child and from culture to culture, the barter coin of trade was always information. Whether the information passed was gossip or the way to light a fire, the method of creating a better blade or the latest fashion fad, information was always the basis of human interaction.

(now writing the next step)

Wildcat: The Natural Asymmetry of Infocologies

Storage device writes information atom-by-atom - BBC News

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The quest for storage devices that pack more information into a smaller space has reached a new limit, with memory that writes information atom-by-atom.

Dutch scientists developed rewritable memory that stores information in the positions of individual chlorine atoms on a copper surface.

The information storage density is two to three orders of magnitude beyond current hard disk or flash technology.

Details of the advance appear in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The 1 kilobyte memory is the work of a team led by Sander Otte at the Technical University of Delft (TU Delft). With each bit of data represented by the position of a single chlorine atom, the team was able to reach a density of 500 Terabits per square inch.

“In theory, this storage density would allow all books ever created by humans to be written on a single post stamp,” said Dr Otte.

Or, by another measure, the entire contents of the US Library of Congress could be stored in a 0.1mm-wide cube.

The researchers used a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), in which a sharp needle probes the atoms on the surface one by one.

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Half of all US food produce is thrown away, new research suggests

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Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

From the fields and orchards of California to the population centres of the east coast, farmers and others on the food distribution chain say high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection.

“It’s all about blemish-free produce,” says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.”

Food waste is often described as a “farm-to-fork” problem. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges.

By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn (£119bn), is wasted by retailers and consumers every year - one third of all foodstuffs.

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Biodiversity Below 'Safe' Levels? Ecologists Disagree

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A new paper reports that over half of Earth’s land area has suffered biodiversity loss beyond “safe limits.”

The study, released today in Science, compiles a global dataset of biodiversity change and compares it to human land use patterns. The analysis shows that 58 percent of Earth’s land, which is home to 71 percent of the human population, has surpassed a recently proposed safe limit for biodiversity loss, beyond which ecosystems may no longer support human societies.

While the news sounds dire, other ecologists contend that the very notion of setting “safe limits” is a danger in itself, and criticize this line-in-the-sand approach to assessing the planet’s ecological health. In fact, critics say setting a limit may do more harm than good.
The Biodiversity Safety Scale

“We’re crossing into a zone of uncertainty,” says lead scientist Tim Newbold of University College London.

The safe limit is defined as a 10 percent reduction in the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), a measure of population abundances across many species relative to their numbers in the preindustrial era. The measure comes from the Planetary Boundaries framework proposed in 2009 and updated in 2015, which aims to set limits on properties of Earth to ensure a “safe operating space” — that is, environmental conditions suitable for us agricultural, industrial humans.

The Planetary Boundaries (PBs) are based on measurable properties for nine categories including climate change, ocean acidification, and ozone depletion. For each category, scientists have tried to establish a safe zone, a zone of uncertainty, and a high-risk zone.

The study by Newbold and colleagues is the most comprehensive assessment to date of where we stand on the Planetary Boundary scale in terms of biodiversity.

It is “really an impressive analysis bringing to bear some of the best datasets that we have,” says biologist Tom Oliver of the University of Reading, who wasn’t involved in the study.

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There is no difference between computer art and human art – Oliver Roeder | Aeon Ideas

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But the honest-to-God truth, at the end of all of this, is that this whole notion is in some way a put-on: a distinction without a difference. ‘Computer art’ doesn’t really exist in an any more provocative sense than ‘paint art’ or ‘piano art’ does. The algorithmic software was written by a human, after all, using theories thought up by a human, using a computer built by a human, using specs written by a human, using materials gathered by a human, at a company staffed by humans, using tools built by a human, and so on. Computer art is human art – a subset rather than a distinction. It’s safe to release the tension.

A different human commentator, after witnessing the program beat the human champ at Go, felt physically fine and struck a different note: ‘An amazing result for technology. And a compliment to the incredible capabilities of the human brain.’ So it is with computer art. It’s a compliment to the human brain – and a complement to oil paints and saxophone brass.

