February 01, 2014

Driverless trucks for US Army convoys

Lockheed Martin has shown that fully autonomous convoys can safely navigate road intersections, oncoming traffic, stalled and passing vehicles, and pedestrians. A series of advanced tests in the Autonomous Mobility Appliqué System (AMAS) program for the US Army and US Marine Corps were completed. The testing, Lockheed said, showed that fully autonomous convoys can operate in urban environments and with a mixture of vehicle types.

The AMAS program for the Pentagon's ground troops uses standard-issue vehicles outfitted with a kit of gear including a high-performance LIDAR sensor and a second GPS receiver, locked and loaded with a range of algorithms. That gear, Lockheed said, could be used on virtually any military vehicle, but in these tests was affixed to the Army's M915 tractor-trailer trucks and to Palletized Loading System vehicles.

China military is weaker and more dangerous than it looks

The Diplomat reports that Chinais the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine. China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier.

Here is an analysis from the Diplomat by Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute.

Not truly capable military Hardware and pretend soldiers

China’s lack of decent hardware is somewhat surprising given all the hype surrounding Beijing’s massive military modernization program, the state of “software” (military training and readiness) is truly astounding. At one military exercise in the summer of 2012, a strategic PLA unit, stressed out by the hard work of handling warheads in an underground bunker complex, actually had to take time out of a 15-day wartime simulation for movie nights and karaoke parties. In fact, by day nine of the exercise, a “cultural performance troupe” (common PLA euphemism for song-and-dance girls) had to be brought into the otherwise sealed facility to entertain the homesick soldiers.

China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).

Intense and realistic training is dangerous business, and the American maxim that the more you bleed during training the less you bleed during combat doesn’t translate well in a Leninist military system. Just the opposite. China’s military is intentionally organized to bureaucratically enforce risk-averse behavior, because an army that spends too much time training is an army that is not engaging in enough political indoctrination.

Lack of Combat experience makes them dangerous. Real combat soldiers are not hawkish

It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts

50 years after US President LBJ, China also declares war on poverty

50 years ago in the USA, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. This legislation was proposed by Johnson in response to a national poverty rate of around nineteen percent. The speech led the United States Congress to pass the Economic Opportunity Act, which established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty. As a part of the Great Society, Johnson believed in expanding the government's role in education and health care as poverty reduction strategies. These policies can also be seen as a continuation of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which ran from 1933 to 1935, and the Four Freedoms of 1941. The popularity of a war on poverty waned after the 1960s. Deregulation, growing criticism of the welfare state, and an ideological shift to reducing federal aid to impoverished people in the 1980s and 1990s culminated in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996.

In China, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to fight a “war against poverty,” highlighting the existing imbalances in China’s economic growth. As China’s overall GDP draws ever closer to surpassing the United States’ for the position of world’s largest, more and more commentators have taken to pointing out China’s relatively low per-capita GDP. According to the World Bank’s data, in 2012 China’s per capita GDP was $6,091, lagging behind not only the United States ($51,749) but countries such as Iraq ($6,455), Azerbaijan ($7,164), Botswana ($7,238), and Columbia ($7,748). It’s a testimony to the simple fact that, while China’s overall economy is massive, it must provide for 1.36 billion people.

A 2012 survey done by Peking University showed, for example, that average family income for urban residents was $2,600 a year versus only $1,600 a year for rural resident. In 2010, China Daily reported that China’s urban-to-rural income ratio was 3.33:1, the highest level since 1978.

As a result, China’s per capita GDP doesn’t adequately capture the extent of the poverty problem. World Bank notes that China has about 128 million people living below the national poverty line (which equates to about $1.8 a day) — making China second only to India in terms of the largest population of the poor.

China’s own official estimates are lower, but only slightly so, with Xinhua reporting 98.99 million rural poor alone in 2012. To put that in context, if we go by the World Bank estimate, China’s impoverished population is greater than the total population of all but nine countries in the world (Japan, ranked #10 in total population, has just over 127 million people)

January 30, 2014

Genetically modified Monkeys using CRISPR genome editing and shows that transhuman genome editing in humans is feasible

China has created genetically modified monkeys using a new method of DNA engineering known as Crispr. The infant macaques show that targeted genome editing is feasible in primates—a potential boon for scientists studying complex diseases, including neurological ones, and an advance that suggests that the method could one day work in humans.

