If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

MUST READ! What Is Life? A 21st Century Perspective | J. Craig Venter

I was asked earlier whether the goal is to dissect what Schrödinger had spoken and written, or to present the new summary, and I always like to be forward-looking, so I won't give you a history lesson except for very briefly. I will present our findings on first on reading the genetic code, and then learning to synthesize and write the genetic code, and as many of you know, we synthesized an entire genome, booted it up to create an entirely new synthetic cell where every protein in the cell was based on the synthetic DNA code.

As you all know, Schrödinger's book was published in 1944 and it was based on a series of three lectures here, starting in February of 1943. And he had to repeat the lectures, I read, on the following Monday because the room on the other side of campus was too small, and I understand people were turned away tonight, but we're grateful for Internet streaming, so I don't have to do this twice.

Also, due clearly to his historical role, and it's interesting to be sharing this event with Jim Watson, who I've known and had multiple interactions with over the last 25 years, including most recently sharing the Double Helix Prize for Human Genome Sequencing with him from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory a few years ago.

Schrödinger started his lecture with a key question and an interesting insight on it. The question was "How can the events in space and time, which take place within the boundaries of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?" It's a pretty straightforward, simple question. Then he answered what he could at the time, "The obvious inability of present-day physics and chemistry to account for such events is no reason at all for doubting that they will be accounted for by those sciences." While I only have around 40 minutes, not three lectures, I hope to convince you that there has been substantial progress in the last nearly 70 years since Schrödinger initially asked that question, to the point where the answer is at least nearly at hand, if not in hand.

I view that we're now in what I'm calling "The Digital Age of Biology". My teams work on synthesizing genomes based on digital code in the computer, and four bottles of chemicals illustrates the ultimate link between the computer code and the digital code.

Life is code, as you heard in the introduction, was very clearly articulated by Schrodinger as code script. Perhaps even more importantly, and something I missed on the first few readings of his book earlier in my career, was as far as I could tell, it's the first mention that this code could be as simple as a binary code. And he used the example of how the Morse code with just dots and dashes, could be sufficient to give 34 different specifications. I've searched and I have not found any earlier references to the Morse code, although an historian that I know wrote Crick a letter asking about that, and Crick's response was, "It was a metaphor that was obvious to everybody." I don't know if it was obvious to everybody after Schrodinger's book, or some time before.

One of the things, though, Schrodinger was right about a lot of things, which is why, in fact, we celebrate what he talked about and what he wrote about, but some things he was clearly wrong about, like most scientists in his time, he relied on the biologist of the day. They thought that protein, not DNA was the genetic information. It's really quite extraordinary because just in 1944 in the same year that he published his book is when the famous experiment by Oswald Avery, who was 65 and about ready to retire, along with this colleagues, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, published their key paper demonstrating that DNA was the substance that causes bacterial transformation, and therefore was the genetic material.

This experiment was remarkably simple, and I wonder why it wasn't done 50 years earlier with all the wonderful genetics work going on with drosophila, and chromosomes. Avery simply used proteolytic enzymes to destroy all the proteins associated with the DNA, and showed that the DNA, the naked DNA was, in fact, a transforming factor. The impact of this paper was far from instantaneous, as has happened in this field, in part because there was so much bias against DNA and for its proteins that it took a long time for them to sink in.

Continue reading (Long Read) - What Is Life? A 21st Century Perspective

The Biological-Digital Converter —Or— Biology At The Speed Of Light

These are exciting and challenging times for science and society. If you look at the practical side of things, in the next 11 years we're going to add a billion people to the planet, so basically the equivalent of China being added in 11 years, and 12 years after that we're going to add another billion people. Last October we just passed the 7 billion mark, and that took 12 years to happen from 6 billion. In the 1800s it took well over 100 years to go from 1 to 2 billion people. We're in a unique time in history where there are more people alive than have ever existed in human history, and we keep expanding tremendously, and exhausting the resources of the planet.

There are a number of things that come into play here. We've been doing everything from trying to understand the human genome, and human genetic inheritance, and we have teams that are doing some of the first genomes of early populations in Africa and have traced down actually the oldest populations in Southern Africa that we all have evolved from, from groups that migrated out of Africa. It turns out I have a Northern European ancestry primarily, and so we probably all share this. My ancestors, and probably most of yours found Neanderthals attractive and mated with them. And so what was thought to not be any coexistence, we now ... 3 to 4 percent of my genome is Neanderthal-derived. My friend, Bill Clinton, when we shared an honor a couple of years ago, told me he learned that he was 3 percent Neanderthal, and that explained all his problems while in office.

