Friday, May 27, 2016

now we're cooking with gas...

Anonymous Analytics | 

Anonymous is a movement by which individuals across the globe can promote access to information, free speech, and transparency. The movement has made international headlines by exposing The Church of Scientology, supporting anti-corruption movements in Zimbabwe and India, and providing secure platforms for Iranian citizens to criticize their government.

Anonymous Analytics, a faction of Anonymous, has moved the issue of transparency from the political level to the corporate level. To this end, we use our unique skills to expose fraud and corruption among public companies.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

another mechanism for the benefits of fasting

Science | A starvation survival signal fights DNA damage
The alarmone guanosine-3′,5′-(bis)pyrophosphate (ppGpp) shuts down transcription in bacteria that are starving. This “stringent response” helps them conserve energy and survive adverse conditions. Kamarthapu et al. show that ppGpp is also essential for DNA repair. ppGpp couples transcription elongation to the nucleotide excision repair pathway. ppGpp helps backtrack the RNA polymerase away from the DNA damage to facilitate repair. Through inhibiting DNA replication, it also avoids dangerous collisions between the replication fork and backtracked RNA polymerase.

dopamine hegemony primer

Quartz | Neuroscience confirms that to be truly happy, you will always need something more
What’s the sign of a life well lived? If you were to judge by LinkedIn resumes alone, you might be impressed by prestigious job titles and accolades. But in person, the importance of these formal achievements quickly fades away. Regardless of career success, there can be something very dispiriting, almost lifeless, about someone who moves without strife through the ranks of their law firm. Nobody’s deepest yearning is to be a decently-salaried professional whose only goal is to get a table at a trendy restaurant.

Whether we’re striving for a new job, more meaningful relationships, or personal enlightenment, we need to actively want something more in order to live well. In fact, neuroscience shows that the act of seeking itself, rather than the goals we realize, is key to satisfaction.

Neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp argues that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important. All mammals have this seeking system, says Panskepp, wherein dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure, is also involved in coordinating planning activities. This means animals are rewarded for exploring their surroundings and seeking new information for survival. It can also explain why, if rats are given access to a lever that causes them to receive an electric shock, they will repeatedly electrocute themselves.

Panskepp notes in his book, Affective Neuroscience, that the rats do not seem to find electrocution pleasurable“Self-stimulating animals look excessively excited, even crazed, when they worked for this kind of stimulation,” he writes. Instead of being driven by any reward, he argues, the rats were motivated by the need to seek itself.

tricknology primer

Medium | How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist
I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities. That’s why I spent the last three years as Google’s Design Ethicist caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked.
When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want you to show you where it might do the opposite.
Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?
I learned to think this way when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.
And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.
I want to show you how they do it.

the plight of the left-behind

The Guardian | AI will create 'useless class' of human, predicts bestselling historian
It is hard to miss the warnings. In the race to make computers more intelligent than us, humanity will summon a demon, bring forth the end of days, and code itself into oblivion. Instead of silicon assistants we’ll build silicon assassins.
The doomsday story of an evil AI has been told a thousand times. But our fate at the hand of clever cloggs robots may in fact be worse - to summon a class of eternally useless human beings.
At least that is the future predicted by Yuval Noah Harari, a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, whose new book says more of us will be pushed out of employment by intelligent robots and on to the economic scrap heap.
Harari rose to prominence when his 2014 book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, became an international bestseller. Two years on, the book is still being talked about. Bill Gates asked Melinda to read it on holiday. It would spark great conversations around the dinner table, he told her. We know because he said so on his blog this week.
When a book is a hit, the publisher wants more. And so Harari has been busy. His next title, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is not out until September but early copies have begun to circulate. Its cover states simply: “What made us sapiens will make us gods”. It follows on from where Sapiens ends, in a provocative, and certainly speculative, gallop through the hopes and dreams that will shape the future of the species.
And the nightmares. Because even as the book has humans gaining godlike powers, that is only one eventuality Harari explores. It might all go pear-shaped, of course: we sapiens have a knack for hashing things up. Instead of morphing into omnipotent, all-knowing masters of the universe, the human mob might end up jobless and aimless, whiling away our days off our nuts on drugs, with VR headsets strapped to our faces. Welcome to the next revolution.
Harari calls it “the rise of the useless class” and ranks it as one of the most dire threats of the 21st century. In a nutshell, as artificial intelligence gets smarter, more humans are pushed out of the job market. No one knows what to study at college, because no one knows what skills learned at 20 will be relevant at 40. Before you know it, billions of people are useless, not through chance but by definition.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

dropping farmland prices? curious...