The new study shows for the first time that Crispr can create viable primates with genomes modified at specific targeted genes.

The Chinese researchers injected single-cell macaque embryos with RNAs to guide the genome-editing process. The team modified three genes in the monkeys: one that regulates metabolism, another that regulates immune cell development and a third that regulates stem cells and sex determination.

Cell Journal - Generation of Gene-Modified Cynomolgus Monkey via Cas9/RNA-Mediated Gene Targeting in One-Cell Embryos

Elon Musk on the innovations that will matter, multi-planet civilization, AI and demographics

Elon Musk thinks there are five innovations that will change our lives in the decades ahead.

* the Internet, an astonishing invention by which people can access knowledge from anywhere.
* the transition to the sustainable production and consumption of energy.
* the extension of human life to other planets, depending on how rapidly we progress in developing space transport and how we live - if we manage to survive -- by then.
* Reading and writing genetic code
* AI - artificial intelligence.

Predictions from Davos

At Davos in 2014, forecasters were focused on the pace of the U.S. economy and Federal Reserve tapering of monetary stimulus, the dizzying heights the U.S. stock market has reached, and the impact of those on the rest of the world, including widely expected tough times in emerging markets. There’s the future of China’s economy and the future of the price of oil and its impact in the world’s petro-states –which tend to also be many of the politically troubled parts of the world. There are divided opinions over the future of the Japanese economy under Abenomics. Palpitations are growing over more extreme weather like the “polar vortex” that gripped much of the U.S. earlier this month.

What’s striking about this year’s predictions is that there are no gloom and doom scenarios on forecasters’ lists.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, based on a survey of more than 700 experts around the world who were asked to rank risks according to their probability and impact was released on January 17.

* income disparity is the risk most likely to cause an impact on a global scale in the next decade
* Other highly probable, high impact risks include extreme weather events, unemployment, and fiscal crises

We have a G Zero world - Solution make more durable and effective coalitions of the willing

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, the leading global political risk research and consulting firm. Here he gives the talk "The Rise of the Different: Why the Global Order Doesn't Work and What We Can Do About It." His analysis focuses on global macro political trends and emerging markets, which he defines as "those countries where politics matter at least as much as economics for market outcomes."

China, India and other emerging countries are still poor. They will still be poor for many years. They do not have the capacity for foreign aid and do not have the institutions to do what the developed countries have done. The US is stepping back from leading the world. On trade and climate and other activities, we should drop the push for big global agreements and focus on narrower and deeper action by like minded countries. As the other countries get wealthier and their interests become more aligned then they will join those stronger frameworks.

New Quantum Computing Research that is promising for DWave Systems

One research paper could help make the algorithms that used on DWave's adiabatic quantum annealing system faster.

Arxiv - Diff erent Strategies for Optimization Using the Quantum Adiabatic Algorithm

We present the results of a numerical study, with 20 qubits, of the performance of the Quantum Adiabatic Algorithm on randomly generated instances of MAX 2-SAT with a unique assignment that maximizes the number of satis ed clauses. The probability of obtaining this assignment at the end of the quantum evolution measures the success of the algorithm. Here we report three strategies which consistently increase the success probability for the hardest instances in our ensemble: decreasing the overall evolution time, initializing the system in excited states, and adding a random local Hamiltonian to the middle of the evolution

Dwave implements the Ising model. A researcher has created Ising formulations of many NP problems.

Arxiv - Ising formulations of many NP problems

Andrew Lucas, Harvard, provides Ising formulations for many NP-complete and NP-hard problems, including all of Karp’s 21 NP-complete problems. This collects and extends mappings to the Ising model from partitioning, covering and satisfiability. In each case, the required number of spins is at most cubic in the size of the problem. This work may be useful in designing adiabatic quantum optimization algorithms.

Unlocking the solar system with water from asteroids

(Journal Nature) Ceres, a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, is spewing water vapor out into space. In fact, Ceres might hold more water than Earth does.

Over the next 2 years, NASA's Dawn mission, which has already visited big asteroids such as Vesta, will arrive at Ceres to map the dwarf planet's surface. And the ESA's (European Space Agency) Rosetta mission, which just emerged from hibernation, will chase a comet as it approaches the sun. While the two missions have different objectives, both have the potential to tell us more about where all the water in our solar system came from.

