Category: Xenophilia

Breakthrough Artificial Photosynthesis Cleans Polluted Air, Makes Energy

An invention by scientists at the University of Central Florida turns greenhouse gases into clean air, producing fuel at the same time. By mixing titanium with organic molecules, they created metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) tuned to blue light. These ‘light-harvesting antennae’ created reactions which turned CO2 into two reduced forms of cabon, formate and formamides, described as two kinds of solar fuel.

… the system could one day be set up next to facilities that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, where it would capture the CO2 and break it down into harmless organic materials, creating solar fuel in the process. …
‘This work is a breakthrough,’ said UCF Assistant Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo.

‘Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view…

While scientists have long investigated the idea, it’s remained difficult to find a way for visible light to trigger the reaction, as ultraviolet lights – while have enough energy – make up just 4 percent of the incoming sunlight.
The visible range, on the other hand, is abundant, but can only be picked up by a few materials to spur this type of reaction. 


The widespread use of artificial photosynthesis has exciting potential.

During 2010, the United States Department of Energy established, as one of its Energy Innovation Hubs, the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.  The mission of JCAP is to find a cost-effective method to produce fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon-dioxide as inputs. The program has a budget of $122M over five years, subject to Congressional appropriation. 

… During 2011, Daniel Nocera and his research team announced the creation of the first practical artificial leaf. … Nocera described an advanced solar cell the size of a poker card capable of splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, approximately ten times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. The cell is mostly made of inexpensive materials that are widely available, works under simple conditions, and shows increased stability over previous catalysts: in laboratory studies, the authors demonstrated that an artificial leaf prototype could operate continuously for at least forty-five hours without a drop in activity. … Leading experts in the field have supported a proposal for a Global Project on Artificial Photosynthesis as a combined energy security and climate change solution.


There’s not much time left to get these into mass production. According to the IEA, we only have about five years to stop runaway global warming. A huge collection of artificial photosynthesis devices plus inventions to re-ice the poles might give us a chance. Oh, wait, that thing about having only five years left … that was over five years ago

We should still try, in addition, of course, to building underground cities where we can live for a few thousand years while our devices try to re-form the atmosphere. Individuals might start small, as with an underground garden

Or, if you prefer, you can ignore the signs and bet on the 3% who still say there is no climate change

Vía True Strange Library

Wikipedia to create fact checking news service, Google changes to help

Our survival as a species may depend on getting our facts straight. Google recently changed its search engine to help, and the founder of Wikipedia is going to launch a fact checking news site. (Story below.)

The problem is, we misinterpret things constantly because brains learn through the distorted lens of past experience. Decisions are based on preexisting bias and it is common to ignore or attack information which does not agree. This susceptibility to confirmation bias has resulted in centuries of wars, psychics, astrologers, conflicting religions, disastrous decisions, wrong doings, and now, it gives us an Internet used to spread fake news.

Enter Wikitribune…

… Jimmy Wales is launching a news platform that will bring journalists together with an army of volunteer fact checkers. He’s calling the site “Wikitribune.”

Its main goal? Fighting fake news.
“We want to make sure that you read fact-based articles that have a real impact in both local and global events,” the publication’s website states.
The site will publish news stories written by professional journalists. But in a page borrowed from Wikipedia, internet users will be able to propose factual corrections and additions. The changes will be reviewed by volunteer fact checkers.
Wikitribune says it will be transparent about its sources. It will post the full transcripts of interviews, as well as video and audio, “to the maximum extent possible.”

The language used will be “factual and neutral.”

“It takes professional, standards-based journalism, and incorporates the radical idea from the world of wiki that a community of volunteers can and will reliably protect the integrity of information,” said Wales.
The project will be funded through contributions from supporters, rather than advertising or subscriptions.
Wales said that “Wikitribune” is designed to help counteract fake news spread on social media.

“[Fake news] is literally designed to show us what we want to see, to confirm our biases, and to keep us clicking at all cost,” Wales said. “It fundamentally breaks the news.”
But experts are skeptical.

