Scientists Create Material With “Artificial Metabolism”

A new biomaterial exhibits metabolism-like behaviors. It appears in some ways to act like a living thing, blurring the line between biology and machinery.

Slime Mold

Scientists just got one step closer to creating living machines — or at least machines that mimic biological life as we know it.

A new biomaterial built in a Cornell University bioengineering lab uses synthetic DNA to continuously and autonomously organize, assemble, and restructure itself in a process so similar to how biological cells and tissues grow that the researchers are calling “artificial metabolism,” according to research published in Science Robotics last week.

 We Can Regrow It

It’s clear that the scientists are dancing around the idea of creating lifelike machinery. They stop short of straight-up claiming that their metabolizing biomaterial is alive, but the research begins by coyly listing the characteristics of life that the material exhibits — self-assembly, organization, and metabolism.

“We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism,” Cornell engineer Dan Lui said in a university-published press release. “We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before.”

Worming Along

The biomaterial mimics a biological organism’s endless metabolic cycle of taking in energy and replacing old cells. When placed in a nutrient-rich environment, the material grew in the direction of the raw materials and food it needed to thrive — not unlike how a developing brain’s neurons grow out in the direction of specific molecules.

Meanwhile, the material also let its tail end die off and decay, giving the appearance of a constantly-regrowing slime mold traveling around toward food.

While the little bio-blob isn’t alive, it does appear to move and grow like a living thing, suggesting that scientists are blurring the line between life and machine more and more.

READ MORE: FORGET ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE; THINK ARTIFICIAL LIFE [Hackaday]

More on biomaterials: Scientists Manipulated a Material for Robots That Grows Like Human Skin

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Liberty University

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USING EDUCATION TO SERVE GOD & CHANGE THE WORLD

Serving Others Near and Far

Luke & Tracy Hamer (13), Aeronautics

You dont need a runway when you have a floatplane.

This is the phrase that Luke Hamer (13) said God used to redirect him and his wife, Tracy (13), on their path to Papua New Guinea.

After graduation, the couple, who met while pursuing their B.S. in

Read The Hamers Champion Story

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Liberty University

Liberty | Definition of Liberty by Merriam-Webster

1 : the quality or state of being free:

a : the power to do as one pleases

b : freedom from physical restraint

d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges

e : the power of choice

b : permission especially to go freely within specified limits was given the liberty of the house

3 : an action going beyond normal limits: such as

c : a violation of rules or a deviation from standard practice took liberties in the way he played the game

d : a distortion of fact The movie takes many liberties with the actual events.

4 : a short authorized absence from naval duty usually for less than 48 hours

city in northwestern Missouri north-northeast of Kansas City population 29,149

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Liberty | Definition of Liberty by Merriam-Webster

Liberty – Wikipedia

Broadly speaking, liberty (Latin: Libertas) is the ability to do as one pleases.[1] In politics, liberty consists of the social, political, and economic freedoms to which all community members are entitled.[2] In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism.[3] In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of “sin, spiritual servitude, [or] worldly ties.”[4]

Sometimes liberty is differentiated from freedom by using the word “freedom” primarily, if not exclusively, to mean the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do; and using the word “liberty” to mean the absence of arbitrary restraints, taking into account the rights of all involved. In this sense, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others.[5] Thus liberty entails the responsible use of freedom under the rule of law without depriving anyone else of their freedom. Freedom is more broad in that it represents a total lack of restraint or the unrestrained ability to fulfill one’s desires. For example, a person can have the freedom to murder, but not have the liberty to murder, as the latter example deprives others of their right not to be harmed. Liberty can be taken away as a form of punishment. In many countries, people can be deprived of their liberty if they are convicted of criminal acts.

The word “liberty” is often used in slogans, such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”[6] or “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.[7]

Philosophers from earliest times have considered the question of liberty. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121180 AD) wrote:

a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed.[8]

According to Thomas Hobbes (15881679):

a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.

John Locke (16321704) rejected that definition of liberty. While not specifically mentioning Hobbes, he attacks Sir Robert Filmer who had the same definition. According to Locke:

In the state of nature, liberty consists of being free from any superior power on Earth. People are not under the will or lawmaking authority of others but have only the law of nature for their rule. In political society, liberty consists of being under no other lawmaking power except that established by consent in the commonwealth. People are free from the dominion of any will or legal restraint apart from that enacted by their own constituted lawmaking power according to the trust put in it. Thus, freedom is not as Sir Robert Filmer defines it: ‘A liberty for everyone to do what he likes, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws.’ Freedom is constrained by laws in both the state of nature and political society. Freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of nature. Freedom of people under government is to be under no restraint apart from standing rules to live by that are common to everyone in the society and made by the lawmaking power established in it. Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.[9]

John Stuart Mill (18061873), in his work, On Liberty, was the first to recognize the difference between liberty as the freedom to act and liberty as the absence of coercion.[10] In his book Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin formally framed the differences between these two perspectives as the distinction between two opposite concepts of liberty: positive liberty and negative liberty. The latter designates a negative condition in which an individual is protected from tyranny and the arbitrary exercise of authority, while the former refers to the liberty that comes from self-mastery, the freedom from inner compulsions such as weakness and fear.