Zerohedge | For The American Farmer "It's Death By A 1,000 Knives”- US Farmland Values Plunge Most In 30 Years
Not so long ago, US farmland - whose prices were until recently rising exponentially - was considered by many to be the next asset bubble. Then, exactly one year ago, the fairytale officially ended, and as reported in February, US farmland saw its first price drop since 1986. It was also about a year ago when looking ahead, very few bankers expected price appreciation and more than a quarter of survey respondents expect cropland values to continue declining.
They were right.
According to several regional Fed reports released last Thursday, real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter.

replicants. why deal with human dna legal wrangling?

Gizmodo | Experts Held a Secret Meeting to Consider Building a Human Genome From Scratch
Earlier this week, over a hundred scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs gathered to discuss the radical possibility of creating a synthetic human genome. Strangely, journalists were not invited, and attendees were told to keep a tight lip. Which, given the weighty subject matter, is obvious cause for concern.
The idea of creating a synthetic human genome is qualitatively different than gene editing. Instead of scientists patching a gene here and a gene there, they would use chemicals to manufacture all the DNA contained in human chromosomes. Synthetic genomics, unlike genetic modifications, in that it doesn’t use naturally occurring genes. Instead, it relies on the custom-designed base pair series. This opens to the door to a greater array of possibilities, as geneticists wouldn’t be bound by the two base pairs produced by nature.
Currently, scientists see synthetic genomics as a way to build novel microbes and animals, but the same principle applies to humans. It thus raises the prospect of custom-designed humans, or even quasi-humans, without any parents. It’s a massive bombshell of a topic—one requiring serious rumination and discussion. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, this futuristic endeavor appears to be getting off on the wrong foot.
As science writer Andrew Pollack reports in the New York Times, the prospect of synthetic human genomes was discussed at a secret meeting held at Harvard Medical School this past Tuesday. Pollack says that those in attendance were told “not to contact the media or to tweet about the meeting.”
According to George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard medical school and a key organizer of the proposed project, the whole thing is an unfortunate misunderstanding. Church says the meeting wasn’t really about synthetic human genomes, but rather it was about efforts to improve the ability to synthesize long strands of DNA, which geneticists could use to create all manner of animals, plants and microbes. Church was quoted in the NYT as saying: “They’re painting a picture which I don’t think represents the project. If that were the project, I’d be running away from it.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

zika fearmongering with rio olympics - why?

Independent | Rio Olympics could spark 'full blown global health disaster', say Harvard scientists
The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro could spark a “full-blown public health disaster”, doctors have warned.
Since the Zika virus was first identified in Brazil in May 2015, the disease's spread through Latin America has been declared a health emergency by the World Health Organisation and the number of suspected cases in Rio is the highest of any state in the country.
The continued presence of the virus ahead of the summer Olympics has caused athletes and health specialists to question the risks involved in allowing the Games to go ahead with hundreds of thousands of spectators travelling to the city.

collective intelligence

Yahoo | Swarm A.I. Correctly Predicts the Kentucky Derby, Accurately Picking all Four Horses of the Superfecta at 540 to 1 Odds
SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwired - May 9, 2016) - If you've been following the predictions made by UNU, a new "Swarm Intelligence" platform from Unanimous A.I., you might bet on the Kentucky Derby this weekend and won big, really BIG. That's because a day before the race, UNU's picks were published for the first four horses, in order. It's a bet called the Superfecta that paid 540 to 1 odds. And that's exactly how the horses came in. And this is not the first stunning pick UNU has made.
How is this possible? It goes back to the birds and bees. Ants too. And fish. From swarms and flocks, to schools and colonies -- countless species have evolved techniques to amplify their intelligence in closed-loop systems that pool their insights and converge on optimal decisions. Biologists call this "Swarm Intelligence" and it allows groups to amplify their collective IQ beyond the capacity of individuals, proving the old adage -- many minds are better than one. 
Until recently, the human species has been unable to take advantage of this fundamental biological technique, for we didn't evolve the ability to swarm. Enter Unanimous A.I., a Silicon Valley startup founded in 2014 by serial entrepreneur and researcher Dr. Louis Rosenberg. The core question Rosenberg set out to answer was: Can humans swarm, and if so can we amplify our intelligence beyond the ability of individuals? The answer appears to be a resounding yes.
Unanimous spent the last two years building a swarm intelligence platform called UNU that enables groups to get together as online swarms -- combining their thoughts, opinions, and intuitions in real-time to answer questions, make predictions, reach decisions, and even play games as a unified collective intelligence. To quantify how smart these UNU swarms really are, researchers at Unanimous regularly convene swarms and ask them to make predictions on high profile events, testing whether or not many minds are truly better than one.

