IN A WORD?
2019 was amess.
From neural networks spitting out images inspired by lab monkeys nightmares, to dark matter bullets leaving fist-sized holes in the chest cavities of astronauts, this year was filled with the kinds of scientific and technological discoveries that often left us, lacking better poetry, with a single, all-consuming thought:
Note that its not WTF? The difference is between a rhetorical question, and a declarative statement: This is our world. This is our world?! This is our world. We cant even begin to imagine what weird questions (or answers) the dark and twisted minds of the worlds great scientific and technological talent will come up with for the next one. Forgoing that for now, we say this: May their imaginations be banished to the underworld for eternity but before they do, lets peek into their twisted minds one last time. These are the Most WTF Science and Technology Moments of 2019.
When: April 18, 2019
The Headline: Someone Listed a T-Rex on eBay, and Paleontologists Are Furious
W. A Montanan discovered the 68 million-year-old skeleton of a baby tyrannosaurus rex in his yard. Deciding that it spent enough time at such a low-class local institution as the museum thats housed the skeleton since 2017, the great and noble amateur archeologist decided to sell it on eBay. For a cool $2.95 million.
TF. Paleontologists were understandably pissed! They wanted time to study this rare and valuable artifact, not shop it over four slides like its a rare Beanie Baby. Oh, and his listing somehow actually included the garbled line: This Rex was very a very dangerous meat eater. Its a RARE opportunity indeed to ever see a baby REX, if they did not grow quickly they could not catch prey and would die. eBay: Wheres the worlds great excavations go to be sold to some overly moneyed rando whose most recent cop is a signed Battlefield Earth shirt and a pair of Nikes worn by the Heavens Gate cult. Cool.
When: May 2, 2019
The Headline: A Neural Net Hooked Up to a Monkey Brain Spat Out Bizarre Images
W. Oh, just your average day at the animal testing lab. Harvard scientists hooked up a monkey brain to a neural net, then tried to stimulate individual neurons responsible for recognizing faces, by showing it images generated by the AI.
TF. We probably could have seen this one coming. The images generated by the AI more or less what the monkey saw or imagined were darker and more twisted than anything we couldve prepared ourselves for. The scientists saw blurs that resembled humans wearing surgical masks likely lab technicians. We saw the shit of nightmares for the next three years, and several grands worth of bills in trauma therapy.
When: April 13, 2019
The Headline: Pepsi Plans to Project a Giant Ad in the Night Sky Using Cubesats
W. Imagine looking into the magnificent splendor of night sky, finding the great constellation of Orion, and seeing him holding a Pepsi can. Which is what a Russian company called StartRocket (basically) wanted when they endeavored to launch a cluster of cubesats into space to form orbital billboards.
TF. Hopefully we dont have to be the ones to tell you that literally plastering the night sky with annoying billboard ads is a horrendous idea that shouldve never been conjured in the first place. Not only would it be an eye sore, weve already learned from SpaceXs Starlink satellites that such an endeavor could pose a very real threat to the astronomy community by messing with their observations. A spokeswoman for PepsiCo confirmed to Futurism that the company was in fact collaborating with the startup, but after backlash, the company called the idea off. For now.
Credit: Warner Bros/Pixabay/Victor Tangermann
When: September 5, 2019
The Headline: 5 Insane Quotes From Boris Johnsons Bizarre UN Speech About Tech
W. Former tabloid journalist and current British prime minister Boris Johnson gave a truly unhinged speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Like, truly, deeply, profoundlyweird.
TF. BoJos talk jumped from talking about pink-eyed terminators a particularly egregious allegory of the singularity to terrifying limbless chicken. As for that last bit, your guess is a good as ours. If we learned anything in 2019, its that the worlds politicians have about as firm a grasp on the nuances of technology as something that lacks the appendages, motor skills, and cognitive ability to coordinating grabbing anything with. Which is to say: Not at all.
When: April 10, 2019
The Headline: Chinese Scientists Gene-Hacked Super Smart Human-Monkey Hybrids
W. Using cutting-edge gene-editing techniques, a team of Chinese scientists improved memories of unaltered monkeys by adding a human version of a gene to the macaques brains, which made them develop along a more human-like timeline. The monkeys even had better reaction times.
TF. Unsurprisingly, the research kicked off a debate about the ethics of altering the genes of macaques. Geneticists called the move a very risky road to take, arguing that it could lead to even more extreme modifications in the future. Like when we teach them how to launch military coups. Against us. And then enslave us. And then put us in cages. And then watch as they debate amongst themselves whether they evolved from the dumbcreatures or were divined to Earth through prayer to The Great Banana In the Sky.
