Author: Manahel Thabet

17 Mar 2018

OpenAI Wants to Make Safe AI, but That May Be an Impossible Task


We know that true artificial intelligence is on the horizon, and a number of organizations are trying to figure out how we can protect ourselves from it. However, answers are elusive.

True artificial intelligence is on its way, and we aren’t ready for it. Just as our forefathers had trouble visualizing everything from the modern car to the birth of the computer, it’s difficult for most people to imagine how much truly intelligent technology could change our lives as soon as the next decade — and how much we stand to lose if AI goes out of our control.

Fortunately, there’s a league of individuals working to ensure that the birth of artificial intelligence isn’t the death of humanity. From Max Tegmark’s Future of Life Institute to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Future Society, the world’s most renowned experts are joining forces to tackle one of the most disruptive technological advancements (and greatest threats) humanity will ever face.

Perhaps the most famous organization to be born from this existential threat is OpenAI. It’s backed by some of the most respected names in the industry: Elon Musk, the SpaceX billionaire who founded Open AI, but departed the board this yearto avoid conflicts of interest with Tesla; Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator; and Peter Thiel, of PayPal fame, just to name a few. If anyone has a chance at securing the future of humanity, it’s OpenAI.

But there’s a problem. When it comes to creating safe AI and regulating this technology, these great minds have little clue what they’re doing. They don’t even know where to begin.

The Dawn of a New Battle

While traveling in Dubai, I met with Michael Page, the Policy and Ethics Advisor at OpenAI. Beneath the glittering skyscrapers of the self-proclaimed “city of the future,” he told me of the uncertainty that he faces. He spoke of the questions that don’t have answers, and the fantastically high price we’ll pay if we don’t find them.

The conversation began when I asked Page about his role at OpenAI. He responded that his job is to “look at the long-term policy implications of advanced AI.” If you think that this seems a little intangible and poorly defined, you aren’t the only one. I asked Page what that means, practically speaking. He was frank in his answer: “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Page attempted to paint a better picture of the current state of affairs by noting that, since true artificial intelligence doesn’t actually exist yet, his job is a little more difficult than ordinary.

He noted that, when policy experts consider how to protect the world from AI, they are really trying to predict the future. They are trying to, as he put it, “find the failure modes … find if there are courses that we could take today that might put us in a position that we can’t get out of.” In short, these policy experts are trying to safeguard the world of tomorrow by anticipating issues and acting today. The problem is that they may be faced with an impossible task.

Page is fully aware of this uncomfortable possibility, and readily admits it. “I want to figure out what can we do today, if anything. It could be that the future is so uncertain there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Our problems don’t stop there. It’s also possible that we’ll figure out what we need to do in order to protect ourselves from AI’s threats, and realize that we simply can’t do it. “It could be that, although we can predict the future, there’s not much we can do because the technology is too immature,” Page said.

This lack of clarity isn’t really surprising, given how young this industry is. We are still at the beginning, and so all we have are predictions and questions. Page and his colleagues are still trying to articulate the problem they’re trying to solve, figure out what skills we need to bring to the table, and what policy makers will need to be in on the game.

As such, when asked for a concrete prediction of where humanity and AI will together be in a year, or in five years, Page didn’t offer false hope: “I have no idea,” he said.

However, Page and OpenAI aren’t alone in working on finding the solutions. He therefore hopes such solutions may be forthcoming: “Hopefully, in a year, I’ll have an answer. Hopefully, in five years, there will be thousands of people thinking about this,” Page said.

Well then, perhaps it’s about time we all get our thinking caps on.

Source: Futurism

15 Mar 2018

Happy Pi Day, Here’s Some piCoin, piCoin is Actually a Thing


The joy of Pi Day may tempt you into purchasing some pi-based cryptocurrency. As trendy as that sounds, you’d probably be better off sticking with real pie today.