The discovery of water vapor on Ceres means that planetary scientists have another destination for possible astrobiology-based missions to seek out new life. "It clearly puts Ceres in the same category as Europa and Enceladus as candidates for life," Raymond say.

Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are two companies that want to mine the asteroids. However, they are looking at smaller asteroids in orbits closer to the Earth.

Planetary Resources describes how water from asteroids will unlock the solar system

There are over 1,500 asteroids that are as easy to get to as the surface of the Moon. They are also in Earth-like orbits with small gravity fields, making them easier to approach and depart.

A 96-Antenna System for Next Generation of Wireless

A Rice University wireless antenna rig, known as Argos, represents the largest such array yet built and will serve as a test bed for a concept known as “Massive MIMO.”

MIMO, or “multiple-input, multiple-output,” is a wireless networking technique aimed at transferring data more efficiently by having several antennas work together to exploit a natural phenomenon that occurs when signals are reflected en route to a receiver. The phenomenon, known as multipath, can cause interference, but MIMO alters the timing of data transmissions in order to increase throughput using the reflected signals.

MIMO is already used for 4G LTE and in the latest version of Wi-Fi, called 802.11ac; but it typically involves only a handful of transmitting and receiving antennas. Massive MIMO extends this approach by using scores or even hundreds of antennas. It increases capacity further by effectively focusing signals on individual users, allowing numerous signals to be sent over the same frequency at once. Indeed, an earlier version of Argos, with 64 antennas, demonstrated that network capacity could be boosted by more than a factor of 10.

World Tourism Predictions

97 million Chinese tourists that traveled abroad in 2013. The UNWTO states that Chinese tourists saw an increase in travel expenditure of 28 percent in the first three quarters of 2013.

A new report by Asia brokerage group CLSA predicts that the number will double in six years, hitting 200 million by 2020. The company states that higher pay, more annual leave, relaxed visa policies, worsening mainland pollution, and overloaded domestic tourism infrastructure will all be factors driving a new wave of Chinese travelers abroad in the coming years.

International tourist arrivals are forecast to reach 1.8 billion by 2030 according to the newly released UNWTO long-term forecast, Tourism Towards 2030. It is expected to be about 1.4-1.5 billion in 2020.

Travel and tourism industry CEOs came to Davos: to promote “smart visa” policies that will facilitate freedom of travel, improve the customer experience, grow the global economy and improve the state of the world, without compromising security. A 2020 vision is a world where smart visas facilitate 2 billion global travellers who are enjoying all the rewards of travel, boosting global employment through new tourism jobs, enhancing business revenues to fuel investment and new tax receipts to improve infrastructure.

China plans to build 13000 to 14000 fiber lines to connect 400 cities

China Mobile is expected to build out 13-14 thousand fiber lines between 400 cities across China. It is planned to be world's largest 100Gigabit backbone deployment.

Huawei is the biggest beneficiary of the 100G backbone build, with Alcatel-Lucent also participating in the project as the only non-Chinese vendor.

400 gigabit technology should be ready in 2015.

Geopolitical risks for 2014

The Eurasia Group lists its top ten geopolitical risks for 2014

In 2014, big-picture economics are stable if not yet comforting. The EU has clawed its way out of recession. Japan has, improbably, discovered economic leadership. The economic performance of China’s new government is strong. And the US re- bound is sufficiently robust for the markets to shrug off New Year’s tapering resolutions.

But geopolitics is very much in play. The realities of a G-Zero order, a world of geo- political creative destruction without global leadership, are evident. There are tensions between China and Japan in the East China Sea, elite-level executions in North Korea, Russia flexing its muscles in neighboring Ukraine and beyond, and everyone fighting with everyone else in the Middle East (some things don’t change). All of which is changing the geopolitical map quite aside from the role of the world’s only superpower.

1  America's troubled alliances
2  Diverging markets
3  The new China
4  Iran
5  Petrostates
6  Strategic data
7  Al Qaeda 2.0
8  The Middle East's expanding unrest
9  The capricious Kremlin
10  Turkey

January 29, 2014

Let Banks Fail : Iceland's plan looks to be working

Iceland let its banks fail in 2008 because they proved too big to save.

