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Posthuman – Wikipedia

Posthuman or post-human is a concept originating in the fields of science fiction, futurology, contemporary art, and philosophy that literally means a person or entity that exists in a state beyond being human.[1] The concept addresses questions of ethics and justice, language and trans-species communication, social systems, and the intellectual aspirations of interdisciplinarity.

Posthumanism is not to be confused with transhumanism (the nanobiotechnological enhancement of human beings) and narrow definitions of the posthuman as the hoped-for transcendence of materiality.[2] The notion of the posthuman comes up both in posthumanism as well as transhumanism, but it has a special meaning in each tradition. In 2017, Penn State University Press in cooperation with Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and James Hughes (sociologist) established the “Journal of Posthuman Studies”[3] in which all aspects of the concept “posthuman” can be analysed.[4]

In critical theory, the posthuman is a speculative being that represents or seeks to re-conceive the human. It is the object of posthumanist criticism, which critically questions humanism, a branch of humanist philosophy which claims that human nature is a universal state from which the human being emerges; human nature is autonomous, rational, capable of free will, and unified in itself as the apex of existence. Thus, the posthuman position recognizes imperfectability and disunity within him or herself, and understands the world through heterogeneous perspectives while seeking to maintain intellectual rigour and a dedication to objective observations. Key to this posthuman practice is the ability to fluidly change perspectives and manifest oneself through different identities. The posthuman, for critical theorists of the subject, has an emergent ontology rather than a stable one; in other words, the posthuman is not a singular, defined individual, but rather one who can “become” or embody different identities and understand the world from multiple, heterogeneous perspectives.[5]

Critical discourses surrounding posthumanism are not homogeneous, but in fact present a series of often contradictory ideas, and the term itself is contested, with one of the foremost authors associated with posthumanism, Manuel de Landa, decrying the term as “very silly.”[6] Covering the ideas of, for example, Robert Pepperell’s The Posthuman Condition, and Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman under a single term is distinctly problematic due to these contradictions.

The posthuman is roughly synonymous with the “cyborg” of A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway.[citation needed] Haraway’s conception of the cyborg is an ironic take on traditional conceptions of the cyborg that inverts the traditional trope of the cyborg whose presence questions the salient line between humans and robots. Haraway’s cyborg is in many ways the “beta” version of the posthuman, as her cyborg theory prompted the issue to be taken up in critical theory.[7] Following Haraway, Hayles, whose work grounds much of the critical posthuman discourse, asserts that liberal humanismwhich separates the mind from the body and thus portrays the body as a “shell” or vehicle for the mindbecomes increasingly complicated in the late 20th and 21st centuries because information technology puts the human body in question. Hayles maintains that we must be conscious of information technology advancements while understanding information as “disembodied,” that is, something which cannot fundamentally replace the human body but can only be incorporated into it and human life practices.[8]

The idea of post-posthumanism (post-cyborgism) has recently been introduced.[9][10][11][12][13]This body of work outlines the after-effects of long-term adaptation to cyborg technologies and their subsequent removal, e.g., what happens after 20 years of constantly wearing computer-mediating eyeglass technologies and subsequently removing them, and of long-term adaptation to virtual worlds followed by return to “reality.”[14][15] and the associated post-cyborg ethics (e.g. the ethics of forced removal of cyborg technologies by authorities, etc.).[16]

Posthuman political and natural rights have been framed on a spectrum with animal rights and human rights.[17] Posthumanism broadens the scope of what it means to be a valued life form and to be treated as such (in contrast to certain life forms being seen as less-than and being taken advantage of or killed off); it calls for a more inclusive definition of life, and a greater moral-ethical response, and responsibility, to non-human life forms in the age of species blurring and species mixing. [I]t interrogates the hierarchic ordering and subsequently exploitation and even eradication of life forms. [18]

According to transhumanist thinkers, a posthuman is a hypothetical future being “whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.”[19] Posthumans primarily focus on cybernetics, the posthuman consequent and the relationship to digital technology. The emphasis is on systems. Transhumanism does not focus on either of these. Instead, transhumanism focuses on the modification of the human species via any kind of emerging science, including genetic engineering, digital technology, and bioengineering.[20]

Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or a symbiosis of human and artificial intelligence, or uploaded consciousnesses, or the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound technological augmentations to a biological human, i.e. a cyborg. Some examples of the latter are redesigning the human organism using advanced nanotechnology or radical enhancement using some combination of technologies such as genetic engineering, psychopharmacology, life extension therapies, neural interfaces, advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs, wearable or implanted computers, and cognitive techniques.[19]

As used in this article, “posthuman” does not necessarily refer to a conjectured future where humans are extinct or otherwise absent from the Earth. As with other species who speciate from one another, both humans and posthumans could continue to exist. However, the apocalyptic scenario appears to be a viewpoint shared among a minority of transhumanists such as Marvin Minsky[citation needed] and Hans Moravec, who could be considered misanthropes, at least in regard to humanity in its current state. Alternatively, others such as Kevin Warwick argue for the likelihood that both humans and posthumans will continue to exist but the latter will predominate in society over the former because of their abilities.[21] Recently, scholars have begun to speculate that posthumanism provides an alternative analysis of apocalyptic cinema and fiction, often casting vampires, werewolves and even zombies as potential evolutions of the human form and being.[22]

Many science fiction authors, such as Greg Egan, H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Bruce Sterling, Frederik Pohl, Greg Bear, Charles Stross, Neal Asher, Ken MacLeod, Peter F. Hamilton and authors of the Orion’s Arm Universe,[23] have written works set in posthuman futures.

