This Startup Will Literally Kill You for Science

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One new startup promises to kill all of its users. With support from the startup accelerator Y Combinator, Nectome wants to preserve your brain and upload as much of “you” as they can, long after your physical body is gone.  Their website boldly asks: “What if we told you we could back up your mind?”

The main premise behind Nectome is simple, but the execution might be tricky. In theory, the startup will use a specially-designed chemical solution to preserve a body for hundreds of years. They aim to preserve the human brain well enough to keep its memories intact. They operate, however, only on the faith that within this century it will be possible to digitize and download a person’s memories and recreate their consciousness.

They have so far successfully used their solution to preserve the connectome, which encompasses all of the neural connections, in a rabbits’ brain, and they hope that humans may be next.

Cool, right? Actually, there’s a catch. As Robert McIntyre, Nectome’s co-founder, clarified to Technology Review, their technique is “100 percent fatal.” Nectome is excited that their unique work sets them apart, but no matter how groundbreaking your scientific achievements are, you can’t just go around killing people.

To get around this tricky issue, the company is working with lawyers familiar with California’s two-year-old End of Life Option Act which allows terminally ill patients to choose to end their lives with medical assistance. They believe that were they allowed to do so, many of those suffering from terminal illnesses would welcome the chance to take advantage of Nectome’s preservation technique.

Volunteers would be connected to a heart-lung machine and put under general anesthesia. They would then have the company’s chemical solution pumped into large arteries in their necks. They would be alive for the procedure, but not for long.

This procedure might seem terrifying, but the startup already has a waiting list. It is impossible to say whether or not Nectome’s efforts will eventually succeed, as they are working off of the assumption that scientists will figure out how to digitize consciousness at some point in the future. Still, people who signed up for the “service” clearly hope that after death they may one day “wake up” as a version of themselves in a new, digital life.

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Meet the First American to Sell Her Home Using Blockchain

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On February 20, Vermonter Katherine Purcell did something extraordinary: She sold her home. And yes, people sell their homes every year—scores of them. But Purcell’s sale was fundamentally different: There’s a record of it on a blockchain.

In 2017, the city of South Burlington, Vermont, agreed to begin recording real estate transactions on the Ethereum blockchain as part of a pilot program with Propy, a real estate platform developed by a San Francisco-based startup. The idea behind Propy: it allows anyone to buy or sell real estate, anywhere, completely online. Propy’s blockchain records each step in the transaction, from expressing interest in a property to signing agreements to title transfers.

This makes the process more secure than sales conducted through traditional methods. A person couldn’t say they didn’t receive a payment or never signed a document, nor could they alter public records by hacking the city’s server. There’s an immutable record of every action on a virtually unhackable ledger.

As South Burlington City Clerk Donna Kinville told Government Technology in February, the pilot program consists of four levels, with the integration of Propy’s system increasing at each level. Purcell’s sale presumably falls under level one, in which the city’s processes remain unchanged. The only difference is that the paper title sent to the city included the location of the title transfer in Propy’s blockchain. If the project reaches level four, Propy will completely replace the software South Burlington currently uses to manage land records.

As for Purcell’s sale itself, logistically speaking, it wasn’t much different from any other. However, as Propy noted in a blog post, it was one of the very first government-sanctioned uses of blockchain for a public service.

“This first deal makes it much easier for the rest of the 49 states to iterate the process,” a source from Propy told Zero Hedge, a financial blog that posted screenshots of Purcell’s paperwork. “In fact, Arizona and Colorado are next.”

Ultimately, this single transaction could mark a turning point in the use of blockchain by government offices. Others could choose to give Propy a try, and blockchain startups focused on industries beyond real estate even have a better shot at convincing officials to take a chance on the technology now.

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

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Happy March 14th, people — it’s Pi Day. And how better to celebrate than investing in, yes, a pi-based cryptocurrency. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, right?

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.

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On Pi Day, All Hail the Pi Master of Earth: Suresh Kumar Sharma

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On Pi Day, we celebrate…a number. But what of the non-number humans who surround its legacy? And their most celebrated ranks among pi’s long history?