When: May 10, 2019
The Headline: Heres What an Album Between a Musician and an AI Baby Sounds Like
W. Conceptual sound artist and composer Holly Herndon released her new artificial intelligence-inspired album PROTO earlier this year. It heavily features performances by an inhuman intelligence housed in a DIY souped-up gaming PC, that Herndon lovingly refers to as her AI baby.
TF. Were gonna let the music speak for itself here, except to say that this is nothing short of a truly eerie listening experience best experienced yourself once, and only once. Special shoutout to the nightmarish beatboxing sounds on the track Godmother, a collaboration with artist Jlin.
When: July 26, 2019
The Headline: Dark Matter Bullets Could Tear Human Flesh Apart
W. A doctoral candidate in physics is suggesting that tiny amounts of dark matter could slice the human body into pieces, Resident Evil-style. The particles could end up behaving like high-speed bullets, tearing giant holes into the bodies of astronauts, resulting in serious injury or death, according to the author. The closest analogy to a macro collision with a human being is a gunshot wound, reads the study.
TF. Its a wild, random claim that seemingly emerged from nowhere. Yet its also a terrifying thought, especially considering we barely even know what dark matter even is, or what its made out of. Do astronauts really have to worry about this? This theory stretches a pretty long list of assumptions to its drawn out and arguably sensationalist conclusion.
When: November 21, 2019
The Headline: Horrible Christian App Narcs to Your Mom If You Watch Porn
W. Covenant Eyes, a creepy religious app, was built to block people from looking at porn by using an AI-powered filter. If the app finds somebody gawking at lewd smut, it hails the authorities like your mom. But actually.
TF. Looking at pornography is as harmless as taking a selfie for most people in most situations. Vilifying the act in the name of the Lord will only cause a rift between people and cause some truly uncomfortable conversations to crop up about the birds and the bees. Is this really going to protect children? Barely. Will it stop literally anybody ever from watching porn? Doubt it.
When: July 16, 2019
The Headline: Mad Scientist Mom Turns Autistic Son Into a Cyborg
W. In an essay for Quartz, neuroscientist Vivienne Ming discussed how she channeled her inner mad scientist to give her autistic son superpowers. She build a facial and expression-recognition system for Google Glass. Ive chosen to turn my son into a cyborg and change the definition of what it means to be human, she wrote. But do my sons engineered superpowers make him more human, or less?
TF. Calling somebody wearing an enhanced pair of Google Glasses a cyborg is, eh, a bit of a stretch. And did she really have to refer to herself as a mad scientist while doing it?
When: March 11, 2019
The Headline: Creepy Database Lists Whether 1.8M Chinese Women Are Breedready
W. An internet freedom non-profit discovered a creepy-ass database of Chinese women labelled as breedready. The database includes personal details of more than 1.8 million Chinese women, including phone number, birthday, level of education, and marital status. Their ages ranged from 15 to 95 years-old, each with a breedready score. The average age was 32.
TF. Not only is it a preposterous violation of personal privacy, the chance of the database being abused by somebody with less-than-good intentions? Sky high. Making matters worse, nobody even knows where the database comes from, or who created it. Is this the Chinese government trying to address a growing population problem? Or something even more sinister?
When: September 23, 2019
The Headline: Russia: We Know Cause of Space Station Leak but Havent Told NASA
W. In late 2018, astronauts aboard the International Space Station discovered a tiny hole in the Russian side of the orbital outpost. Houston and Moscow noticed a drop in cabin pressure kicking off a search for the culprit, and a later investigation suggested that the hole was drilled from inside the space station. Days after claiming the hole was probably caused by a tiny meteorite, the Russian space agency changed its mind and said it found evidence of several attempts at drilling with a wavering hand. Many months later, Russia claimed it finally figured out the cause of the hole but is keeping the information under wraps.
TF. Nobody knows what caused the drilled hole in the space station. NASA doesnt, (Russias version of NASA) Roscosmos doesnt even an entire spacewalk solely dedicated to uncovering the mystery didnt shine any light on the situation. Was it deliberate sabotage? Did Russias gun-toting humanoid robot have anything to do with it? Like most of 2019s WTF moments in science and technology, we all want to know the answer, but also, on some level, might be better off not knowing the answer at all.
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