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Experts: United States Should Build a Prototype Fusion Power Plant

The United States should devote more resources to nuclear fusion research and build an ambitious prototype fusion power plant, according to a new report.

Power Play

The United States should devote substantially more resources to nuclear fusion research and build an ambitious prototype fusion power plant, according to a new report.

The report is the work of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Its conclusion: it’s more important than ever for the U.S. and the world to explore roads to practical fusion power.

Losin’ Fusion

At the crux of the report is the role the U.S. will play in ITER, an international experimental fusion facility currently under construction in France. Some U.S. politicians have denounced ITER, arguing that the U.S. should pull out of the project.

But the National Academies report argues that the U.S. should remain involved with ITER, which will use a donut-shaped tokamak reactor that’s currently scheduled to go online by 2030 to produce energy.

Future Vision

At the same time, according to the report, the U.S. should boost its spending on fusion research by $200 million per year and construct its own experimental reactor. The report points to the multidisciplinary scientific insights a prototype fusion power plant could grant, from energy to vacuum technologies and “complex cryonic systems.”

“We listened very carefully to the community, especially some of the younger scientists who are very active in the field, and what we heard from the scientists is a desire to get on with fusion energy,” Michael Mauel, a co-chair of the committee that released the report, told Science. “We’re not just studying this thing, we’re trying to see if it really does work.”

READ MORE: Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research [National Academies]

More on fusion: China’s “Artificial Sun” Is Now Hot Enough for Nuclear Fusion

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MIT Figured out a Way to Shrink Objects to Nanoscale

Birth of an Idea

A new nanotech breakthrough comes courtesy of a material you’d likely find in any nursery.

A team from MIT has figured out a way to quickly and inexpensively shrink objects to the nanoscale. It calls the process implosion fabrication, and it all starts with polyacrylate — the super-absorbent polymer typically found in baby diapers.

Size Matters

According to the MIT team’s paper, published Thursday in Science, the first step in the implosion fabrication process is adding a liquid solution to a piece of polyacrylate, causing it to swell.

Next, the team used lasers to bind fluorescein molecules to the polyacrylate in a pattern of their choosing. Those molecules acted as anchor points for whatever material the researchers wanted to shrink to the nanoscale.

You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors, researcher Edward Boyden said in an MIT news release. It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.

The researchers then dehydrated the polyacrylate scaffold using an acid. That caused the material attached to the polyacrylate to shrink in an even way to a thousandth of its original size.

Shrink Away

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of implosion fabrication is its accessibility — according to the MIT press release, many biology and materials science labs already have the necessary equipment to beginning shrinking objects to the nanoscale on their own.

As for what those researchers might shrink, the MIT team is already exploring potential uses for implosion fabrication, including in the fields of optics and robotics. But ultimately, they see no limit to the technique’s possible applications.

“There are all kinds of things you can do with this,” Boyden said. “Democratizing nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”

READ MORE: Team Invents Method to Shrink Objects to the Nanoscale [MIT News]

More on nanotech: Australian Scientists Have Developed a New Tool for Imaging Life at the Nanoscale

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MIT Figured out a Way to Shrink Objects to Nanoscale

For the First Time, a Startup Grew a Steak in a Lab

Israeli startup Aleph Farms has unveiled what appears to be the world's first lab-grown steak, a cut of meat produced from cells taken from a live animal.

High Steaks

An Israeli startup appears to have achieved a landmark accomplishment in the fake meat industry: lab-grown steak.

On Wednesday, Aleph Farms announced that it had grown a steak in a lab using cells extracted from a living cow. In a video shared alongside the announcement, a chef cooks up what looks like a regular beef steak, albeit one on the smaller side.

“The initial products are still relatively thin,” Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia acknowledges in a press release, “but the technology we developed marks a true breakthrough and a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak.”

Fresh Meat

It’s been five years since the public reveal of the first lab-grown hamburger. Since then, researchers have been able to dramatically improve upon the process of growing meat. What they haven’t been able to do is replicate the texture and structure of the specific cuts you’d find at a butcher.

“Making a patty or a sausage from cells cultured outside the animal is challenging enough,” Toubia said. “Imagine how difficult it is to create a whole-muscle steak.”

But that’s what Aleph Farms has seemingly done.

The key was finding a nutrient combination that would encourage the extracted animal cells to grow into a tissue structure comparable to that found in an actual cow. The company managed this using a bio-engineering platform co-developed with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

The Real Question

In an interview published by Business Insider on Wednesday, Toubia revealed that a steak like the one highlighted in Aleph Farms’s video takes two to three weeks to grow and costs about $50.

