Going Out For a Jaunt? Try Teleportation

stardestination

I’ve long said that if I could have any superpower, it would be teleportation. To be liberated from airports, airplanes and tickets would be amazing. I wouldn’t mind leaving behind my passport and never suffering another border crossing again, although the elimination of travel bureaucracy would be a breakthrough of a different kind. Science fiction great Alfred Bester was similarly fascinated with teleporting, or as he calls it in The Stars My Destination, “jaunting.”

Bester focuses on the implications of jaunting, namely the social and economic ones. In fact, the inner planets and the outer planets are warring because of it, even though there’s a 1,000-mile limit to each jaunte (but no limits to how many times one can jaunte so long as there’s an open landing platform and one knows from where and to where one’s jaunting). There are jaunte-proof prisons for criminals and people who want or need to be isolated or protected; other than that, people who can’t jaunte are both unemployable and outcasts. Bester’s portrayal of worlds where inhabitants can jaunte isn’t particularly appealing, but I’m not deterred—teleportation is still my superpower of choice. Recently, there have been three recent scientific breakthroughs suggesting that teleportation might not be limited to the Starship Enterprise.

quantumtrek

Researchers from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews and the Czech Republic’s Institute of Scientific Instruments built a miniature tractor beam that can draw objects in by figuring out a way to create a negative force on particles. This means that the light pulls in particles, rather than pushing them away, which is what usually happens with light and solid matter collide. Their methodology entails creating an optical field that reverses light’s radiation pressure. This tractor beam only works on a microscopic level, but jaunting has to start somewhere.

Scientists have also recently created a tractor beam made from water. Professors from the Australian National University have been playing with wave generators recently, and not just so they can surf in a swimming pool, or even generate electricity. What they realized is that while it might seem that wave generators would push all floating objects in the same direction as the waves, that’s not necessarily the case. Wave generators can actually move objects in the opposite direction as the waves.

The scientists discovered that this won’t just work for any waves–the secret is the height and frequency of the waves. By floating ping pong balls on the water and toying with the waves, they figured out how to generate this effect. It’s not the waves themselves that move the objects; rather, the surface currents generated by the waves moves objects in the opposite direction (or keeps them stationary, if desired). The waves create flow patterns on the surface, including “inward flows, outward flows, or vortices….The tractor beam is just one of the patterns.” This technology probably won’t be too helpful in outer space, but in the water it could be used to achieve rescues or clean up oil spills.

Scientists at the Netherlands’ Delft Institute of Technology have figured out how to teleport data—and not by run-of-the-mill teleportation, but by quantum teleportation. This method proves the concept of quantum entanglement (even Einstein was an entanglement skeptic). Quantum entanglement is the theory that even when particles are divided, they remain linked to the extent that even when they’re separated, what happens to one affects the other—or as Einstein puts it, “spooky action at a distance.”

Spooky or not, there quantum links can be created between particles, and Dutch scientists have used that to achieve teleportation. The scientists entangled electrons inside super-cooled diamonds using lasers, and then they separated the diamonds by ten feet. Every time they changed the direction or rate of spin of one particle, the other followed suit. Even though they were only ten feet from each other, the technique should work no matter how far away the two are (the next step is to prove this by increasing the distance between the particles). If entangled quantum particles are used in, say, computers, we could all forget about thumb drives and transmit our information faster than the speed of light.

Quantum-teleportation makes me think of the ultimate feat accomplished by the protagonist of Bester’s book: space-jaunting. Now that would be something. But until then, I’ll keep hoping that my desired superpower is within reach. Whether I’ll be around to see it is another question, but by then, maybe we’ll have learned to time-jaunte.

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Double Take: NASA’s Twin Study

Time for the Stars

In the sci-fi novel Time for the Stars, Robert Heinlein explores something called the “twin paradox,” an Einstein-inspired thought experiment involving the splitting up of identical twins. One rockets off into space while the other remains on Earth. Even though time dilation, or the actual difference in elapsed time as measured by the two twins, who are both moving relative to each other, might suggest that each twin would find the other to have aged more slowly, when the space-traveling twin comes home, he actually finds that the Earth-bound twin has aged more quickly. Doc Brown demonstrated it best when he showed Marty that time on Einstein’s watch moved more slowly than theirs when they sent Einstein back to the future (and when Doc and Marty themselves do the same).