A variation on the posthuman theme is the notion of a “posthuman god”; the idea that posthumans, being no longer confined to the parameters of human nature, might grow physically and mentally so powerful as to appear possibly god-like by present-day human standards.[19] This notion should not be interpreted as being related to the idea portrayed in some science fiction that a sufficiently advanced species may “ascend” to a higher plane of existencerather, it merely means that some posthuman beings may become so exceedingly intelligent and technologically sophisticated that their behaviour would not possibly be comprehensible to modern humans, purely by reason of their limited intelligence and imagination.[24]

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Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now | TED Talk

Technology is evolving us, says Amber Case, as we become a screen-staring, button-clicking new version of homo sapiens. We now rely on “external brains” (cell phones and computers) to communicate, remember, even live out secondary lives. But will these machines ultimately connect or conquer us? Case offers surprising insight into our cyborg selves.

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Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now | TED Talk

New Theory: The Universe is a Bubble, Inflated by Dark Energy

A mind-bending new theory claims to make sense not just of the expanding universe and extra dimensions, but string theory and dark energy as well.

Dark Energy

A mind-bending new theory claims to make sense not just of the expanding universe and extra dimensions, but string theory and dark energy as well.

According to the new model, proposed in the journal Physical Review Letters by researchers from Uppsala University, the entire universe is riding on an expanding bubble in an “additional dimension” — which is being inflated by dark energy and which is home to strings that extend outwards from it and correspond to all the matter that it contains.

Breaking It Down

The paper is extraordinarily dense and theoretical. But the surprising new theory it lays out, its authors say, could provide new insights about the creation and ultimate destiny of the cosmos.

In the long view, though, physicists have suggested many outrageous models for the universe over the years — many of which we’ve covered here at Futurism. The reality: until a theory not only conforms to existing evidence but helps explain new findings, the road to a consensus will be long.

READ MORE: Our universe: An expanding bubble in an extra dimension [Uppsala University]

More on dark energy: An Oxford Scientist May Have Solved the Mystery of Dark Matter

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New Theory: The Universe is a Bubble, Inflated by Dark Energy

Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Support Human Gene Editing to Cure Disease

The majority of U.S. adults would support gene editing embryos to protect babies against disease, according to a new poll.

Human Gene Editing

The majority of U.S. adults support human gene editing to protect babies against disease, according to a new poll.

But they wouldn’t support gene edits that make babies smarter or taller, according to the new research by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which polled about a thousand U.S. adults this month to learn about public attitudes toward genetic engineering.

Deep Divides

The AP research found that 71 percent of respondents support gene editing to protect a baby from an inherited condition, and 67 percent support reducing the risk of diseases like cancer.

But just 12 percent would be okay with tampering with intelligence or athletic ability, and only 10 percent would consider altering physical characteristics like eye color or height.

CRISPR Drawer

Questions about using technologies like CRISPR to gene edit human embryos gained immediacy last month, when Chinese scientists claimed to have edited the genes of two babies in order to protect them against HIV — a move that prompted an international outcry, but also questions about when the technology will be ready for human testing.

“People appear to realize there’s a major question of how we should oversee and monitor use of this technology if and when it becomes available,” Columbia University bioethicist Robert Klitzman told the AP of the new research. “What is safe enough? And who will determine that? The government? Or clinicians who say, ‘Look, we did it in Country X a few times and it seems to be effective.

READ MORE: Poll: Edit baby genes for health, not smarts [Associated Press]

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

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Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Support Human Gene Editing to Cure Disease

Experts: Stop Adding Cancer-Causing Chemicals to our Meats

Burgers full of beef and bacon are facing a new threat from cancer causing chemicals.

Bringing Home The Bacon

Experts in the UK are smoking mad over a lack of regulation surrounding food additives which may be leading to increased rates of cancer in people who eat processed meats.

Meat has had a mighty difficult go of things since a concerning 2015 World Health Organization report which reclassified processed meats as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans. The news that your crispy bacon might be causing cancer was met with mixed reactions. But scientists in the UK are now suggesting there may be a way to have your bacon and eat it too.