Yeah, there’s Archimedes of Syracuse, the Greek who first calculated pi in the 3rd century BCE; or William Jones, who, in 1706, popularized the Greek letter π to symbolize the irrational number; and we can’t forget Edwin Goodwin, who lobbied Congress to make Pi Day official (in 2016 Slate called him “a crank pseudo-mathematician with loony-toon visions of fame,” but whatever, he makes the list).

But the only one that matters, in 2017? Sharma. Suresh Kumar Sharma. Remember that name for the next 3.14 minutes.

In 2015, when he was 20 years old, Sharma recited 70,030 digits of pi. The 17-hour gauntlet put Sharma atop the Pi World Ranking List, the definitive list of pi digit recitations (don’t accept imitations).

And there are imitations, or at least those that contest Sharma’s title. Rajveer Meena, a man from the south Indian city Vellore, holds the Guinness World Record for reciting 70,000 pi digits seven months before Sharma did. And he did it blindfolded. Japan native Akira Haraguchi claims the unofficial title, as NPR reported, as he reportedly recited 100,000 digits at a 2006 event in Tokyo. And this kid’s gonna give it a go in Brattleboro, Vermont, today.

This competition is even possible because, as you may recall from grade school, pi is an irrational number  one that has an infinite number of digits after the decimal point. No one knows how far pi goes, and we might never know.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take any mathematical ability to memorize digits of pi. Sharma is a former vegetable vendor from the northern city of Jaipur, India, who reportedly didn’t pass the country’s engineering entrance exam. And yet: He was able to memorize all those digits of pi by associating each number with an image. Now, he coaches others in memorization (aspiring memorizers, Sharma is yours to challenge).

Happy Pi Day to you, and happiest of Pi Days to Suresh Kumar Sharma (and, I suppose, his haters). May your memorization abilities never flag, or rather, irrationally extend into infinity.

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Newly Developed Microneedles Can Dissolve in the Skin to Deliver Drugs

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A fear of needles may soon be a thing of the past, as a team at the University of Texas at Dallas has come up with a painless alternative to conventional syringes.

With the new method, drugs would still be injected into the body, but using a microneedle that patients can’t even feel. The needle is so thin that it would break off under the skin dissolving as it releases the intended substance over time. Although the system wouldn’t work for every kind of medication, ultra thin needles are able to deliver a variety of drugs, provided they are made of small molecules.

The team’s research, published in ChemRxiv, explains that the needles are made using a 3D printing technique known as “fused deposition modeling”, and polylactic acid, a renewable, biodegradable, thermoplastic material that’s been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To achieve the tapered shape, the needles are chemically etched after the printing process. The team is able to create microneedles with tips as small as 1 micrometer or one millionth of a meter, and different needle shapes with a width of 400-600 micrometers. For comparison, a human red blood cell is about 5 micrometers wide.

While hypodermic needles are the standard for giving injections, they can be painful, and leave ugly bruises if not handled with precision. They also produce biohazardous waste. The new microneedles would solve all these problems at once: not only do they make injection painless, and can theoretically be used by just about anyone, but because the needle dissolves under the skin as it delivers the drug, it doesn’t create waste.

One setback to the concept is that while the actual needles can be produced cheaply, the initial design requires expensive photolithographic equipment. However, early results are encouraging: The finished microneedles have been successfully tested on parafilm and pig skin to evaluate their ability to puncture and break off as intended. And according to Cosmos Magazine, the researchers found that applying sideways force worked well, resulting in 84 percent of needles breaking off.

Research into alternative ways to deliver drugs has become increasingly popular in recent years. Last June, scientists from Georgia Tech and Emory University developed a sticker patch equipped with microneedles that could be used to deliver vaccines. In February, researchers from the University of Copenhagen released a study suggesting edible QR codes could be the next step in drug delivery.

Regardless of where the medical community goes, it’s safe to say that patients around the world would welcome painless injections, or no injections at all. Imagine a world in which parents no longer have to convince their children that the scary-looking needle isn’t that bad, even when it is, in fact, terrifying to look at.

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The Most Ridiculous Deals for Pi Day

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Since give or take 1988, on March 14th, we celebrate one of the most famous numbers in the world — 3.14159… you know the rest.

We celebrate pi because it’s an incredible sequence of math—in a world where hard, finite fixtures of truth typically rule the day, in pi, we have an “irrational” number, a sequence that extends into infinity. From its theoretical implications to its practical applications, pi is a fascinating, incredible thing to behold.