We're learning about our own history, our own migrations, but we have to do something different for the future. A major producer once argued that we have two hopes for humanity, one is to be able to populate distant planets, and the other is to alter our genetic code so we can survive in a very deteriorated environment here on the planet.

We're working on both, and there are some exciting changes. Science is changing things very quickly. Think about how the Internet has changed all of our lives in the last decade or so. I assume most people here have an iPad, and that's three years old, barely? And it's hard to imagine life without an iPad in our culture. But very soon we're going to be able to send something else across the Internet. We can now send biology at the speed of light, and this is one of the implications of our work, which we recorded two years ago making the first synthetic life form. We completely synthesized the genetic code of a cell starting with a digital code in the computer—it's the ultimate interface between computers and biology. The digital code and the genetic code have a lot in common; something Schrodinger pointed out in 1943, saying it could be something as simple as the Morse code.

Digital code, as you know, is a binary code, and ones and zeroes, and your genetic code is literally four-base code with ACGs and Ts. We can now readily convert in between the two, and we can define life at its most basic level. Things that were a mystery fifty, sixty, seventy years ago, we now understand completely.

We know what a cell is, know that all the components, all the proteins in the cell are miniature robots. They don't have a brain, they don't have a soul, they have a structure that defines their function, and their structure is determined by the genetic code, which defines the linear code of the protein, which determines how it folds, how it functions, and how stable it is. You don't feel it sitting there, but every one of your 100 trillion cells is rapidly metabolizing proteins. Your proteins have a half-life between a few seconds and ten or twenty hours. You don't know that you're sloughing 500 billion skin cells a day. All that dust you find around your houses, in your apartments? That's you, little bits of you. You turn over your entire skin every two to three weeks. Biology is a constant state of renewal, and it's a software-driven state of renewal. Take the DNA out of the cell, and the cell dies. In fact, that's why radiation kills people. It disrupts the genetic code, breaks it up, and people die because all the proteins degrade very quickly.

But imagine if you could e-mail yourself to Mars or some distant planet. We can actually do that now, because with our synthetic cell, we start with the digital code in the computer, and there's no difference between digital code and genetic code. Because digital code can move as an electromagnetic wave, basically close to the speed of light, we can now move biology at the speed of light. This has some practical applications.

The recent movie Contagion portrayed how everybody died from flu pandemic, while awaiting the vaccine. Real life is much better than science fiction. We can now make a new flu vaccine in less than twelve hours using synthetic DNA. Instead of having to deal with a major pandemic where you can't travel out of your home or your city, imagine that you had a little box next to your computer, and you got an e-mail, and that gave you a chance to actually make a vaccine instantly, sort of like 3D printers. What we do with information now, we will be doing with information and biology together.

Obviously the downside is you could instead of giving your partner a genetic disease or an infection, you can e-mail it. So people could use this to do harm, as we see with computer viruses all the time. You would, of course, want good computer and biological virus protection on your DNA decoder.

Continue reading (Long Read) - The Biological-Digital Converter —Or— Biology At The Speed Of Light

'What is Life? A 21st Century Perspective' by Dr Craig Venter

The Future of Computing - Reuniting Bits and Atoms | Neil Gershenfeld

The Future of Computing -- Reuniting Bits and Atoms by Neil Gershenfeld, Director, The Center for Bits and Atoms, MIT

The Future of Computing -- Reuniting Bits and Atoms

Friday, July 27, 2012

Programming the Universe | Seth Lloyd

Seth Llyod is a Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His talk, "Programming the Universe", is about the computational power of atoms, electrons, and elementary particles.

Seth Lloyd on Programming the Universe

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Constructing the World | David Chalmers

What is the minimal vocabulary that Laplace's demon would need in order to know all truths about the world?

Lecture given during The Shalem Center's Psycho-ontology Conference, December, 2011.

David Chalmers is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University and also Visiting Professor of Philosophy at New York University.

David Chalmers - Constructing the World

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined | Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker argues that, contrary to popular belief, violence has declined over long stretches of time and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our specie's existence.

The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University held its first annual Behavioral Science Summit on the theme of Social Meets Science, highlighting the latest developments in the field in a conversational and interactive format.