74 genetic variants linked to educational attainment and still explain less than 0.5% of all variation

Nature | Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment

Educational attainment is strongly influenced by social and other environmental factors, but genetic factors are estimated to account for at least 20% of the variation across individuals
1. Here we report the results of a genome-wide association study (GWAS) for educational attainment that extends our earlier discovery sample12 of 101,069 individuals to 293,723 individuals, and a replication study in an independent sample of 111,349 individuals from the UK Biobank. We identify 74 genome-wide significant loci associated with the number of years of schooling completed. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms associated with educational attainment are disproportionately found in genomic regions regulating gene expression in the fetal brain. Candidate genes are preferentially expressed in neural tissue, especially during the prenatal period, and enriched for biological pathways involved in neural development. Our findings demonstrate that, even for a behavioural phenotype that is mostly environmentally determined, a well-powered GWAS identifies replicable associated genetic variants that suggest biologically relevant pathways. Because educational attainment is measured in large numbers of individuals, it will continue to be useful as a proxy phenotype in efforts to characterize the genetic influences of related phenotypes, including cognition and neuropsychiatric diseases.

robot lawyer, no, I mean AI, no, I mean, not human... I give up

Fortune | Meet Ross, the World's First Robot Lawyer

Ross, the first artificially intelligent attorney, just got a job.
Global law firm Baker & Hostetler, one of the nation’s largest, recently announced that it has hired a robot lawyer created by ROSS Intelligence, Futurism reports. Ross will be employed in the law firm’s bankruptcy practice which currently employs close to 50 lawyers.
Ross was built on IBM’s  IBM 1.16%  Watson. It can understand your questions, and respond with a hypothesis backed by references and citations. It improves on legal research by providing you with only the most highly relevant answers rather than thousands of results you would need to sift through. Additionally, it is constantly monitoring current litigation so that it can notify you about recent court decisions that may affect your case, and it will continue to learn from experience, gaining more knowledge and operating more quickly, the more you interact with it.

there's treasure in them thar hills

WTOP | National project to harness microbes for health, environment
WASHINGTON (AP) — We share our bodies and our surroundings with teeming communities of microbes that are crucial to the health of people and the planet, and now the Obama administration is beginning a major project to better understand those invisible ecosystems — even control them.
The National Microbiome Initiative being announced by White House science officials Friday aims to bring together scientists who study the microbes that live in the human gut and in the oceans, in farm soil and in hospitals — to speed discoveries that could bring big payoffs.
Consider: Taking antibiotics alters the diversity of your gut bacteria, which eventually settle into a new normal. The 2010 oil spill altered microbes in the Gulf of Mexico, which likewise settled into a new normal, said Dr. Jo Handelsman, associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Despite the parallels, “we have no idea if that’s a healthier norm or a less healthy norm than before, and no idea how to fix it,” said Handelsman, who led development of the initiative.
Leading researchers have long urged a national collaboration as the best way to learn how microbes interact with each other and their environments.
“I’m excited. It’s a long time coming and much-needed endeavor,” said Dr. Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at the Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago who pushed for the project. “We need to understand the microbial engine of the earth.”