But its 2018, so like everything else, it’s mostly just another reason for brands to shoehorn “deals” for their products into your social feeds, into your face, and thus, Pi Day is truly for deals. Here are the most inane ways companies are trying to get people to fork over their hard-earned green on Pi Day:

Free Pie

Yes, brands love playing the “pie” / “pi” wordplay games. As such, there is pie. Ostensibly, free pie. For example, the Grand Traverse Pie Company gives you a free slice of pie with every purchase, Boston Market gives you free chicken pot pie, and Pizza Nova is offering pizza pie for just $ 3.14.

Pi Gear

6DollarShirts has a pi shirt that’s also a pie shirt. It’s a two-for-one, basically. Need some new kicks? Then head over to Groove Bags, where you can snag some pi day shoes. And then there’s this pi shirt from Science of the Shirt.

Tech Deals

Raspberry Pi and other maker kits happen to be on sale today over at Newegg. You can save more than $ 30 on raspberry pi robot kits and about $ 10 on a DIY Pi Desktop case (replete with a Raspberry Pi 3 board and PSU). ThinkGeek also getting in on the Pi Day deals. If you spend at least $ 50, then you’ll be able to get a free Sir Cumference Pi Day t-shirt. You will need to code “Roundtable” at checkout in order to cash in on this deal.

Free Wedding

Love pizza? Love mathematical constants? Love your significant other? Why not marry them? But, actually: Yes, you can get married at a pizza shop on pi day for free. Today, regional pizza chain “&pizza” (their actual name) will transform their shops into ceremonial houses of matrimony, and they’ll be giving away free weddings to happy couples.

Great. Now let’s see if the brilliant marketers charged with the aforementioned efforts can come up with anything good for Tau Day. Stay woke, pi shillers.

3/14/18 4:12 PM Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece stated that we have been celebrating Pi Day since 2009. That is the year in which Congress made the “holiday” official, but it was first popularized by physicist Larry Shaw in 1988. We don’t know exactly when you started celebrating Pi Day, but either way we apologize for the error. 

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Stephen Hawking’s Most Dire Predictions for the Future

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Stephen Hawking was a brilliant astrophysicist who inspired and awed. He pushed our understanding of, curiosity about, and excitement for the universe around us. He made us laugh. He made us curious. He made us imagine.

He also, at times, made us afraid.

Hawking, who died this morning at the age of 76 after 52 years of living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), will leave behind a deeply important legacy. But his paranoia about the future of humanity, especially in his later years, may prove to be one of the most lasting (and pertinent) aspects of that legacy.

These are a few of his most dire predictions:

AI Takeover

“The genie is out of the bottle. We need to move forward on artificial intelligence development but we also need to be mindful of its very real dangers,” Hawking said last year in a Q&A with WIRED. “I fear that AI may replace humans altogether. If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that will outperform humans.”

As AI permeates more of our daily lives, Hawking isn’t the only one to fear a robot takeover.

But there are other threats.


“Our earth is becoming too small for us, global population is increasing at an alarming rate and we are in danger of self-destructing… I would not be optimistic about the long-term outlook for our species.”

Hawking said this in 2016 at an event at Cambridge University, attesting his pessimism in part to the recent referendum for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union. In a 2017 documentary, he said humanity has just a century left on Earth, down from the 1,000 years he predicted the year before.

That’s in part because of climate change and environmental destruction that, he feared, may make the Earth uninhabitable. Since he became president, Donald Trump had become a favorite target of Hawking’s:

“We are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible. Trump’s action [pulling out of the Paris Agreement] could push the Earth over the brink, to become like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid,” Hawking told BBC News.

“Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent if we act now. By denying the evidence for climate change, and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Donald Trump will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world, for us and our children.”

Fortunately, though, he sees a solution.

Planetary Colonization

“If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before,” Hawking said at a festival in Norway last year.

“We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems,” he continued. “Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”

“I hope it would unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all… A new and ambitious space program would excite [young people], and stimulate interest in other areas, such as astrophysics and cosmology.”

He laid out a fairly comprehensive series of benchmarks: nations should send astronauts to the Moon by 2020 (and set up a lunar base in the next 30 years). And we should get to Mars by 2025.

If Hawking is even remotely right, Musk had better hop to it.