Book Review by Bill Gates: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Book Review) by Bill Gates

Extra Reading - The False Allure of Group Selection

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Language as a Window into Conceptual Structure

Grammar can server as a window into human conceptual structure. Verb constructions are a window into concepts of agency, causality, and intentionality; nouns are a window into concepts of object and substance; prepositions are a window into concepts of space and force; tense and aspect are windows into our concept of time.

Steven Pinker - Language as a Window into Conceptual Structure

BREAKING! Federal Reserve Audit Bill Overwhelmingly Passes The House 327-98

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to audit the Federal Reserve.

The bill, which has 270 co-sponsors, passed 327 to 98. All but one Republican -- Rep. Bob Turner of New York -- voted for it, along with 89 Democrats.

Paul teamed up with former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) in 2010 to pass similar legislation that became part of the final Wall Street reform bill. But Paul has said new audit legislation is needed because the 2010 bill didn't go far enough. Specifically, he states on his website that the audit called for in the 2010 bill only focused on emergency credit programs and procedural issues, rather than on the substantive details of the lending transactions. The 2012 bill doesn't limit the focus of the audit.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke recently told the House Financial Services Committee that he agrees with the "basic premise" that the Fed should be transparent, but raised concerns that Paul's bill doesn't exempt monetary policy and deliberations from its reach.

Not including an exemption on this point could create "a political dampening effect on the Federal Reserve's policy decisions," Bernanke warned.

But Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) pointed out that the House vote on the bill comes on the same day that the Washington Post reported that the New York Fed "did not communicate in key meetings with top regulators that British bank Barclays had admitted to Fed staffers that it was rigging LIBOR,” the index which sets interest rates worldwide.

"The Fed creates trillions of dollars out of nothing and gives it to banks. Congress is in the dark. The Fed sets the stage for the subprime meltdown. Congress is in the dark. The Fed takes a dive on LIBOR. Congress is in the dark. The Fed doesn’t tell regulators what is going on. Congress is in the dark," Kucinich shouted on the House floor, just before the vote.

"It is time for us to bring the Fed into the sunshine of accountability," he said.

Despite the broad support in the House, a senior Senate Democratic aide signaled the bill isn't likely to go anywhere in that chamber in the near future.

"Not this work period," the aide said about the Senate acting on the bill ahead of the month-long August recess. "Don’t know about September, but I doubt it."

Another top Senate Democratic aide concurred that the bill likely won't go anywhere, but speculated it could resurface in a different form.

"We probably won’t bring it up," said the aide, adding that Paul's son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), "will probably start insisting on this as an amendment to everything under the sun, so it's possible it comes up for an amendment vote at some point."

"It would not be the craziest amendment we've voted on," the aide said.

Source: HuffPo: Federal Reserve Audit Bill Overwhelmingly Passes The House

Congressman Ron Paul's Floor Speech on Audit the Fed July 24, 2012

Ron Paul's Audit the Fed Bill PASSES!

A Win For The Constitution - Ron Paul Gets His Bill To Audit The Fed Passed

Kucinich Stands for 99%, Demands Audit of the Federal Reserve

Harry Reid vows Federal Transparency Act will never be voted on in the Senate

Supporters of Rep. Ron Paul and sound monetary policy rejoiced online as they heard of the passage of H.R. 456, the Federal Transparency Act, on Wednesday. Their joy, however, was short-lived as within an hour of the bill passing word spread from the office of the Harry Reid. The Senate Majority Leader and Nevada Democrat has vowed the Federal Reserve Transparency Act will not be put to a vote in the Senate.

Source: Harry Reid vows Federal Transparency Act will never be voted on in the Senate

In '95 Harry Reid wanted to Audit the Fed, and now he doesn't want to because Republicans have supported it--the very definition of bipartisan hypocrisy. This is the most important institution that controls all of our money/interest rates. Very important and he won't even put it to a vote in the Senate.

Harry Reid: "I think we should audit the Federal Reserve" in 1995!

Friday, July 20, 2012

SPAIN REVOLT - Spanish Rallies Turn Violent as Million People Protest in 80 Cities

Spanish police have clashed with protesters marching against the latest batch of austerity measures. Over a million public employees, trade union members and fed-up citizens have taken to the streets in over 80 Spanish cities.

­Violence erupted in Madrid around midnight after dozens of protesters reached the city’s Puerta del Sol square and clashed with riot police. Security forces used batons, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd as it tried to enter the congress building located on the square. Some of the protesters lobbed bottles at officers.