Now, the island is finding crisis-management decisions made half a decade ago have put it on a trajectory that’s turned 2% unemployment into a realistic goal.

The island’s sudden economic meltdown in October 2008 made international headlines as a debt-fueled banking boom ended in a matter of weeks when funding markets froze. Policy makers overseeing the $14 billion economy refused to back the banks, which subsequently defaulted on US$85 billion. The government’s decision to protect state finances left it with the means to continue social support programs that shielded Icelanders from penury during the worst financial crisis in six decades.

Successive Icelandic governments have forced banks to write off mortgage debts to help households. In February 2010, 16 months after Kaupthing Bank hf, Glitnir Bank hf and Landsbanki Islands hf failed, unemployment peaked at 9.3%. The rate was 4.2% in December, according to Statistics Iceland. In the euro area, unemployment held at a record 12.1% in November, Eurostat estimates.

South Korea will start building to APR1400 reactors this year and China is completing two AP 1000 nuclear reactors

Two new reactors have been approved to start construction in South Korea this year. Nuclear will continue its strong growth in the country, albeit under a less ambitious energy policy.

They plan to build two new APR1400 units at Shin Kori in the south east of the country. The reactors will be the fifth and sixth at the site and will come with a combined price tag of KRW7.61 trillion ($7.1 billion). $2.53 billion per gigawatt.

Construction is set to start on Shin Kori 5 in September this year, with unit 6 likely to follow 6-12 months after. They are slated to begin generating power in late 2019 and 2020.

Finding the locations of water on the moon in 2018

The Resource Prospector is a mission to prospect for lunar volatiles at one of the two lunar poles, as well as demonstrate In-Situ Resource Utilization on the Moon. Resource Prospector consists of a lander, a rover (provided by the Canadian Space Agency), and a rover-borne payload. The payload, the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) payload, will be able to
(1) locate near subsurface volatiles,
(2) excavate and analyze samples of the volatile-bearing regolith, and
(3) demonstrate the form, extractability and usefulness of the materials.

Such investigations are important not only for ISRU but are also critically important for understanding the scientific nature of these intriguing lunar polar volatile deposits. Temperature models and orbital data suggest near surface volatile concentrations may exist at briefly lit lunar polar locations outside persistently shadowed regions. A lunar rover could be remotely operated at some of these locations for the 4-7 days of expected sunlight at relatively low cost. This paper will discuss the mission goals of Resource Prospector and present the current payload and mission design.

Here is a 25 page presentation on the lunar water mining mission.

Simple acid bath can turn blood cells into the best kind of stem cell which would remove the ethical issue of embryo sourcing and make stem cells cheap and plentiful

Scientists in Japan showed stem cells can now be made quickly just by dipping blood cells into acid. Stem cell technology cheaper, faster and safer.

Stem cells can transform into any tissue and are already being trialled for healing the eye, heart and brain.

The study shows that shocking blood cells with acid could also trigger the transformation into stem cells - this time termed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.

Dr Haruko Obokata, from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, said she was "really surprised" that cells could respond to their environment in this way.

She added: "It's exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings offer us, not only in regenerative medicine, but cancer as well."

The breakthrough was achieved in mouse blood cells, but research is now taking place to achieve the same results with human blood.

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, said if it also works in humans then "the age of personalised medicine would have finally arrived."

Nature - Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency

January 28, 2014

Panasonic plans to make 1000 exoskeleton suits in 2015 that look like the suit that Ripley wore in Aliens and price them at about $5000

Yahoo Japan via Japancrush reports that the first affordable, mass-produced robotic exoskeleton will be on sale next year from Panasonic. For 500,000 yen, or slightly under $5,000, this full-body power garment will let you hoist 100-kilo (220-pound) objects and move at speeds up to 8 kph (5 mph).

Activelink, the Panasonic subsidiary responsible for the suit, plans to begin rollout of the first batch of 1000 starting in 2015. At its heart will be a lithium-ion battery pack that can provide for several hours of general purpose activity.

The Battery singularity is something that would improve the performance and lower the cost of exoskeletons.

Controversial Blacklight Power reportedly did their demonstation but their was no public live feed

E-catworld reports one of their commenters stopped by (Blacklight Power) BLP around midday today the 28th. The demo was going on, my contact said it was going well. No press vehicles in parking lot, just lots of high end cars and one law enforcement vehicle. All 35 spots filled for the lab demo.