RNA fractal unfolding

Science | Control of neuronal synapse specification by a highly dedicated alternative splicing program

Alternative RNA splicing represents a central mechanism for expanding the coding power of genomes. Individual RNA-binding proteins can control alternative splicing choices in hundreds of RNA transcripts, thereby tuning amounts and functions of large numbers of cellular proteins. We found that the RNA-binding protein SLM2 is essential for functional specification of glutamatergic synapses in the mouse hippocampus. Genome-wide mapping revealed a markedly selective SLM2-dependent splicing program primarily consisting of only a few target messenger RNAs that encode synaptic proteins. Genetic correction of a single SLM2-dependent target exon in the synaptic recognition molecule neurexin-1 was sufficient to rescue synaptic plasticity and behavioral defects in Slm2 knockout mice. These findings uncover a highly selective alternative splicing program that specifies synaptic properties in the central nervous system.

jill watson, chatbot, teaching assistant

Sydney Morning Herald | Professor reveals to students that his assistant was an AI all along

To help with his class this year, a Georgia Tech professor hired Jill Watson, a teaching assistant unlike any other in the world. Throughout the semester, she answered questions online for students, relieving the professor's overworked teaching staff.

But, in fact, Jill Watson was an artificial intelligence bot.

Ashok Goel, a computer science professor, did not reveal Watson's true identity to students until after they'd turned in their final exams.

Students were amazed. "I feel like I am part of history because of Jill and this class!" wrote one in the class's online forum. "Just when I wanted to nominate Jill Watson as an outstanding TA in the CIOS survey!" said another.

Now Goel is forming a business to bring the chatbot to the wider world of education. While he doesn't foresee the chatbot replacing teaching assistants or professors, he expects the chatbot's question-answering abilities to be an invaluable asset for massive online open courses, where students often drop out and generally don't receive the chance to engage with a human instructor. With more human-like interaction, Goel expects online learning could become more appealing to students and lead to better educational outcomes.
"To me this is a grand challenge," Goel said. "Education is such a huge priority for the entire human race."
At the start of this semester Goel provided his students with a list of nine teaching assistants, including Jill, the automated question and answering service Goel developed with the help of some of his students and IBM.

Goel and his teaching assistants receive more than 10,000 questions a semester from students on the course's online forum. Sometimes the same questions are asked again and again. Last year he began to wonder if he could automate the burden of answering so many repetitive questions.

As Goel looked for a technology that could help, he settled on IBM Watson, which he had used for several other projects. Watson, an artificial intelligence system, was designed to answer questions, so it seemed like a strong fit.

To train the system to answer questions correctly, Goel fed it forum posts from the class's previous semesters. This gave Jill an extensive background in common questions and how they should be answered.

Goel tested the system privately for months, having his teaching assistants examine whether Jill's answers were correct. Initially the system struggled with similar questions such as "Where can I find assignment two?" and "When is assignment two due?" Goel tweaked the software, adding more layers of decision-making to it. Eventually Jill reached the point where its answers were good enough.

Monday, May 9, 2016

cellular "patching" to extend function

Science Direct | First skin-to-eye stem cell transplant in humans successful
Researchers have safely transplanted stem cells derived from a patient's skin to the back of the eye in an effort to restore vision. The research is being presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) this week in Seattle, Wash.
A small piece of skin from the patient's arm was collected and modified into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). The iPSCs were then transformed into eye cells, which were transplanted into the patient's eye. The transplanted cells survived without any adverse events for over a year and resulted in slightly improved vision.

packing my bags...

RT | Land of plenty: Duma committee approves bill for free handover of Russian territory to foreigners
A plot of land in Russia’s Far East could be yours, after a Russian lower house committee approved a bill that, if passed, will introduce the free handover of land to Russians and foreigners who want to build homes or start businesses in agriculture or tourism in the region.
The Russian lower house Committee for Real Estate and Construction recommended that the State Duma approve the bill in the second reading in a session coming up on April 12. The parliament already approved the draft in the first reading on December 18, 2015.
The current document provides for the free handover of 1 hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land to foreign citizens. However, foreigners will only be allowed to use the land, and the registration of full property rights is only possible after the naturalization of potential owners.
The original bill was drafted by the Russian government in November last year. The explanations attached to the document read that the authorities expect the free land handover to attract more people to the Far East Federal District, to slow or stop the outward migration of locals, and to boost the socio-economic development of the territory.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