This is not a joke: piCoin is a thing that actually exists. The cryptocurrency launched in 2013 (and then re-launched in 2014) with the aim of creating a crypto with mathematical and educational underpinnings. piCoin’s specifications revolve around the infinite-digit number that gives its name. The maximum number of coins is capped at 31,415,926,535. Its block time (or: how long it takes to solve each transaction in its blockchain) is 314 seconds. And the reward for solving that initial block is 314,159 coins. And so on.

Convinced? Don’t jump for your wallet just yet.

At its launch in March 2014, bloggers seemed to see piCoin as an interesting enough concept. According to a forum post from that time, the founders had lofty goals for this math-oriented concept, hoping to popularize it among “mathematicians, math teachers, math enthusiasts, and every student in the world taking a math course.” And indeed, it had a wild ride! As the coin grew, the founders imagined “opportunities for charitable efforts will arise; math scholarships, education for those in need, and even funding a school in a third world country are all distinct possibilities down the road.”

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Within two months of that 2014 launch, buying had slowed to a dribble, though the coin’s developers claimed to be working on some marketing ideas. Within three months, even enthusiasts of the coin were declaring it officially dead. CryptoSlate currently lists the coin as abandoned.

So it’s probably not a great idea to complete your Pi Day with a heaping slice of piCoin. Instead, use piCoin as a cautionary tale — as crypto continues to surge in popularity and grow as a mainstream interest, it’s probably best to exercise a reasonable amount of caution when approaching new coins with attention-grabby conceits. Or, at the very least, give them more caution that you’d approach, say, an actual pie.

Source: Futurism

12 Mar 2018

Here’s What Scientists Can Learn From Newly-Discovered Deep-Earth Mineral


The fourth most abundant material on Earth has never been actually seen in nature — until now. Researchers have confirmed that this deep-Earth mineral hitched a ride to human hands in a sliver of diamond that formed under unique conditions.

It turns out that diamonds are more precious than we gave them credit for. Inside a small sliver of diamond, researchers found calcium silicate perovskite (CaSiO3) — a mysterious deep-Earth mineral that no one had previously seen in nature. While this mineral is the fourth most abundant material on Earth, it becomes unstable when it rises above the high-pressure environments found 650 kilometers (400 miles) or more below the surface.

But here’s the thing — the diamond was found less than 1 km (0.62 miles) below the surface in South Africa’s Cullinan diamond mine, making this not only the first siting of CaSiO3, but also a unique example of how such a mineral could survive a trip to our low-pressure environment.

“Nobody has ever managed to keep this mineral stable at Earth’s surface,” lead researcher Graham Pearson, a geochemist at the University of Alberta, said in a press release. “The only possible way of preserving this mineral at Earth’s surface is when it’s trapped in an unyielding container like a diamond.”

Image Credit: Nester Korolev/University of British Columbia
Image Credit: Nester Korolev/University of British Columbia

The diamond itself is unique as well. While diamonds typically form between 150 and 200 km (93 and 124 miles) below Earth’s surface, researchers estimated that this crystal likely originates from about 700 km (430 miles) below, where CaSiO3 is formed. The pressure was greater at this lower level, allowing the deep-Earth mineral to be trapped and held stably.

Now that scientists not only have proof of this mineral’s existence but a natural physical sample, they can further study it. “The specific composition of the perovskite inclusion in this particular diamond very clearly indicates the recycling of oceanic crust into Earth’s lower mantle. It provides fundamental proof of what happens to the fate of oceanic plates as they descend into the depths of the Earth,” Pearson said in the press release.

This initial study, which is published Wednesday, March 7, in the journal Nature, included spectroscopic analysis to confirm that the substance in the diamond was actually CaSiO3. Researchers at the University of British Columbia will continue this work and expand our knowledge of the mineral’s age and how it originated.

By better understanding both this mineral and the unique diamond it stowed away in, scientists can better understand the inner workings of our planet and how they may impact both our present and our future.

Source: Futurism

10 Mar 2018

Sierra Leone Just Held the World’s First Blockchain-Powered Election


For the first time, blockchain was used to oversee a national election — verifying the recent results of Sierra Leone’s contentious presidential race.