He also answered the question no doubt on the mind of anyone who watched the video of his company’s lab-grown steak sizzling in a skillet: whether it tastes good.

“The smell was great when we cooked it, exactly the same characteristic flavor as a conventional meat cut,” Toubia said. “It was a little bit chewy, same as meat. We saw and felt the fibers when we cut it with a knife.”

READ MORE: An Israeli Startup With Ties to America’s Most Popular Hummus Brand Says It Made the World’s First Lab-Grown Steak — a Holy Grail for the Industry [Business Insider]

More on lab-grown meat: We’re About to Get Many More Meat Alternatives

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For the First Time, a Startup Grew a Steak in a Lab

Look at These Incredibly Realistic Faces Generated By A Neural Network

Researchers at NVIDIA created a neural network that can come up with incredibly realistic faces on the spot.

Faking It

We officially can no longer trust anything we see on the internet. From whole-body deep fakes to AI-based translation dubbing, technology is starting to distort reality — all with the help of machine learning.

Case in point: researchers at NVIDIA have harnessed the power of a generative adversarial network (GAN) — a class of neural network — to generate some extremely realistic faces. The results are more impressive than anything we’ve seen before. Take a look below, bearing in mind that none of these faces are real.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

Fake Faces

A GAN can iteratively generate images based on genuine photos it learns from. Then it evaluates the new images against the original. In this instance, the researchers taught a GAN a number of “styles” — faces modeled after subjects who were old, young, wearing glasses, or had different hair styles.

The results are spectacular. Even small seemingly random details like freckles, skin pores or stubble are convincingly distributed in the images the project generated.

The network even took a crack at generating fake pictures of cats. They didn’t turn out quite as well.

Image Credit: NVIDIA

AI Rising

It’s not the first time a GAN has been used to generate pictures of people. Last year, the same group of NVIDIA researchers created a neural-network-based image generator. But results were far less impressive: faces appear distorted and unnatural. The results are also of a much lower resolution.

Neural networks are becoming incredibly good at faking human faces. Will we be able to tell them apart in the future? At this rate, they could become indistinguishable from reality.

READ MORE: A Style-Based Generator Architecture for Generative Adversarial Networks [arXiv]

More on neural network-generated faces: These People Never Existed. They Were Made by an AI.

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Look at These Incredibly Realistic Faces Generated By A Neural Network

Biologists Engineered An Assassin Virus to Kill Bacteria on Command

Listening In

Different viruses attack different types of cells. A flu virus, for example, attacks lung cells, while the HIV virus attacks immune-system cells. Some viruses, known as phages, attack bacteria — and, it turns out, they don’t all do so randomly.

A team from Princeton has discovered that some phages actually “listen” to the conversations that take place between bacteria to identify the ideal time to strike — and we might be able to use this discovery in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

Tiny Spy

We’ve long known that bacteria can communicate through the release of molecules. In a paper published in the journal Cell on Thursday, the Princeton researchers describe a finding that builds on that mechanism: a virus called VP882, which “listens” for those molecules in order to know when there are enough bacteria around to justify attacking, a process that involves creating many replicas of itself.

This eavesdropping is a survival technique — if there aren’t enough bacteria around, the VP882 virus and its replicas will all die after the attack. It turns out, VP882 isn’t unique, either. The Princeton team discovered that other viruses also spy on bacteria in various ways to determine when to strike.

“It’s brilliant and insidious!” researcher Bonnie Bassler said in a press release. It’s also the first known example of such radically different organisms listening to one another’s communications.

Assassins Freed

Once the Princeton team figured out VP882’s eavesdropping ability, it set out to use that ability against bacteria. By re-engineering VP882 in the lab, graduate student Justin Silpe was able to get the virus to attack when it sensed any input he chose, not just the communication molecule that naturally set it off.

And VP882 itself is unique in that it can infect multiple types of cells, unlike the flu and HIV viruses mentioned above. In tests, Silpe manage to get VP882 to attack cholera, salmonella, and E. coli — three very different types of bacteria.

The medical community already knew it could use some phages to treat bacterial diseases. Now that we know we can turn a least one phage into an assassin, we might be able to find a way to use it against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria currently threatening global health.

READ MORE: Biologists Turn Eavesdropping Viruses Into Bacterial Assassins [Princeton University]

More on antibiotic resistance: A World Without Antibiotics? The UN Has Elevated the Issue of Antibiotic Resistance

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Biologists Engineered An Assassin Virus to Kill Bacteria on Command

A Waymo Rider Talked Publicly About the Service — Even Though He Wasn’t Supposed To

Contract, Schmontract

Michael Richardson is one lucky guy.