Nasty Nitrites

Part of the problem may center around the meat industry’s use of nitrites as preservatives. Nitrites are used as both a preservative and color fixture, ensuring meat has a pinkish hue, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A coalition led by Queen’s University professor Chris Elliott claims there is a “consensus of scientific opinion” that adding nitrites to cure meats can cause an increased risk of cancer in humans and leading to 6,600 cases of bowl cancer in the UK. Coalition members, like cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra, are calling upon the UK government to stop the use of nitrites are preservatives.

“Government action to remove nitrites from processed meats should not be far away. Nor can a day of reckoning for those who dispute the incontrovertible facts. The meat industry must act fast, act now – or be condemned to a similar reputational blow to that dealt to tobacco,” Malhotra said to The Guardian.

Home Of The Whopper

In the United States, nitrites are considered to be a safe food additive by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established guidelines on the recommended limit for nitrite and sodium nitrite additives.

“To meat or not to meat” may be a question one has to decide for one’s own self. Thankfully, we may be about to get many more plant-based meat alternatives that seem almost like the real thing, even as debates rage whether plant-based alternatives should be allowed to be called meat.

READ MORE: Stop adding cancer-causing chemicals to our bacon, experts tell meat industry [TheGuardian]

More on Meat: Think Big Oil’s a Problem? “Big Meat” Emits More Greenhouse Gas Than Most Countries

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Experts: Stop Adding Cancer-Causing Chemicals to our Meats

Google Wins Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition Technology

Google won a key Illinois lawsuit that has long been a barrier to big tech companies' use of facial recognition software.

Apple Of My Eye

After weeks of notoriety and backlash, Google has scored a legal victory allowing it to keep a close watch on users of Google products.

On Saturday, a U.S. District Judge in Chicago dismissed a lawsuit filled against the internet giant which alleged that Google violated users’ right to privacy by using facial recognition technology without their consent. The lawsuit, originally filed in 2016, was the result of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, one of the strictest biometric security laws in the nation. It requires tech companies to obtain explicit permission from Illinois citizens in order to make any biometric scans of their bodies.

Facebook and Snapchat are facing similar challenges from the law, but Google’s victory could signal a new era in the use and development of facial recognition technology.

“Concrete Injuries”

In his dismissal of the case, U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang cited the lack of “concrete injuries.” In the legal realm this means either physical damage or damage to one’s reputation which actually exists. In short, Chang’s conclusion was that despite not asking permission, Google’s use of the plaintiff’s photos didn’t result in any physical harm or damage to their reputation and was therefore legal. The cases against Facebook and Snapchat are still pending, but Google’s win could provide lawyers with some ammunition in defending the other two tech giants.

Big Brother

Facial recognition technology may take center stage in increasingly common debates about the intersection of advanced technology and rights to personal privacy.  Still, development continues despite the technology’s imperfections and warnings from other tech executives calling for stricter legal guidelines.

Facial recognition technology is becoming increasingly common in everyday life, cropping up at airports and even Taylor Swift concerts. Yet, as we continue to decide who has what right to our data and why, big technology companies are moving quickly to decide our future for themselves.

READ MORE: Google wins dismissal of facial recognition lawsuit over biometric privacy act [TheVerge]

More on facial recognition: Microsoft President Warns Of “1984” Facial Recognition Future

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Google Wins Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition Technology

Elon Musk Thinks the First Mars Settler Could Be an AI

On Friday, Elon Musk speculated that a sophisticated artificial intelligence might touch down on the Red Planet before the first human Mars settler.

The MartAIn

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wants to establish a base on Mars — but he isn’t sure its first resident will be human.

On Friday, the mercurial billionaire responded to a question on Twitter about whether a sophisticated artificial intelligence might touch down on the Red Planet before human colonists. Musk’s answer: 30 percent.

30%

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 27, 2018

AI Overlords

Musk has a fraught relationship with the topic of AI. He’s publicly warned about the danger’s of unregulated AI, even going so far as to found the organization Open AI to encourage the development of responsible machine learning systems.

It’s such a signature issue for Musk that other tech personalities have weighed in on his claims — including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who said the notion of killer AI was “pretty irresponsible,” and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who quipped at an event earlier this month that Musk was “writing a great screenplay for a Black Mirror episode.”

Case For Optimism

But Musk also believes that AI could be made to help humankind — or that the two could even merge, ushering in a new era of evolution.

Or, as the Friday tweet shows, it seems that Musk could get on board with AI as long as it could help further his visions for the colonization of space.

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Leaked Documents Show How Facebook Controls Speech Across the Globe

Leaked documents showing how Facebook controls speech online raise deep questions about the future of the company's role in international discourse.

Unfriended

Documents obtained by the New York Times show how the social giant’s international content moderation strategy is dictated by thousands of pages of PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets that “sometimes clumsily” tell thousands of moderators what to allow and what to delete. The revelation raises deep questions about the future of Facebook’s role in international discourse — especially in the wake of damaging revelations about how the platform allowed propaganda during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

“Facebook’s role has become so hegemonic, so monopolistic, that it has become a force unto itself,” political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic told the Times. “No one entity, especially not a for-profit venture like Facebook, should have that kind of power to influence public debate and policy.”

