Cloning Cancer and Cures

Researchers have reset malignant tumor cells into stem cells that were then used to create mouse embryos, some of which successfully grew into healthy adult mice, according to a new study “Reprogramming of a melanoma genome by nuclear transplantation” published in the August 1, 2004 edition of the journal Genes and Development. The stem cells derived from the tumor cells were found to have spread throughout most of the tissues in the mouse. When the genes for the cancer were turned back on the tumors developed more rapidly than in normal mice.

The finding appears to prove several things, such as:

  • cancer can be “turned off” even though the specific genes involved cannot be corrected;
  • mature cells, even those that are malignant, can be reverted into stem cells; and
  • the body is capable of reversing cancer.

Despite this success, experimentation with human stem cells using federal funding is prohibited in the United States. The idea that stem cells from embryos are a commodity to be used in experimentation is repellent to those who do not hold a materialistic view of the universe. In the meantime, the people most likely to benefit from such research continue to suffer and die from cancer and other diseases.

Shadows, Rings, and Mystery Hazes

NASA yesterday released a new image from Cassini of the shadow of Saturn cast across its rings. While a wealth of images have been returned by Cassini in the past few weeks, only a relative few have been processed. The rest remain in raw format awaiting future processing. All images, raw and processed, are available on the Cassini-Huygens website.

The day before, NASA released a false-color image of Titan that brings out the haze layers in its atmosphere. Such images will help scientists better understand the activity in Titan’s atmosphere.

Data Mining the Process of Aging

A lot of work has gone into mapping the human (and other species) genome. In the process, researchers learned that understanding the blueprint of life is much more complicated than categorizing specific genes. DNA and its composite genes are simply the software of life. Evolution created nanomachines like enzymes to run this software. The code is turned into amino acids which are turned into proteins which cascade up into all the infrastructure and activity that makes up life.

Scientists who study aging point to several different processes at work, many that appear to be tied to the processes that develop the growing human. To better understand aging, Joao Pedro de Magalhaes and his team at Harvard Medical in Boston, Massachusetts, have developed a tool called GenAge. GenAge is an online database that compiles the known data about genes involved in aging, so that other researchers can test their theories using data mining and other techniques.

The use of computer technology for the study of biology has become one of the most far-reaching paradigm shifts in the past twenty years. The processes of life are strangely similar to the compiling of binary code into useful software programs. This observation has given support to those who claim that humans are advanced robots created through evolution based on code stored in DNA. It also lends support to the idea that technology and biology will one day merge into new species.

Meanwhile, using GenAge, researchers hope to develop a better theory of aging in hopes of improving quality of life and perhaps even extending life.

The New Space Race is On

Pack a pilot and enough weight and volume to equal two passengers into a privately-funded spacecraft, launch and reach a height of 100 kilometers, return safely and do it again in two weeks with the same ship – win US$10,000,000.

The Ansari XPrize organization announced on Tuesday that on Wednesday, September 29, 2004 Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and their American Mojave Aerospace Ventures, LLC Team will make their attempt at the prize. The launches are open to the public, with parking passes available through the XPrize website.

On August 5, 2004 the competing Canadian da Vinci Project Team will publicly unveil their Wild Fire spacecraft. The da Vinci Project Team also plans to make an attempt for the prize sometime this fall. While Burt Rutan’s team uses an airplane to take the spacecraft to high altitudes before separation and launch, the da Vinci Project Team plans to use an unmanned helium balloon to take their spacecraft up.

Gallery of Moons

The Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn has returned first images of many of the planet’s moons. This first orbit will be Cassini’s longest, as Saturn and its moons are used to shrink the orbit down to something more science activity-friendly. In 89 days the spacecraft will make a close flyby of Titan.

On its way out, Cassini took the closest images of Titan ever captured. While visual light images depicted the same smog-covered moon, other frequencies of light were used to take images of the surface. Mysteries abound. The predicted lakes or seas of methane were not seen. Instead, the images revealed a diverse surface possibly modified by different geological processes as well as bright methane clouds hovering near the south pole. When Cassini comes around for another pass it will be much closer, allowing much clearer images.

The images of the other moons reveal little more than Voyager images from the 1980s. Future orbits of Cassini will target specific moons, giving each its own moment in the spotlight.

Memory March today has an article about possible hard drive replacements. The laboratory technologies discussed promise larger capacities in smaller form factors than current memory technologies. Should these technologies reach commercialization, several tens of gigabytes worth of storage will become available in a block the size of a sugar cube or smaller. Soon after that, storage will be measured in terabytes (the largest current hard drive capacity is 500 gigabytes, or half a terabyte).