On March 7, 2018, blockchain startup Agora oversaw the results of Sierra Leone’s presidential election, marking the first use of the technology in this capacity.

For voters, the process wasn’t any different than previous elections. They arrived at their polling center, showed election officials their IDs, and then cast their votes on a paper ballot for one of 16 candidates.

What happened next was unlike any other election, though. As Agora’s chief operating officer Jaron Lukasiewicz explained to Coindesk, the Swiss startup then manually recorded the votes on a permissioned blockchain.

Permissioned blockchains aren’t quite the same as public blockchains, like those supporting the cryptocurrencies bitcoin. While anyone can validate transactions on a public blockchain, only authorized persons can validate transactions on a permissioned blockchain.

In the case of the Sierra Leone election, the authorized parties included people from Agora, the Red Cross, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and the University of Freiburg.

However, like a public blockchain, anyone can view transactions recorded on a permissioned blockchain. That means that once the groups managing the blockchain verified the Sierra Leone votes, anyone — voters, candidates, or just interested third parties — could see the election results.

According to Agora, the company even produced their results two hours sooner than election officials.

Sierra Leone has a history of violence surrounding elections, with several incidents reported in the days prior to 2018’s presidential election. The nation’s government is also more corrupt than most, so the small West African country served as an appropriate testing ground for a technology designed to increase fairness in the election process.

“A country like Sierra Leone can ultimately minimize a lot of the fall-out of a highly contentious election by using software like this,” Lukasiewicz told Coindesk.

Agora’s use of blockchain for the Sierra Leone election isn’t the company’s ultimate vision for the technology. Eventually, the startup hopes to eliminate the use of paper ballots altogether, allowing voters to cast their votes via personal electronic devices. This will cut down on election costs, increase voter accessibility, and eliminate a potential avenue for corruption.

Still, Agora’s work in Sierra Leone marked an important milestone on the path to a more transparent and fair democracy built on blockchain technology.

Source: Futurism

08 Mar 2018

Nanoparticles Could Save Lives By Stopping Internal Bleeding


Internal bleeding still comes with a very high risk of fatality. One new “drug” uses magnetically-driven nanoparticles to both stop bleeding and reduce blood loss.

Every year, thousands of people die from internal bleeding. Data collected since 1997 shows that about 1 in 13 people diagnosed with internal bleeding die, and those numbers skyrocket to 1 in 5 for those who’ve taken a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or aspirin. Gastrointestinal bleeding was recently attributed to roughly 20,000 annual deaths in the U.S. alone. This is an enormously painful and difficult-to-treat condition that poses a serious risk of fatality.

Scientists from ITMO University in Russia are hoping to improve outcomes for internal bleeding patients using nanoparticles. The research team suggests that by using magnetically-driven nanoparticles containing the clotting promoter thrombin, they can effectively stop internal bleeding

This research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, describes how a drug created using these nanoparticles can be injected intravenously, directly to the site of injury. When injected into a simulated blood vessel, this drug accelerated local clot formation by 6.5 times and reduced blood loss by 15 times — which is extraordinarily effective.

A simulated blood vessel allowed researchers to test the efficiency of this "drug" in treating internal bleeding.

A simulated blood vessel allowed researchers to test the efficiency of this “drug.” Image Credit: E. M. Shabanova, Andrey S. Drozdov et al.

These miraculous-seeming particles contain a core of thrombin, an enzyme that triggers blood clot formation. Researchers then wrap the enzyme in a porous matrix of magnetite, the second main ingredient. This allows the nanoparticles in the body to be moved very precisely with an external magnetic field. Using a magnet, a doctor can move the particles and localize them to the site of injury.

However, while these nanoparticles could be instrumental in reducing deaths from internal bleeding, they are difficult to make.

“Synthesizing these nanoparticles is not easy,” said laboratory head Vladimir Vinogradov in a press release. “It is important to keep their size down to 200 nanometers; otherwise they will not be suitable for injection. In addition, mild synthesis conditions are required so that the thrombin molecule does not break down and lose its activity completely. Finally, we could only use bio-compatible components.”