In some urban areas, activists set trash cans on fire and tried to block police vehicle access with barricades of plastic bins and cardboard boxes. No injuries or arrests have been reported.

Demonstrators carried flags and banners decorated with scissors, symbolizing the country's harsh spending cuts. The streets of Madrid were paralyzed by the boundless crowds of people bellowing “Hands up, this is a robbery!” An estimated 100,000 people participated in the demonstrations in the capital.

In Barcelona, similar scenes were reported. About a dozen protesters were arrested outside the local parliament building.

Eight firemen stripped naked in the northern town of Mieres near Oviedo. "With so many cuts we have been left naked," declared a banner on the wall above them.

The demonstrations were organized by unions who have been outraged by the government’s new measures. One such measure is an end to Christmas bonuses for civil servants, which amounts to a 3.5 to 7 per cent reduction in annual pay.

"There's nothing we can do but take to the street. We have lost between 10 and 15 per cent of our pay in the past four years," demonstrator Sara Alvera, 51, a worker in the justice sector, told AFP.

"We are two and a half million votes. I hope they are thinking about that," said Jose Luis Martinez, 52, who works at the interior ministry, told Reuters.

"We have to make some noise, because they're making fun of us and of all working people," said Iria, 34, an auditor in the treasury.

­Earlier Thursday, Spanish Parliament approved a new package of spending cuts and tax hikes aiming to save $80 billion in a bid to take a bite out of the budget deficit. Since the measure was announced last week, Spain has witnessed a series of daily demonstrations,
some of which have erupted into violence.

Europe's fourth-largest economy also has the EU's highest unemployment rate. About a quarter of working-age Spaniards are unable to find work.

Meanwhile, Germany’s lower house approved a $122 billion rescue package for Spanish banks in a bid to help the country cope with "excessive" market fears and prevent the eurozone's debt crisis from spreading further.

Source: Spanish Rallies Turn Violent as Million People Protest in 80 Cities

Protest Video: Over a million march across Spain against harsh austerity

Spain Clashes Video: Violence erupts as million-plus protest in 80 cities

19J Madrid arde de nuevo: cargas en el centro

The Technological Singularity | Vernor Vinge | Singularity University

Science Fiction: it has been a muse of geeks, techies and scientists for decades. Many of the technologies we explore on Singularity Hub were first imagined and explored in SF (star trek tricorders, the WWW, robot cars, etc), driving technologists to make them real, which in turn inspires a new round of SF. In thinking about predicting and solving global grand challenges, the storytelling and worldbuilding of SF has much to contribute. Singularity University’s (SU) 1st ever Science Fiction panel took place on July 17th. As a prelude, here’s an interview with Vernor Vinge below, as well as the full footage of his talk about groupminds at SU on June 25, 2012.

Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Vernor Vinge maintains science fiction is merely a form of scenario based planning about the future of mankind. Vinge, a retired San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, coined the term “the Singularity” roughly 30 years ago in reference to a time of vastly accelerating technological change. I had a chance to sit down with Vinge and ask him about the Singularity, accelerating technology, and more. Check out the video below:

In outlining various paths to a technological Singularity, Vinge believes scenario based planning is incredibly important when outcomes are uncertain. It gives you a system of symptoms to watch for, so you can plan responses for different sets of symptoms. If you are doing scenario based planning, having a science fiction writer as a loose canon in your next meeting may shake up the committee in a positive way.

Vinge’s scenarios for how humanity could get to a tech singularity are as follows:

1. Pure Artificial Intelligence: The advent of an intelligent superhuman computer.

2. Intelligence Amplification: Take a natural mind, interface it with a computer and make it smarter (popular science fiction author David Brin calls the computer a neo-neo cortex; the machine part allows us to be smart, and the human part provides us with the component we’re good at: wanting things).

3. Computer Networks + Humanity: A phenomenon he calls “groupmind” or social networking, where we achieve superhuman intelligence (at least a functional sort – proceeding at a more robust rate than the others) through coordinated group efforts. An example of this would be Wikipedia.

4. Digital Gaia: A world with ubiquitous microprocessors able to communicate with their neighbors: if every physical object knew what it was, where it was, and could communicate with any other device, the result could be one where the world itself wakes up and becomes its own database.