Nothing was posted at the Blacklight Power website

Roads and Highways will help lift Africa out of Poverty

The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa plan is to expand the existing, 10,000 kilometre-long network of major roads to between 60,000 and 100,000 km – either by upgrading existing poor roads or building new ones. The result would be nine arteries, some hugging Africa's entire coastline, while others strategically criss-cross the continent. Some 250,000 km of smaller roads will be built or upgraded to connect smaller cities to the main arteries, plus another 70,000 km to plug in rural areas.

A recent study in Sub-Saharan Africa by the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic near Johannesburg, South Africa, shows how roads can do this. If farmers lived four hours travel time from a city with a population of 100,000, their crop output reached 45 per cent of what was possible because they could easily access tools and supplies such as fertilisers. For farmers eight hours away, the yields collapsed to just 5 per cent. "It's almost incontestable that roads will get them out of that poverty," says Sayer. People certainly want them. "Pretty much all rural communities in Africa will put improved roads at the top of their wish lists," he adds.

There are also likely to be benefits to education. Villages of the Congo basin best served by roads scored highest on a scale grading the effectiveness of education

Combat Lasers will be tested at sea this year and Railguns in 2016 for Future US Destroyers

Military.com reports that the US Navy is in the early phases of starting research to determine what kind of hull, ship defenses, propulsion technology and weapons systems will be engineered for a new class of DDG Flight IV destroyers to begin service in the 2030s.

A directed energy weapon or rail gun, however, might be able to offer an effective deterrent or ship defense system at a fraction of the cost of a missile.

The Navy is progressing with laser and rail gun technology. Senior Navy officials have routinely talked about plans for the service's Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, a high-energy, solid-state directed energy weapon slated to deploy this year aboard the USS Ponce, a transport dock.

"We're taking the laser weapon system prototype to sea this year. We are hoping to develop a system that we can produce and install aboard future warships," said Navy spokesman Chris Johnson.

The idea with LaWS is to deploy a low-cost, high-energy offensive and defensive weapon against a range of potential threats, including Unmanned Aircraft Systems, fast-attack boats and small-boat swarm attacks.

China's State Enterprises have a long way to go to follow the Commercial standards of Singapore's Temasek

This is an analysis from Ryan Rutkowski of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Singapore's Temasek was committed to selling underperforming state-owned assets, and even investing in private or foreign companies to improve the performance of its portfolio. Of the 35 state-owned companies in Temasek’s portfolio at inception, only 11 firms remain. The rest have been divested or liquidated. Today only 30 percent of Temasek’s portfolio is exposed to Singapore.

One of the key differences between the China model and the Singapore model is the failure to manage state assets on a commercial basis. In theory SASAC is supposed to enhance the performance of state assets. However in practice it acts more as a supervisor for the corporate governance reforms of state-owned enterprise, leaving operational decisions and investment responsibilities at the central level to 115 unlisted state-owned groups.

Presumably this could begin to change with the new reforms. For example, in Shanghai, a local asset management company is reported to be taking over equity ownership of seven listed state-controlled firms.

JILA strontium next generation atomic clock is 50% more precise than old record holder

The JILA strontium lattice clock is about 50 percent more precise than the record holder of the past few years, NIST’s quantum logic clock. Precision refers to how closely the clock approaches the true resonant frequency at which its reference atoms oscillate between two electronic energy levels. The new strontium clock is so precise it would neither gain nor lose one second in about 5 billion years, if it could operate that long. (This time period is longer than the age of the Earth, an estimated 4.5 billion years old.)

The next-generation atomic clock that tops previous records for accuracy in clocks based on neutral atoms has been demonstrated by physicists at JILA, a joint institute of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The new clock, based on thousands of strontium atoms trapped in grids of laser light, surpasses the accuracy of the current U.S. time standard based on a "fountain" of cesium atoms.