At any rate, in Time for the Stars, one twin, Tom, goes into space looking for habitable planets. During his mission he communicates telepathically with his Earthbound twin, Pat. But because Pat ages more quickly than Tom, their ability to telepathically communicate is compromised—at least, until they figure out that Tom can also communicate with Pat’s offspring, which he does for generations. Eventually, scientists on Earth use those telepathic powers to help develop FTL technology, and they bring back Tom and the remainder of the crew from an expedition gone wrong (and speaking of things gone wrong, when Tom does return, he ends up marrying his most recent telepathic partner—his grandniece).

Separating identical twins and sending one into space isn’t just fiction anymore–NASA is doing just that in an effort to determine whether the twins will still be identical after one spends a year in space. The experiment will start next March, when Scott Kelly heads to the ISS. Scott’s twin brother, Mark, who is also an astronaut, will remain Earthbound—he’s the “control” twin. Both twins will give samples and measurements before, during, and after the year-long experiment so NASA researchers can pinpoint how and why space may create physiological distinctions that didn’t previously exist.

twins

NASA’s not particularly interested in measuring the passage of time—at 17,000 mph, the ISS doesn’t move quickly enough to dilate time or produce relativistic effects. But NASA will measure the twins’ genes, biochemistry, vision, and cognition, among others, to see what effects space travel has. In fact, NASA solicited and selected 10 research proposals for the study as part of their Human Exploration Research Opportunities Program.

One thing scientists already know is that humans’ immune systems are weakened when in space, so one of the experiments will involve the twins’ reactions to identical flu vaccines. They’ll also monitor the twins’ telomeres, which are repeating nucleotide sequences at the tips of chromosomes that help protect chromosomes and prevent them from merging with other chromosomes. Aging negatively affects telomeres, and NASA scientists wonder whether increased cosmic radiation will do the same, essentially speeding up aging in astronauts. They’ll also study digestion, which relies on bacteria and microbiomes that may be affected by space travel (not to mention all that delightful space food). Other studies will focus on changes in astronauts’ vision (perhaps a bright sunrise every 45 minutes has something to do with it?), as well as the mental fogginess some astronauts report.

It doesn’t appear that any of the studies will focus on social or other external influences. Mark Kelly will probably be subject to a whole lot more media than his brother, for better or for worse, and Mark also won’t be dealing with isolation or separation from his friends and family. While it might seem that space-bound Scott will generally fare less well on a physiological level, it’ll be interesting to see whether the lack of environmental influences such as pollution and other chemicals (aside from that pesky radiation) has any effect. Regardless, if Mark’s got a competitive streak, Scott’s return to Earth would be the best time to challenge him to an arm wrestling contest.

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New Man’s War

old man's war

In John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, the home planet’s military consists of old folks who join the fight because they have nothing left to lose. Of course, they can’t just battle as is—they need some pretty serious upgrades first. They get BrainPals, which allow them to telepathically communicate with their comrades, as well as access information. They also get genetic and physiological upgrades in the form of new bodies designed from their DNA and that allow them all kinds of impressive new skills ranging from super strength to cat vision.

Could this happen? Could we upgrade people, octogenarians or not, and turn them into super soldiers?

DARPA seems to think so.

In 2010, DARPA announced its BioDesign project, designed to create “synthetic organisms” to replace those natural organisms—ie, people—that are limited by “the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement.” One of those limitations is mortality. DARPA’s answer is to create fortified organisms with death-resistant cells that ultimately will result in their ability to live “indefinitely.” Of course, that’s a double-edged sword, so they’ll be genetically engineered to be loyal, too—or at least, “tamper proof.” They’ll have traceable identity numbers in case they go MIA and if all else fails, they’ve got a genetic kill switch.

BioDesign coupled with DARPA’s synthetic biology program, as well as DARPA’s recently established Biotech Division shows just how serious DARPA is when it comes to creating super soldiers. I think I’d feel more comfortable if they started as old folks first before getting enhanced. These synthetic organisms are…well, synthetic. Can they be genetically coded to have compassion or the wisdom of experience? That would make them less ruthless fighters, so we’ll likely never find out.

Recently, the BioDesign program got an additional $8 million to continue their work with synthetic organisms. DARPA also founded the Living Foundries program to “leverage the unparalleled synthetic and functional capabilities of biology to create a revolutionary, biologically-based manufacturing platform to provide access to new materials, capabilities and manufacturing paradigms” by “transform[ing] biology into an engineering practice by developing the tools, technologies, methodologies, and infrastructure to speed the biological design-built-test-learn cycle and expand the complexity of systems that can be engineered.” So maybe the soldiers of the future will be more like synthetic humans and less like T-800 robots, but I’m not sure that makes me feel any better. What’s also not particularly comforting is that some of the modification techniques involve combining modified DNA with a virus, and injecting that cocktail into the human body. The altered DNA would attach to the existing DNA when the virus permeates the cells. What could possibly go wrong?

