“Framework” Will be America’s First Wooden Skyscraper

America’s First Wooden Skyscraper

A design for the United State’s first wooden skyscraper, called Framework, has been approved for construction in Portland, Oregon — although, contractors are still awaiting building permits before construction can start. The structure will be 90,000 square feet and 12 stories tall (43 meters high). The concept for the building aims to rejuvenate the Portland timber industry, as well as provide affordable housing: apartment units will be reserved for those below 60 percent of area median family income.

Image Credit: Lever ArchitectureImage Credit: Lever Architecture[/caption]

Although the main material used in the building will be cross laminated timber (CLT), it will also include Aluminum Composite Material — board formed concrete and aluminum curtain wall. Framework will join Albina Yard and  Carbon12, two additional large scale wooden structures planned for development in the city of Portland.

Why are Wooden Skyscrapers Good?

Building out of wood may seem antiquated to some, but the material — particularly in its CLT form, which is new in the U.S — is undergoing a renaissance due to its capacity to be as strong as steel.

Creating structures from wood is a promising avenue for the environmental sector, as it doesn’t create a flurry of carbon emissions: designers hope that the building has the potential to set a precedent as a carbon-neutral project

New Greener Skylines: The Rise of Wooden Skyscrapers
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As Lever Architecture’s website aptly states: “Framework is part of a mutually beneficial cycle between natural resources, the rural timber industries that rely on these resources, and the cities served by the completion of these buildings.” If the building’s construction is a success, it will be a shining example of the beautiful combination of material and form that wooden architecture is capable of.

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Bitcoin’s Rival Just Caught Russia’s Attention

Russian Evolution

You’ve likely heard of Bitcoin as the future of money, but it is not the only cryptocurrency in the running for cashless economy dominance. The second largest among them is found on the Ethereum blockchain and is called Ether. One of the critical differences between Bitcoin and Ether is that while Bitcoin is first and foremost a currency, Ether, however, can be a platform for a variety of decentralized applications. In short, Ether can do much more than Bitcoin.

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
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The adaptive quality of the platform may be part of the reason why Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, seem to be showing great interest in Ethereum. Reporting from Bloomberg reveals that Putin has been thinking about digital currency. “The digital economy isn’t a separate industry, it’s essentially the foundation for creating brand new business models,” he said at last week’s St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

Russia could be looking at Ethereum as a way to expand the country’s economic profile of fossil fuels with technology. Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky suggests that Putin is “…under the impression that, to wean the country off its oil dependence, they needed a major leap in some specific area of technology that wasn’t yet dominated by Western, Chinese, or Japanese tech giants.”

Global Decentralization

Russia is already testing an Ethereum-based blockchain system through its central bank. When Deputy Governor Olga Skorobogatova was asked if Russia is pursuing a national virtual currency, she did not deny the possibility. Currently, there are a few countries already experimenting with national cryptocurrencies.

Coindesk cites eight cryptocurrencies from a variety of countries in the Eurozone. Among them are Iceland’s Auroracoin, Pesetacoin and Spaincoin from Spain, Gaelcoin from Ireland, and Aphroditecoin from Cyprus. Cryptocurrencies offer a lot of benefits including both transparency and security. The level of encryption essentially makes counterfeit transactions impossible.

Russia is among the most powerful countries in the world. Adoption of this technology would be a major boon for the platform and could accelerate the expansion of its influence across the world.

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Mars Astronauts Will Face a Frighteningly High Risk of Cancer

Risks From Cosmic Radiation

New research from scientists at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) shows that the cancer risk for astronauts undertaking long-term missions to Mars or any other destination beyond Earth’s magnetic field is actually twice what we previously thought.

In the past, researchers determined that exposure to the very high rates of ionization in the atoms that comprise cosmic rays damaged the cells in astronauts’ bodies, making them vulnerable to a range of health problems, including acute radiation syndromes, cancer, cataracts, central nervous system issues, and circulatory diseases.

There Will Be No Mars Generation Without These Technologies
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The actual amount of risk has typically been assessed using conventional risk models that attributed the radiation cancer to DNA mutation and damage, and these previous studies involved much briefer periods of time than those that occur during long-term space missions.