It’s Complicated

Facebook moderators who spoke to the Times under condition of anonymity said they felt hamstrung by the extraordinarily complex rule set, which forces them to make rapid decisions, sometimes using Google Translate, about fraught topics including terrorism and sectarian violence.

“You feel like you killed someone by not acting,” said a moderator who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity.

The result, according to the Times, is that Facebook has become a “far more powerful arbiter of global speech than has been publicly recognized or acknowledged by the company itself.”

“A Lot of Mistakes”

Facebook executives pushed back against the implication that its content moderation efforts were murky or disorganized, arguing that the platform has a responsibility to moderate the content its users post and defending its efforts to do so.

“We have billions of posts every day, we’re identifying more and more potential violations using our technical systems,” Facebook’s head of global policy management Monika Bickert told the Times. “At that scale, even if you’re 99 percent accurate, you’re going to have a lot of mistakes.”

READ MORE: Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech [The New York Times]

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Gov Shutdown Means 95 Percent of NASA Employees Aren’t At Work

The ongoing government shutdown means that 95 percent of NASA's workforce is home on furlough during New Horizons' historic flyby.

Get Furlough

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft soars by the space rock Ultima Thule on New Years Eve, it will be the most distant object humankind has ever explored.

Though you’ll be able to stream the historic flyby on the YouTube channel of Johns Hopkins Univerisity’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the event — which is arguably the most awe-inspiring item of space news all year — won’t be available on NASA TV, which typically offers extensive commentary and access to subject matter experts regarding the space agency’s projects. The reason: the ongoing government shutdown means that 95 percent of NASA’s workforce is home on furlough.

“Act of Ineptitude”

NASA employees are disgusted by the legislative dysfunction that’s keeping all but the most mission-critical workers home during the historic flyby, according to the Houston Chronicle — and their ire is reportedly focused on politicians who have allowed the science agency’s work to grind to a halt.

“We have not heard from a single member who supports the president’s inaction,” said the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union that represents federal workers, in a statement quoted by the paper. “Most view this as an act of ineptitude.”

Heat Death

The Chronicle also pointed to a post by Casey Dreier, a senior space policy adviser to the nonprofit scientific advocacy organization The Planetary Society, that chastised leaders for failing the nation’s scientific workers — and worried that the political brinkmanship of a shutdown could lead talented workers away from government work entirely, altering the dynamics of space exploration.

“I fear that we will see more and more NASA employees ask themselves why they put up with such needless disruptions and leave for jobs the private sector,” Dreier wrote. “We know that NASA can get back to work, but how long will the best and the brightest want to work at an agency that continues to get callously tossed into political churn?”

READ MORE: NASA, other federal workers not as supportive of government shutdown as Trump claims, union rep says [Houston Chronicle]

More on government shutdowns and space travel: Government Shutdown Hampers SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Testing

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Scientists to Test New Cancer Treatment on Human Patients in 2019

A new cancer treatment that uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer is scheduled to start human trials in 2019.

Cancer Treatment

A new cancer treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer is scheduled to start human trials in 2019.

The U.K.’s Telegraph reports that the new treatment, devised by researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London, uses implanted immune system cells from strangers to fight tumors, instead of old-school cancer treatments like chemotherapy — a new tack in oncology that the researchers say could boost cancer ten-year cancer survival rates from 50 percent to 75 percent.

Immune System

The scientists behind the project explained it as a “do-it-yourself” approach to cancer treatment in interviews with the Telegraph. Instead of relying on chemicals or radiation outside the body to fight tumors, the transplants aim to help the bodies of cancer patients fight the tumors on their own.

“It’s a very exciting time,” said Charlie Swanton, one of the Francis Crick researchers involved in the work, in an interview with the paper. “Using the body’s own immune cells to target the tumor is elegant because tumours evolve so quickly there is no way a pharmaceutical company can keep up with it, but the immune system has been evolving for over four billion years to do just that.”

“Rapidly Treated Diseases”

Swanton told the Telegraph that he believes the trials could lead to a whole new tool set that doctors will be able to use to fight cancer.

“I would go so far as to say that we might reach a point, maybe 20 years from now, where the vast majorities of cancers are rapidly treated diseases or long-term chronic issues that you can manage,” he said. “And I think the immune system will be essential in doing that.”

READ MORE: Cancer breakthrough: Scientists say immune system transplants mean ‘future is incredibly bright’ [The Telegraph]

More on cancer research: Researchers May Have Discovered a New Way to Kill off Cancer Cells

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Scientists to Test New Cancer Treatment on Human Patients in 2019

Holograms Are Resurrecting Dead Musicians, Raising Legal Questions

Dead Musicians

Michael Jackson. Amy Winehouse. Tupac. Roy Orbison.

Those are just a few of the dead musicians who have been resurrected on stage in recent years as holograms — and a new feature by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation explores not just the critical reception and technological frontiers of the new industry, but the legal minefield it raises to dust off the visage of a famous person and bring them out on the road.