Nature - An optical lattice clock with accuracy and stability at the 10^−18 level

Russia Is Losing Sources of Economic Growth and like Brazil and India has stagflation

Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics has written about the problems that Russia has generating economic growth

The annual Gaidar Forum, held last week in Moscow, is a good occasion to assess the country's economic state of affairs. Russia's economy and politics are marked by what optimists call stability and what pessimists call stagnation.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed that Russia's economic growth sources have been exhausted, and he introduced the idea of Russia being in a "middle-income trap," drawing on an academic paper by the Berkeley Professor Barry Eichengreen. Medvedev was concerned with the sudden slowdown in economic growth, which is common to countries that have reached middle incomes, such as Russia and Brazil.

Sensibly, Medvedev emphasized that the causes were primarily domestic in nature. Russia risks losing out when competing with more advanced economies because of insufficient institutions and high costs in less developed economies. It needs to improve the quality of its labor, management, health care, pension system and, most of all, its institutions. Yet as usual, Medvedev ended with only minor proposals for improvement, notably in the business environment.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Nuclear Aneutronic Fusion 2014 Project Report

In 2014, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP) will carry out our first crowdfunding campaign this spring. Given adequate funding and supplier timeliness, LPP will start experiments in May with the tungsten electrodes, expecting a nearly 100-fold increase in plasmoid density and fusion yield. With these experiments LPP expect to confirm in the course of a few months the predicted operation of the axial field coil and of heavier mix gases. LPP will then proceed in the fall to test shorter electrodes, which will give higher current. Finally, LPP will move to begin tests with hydrogen-boron fuel.

China, South Korea, United States and Europe making big bets on mass produced graphene

China has started mass production of graphene films used in production of cell phone and computer touch screens as a new production line began operation. The production line is in a graphene industrial park in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality. It can produce tens of millions of graphene films every year.

A state-level graphene industrialization base with sales revenue of 100 billion yuan (16.35 billion U.S. dollars) is expected to be completed within 5 years.

China's Ningbo Morsh Technology is establishing a new graphene production line that will have an annual capacity of 300 tons (or tens of millions of graphene films). The line was supposed to be operational by August 2013, and now there are reports from china that finally production began.

First pre-birth genetic modification could be approved soon in the UK to correct faulty mitochondria

Forbes reports that at some point between now and July, 2014, the UK parliament is likely to vote on whether a new form of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—involving DNA from three parents—becomes legally available to couples. If it passes, the law would be the first to allow pre-birth human-DNA modification, and another door to the future will open.

The procedure involves replacing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to avoid destructive cell mutations. Mitochondria are the power plants of human cells that convert energy from food into what our cells need to function, and they carry their own DNA apart from the nuclear DNA in our chromosomes where most of our genetic information is stored. Only the mother passes on mtDNA to the child, and it occasionally contains mutations that can lead to serious problems.

In Vitro Fertilization

Oxbridge Biotech describes the details of the procedure.

Dr Mitalipov, who headed the research, explained: “Using this process, we have shown that mutated DNA from the mitochondria can be replaced with healthy copies in human cells.” Indeed, by using 106 human eggs donated by healthy volunteers, the team demonstrated that although the ST-IVF grants chances of successful in vitro fertilization lower than the standard IVF (50% versus 75%), the viable embryos undergo normal development. More importantly, the rate of success is not impaired by use of cryo-preserved human eggs, a condition that will be critical for clinical applications of ST.

January 27, 2014

Going Beyond the Carnot Limit with a quantum Otto engine

Researchers have shown that the effi ciency at maximum power of a quantum Otto engine can be dramatically enhanced by coupling it to a squeezed thermal reservoir. While standard heat engines interact with thermal baths which are only characterized by their respective temperatures, the use of nonthermal baths o ffers more degrees of control and manipulation, such as the amount of squeezing, that can be exploited to increase the work produced. Their findings pave the way for a first experimental demonstration of the usefulness of reservoir and state engineering techniques in quantum thermodynamics and the realization of more e fficient nano-engines.

E fficiency at maximum power given by the generalized Curzon-Ahlborn effi ciency as a function of the squeezing parameter r (red line). The region below the red dashed line corresponds to all possible e fficiencies in agreement with the standard Carnot limit. The results of the Monte-Carlo simulations (black dots) demonstrate within the given trap geometry that by squeezing the thermal state with the effi ciency can be increased by a factor of four, which is two times higher than the corresponding Carnot bound. The black dotted line shows the generalized Carnot limit for an engine interacting with a hot squeezed thermal bath. The results shown are performed at a temperature ratio of 0.88.