The researchers in the UNLV study used a non-targeted effect model instead. This model, which shows higher cancer risk in bystander cells in close proximity to heavily damaged cells, reveals a cancer risk at least twice that of the conventional risk model.

“Galactic cosmic ray exposure can devastate a cell’s nucleus and cause mutations that can result in cancers,” UNLV researcher and space and radiation physics scholar Francis Cucinotta explained in a press release. “We learned the damaged cells send signals to the surrounding, unaffected cells and likely modify the tissues’ microenvironments. Those signals seem to inspire the healthy cells to mutate, thereby causing additional tumors or cancers.”

Combatting Cosmic Radiation

Any extensive time outside the Earth’s geomagnetic sphere will produce this much higher level of risk, and Cucinotta asserts an urgent need for additional research on human cancer risks and cosmic ray exposures prior to any long-term space missions. The results of this study will clearly affect the predicted efficacy of any already planned responses, such as radiation shields, so those must be reassessed, as well.

“Exploring Mars will require missions of 900 days or longer and includes more than one year in deep space where exposures to all energies of galactic cosmic ray heavy ions are unavoidable,” Cucinotta stated in the release.“Current levels of radiation shielding would, at best, modestly decrease the exposure risks.”

Cucinotta also addressed the moral dilemma we now face as we strive to colonize Mars and travel in space: “Waiving or increasing acceptable risk levels raises serious ethical flags, if the true nature of the risks are not sufficiently understood.” Indeed, we owe it to the astronauts willing to risk their lives to explore space to do everything we can to make sure they return home as healthy as when they left.

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Woebot Labs Launches a Fully Functioning AI Facebook Bot to Deal With Mental Health

A Counseling Robot

Woebot, pioneered by Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist at Stanford, is a conversational agent — a chatbot — that uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) principles to treat depression. Darcy developed it to combat the poor adherence people usually have with web-based apps for depression and also as a way mitigate the cost and inconvenience of mental health treatment.

CBT is a newer approach to therapy that focuses on depression’s impact of the present rather than the trauma of the past — the focus of the traditional Freudian Model. Darcy explained in an interview with Business Insider “A premise of CBT is it’s not the things that happen to us — it’s how we react to them.”

Woebot combats depression mainly by identifying negative self-talk and all-or-nothing thinking as it exchanges messages with you via your smartphone. For example, if a a patient typed, “I’m useless at everything,” Woebot would counter by replying that this may be just a single instance of failure and then help the patient identify self-loathing patterns.

[Taken] Chatbot as Effective as Specialists in Providing CBT Treatment

The trial for the project took 70 individuals between 18- and 28-years-old who were randomized to receive Woebot treatment or the National Institute of Mental Health ebook, which served as a control. The results were definitive.

Woebot “significantly reduced their symptoms of depression over the study period.” This study provides a medical precedent for conversational agents being a “feasible, engaging, and effective way to deliver CBT.”

“The data blew us away,” Darcy said in the interview. “We were like, this is it.”

Woebot and Depression

While Woebot is not designed to replace traditional therapeutic methods, it adds an instrument to our toolbox for fighting depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression effects 18 percent of the population over 18-years-old, making it one of the leading causes of disability in the country. Tools such as Woebot can improve these people’s lives, and help ease a little strain from the psychology industry’s finite resources.

The History of Chatbots [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Woebot is an example of the promising intersection between technology and psychology that can help treat depression — other examples include virtual reality. Recently, there have also been promising developments in diagnosing depression, with scientists finding its physical source in the brain and using artificial intelligence to identify it through speech patterns. 

It is also emblematic of the increasing integration of chatbots into our society for humanitarian ends. Chatbots have also been used, with promising results, to improve the lives of thousands by providing legal help to refugees and helping doctors with diagnoses in the medical sector.

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Scientists May Have Found a Way to Combat Quantum Computer Blockchain Hacking

Russia’s Solution to Quantum Hacking

A serious concern in the computing industry is that when true quantum computers are produced, the principles of encryption will break down due to the dizzyingly superior processing power.

Although blockchain is a far more secure method of transaction than our current financial system, even it will become vulnerable to a brute force attack by a quantum computer. Andersen Cheng, co-founder of U.K. cybersecurity firm Post Quantum, told Newsweek, “Bitcoin will expire the very day the first quantum computer appears.”