Back to Life

According to University of Sydney digital human researcher Mike Seymour, today’s musical holograms have only started to tap the medium’s potential. In the future, he predicted to the ABC, machine learning will let these long-dead holograms interact with the crowd and improvise.

Additionally, according to the report, the law is still grappling with how to handle life-after-death performances. In the U.S., a legal concept called a “right to publicity” gives a person, or their estate, the right to profit from their likeness. But whether right to publicity applies after death, and for how long, differs between states.

Atrocity

Of course, no legal or technical measures will win over fans of an act who find it disrespectful to raise a performer from death and trot them out on tour.

“If you are appalled by [the idea], because you think it’s an atrocity to the original act, you are going to hate it,” Seymour told the broadcaster. “And if you are a fan that just loves seeing that song being performed again, you are going to think it’s the best thing ever.”

READ MORE: Dead musicians are touring again, as holograms. It’s tricky — technologically and legally [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

More on hologram performances: Wildly Famous Japanese Pop Star Sells Thousands of Tickets in NYC. Also, She’s A Hologram

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Holograms Are Resurrecting Dead Musicians, Raising Legal Questions

Foreign Cyberattack Cripples Major U.S. Newspapers

A cyberattack targeting the printing presses of several newspapers, delaying their delivery this weekend, appears to have originate from outside the U.S.

Late Delivery

This weekend, several of the most widely circulated newspapers in the United States found themselves the target of a cyberattack that reportedly originated on foreign soil.

Many questions about the attack remain unanswered, but one thing is certain: the media is under attack — and if something isn’t done to protect it, we could be headed toward a future in which we can’t believe anything we read.

Stop the Presses

The malware attack targeted newspaper printing plants run by The Los Angeles Times and Tribune Publishing, which owned The Los Angeles Times from April 2007 until June 2018 (and which, in a much-lampooned episode, briefly changed its name to Tronc in 2016.)

The malware prevented editors from transmitting pages of the papers to printing presses, and it delayed the scheduled printing and delivery of the Saturday editions of several newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Nobody is sure of the source of the attack, but several people with inside knowledge of Tribune told The Los Angeles Times that the attack appeared to be Ryuk ransomware. Experts have linked this software to groups in North Korea and Eastern Europe, but for now, all The Los Angeles Times has confirmed is that the attack appears to have originated from outside the U.S.

Media Under Attack

As the name implies, ransomware attacks are typically financially motivated — attackers disrupt a company’s operations and demand a ransom to end the disruption — but neither Tribune Publishing nor The Los Angeles Times has reported any ransom demand. An anonymous source told The Los Angeles Times that the attackers didn’t appear to steal any information either.

That means a likely motivation behind the attack was preventing newspaper readers from getting their news — and that is highly troubling.

Just this month, the majority of Americans admitted for the first time that they prefer to get their news from social media platforms than from traditional print newspapers. While the latter sources are held to journalistic standards that place a premium on fact-checking and context, the former are notoriously rife with misinformation and bias.

If foreign actors are able to further cripple the U.S.’s already vulnerable newspaper industry by literally preventing the printing of newspapers, the “fake news” that dominates our social media feeds could one day overshadow the real news — and we’ve already gotten a glimpse of the disturbing impact that can have on a democracy.

READ MORE: Malware Attack Disrupts Delivery of L.A. Times and Tribune Papers Across the U.S. [The Los Angeles Times]

More on newspapers: For News, Americans Now Officially Prefer Social Media to Newspapers

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Foreign Cyberattack Cripples Major U.S. Newspapers

Demand for Combustion Engine Cars May Have Peaked in 2018

combustion engine

No Sale

The reign of the fossil fuel-powered car may be ending.

In a report published on Sunday, several experts told the Financial Times that they believe sales of fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles peaked in 2018, meaning that it’s unlikely that more ICE cars will be sold in any future year— and if they’re correct, this epochal change in the auto industry could majorly benefit the environment.

Going Down

Many experts predicted at the beginning of 2018 that demand for ICE vehicles wouldn’t peak until 2022 at the earliest, according to the FT report. But a combination of several factors — including Brexit, the U.S.-China trade war, and new emissions targets in Europe — has dealt a major blow to global car sales this year.

“When you look at 2018 since the summer, new car sales in all of the important markets are going down,” Axel Schmidt, global automotive lead at Accenture, told FT. “Selling combustion engine cars to customers — this will not grow in the future.”

Even if overall car sales increase in 2019, ICE sales would likely fall thanks to the continued adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).

Road to Recovery

This might not be what ICEcar manufacturers want to hear, but it’s excellent news for the environment.

According to energy research group Wood Mackenzie, a mid-sized EV produces 67 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable gasoline-powered ICE vehicle. That figure doesn’t just take into account the emissions produced while the car is in use, either — it includes emissions caused by everything from electricity generation to crude oil refinement.