The modern concept of political liberty has its origins in the Greek concepts of freedom and slavery.[11] To be free, to the Greeks, was not to have a master, to be independent from a master (to live as one likes).[12] That was the original Greek concept of freedom. It is closely linked with the concept of democracy, as Aristotle put it:

This applied only to free men. In Athens, for instance, women could not vote or hold office and were legally and socially dependent on a male relative.[14]

The populations of the Persian Empire enjoyed some degree of freedom. Citizens of all religions and ethnic groups were given the same rights and had the same freedom of religion, women had the same rights as men, and slavery was abolished (550 BC). All the palaces of the kings of Persia were built by paid workers in an era when slaves typically did such work.[15]

In the Buddhist Maurya Empire of ancient India, citizens of all religions and ethnic groups had some rights to freedom, tolerance, and equality. The need for tolerance on an egalitarian basis can be found in the Edicts of Ashoka the Great, which emphasize the importance of tolerance in public policy by the government. The slaughter or capture of prisoners of war also appears to have been condemned by Ashoka.[16] Slavery also appears to have been non-existent in the Maurya Empire.[17] However, according to Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, “Ashoka’s orders seem to have been resisted right from the beginning.”[18]

Roman law also embraced certain limited forms of liberty, even under the rule of the Roman Emperors. However, these liberties were accorded only to Roman citizens. Many of the liberties enjoyed under Roman law endured through the Middle Ages, but were enjoyed solely by the nobility, rarely by the common man.[citation needed] The idea of inalienable and universal liberties had to wait until the Age of Enlightenment.

The social contract theory, most influentially formulated by Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau (though first suggested by Plato in The Republic), was among the first to provide a political classification of rights, in particular through the notion of sovereignty and of natural rights. The thinkers of the Enlightenment reasoned that law governed both heavenly and human affairs, and that law gave the king his power, rather than the king’s power giving force to law. This conception of law would find its culmination in the ideas of Montesquieu. The conception of law as a relationship between individuals, rather than families, came to the fore, and with it the increasing focus on individual liberty as a fundamental reality, given by “Nature and Nature’s God,” which, in the ideal state, would be as universal as possible.

In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill sought to define the “…nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual,” and as such, he describes an inherent and continuous antagonism between liberty and authority and thus, the prevailing question becomes “how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control”.[5]

England (and, following the Act of Union 1707, Great Britain), laid down the cornerstones of the concept of individual liberty.

In 1166 Henry II of England transformed English law by passing the Assize of Clarendon. The act, a forerunner to trial by jury, started the abolition of trial by combat and trial by ordeal.[19]

1187-1189 sees the publication of Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus regni Anglie which contains authoritative definitions of freedom and servitude:

Freedom is the natural faculty of doing what each person pleases to do according to his will, except what is prohibited to him of right or by force. Sevitude on the other hand may be said to be the contrary, as if any person contrary to freedom should be bound upon a covenant to do something, or not to do it.[20]

In 1215 Magna Carta was enacted, arguably becoming the cornerstone of liberty in first England, then Great Britain, and later the world.

In 1689 the Bill of Rights granted “freedom of speech in Parliament”, which laid out some of the earliest civil rights.[23]

In 1859 an essay by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, entitled On Liberty, argued for toleration and individuality. “If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.”[24][25]

In 1958 Two Concepts of Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin, identified “negative liberty” as an obstacle, as distinct from “positive liberty” which promotes self-mastery and the concepts of freedom.[26]

In 1948 British representatives attempted to but were prevented from adding a legal framework to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (It was not until 1976 that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force, giving a legal status to most of the Declaration.)[27]

According to the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, all men have a natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. But this declaration of liberty was troubled from the outset by the presence of slavery. Slave owners argued that their liberty was paramount, since it involved property, their slaves, and that Blacks had no rights that any White man was obliged to recognize. The Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott decision, upheld this principle. It was not until 1866, following the Civil War, that the US Constitution was amended to extend these rights to persons of color, and not until 1920 that these rights were extended to women.[28]

By the later half of the 20th century, liberty was expanded further to prohibit government interference with personal choices. In the United States Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice William O. Douglas argued that liberties relating to personal relationships, such as marriage, have a unique primacy of place in the hierarchy of freedoms.[29] Jacob M. Appel has summarized this principle:

I am grateful that I have rights in the proverbial public square but, as a practical matter, my most cherished rights are those that I possess in my bedroom and hospital room and death chamber. Most people are far more concerned that they can control their own bodies than they are about petitioning Congress.[30]

In modern America, various competing ideologies have divergent views about how best to promote liberty. Liberals in the original sense of the word see equality as a necessary component of freedom. Progressives stress freedom from business monopoly as essential. Libertarians disagree, and see economic freedom as best. The Tea Party movement sees big government as the enemy of freedom.[31][32]

France supported the Americans in their revolt against English rule and, in 1789, overthrew their own monarchy, with the cry of “Libert, galit, fraternit”. The bloodbath that followed, known as the reign of terror, soured many people on the idea of liberty. Edmund Burke, considered one of the fathers of conservatism, wrote “The French had shewn themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world.”[33]

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, liberalism is “the belief that it is the aim of politics to preserve individual rights and to maximize freedom of choice”. But they point out that there is considerable discussion about how to achieve those goals. Every discussion of freedom depends on three key components: who is free, what they are free to do, and what forces restrict their freedom.[34] John Gray argues that the core belief of liberalism is toleration. Liberals allow others freedom to do what they want, in exchange for having the same freedom in return. This idea of freedom is personal rather than political.[35] William Safire points out that liberalism is attacked by both the Right and the Left: by the Right for defending such practices as abortion, homosexuality, and atheism, and by the Left for defending free enterprise and the rights of the individual over the collective.[36]

According to the Encyclopdia Britannica, Libertarians hold liberty as their primary political value.[37] Their approach to implementing liberty involves opposing any governmental coercion, aside from that which is necessary to prevent individuals from coercing each other.[38]

According to republican theorists of freedom, like the historian Quentin Skinner[39][40] or the philosopher Philip Pettit,[41] one’s liberty should not be viewed as the absence of interference in one’s actions, but as non-domination. According to this view, which originates in the Roman Digest, to be a liber homo, a free man, means not being subject to another’s arbitrary will, that is to say, dominated by another. They also cite Machiavelli who asserted that you must be a member of a free self-governing civil association, a republic, if you are to enjoy individual liberty.[42]

The predominance of this view of liberty among parliamentarians during the English Civil War resulted in the creation of the liberal concept of freedom as non-interference in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.[citation needed]

Socialists view freedom as a concrete situation as opposed to a purely abstract ideal. Freedom is a state of being where individuals have agency to pursue their creative interests unhindered by coercive social relationships, specifically those they are forced to engage in as a requisite for survival under a given social system. Freedom thus requires both the material economic conditions that make freedom possible alongside social relationships and institutions conducive to freedom.[43]

The socialist conception of freedom is closely related to the socialist view of creativity and individuality. Influenced by Karl Marx’s concept of alienated labor, socialists understand freedom to be the ability for an individual to engage in creative work in the absence of alienation, where “alienated labor” refers to work people are forced to perform and un-alienated work refers to individuals pursuing their own creative interests.[44]

For Karl Marx, meaningful freedom is only attainable in a communist society characterized by superabundance and free access. Such a social arrangement would eliminate the need for alienated labor and enable individuals to pursue their own creative interests, leaving them to develop and maximize their full potentialities. This goes alongside Marx’s emphasis on the ability of socialism and communism progressively reducing the average length of the workday to expand the “realm of freedom”, or discretionary free time, for each person.[45][46] Marx’s notion of communist society and human freedom is thus radically individualistic.[47]

Some authors have suggested that a virtuous culture must exist as a prerequisite for liberty. Benjamin Franklin stated that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”[48] Madison likewise declared: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”[49] John Adams acknowledged: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[50]

This also is remarkable in India, that all Indians are free, and no Indian at all is a slave. In this the Indians agree with the Lacedaemonians. Yet the Lacedaemonians have Helots for slaves, who perform the duties of slaves; but the Indians have no slaves at all, much less is any Indian a slave.

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Liberty – Wikipedia

Scientists Find a New Way to Kickstart Stable Fusion Reactions

A new technique for nuclear fusion can generate plasma without requiring as much space-consuming equipment within a reactor.

Warm Fusion

Scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory say that they’ve found a new way to start up nuclear fusion reactions.

The new technique, described in research published last month in the journal Physics of Plasmas, provides an alternate means for reactors to convert gas into the superhot plasma that gets fusion reactions going with less equipment taking up valuable lab space — another step in the long road to practical fusion power.

Out With The Old

Right in the center of a tokamak, a common type of experimental nuclear fusion reactor, there’s a large central magnet that helps generate plasma. The new technique, called “transient coaxial helical injection,” does away with the magnet but still generates a stable reaction, freeing up the space taken up by the magnet for other equipment.