A team lead by Evgeny Kiktenko at the Russian Quantum Center in Moscow, though, may have found a way to protect blockchains by fighting fire with fire using quantum mechanics. They are designing a quantum-secured blockchain where each block, hypothetically, is signed by a quantum key rather than a digital one.

They propose that transmitting and encrypting information using quantum particles such as photons, which cannot be copied or meddled with without the particles being destroyed, ensures the blockchain’s safety. The principle is based on Zero-knowledge proofs which allow you to validate information without sharing it.

Protection in a Quantum World

In recent months Russia has become increasingly interested in blockchain. The central bank is composing new laws focused on cryptocurrencies and is interested in developing one of its own. This research marks a step forward in these efforts because it concerns the protection of such systems.

Meet The Most Powerful Computers in the World
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If the quantum-secured blockchain proves successful it would be hugely beneficial to the rest of the world as well. Blockchain has the potential to do a lot of good for the world by streamlining the transaction system, making it more secure, and ensuring transparency like never before. Countries such as Senegal have developed currencies that are entirely digital, Japan is accepting bitcoin (which uses blockchain) as legal tender in 260,000 stores this summer, and Ukraine is considering using it to combat corruption.

If the advent of quantum computing could be the apocalypse for blockchain, it is therefore crucially important that we begin thinking about how to protect these system before entire countries and currencies could be subject to hacks from the abusers of quantum computers.

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DARPA Is Working to Make AI More Trustworthy

Cracking the AI Black Box

Artificial intelligence (AI) has grown by leaps and bounds over the past years. Now there are AI systems capable of driving cars and making medical diagnoses, as well as numerous other choices which people make on a day-to-day basis. Except that when it comes to humans, we actually can understand the reasoning behind such decisions (to a certain extent).

When it comes to AI, however, there’s a certain “black box” behind decisions that makes it so that even AI developers themselves don’t quite understand or anticipate the decisions an AI is making. We do know that neural networks are taught to make these choices by exposing them to a huge data set. From there, AIs train themselves into applying what they learn. It’s rather difficult to trust what one doesn’t understand.

The Top Artificial Intelligence Movies of All Time
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The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to break this black box, and the first step is to fund eight computer science professors from Oregon State University (OSU) with a $ 6.5 million research grant. “Ultimately, we want these explanations to be very natural — translating these deep network decisions into sentences and visualizations,” OSU’s Alan Fern, principal investigator for the grant, said in a press release.

Sound and Informed Choices

The DARPA-OSU program, set to run for four years, will involve developing a system that will allow AI to communicate with machine learning experts. They would start developing this system by plugging AI-powered players into real-time strategy games like StarCraft. The AI players would be trained to explain to human players the reasoning behind their in-game choices. This isn’t the first project that puts AIs into video game environments. Google’s DeepMind has also chosen StarCraft as a training environment for AI. There’s also that controversial Doom-playing AI bot.

Results from this research project would then be applied by DARPA to their existing work with robotics and unmanned vehicles. Obviously, the potential applications of AI in law enforcement and the military require these systems to be ethical.

“Nobody is going to use these emerging technologies for critical applications until we are able to build some level of trust, and having an explanation capability is one important way of building trust,” Fern said. Thankfully, this DARPA-OSU project isn’t the only one working on humanizing AI to make it more trustworthy.

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Humans Have Been Trying to Communicate with Space for Decades

The Cosmic Chorus

The Universe is full of noises — and Earth now also contributes to the cacophony. The first time we called out to the stars was on November 19, 1962 with The Morse Message. This message was sent in Morse code from the Evpatoria Planetary Radar to Venus. What did we say? “MIR” — the Russian word for both world and peace. This was followed a few days later on November 24 by “LENIN” and “SSSR” (Russia’s leader and the abbreviation for the Soviet Union, respectively). Later, in 1999, a team headed by Alexander Zaitsev, a rogue Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) member, beamed Cosmic Call 1 to four nearby suns from the Yevpatoria RT-70 radio telescope in Crimea. He called his system Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI).

Alien or Natural: Strangest Sounds & Signals Detected from Space
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He argued that his decision was due to the SETI Paradox, which he characterized as “This paradoxical disparity of effort, a passionate desire to receive and no corresponding attempt to give.” He also stated that he did “not want to live in a cocoon, in a ‘one-man island.’”