One of the advantages DARPA hopes to create for its futuristic soldiers is the ability to survive major blood loss. They’re working on techniques such as metabolism self-regulation to maintain the functioning of cells even if they don’t get oxygen due to blood loss. They may be able to induce something akin to hibernation that would allow soldiers to survive for hours, even days, before treatment.

DARPA has also initiated a biochronicity program to try and identify the relationships between biology and the passage of time. We’ve all heard of the biological clock that supposedly motivates females’ reproductive drives, but biological clocks do a lot more than that, especially on a cellular level as we age. DARPA believes that unlocking secrets about the way time affects the body will help the medical treatment of soldiers, as well as the survival of blood loss; it could also improve their performance in battle.

Scientists both inside and outside DARPA have been making strides toward creating these synthetic organisms. Recently, researchers built an artificial yeast chromosome, which included about 50,000 modifications from the original. It imbued the yeast chromosome with artificial traits, including the ability to rearrange itself when chemically induced. This is a yeast-based organism, rather than a replica. DARPA’s soldiers will probably be similar, with all kinds of new traits that will allows them to bleed less, sleep less, lift more weight, run faster, and fight harder and better.

A DARPA-designed synthetic organism wouldn’t have to play by nature’s rules, which is precisely the point, but also the problem—at least, depending your ethical stance. Transhumanists wouldn’t object, though plenty of others might. This sounds a little bit like Captain America to me, but better that than Avatar, I suppose.

captainamerica1951669

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Cop A Feelie

sensory fiction

In Brave New World, there’s all kinds of fun to be had. There’s Centrifugal Bumble Puppy, rudimentary sexual games for the young ones in school, and, of course, there’s the feelies.

The feelies aren’t exactly virtual reality—based on Huxley’s descriptions, moviegoers don’t step into the film and become the protagonist, but they experience what Lenina calls “feely effects” when they grab the metal knobs on the arms of their chair. The Savage freaks out when he feels a “sensation on his lips” when the two characters on screen start making out. And don’t get me started on the musk-breathing scent organ.

It would be nice for some sensory enhancement to accompany movies and books, wouldn’t it? Just think of how interesting the library would be, or class. In fact, a class at MIT inspired its students to create something they call “Sensory Fiction” (though not because the class was boring—a class called Science Fiction to Science Fabrication would pretty much be the most awesome class ever). Sensory Fiction isn’t exactly like the feelies—in its current incarnation, it only works for books. But books are more important It also requires more than a couple metal knobs—in effect, a reader wears this book and experiences the emotions felt by the characters.

Sensory Fiction is really a vest (can I suggest a Malthusian birth control model?) that contains a network of sensors and actuator that deliver sensations such as warmth, coldness, tightness, looseness, vibrations, and light. Since the vest has to be programmed specifically for a book, so far it only works for James Tiptree’s The Girl Who Was Plugged In. Appropriate, no? The creators of the technology also chose the story because of its variety of landscapes, from sunny to underground, and its variety of emotions, from love to despair. The experience of reading the book starts with an animated cover, and tumultuous passages cause vibrations, and tense ones cause the vest to constrict via air pressure bags.

Sensory Fiction is similar to the haptic jacket created by Philips Electronics that contains vibrating motors. The jacket is lined by a 16 by 4 grid of independent actuators and can run on two AA batteries at full throttle for an hour. Its designers say that wearers wouldn’t feel kicks and punches—not because the jacket couldn’t do it, of course, but because the point of the garment is to study emotional, not physical, immersion.

haptic jacket

The jacket has a bit more range than the vest—it can respond to signals encoded in a DVD, or it can be used with a program that allows it to work on the fly. The motors can evoke shivers, tension or a pulsing reminiscent of a thumping heart. The skin’s neural connections and our brains do the rest in terms of creating realistic sensations.

Like virtual reality, haptic technology is becoming more and more integrated into what used to be our fictional forays, but are now becoming our firsthand experiences. In fact, the IEEE has a Technical Committee on Haptics which, among other things, holds conferences at which researchers showcase these wearable technologies. I’m holding out for a crew from MIT to program Brave New World to work with their vest. The orgie porgies would be religious on a whole new level, and simulating soma seems like a good time. And the Assistant Predestinator, and later Lenina and the Savage, get to experience “every hair of the bear reproduced” when they watch a love scene on a bearskin rug at the feelies—don’t Sensory Fiction readers deserve the same?