“The good news from this study,” Max Planck Institute researcher Kenneth Hammond said in a press release, “is that the projections for startup in large-scale devices look promising.”

READ MORE: Ready, set, go: Scientists evaluate novel technique for firing up fusion-reaction fuel [Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory newsroom via ScienceDaily]

More on nuclear fusion: Scientists Found a New Way to Make Fusion Reactors More Efficient

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Scientists Find a New Way to Kickstart Stable Fusion Reactions

The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

SpaceIL's Moon lander, Beresheet, is expected to touch down on the lunar surface on Thursday, landing Israeli a place in the history books.

Lunar Lander

If all goes according to plan, Israel will earn a place in history on Thursday as the fourth nation ever to land a spacecraft on the Moon — and unlike any craft that came before it, this Moon lander was privately funded.

Beresheet is the work of SpaceIL, a nonprofit Israeli space company. On Feb. 21, the company launched its $100 million spacecraft on a journey to the Moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and on April 4, it settled into the Moon’s orbit.

The next step in the mission is for Beresheet to attempt to land on the surface of the Moon sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Watch Along

Beresheet’s target landing site is in the northeastern part of Mare Serenitatis, also known as the Sea of Serenity.

“On the basis of our experience with Apollo, the Serenitatis sites favor both landing safety and scientific reward,” SpaceIL team member Jim Head said in a press release.

SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, the company that built Beresheet, will live-stream Thursday’s touch-down attempt, so the world will have a chance to watch along as Israel tries to land itself a spot in the history books.

READ MORE: Israel’s Beresheet space probe prepares for historic moon landing [NBC News]

More on Beresheet: Israel’s Moon Lander Just Got Photobombed by the Earth

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The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

Some People Are Exceptionally Good at Predicting the Future

Some people are adept at forecasting, predicting the likelihood of future events, and a new contest aims to suss them out.

Super-Forecasters

Some people have a knack for accurately predicting the likelihood of future events. You might even be one of these “super-forecasters” and not know it — but now there’s an easy way to find out.

BBC Future has teamed up with UK-based charity Nesta and forecasting services organization Good Judgement on the “You Predict the Future” challenge. The purpose is to study how individuals and teams predict the likelihood of certain events, ranging from the technological to the geopolitical.

All Winners

Anyone interested in testing their own forecasting skills can sign up for the challenge to answer a series of multiple-choice questions and assign a percentage to how likely each answer is to come true.

“When you’re part of the challenge, you’ll get feedback on how accurate your forecasts are,” Kathy Peach, who leads Nesta’s Centre for Collective Intelligence Design, told BBC Future. “You’ll be able to see how well you do compared to other forecasters. And there’s a leader board, which shows who the best performing forecasters are.”

Collective Intelligence

You’ll also be helping advance research on collective intelligence, which focuses on the intellectual abilities of groups of people acting as one.

Additionally, as Peach told BBC Future, “New research shows that forecasting increases open-mindedness, the ability to consider alternative scenarios, and reduces political polarisation,”  — meaning even if you don’t find out you’re a “super-forecaster,” you might just end up a better person after making your predictions.

READ MORE: Could you be a super-forecaster? [BBC Future]

More on forecasting: Forecasting the Future: Can the Hive Mind Let Us Predict the Future?

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Some People Are Exceptionally Good at Predicting the Future

Scientists Say New Quantum Material Could “‘Download’ Your Brain”

A new type of quantum material can directly measure neural activity and translate it into electrical signals for a computer.

Computer Brain

Scientists say they’ve developed a new “quantum material” that could one day transfer information directly from human brains to a computer.

The research is in early stages, but it invokes ideas like uploading brains to the cloud or hooking people up to a computer to track deep health metrics — concepts that until now existed solely in science fiction.

Quantum Interface

The new quantum material, described in research published Wednesday in the journal Nature Communications, is a “nickelate lattice” that the scientists say could directly translate the brain’s electrochemical signals into electrical activity that could be interpreted by a computer.

“We can confidently say that this material is a potential pathway to building a computing device that would store and transfer memories,” Purdue University engineer Shriram Ramanathan told ScienceBlog.

Running Diagnostics

Right now, the new material can only detect the activity of some neurotransmitters — so we can’t yet upload a whole brain or anything like that. But if the tech progresses, the researchers hypothesize that it could be used to detect neurological diseases, or perhaps even store memories.

“Imagine putting an electronic device in the brain, so that when natural brain functions start deteriorating, a person could still retrieve memories from that device,” Ramanathan said.

READ MORE: New Quantum Material Could Warn Of Neurological Disease [ScienceBlog]

More on brain-computer interface: This Neural Implant Accesses Your Brain Through the Jugular Vein

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Scientists Say New Quantum Material Could “‘Download’ Your Brain”

Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations, Then Mock Them

A new Bloomberg piece shared the experiences of Amazon workers tasked with listening to Alexa recordings, and what they hear isn't always mundane.