5. Biomedical improvements in human intelligence lead to better memory and other changes.

Vinge spends the majority of his lecture at Singularity University detailing the taxonomy of groupminds – their qualities in size, origin, focus, hardware/software, longevity, interaction, sociology, design, and implications for his other paths to the singularity. He also talks about outliers – societal makers vs. breakers.

Vinge advises large institutions to understand that when they look at participants in groupminds they are looking at an intellectual resource that dwarfs anything we’d seen in the 20th century. There’s a real chance groupminds will prove worthy competitors, adversaries, and counterparts to social organizations and corporations in many situations . The downsides are that a groupmind may suppress slow thoughtful thinking about problems and may outsource morality. Vinge’s lecture also veers into the philosophical with his thoughts on identity and an individual’s desire for global self-awareness.

Vinge ends his talk on an optimistic note by saying “a post-scarcity economy is not a post-singularity idea: the reach of the mind will always exceed its grasp.” He predicts that even if we continue to experience technological unemployment, “bright sparks of human level intuition, creativity, and insight” will remain. “We’ll always be able to think of projects that are beyond what we can presently do.” Vinge believes with technology it’s possible to become or create creatures that surpass humans in every aspect of intelligence – and perhaps only an extreme physical catastrophe can stop this change.

If science fiction is essentially a scenario, its enormous advantage over other types of scenario based planning is that it can inspire action in its readers, especially when those readers are specialists. If the story emotionally engages the reader, the credentials of the writer do not matter. The specialist (reader) is the one who does the heavy lifting, turning the author’s broad brushstrokes into something that exists in the real world. This is the underappreciated characteristic of science fiction – its ability to move the scientific community to reach across the parameters of possibility.

Source: SH Interviews Vernor Vinge – How Will We Get To The Technological Singularity?

Vernor Vinge - a techno-optimist.

Vernor Vinge on Technological Singularity

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy | Ron Paul vs Ben Bernanke

Before the United States House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services, Hearing on Monetary Policy and the State of the Economy, July 18, 2012

Mr. Chairman, I thank you for calling this hearing today on monetary policy and the state of the economy. For the past few years the Federal Reserve has received criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, and rightly so, for its unprecedented intervention into the economy and its bailouts of large Wall Street banks and foreign central banks. Yet this criticism risks losing sight of the most insidious result of the Fed's actions, which is to enable the growth of government.

For nearly the first 40 years of its existence, the Fed operated as an adjunct of the Treasury Department, tasked with purchasing government debt in order to keep the government's borrowing costs low. Even after gaining its vaunted "independence" from Treasury in 1951, the Fed never shrank from enabling the growth of government. The extraordinary monetary policy of the last four years has reaffirmed that the Fed, its protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, is only too willing to enable growing government spending and massive fiscal deficits.

For centuries, banks have received special privileges from government in exchange for funding the government's wars. The creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913 formalized and centralized this arrangement in the United States. From the very beginning, the Fed was intended to provide a more liquid market for federal government debt, enabling the growth of big government.

What we’ve seen over the last century is nothing less than the remaking of American government, thanks in large part to the Fed. Its loose monetary policy gave rise to: (i) the welfare state, encouraging dependency on government largesse and destroying the work ethic and family life of lower-income Americans; (ii) the warfare state, allowing the U.S. government to involve itself in wars of aggression around the world; and (iii) the regulatory state, the mammoth bureaucracy that relentlessly grinds away at the rights of the American people.

Little more than a decade ago, Fed economists were wringing their hands over the prospect that the federal government might pay off the national debt. Nothing could be worse for the Fed, because the Fed's monetary policy operations require the existence of government debt. Treasury debt is purchased from or sold to banks on the open market in order to influence interest rates. Without government debt, the Fed would have no idea how to conduct monetary policy. From a free market perspective this would be wonderful, as it is Fed monetary policy which largely creates the booms and busts of the business cycle. Unfortunately, the federal government has run up the national debt to unprecedented levels over the past decade, and the Federal Reserve has been right there, monetizing that debt to ensure that none of it goes unsold.

While the desire of foreign countries and private investors to purchase Treasuries was drying up, the Federal Reserve was only too willing to step in and enable the government to continue its deficit spending. The Fed's balance sheet exploded as it purchased over one trillion dollars in Treasury debt over the past few years. And before it did that, the Fed also purchased over a trillion dollars of overrated mortgage-backed securities from Wall Street banks, giving those banks the cash they needed to purchase Treasury debt of their own. Were it not for the Federal Reserve's actions, the federal government would not have been able to run trillion-dollar deficits for the past several years.