In mid-September, self-driving car company Waymo accepted the technologist and entrepreneur into its early rider program in Phoenix, Arizona.

Like all riders, Richardson signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), a legal contract forbidding him from talking about his experience as a Waymo rider. Now he’s getting away with violating that contract, and what he had to say answers several key questions about the service — while leaving many others unanswered.

Good Guy Waymo

On Wednesday, Richardson agreed to an interview with Ars Technica, telling the publication that Waymo had freed him from his NDA. It turns out he was mistaken — Richardson was still legally bound to keep quiet about the rides he’d taken in the company’s autonomous vehicles.

Nevertheless, Waymo agreed to let Ars run its story. And in a move that surely caused Richardson to breathe a huge sigh of relief, it also promised it wouldn’t pursue legal action against him.

First Impression

That bit of goodwill on the part of Waymo should temper some of the not-so-positive news in the Ars story.

As part of the early rider program, Richarson took two round-trip rides with Waymo: one on September 28 and another on October 6. During his interview, the Waymo rider noted multiple limitations with the service, including a small coverage area, a higher cost than Uber and Lyft, and restricted pick-up and drop-off locations. He also claimed his vehicles took longer routes than necessary to avoid a freeway and a tricky left turn.

Perhaps most troubling, he also initially told Ars that he saw safety drivers take control of the vehicles on multiple occasions. According to Waymo’s records, however, a safety driver only took over once, and Richardson later admitted that he may have misremembered.

More to Come

Of course, if Richardson got one part of his story wrong, there’s a chance the rest of it isn’t airtight. He also hasn’t ridden with Waymo since it launched its commercial service, Waymo One, meaning the company could have already worked out some of the kinks he noticed two-plus months ago.

Waymo does plan to lift the NDA restriction on riders who transition to Waymo One, so we should be getting a wider range of views on the company’s vehicles in the near future.

Still, this is our first look inside one of Waymo’s cars from the perspective of a Waymo rider, and it certainly wasn’t all negative.

“I’m impressed by what the vehicle can do and how well it gets around,” Richardson told Ars. “It’s very, very impressive.”

READ MORE: We Finally Talked to an Actual Waymo Passenger—here’s What He Told Us [Ars Technica]

More on Waymo One: Waymo Has Officially Launched a Self-Driving Taxi Service

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A Waymo Rider Talked Publicly About the Service — Even Though He Wasn’t Supposed To

Scammers Sent Hoax Bomb Threats Worldwide Demanding Bitcoin

This week, scammers have started emailing hoax bomb threats to schools and hospitals, demanding bitcoin payments in exchange for not setting off explosives.

Bomb Threats

Ransomware that demands cryptocurrency payments in exchange for releasing infected computers is an old phenomenon.

Now that practice has a dark new twist. This week, scammers have started emailing bomb threats to hundreds of schools, hospitals, businesses and other public and private institutions in multiple countries, demanding bitcoin payments in exchange for not setting off seemingly made-up explosives. The threats caused mayhem. Entire blocks were shut down in several cities — a dark testament to the power of online anonymity.

No Terrorism Here

Emergency responders were dispatched in multiple cities across North America to investigate the threats — including a dozen threats in DC alone. Not a single bomb has been found at press time, leading authorities to believe the threats were an elaborate bluff.

The advice from the U.S. government: tell the FBI, and do not pay the ransom of $20,000 U.S. in Bitcoin.

The cryptic emails demanded that victims send the payment to a bitcoin address.

“If you are late with the transaction,” the email says, “the bomb will explode.”

Hitting Bitcoin While It’s Down

The value of Bitcoin took a substantial hit in the wake of the bomb threats. That’s bad news, since Bitcoin was already slouching. Bitcoin Cash also fell 13 percent, and many other major cryptocurrencies followed.

The takeaway: advocates have long predicted that blockchain technology is about to go mainstream, but to date the technology hasn’t strayed far from its early roots in crime and drug sales. Only time will tell whether the tech will eventually shed that identity.

READ MORE: Bitcoin scammers send bomb threats worldwide, causing evacuations [The Verge]

More on bitcoin: Here’s The Conspiracy Tearing Bitcoin Crypto Communities Apart

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Scammers Sent Hoax Bomb Threats Worldwide Demanding Bitcoin

Richard Branson: Future of Work Is “Three and Even Four Day Weekends”

In an interview with CNBC's Making It, billionaire Richard Branson said that three or four day weekends could be a reality for

Work Hard, Play Hard

British billionaire Richard Branson — the Virgin CEO who drove a tank through New York City and crossed the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle — thinks we’re all working a bit too hard.