life about to get real unpleasant

Economic Collapse Blog | Rail Traffic Depression: 292 Union Pacific Engines Are Sitting In The Arizona Desert Doing Nothing
We continue to get more evidence that the U.S. economy has entered a major downturn.  Just last week, I wrote about how U.S. GDP growth numbers have been declining for three quarters in a row, and previously I wrote about how corporate defaults have surged to their highest level since the last financial crisis.  Well, now we are getting some very depressing numbers from the rail industry.  As you will see below, U.S. rail traffic was down more than 11 percent from a year ago in April.  That is an absolutely catastrophic number, and the U.S. rail industry is feeling an enormous amount of pain right now.  This also tells us that “the real economy” is really slowing down, because less stuff is being shipped by rail all over the nation.
One of the economic commentators that I have really come to respect is Wolf Richter of  He has a really sharp eye for what is really going on in the economy and in the financial world, and I find myself quoting him more and more as time goes by.  If you have not checked out his site yet, I very much encourage you to do so.
On Wednesday, he posted a very alarming article about what is happening to our rail industry.  The kinds of numbers that we have been seeing recently are the kinds of numbers that we would expect if an economic depression was starting.  The following is an excerpt from that article
Total US rail traffic in April plunged 11.8% from a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported today. Carloads of bulk commodities such as coal, oil, grains, and chemicals plummeted 16.1% to 944,339 units.
The coal industry is in a horrible condition and cannot compete with US natural gas at current prices. Coal-fired power plants are being retired. Demand for steam coal is plunging. Major US coal miners – even the largest one – are now bankrupt. So in April, carloads of coal plummeted 40% from the already beaten-down levels a year ago.
Because rail traffic is down so dramatically, many operators have large numbers of engines that are just sitting around collecting dust.  In his article, Wolf Richter shared photographs from Google Earth that show some of the 292 Union Pacific engines that are sitting in the middle of the Arizona desert doing absolutely nothing.  The following is one of those photographs…

Saturday, May 7, 2016

screw self-esteem - relentless self-introspection without emotional judgement

The Atlantic | Why Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem

In 1986, California state assemblyman John Vasconcellos came up with what he believed could be “a vaccine for major social ills” like teen pregnancy and drug abuse: a special task-force to promote self-esteem among Californians. The effort folded three years later, and was widely considered not to have accomplished much.
To Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, that’s not surprising. Though self-esteem continues to reverberate as a pop-psych cure-all, the quest for inflated egos, in her view, is misguided and largely pointless.
There’s nothing wrong with being confident, to answer Demi Lovato’s question. The trouble is how we try to achieve high self-regard. Often, it’s by undermining others or comparing our achievements to those around us. That’s not just unsustainable, Neff argues, it can also lead to narcissism or depressive bouts during hard times.
Neff proposes a better path: Self-compassion. In other words, treating yourself just like you would your best friends, even when they (you) screw up.

radiation reduces chronic inflammation

Spiegel | The Chernobyl Conundrum: Is Radiation As Bad As We Thought?

Who would voluntarily breathe in radioactive gas? These days, there are people who do. They swear by the notorious noble gas radon, created by the decay of uranium: They inhale it deeply.

As has now become clear, these people are right: Radioactivity is good for them.
Most believers in the healing qualities of radiation are suffering from a chronic inflammatory disease: arthritis, asthma or psoriasis, for example. The gas, they argue, alleviates their problems for months, which is why they lay in bubbling radon water offered by some healing spas. In Bad Kreuznach, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, brave spa guests even trek into the tunnels of an abandoned mercury mine, attracted by the radon-filled air in the mountain. Are they crazy?

These are the initial findings of an ongoing large-scale trial conducted by researchers from four German institutes. The leader is radiobiologist Claudia Fournier, from the Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt.

medical pods gonna be real, but not for you

Science | Shaping cells to mature together

Tissue engineering requires the use of degradable scaffolds that provide temporary support and an architectural guide that controls the initial growth and proliferation of seeded cells to form a desired tissue. Vrij et al. develop a more general approach in which cellular aggregates progressively fuse and assemble to form tissues. By controlling the general shape of the well into which the cells or clusters are seeded, they introduce anisotropy into both the shape of the growing objects and in deformation upon compaction. This encourages the formation of a primitive vasculature and self-scaffolding as the final tissue is assembled from the smaller building blocks.

another step in understanding epigenetics

Science | Getting more than Mom's looks

Smoking while pregnant is bad, leading to increased risk of lung disease, cancer, and obesity in offspring. But how does smoking affect the epigenetic landscape? Bauer et al. investigated this, at a base-pair level, in mothers and their children at birth through 4 years old. They find that maternal smoking targets functionally relevant enhancer elements in the genome, leading to impaired lung function in children. These epigenetic marks are similar across cell types, show stability over time, and occur when epigenetic shifts are most pronounced. Thus, by systematically studying the association between genetic variation and DNA methylation, they document a link between epigenetic changes and environmental exposure.

nature and nurture, exactly where is the difference?