Because this “drug” is bio-compatible, the researchers do not specify how they might remove the nanoparticles, but rather say they would be safe to leave in the body for a prolonged period of time. Further testing and investment will certainly be necessary, but as of yet is unclear how long it might be until this novel treatment is available to patients.

Source: Futurism
07 Mar 2018

23andMe Cleared to Sell Genetic Tests for Cancer Risk

Detecting Cancer

Genomics and biotech company 23andMe now has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell consumers a DNA kit that tests for cancer risk. This is the first time the FDA has authorized a direct-to-consumer genetic test to determine cancer risk.

Back in 2013, the FDA ordered 23andMe to stop selling their flagship product: a “Personal Genome Service” kit. The agency thought the results of the at-home test might not be accurate. False positives could encourage consumers to seek out unnecessary medical treatment, while false negatives could lead them to believe they were free from risk when they weren’t.

After reviewing data and research from 23andMe, the FDA is now convinced that the company’s cancer test is accurate enough to receive its stamp of approval.

Researchers know of more than 1,000 BRCA breast cancer genetic mutations. However, 23andMe’s new test will analyze users’ DNA on the hunt for just three BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. These mutations are most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, but extremely rare in the rest of the population.

Extensive research supports a link between these mutations and breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer, so they serve as a solid starting point for 23andMe. The company will likely branch out to other mutations with future tests.

“Traditionally, you only would get tested for BRCA if you have a family history of cancer,” Shirley Wu, 23andMe’s director of product science, told Gizmodo. “We are providing a test people at risk that otherwise would have been missed. This is a giant step forward for consumers in giving them direct access.”

False Sense of Security

Testing for just three mutations does come with its problems. A person might take 23andMe’s test, get a negative reading, and assume they are risk-free. However, as previously mentioned, we know of more than 1,000 BRCA mutations, and this test only rules out three.

“Those tested can get the false illusion that they are not carriers, when in fact they may have other of hundreds of known functional mutations. The new offering by 23andMe is better than nothing, but we need to (and can) do far better,” Eric Topol, a geneticist at the Scripps Institute, told Gizmodo.

Other at-home tests, such as those from genetics company Color, are far more comprehensive, but a physician must order them. We still don’t have an FDA-approved, comprehensive test that consumers can purchase directly.

Still, 23andMe’s new testing kit could serve to show the potential benefits and risks of at-home testing, and it may serve as an important stepping stone on the path to comprehensive tests to determine a person’s risk of developing cancer and other health conditions.

Source: Futurism

05 Mar 2018

Here’s How You Could Survive Being Sucked Into a Black Hole

How to Survive a Black Hole

OK, so maybe you aren’t going to get sucked into a black hole tomorrow. Or ever. Maybe even trying to imagine being in such a situation feels like writing yourself into a Doctor Who episode. But, for mathematicians, physicists, and other scientists attempting to understand cosmic strangeness in practical terms, these thought experiments are actually very useful. And they may be more practical in and of themselves than we’d realized.

At least, that’s what a team of researchers led by Peter Hintz at the University of California, Berkeley found through their study of black holes, recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters

Before launching into their findings, let’s recall that, theoretically, some black holes have an electromagnetic charge and some don’t. All black holes have what’s called an event horizon. Should you find yourself in a black hole, the event horizon would be the “point of no return” if you passed through it.

In the case that you were sucked into a black hole that had an electromagnetic charge, once you made it into the event horizon, you’d actually find yourself confronted by something else entirely: the Cauchy horizon. Beyond that cosmic boundary is… well, we don’t know. Which is why Hintz and his team were so curious about it.

“Given that we don’t know what happens past the Cauchy horizon, it could be crazy things as long as they’re mathematically possible,” Hintz told New Scientist.

The Great Unknown

More interesting than what might exist beyond the Cauchy horizon is what doesn’t — namely, the governing principles of thought and logic that allow us to make sense of the world and predict with a fair degree of certainty how scenarios will play out.