In fact, had the Federal Reserve never been created, the federal government never would have been able to run up a $16 trillion debt. No market actor would lend money to such a major debtor at such low interest rates. The only reason that banks are willing to buy Treasury debt at such low interest rates is because they can easily resell that debt to the Fed.

Without the Fed, interest rates would rise to such levels that the federal government would have no choice but to curtail its expenditures and focus only on doing what is truly necessary. With market discipline allowed to prevail, the size of the federal government would be drastically smaller. If Congress were really serious about limiting the size of government, it would eliminate the most important enabler of government profligacy by ending the Fed.

Source: Ron vs. Ben, for the Last Time

Ron Paul "We Talk About Solving A Worldwide Problem Of Insolvency By Just Printing Money"

Ron Paul "It's The Destruction Of The Currency That Destroys The Middle Class!"

Ron Paul "Under Your Philosophy I'd Say You've Done A Pretty Good Job! You Tripled Monetary Base..."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life and New Worlds | Jeremy Bailenson | Stanford University

Jeremy Bailenson shares his research on virtual reality, avatars, transformed social interaction, and related communication and psychological theories, as well as implications for citizens living in the digital age.

Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life and New Worlds

Friday, July 13, 2012

Venter says 'synthetic life coming'

The world may soon see the first examples of synthetic life, artificial organisms constructed in a laboratory. These will be unique organisms, not close copies of existing cells, said their creator Dr Craig Venter.

The controversial geneticist last night delivered a keynote address at Trinity College Dublin, part of the programme taking place in Dublin during the EuroScience Open Forum. Aptly, the title of his talks was “What is Life?”

Speaking before the actual lecture Dr Venter described his latest efforts to create synthetic life. He also talked about the “What is Life?” lectures which were originally given in 1943.

He and his laboratory in California were well on the way towards assembling a unique living organism, one unknown to exist anywhere else on the planet.

Two years ago he reported having built a living organism. “This was a proof of concept,” Dr Venter said. “It wasn’t identical to any existing cell but we wanted it to live.” For that reason it was modelled on another cell.

Things had progressed significantly however. His team are currently designing three different organisms, adding blocks of DNA that have been seen to be essential for sustaining life, he said. They do not know what design will produce a living organism so they decided to produce several.

Once designed these would then be built using DNA sequencing machines and the genetic package would then be popped into a hollowed out cell.

The work was made particularly difficult because geneticists still do not know the function of many of the genes seen in living organisms. “We don’t know all the first principles,” he said.

He had no doubt however that they would achive their goal. “Iam hoping it will happen this year.”

The research would deliver benefits for society, he said. World population was set to grow by two billion over the next decade. That was like adding an extra India to the world population, he said. “We are a species that are 100 per cent dependent on science.” Advances in technology could increase food production 10 to 100 fold.

Dr Venter’s use of the title What is Life? was not his own. It was originally used for a series of lectures given at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies by Nobel laureate Erwin Schrödinger in 1943. They were later published as a book.

Schrödinger was a physicist so it seemed unlikely that he would deliver a talk which looked at the nature of inheritance and how our genetic make-up was transferred from generation to generation.

The lectures went on however to inspire a generation of biologist, ultimately leading to the discovery of DNA and how it works.

Pauric Dempsey at the Royal Irish Academy proposed that Dr Venter be asked to reprise the talk, bringing it into the 21st Century. Dr Venter readily agreed and last night brought the themes raised by Schrödinger up to the very latest discoveries being made using genetic technologies.

“Schrödinger asked can life be defined using physics and chemistry and his answer was ’absolutely’,” Dr Venter said.

“The remarkable thing about what he did was he predicted what he called the code script before DNA was identified as the genetic material...before the genetic code had been revealed,” he said.

“It is an honour to be asked to update a wonderful inspiring book,” he said. It would have been “fantastic” to be able to sit down and discuss it with Schrödinger.

Source: Venter says 'synthetic life coming'

Thursday, July 12, 2012

SPAIN REVOLT - Spain Announces Budget Cuts Amid Protests

Spain's government has announced sweeping new austerity measures, amid clashes between protesters and police.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said sales tax would rise from 18% to 21%, and local authorities would have their budgets slashed.