The period between the end of 2004 and the end of 2007 will see this shakeup in the memory industry, setting off a chain reaction in changes to all digital devices. For example, size will no longer be a limiting factor to the amount of memory available in a device. Cell phones, digital cameras, portable jukeboxes, among other small-form devices will have the ability to store entire libraries of software, music, images, text and video.

New memory technology will also finds its way into upcoming space probes, next-generation satellites, robots, black boxes in vehicles, and surveillance devices, thus revolutionizing every industry. As technology shrinks, it tends to find its way into medical devices. Our own memory will be upgraded with memory systems connected to brain-computer interfaces.

If the ability to store such vast amounts of data in such small devices becomes available, rapidly proliferates, brings rapid change to all industries, and then becomes an enhancement part to the human biological animal, all in just the next ten years, what happens next?

  • Virtual worlds that rival reality in complexity and detail
  • Life recordings, and their admittance as evidence in court
  • Photographic and cinematic memories in people
  • Expert systems (a precursor to true artificial intelligence) with deep but specialized knowledge and the replacement of most if not all jobs that require such knowledge (service, manufacturing, construction, technical, etc.)
  • Replicating planetary nets (for example, a Mars Net delayed by the speed of light could be stored in its entirety in Earth-based memory systems and updated as necessary with new data from the primary Mars Net).
  • Digital uploading of humans

Even if the capacity of memory and its inverse relationship to form factor was the only technology following an exponential course into the future, many of the above technologies would become available. Of course, in reality almost every technology is following such a course. As divergent technologies converge, all bets are off.

The Fall of Atlantis

The July 12, 2004 edition of “Coast To Coast AM with George Noory” focused on Atlantis. Like many other speakers before him, guest Michael Tsarion suggested an alternative history kept secret from the majority of humanity by powerful secret societies, governments, and the religious and scientific mainstream. His ideas are based on a literal interpretation of Celtic texts, legends, and mythologies, as well as alleged similarities to other historical documents.

The occult perspective draws a line of destiny from every individual to a much larger picture. It tries to explain the mysteries of good and evil and the unexplained. In one sense, the power of the occult is meant to inspire awe and provide a sense of place in the universe, but in another sense the occult compartmentalizes and categorizes all the vagaries of human existence. “Yes, of course!” one thinks when hearing about the occult. “That explains everything!”

Unfortunately, reality is much too vast to fit into such small spaces. The occult explains nothing. Like religion it is better at providing a sense of comfort than actually explaining reality.

The “evidence” sited in occult studies generally consists of two types: anecdotal and interpretive. Anecdotal stories provide little or no physical evidence of an occult incident, and are fraught with the subjective errors of the witness. Interpretations of sacred texts, images, and other apparent mysteries in various media can often be explained away with apophenia (the human propensity to see patterns where there are none).

Good science demands verifiable physical evidence and the reproducibility of results. Such strict demands ensure the fairness and objectivity of the process, traits that are unforgivable to pseudoscientists, occultists and the faithful. The occultist I would truly respect and hear would be the one who admits that he has no physical evidence and only a theory but is in the process of trying to gather such evidence. He would emphasize the subjectivity of his ideas, articulate his passion for his ideas but also his strict adherence to the scientific method, and make no promises regarding the outcome of his work.

In the movie “Contact”, Jody Foster’s atheist scientist demands empirical and reproducible data before supporting a particular theory or idea. Reluctantly, her character admits in public hearings that she does not believe in God as there is little or no scientific data to support the existence of such a being. At the end of the movie, after her experience with wormholes and aliens, when questioned as to whether or not the events actually transpired, she falls back on faith, stating that everything that makes her human convinces her that she actually met with aliens. This is the one fatal flaw in a movie I otherwise highly recommend. While she knows the events to be true, she provides no evidence other than her gut reaction. The movie tries to placate this betrayal by revealing a government cover-up of real evidence that she did in fact make a trip through the universe and met aliens.