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Hacking the Heart

Repent, Harlequin

Toward the end of season two of Homeland, kinda-sorta terrorist Nick Brody helps a bonafide terrorist hack the pacemaker of the U.S. vice president (who happens to be a pretty huge jerk). Brody breaks into the vice president’s place, finds the case that goes with the pacemaker and gives the bad guy the serial number. A few minutes later, Brody looks into the eyes of the vice president and, just for good measure, tells the VP that he’s killing him as the VP clutches his chest and projects hate at Brody with all the force his dilating pupils can muster.

That scene made me think of the Nebula award-winning short story by Harlan Ellison called “‘Repent, Harlequin,’ Said the Tick-Tock Man.” This is the story that the movie In Time was based on. In fact, Ellison sued for the likeness, but dropped the suit—maybe because he didn’t want his name associated with that waste of two hours. Anyway, in “Repent, Harlequin,” when someone’s time is up, the Tick-Tock man responsible for monitoring and tallying everyone’s comings and goings to shave time off the lives of those who aren’t punctual sends a signal that stops the person’s heart instantaneously. It’s almost like a pacemaker hack, except there’s no pacemaker.

repent-2

I was surprised when some viewers found the Homeland scene ridiculous. I bought it without a second thought—not only could that happen, but I figured it probably already had. But being a cynic isn’t proof, so I decided to find out whether a remote pacemaker hack is possible.

The answer is yes, it’s possible, depending on the type of pacemaker, but pacemaker makers (it’s too good for a synonym) have been working to ensure that it’s pretty darn difficult.

First off, pacemakers monitor one’s heart rate and if it identifies any kind of arrhythmia, it will attempt to regulate the electrical rhythm of the heart by delivering a low voltage pulse. Such a pulse couldn’t kill someone, and pacemakers aren’t capable of sending high-voltage shocks.

But some implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) are. ICDs are used for patients who suffer from ventricular fibrillation, which is the most dangerous kind of arrthymia—the associated cardiac muscle contractions are a common cause of sudden cardiac death. If an ICD detects such a contraction, it will counteract that with a shock.

d_defibrillator__better_known_as_a_pacemaker

The VP’s pacemaker in Homeland is, from the plastic box and its accessories, identifiable as an ICD. Such a box can facilitate remote monitoring so a doctor can view data. There’s also a wand in that box, which doctors use to program ICDs and pacemakers. Before FDA approval of wireless pacemakers back in 2006, the wand had to be in close contact with the device, but nowadays there’s something called the Medical Implant Communication Service that allows for remote programming. Now, ICD devices have a programmer or transmitter that can be accessed using a serial number. Generally, though, a doctor couldn’t just dial in and reprogram the ICD on the fly—the transmitter transmits information, rather than receives it.

While uncommon, there are some models of ICDs that have enabled remote shock delivery, primarily for testing purposes (testing what, I wonder?). Depending on the specific ICD, remote delivery of 800 volt shocks to an ICD is possible. Whether such a shock would kill someone or simply cause them a great deal of pain is unclear—probably the latter, but I guess the VP’s heart was particularly diseased. More problematic for the Homeland scenario is the location of the hacker. It’s never revealed—we just see the electrocardiogram readouts on his laptop and then through his super sneaky hacker software he gets the ICD to defibrillate. The hacker would have to be nearby, though (as in, in the same building), especially because the remote monitor wasn’t connected, which…oops. That hacker was good!

The Homeland writers apparently got their inspiration from a 2008 New York Times piece about a study in which computer security researchers wirelessly accessed a defibrillator-pacemaker. The study ultimately concluded that no incidents had ever occurred and that while the F.D.A. would be closely examining such technologies and promoting added security, people with pacemakers didn’t need to worry. But not all people agree. In this TEDx talk, Avi Rubin claims that any and all devices, including voting machines, can be hacked.

And professional hacker Barnaby Jack was found dead just before he was about to deliver a presentation about hacking pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other medical devices, and to offer suggestions for enhanced security and safety measures. Wow—do you think Abu Nazir’s hacker got to him, too?