I Hear You

Amazon pays thousands of workers across the globe to review audio picked up by its Echo speakers — and their behavior raises serious concerns about both privacy and safety.

Bloomberg recently spoke with seven people who participated in Amazon’s audio review process. Each worker was tasked with listening to, transcribing, and annotating voice recordings with the goal of improving the ability of Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant to understand and respond to human speech.

But sometimes, according to Bloomberg, they share private recordings in a disrespectful way.

“I think we’ve been conditioned to the [assumption] that these machines are just doing magic machine learning” University of Michigan professor Florian Schaub told Bloomberg. “But the fact is there is still manual processing involved.”

Listen to This

The job is usually boring, according to Bloomberg’s sources. But if they heard something out of the ordinary, they said, sometimes they’d share the Alexa recordings with other workers via internal chat rooms.

Occasionally, it was just because they found the audio amusing — a person singing off-key, for example — but other times, the sharing was “a way of relieving stress” after hearing something disturbing, such as when two of Bloomberg’s sources heard what sounded like a sexual assault.

When they asked Amazon how to handle cases like the latter, the workers said they were told “it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.” Amazon, meanwhile, said it had procedures in place for when workers hear something “distressing” in Alexa recordings.

READ MORE: Amazon Workers Are Listening to What You Tell Alexa [Bloomberg]

More on Echo: Thanks, Amazon! Echo Recorded and Sent Audio to Random Contacts Without Warning

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Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations, Then Mock Them

Infertile Couple Gives Birth to “Three-Parent Baby”

A Greek couple just gave birth to a three-parent baby, the first conceived as part of a clinical trial to treat infertility.

Happy Birthday

On Tuesday, a couple gave birth to what researchers are calling a “three-parent baby” — giving new hope to infertile couples across the globe.

After four cycles of in vitro fertilization failed to result in a pregnancy, the Greek couple enrolled in a clinical trial for mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) — meaning doctors placed the nucleus from the mother’s egg into a donor egg that had its nucleus removed. Then they fertilized the egg with sperm from the father and implanted it into the mother.

Due to this procedure, the six-pound baby boy has DNA from both his mother and father, as well as a tiny bit from the woman who donated the egg.

Greek Life

The Greek baby wasn’t the first “three-parent baby” born after his parents underwent MRT — that honor goes to the offspring of a Jordanian woman who gave birth in 2016.

However, in her case and others that followed it, doctors used the technique to prevent a baby from inheriting a parent’s genetic defect. This marked the first time a couple used MRT as part of a clinical trial to treat infertility.

“Our excellent collaboration and this exceptional result will help countless women to realise their dream of becoming mothers with their own genetic material,” Nuno Costa-Borges, co-founder of Embryotools, one of the companies behind the trial, said in a statement.

READ MORE: Baby with DNA from three people born in Greece [The Guardian]

More on three-parent babies: An Infertile Couple Is Now Pregnant With a “Three-Parent Baby”

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Infertile Couple Gives Birth to “Three-Parent Baby”

MIT Prof: If We Live in a Simulation, Are We Players or NPCs?

An MIT scientist asks whether we're protagonists in a simulated reality or so-called NPCs who exist to round out a player character's experience. 

Simulation Hypothesis

Futurism readers may recognize Rizwan Virk as the MIT researcher touting a new book arguing that we’re likely living in a game-like computer simulation.

Now, in new interview with Vox, Virk goes even further — by probing whether we’re protagonists in the simulation or so-called “non-player characters” who are presumably included to round out a player character’s experience.

Great Simulation

Virk speculated about whether we’re players or side characters when Vox writer Sean Illing asked a question likely pondered by anyone who’s seen “The Matrix”: If you were living in a simulation, would you actually want to know?

“Probably the most important question related to this is whether we are NPCs (non-player characters) or PCs (player characters) in the video game,” Virk told Vox. “If we are PCs, then that means we are just playing a character inside the video game of life, which I call the Great Simulation.”

More Frightening

It’s a line of inquiry that cuts to the core of the simulation hypothesis: If the universe is essentially a video game, who built it — and why?

“The question is, are all of us NPCs in a simulation, and what is the purpose of that simulation?” Virk asked. “A knowledge of the fact that we’re in a simulation, and the goals of the simulation and the goals of our character, I think, would still be interesting to many people.”

READ MORE: Are we living in a computer simulation? I don’t know. Probably. [Vox]

More on the simulation hypothesis: Famous Hacker Thinks We’re Living in Simulation, Wants to Escape

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MIT Prof: If We Live in a Simulation, Are We Players or NPCs?

