Technology: Great in General, Terrifying in Particular

A new study from The Pew Research Center has found that, on the whole, Americans seem to be largely excited about the technological Robotdevelopments which will likely occur in the next 50 years while expressing abject horror when faced with the developments that are most likely to happen in the near future.

According to the report, nearly 3 in 5 Americans (59%) expressed optimism about the technological developments which they believe are likely to occur in the next 50 years. In large part, this was based on the fact that many people (approximately 8 in 10) anticipate labs being able to grow human organs for surgical replacement within that time frame, among other medical innovations.

Perhaps ironically, those developments which are seen in the most negative light are also those which, at the present, seem most likely to occur in the near future. 66% and 65%, respectively, believe that it will be worse for society if prospective parents have the capacity to alter the DNA of their offspring or if robots become the primary caretakers for elderly individuals and those in poor health, developments which are widely expected to be possible within the next 20 years. Additionally, fewer than half of Americans stated that they would be willing to ride in an automated car, and only 20% stated a willingness to eat lab-grown meat.

Jet packs, however, continue to poll well.

I, for One, Welcome Our New Robot Overlords which May be Able to Detect Breast Cancer

NASA technology which has been in use for years in the assistance of astronauts performing difficult space missions may soon have a much more terrestrial function: helping to improve detection of breast cancer. Per reports, The IGAR technology (an acronym for Image-Guided Autonomous Robot) shares features in common with the Canadarm, developed for Canada’s space program, which was in the past used for various functions such as repairing space stations and assisting astronauts in space walks.

Now, the technology, which blends the space-arm with MRI scanning ability, may help doctors to more accurately identify breast cancer. Scientists as well as medical professionals hope that the IGAR may be able to remove some of the potential for human error which currently affects breast cancer detection, adding a degree of precision previously unattainable in breast cancer imaging.

For doctors, this could provide a range of benefits: better service for their patients, a reduced risk of medical malpractice liability, and simpler procedures. For patients, the potential benefits could be equally considerable: lower costs of treatment, less pain, and improved results.

Study shows blood pressure drugs could help in the fight against cancer

There’s finally some good news for cancer patients: a combination of a popular blood pressure medication - angiotensin inhibitor losartan – and cancer medicines could actually help those diagnosed with cancer to live longer lives. As a recent study done by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers shows, patients with tumors might benefit from a treatment plan that combines losartan with chemotherapy drugs.

According to the research study, published in Nature Communicationsthe scientists used mice that had pancreatic and breast cancer, giving them doses of the blood pressure drug and chemo drugs. When compared with mice that only received chemo medications, the mice that also received losartan were found to live longer, largely due to the ability of losartan to open up the blood vessels in and around the tumor(s), allowing the chemo drugs to more easily reach the tumor.

In order to further test the efficacy of this treatment, the researchers are continuing to look for more people with inoperable pancreatic cancer who are willing to volunteer for the medical trial.

Lightsabers: A dream come true for Star Wars geeks?

The dreams of millions of Star Wars fan across the world have come true; lightsabers are no longer a thing of fiction, but an impending reality, at least according to scientists from both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A team of scientists and researchers, led by Vladan Vuletic, professor of physics at MIT, and Mikhail Lukin, professor of physics at Harvard, were recently able to achieve something that, up until now, has only existed in scientific theories and movies and TV shows: photonic molecules.

While current knowledge about light particles states that they are massless and, thus, cannot interact with other light particles, these photonic molecules that the scientists discovered can actually interact with each other. In fact, they do so in such a strong manner as to create a semblance of mass that allows the photons to bind together, creating molecules.

And this comparison to lightsabers is not just something that was made up to get the attention of Star Wars fanatics; Lukin himself stated, “It’s not an inapt analogy to compare this to light sabers…The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”

Pretty cool.

It looks like it might be time to start working on your mastery of the force for real.

Nuclear Power Melting Down

nuclearpowerNuclear power, which provides approximately 20% of the United States’ energy needs, looked to be in ascendance until quite recently, but recent developments seem to indicate that the trend line may actually be pointing in the opposite direction. Specifically, for the first time in 15 years, the nuclear sector has experienced a rash of plant shutdowns, and many planned projects for new reactors are being cancelled.

The causes of these shutdowns are primarily economic. With the rise of natural gas and renewable energy sources, particularly solar and wind power, nuclear power has simply become too costly, in many cases, to effectively compete with other energy sources. However, safety concerns are also beginning to play a factor, particularly in light of the Fukushima disaster which Japan is still struggling to recover from.

Many of the plants currently operating in the United States currently have been or will soon reach operating for more than 40 years, and retrofitting these plants to meet modern safety standards is increasingly difficult. While rare, it should be noted that nuclear industrial accidents are an extremely serious concern. Cleanup for the Three Mile Island nuclear accident alone, for example, cost more than $1 billion and lasted more than 14 years.