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Unhackable Smartphones Could Provide Refuge from Cyber Attacks

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An unhackable smartphone may help businesses facing mounting pressure to combat cyber attacks.

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What Will Future Space Robots Look Like?

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Astronauts need a lot of help from robots. Whether it’s the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) or future recruits on missions exploring the depths of the Solar System, robots help us to complete tasks beyond our human capabilities. But what type of robots are best suited for these cosmic jobs? One NASA engineer thinks that we should turn to Star Wars for inspiration.

In the popular saga, Astromechs are repair droids that act as autonomous mechanics aboard ships. They are also capable of fighting, piloting spacecraft, and just about everything else. You might recognize astromechs like BB-8 or R2-D2. At NASA, these types of robots are called caretaker robots. In Science Robotics, NASA engineer W. Kris Verdeyen recently argued that the ideal robot for missions in space would have the capabilities of an astromech (or caretaker robot), but with a less problematic body.

Even on a film set, Verdeyen observed, rolling droids like BB-8 are not ideal for difficult, desert terrain. NASA has tested out humanoid robots like Robonaut and Robonaut 2, which flew to the ISS, but so far they have not been able to compete with the enormous variety of functions of astromechs. Still, because of its humanoid frame, “Robonaut, either the original or Robonaut 2, has demonstrated use of drills, torque wrenches, surgical equipment, air-quality testers—an impressive array of hand tools that may be necessary for an on-orbit repair,” Verdeyen wrote. He suggests that the ideal robot for such missions would have the capabilities of an astromech, or caretaker robot, but with a humanoid frame.

One of the primary functions that make astromechs so useful is their “creativity” — something that has been sorely lacking in NASA’s humanoid robots. They can autonomously solve problems that they haven’t been preprogrammed to handle. When in space, things never go exactly as planned, and an inability to respond quickly will threaten the safety of a mission. The ideal robot would be able to adapt to unexpected situations.

Verdeyen says that, to try to combine a physically capable robot with these qualities, NASA has been exploring what it calls “embedded intelligence.” They want to take robots like Robonaut 2 and equip them with artificial intelligence (AI) and a hefty database of basic knowledge to kickstart them.

It is unclear whether or not these ideal space robots would be as charismatic as their on-screen counterparts, but it’s possible they will be just as handy. “Star Wars got a lot of the functions of space robots right. NASA’s space robots will need to be able to repair spacecraft semiautonomously, just like R2D2 and BB-8,” Verdeyen said. “They will need to solve problems in and store knowledge about their spacecraft, just like R2D2 and BB-8. But, at least for the time being, they will look a lot more like C3PO and K-2SO.”

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New Climate Report Forthcoming, Despite Trump’s Climate Change Views

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On March 12, the U.S. National Academies, an independent organization that produces a vast number of reports on the world of science, medicine, and engineering, released their review of the draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4). The assessment, produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), evaluates the ongoing progress of climate change and its impact on the United States.

The National Academies review committee concluded that the new climate report provides an accurate description of climate change and its lasting effects.

The NC4A draft builds on evidence put forward by 2017’s Climate Science Special Report, which stated that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

The Washington Post reports that the NCA4 draft makes it clear that coastal environments are being impacted the most. This builds off previous studies that have emphasized the threats such areas face if the 1.5 degree Celsius climate goal isn’t met.

“As the pace of coastal flooding and erosion accelerates, climate impacts along our coasts are exacerbating preexisting social inequities as communities face difficult questions on determining who will pay for current impacts and future adaptation strategies and if, how, or when to relocate vulnerable communities,” the report reads.

Scientists working on NCA4 were initially worried the Trump administration would intervene or prevent this climate report from being released, as it contradicts the president’s stance on climate change — a stance that ultimately led to the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. However, the draft was released as intended.

There’s still more work to be done before the report’s full release later this year. The review committee suggests improving how the report conveys key information in order to appeal to a broader audience, as well as highlighting advances made since the last climate assessment was published.

“There’s a tremendous interest and demand for updated information and also examples of how various communities are approaching climate issues,” Daniel Cayan, a professor at the University of California at San Diego and a member of the review committee, told The Washington Post. “So, I believe that there’s a community of consumers that really are depending on the National Climate Assessment, and I would be very surprised if it does not continue and it is not sustained.”

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