Here’s How Big the M87 Black Hole Is Compared to the Earth

The black hole that scientists imaged is a stellar giant. It would take millions of Earths lined up side-by-side to span its length.

Pale Black Dot

On Wednesday, a team of scientists from around the world released the first ever directly-observed image of the event horizon of a black hole.

The black hole, M87*, is found within the constellation Virgo — and as the webcomic XKCD illustrated, it’s as big as our entire solar system.

Stellar Giant

The gigantic black hole, not counting the giant rings of trapped light orbiting it, is about 23.6 billion miles (38 billion kilometers) across, according to Science News.

Meanwhile, the Earth is just 7,917 miles in diameter — meaning our planet wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket of the giant, black void. Based Futurism’s calculations, it would take just over 2.98 million Earths lined up in a row to span the length of M87*. For a sense of scale, that’s about how many adult giraffes it would take to span the diameter of Earth.

Paging Pluto

Our entire solar system is just about 2.27 billion miles wide, meaning we could just barely fit the whole thing into the newly-imaged black hole’s event horizon.

Thankfully, M87* is about 55 million light years away — so while we could readily fit inside its gaping maw, we’re way too far to get sucked in.

READ MORE: Revealed: a black hole the size of the solar system [Cosmos]

More on M87*: Scientists: Next Black Whole Image Will Be Way Clearer

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Here’s How Big the M87 Black Hole Is Compared to the Earth

We Wouldn’t Have the First Black Hole Image Without Katie Bouman

Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist, led the development of the algorithm that made the first black hole image possible.

Algorithmic Assist

It took a team of more than 200 scientists to create the first image of the event horizon of a black hole — and the internet is currently in love with one of them.

Computer scientist Katie Bouman led the development of the algorithm that made the breathtaking black hole image possible, and soon after the Event Horizon Telescope team revealed the photo on Wednesday, another image — this one a shot of Bouman that she posted to her Facebook page — started making the rounds online.

“Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed,” the 29-year-old wrote of the photo, which was subsequently shared by everyone from CNN to Kamala Harris.

Here's the moment when the first black hole image was processed, from the eyes of researcher Katie Bouman. #EHTBlackHole #BlackHoleDay #BlackHole (v/@dfbarajas) pic.twitter.com/n0ZnIoeG1d

— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) April 10, 2019

Women Who Code

The online photo frenzy wasn’t over, though.

Many in the Twitterverse and beyond noted the similarities between an image of Bouman with piles of hard drives containing black hole image data and an image of another female computer scientist, Margaret Hamilton, standing next to the stacks of code she wrote to help NASA put astronauts on the Moon in 1969.

Still, Bouman, who is now an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology, is quick to note that creating the first black hole image wasn’t a one-woman job.

“No one of us could’ve done it alone,” she told CNN. “It came together because of lots of different people from many different backgrounds.”

Left: MIT computer scientist Katie Bouman w/stacks of hard drives of black hole image data.

Right: MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton w/the code she wrote that helped put a man on the moon.

(image credit @floragraham)#EHTblackhole #BlackHoleDay #BlackHole pic.twitter.com/Iv5PIc8IYd

— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) April 10, 2019

READ MORE: That image of a black hole you saw everywhere? Thank this grad student for making it possible [CNN]

More on the black hole image: Scientists Just Released the First-Ever Image of a Black Hole

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We Wouldn’t Have the First Black Hole Image Without Katie Bouman

NASA Is Funding the Development of 18 Bizarre New Projects

Through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, NASA funds projects that go

Nurturing the Bizarre

NASA isn’t afraid to take a chance on the weird. In fact, it has a program designed for that specific purpose, called NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) — and on Wednesday, the agency announced 18 bizarre new projects receiving funding through the program.

“Our NIAC program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by investing in revolutionary technologies,” NASA exec Jim Reuter said in a press release. “We look to America’s innovators to help us push the boundaries of space exploration with new technology.”

Sci-Fi to Sci-Fact

The 18 newly funded projects are divided into two groups: Phase I and Phase II.

The 12 recipients of the Phase I awards will each receive approximately $125,000 to fund nine month’s worth of feasibility studies for their concepts. These include a project to beam power through Venus’ atmosphere to support long-term missions, a spacesuit with self-healing skin, and floating microprobes inspired by spiders.

The six Phase II recipients, meanwhile, will each receive up to $500,000 to support two-year studies dedicated to fine-tuning their concepts and investigating potential ways to implement the technologies, which include a flexible telescope, a neutrino detector, and materials for solar surfing.

“NIAC is about going to the edge of science fiction, but not over,” Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive, said in the press release. “We are supporting high impact technology concepts that could change how we explore within the solar system and beyond.”