Science | Inheriting Mom's exercise regime

Mounting evidence suggests that parents pass on more than just their DNA to their offspring. In the latest example, Eclarinal et al. examined the effect of exercise during pregnancy on the voluntary physical activity of the offspring in adulthood. The researchers kept pregnant mice in cages with either an unlocked or locked running wheel and monitored their physical activity. Daughters of moms who could exercise showed increased activity and voluntary exercise some 60 to 300 days after they were born. The findings complement others showing that in mice, the maternal environment can influence the metabolic status of progeny, and in humans, maternal exercise benefits offspring.

roundup resistance is a stupid application of genetic modification

Science | Cyanobacteria put to work as chemists

Chemists continue to make great strides in raising the efficiency of inorganic catalysts that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Of course, cyanobacteria have been busily carrying out more or less that same reaction for billions of years. Köninger et al. enlist their help in order to cleanly source hydrogen equivalents (protons and electrons) for the reduction of carbon-carbon double bonds in enones. The authors introduce an enoate reductase enzyme to catalyze the formal hydrogenation with high enantioselectivity and photosynthetically derived oxygen as the sole by-product.

don't trust your memories - the worst lie is the lie of omission

Psychonomic Bulletin and Review | A neural signature of contextually mediated intentional forgetting

The mental context in which we experience an event plays a fundamental role in how we organize our memories of an event (e.g. in relation to other events) and, in turn, how we retrieve those memories later. Because we use contextual representations to retrieve information pertaining to our past, processes that alter our representations of context can enhance or diminish our capacity to retrieve particular memories. We designed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment to test the hypothesis that people can intentionally forget previously experienced events by changing their mental representations of contextual information associated with those events. We had human participants study two lists of words, manipulating whether they were told to forget (or remember) the first list prior to studying the second list. We used pattern classifiers to track neural patterns that reflected contextual information associated with the first list and found that, consistent with the notion of contextual change, the activation of the first-list contextual representation was lower following a forget instruction than a remember instruction. Further, the magnitude of this neural signature of contextual change was negatively correlated with participants’ abilities to later recall items from the first list.

peak oil tidbit

Baker Institute | Energy Subsidy Reform in the Persian Gulf: The End of the Big Oil Giveaway

Many thought it could never happen. The energy subsidy reforms that have gathered pace this year in the Persian Gulf monarchies were long considered to be impossible or illegitimate, violations of a state-society “social contract” in which welfare benefits are provided by the regime to buy public support. But since Dubai’s pathbreaking reform of 2011, the old hypotheses that said Gulf energy subsidies were sacrosanct1 have been overturned by the evidence.

Energy subsidies have long outlived their usefulness. Energy products such as electricity and gasoline have been distributed domestically at low prices that, in some cases, have been fixed since the era of oil nationalization in the 1970s. Over time, government provision of cheap energy had the unintended consequence of encouraging high per capita demand. Recently governments in the Gulf monarchies have begun to challenge the notion that citizens are entitled to cheap energy. All six monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain) have raised prices on transportation fuel (see Table 1). Three have increased prices on electricity and water in citizens’ homes. Meanwhile, electricity and water subsidies for businesses have been reduced in five of the six monarchies. Across the Gulf, Iran has taken similar steps.

Policymakers hope higher energy prices can produce a number of helpful effects:
• Relieve pressure on government budgets at a time when oil and gas revenues are low
• Reduce domestic demand for oil and gas that can otherwise be exported
• Increase the relative attractions of noncarbon sources of energy
• Encourage conservation and efficiency, which helps reduce carbon emissions and the energy intensity of GDP while increasing overall productivity

Energy subsidy reforms also signal a change in state-society relations, at least in the way those relations are portrayed by political scientists. Since subsidies and other state benefits are deployed to build legitimacy for autocratic regimes, they are considered politically risky to retract. Increased energy prices have caused unrest in other oil-exporting countries.