One person who didn’t believe he was safe from pacemaker hacking is Dick Cheney. I’m not totally sure whether VP Walden was intended to resemble Cheney (he didn’t shoot any of his friends in the face, but he did enjoy some deadly Middle East drone strikes), but the former VP whose defibrillator helped regulate his heart after five heart attacks was worried that the device might make him vulnerable to attack. In 2007, his doctors turned off his pacemaker’s wireless functionality for fear that someone might try to kill him. Now, Cheney has a new heart, so I guess we’re back to throwing shoes, which to my knowledge, we still can’t do remotely.

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Robots Can Get Themselves Together

M-Block

Replication, including molecular assemblers and nanofactories, while impressive in and of itself, is also the first step to self-replication, an often apocalyptic trope in science fiction. Grey goo is perhaps the most dramatic end-of-days self-replication scenario, involving robots that consume everything on Earth in their furious and unstoppable replication. Michael Crichton’s Prey and Greg Bear’s The Forge of God, in addition to Terminator II, Stargate and slew of others explore what could happen if artificial intelligence figures out how to reproduce without having to worry about the messy details of sex, pregnancy, and gestation. Or child rearing.

As of right now, it seems a few current problems have higher apocalyptic probability than grey goo, but scientists are making major strides in developing self-replicating robots. And, at least at the moment, those strides are nothing short of awesome.

Researchers at MIT have developed a new type of modular robot that can climb, move, roll, leap, and self-assemble. M-Blocks are deceptively simply little robot cubes that seem to be self-contained—they have no wheels, latches, or wings. What each M-Block does have is a flywheel that knows how to move, revolving up to 20,000 times per minute. It moves so quickly that when it brakes, the cube experiences angular momentum. And just when it seems the M-Blocks might fly out of control, the magnets on every cube face guide them into position and facilitate their assembly.

The major advancement demonstrated by the M-Block is a seemingly unlikely one—letting go of static stability, the prevailing conventional theory of existing self-assembly algorithms. Static stability means that as soon as a system stops moving, the parts will stay where they are, rather than experiencing inertia or angular momentum. It makes sense that this has been the governing principle of self-assembly algorithms, but watching the M-Blocks move, it makes sense that the MIT researchers abandoned it in favor of using the magnets to align the moving cubes.

Each cube edge has two rotating cylindrical magnets, kind of like rolling pins. Those magnets rotate to align north poles with south and south with north as the cubes draw near one another, so any cube face can attach to any other cube face. The beveled edges of the cubes create a gap when the cubes face one another, enabling the bevels and the magnets to touch when the cubes slide or flip on each other, strengthening the connection. This anchor, along with four additional pairs of smaller magnets, help the cubes snap in place against one another.

Ultimately, the researchers hope they can refine this model so at some point, the cubes can configure and reconfigure themselves into useful shapes, such as equipment or furniture. Armies of cubes could even repair structures or help in emergency situations. Eventually, researchers could miniaturize this model—you know, so they can create a hoard of tiny robots that can self-assemble into something terrifying, like the T-1000.

Other recent advances demonstrate that self-assembled robots don’t have to stay on the ground. Distributed Flight Array, a self-assembling modular robot developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, can drive and fly. The individual parts assemble on the ground at a dynamically-generated meeting point, and then via infrared light communication (or, in previous versions, magnets and pins), they latch together and take to the air. Each robot contains a rotor, so the placement of each robot affects how the assembled drone will fly. The take-off is an orchestrated feat—half the rotors turn clockwise while the other half turn counter-clockwise. The robots then adjust to counteract yaw and mid-air disturbances or to correct positioning and stability.

Right now, I have nothing but warm fuzzies for these awesome robots. But if they start to swarm, that feeling might change. Who knows—if science fiction is any indicator, we might have occasion to use that old warning system: one if by land, two if by sea.

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It Only Takes One Shot

walter bishop

On Fringe, Walter Bishop frequently saves the day and the victim of the genetic mutation of the week with a single dose of a furiously concocted formula. And while simply watching the show means I’ve long suspended my disbelief, every time it happens I can’t help but think, yeah right. A single injection is not going to turn that razor-toothed, spinal fluid-sucking lady into the respectable human being she used to be, but presto! Walter manages it every time.

We all know that doctors can cure or prevent certain illnesses with a single jab of a needle, but what about more pervasive conditions?

It can happen—if you’re a mouse.

Recently, scientists from Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health were able to cure Down syndrome in newborn mice with a single injection.