Arxiv - Nanoscale Heat Engine Beyond the Carnot Limit (6 pages)

China is expanding rain from cloud seeding from 55 billion tons per year to 280 billion tons per year of rain

China is now the most trigger-happy cloud-seeder in the world. In 2011, China spent $150 million on a single regional artificial rain program; it’s unclear how much other local governments spend. The US, by comparison, spends around $15 million a year. It now creates 50 billion tonnes (55 billion tons) of artificial rain a year. That compares with an average of 36 billion tonnes a year (40 billion tons) from 1999 to 2006.

As water grows scarcer and air pollution more severe, China plans to seed even more clouds. The State Council, China’s cabinet, is now mulling a proposal to beef up natural disaster monitoring and response measures, including more fake rain (links in Chinese). Last year, the head of the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) revealed that under its new “weather modification program” it would use cloud-seeding to boost precipitation by 254 billion tonnes (280 billion tons).

The CMA has plans to seed clouds for private enterprises like farms or hydropower stations, Zheng Guoguang, the head of the CMA, told the China Daily in 2012.

Translated page from the China Meteorological Administration

Carnival of Space 338

The Carnival of Space 338 is up at Urban Astronomer

Universe Today - Herschel Discovers Water Vapor Spewing from Ceres

The Herschel space observatory has discovered water vapor around Ceres, and the vapor could be emanating from water plumes — much like those that are on Saturn’s moon Enceladus – or it could be from cryovolcanism from geysers or icy volcano.

“This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

Herschel used its far-infrared vision with the HIFI instrument to see a clear spectral signature of the water vapor. But, interestingly, Herschel did not see water vapor every time it looked. There were variations in the water signal during the dwarf planet’s 9-hour rotation period. The telescope spied water vapor four different times, on one occasion there was no signature. The astronomers deduced that almost all of the water vapor was seen to be coming from just two spots on the surface.

“We estimate that approximately 6 kg of water vapour is being produced per second, requiring only a tiny fraction of Ceres to be covered by water ice, which links nicely to the two localised surface features we have observed,” says Laurence O’Rourke, Principal Investigator for the Herschel asteroid and comet observation programme called MACH-11, and second author on the paper.

The two emitting regions are about 5% darker than the average on Ceres. Since darker regions are able to absorb more sunlight, they are then likely the warmest regions, resulting in a more efficient sublimation of small reservoirs of water ice, the team said.

Artist’s impression of Ceres. Credit: ESA.

The Meridiani Journal - Water vapour discovered on dwarf planet Ceres

January 26, 2014

Google Acquires Artificial-Intelligence Company DeepMind

Google has acquired artificial-intelligence company DeepMind Technologies Ltd. The tech website Recode reported that Google paid $400 million for the startup based in London. DeepMind describes itself as a "cutting edge artificial intelligence company. They combine the best techniques from machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms. The company was founded by Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are key areas of research for the search giant. On its website, Google says it uses machine learning and artificial intelligence in its work on language, speech and translation. It isn't clear if the researchers from DeepMind will be working with Google in these areas.

This is Google’s fourth acquisition this month. It was announced on January 4th that Google acquired an Android development company called Bitspin. This was followed by the $3.2 billion acquisition of smart thermostat company, Nest Labs, on January 13th. Two days later, Google acquired a software security company called Impermium.

For Tax Avoidance China has a lot of hidden consumption which would mean the Economy is not so unbalanced

Data released this week showed that the mainland economy grew 7.7 per cent last year, suggesting that the imbalance is worsening, with consumption unchanged at just under 50 per cent of gross domestic product but investment growing.

Some economists, though, say official statistics have it wrong. To avoid taxes, consumers routinely get employers to buy stuff for them. That means the country has underestimated how much consumers spend and has exaggerated the lopsided nature of China's US$9.4 trillion economy.

The implications of their research are far-reaching, at least statistically. If two economists are right, not only do consumers represent a larger part of the mainland's economy than thought, but estimates of its household savings rates may be inflated, investment's dominance may be overstated and China's economy may be larger than current estimates.

Re-Estimating China's Underestimated Consumption

28 page pdf download

More details about Skyscraper water spraying to mitigate air pollution

Nextbigfuture covered the concept of spraying water from skyscrapers to reduce air pollution in cities in China.