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This Generation Will Be Fine: Why Social Media Won’t Ruin Us — Medium

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When people express concern about how smartphones are damaging our young people, I laugh. This anxiety that the internet is going to ruinreal human interactions is reminiscent of parents in the 50s who were worried that Elvis shaking his hips was the devil. Let’s be very clear here. Being concerned about cultural progression “damaging us as a society” always repeats itself with the current trend and will continue to play itself out again and again and again.

Millennials are no different from Gen Y, Gen X, or any previous generation when it comes to being affected by a culture shift. In the 1940s, people had their heads in the newspaper and theirs ears to the radio. By the 60s, it was the TV. What about everyone today on their laptop and smartphones at a Starbucks? See what I’m getting at?

What’s happening with technology in our culture and society is just evolution. Technology is not undermining real human interactions. Instead, it is exposing people for who they really are. I have been asked many times, “What are we teaching the young people?” I’ve watched the behavior of 14 year old girls spending 10 minutes to take the best selfie, post it on Instagram, and then take it down when it doesn’t get enough likes. This superficial behavior tends to concern pundits who think that technology is the cause of this appearance driven, attention seeking behavior in teenagers. But the thing is, teenagers have always strived to be liked and sought the attention of their peers and potential significant others. Selfies on Instagram is the evolution of this same behavior.

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New Concentrating Solar Tower Is Worth Its Salt with 24/7 Power

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Deep in the Nevada desert, halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, a lone white tower stands 195 meters tall, gleaming like a beacon. It is surrounded by more than 10,000 billboard-size mirrors focusing the sun’s rays on its tip. The Crescent Dunes “concentrating solar power” plant looks like some advanced communication device for aliens. But the facility’s innovation lies in the fact that it can store electricity and make it available on demand any time—day or night.

Crescent Dunes, the flagship project of Santa Monica–based firm SolarReserve, has achieved what engineers and proponents of renewable energy have struggled with for decades: providing cheap, commercial-scale, non–fossil fuel electricity even when winds are calm or the sun is not shining. The facility is touted as being the first solar power plant that can store more than 10 hours of electricity, which translates into 1,100 megawatt-hours, enough to power 75,000 homes. “We can ramp up electricity generation for utilities based on the demand. We can turn on when they want us to turn on and we can turn off when they want us to turn off,” SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith says.

The trick is to have all those mirrors heat up a massive tank fullof sodium and potassium nitrates that are pumped up to the top of the tower. There the molten salt can reach temperatures as high as 565 degrees Celsius. When electricity is needed, the hot salt is used to boil water and produce high-temperature, high-pressure steam, which turns turbines that generate electricity. The rest of the time, the molten salt can be stored in another insulated tank on the ground.

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New record for storing digital data in DNA

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The DNA in every cell of your body houses an unfathomable amount of information. Harnessing such storage capabilities for the next generation of digital data storage has been the subject of studies for years, and now a team made up of researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington has broken a new record, managing to store and retrieve 200 MB of data on strands of DNA.

We’re getting better at shrinking the physical size of data storage devices while simultaneously increasing the stoarge capacity, with hundreds of gigabytes of data squeezing onto devices that fit in the palm of a hand. But far more data is produced each year than our current technology will be able to keep up with as the world’s total data heads towards an estimated 44 trillion GB by 2020.

Unfortunately, even the best of our current range of devices are only relatively short-term solutions to the problem. Hard drives, and optical storage such as DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, are vulnerable to damage and degradation, with a life expectancy of a few decades at best.

Scientists are increasingly looking to nature’s hard drive, DNA, as a potential solution to both the capacity and longevity problems. As our own bodies demonstrate, DNA is an incredibly dense storage medium, potentially squeezing in a mind-boggling 5.5 petabits (125,000 GB) of information per cubic millimeter. By that measure, according to University of Washington professor, Luis Ceze, all 700 exabytes of today’s accessible internet would fit into a space the size of a shoebox.

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Facebook is dividing us — Medium

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In the days when the Leftie newspaper sat side by side with the Rightie we couldn’t avoid but see some of the other side of the argument. It was quite literally on the other side. We couldn’t avoid the fact that at the very least, one smart editor thinks something that we don’t.

When news came to us endorsed by no-one more than the journalist and editor we couldn’t be certain that our friends would agree with it. We were forced to question ourselves and to debate it before plunging out into society with that opinion held strong in front of us. We feared looking silly and so we were to some degree cautious and questioning.