Perhaps, as Mr. Tsarion proposes, aliens fleeing persecution on their home planet did settle on the Earth, create the city of Atlantis, and started a hybridization program with the locals to ensure their survival. However, such a theory demands real proof, not the interpretation of the world’s sacred text as clever metaphors created to hide the truth, not the gut reaction that tells the theorist he is right, and not the manipulation of human emotions and expectations in which all good occultists excel. Science intentionally embraces reason and logic and holds human emotions at a distance. While some may describe such a tool as cold and unfeeling, science includes checks and balances the likes of which no other human tool can claim. Those who relegate science to bolter their own submission to faith and fantasy admit their extreme disinterest in reality. For them the comfort of fantasy supplants the human desire to know the truth.

The Current Nanorevolution

Prince Charles and environmentalists warn of the possible dangers of nanoparticles entering the human body. Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley argue about the feasibility of “molecular manufacturing”. Recent science fiction novels warn of nanobotic swarms and gray goo that will devour the Earth. But where are we today? Is nanotechnology science fiction?

The current state of the art is no where near the visions of opponents and proponents. Yet, regardless, nanotechnology is revolutionizing the world. Nanotechnology is here, TODAY. The biggest use of nanotechnology is as nanoparticles to help enhance existing products, such as sunscreen and makeup. Nanotechnology is being used to demonstrate the building of cheap solar cells on flexible materials like plastic, the removal of heat from hot microprocessors, and dense and nonvolatile memory. The first products using nanotechnology as such mechanical and digital components are expected sometime next year. Work is ramping up for working models of assemblers, the proposed building blocks for a future of unlimited productivity.

It is telling that opponents of nanotechnology no longer argue that such technology is science fiction. Instead, they are at this very moment putting together the first proposals for new laws and restrictions to curb or even ban nanotechnology. Studies have been launched to determine the effects of nanotechnology on the environment and inside people. On the other side, new projects to accelerate the development of nanotechnology are reaching the funding stage. Profits for some existing nanotechnology companies are doubling every year.

All this is happening while only a small percentage of the public actually knows what nanotechnology is. Science and progress never require consensus. The time by which policy lags behind the state-of-the-art in technology is now measured in years. The point? Debate, laws, pros and cons are all really just background noise to a technology that is perhaps progressing faster than our current ability to deal with it.

Progress Illustrated – Media Players

Prior to the year 2000 and except for a few early adopters of new technology, most peoples’ music collections could be found in stacks of CDs. Around the year 2000 many people began to store all of their CDs on their computer’s hard drive.

In 2003, the capacity of a hard drive was marketed by how much music it could store. The iPod became a phenomenon and moneymaker for Apple based on the sudden consumer demand to store their entire collection of music on a portable device about the size of a deck of cards.

This year, hard drives are being advertised by how much video they can store. This marketing has lately expanded to include how much high-definition video a device can store. New portable devices such as Sony’s HMP-A1 promise video playback in addition to music playback.

Around 2007, a device the size of a deck of cards will store several hours worth of HD video, your entire music collection, and, if the screen resolution is high enough, your entire library of books, magazines, and photographs. It will allow you to playback video, audio, text, and images on the device itself, or on televisions, stereos, monitors, car radios, printers, or any output device that can be connected to it.

Around 2010, the first device to record a 360-degree sphere of your life in full ultra-high definition and surround-sound detail, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of your life, will become available.

While you may not personally have any of these devices today, at some point you will, due to cost, convenience, or lack of availability of outmoded devices. All this change has and will happen in just the first decade of the 21st century. Can anyone still argue that progress is not accelerating?

Further Out

Let’s follow this one trend in technology further. So far, the devices discussed already exist, some as consumer products and others as laboratory models.

After the device that records the audio and video of the life surrounding you, new families of devices will record your body metrics, such as heart rate and skin temperature. Currently, when a doctor examines you, he or she is simply getting metrics for your health at one moment in time. They may look at the metrics from a previous visit but then they must extrapolate what has happened in between the two examinations. Around 2015, details about your body will be recorded all the time, so that a doctor (or AI doctor) can truly see what has been happening with your health during any set period of time.

In the years that follow, the detail of such recordings will increase until a simulation of you and your surroundings based on these recordings will be nearly indistinguishable from reality. The brain itself will come under examination and should begin to reveal secrets ultimately helpful to the development of artificial intelligence. At such a rate of progress, it becomes meaningless to continue this exercise further. What does it mean to have such detail and the means to playback and examine such detail? Our brains cannot comprehend such an idea, even though we can hear the whisper of it in our future. As always, such exercises bring us to the Singularity, past which all such prediction is meaningless. And yet, in such a short time are such wonders ours to experience, prior to that event when we will have to be so much more to truly understand what is going on around us.