However, the Gulf experience (at the time of writing) has gone smoothly. Most price increases have been modest and most energy products remain heavily subsidized and among the world’s cheapest. But political leaders have warned that further increases are likely. This brief presents a snapshot of the progress of subsidy reform in the Gulf, documenting policy changes in all six monarchies and briefly examining the role of energy and the state.

we don't even know what most life on earth even looks like

Ars Technica | Tree of life shows that trees are a rarity
Despite the best efforts of Walt Disney and Elton John, it is the tree of life, not the circle, that remains the primary way that organisms are classified and by which their evolutionary relationships are depicted. The tree was initially made by categorizing life forms with similar features into groups; this method distinguished not only amphibians from reptiles but also protists from amoeba.
Genetic data expanded the tree by allowing us to use similarities in genetic sequences—we didn’t have to actually see anything in order to determine how everyone is related to each other. Now, genomic studies have expanded the tree still further, allowing us to place species we can’t even grow in the lab onto their proper branch.
It is hardly news that most life on Earth is unicellular. But the newest tree of life, published in Nature Microbiology, reveals that most of life's diversity is bacterial and that much of it belongs to a recently discovered branch of especially tiny bacteria that no one has ever grown or seen under a microscope. All we have is their DNA, mixed in with the DNA of everything else that inhabits the same ecosystem.

are you a diminishing return?

Quartz | After 150 years, the American productivity miracle is over
Economist Robert Gordon has spent his career studying what makes the US labor force one of the world’s most productive.

And he has some bad news.

American workers still produce some of most economic activity per hour of any economy in the world. But the near-miraculous productivity growth that essentially transformed the US into one of the world’s most affluent societies is permanently in the country’s rearview mirror.
In his magisterial new book, The Rise and Fall of American Growth, the Northwestern University professor lays out the case that the productivity miracle underlying the American way of life was largely a one-time deal. It was driven by a flurry of technologies—electric lights, telephones, automobiles, indoor plumbing—that fundamentally transformed millions of American lives within a matter of decades.

By comparison, Gordon argues, today’s technological advancements—Uber, Facebook,—will touch the productivity of the American economy lightly—if at all. And a combination of demographic factors, such as the aging of the US population, and sociological problems such as growing inequality and educational performance that’s worsened in comparison to many other rich nations, will stymie economic growth for the foreseeable future.

more steps toward our cybernetic future

Forbes | Google Patent Application Shows Device That's Injected Directly Into Your Eyeball To Improve Vision

Google GOOGL +1.51% has a penchant for far-out tech that never reaches the market. The latest is a method of injecting a device into an eyeball, mostly as a means to correct poor vision. Described in a patent application dated April 28, 2016, the device is injected in fluid that then solidifies to couple the device with the eye’s lens capsule, the transparent membrane surrounding the lens. Injection would take place ”following the removal of the natural lens from the lens capsule,” the patent reads.
The planned device injected into the eye contains a number of tiny components: storage, sensors, radio, battery and an electronic lens. The eyeball device gets power wirelessly from an “energy harvesting antenna.” The patent describes what looks like an external device to interface with the eyeball computer. The two will communicate through a radio and the "interface device" contains the processor to do the necessary computing.

self-directed evolution, filling in the gaps

Reuters | For first time, scientists grow two-week-old human embryos in lab
Scientists have for the first time grown human embryos outside of the mother for almost two full weeks into development, giving unique insight into what they say is the most mysterious stage of early human life.
Scientists had previously only been able to study human embryos as a culture in a lab dish until the seventh day of development when they had to implant them into the mother's uterus to survive and develop further.
But using a culture method previously tested to grow mouse embryos outside of a mother, the teams were able to conduct almost hour by hour observations of human embryo development to see how they develop and organize themselves up to day 13.
"This it the most enigmatic and mysterious stage of human development," said Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a University of Cambridge professor who co-led the work. "It is a time when the basic body shape is determined."
The work, covered in two studies published on Wednesday in the journal Nature and Nature Cell Biology, showed how the cells that will eventually form the human body self-organize into the basic structure of a post-implantation human embryo.
"Embryo development is an extremely complex process and while our system may not be able to fully reproduce every aspect of this process, it has allowed us to reveal a remarkable self-organizing capacity ... that was previously unknown," said Marta Shahbazi, a researcher at Britain's University of Cambridge who was part of the research teams.
Robin Lovell-Badge, an expert in stem cells at Britain's Francis Crick Institute who was not directly involved in this work, said it provided "a first glimpse" of how the early human embryo develops at the point when it would usually implant in the womb lining, becoming invisible and impossible to study.