Popular Science Shuts Down Comments, Stifles Stupid Speech

highfivePopular Science, the long-running magazine covering scientific issues for lay audiences, has announced that it will no longer be featuring a comments section on its website. While the move is itself a good idea, needing no further explanation, online editor Suzanne LaBarre’s explanation does in fact offer an enormous public service by simply and authoritatively explaining why online comment sections, even well-curated ones, usually end up doing more harm than good.

Using science to explain the decision, LaBarre notes recent research which has shown that exposure to rude or even just firmly worded disagreement in comment sections can actually change how people view scientific news, creating more sharply polarized views and a more negative impression than would otherwise be the case. Noting that science hardly needs anything else to undermine its legitimacy in the current moment, LaBarre thus concludes her defense of the decision to shut comments down.

What do you think? Are comment sections a good or bad idea?

Social Media Doesn’t Have Your Back, Bro

facebookTechnology is not always out to help you, and in some cases, can be quite the liability — and we’re not just talking Skynet stuff. Your own social media profiles could actually be used against you if you’ve recently filed an auto insurance claim. In an interview conducted by Edmunds.com, Frank Darras, an insurance claims lawyer, said that many insurance adjusters will actually check a claimant’s social media profiles, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to see if there is any evidence that might negate the details provided by the claimant. For example, if someone tweets “Oh man – I just crashed my car into the wall at work! #FML!” but on the same day, tells their insurance company that someone hit their car in the parking lot and didn’t leave a note, there’s certainly cause for suspicion.

However, the social media treachery doesn’t end there. Often, adjusters will look at claimants’ social media profiles to see if they can establish a history of dangerous or reckless behavior, like posted pictures that might indicate street racing or drinking and driving.

This is far from the first time that individuals have seen their own social media profiles used against them. Facebook evidence has been used for some time in divorce proceedings as evidence of marital infidelity. Have an affair? Post incriminating pictures of it on your Facebook profile? Boom. See ya later prenup.

So to all of you out there, remember to Tweet responsibly.

Dash Cams: Providing More Than Just Fascinating Videos?

Admittedly, Russia is not leading the world in many aspects, culturally or scientifically. However, they do have a leg up on the rest of us when it comes to using dash cams. Used largely as a protective measure by truck drivers and non-commercial drivers alike, the videos recorded by dash cams have gone viral here in the U.S., with people from all over watching these horrifyingly fascinating crashes and hard-to-capture events. But are they worth more than simply giving us entertaining or interesting videos?

Research points to yes. These dash cams, which can be purchased at a fairly reasonable price in many cases, can actually provide valuable protection in the event of car and truck accidents, preventing people from being unfairly accused of causing an accident and saving them thousands of dollars in many cases. And, although perhaps not as interesting to the average joe driver, these dash cams have been shown to prevent insurance fraud by stopping drivers from “staging” accidents.

While this easy-to-use new technology may help you even more in the future if insurance companies decide to offer discounts and incentives for installing them in vehicles, be careful using them. Aside from laws regulating how big these cameras can be, certain states protect people from being recorded without their knowledge or consent. Make sure you don’t inadvertently hurt yourself legally when all you were trying to do was protect yourself.

Scientists Develop Glow in the Dark Rabbits, Because of Course

GlowBunnyScientists at the University of Istanbul have successfully created rabbits that glow in the dark. By implanting the DNA of jellyfish (notable for their glow-in-the-dark abilities) into rabbit embryos, the researchers were able to produce a litter of rabbits whose skin literally glows. And it’s strong enough that the glow is still visible from under their fur.

While it might seem like a strange use of valuable resources to be developing animals which, while admittedly pretty cool looking, have minimal other purposes, the researchers did have a goal in mind that extends beyond the “wow” factor. It’s believed that this type of transgenic procedure can eventually be used to help reduce the costs of medicine production, because the animals can act as production agents, instead of requiring costly factory construction.

Music Hallucinations: When You Really Can’t Get that Song Out of Your Head

In a bizarre case reported in the journal Frontiers in Neurology, a 60-year old woman has suffered from a rare form of hallucination: she hears music that isn’t musicplaying. The thing that makes this case unique, though, is that while she may not be able to recognize the songs she’s hearing, they appear to be actual pop hits. When she sang the songs for her husband, he was able to identify some of them, even though she claimed to have never heard them before.

Music hallucinations are something that scientists have been aware of for decades, but this is the first case in which the person hearing the music could actually identify aspects of the songs without having a conscious memory of them. Researchers are intrigued about the possible suggestions that this case may have for what we know about memory and the neurological aspects of forgetting.

Unfortunately, music hallucinations have no cure, so this woman is probably going to be hearing these things for the rest of her life.