Similar messages were subsequently sent out in 2001 (Teen Age Message), 2003 (Cosmic Call 2), and 2008 (A Message From Earth). These messages caused fierce debate within the scientific coommunity, prompting multiple meetings by the Royal Society in 2010 on the topic of “Towards a Scientific and Societal Agenda on Extraterrestrial Life.”

SETI has sent authorized messages into the cosmos, including the Lone Signal in 2013 and A Simple Response to an Elemental Message in 2016. Other messages not related to or verified by SETI have also been sent, such as the the Hello From Earth message in 2009.

In response, we have heard very little back, causing some to dub the universe “The Great Silence” — David Brin told Phys.org that the most obvious possibilities have now been ruled out, “including gaudy tutorial beacons that advanced ETCs would supposedly erect.”

A particularly exciting narrowband radio signal from space was detected by the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope in 1977, which many have since dubbed the Wow! Signal, although it has now been shown to probably be caused by comets. A less notable example is Radio source SHGb02+14a, which was detected in 2003. The radio source was 1420 MHz and lasted for a minute each time it was observed, although the signal was extremely weak.

How do we Speak to Aliens?

There are two aspects of our communication with aliens: how we send it, and what we say. There has been vigorous discussion about both facets of inter-galaxy communication.

The main means we currently have of broadcasting ourselves across the universe is through radio signals. Frequency modulated radio waves were used when we projected a message from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico in 1974: it contained, in binary, pictorial representations of humanity, formulas for the elements and compounds that make up DNA, as well as representations of the Solar System. Other systems have been more manual: for example, the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes bolting ‘Pioneer Plaques’ to their doors.

Future efforts will try to update this system, using either the more sophisticated radio signals we possess today, or turning to lasers to beam ourselves to other planets. METI will begin their search by beaming to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our sun.

Douglas Vakoch, the former director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute and president of METI, said to Forbes, “It’s too late to conceal ourselves in the universe, so we should decide how we want to represent ourselves.” But how can we know how what we choose to represent is what will be received when we have no comprehension of the technology aliens may be using, or of their specific culture?

The central debate over what we send to aliens stems from what they would think if they received a signal. Opinion is split among scientific heavyweights over whether aliens would be benevolent or malevolent. Carl Sagan believes that any contact would be benign because, as he stated in his novel Contact, written in 1985, “In the long run, the aggressive civilizations destroy themselves, almost always.” On the other hand, Stephen Hawking believes that “if aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”

Other specialists such as Seth Shostak, an astronomer at SETI, think that if we truly believed in a threat, we would be more careful about all radio use; he told phys.org, “We cannot pretend that our present level of activity with respect to broadcasting or radar usage is ‘safe.’ If danger exists, we’re already vulnerable.”

An encounter with aliens is a real possibility, and one that would have earth-changing consequences. When we will meet them is anyone’s guess — it may be in ten years, it may be never — but it is important to have discussion surrounding how to deal with an encounter to prepare for every possible outcome.

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An Entire Town in the US Is Sinking Because of Climate Change

Drowning Communities

Isle de Jean Charles, a small island in southeastern Louisiana’s bayous, is drowning as the Gulf of Mexico rises. Twenty-nine homes remain, housing 100 people, but they are all being relocated because the flooding is unstoppable. The island has already lost 98% of its land since 1955, making it one of the most visible victims of climate change — so far. The residents can either leave their homes or die in them, and they are leaving.

“Now there’s just a little strip of land left,” resident Rita Falgout tells Quartz. “That’s all we have. There’s water all around us. I’m anxious to go.”

Residents of places like Isle de Jean Charles can compete for a chance to relocate through the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), a program organized by the federal government. The goal of the program is to help states and communities recover from disasters and lower risks from future disasters. However, the looming threats from climate change are growing, and affecting more and more communities; Louisiana alone is losing the equivalent of one football field’s worth of land every hour.

Concrete Proof

Climate change is affecting larger coastal areas in the U.S., from Alaska down to Florida and Louisiana. Climate-induced migration is now a concrete reality for citizens of our country, not an abstract idea for politicians to talk about. Research from a March 2016 study indicates that collapsing polar ice caps are likely to cause sea levels to rise by 6 feet (1.8 meters) by 2100; this will in turn force at least 13.1 million Americans living in coastal areas to become homeless. A less drastic rise of 3 feet would leave at least 4 million homeless.