What we do know for certain is that if you spend too long near the Cauchy horizon — deliberating the senselessness of deep space, perhaps — gravity will stretch you to death. However, during that period space-time will also be stretching the bounds of what makes sense; what the philosophers called determinism.

Here on Earth, if we want to better understand our current circumstances, or attempt to make guesses about the future, we can look to the past. But at the edge of the Cauchy horizon, on the brink of singularity, the laws of physics don’t apply. So, not only do we have no idea might be lurking within, we also can’t make any predictions.

“[The singularity] could emit elephants, planets, radiation – basically anything,” Hintz said to New Scientist, which means that even if gravity doesn’t tear you limb from limb, you could be taken out by an elephant hurtling toward you at warp speed.

But here’s the thing: as Hintz’s team points out, the universe is rapidly expanding. Because of this, it stands to reason that all this energy might be more evenly distributed than we think. And if that’s the case, then if we ramped up the engine our of spaceship to pass through the Cauchy horizon fast enough, we might actually make it to the other side.

The calculations in Hintz’s study only work for black holes with an electric charge (which are, as far as we know, wholly theoretical). However, as the team points out in their paper, the behavior and makeup of these non-existent electrically-charged black holes could be seen in certain black holes that do exist: rotating ones.

Not that you’re likely to get sucked into any black hole — theoretical or otherwise — but it’s nice to know you might survive the trip. Of course, what life would be like in the strange and unpredictable world that awaits you on the far side of the Cauchy horizon remains unknowable.

Though, as Hintz’s study concludes, it’s possible that the cosmic landscape would be full of wormholes. So, if you didn’t like your new digs, you could just hop into the next universe over. Maybe one with fewer elephants.

Source: Futurism

03 Mar 2018

What Are YOU Looking At? Mind-Reading AI Knows


Could AI determine what you’re looking at right now? One new study shows that it’s possible.

Japanese scientists know what you’re looking at — but don’t worry, there’s no need to close your other browser tabs yet. Using an artificial intelligence (AI) system alongside fMRI scans, researchers were able to create an apparently mind-reading AI — “or perhaps at this point just mind skimming,” said Umut Güçlü, a researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands who was not involved in the research, to New Scientist

The system is actually similar to AI technologies that have been used successfully to caption images. To do this for someone’s brain, the AI first needs an image of their brain taken with a fMRI scanner while the person is looking at an image. These scans show activity in the brain through blood flow.

Three women sitting on a bench and looking at a wall covered in black and white images of various people. A mind-reading AI might be able to describe what each woman was seeing.
How accurately could a mind-reading AI tell what you’re looking at? Image Credit: geralt / pixabay

The mind-reading AI isn’t always completely correct; in one of the tests, it thought a participant was looking at scissors, when they were looking at a clock. Yet even when wrong, it sometimes came tantalizingly close. For example, when one person being scanned was looking at an image of a man is kayaking in a river, the AI captioned it: A man is surfing in the ocean on his surf board.

In other cases, the AI was spot on: when the image was of a group of people standing next to each other, or of a black and white dog, the system was absolutely right.

The system presently has its limits. Images from fMRI don’t record all activity in the brain, and so there are boundaries to how detailed these captions can be. This method also requires a participant to lie in a large machine, making it poorly suited for use anywhere but in a medical facility.

While at-home applications might be far off, this type of technology could be used to support the development of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Emerging BCI tech uses small electrodes, as opposed to fMRI machines, to monitor brain activity. This research could potentially support these efforts and one day allow humans, with the help of their mind-reading AI, to control computers with only their minds. We’re nowhere near these abilities, but we can almost picture it now — and our AI would probably see it, too.

Source: Futurism

01 Mar 2018

A Company Wants to Put a Chip in Your Brain to Cure Disease


Brain-control interfaces are still very much developing technologies; we’re not quite ready to fully merge our brains with computers. In the meantime, one company is hoping to non-surgically embed EEG machines to help stroke and spinal cord injury patients.