Spraying water from skyscrapers could help to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 pollution - tiny particles in the air which are especially hazardous to health - efficiently to a safer level of 35 micrograms per cubic metre, and in as quick as 30 minutes. Air pollution is a big problem in China and this is approach to pollution mitigation is being developed there.

In addition, the process is natural, technologically feasible, efficient and low cost. All the necessary technologies and materials required to make it work are already available, Yu says, from high buildings, towers and aircraft, to weather modification technology and automatic sprinkler heads.

Tests will be performed at Zhejiang University campus first and then Hangzhou city if everything goes well. If we are successful, our work can be followed by the other cities in China and around the world."

Air pollution in China has progressively worsened over the past 30 years, particularly in its megacities, due to rapid economic growth and expansion of industrial activity. According to a Greenpeace report released last week, in 2013, 92 per cent of Chinese cities failed to reach the national standard of a PM2.5 density of no greater than 35 micrograms per cubic metre. Thirty-two cities were double the standard, while the top 10 cities were three times the standard.

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 193

The Carnival of Nuclear Energy 193 is up at he Hiroshima Syndrome

Hiroshima Syndrome summarized all the issues around the Fukukshim unit 4 spent fuel pools

As said earlier, the typical worst-case scenario was the notion that decay heat could have built up enough to boil off all the water, dry out the fuel bundles and burst them into flame. To begin, we have real-world, Fukushima-specific evidence to show that the pools would not get hot enough to boil. The power to all SFP cooling systems was lost on 3/11/11. Recovering power to any SFP cooling system at the station was not possible until the temporary power cable from the 1km-distant transmission system was spliced together and energized on 3/17/11. Several days of inefficient water drops from helicopters provided some help with units 1, 3 and 4 SFPs… very little help. For all intents and purposes, SFP cooling was lost for six days! The level of heat generation in all the pools was at their peak. But, none of the pools boiled. The waters in the unit #3 and 4 pools were heated to about 90 OC and evaporated rapidly enough to produce the “white smoke” reported world-wide, but there was no boiling. AREVA and MIT pointed out that it would have taken at least ten days before the tops of the fuel bundles in any of the pools would have become uncovered. It would have taken 5-7 more days for any of the pools to have evaporated to dryness. But by the time of the SFP power loss in 2013, decay heat had dropped constantly for two years. The rate of heat-up was but a small fraction of the original case. It would have taken three or more weeks - not 10 days – to uncover the tops of stored fuel bundles, if-and-only-if no-one did anything to mitigate the problem.

Will there be a Battery Singularity by 2025 ?

Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, recently explained that lithium-ion batteries have a fifteen year history of exponential price reduction. Between 1991 and 2005, the capacity that could be bought with $100 went up by a factor of 11. The trend continues through to the present day.

SolidEnergy calculates that its materials could be used to make battery packs that cost $130 per kilowatt-hour, in line with U.S. Department of Energy goals for making electric vehicles affordable. Battery pack costs are typically kept secret, but estimates range from $250 to $500 per kilowatt-hour for packs in commercial electric vehicles.

The 85 KWh battery pack for a Tesla S would go from $20,000 to $40,000 down to about $11,000.

Lithium ion could get even cheaper (if only from economies of scale from factories that are ten times larger in China).
Lithium Sulfur batteries are getting close to commercialization. They have the potential to drive costs to about $60 per KWh. This would be about $5000 for a Tesla S battery pack.

The Tesla model S was picked as the Car and Driver car of the year. If it could be made three times cheaper and the follow on generation 3 is planned to be half the price of the model S.

The Battery singularity would be the electric car singularity.

Batteries (and electric engines) that replace gasoline (and combustion engines) but at lower lifetime costs have the potential to completely replace combustion engines. I believe the costs will be brought down and the factory construction and scaling of the supply chain will take until about 2025. We could get to 10 million electric cars per year by about 2020 and then to 100 million by 2025.

This would likely mean that Tesla with its large lead in electric cars would likely be selling as many cars as Toyota now and possibly 2 to 3 times as many. This would be 10 to 30 million cars. Tesla would be worth $300 billion to $2 trillion depending upon the price earnings multiple. Elon Musk has about 27-28% of Tesla. He would be worth $100 billion to $600 billion depending upon exactly how big and profitable Tesla becomes.

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