Of course, as with other medical experiments, the scientists first had to genetically engineer the mice to have extra copies of some of the genes on chromosome 21 that cause Down syndrome in humans, thus causing the mice to exhibit symptoms similar to humans who have Down’s. This is pretty much what happens on Fringe, except the scientists are evil, and never anticipate the violence and drama their wacky experiments will cause.

SAG-injected mice (TsSAG) versus non-SAG-treated Down syndrome mice (TsVeh) versus normal mice (EuVeh)  Courtesy Science Translational Medicine/AAAS

SAG-injected mice (TsSAG) versus non-SAG-treated Down syndrome mice (TsVeh)
versus normal mice (EuVeh)
(Courtesy Science Translational Medicine/AAAS)

When the mice were born, they exhibited smaller brain volumes and cerebellums, consistent with characteristics of Down’s. But on that first day, scientists injected them with a drug called SAG, which stimulates something called the Sonic Hedgehog pathway. In flies, embryos that lacked the Hedgehog protein became prickly balls, and whoever first discovered that must have enjoyed playing Sega. After all, studies show that gamers would make particularly adroit surgeons.

Anyway, the dose of SAG stimulated the Hedgehog pathway by mimicking a signaling protein, which ultimately led to completely normal development of the cerebellums of the affected mice. Not only that, but the mice that received the injection completed memory and learning tests and scored just as well on the SATs as the normal mice, even though those functions are controlled by the hippocampus, a completely different part of the brain.

The breakthrough represents hope for the eventual development of a human treatment for the currently incurable condition. While the drug “worked beautifully” on the mice, messing with the Hedgehog is risky. The pathway is crucial to brain development, so stimulating it biochemically could have unintended consequences, such as cancerous growths in the brain. The mice didn’t show evidence of such side effects, but considerably more testing needs to take place before anyone tries the drug on humans. Although that’s never stopped Walter Bishop.

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The Hyperloop: Getting Citizens Out of Southern California at 700 mph


mind the gap follow up

Could This Happen doesn’t really try to predict the future–at this point, there isn’t much I think won’t happen if given enough time. Still, when one of my post on a particular invention or innovation is followed by a major leap in technology that brings that invention to pass, I get giddy. Even if it involves lab-produced meat.

While Elon Musk’s Hyperloop hasn’t been built yet, his proposal for its design and construction builds nicely on a post I wrote in April 2012 about Futurama‘s transport system becoming a reality. To read more about the Hyperloop, check out the post I wrote for Giant Freakin Robot and get ready to buy your ticket.

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I Think I’d Prefer My Beef Uncultured, Thanks



Could This Happen (who happens to be a vegetarian), has been following the possibilities of artificially created food, including 3-D printed pastries and burritos and lab-produced meat.

Now, the latter possibility has been officially taste-tested.

Food scientist Hanni Rutzler said the lab-grown meat that debuted in London earlier this week has “quite some flavor, quite some intense taste.” Notice she didn’t say that the flavor or taste are good. She did concede that it’s “close” to meat. Yay?

lab meat

The second official taster, author Josh Schonwald, confirmed that the texture “has a feel like meat,” and then he compared it to a McDonald’s Burger and a Boca Burger, neither of which are meat.

The lab-grown burger is less fatty than one would get from a cut of real beef, and the premier lab-grown meal took three months and about $325,000 to make. Does it at least come with a little toy?

The technology behind the synthetic meat was developed by Dr. Mark Post, head of physiology at Maastricht University, who made the burger by stringing together tens of thousands of protein strands grown in petri dishes from cattle stem cells.

lab meat production

Post’s concerns about the long-term future of meat production and consumption echo those of environmentalists and PETA activists, particularly when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, widespread agricultural effects, and the increasing appetite of carnivores. “Meat demand is going to double in the next 40 years and right now we are using 70% of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock,” Post said. Lab-grown meat could join the ranks of free range and organic meat in terms of its sustainability and desirability. And, of course, cost.

Post’s work was funded (anonymously, and then not-so-anonymously) by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who calls the process by which synthetic meat is made a technology with “the capability to transform how we view our world.” And how we eat it, apparently.

Now that the burger’s been tested, the project will focus on improving the taste and lowering the cost to the point that Whole Foods clamors to stock it on its shelves, right next to the $9 organic ketchup. Until then, I think I’ll limit my food adventures to 3-D printed cupcakes.

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Pacific Rim’s Jaegers Reflect a Departure from Hollywood Norms

slate pacific rim

In addition to the question of whether it’s possible to create mecha robots, my Slate piece addresses a cultural “could this happen?” question–namely, could we accept robots as companions rather than competitors?

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