If we all worked “smarter, we won’t have to work longer,” he tweeted Wednesday. In an accompanying blog post, he argued that innovations like self-driving cars and drones will cause more jobs to be taken over by robots.

“Could people eventually take three and even four day weekends?” he wrote. “Certainly.”

Billionaire Club

Branson isn’t the only one who believes the future of work will be less demanding. Google co-founder Larry Page has also called for the end of the 40-hour work week.

“The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is not true,” Page told Vinod Khsola, a billionaire venture capitalist, as quoted by Computerworld in 2014.

All Work and No Play

Other big names take a darker tone about automation. Elon Musk has repeatedly warned of automation and the future of employment.

“A lot of people derive meaning from their employment. If you’re not needed, what is the meaning? Do you feel useless?” he told an audience at the World Government Summit in Dubai back in 2017. One option: universal basic income — the concept of distributing a basic income to every citizen of a nation. In fact, he argues, it would be a necessity.

But just because our billionaire overlords think it’s a great to axe hours and give us more holidays, it’s still pretty unlikely that will happen any time soon.

READ MORE: Billionaire Richard Branson: The 9-to-5 workday and 5-day work week will die off [CNBC]

More on job automation: Robots Are Coming for Service Jobs

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Richard Branson: Future of Work Is “Three and Even Four Day Weekends”

Breathing in Moon Dust Could be Even More Toxic Than We Thought

A new study from scientists at Stony Brook University found that moon dust particles could react with human cells — and potentially lead to cancer.

Uninviting Environment

Space agencies are working hard to get humans back to the surface of the Moon. But it’s not exactly the most inviting place.

Astronauts during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 may not have had any health incidents while they were gleefully bouncing around on the lunar surface, as a NASA mission report from the time points out. But they knew that lunar dust wasn’t their friend — it could irritate their lungs, cause their Moon buggies to overheat — it even started degrading their spacesuits.

Hydroxyl Radicals

And now, scientists have collected even more evidence that Moon dust could be really terrible for us. By studying samples of dust — or regolith — from the lunar surface, scientists at Stony Brook University in New York found that it could react with human cells to create so-called “hydroxyl radicals” — highly reactive particles that have have been linked to lung cancers in the past, New Scientist reports.

“It’s a major health concern for future astronauts,” Donald Hendrix, leader of the study at Stony Brook University, tells New Scientist.

Lunar Cancer

And it gets worse. A different study has found that lunar dust could cause damage to cells’ DNA, which could eventually lead to cancer. The study exposed mouse brain cells, and human lung cells to simulated lunar soil. The results were discouraging: 90 percent of human lung cells and mouse neurons died, according to Universe Today.

The toxicity of lunar dust is going to be a big problem for any human planning on wandering around on the surface of the Moon in the future. “Dust is the number one concern in returning to the Moon,” says Apollo astronaut John Young, as quoted by New Scientist. But it likely won’t hold us back completely.

READ MORE: Breathing in moon dust could release toxins in astronauts’ lungs [New Scientist]

More on Moon dust: Scientists Are 3D Printing Fake Moon Dust Into Useful Objects

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All New Public Buses in California Have to Be Electric by 2029

California became the first state to mandate that all new mass transit buses have to be electric by 2029. All buses will have to electric in 2040.

Electric Fleet

California became the first state to require all new homes to offset their electricity needs with solar energy earlier this month. And it’s planning to tackle emissions from public transit vehicles next.

By the year 2029, all new mass transit buses in the whole state will have to be fully electric, according to a new rule adopted unanimously by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) yesterday — a powerful arm of the Californian government dedicated to maintaining healthy air quality since 1967. All mass transit bus fleets will have to be electric by 2040.

“[A zero-emission public bus fleet] dramatically reduces tailpipe pollution from buses in low-income communities and provides multiple benefits especially for transit-dependent riders,” says CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols in an official statement.

Say No to the Pump

But there’s another advantage that could help motivate the roughly 200 mass transit agencies to adopt exclusively electric buses in the future: significant savings from switching from expensive gasoline to electricity. “Putting more zero-emission buses on our roads will also reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gases, and provides cost savings for transit agencies in the long run,” Nichols goes on to say.

The move could massively reduce carbon emissions in the state, despite the fact that many of the largest transit agencies are already in the process of switching to electric buses — although, the transition has only begun. Only about 150 buses are electric out of 12,000 in the state, according to the New York Times.

A Steep Hill to Climb

So far, the transition has been a little rough. The LA Times reports that many electric buses in California’s largest city are plagued by “stalls, stops, and breakdowns.” San Francisco city officials are worried that electric buses might not have enough oomph to get a full load of passengers up its famously steep hills.