READ MORE: NASA Invests in Potentially Revolutionary Tech Concepts [Jet Propulsion Laboratory]

More on bizarre NASA plans: New NASA Plan for Mars Is Moderately-Terrifying-Sounding, Also, Completely-Awesome: Robotic. Bees.

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NASA Is Funding the Development of 18 Bizarre New Projects

Report: Tesla Doc Is Playing Down Injuries to Block Workers’ Comp

Former Tesla and clinic employees share how doctors blocked workers' compensation claims and put injured people back to work to avoid payouts.

Here’s A Band-Aid

Tesla’s on-site clinic, Access Omnicare, has allegedly been downplaying workers’ injuries to keep the electric automaker off the hook for workers’ compensation.

Several former Tesla employees, all of whom got hurt on the job, and former employees of Access Omnicare, told Reveal News that the clinic was minimizing worker injuries so that the automaker wouldn’t have to pay workers’ comp — suggesting that the barely-profitable car company is willing to do whatever it takes to stay out of the red and avoid negative press.

Back To Work

Reveal, which is a project by the Center for Investigative Reporting, described cases in which employees suffered electrocution, broken bones, and mold-related rashes while working in a Tesla factory — only for Omnicare to deny that the injuries warranted time off work.

The clinic’s top doctor “wanted to make certain that we were doing what Tesla wanted so badly,” former Omnicare operations manager Yvette Bonnet told Reveal. “He got the priorities messed up. It’s supposed to be patients first.”

Missing Paperwork

Meanwhile, employees who requested the paperwork to file for workers’ comp were repeatedly ignored, according to Reveal.

“I just knew after the third or fourth time that they weren’t going to do anything about it,” a former employee whose back was crushed under a falling Model X hatchback told Reveal. “I was very frustrated. I was upset.”

The automaker is on the hook for up to $750,000 in medical payments per workers’ comp claim, according to Reveal‘s reporting.

Meanwhile, both Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Laurie Shelby, the company’s VP of safety, have publicly praised Access Omnicare, Reveal found. Musk even recently announced plans to extend it to other plants, “so that we have really immediate first-class health care available right on the spot when people need it.”

READ MORE: How Tesla and its doctor made sure injured employees didn’t get workers’ comp [Reveal News]

More on Tesla: Video Shows Tesla Autopilot Steering Toward Highway Barriers

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Israel’s Lunar Lander Just Crashed Into the Moon

The Beresheet lunar lander crashed into the surface of the moon after experiencing engine failure during its final descent.

Landing Attempt

Beresheet, the lunar lander built by Israeli space nonprofit SpaceIL, crashed into the surface of the Moon on Thursday.

It would have been the first privately-owned lander on the surface of the Moon, and would have made Israel the fourth country to reach the surface of the Moon — but the craft experienced engine failure during its final approach.

“We have a failure of the spacecraft,” said Israel Aerospace Industries general manager Opher Doron on livestream, according to CNBC. “We unfortunately have not managed to land successfully,”

Final Approach

As Beresheet was approaching the surface of the Moon, the main engine failed and Beresheet was forced to reset the engine.

With about 10 kilometers left to go (6.2 miles), the main engine cut out and the lander crashed into the Moon traveling at about 134 meters per second, according to the livestream.

“We failed the first try, we’ll make it in the second… within two years we’ll try it again,” Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, according to CNBC.

Definitely Tried

SpaceIL tweeted a photo of the lander’s final approach minutes before it lost contact with the craft. In it, the Moon looms ominously in the background.

“We didn’t make it. But we definitely tried,” said SpaceIL.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional details.

READ MORE: Israeli spacecraft Beresheet falls short of history as moon landing fails in final moments [CNBC]

More on Beresheet: The Israeli Moon Lander Is About to Touch Down

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Space Station Mice Learned to Propel Themselves in Zero Gravity

A video of mice in microgravity reveals that the animals quickly adapted to their off-world conditions, running, eating, and cleaning themselves.

Mouse House

A first-of-its-kind study aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has yielded new insights into how humans adapt to spaceflight — and an entertaining video of mice in microgravity.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from NASA’s Ames Research Center describe how they sent 20 mice to live in the ISS’s NASA Rodent Habitat to see how they’d behave when exposed to the same conditions as astronauts, including microgravity, radiation, and confinement.

“Our approach is yielding an interesting analogue for better understanding human responses to spacefight,” the researchers wrote, “and providing the opportunity to begin to address how physical movement influences responses to microgravity.”

Squeak By

The NASA team use cameras to observe the mice in microgravity and noted in the study that the animals appeared to adapt to their space lives quickly by “propelling their bodies freely and actively throughout the habitat, utilizing the entire volume of space available to them.”

After about a week, some of the mice began zipping around the sides of the Rodent Habitat, a behavior the researchers called “race-tracking.”