Technological innovations like Elon Musk’s Neuralink and other brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) could one day improve human intelligence, memory, and communication. While the tech is enticing, in practice, the thought of actually having a chip implanted into your brain is enough to make even the most dedicated science fiction fan a little squeamish.

An Israel-based neurotech startup called BrainQ is taking a less invasive approach to integrating the human brain with technology. Instead of using implants, BrainQ is making use of non-surgically embedding EEG machines, which record electrical activity in the brain. EEGs have been used this way by other groups working with patients who are paralyzed, and BrainQ hopes their technique could achieve similar goals for improving the lives of stroke and spinal cord injury patients.

Blending technology with the human brain could yield incredible results. Image Credit: BrainQ

The neurotech company has a few fairly significant hurdles to clear before their tech could be made available for medical use, though. First, it will need to successfully complete human clinical trials. Then, the tech will need to gain FDA approval in order to be commercially in the U.S. The final and potentially the most difficult challenge for BrainQ will be the ongoing task of competing with all the other companies trying to create similar EEG-based technology.

While companies like NeuroLutions and NeuroPace will be overall competitors in terms of the technology itself, BrainQ seems to be the leading the development of applications that are focused on stroke and spinal cord injury patients.


The company hopes the tech will be available in the U.S. market by 2020. After that, they’ll continue to work to set BrainQ apart from other companies by developing applications for a wider range of diseases. Assaf Lifshitz, a spokesperson for BrainQ, told TechCrunch that in the future, the company hopes to use the tech to collect data and improve outcomes for patients with Alzheimer’s, and several diseases specific to children.

BrainQ’s timetable may be reasonable: since it relies on less invasive tech than, say, a brain implant, it will likely have a much easier road than other BCIs in terms of gaining FDA approval. As the tech is rolled out, BrainQ hopes it will be able to collect a more in-depth and broad range of data on the electrical activity of the human brain. That data could one day potentially lead to more refined assessments of a patient’s condition and ultimately, more effective treatments.

Source: Futurism

28 Feb 2018

Long Term Depression Permanently Changes the Brain


Is clinical depression a degenerative illness? One new study shows that inflammation in the brain linked to depression increases over time.


New research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto has revealed something remarkable about mental illness: years of persistent depression-caused inflammation permanently and physically alter the brain. This may dramatically affect how we understand mental illness and how it progresses over time.

In a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers found that those who had untreated depression for over a decade had significantly more inflammation in their brains, when compared to those with untreated clinical depression for less than a decade. This work jumps off of senior author Jeff Meyer’s previous work, in which he found the first concrete evidence that those with clinical depression experience inflammation of the brain.

This study went even further, proving for the first time that long-term depression can cause extensive and permanent changes in the brain. Dr. Meyer thinks that this study could be used to create treatments for different stages in depression. This is important because now it is clear that treating depression immediately after diagnosis should be significantly different than treatment after 10 years with the illness.


Once a doctor and patient find a treatments for depression that works for the patient, treatment typically remains static throughout the course of the patient’s life. Taking this new study into account, this might not be the most effective method.

A PET image of a slice of human brain, showing areas of blue and red coloring. This method was used to measure depression-caused inflammation in this study.
A PET image of a slice of human brain. Image Credit: Jens Maus

This study examined a total of 25 patients who have had depression for over a decade, 25 who had the illness for less time, and 30 people without clinical depression as a control group. The researchers measured depression-caused inflammation using positron emission tomography (PET), which can pick out the protein markers, called TSPO, that the brain immune cells produce due to inflammation. Those with long-lasting depression had about 30 percent higher levels of TSPO when compared to those with shorter periods of depression, as well as higher levels than the control group.

Many misunderstand mental illness to be entirely separate from physical symptoms, but this study shows just how severe those symptoms can be. These findings could spark similar studies with other mental illnesses.

It is even possible that depression might now be treated as a degenerative disease, as it affects the brain progressively over time: “Greater inflammation in the brain is a common response with degenerative brain diseases as they progress, such as with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” Meyer said in a press release.

Source: Futurism