Despite these roadblocks, switching to exclusively electric buses has a ton of benefits — from cleaner air, much quieter streets, and savings in fuel costs.

READ MORE: California Requires New City Buses to Be Electric by 2029 [New York Times]

More on electric buses: By 2019, There Will be Electric School Buses

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The SEC Is Letting a Company Treat Your Genetic Code as Currency

Seeing Value

Your health data might be worth more than you think.

In July, home DNA testing company 23andMe earned itself $300 million for agreeing to sell customers’ health data to a pharmaceutical company — and it’s far from the only company cutting similar lucrative deals.

But while they rake in the profits from those contracts, the people actually providing the data get nothing — and one health startup hopes to change that.

Shares for Shares

LunaPBC is the public benefit corporation behind LunaDNA, a platform where people can upload their health data in exchange for shares in the company.

The number of shares is commensurate with the type of data uploaded. A user who uploads 20 days’ worth of data from their fitness tracker, for example, will earn two shares at a value of $.07 each, while one who uploads their entire genome will earn 300 shares — the equivalent of $21.

The company even sought — and received — approval from the Securities and Exchanges Commission to leverage health data as currency in this way.

LunaDNA just started accepting data from users last week, and currently, that data is limited to files from certain personal genomics companies, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, or health surveys it generates itself. Eventually, though, the company plans to expand to include other data sources.

Win-Win-Win

LunaPBC will sell access to users’ health data to researchers — just like 23andMe and AncestryDNA do — and if the company prospers, those with shares in it will also benefit.

“When people acquire shares they have an ownership stake in the company,” CEO Dawn Barry told MobiHealthNews. “When value is created in the platform that value flows back to the individuals in the form of dividends.”

Not everyone will pay the same rate for access to LunaPBC’s data, though — while it plans to charge for-profit companies the market rate, it will charge non-profit researchers less.

“We don’t want any silos,” Barry said. “Information silos have been a hindrance to researchers in the past. We want any type of credible researchers to be able to come in.”

READ MORE: This Health Startup Lets You Monetize Your DNA [Fast Company]

More on data: Think Deleting Your Facebook Profile Is Hard? Try Deleting Your Genomic Data.

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The SEC Is Letting a Company Treat Your Genetic Code as Currency

New Rules Takes the Guesswork out of Human Gene Editing

Researchers have identified two rules that they believe ensure the effects of human gene editing are less unpredictable and random.

Not So Random

There are many good reasons to criticize Chinese researcher He Jiankui for reportedly gene-editing two human babies — not only did his actions violate several accords within the scientific community, but he also undertook the project without proper transparency and oversight, working mostly in secret.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that He’s edits could affect the twin babies in unexpected ways. We don’t yet know how to ensure that CRISPR edits in humans do exactly what we want them to do — but that could be starting to change.

“The effects of CRISPR were thought to be unpredictable and seemingly random,” Francis Crick Institute researcher Paola Scaffidi said in a news release, “but by analysing hundreds of edits we were shocked to find that there are actually simple, predictable patterns behind it all.”

Two Simple Rules for Editing My Genes

In a paper published in the journal Molecular Cell on Thursday, Scaffidi and his Crick colleagues describe a set of simple rules they believe take some of the guesswork out of human gene editing.

The first of those rules involves the region a researcher instructs CRISPR to target. If a certain genetic letter (G) is in a certain place (fourth letter from the end of the target sequence), the edit will likely result in many imprecise deletions. The solution: avoid targeting those regions.

The second involves the target DNA’s degree of “openness” during the CRISPR edit. The team discovered that the use of compounds that forced DNA to open up resulted in more efficient editing.

“We hadn’t previously appreciated the significance of DNA openness in determining the efficiency of CRISPR genome editing,” researcher Josep Monserrat said. “This could be another factor to consider when aiming to edit a gene in a specific way.”

Guiding Hand

While these rules may have arrived too late to protect the twin babies on the receiving end of He’s CRISPR edits, they could put us on the path to a future in which we can edit the genes of humans without worrying about unintended consequences.

“Until now, editing genes with CRISPR has involved a lot of guesswork, frustration, and trial and error,” Scaffidi said, later adding, “This will fundamentally change the way we use CRISPR, allowing us to study gene function with greater precision and significantly accelerating our science.”

READ MORE: Scientists Crack the CRISPR Code for Precise Human Genome Editing [The Francis Crick Institute]

More on human gene editing: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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New Rules Takes the Guesswork out of Human Gene Editing

This Neptune-Sized Exoplanet Is Being Melted Away By Its Star

A newly-discovered planet, orbiting a distant star, is approximately the size of Neptune — but the red dwarf it orbits is boiling it away.