He is aiming to save 65bn euros (£51bn; $80bn) as part of a deal with eurozone leaders to help rescue Spain's banks.

The move coincided with a miners' rally in Madrid, where police fired rubber bullets at crowds of protesters.

Thousands of people joined in the rally to support the miners, who have been campaigning for weeks against major cuts to industry subsidies.

Witnesses said protesters out to support the miners threw fireworks, bottles and stones at riot police.

The officers fired rubber bullets and charged at the demonstrators.

Five people were arrested and three people suffered minor injuries, according to the AFP news agency.

'Circumstances change'

The prime minister, interrupted several times by opposition MPs, told parliament that the changes he was announcing had to be adopted without delay.

Eurozone finance ministers have agreed to provide 30bn euros (£24bn) for Spain's troubled banks by the end of the month and to give Madrid an extra year - until 2014 - to hit its budget targets.

Mr Rajoy acknowledged that the VAT rise contradicted a campaign pledge made before his Popular Party came to power. As recently as January he said there was no plan to raise the tax.

"I said I would lower taxes and I am actually raising them. Circumstances change and I have to adapt to them."

The package of measures would cut the budget by 65bn euros over two-and-a-half years, he said.

"The excesses of the past are being paid for right now," he said, adding that Spaniards had never before experienced such a recession.

Continue reading - BBC - Spain Announces Budget Cuts Amid Protests

Espagne : Affrontements entre la police et les manifestants devant le ministère de l'Industrie

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


This is Our Planet' ISS Time-Lapse Video Will Blow Your Mind
Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

'This is Our Planet' ISS Time-Lapse

Consciousness and Causality | John Searle

Searle's talk at the Evolution and Function of Consciousness Summer School ("Turing Consciousness 2012") held at the University of Montreal as part of Alan Turing Year.

John Searle -Consciousness and Causality

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Moment for Particle Physics: The End of a 40-Year Story? | Stephen Wolfram

The announcement early yesterday morning of experimental evidence for what’s presumably the Higgs particle brings a certain closure to a story I’ve watched (and sometimes been a part of) for nearly 40 years. In some ways I felt like a teenager again. Hearing about a new particle being discovered. And asking the same questions I would have asked at age 15. “What’s its mass?” “What decay channel?” “What total width?” “How many sigma?” “How many events?”

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, particle physics was my great interest. It felt like I had a personal connection to all those kinds of particles that were listed in the little book of particle properties I used to carry around with me. The pions and kaons and lambda particles and f mesons and so on. At some level, though, the whole picture was a mess. A hundred kinds of particles, with all sorts of detailed properties and relations. But there were theories. The quark model. Regge theory. Gauge theories. S-matrix theory. It wasn’t clear what theory was correct. Some theories seemed shallow and utilitarian; others seemed deep and philosophical. Some were clean but boring. Some seemed contrived. Some were mathematically sophisticated and elegant; others were not.

By the mid-1970s, though, those in the know had pretty much settled on what became the Standard Model. In a sense it was the most vanilla of the choices. It seemed a little contrived, but not very. It involved some somewhat sophisticated mathematics, but not the most elegant or deep mathematics. But it did have at least one notable feature: of all the candidate theories, it was the one that most extensively allowed explicit calculations to be made. They weren’t easy calculations—and in fact it was doing those calculations that got me started having computers to do calculations, and set me on the path that eventually led to Mathematica. But at the time I think the very difficulty of the calculations seemed to me and everyone else to make the theory more satisfying to work with, and more likely to be meaningful.

At the least in the early years there were still surprises, though. In November 1974 there was the announcement of the J/psi particle. And one asked the same questions as today, starting with “What’s the mass?” (That particle’s was 3.1 GeV; today’s is 126 GeV.) But unlike with the Higgs particle, to almost everyone the J/psi was completely unexpected. At first it wasn’t at all clear what it could be. Was it evidence of something truly fundamental and exciting? Or was it in a sense just a repeat of things that had been seen before?

My own very first published paper (feverishly worked on over Christmas 1974 soon after I turned 15) speculated that it and some related phenomena might be something exciting: a sign of substructure in the electron. But however nice and interesting a theory may be, nature doesn’t have to follow it. And in this case it didn’t. And instead the phenomena that had been seen turned out to have a more mundane explanation: they were signs of an additional (4th) kind of quark (the c or charm quark).