Now that so much news comes ready-packaged with likes and comments we hardly even stop to question it. We’re are, by-design, shown the things that an algorithm thinks we’ll read, like and share again. Our news is designed to look like what we want to see, to hear like what we want to listen to. It comes selectively, pre-endorsed by the friends who happened to agree with it. It must be right. Maybe we had other friends who disagreed. We’ll never know though because they never even saw it. Those who disagree are quietly shown the digital door out. Their news isn’t silenced just published into a different part of the residency, one we will never visit.

News we don’t want to read and which we don’t want to click on never appears in our feed. We believe that our viewpoint is right because Facebook shows us what we believe is right and then tells us the other people who also agree with it. The news we don’t like goes into other newsfeeds, is read by other people shared by them and assumed equally right by them too.

That doesn’t mean that it’s people whose viewpoints we don’t respect though. It doesn’t mean that those aren’t the people who would make us stop and question. But stopping and questioning generates lower engagement, fewer click-throughs, likes and shares than reading and discussing.

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'Top universities to offer full degrees online in five years' - BBC News

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Leading universities will offer fully accredited undergraduate courses online within five years, says the founder of a leading US online university network.

Daphne Koller, chief executive of Coursera, said the technology was available but universities had been hesitant about their “reputation”.

So far, online courses have mostly offered certificates for short courses rather than full degrees.

Prof Koller says online degrees can be “more affordable and accessible”.

Founded in California four years ago, Coursera has become one of the world’s biggest providers of “massive, open, online courses” - known as Moocs.

The online platform has 20 million students following courses from about 145 prestigious universities and institutions around the world.

But most of the online courses have been short units that give students a certificate, rather than a full degree or credits towards a degree.

Prof Koller, speaking at an educational technology conference in London, said the next stage for online learning would be leading universities offering mainstream undergraduate courses online, with invigilated exams and full degrees.

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Pokémon Go: the app that leads you places other apps don't

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The launch of augmented reality game Pokémon Go has been a resounding success for Nintendo and app developer Niantic. Reports suggest it to be the most popular mobile game in US history, with the number of daily active users at times surpassing Twitter, Facebook, and Tinder. But one of its most interesting features is not within the game onscreen at all.

Based on the 20-year-old Nintendo franchise, the aim of the game is to walk around real-world locations in order to capture “in the wild” Pokémon generated in the game. Using a smartphone’s camera, the augmented reality app allows players to find the Pokémon superimposed onto real spaces, with the aim to catch all the Pokémon in predefined geographical locations. Additional bonuses come through checking in at “Pokéstops” – smaller geographical landmarks that the game defines as significant. A visit to a café, pub, or bakery for example could see you rewarded with a number of items to make it easier to “catch them all”.

Playing Pokémon Go myself I have been fascinated by the element of urban exploration the game encourages, particularly around those familiar places now marked as Pokéstops. Wendy Joy Darby, in her book Landscape and Identity, argues that “place is indubitably bound up in personal experience”. I’ve lived in Norwich all my life, for example, and I’d like to think my personal experience means I know the city quite well. Yet even I have found myself surprised at some of the locations the app has identified as culturally or socially significant in some way.

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A mathematical BS detector can boost the wisdom of crowds – George Musser | Aeon Essays

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Metaknowledge functions as a powerful bullshit detector. It can separate crowd members who actually know something from those who are guessing wildly or just parroting what everyone else says. ‘The crowd community has been insufficiently ambitious in what it tries to extract from the crowd,’ Prelec says. ‘The crowd is wise, but not in the way the error-correcting intuition assumed. There’s more information there.’ The bullshit detector isn’t perfect, but it’s the best you can do whenever you don’t know the answer yourself and have to rely on other people’s opinion. Which eyewitness do you believe? Which talking head on TV? Which scientist commenting on some controversial topic? If they demonstrate superior metaknowledge, you can take that as a sign of their superior knowledge.

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'Foodporn' predates Instagram by at least 500 years - Futurity

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All the food images that your foodie friends post on Instagram might have seemed familiar to Renaissance master painters.