Melted Away

A newly discovered gas planet, orbiting a distant star, is approximately the size of Neptune — but it’s so close to the red dwarf it orbits that it’s literally boiling away.

“This is the smoking gun that planets can lose a significant fraction of their entire mass,” Johns Hopkins planetary scientist David Sing, who helped find the exoplanet, said in a news release. He added that it’s “losing more of its mass than any other planet we seen so far; in only a few billion years from now, half of the planet may be gone.”

Nature Is Metal

The planet, which is called GJ 3470b and described in a new paper in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is what’s known as a “hot Neptune.” That means that it’s a gas giant, like our own solar system’s Neptune or Jupiter, but it’s far closer to its host star than either of those planets.

GJ 3470b is so close to its star, in fact, that it’s boiling away into space. To make matters worse, it’s not a very heavy planet, meaning that its gravitational pull on its own atmosphere is comparatively weak.

Mysteries of the Cosmos

The rapidly vanishing GJ 3470b could provide an important clue about the nature of gas planets outside our solar system. Though the Kepler mission has found many smaller “mini-Neptunes” sprinkled throughout the galaxy, hot Neptunes are rare. The new theory: we’re not finding as many hot Neptunes because, like GJ 3470b, they tend to boil away into mini-Neptunes.

“It’s one of the most extreme examples of a planet undergoing a major mass-loss over its lifetime,” University of Geneva astronomer Vincent Bourrier, another researcher on the hot Neptune project, said in the same news release. “This sizable mass loss has major consequences for its evolution, and it impacts our understanding of the origin and fate of the population of exoplanets close to their stars.”

READ MORE: Astronomers Have Detected a Planet That’s Actually Evaporating Away at Record Speed [Science Alert]

More on hot Neptunes: Researchers Found a Treasure Trove of Planets Hiding in Dust

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This Neptune-Sized Exoplanet Is Being Melted Away By Its Star

Porsche and BMW’s New EV Chargers Are 3x Faster Than Tesla’s

BMW and Porsche's new 450 kW

Who’s in Charge?

Driving an electric car (EV) saves money and helps the environment. But charging it is a pain — almost like back when every cellphone needed a different charger.

There are a bunch of different charging standards, power outputs, and EV battery types. Charging at home can take forever, and charging at a roadside stop — if you can even find a compatible station — can take hours.

But Porsche and BMW’s brand new charger could be a game-changer. The FastCharge charger could provide enough juice for 62 miles (100 km) of range in just three minutes. That’s not that much slower than filling up a gasoline tank at the pump — and it’s up to three times faster than Tesla’s Supercharger network.

Ultra Charger

Tesla’s Supercharger network only charges at speeds of up to 145 kW — although in many areas it’s a lot slower than that. Other “rapid” — or Type 2 — chargers provide between 43 and 120 kW. To reach 450 kW, Porsche had to develop a special cooling system to make sure every cell remains at an efficient, operable temperature.

It’s not the only charger of its kind: in April, Swiss company ABB Group launched what it called the “world’s fastest” EV charger — a 350 kW charger that can extend your range by 120 miles (193 km) in just three minutes. Bear in mind that ABB likely arrived at those figures by considering different EV battery voltages than Porsche. Futurism has reached out to Porsche to clarify how it arrived at FastCharge’s charging time estimate.

And Tesla’s Superchargers might also get an upgrade to speeds of up to 250 kW some time next year, Electrek reports.

A Charger Near You

So far, only two prototypes of Porsche and BMW’s “FastCharger” exist in Germany.

It’s hard to say whether similar chargers will ever become commonplace at gas stations near you. But if they ever do, EVs could start looking a lot more practical to potential buyers.

READ MORE: Porsche plugs into 450 kW EV charging station [The Verge]

More on EV chargers: EV-Charging Roads Have Arrived. Here’s Why We Do (and Don’t) Need Them.

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Porsche and BMW’s New EV Chargers Are 3x Faster Than Tesla’s

McDonald’s Exec: “We’re Keeping Our Eye” on Meatless Burgers

The iconic hamburger chain McDonald's could start serving up high-tech meatless burgers alongside its Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets. 

McProtein

The iconic hamburger chain McDonald’s could start serving up high-tech meatless burgers alongside its Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

That’s according to Lucy Brady, the fast food giant’s senior vice president of corporate strategy, during Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in California this week. In reference to high-tech meatless patties like the Impossible Burger, Brady said that “plant-based protein is something we’re keeping our eye on.”

Impossible Burger

It’s not clear whether the burger chain would spring for an off-the-shelf vegetarian burger, like those made by Impossible Foods, or develop its own in-house. With the fast food market’s race-to-the-bottom pricing, a home brew option would probably be attractive: an Impossible Burger patty typically retails for about three dollars.