As for why the mice race-tracked, the researchers hazarded a guess in the study that the behavior might have been due to stress, a response to boredom, or even a form of entertainment — similar to how mice on Earth might choose to run on a wheel.

READ MORE: The First Detailed Study of How Mice Behave in Space Reveals Strange, Coordinated Zooming [Gizmodo]

More on microgravity: Alarming Research: Zero Gravity Makes Astronauts’ Brains Age Faster

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Space Station Mice Learned to Propel Themselves in Zero Gravity

NASA: Genetic Changes Caused by Space Travel Are Temporary

NASA just published the full results of its extensive study into how space travel altered astronaut Scott Kelly's health and gene expression.

Twin Study

For years, NASA has been analyzing the health effects of space travel by comparing astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly. In 2015 into 2016, Scott spent 340 days in orbit while Mark stayed on Earth, giving scientists rare data about how leaving the planet affects the human body.

The study, finally published Thursday in the journal Science, reveals that Scott experienced a number of genetic changes while he was in space. Surprisingly, most of them reversed once he landed back on Earth, the MIT Technology Review reports, giving researchers valuable insight as space agencies prepare for longer and deeper missions into space.

Back And Forth

Over the past few years, NASA scientists have gradually released some info about the twin study’s findings. Most surprising was how Scott’s time in space extended his telomeres, the protective caps that protect chromosome and — at least on Earth — slowly degrade over time.

While this finding will likely lead to speculation — and future research — into how spaceflight could affect human longevity, the changes were shortlived. Within half a year of his return to Earth, Scott’s lengthened telomeres returned to normal, while some new, shorter-than-usual telomeres that formed upon his return persisted.

Ready To Launch

Past research on astronauts suggested that extended space travel could compromise their immune systems. The new findings reveal that these changes are largely temporary and that astronauts quickly recover, which is a promising development for the prospect of sending people out to Mars and maybe even farther.

But because the twin study only involved one person in space, it’s hard to tell just how much each data point matters because the context is missing.

“It’s analogous to the very first time that we measured someone’s blood pressure,” lead researcher Chris Mason told MIT Tech. “We didn’t know what the actual reference numbers were until we started to measure more people.”

READ MORE: The first study of a twin in space looks like good news for a trip to Mars [MIT Technology Review]

More on the twin study: After a Year Away from Earth, Scott Kelly’s “Space Genes” Set Him Apart From His Twin

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The First Black Hole Photo Is Even More Amazing When You Zoom Out

A team from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has shared an image that puts the first black hole photo into stunning context.

Photo Friends

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) wasn’t the only powerful device with its gaze fixed upon galaxy Messier 87 (M87) in April 2017.

While the EHT was focused on the event horizon of the black hole at the center of M87, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory was taking a wider view of the same target — and the image produced through those observations puts the black hole photo into stunning context.

Credit, X-ray: NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

1,000 Light Years

The Chandra team provided additional details on the dazzling display of bright particles captured in its black hole companion image in a blog post shared on Monday:

“While Chandra can’t see the shadow itself, its field of view is much larger than the EHT’s, so Chandra can view the full length of the jet of high-energy particles launched by the intense gravitational and magnetic fields around the black hole. This jet extends more than 1,000 light years from the center of the galaxy.”

Image Credit, X-ray: NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen; Radio: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

READ MORE: Chandra and the Event Horizon Telescope [Chandra X-Ray Observatory]

More on the black hole photoScientists Just Released the First-Ever Image of a Black Hole

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Family Caught Selling Diseased Body Parts to Medical Centers

A father and son team was just charged with fraud and concealing a crime for their six-year black market operation where they sold human body parts.

Side Hustle

A father and son team from Michigan were just charged for illegally selling human body parts — and failing to disclose that the corpses carried infectious diseases.

The duo, both named Donald Greene, sold bodies that people donated to the Biological Resource Center of Illinois for the purpose of furthering scientific research, according to CBS Chicago.

No Returns

The family sold body parts to medical clinics such as the Detroit Medical Center’s sports medicine department between 2008 and 2014, according to the station, sometimes for up to $100,000 per CBS.

But they also failed to disclose that they were selling body parts that had tested positive for diseases including HIV, hepatitis, and sepsis, CBS reports.

Technicality

Strangely enough, selling body parts isn’t strictly illegal.

But selling bodies that had been donated for medical research constitutes fraud, according to the federal prosecutors who charged the Greenes, and failing to disclose the infections was against the law. Greene Sr. has been charged with wire fraud, and Jr. with concealing a crime.

READ MORE: Father And Son Charged With Selling Diseased Body Parts In Alleged Brokering Scheme [CBS Chicago]

More on body parts: Freezing And Storing Donated Organs Could Eliminate Some Transplant Waitlists

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