Researchers analyzed the contents of 500 years of European and American food paintings. Their findings suggest our obsession with looking at tasty, exotic food isn’t just a social media fad.

The researchers found indulgent, rare, and exotic foods were historically popular in paintings despite being foods not readily available to the average family living at that time.

“Our love affair with visually appealing, decadent or status foods is nothing new,” says Andrew Weislogel, curator of earlier European and American art at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. “It was already well established 500 years ago.”

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So you think you chose to read this article? - BBC News

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You may think you choose to read one story over another, or to watch a particular video rather than all the others clamouring for your attention.

But in truth, you are probably manipulated into doing so by publishers using clever machine learning algorithms.

The online battle for eyeballs has gone hi-tech.

Every day the web carries about 500,000 tweets, 300 hours of YouTube video uploads, and more than 80 million new Instagram photos every day. Just keeping up with our friends’ Facebook and Twitter updates can seem like a full-time job.

So publishers desperately trying to get us to read and watch their stuff in the face of competition from viral videos and pictures of cats that look like Hitler are enlisting the help of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

But do these technologies actually work?
A question of timing

Recent start-up Echobox has developed a system it says takes the human guesswork out of the mix. By analysing large amounts of data, it learns how specific audiences respond to different articles at different times of the day.

It then selects the best stories to post and the best times to post them.

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Silver Tsunami: The Aging Population of Baby Boomers May Be a Global Crisis

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The world’s population is topsy-turvy, and its exponential and uneven growth could have disastrous consequences if we aren’t ready for it. Humanity recently hit a benchmark, a population of 7.9 billion in 2013. It is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030, and 9.6 billion by 2050. If that weren’t enough, consider 11.2 billion in 2100. Most of the growth is supposed to come from nine specific countries: India, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, the United States, and Indonesia.

It isn’t fertility that is driving growth, but rather longer lifespans. World population growth peaked in the 1960s, and has been dropping steadily since the ‘70s. 1.24% was the growth rate a decade ago, annually. Today, it is 1.18% per year. Populations in developed countries have slowed to a trickle. Here, it has gotten too expensive to have a child for a large segment of the populace, particularly in the wake of the Great Recession, when young people have to invest a lot of time in education and building a career, spending their most fertile years in lecture halls and office cubicles. Although overall, fertility has been dropping worldwide, the report says researchers used the “low-variant” scenario of population growth. It could be higher.

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Bio-robot crawler made with sea slug muscles

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Recently, researchers from a number of universities managed to merge engineered rat heart cells and a gold skeleton to create a stingray robot that could be steered left or right. In a similar vein, scientists at Case Western Reserve University have created a crawling robot from sea slug muscles attached to a 3D-printed body, with aims of one day sending swarms of biohybrid robots on sea search missions.

The 2 in (5 cm) “biohybrid” robot is built around the sea slug muscle known as the buccal mass, which forms part of the animal’s mouth and is made up of two arm-like structures. The researchers connected these arms to a frame of 3D-printed polymers, and through an external electrical field, were able to make the robot crawl along through the contraction and release of the buccal muscle. In the first tests, it managed a top speed of about 0.16 in (4 mm) per minute.

“We’re building a living machine – a biohybrid robot that’s not completely organic – yet,” said Victoria Webster, the PhD student leading the research. The sea slug was chosen because of the hardiness of its muscles, which can adapt to significant changes in temperature, salinity and other environmental conditions.

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Pokémon Go is a blueprint for the rise of robots

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Pokémon Go has gone straight to the top of the gaming charts in the US and Australia, where it was first released at the start of July. The smartphone-based game has already been downloaded by nearly 6% of US Android users. What makes this latest installment of the 20-year-old Pokémon franchise so appealing is its extensive use of augmented reality (AR): players use their smartphones to reveal fantastic creatures in the real world and then try to catch them.

It is the first time an augmented reality video game has achieved such global success, and its initial impact on our society is quickly becoming apparent. We have an invaluable opportunity to observe how new ways of interacting with technology affect our lives and how they can be regulated.

Pokémon was already the world’s second best-selling video game franchise, with more than 200m units sold worldwide since it became globally popular in the 1990s. But the phenomenon involves a wide spectrum of elements, from toys and merchandise to animated TV shows and movies.

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