Friday, July 28, 2017

TODAY'S TECH ROUNDUP/PLOT BUNNY BONANZA



Exciting news in the world of science and technology today, dear readers! Or, as we SFR authors like to say, “Here be plot bunnies!”

--“Wetware” coming soon.  That is, if the Department of Defense has anything to say about it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding six teams to create an implant that can record the activity of as many as one million brain cells (neurons) at once and send basic signals back into the brain. This is a fraction of the brain’s power (the average brain contains 80 billion neurons), but it’s a big leap from the few neurons we can monitor currently. Researchers say the tech could one day be used to restore senses, read thoughts or “even create consciousness itself.” (Or, more probably, it will have us all wired to the internet 24/7/365.) Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has also dropped cash on a company working on a brain/computer interface. Can the world SF author William Gibson (Neuromancer) envisioned be far off? (Adam Piore in TechnologyReview.com as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--Talk to the hand. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed an electronic glove that can translate the movements of American Sign Language into text. By “interpreting” the signs in text on a smartphone or computer screen, the innovation makes it possible for the hearing impaired to make themselves easily understood by persons who do not sign. The glove could also be used to manipulate objects in virtual reality sometime in the future. The best news of all—the prototype glove cost only $100 to build. (Avery Thompson in PopularMechanics.com as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)


--No time for cruises near the Antarctic. In the exciting conclusion to a drama scientists have been watching for years, the Larsen-C Ice Shelf calved an iceberg the size of Delaware last week as a huge rift in the shelf widened and split the berg from the continent. Antarctica is 12 percent smaller because of the loss of the piece of shelf, which scientists calculate weighs one trillion tons. The iceberg had no immediate effect on sea levels, but experts point out that the Larsen-C shelf plays a crucial role in holding back the flow of Antarctica’s glaciers into the sea. The event could trigger a chain reaction, with more ice sliding into the ocean and raising sea levels by as much as four inches. All scientists will say with any certainty is that the future stability of the Larsen-C shelf is at risk. (Reuters.com as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--Like coffee? Drink up! In welcome news to writers, editors and agents everywhere, two new studies show significant health benefits to drinking coffee. In fact, the more you drink, the more you benefit in terms of lower risk of death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. A study of 186,000 adults by Veronica Setiawan of the University of Southern California and her team showed mortality risk dropped 12 percent for those who drank just one cup of coffee per day. The risk dropped 18 percent for those who drank two to three cups per day.  A second, 16-year study conducted on over 500,000 adults in Europe indicated the men who drank the most coffee had a 12 percent lower risk of death. For women, the risk dropped by seven percent. No one knows yet why coffee has such beneficial effects, although it is known that the drink contains strong antioxidants. Both studies agreed caffeine was not the secret ingredient, however. Decaf produced similar benefits. (Science.com as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

--But decaf only after 4:00 p.m. A new study shows poor sleep quality may increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. The study asked 101 people who already had genetic risk factors for the disease (but no symptoms) to complete a questionnaire about their sleep habits. Then samples of their spinal fluid were taken. Those who reported sleep problems had more biological markers of the brain disease—buildups and tangles of toxic proteins (such as beta-amyloid and tau), brain-cell damage and inflammation. Researchers admit the link between poor sleep and later Alzheimer’s is not clear. But it is known that the brain uses REM sleep time for “housekeeping”, clearing out harmful toxins and organizing information. Sleep loss could interfere with this process. (New York Times as reported in The Week, July 28, 2017)

Cheers, Donna

1 comment:

  1. Ugh! No wet-net for me. That's getting way too close to some of the sci-fi tech I write, and I know the impact that had on my fictional characters!

    Pretty sobering about the Larsen-C. New Mexico also seems to be (at times anyway) following one possible climate change prediction of becoming a wetter climate. Though some claim this is just a "natural trend," I can't help but believe humans are a major contributing factor. We're in the middle of one of the largest mass extinctions on record--and with not an asteroid in sight.

    Ironically, to connect two of your blog topics, if we are in a climate-altering trend, one of the first crops we might lose would be coffee! Imagining life without my two morning cups would be future shock, indeed!

    I've always believed that coffee, in moderation, is a good thing. I can't drink "leaded" coffee after noon though, or I'm still too wired to sleep at night.

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