In 2016, transportation was the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., so if EVs continue to replace ICE cars in this nation and others, the world could significantly cut down on the climate-destroying emissions emanating from its roadways.

READ MORE: Combustion Engine Car Sales to Hit Peak Demand in 2018, Say Analysts [Financial Times]

More on ICE cars: These 7 Countries Want to Say Goodbye to Fossil Fuel-Based Cars

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Demand for Combustion Engine Cars May Have Peaked in 2018

Scientist Who Gene Edited Babies Is Being Held By Mysterious Guards

Ball and chain.

Spotted

After Chinese scientist He Jiankui shocked the scientific community by announcing last month that he had edited the genes of human babies, he mysteriously vanished.

And now he’s been found. The New York Times reports that guards are holding He in a guesthouse at his university, the Southern University of Science and Technology. It’s unclear whether the guards work for the Chinese government, the university, or another organization — but their presence is the latest sign that He’s transgressive research upset the delicate balance of the genetics research community and regulatory systems, prompting retaliation from powerful interests.

Plainclothes Guards

The Chinese government condemned He’s work after he announced it, launching an investigation and banning him from continuing his research. What was unclear, however, was whether He’s disappearance was a result of him laying low or being held somewhere.

Now the Times has found that He is staying at a university guesthouse normally used to house visiting scholars, where a dozen plainclothes guards refused to identify themselves to a Times reporter. He is able to communicate over email and phone calls, according to the Times, and has corresponded with business colleagues.

“He was extremely irresponsible to the employees, partners and investors,” said Liu Chaoyu, with whom He co-founded the gene-testing company Vienomics, in an interview with the Times. Liu last saw He the day before the conference at which he disclosed the existence of the gene-edited babies. “He did not discuss anything with us before he made his announcement and we had to deal with all of it unexpectedly.”

Shock and Awe

The university and Shenzhen police both declined to comment to the Times. In fact, all employees of the university have been barred from speaking to the press, according to a message obtained by the paper.

What’s clear is that He’s unprecedented work sent shockwaves not just through the research ecosystem but through the powerful machinery of international government — and as the saga of his treatment in the wake of the announcement unfolds, it could be a roadmap to the challenges other researchers would face if they follow in his footsteps.

READ MORE: Chinese Scientist Who Claimed to Make Genetically Edited Babies Is Kept Under Guard [The New York Times]

More on He Jiankui: Chinese Scientists Claim to Have Gene-Edited Human Babies For the First Time

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Scientist Who Gene Edited Babies Is Being Held By Mysterious Guards

Washington May Become the First State to Legalize Human Composting

Washington State may be set to become the first state to allow human composting

Death Reimagined

Grandma is in the garden. No, literally.

There’s something beautiful in deciding how one’s final moments should be confined to the memory of our loved ones. Advances in technology and changing mindsets seem to have people wondering why a coffin in the ground should have to be the only option of final resting place. Residents in Washington state have a brand new vision of returning to the Earth. Now a bill being sponsored in the state’s legislature could see Washington become the first state to legalize human composting.

A Tree of Me

The bill, backed by state Senator Jamie Pedersen, would allow for the “recomposition” of human remains, a process which speeds up decomposition and turns remains into a nutrient-packed soil which could be returned to families.

“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” Pedersen told NBCnews.

Although “becoming a tree” and other futuristic burial ideas aren’t entirely new concepts, Washington would become the first state to allow human composting if the bill is passed. The idea isn’t just futuristic, it’s also economical. More and more Americans are turning to crowdfunding to support funeral costs, with the average funeral costing more than $7,000 in 2017, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The recomposition process in comparison is somewhat cheaper with costs expected to fall around $5,500.

Safety First

The process is very similar to traditional composting. Unembalmed human remains are placed in a composting chamber and left to decompose with organic material like woodchips or straw. Air is occasionally pulled into the chamber to help microbes speed up decomposition and in about one month all that remains is a cubic yard of compost.

A five-month study, in which six donor bodies were decomposed, was led by researcher Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, Associate Professor of Sustainable and Organic Agriculture at Washington State. The study was carefully controlled to prevent spreading any harmful pathogens, a concern which led to the defeat of a similar bill sponsored by Pederson in 2017.

Carpenter-Boggs’ study concluded in August that the remains produced were safe and she plans to submit her research for publication in 2019. If the bill passes, it would take effect May 1, 2020. Until then, we can keep dreaming of “becoming trees” but Pederson’s bill could open doors to new burial alternatives and ways we can choose to have our memory honored.

READ MORE: Washington could become the first state to legalize human composting [NBCNews]

More on Burial Alternatives: 7 Futuristic Things To Do With Your Body When You Die

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Washington May Become the First State to Legalize Human Composting

NASA Clears “Dream Chaser” Space Cargo Plane For Full-Scale Production

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft has been cleared by NASA for full-scale production

Space Plane

Watch out space, there’s a new commercial cargo carrier entering the race.