In the next few years, more surprises followed. Mounting evidence showed that there was a heavier analog of the electron and muon—the tau lepton. Then in July 1977 there was another “sudden discovery”, made at Fermilab: this time of a particle based on the b quark. I happened to be spending the summer of 1977 doing particle physics at Argonne National Lab, not far away from Fermilab. And it was funny: I remember there was a kind of blasé attitude toward the discovery. Like “another unexpected particle physics discovery; there’ll be lots more”.

But as it turned out that’s not what happened. It’s been 35 years, and when it comes to new particles and the like, there really hasn’t been a single surprise. (The discovery of neutrino masses is a partial counterexample, as are various discoveries in cosmology.) Experiments have certainly discovered things—the W and Z bosons, the validity of QCD, the top quark. But all of them were as expected from the Standard Model; there were no surprises.

Needless to say, verifying the predictions of the Standard Model hasn’t always been easy. A few times I happened to be at the front lines. In 1977, for example, I computed what the Standard Model predicted for the rate of producing charm particles in proton-proton collisions. But the key experiment at the time said the actual rate was much lower. I spent ages trying to figure out what might be wrong—either with my calculations or the underlying theory. But in the end—in a rather formative moment for my understanding of applying the scientific method—it turned out that what was wrong was actually the experiment, not the theory.

Continue reading (Long read) - A Moment for Particle Physics: The End of a 40-Year Story?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

BREAKING! CERN Experiments Observe Particle Consistent With Long-Sought Higgs Boson | God Particle

At a seminar held at CERN1 today as a curtain raiser to the year’s major particle physics conference, ICHEP2012 in Melbourne, the ATLAS and CMS experiments presented their latest preliminary results in the search for the long sought Higgs particle. Both experiments observe a new particle in the mass region around 125-126 GeV.

“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC and ATLAS and the huge efforts of many people have brought us to this exciting stage,” said ATLAS experiment spokesperson Fabiola Gianotti, “but a little more time is needed to prepare these results for publication.”

"The results are preliminary but the 5 sigma signal at around 125 GeV we’re seeing is dramatic. This is indeed a new particle. We know it must be a boson and it’s the heaviest boson ever found,” said CMS experiment spokesperson Joe Incandela. “The implications are very significant and it is precisely for this reason that we must be extremely diligent in all of our studies and cross-checks."

“It’s hard not to get excited by these results,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “ We stated last year that in 2012 we would either find a new Higgs-like particle or exclude the existence of the Standard Model Higgs. With all the necessary caution, it looks to me that we are at a branching point: the observation of this new particle indicates the path for the future towards a more detailed understanding of what we’re seeing in the data.”

The results presented today are labelled preliminary. They are based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, with the 2012 data still under analysis. Publication of the analyses shown today is expected around the end of July. A more complete picture of today’s observations will emerge later this year after the LHC provides the experiments with more data.

The next step will be to determine the precise nature of the particle and its significance for our understanding of the universe. Are its properties as expected for the long-sought Higgs boson, the final missing ingredient in the Standard Model of particle physics? Or is it something more exotic? The Standard Model describes the fundamental particles from which we, and every visible thing in the universe, are made, and the forces acting between them. All the matter that we can see, however, appears to be no more than about 4% of the total. A more exotic version of the Higgs particle could be a bridge to understanding the 96% of the universe that remains obscure.

“We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. “The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.”

Positive identification of the new particle’s characteristics will take considerable time and data. But whatever form the Higgs particle takes, our knowledge of the fundamental structure of matter is about to take a major step forward.

Source: PRESS RELEASE: CERN Experiments Observe Particle Consistent With Long-Sought Higgs Boson

What is a Higgs Boson?

Is the Higgs Boson there? Why do we care?

The discovery of the Higgs Boson? Garrett Lisi explains

Press Conference: Update on the search for the Higgs boson at CERN on 4 July 2012

Demystifying the Higgs Boson with Leonard Susskind

A Phenomenal Confusion About Access and Consciousness | Daniel Dennett

Dennett's talk at the Evolution and Function of Consciousness conference ("Turing Consciousness 2012") held at the University of Montreal as part of Alan Turing Year.

Daniel Dennett -"A Phenomenal Confusion About Access and Consciousness"

Monday, July 2, 2012


RADICAL OPENNESS - An anthem on the power of IDEAS created by Jason Silva at Therapy Studios and premiered at TEDGlobal 2012 Main Stage.

RADICAL OPENNESS for TEDGlobal by @Jason_Silva