If it did add a meatless burger to the menu, McDonald’s wouldn’t be the first fast food chain to experiment with vegetarian cuisine. Burger King has offered a MorningStar Farms veggie burger for years, and White Castle debuted an Impossible-branded slider this year that Eater hailed as “one of America’s best fast-food burgers.”

Fake Meat

Important to note: though the terminology is still evolving, meat substitutes like those made by Impossible and MorningStar are still “fake meat” — typically based on hearty proteins like soy, gluten, or pea — rather than lab-grown.

The latter, which is grown from cells harvested from a real animal, could be the real game-changer from a consumer point of view — and some producers have teased releasing it for sale by 2019. But don’t expect to see it on a fast food menu soon: though the cost per ounce has fallen precipitously since the first lab-grown meats were developed several years ago, their price point is still substantially higher than conventionally-farmed meat.

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SpaceX Smashed the Record for Commercial Space Launches This Year

SpaceX has shattered the record for commercial rocket launches in a year, at 20. That beats the prior record of 18 launches in a year — which it also set.

Launch Box

As humankind ventures farther into the Earth’s gravity well, it’s been a banner year for Elon Musk’s commercial spaceflight venture SpaceX.

Case in point: Business Insider reports that SpaceX has shattered the record for commercial rocket launches in a year, at 20. That beats the prior record of 18 launches in a year — which was also set by SpaceX, in 2017. Before that, the figure stood at 16, set by United Launch Alliance in 2009.

21 Pilots

SpaceX has one more launch scheduled for 2018 — a satellite called GPS Block IIIA, which will improve location tracking services for the U.S. Air Force — bringing the company’s total tally of launches to 21.

It’s worth noting, though, that the 21 launches falls short of Musk’s most optimistic prediction for the company in 2018: that it would launch more rockets than any country on Earth. That honor, Business Insider found, went to China, which has launched about 35 rockets this year.

Starboy

Musk has had a tough year in the press, with drama as his electric car company, Tesla, struggled to bring its Model 3 compact to market. But the launch record comes as a bright cap to a year — and just weeks after Tesla reportedly managed to churn out 1,000 Model 3 vehicles per day.

“Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another,” Musk tweeted earlier this year after launching a Tesla Roadster into space. “There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did for you.”

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SpaceX Smashed the Record for Commercial Space Launches This Year

This New $5,800 Headset is the Rolls Royce of Virtual Reality

VRgineers's $5,800 virtual reality headset called XTAL features a pair of quad HD displays and a generous 180 degree field of view.

High-End VR

The future of VR is bright. Virtual reality headsets are becoming increasingly affordable, and the technology has come a long way over the last eight years.

And today, we get to experience the newest and greatest the VR world has to offer —if you can afford it: the $5,800 XTAL headset by VR startup VRgineers.

We first heard about the XTAL earlier this year, but a new and improved version is about to make its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show — the world’s biggest tech show — in January, TechCrunch reports.

The XTAL

The Prague-based startup’s headset features some amazing specs: two Quad HD (2560 x 1440 resolution) OLED (organic LED) displays, and an impressive 180-degree field-of-view.

VRgineers touts the XTAL’s lenses and displays to be “best-in-class” on its website, while promising “no blurring” thanks to the headset’s new-and-improved 180 degree field of view.

Blurring around the edges of the lenses is a common issue with conventional VR headsets. By increasing the field of view to 180 degrees, the XTAL could reduce that effect substantially.

Users will also be able to track their hands while wearing the headset thanks to integrated Leap Motion sensors. Did I mention the headset itself is an absolute unit?

VR Luxury

$5,800 is pretty steep for a virtual reality headset these days — Oculus Rift is planning to sell a standalone, but far less impressive headset for just $399 as soon as next year.

So who’s it for? But at such a high price point VRgineers is targeting a professional audience, not your average gamer. The startup suggests that the XTAL could be used by automotive designers, and engineers on its website.

Will there be a future for high-end VR headsets? That will mostly be up to the enterprise market to decide.

READ MORE: VRgineers looks to set a new gold standard with their $5,800 VR headset [TechCrunch]

More on VR headsets: Facebook’s Oculus Just Patented a Retina-Resolution VR Display

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This New $5,800 Headset is the Rolls Royce of Virtual Reality

NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Could Assist Commercial Missions to the Moon

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that launched in 2009 could assist future commercial and international lunar landers.

Lunar Helper

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched in 2009. And it’s still orbiting the Moon to this very day — almost ten years later.

