0

NASA Gets An Unexpected Budget Increase—Yes, You Read That Right

nasacrewWhat’s the first thing you think of when someone says NASA? Maybe the Apollo missions, maybe the ISS, maybe the Challenger disaster. Whatever it is, I bet one thing no one thinks of anymore is piles and piles of money. NASA is perennially underfunded to the extent that its spokespeople have said its meager budget puts people at risk for asteroid hits, may jeopardize future Mars missions, and generally spells nothing good for the future of America’s space program. So far, 2014 has been a decent year for the space agency, though, with the successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft and the renewal of seven planetary missions. But 2014—and beyond—just got a whole lot better. When the House of Representatives passed the “CRomnibus” bill last week, thankfully averting another government shutdown, it actually gave NASA more than it asked for, raising the agency’s budget by 2% for next year.

The Senate passed the bill over the weekend, and now all President Obama has to do is sign it. Considering that the bill allocates $550 million more for NASA than Obama requested for 2015 (and that a bunch of other hitches were ironed out over the past week), there’s no reason to think he won’t . What that means is NASA is poised to receive just over $18 billion total next year, which is its highest level of funding in a while—$364 million more than they received last year.

Tags: ,

0

What Happens When You Put A Worm’s Brain Inside A Robot?

openwormtransparentScientists and transhumanists such as Ray Kurzweil talk a lot about radical life extension and immortality, which they think can be achieved in a few different ways. One approach involves improving our physical bodies to the point that they’re pretty much immune to disease and aging, either through cellular and genetic manipulation or the use of nanotechnology that cleanses the body from the inside. Another method of achieving immortality involves ditching our biological bodies and uploading our brains into computers — not unlike the plot of Transcendence, but presumably with a lot less stupid evil. Anyway, the idea is that, eventually, we can all be body-less avatars flying around doing whatever we want, leaving these earthly trappings behind. Of course, that raises some pretty hefty questions, such as whether or not one’s avatar or virtual self is really that person, or if something’s lost in the translation. Given that it’s pretty tough to know for sure either way, scientists are trying to do more than simply speculate about this possible future. Thus, scientists wanted to start small — with a worm brain.

Tags: ,

0

Virtual Shapes Can Now Be Felt, Not Just Seen

hapticMost people are familiar with haptic technology, even if they aren’t familiar with the term. The field of haptics involves the science of touch, which means that any technology that stimulates one’s sense of touch is considered haptic — your vibrating phone (or tattoo, if you’re a high-tech Nokia customer), your Wii remote that shakes and rumbles when you crash your Mario Kart, or the scientifically fabricated work of science fiction that allows you to feel what you read. This is the stuff Aldous Huxley wrote about when he described the “feelies,” futuristic movie theaters that provide patrons a full sensory experience to complement the on-screen story. Haptic technology has been developing like mad recently, and not just for entertainment purposes. It’s being used to help train surgeons and rehabilitate patients recovering from strokes. And now, scientists have integrated ultrasound into haptics, converting digital images into physical ones with which people can actually interact. Yep, I’m talking about virtual images that can be touched and felt.

Tags: ,

0

New Research Suggests There May Be A Parallel Universe In Which Time Moves “Backward”

big bang arrowOne of the most brain- and reality-bending theories out there involves the multiverse — a hypothetical parallel universe, or set of countless universes, that run alongside our universe and reality. Some people think there’s a parallel universe for every possible decision — in one, you decided not to take that job in New York City; in the other, you work down the block from the Empire State Building. Most people who believe in the multiverse believe that these various universes have a relationship with one another. While scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson espouse the idea, some physicists believe it’s more of a philosophical idea than a scientific one. Recently, a team of scientists from the UK and Canada published a paper in the Physical Review Letters that suggests some interesting ideas about time — namely, that it doesn’t necessarily move in the direction we think it does (more or less known as forward). The researchers also suggest that our universe may be one of two created by the Big Bang.

Tags: , ,

0

Isaac Asimov’s Robot Visions Is Truly Visionary

Robot VisionsMost people are familiar with Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, a collection of nine short stories first published together in 1950 (the individual stories themselves almost all came out separately in the 1940s). The stories include Asimov’s groundbreaking robot tales, as well as principles such as the three laws of robotics, which have influenced pretty much every robot story since. His book Robot Visions combines those stories with short works of nonfiction in which he reflects on everything from the feasibility of the three laws to his predictions about the roles of robots in the future. The combination of fiction and nonfiction provides a wonderful lens into Asimov’s mind, as well as important points and questions regarding robots that are becoming more and more pressing and relevant.

Asimov was highly influenced by R.U.R., the first work featuring robots—killer robots who overthrow humanity, to be specific. In a short essay called “Robots I Have Known,” Asimov references author Karal Capek’s work, and describes the idea of robots that emerged from the play and from other robot fiction as “a sinister form, large, metallic, vaguely human, moving like a machine and speaking with no emotion.” It’s this description that Asimov seeks to challenge, particularly with regard to his creation of the laws that constrain robots and thus protect humanity. First, a robot cannot harm or allow harm to come to a human (this was later broadened into the “zeroth” law, which substitutes the word “humanity” in for “human,” thus allowing robots to act on the behalf of the collective good, rather than simply the individual good). Secondly, a robot must obey orders given by humans (unless they violate law number one), and third, that a robot must act in self-preservation (so long as this doesn’t violate laws one or two).

Tags: ,

0

Smoking Depletes Male Chromosomes In Men

smokinDespite the numerous health risks associated with smoking, a lot of people do it anyway. My mom was a smoker all throughout my childhood, so my brother and I grew up constantly hiding her cigarettes (and getting in major trouble for it) and generally thinking there was nothing grosser than cigarette smoke. In retrospect, I actually rather appreciate this, as cigarettes remain perhaps the one vice I’ve ever been tempted to try. And as if you need one more reason not to smoke, according to a recent study published in Science, the Y chromosome of men who smoke may disappear from their blood cells.

Men have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome; women have two X chromosomes. When cells divide, the chromosomes are all copied and sorted into the two new cells. Sometimes as this happens, chromosomes disappear, which typically causes the new cell to die. But cells can keep living without a Y chromosome. The disappearance of Y chromosomes has been documented for over 50 years, and tends to happen more in older men rather than younger ones. Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden learned from a previous study that the loss of those Y chromosomes correlates with a higher risk of cancer for men.

Tags: ,