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has been given the go ahead from NASA to begin full-scale production of it’s “Dream Chaser” commercial space cargo plane. Scheduled to make its first mission in 2020, the company announced on December 18 that it had cleared the last milestone in its Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract. Now the company is able to move ahead with the full-scale production of the carrier which will be used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

T-minus 2 Years

The Dream Chaser was originally conceptualized for NASA’s commercial crew program but ultimately sidelined by NASA in favor of designs from Boeing and SpaceX. A redesigned version of the original Dream Chaser, the cargo version includes fold-able wings and is capable of carrying 5,500 kilograms (approximately 12125 lbs) of cargo to the International Space Station and return 1,850 kilograms (approximately 4078 lbs) to Earth in a runway landing.

SNC was one of three companies, alongside SpaceX and Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems), to receive a commercial cargo contract from NASA in 2016. The contract guarantees each corporation at least six missions to the ISS.

Various components of the full-scale Dream Chaser have already been produced and tested. At a conference last October, Steve Lindsey, Steve Lindsey, Vice President for Space Exploration Systems at SNC said he expected to be “the majority of the way through” assembly and testing of the first Dream Chaser by next October.

Commercial Space Race

High launch costs are one of the most limiting factors in commercial space operations. Increased competition between corporations is helping to reduce the cost of launches opening new doors for smaller companies.

“When those launch vehicle prices come down — which, by the way, is about 80 percent of our costs on every mission we fly — that opens up the commercial market,” said Lindsey. As both competition and innovation increase, companies will face new pressure to stake their claim among the stars.

READ MORE: Private Dream Chaser Space Plane Cleared to Begin Full-Scale Production [Space]

More on Dream Chaser: United Nations Set To Launch Its First Ever Space Mission for 2021 

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Rerouting Nerves During Amputation May Reduce Phantom Limb Pain

Nerve cells could be rerouted to help prevent phantom limb pain

Begone Ghost

If you’ve never had to feel pain in a limb you no longer have, consider yourself lucky.

“Phantom limb pain” is a sensation of pain and muscle tension in a limb which isn’t actually attached to the body anymore. Roughly 60% to 80% of amputees feel some sort of phantom limb pain after their procedure. The effects, beyond being painful, can be outright debilitating for some people.

Now, doctors from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have discovered that a procedure originally meant to help with advanced prosthetic devices may also reduce or prevent phantom limb pain entirely.

Un-Nerving

Primary targeted muscle reinnervation or TMR, the process of rerouting nerves cut by amputation into surrounding muscle, was originally developed to help patients have better control of upper-limb prosthetics. Normally the procedure is performed month or even years after an initial amputation. By performing TMR at the time of amputation, however, doctors can tie up loose ends (so to speak) helping to prevent pain.

Over the course of three years, surgeons performed 22 TMR surgeries on below-the-knee amputees. None of the patients have developed neuromas, or pinched nerves, and six months later only 13 percent of patients reported having pain.

Attaching severed nerves “allows the body to re-establish its neural circuitry. This alleviates phantom and residual limb pain by giving those severed nerves somewhere to go and something to do,” said Dr. Ian Valerio, division chief of Burn, Wound and Trauma in Ohio State’s Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Sweet Relief

By making TMR surgery a normal part of amputation procedures, doctors may be able to prevent a lifetime of pain for patients and later enable them to have more precise control over prosthetic limbs. In the United States alone there are approximately 185,000 amputations annually, according the Amputee Coalition. Developments, like those made by Valerio and team, will go a long way toward helping new amputees and those who use advanced prosthetic devices.

READ MORE: Rerouting nerves during amputation reduces phantom limb pain before it starts [EurekAlert]

More on Advanced Prosthetics: Electronic Skin Lets Amputees Feel Pain Through Their Prosthetics

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Tiny Robots That Repair Pipes Could Eliminate Road Work

The U.K. is investing millions of dollars into the development of micro-robots capable of navigating and repairing underground pipes.

Micro-Robots

The road workers of the future could be smaller. And a lot less human.

On Monday, the United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy announced an $8.9 million investment into a project to develop micro-robots capable of inspecting and repairing the nation’s network of underground pipes.

If successful, the project could save the country billions of dollars annually — and change how road work gets done across the globe.

Pipe Dream

According to a government press release, a team of researchers from four U.K. universities will work together to develop the micro-robots, which will each be approximately just one-centimeter long. The goal is for these bots to fly, swim, or crawl through the pipes that transport water, gas, and sewage beneath U.K. streets.

One of the researchers working on the project, the University of Sheffield’s Kirill Horoshenkov, told The Daily Telegraph that the team plans to develop two versions of the robots.

One will be an “inspection bot” that can autonomously navigate and examine the pipes using sonar technology. The other will be a “worker bot” capable of repairing pipes using cement and adhesives or cleaning them with a high-powered jet. That robot will be slightly larger and steered via remote control.

According to Horoshenkov, the bots could be ready for use within five years.