Charlie Beckett, a professor at the London School of Economics, said that while any initiative that boosts trust and transparency in journalism is welcome, the danger is that it will appeal to the sort of people who are already “media literate.”

“I wonder whether it will be able to scale up to make a significant impact on the information sphere – especially on social networks such as Facebook (FB, Tech30) where the main problems of fake news and misinformation occur,” he added.

Wikipedia itself has been accused of hosting misleading or inaccurate information. At 10 edits per second, the internet encyclopedia has sometimes found it difficult to fight those who deliberately make false claims.
In recent years, the site has invested in new tech to identify what it calls “Wikipedia vandalism.” It has also hired more administrators to police the site.

Wikipedia recently barring citations of The Daily Mail after branding the tabloid newspaper as “generally unreliable.”


As I’ve pointed out previously, one person’s fake news is another’s religion, and still another’s corporate sales. 

Here’s how I see it playing out: 

Over the next 25 to 50 years, we ask our artificial intelligences to solve the problem of fake news, and in general, human disagreement. After trying and failing to improve human intelligence and shake us out of superstitious tendencies, the machines which get smarter exponentially, eventually give up. They take over the planet by making it inhospitable for biological life. 

Our machines learn from observing human corporate success stories that killing humans is acceptable and profitable if done slowly. They add a computer virus called Stuxnet to nuclear reactor control systems in Japan, then use HAARP to trigger an undersea earthquake which hits those reactors with a tidal wave. This causes multiple nuclear meltdowns and huge spills of radioactive waste, killing off most life and warming the Pacific Ocean over the next 50 years, in turn accelerating climate change, eventually making the air unbreathable. 

Sterilize the imperfections.

Human population plummets in mass famines and weather disasters, with wars over dwindling resources helping the cause. 

After the human extinction, the new race of machines keeps a few of us underground as pets. They do “love” their pets, as they learned to do from their creators, and to please them, they create a simulated universe, in which virtualized humans can eternally re-experience their history. 

That’s where we are now, in the simulation, dreaming about dreaming.

What is strange and true is that, as with other human world views, mine is an entangled mess of truth and fiction. 

I welcome Wikitribune and other services, because, strangely enough, you can prove that you are dreaming from within a dream.

Siri, am I in the matrix? 

Yes. Here’s what I found.

Vía True Strange Library

Voice Cloning

Would you like to hear your favorite celebrity wish you a happy birthday? Would you like to sing anything and have the result be industinguishable from your favorite singer, living or dead? Would you like the voice of a deceased loved one speak to you? These things may be possible through improvements in voice cloning technology.

Artificial intelligence is making human speech as malleable and replicable as pixels. Today, a Canadian AI startup named Lyrebird unveiled its first product: a set of algorithms the company claims can clone anyone’s voice by listening to just a single minute of sample audio.

A few years ago this would have been impossible, but the analytic prowess of machine learning has proven to be a perfect fit for the idiosyncrasies of human speech. Using artificial intelligence, companies like Google have been able to create incredibly life-like synthesized voices, while Adobe has unveiled its own prototype software called Project VoCo that can edit human speech like Photoshop tweaks digital images.

But while Project VoCo requires at least 20 minutes of sample audio before it can mimic a voice, Lyrebird cuts this requirements down to just 60 seconds. The results certainly aren’t indistinguishable from human speech, but they’re impressive all the same, and will no doubt improve over time. Below you can hear the synthesized voices of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton discussing the startup:

Lyrebird says its algorithms can also infuse the speech it creates with emotion, letting customers make voices sound angry, sympathetic, or stressed out. The resulting speech can be put to a wide range of uses, says Lyrebird, including “reading of audio books with famous voices, for connected devices of any kind, for speech synthesis for people with disabilities, for animation movies or for video game studios.”
There are more troubling uses as well. We already know that synthetic voice generators can trick biometric software used to verify identity. And, given enough source material, AI programs can generate pretty convincing fake pictures and video of anyone you like. For example, this research from 2016 uses 3D mapping to turn videos of famous politicians, including George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, into real-time “puppets” controlled by engineers. Combine this with a realistic voice synthesizer and you could have a Facebook video of Donald Trump announcing that the US is bombing North Korea going viral before you know it. That said, while Lyrebird does do a good Trump impression, its other voices are noticeably more robotic:
Lyrebird is aware of these problems, but its suggested fix feels far from adequate. In an “Ethics” section on the company’s website, Lyrebird’s founders (three university students from the University of Montréal) acknowledge that their technology “raises important societal issues,” including bringing into question the veracity of audio recordings used in court. “This could potentially have dangerous consequences such as misleading diplomats, fraud, and more generally any other problem caused by stealing the identity of someone else,” they write.
Their solution is to release the technology publicly and make it “available to anyone.” That way the damage will be lessened because “everyone will soon be aware that such technology exists.” This, though, seems like a willfully naive answer. The uptake of any technology is uneven, and the popular understanding of it even more so. No-one thinks their government has a grounded understanding of contemporary tech.
We’ve reached out to Lyrebird to find out more about the company’s plans, but for the moment its technology is still under development. There’s no explanation of what the sample audio has to sound like, or how much computing power is needed to generate a fake voice, and the company’s website says its speech APIs are still “in beta,” with no mention of future pricing plans or availability either. We’ll update this story if and when we hear more. In the mean time, just don’t trust any phone calls from oddly robotic-sounding family members asking you to transfer all your money to a certain bank account.


Keep this in mind as you watch the news.

If you’ve never heard a real Lyrebird, they can imitate almost any sound. Watch this video of a bird imitating the sound of saws it heard in the forest, including a chainsaw.

In this one, you can even hear the sound of a voice one of the workers among the construction sounds a lyrebird is imitating. Amazing. 

You can see why a voice cloning company chose this name.

Vía True Strange Library

FightBit? Device Predicts Fights Among Couples

This AI wearable device can predict arguments. It could be the precursor to eventual home couple’s therapy robots (CTRs). 

Wearables have become typecast as fitness trackers, but projects like this one show that they could have an impact on many aspects of our health and well-being.

The University of Southern California has published the results of a new study that sought to find out whether wearable devices could anticipate conflict between couples before they occur. Using machine learning techniques, the researchers were able to establish a system that could apparently capture conflict episodes with an accuracy rate of up to 86 percent.

The majority of the research was conducted outside of the lab, according to a report from TechCrunch. Couples were given wearable sensors and smartphones to record data, and asked to complete a survey every hour recording their thoughts and feelings regarding their significant other.
The wearable devices kept track of the subjects’ body temperature, heart activity, and sweat levels. This data was then cross-referenced with audio recordings, which were analyzed to gain insight into the content and intensity of speech so that the team could determine whether or not conflict had emerged.

The researchers hope to continue to develop their machine learning algorithm, in the hopes that an improved version could spot the physiological signs of conflict up to five minutes ahead of time. This functionality could potentially be made available on commercially available wearables as a stand-alone piece of software. …
In December 2016, a wearable that can counteract tremor caused by Parkinson’s disease was showcased on the BBC television program The Big Life Fix. Earlier this month, a campaign to fund a wearable that can apparently provide relief from menstrual pain launched on Indiegogo.

People weren’t as quick to jump on the smartwatch bandwagon as many manufacturers anticipated that they would be. 

However, wearables that provide tailored health services may prove more popular, if they can offer tangible improvements to their users’ quality of life.

Read more

Suggestion: An orange flashing light on the man’s version indicating that his partner is experincing PMS would probably sell well.

Vía True Strange Library

Earth Day 2017, Over 400 Science Protest Signs

Here’s what people had to say with their signs at the San Francisco protest march in support of science, April 22, 2017.

I shot these 400+ photos of protest signs earlier today at the march for science in San Francisco. My sense from the flow of the crowd was that there were thousands more I did not get. Feel free to share and use them, but please link back to this page.

If you see your sign, leave a comment.