Our Warming World: The Future of Climate Change [INFOGRAPHIC]
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The only solution to these problems is combating climate change before it is too late. States like Hawaii are sticking with the Paris Accord goals, and various cities, states, and businesses are also banding together to maintain a commitment to this important issue, regardless of the action the federal government does or does not take. We can’t relocate everyone, and our window for making a difference is closing. Thankfully, the world isn’t giving up.

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Physicists Discover a Possible Break in the Standard Model of Physics

Breaking the Lepton Universality

In order to make sense of the physical world, scientists have worked hard to discover theories and principles that govern the physics of matter. This is what’s called the Standard Model of Physics, which includes all the laws and principles concerning matter in all its forms and sizes. Bascially, the Standard Model applies to even particle physics. Or so it should.

Scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara (USCB) and colleagues from various other institutions have recently discovered that there might be a break in the application of the Standard Model, particularly with a fundamental principle called the lepton universality. Their discovery comes from reviewing the data from three separate experiments conducted in the United States, Switzerland, and Japan.

But before we jump into the details of the study published in the journal Nature, a little backgrounder is in order. The lepton universality is an assumption concerning elementary particles called leptons, which don’t undergo strong interactions. Supposedly, lepton universality asserts that the interactions of these particles are the same, regardless of differences in masses and decay rates. The three experiments reviewed in the studies are charged leptons, which are electrons, muons, and the heavier taus.

Challenging the Norms of Physics

All three experiments revealed that taus actually decay faster than the standard model predicts. The surprising thing was the data which came from the LHCb experiment at CERN in Switzerland, the BaBaR detector of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California, and the Belle experiment in Japan challenged lepton universality at four standard deviations. This means that there’s a 99.95 percent certainty that this data is accurate, according to the USCB team.

“The tau lepton is key, because the electron and the muon have been well measured. Taus are much harder because they decay very quickly,” USCB’s Franco Sevilla said in a press release. “Now that physicists are able to better study taus, we’re seeing that perhaps lepton universality is not satisfied as the Standard Model claims.”

9 Physics Questions Baffling Scientists [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Initial reading into these results would seem to indicate that there is indeed a deviation from the Standard Model of particle physics. This could mean that an entirely different model of physics is needed to explain the peculiar behavior of the tau particle. In other words, new physics is required. That’s not a simple thing, as these principles often correlate with one another. A change in one could affect the others.

Sevilla admitted that they aren’t entirely sure yet how this would play out. “We’re not sure what confirmation of these results will mean in the long term,” he explained. “First, we need to make sure that they’re true, and then we’ll need ancillary experiments to determine the meaning.”

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Canadian Airport to Use Robotic Falcons to Stop Bird Strikes

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually, it’s a little bit of both.

Canada’s Edmonton International Airport (YEG) is planning to deploy robotic falcons in a novel attempt to prevent bird strikes at the airport. The mechanical birds of prey will patrol Edmonton’s runways, scaring away small birds that might otherwise nest nearby passing planes.

The drone birds — made by Netherlands-based Clear Flight Solutions — mimic real falcons, with a detailed feather print and beating wings. Flying in figure-eight patterns alongside airport runways, they will be operated remotely by trained pilots.

Bio-Robots: Animal-Inspired Machines
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“By mimicking their natural counterparts through silhouette and behavior, they are indistinguishable from real-life birds of prey to other birds,” said Wessel Straatman, a research and development engineer for Clear Flight Solutions. “Birds instinctively react to the presence of birds of prey, making it less attractive for them to come to that area,” he told Digital Trends.

Airport officials hope that their new fleet of on-the-go scarecrows will help make Edmonton safer for birds and planes alike. Bird strikes are a major problem in the aviation world; the FAA reported over 56,000 incidents from 2011 to 2015. For small planes, bird strikes can cause structural damage — especially to their windows; larger passenger jets can suffer engine failure if birds are sucked into their turbines.

Edmonton has not yet announced when it expects to roll out its robotic falcons, but officials have indicated that once deployed, the drones will become a part of the airport’s daily operations.

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