Down the Road

Each year, 1.5 million road excavations take place in the U.K., and the traffic closures and business disruptions caused by this roadwork cost the nation an estimated $6.3 billion.

That means if this $8.9 million investment in the development of micro-robots pans out the way the U.K. is hoping, it’ll soon pay for itself many times over. There’s also the possibility of other nations adopting the same or similar tech after witnessing the U.K.’s success.

As U.K. Science Minister Chris Skidmore noted in the press release, “While for now we can only dream of a world without roadworks disrupting our lives, these pipe-repairing robots herald the start of technology that could make that dream a reality in the future.”

READ MORE: UK Invests in Micro-Robots Which Could Make Roadworks a Thing of the Past [The Telegraph]

More on micro-robots: Rolls-Royce Is Building Cockroach-Like Robots to Fix Plane Engines

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Edible Coating Can Keep Food Fresh Longer and Cut Down on Waste

A new FDA-approved food coating can double a vegetable's shelf life. It may help reduce the $2 trillion cost and carbon emissions of food waste.

Greenhouse Gas

People waste a lot of food. In America alone, the National Resources Defense Council estimates that as much as 40 percent of the food people buy ends up in the trash, not to mention the perfectly-good food that never leaves the grocery store or even the farm.

The United Nations estimates that the world wastes 30 percent of all produced food, the total cost of which adds up to about $2.6 trillion. But the problem is bigger than an embarrassing misstep in your weekly budget — the methane emissions of all that rotting food are worse for the climate than if we had simply thrown that cash into the incinerator.

Slap a Fresh Coat on it

Since people struggle to avoid wasting all that food and the market for unsightly-but-good vegetables still isn’t there, a Californian startup called Apeel Sciences developed a thin, transparent, edible coating that can keep food fresh much longer than normal, according to CNBC.

The coating, Epideel, preserves food by preventing the two main causes of spoilage. Acting as a physical barrier, Epideel blocks the water in the food from evaporating away and also blocks atmospheric oxygen from reacting with the food. Reportedly, the coating can double the shelf life of notoriously finicky foods like avocados.

Big Strides

Epideel, which is made up of fats and other compounds taken from fruits and vegetables, was designed in accordance with “Generally Recognized as Safe” U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations that allowed Apeel Sciences to circumvent the FDA’s normal approval process. Epideel-coated avocados are already on the shelves of grocery chains Kroger, Costco, and Harps Food.

Part of that success likely comes from the involvement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated a sizable portion of the $110 million that Apeel Sciences has raised since its start back in 2012. The company has already found its way to CNBC‘s 2018 list of the top 50 disruptors, which highlights how CEO James Rogers hopes Epideel-coated foods can help feed the world’s hungry.

READ MORE: This Bill Gates-backed start-up is fighting world hunger by making your avocados last longer [CNBC]

More on food waste: Reducing Food Waste in Creative Ways Could Help the World’s Hunger Problem

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Bill Gates: U.S. Leaders Must Embrace Nuclear Energy

Gates nuclear energy

Power Play

Think your New Year’s resolution to hit the gym is daunting? Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wants to change an entire nation’s energy policy in 2019.

On Saturday, the billionaire philanthropist released a letter detailing what he learned in 2018 and what he hopes to accomplish in 2019. One of his goals for the next year is to persuade U.S. leaders to “get into the game” of advanced nuclear energy — and the future of our environment could be riding on his success.

Nuclear Option

Nuclear energy is produced by splitting the nucleus of an atom (fission) or combining the nuclei of two atoms (fusion). Nuclear fission reactors already meet 20 percent of the U.S.’s electricity needs. But while fission doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions, the technology is currently less than ideal — the U.S. built most of its reactors more than 30 years ago, and they require plutonium, which isn’t exactly easily accessible. The process also produces unwanted byproducts, some of which are radioactive.

Researchers have yet to figure out a way to produce stable nuclear fusion, but they’re getting closer. If — or, hopefully, when — they do succeed, we’ll have a near-limitless source of clean energy that we can create from hydrogen, which is far more accessible than plutonium, and the only byproduct would be a small amount of helium.

Worthy Investment

According to Gates, “Nuclear is ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.”

But the U.S. has been slacking off in terms of nuclear energy research in recent decades. To regain its position as a global nuclear energy leader it needs to “commit new funding, update regulations, and show investors that it’s serious,” wrote Gates.

He believes this renewed commitment will allow the nation to overcome the limitations of existing nuclear technology in a way that could significantly benefit the environment.

“The United States is uniquely suited to create these advances with its world-class scientists, entrepreneurs, and investment capital,” Gates wrote, later adding that the “world needs to be working on lots of solutions to stop climate change. Advanced nuclear is one, and I hope to persuade U.S. leaders to get into the game.”

READ MORE: As China Option Fades, Bill Gates Urges U.S. To Take the Lead in Nuclear Power, for the Good of the Planet [GeekWire]

More on nuclear energy: Nuclear Power Used to Seem Like the Future. Now Its Fate in the US Is in Question.

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