And it still has a decent amount of fuel left in its tank — about 44 pounds (20 kilograms) worth according to LRO project scientist Noah Petro. “That may not seem like a lot, but we don’t go through much fuel on an annual basis,” he said at last month’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting, as quoted by SpaceNews. In fact that remaining fuel could be enough for the next seven years of operation, according to Petro.

Moon Assistance

On November 29, NASA announced it is planning to buy space on board commercial landers for future scientific missions.

NASA is also offering to use the LRO to assist those landers — and other international missions to the Moon as well.

For instance, it could help identify safe landing sites, and help out during landing. “We want to observe the plumes as the landers land and kick up dust and disturb the environment,” says Barbara Cohen, LRO associate project scientist, at the announcement, as quoted by SpaceNews.

Off to the Moon

And the LRO is already on standby. It will observe the landing of two upcoming (non-commercial) lunar landers: the Israeli SpaceIL lander, and India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander, SpaceNews reports. Both missions are slated to land on the Moon early next year.

The move could build a lot of trust between the flourishing commercial, and international space exploration sector. But why China’s space agency was absent from the discussions remains to be seen.

READ MORE: NASA lunar orbiter now supporting commercial and international missions [SpaceNews]

More on lunar landers: China to Land First-Ever Rover on Dark Side of the Moon

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Transhuman – Wikipedia

Not to be confused with “trans” used as an abbreviation for “transsexual” or “transgender” in the terms trans man, trans woman.

Transhuman, or trans-human, is the concept of an intermediary form between human and posthuman.[1] In other words, a transhuman is a being that resembles a human in most respects but who has powers and abilities beyond those of standard humans.[2] These abilities might include improved intelligence, awareness, strength, or durability. Transhumans sometimes appear in science-fiction as cyborgs or genetically-enhanced humans.

The use of the term “transhuman” goes back to French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who wrote in his 1949 book The Future of Mankind:

Liberty: that is to say, the chance offered to every man (by removing obstacles and placing the appropriate means at his disposal) of ‘trans-humanizing’ himself by developing his potentialities to the fullest extent.[3]

And in a 1951 unpublished revision of the same book:

In consequence one is the less disposed to reject as unscientific the idea that the critical point of planetary Reflection, the fruit of socialization, far from being a mere spark in the darkness, represents our passage, by Translation or dematerialization, to another sphere of the Universe: not an ending of the ultra-human but its accession to some sort of trans-humanity at the ultimate heart of things.[4]

In 1957 book New Bottles for New Wine, English evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley wrote:

The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature. “I believe in transhumanism”: once there are enough people who can truly say that, the human species will be on the threshold of a new kind of existence, as different from ours as ours is from that of Peking man. It will at last be consciously fulfilling its real destiny.[5]

One of the first professors of futurology, FM-2030, who taught “new concepts of the Human” at The New School of New York City in the 1960s, used “transhuman” as shorthand for “transitional human”. Calling transhumans the “earliest manifestation of new evolutionary beings”, FM argued that signs of transhumans included physical and mental augmentations including prostheses, reconstructive surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilisation), absence of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family values.[6]

FM-2030 used the concept of transhuman as an evolutionary transition, outside the confines of academia, in his contributing final chapter to the 1972 anthology Woman, Year 2000.[7] In the same year, American cryonics pioneer Robert Ettinger contributed to conceptualization of “transhumanity” in his book Man into Superman.[8] In 1982, American Natasha Vita-More authored a statement titled Transhumanist Arts Statement and outlined what she perceived as an emerging transhuman culture.[9]

Jacques Attali, writing in 2006, envisaged transhumans as an altruistic vanguard of the later 21st century:

Vanguard players (I shall call them transhumans) will run (they are already running) relational enterprises in which profit will be no more than a hindrance, not a final goal. Each of these transhumans will be altruistic, a citizen of the planet, at once nomadic and sedentary, his neighbor’s equal in rights and obligations, hospitable and respectful of the world. Together, transhumans will give birth to planetary institutions and change the course of industrial enterprises.[10]

In March 2007, American physicist Gregory Cochran and paleoanthropologist John Hawks published a study, alongside other recent research on which it builds, which amounts to a radical reappraisal of traditional views, which tended to assume that humans have reached an evolutionary endpoint. Physical anthropologist Jeffrey McKee argued the new findings of accelerated evolution bear out predictions he made in a 2000 book The Riddled Chain. Based on computer models, he argued that evolution should speed up as a population grows because population growth creates more opportunities for new mutations; and the expanded population occupies new environmental niches, which would drive evolution in new directions. Whatever the implications of the recent findings, McKee concludes that they highlight a ubiquitous point about evolution: “every species is a transitional species”.[11]

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