2013 November 29 Friday
DNA Editing Biotech Start-Up

Using a method called CRISPR/Cas a start-up called Editas is harnessing anti-viral proteins from bacteria to edit DNA. Read the whole thing.

A new startup, backed with $43 million in venture investments, aims to develop treatments that could cure inherited diseases with a one-time fix based on a new method of genome editing.

This is a big deal. As we learn more about the functional significance of more genetic variants we will be able to find lots of individual genetic variants we have that are slightly harmful (genetic load). We will be able to make better cell therapies and grow better replacement organs by taking some cells from our body and then editing out all the harmful mutations.

Genetic editing will speed up the rate of genetic research because researchers will be able to create cell lines in culture to investigate the effects of different combinations of genetic variants.

For therapeutic uses this technology will be developed first to make better stem cell therapies for those with genetic diseases. Gradually as we learn more about genetic mutations that cause smaller amounts of harm it will be used to make better stem cell therapies for larger fractions of the population. Since we all have lots of mildly harmful mutations (genetic load) our stem cell therapies for rejuvenation will be able to replace our aged cells with cells that are both young and better than our cells were than when we were young.

We can make ourselves better in lots of ways. Lactose intolerant? Get some youthful intestinal cells that will let you drink milk. Got some other food intolerance? Fix it with genetic programming. Have your tendons always injured easily? We'll know which genetic variants make better tendons and, for that matter, better joints and better lungs. Play sports you've always wanted to play. What I want: the Apo A-1 Milano mutation. There are probably lots of other good ones that haven't been discovered yet which exist only in thousands or tens of thousands of people.

Some practical uses of genetic editing beyond stem cells include livestock genetic engineering. For example, put disease-resistant genetic variants into cows and sheep from wild animals. Or how about genetically engineering sheep to grow fur more like alpaca fur?

At a much later step DNA editing to make offspring will become really popular once it becomes possible to do it safely. First get rid of the genetic load. Just getting rid of the genetic load will increase beauty and boost intelligence. Then do edits to make beautiful children. Perhaps throw in some edits for athletic ability. Golf nuts with lousy games will want to make their kids naturals at golf.

Looks like we are going to get the technology for DNA editing before we get the knowledge for the meaning of the vast majority of genetic variants. We will see genetic editing done to create superior livestock before it is done on humans. Also, we will see genetic editing done by dog and cat breeders to produce healthier and smarter pets.

These usages will legitimize genetic editing. If national governments try to ban its use to make better babies I expect to see a lot of medical tourism where prospective parents travel abroad to a country with little regulation on allowed types of genetic enhancement for reproduction.

Different levels of strictness on genetic enhanced offspring will tend to create larger differences in abilities between the more and less affluent. The people with enough money to travel abroad to spend a few months starting a pregnancy will have a competitive advantage over the poor and only middle class who have to live with the restrictions (and slow regulatory approval processes) who can't afford to pay for a trip abroad to get genetic enhancements for their babies.

We might see a lot of medical tourism to Hong Kong or Singapore to get highly technically competent genetic editing to produce better eggs, sperm, and embryos.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 29 02:08 PM 
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2013 November 28 Thursday
Needed Advice For eBook Authors: Check Spelling And Grammar

When I cruise around the complaints in reviews of Amazon Kindle ebooks (books which have no physical book equivalent) the most amazing recurring complaint is bad spelling. Why amazing? It is such an easily avoidable problem. Spell checkers are ubiquitous. The Mozilla Seamonkey browser I'm typing this post in is complaining to me with jagged red underlines as I make spelling mistakes. Granted I do not always notice those red lines when trying to finish up a post so I can go to sleep. But I'm not writing a book and not trying to charge for what I'm doing. But book authors do hope to get people to spend money and then recommend the book to others.

As the reviews of amateur books make clear the spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes are distracting and irritating. Yet cheap automated text checking software (see below) makes most of these mistakes are easy to avoid. What is going on in the minds of amateur writers? Why do so many amateurs publish books with atrocious spelling (and grammar) get published? Are Kindle book writers just using Microsoft Notepad or Wordpad to write their books? Just what are they using that does not have a built-in spell checker? Or are they ignoring the spelling error indicators?

Google Docs and Microsoft Word both have continuous spell checking. Google Docs is free. Hey eBook authors: free!

Next comes grammar. Microsoft Word has a grammar checker built in too. But say you do not want to spend that much money. Okay, try a web search on automatic grammar checker. Lots to choose from and some of them are free. So why not use one?

I just tried out spellcheckplus.com correctly complains for "Were" instead of "Where" and "There" instead of "Their". It did not complain about "righting" instead of "writing".

Time to test a few online grammar checkers. How do they stack up0? Does it notice if I use the wrong verb to describe what I am doing? Time to take a trip. Were are we going? Okay, we are moving across the country and see a car stopped. There car is stuck in the mud. We met a woman coming back from a competition. She won the righting contest as judged by book authors.

Check out this review of online grammar checkers. The review compares Grammarly, WhiteSmoke, CorrectEnglish Complete, SpellCheckPlus Pro, and Ginger. If you are going to spend months writing a book then buy a few spelling, punctuation, and grammar checkers. Run your book thru them. Otherwise you run the risk of getting savaged in the reviews of online book stores for really easily avoidable reasons.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 28 01:04 PM 
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Proposed Largest Ship For Residents: 1 Mile Long, $10 Billion

Freedom Ship International proposes to build a mile long ship that will have housing for 50,000 permanent residents.

If built the claim is that it would circle the world once a year. What is unclear to me: why would 50,000 people want to circle the world once a year on a ship? What occupations would they have that would make such a lifestyle make economic sense?

If the residents did not need to work the question remains: Why circle the globe one a year in a ship, however large?

The idea of offshore communities has come to be known as seasteading. The allure for libertarians: avoid taxes, regulations, and visa restrictions. For example, a seasteading ship in the Pacific over 200 miles west of Silicon Valley could provide a way for software developers from all over the world to be brought in to work in the same time zone as Silicon Valley at short notice.

Among the problems with this approach: one would need to find people who do not mind living on a ship for months. That means having no way to go hiking, skiing, mountain biking or to lots of cultural events that require a dense population to support. It also means higher costs for electric power and some other basic utilities.

As an alternative approach: Do a leveraged buy-out of an existing sovereign state. A wealthy group could buy out the citizens of a small island nation by paying for their citizenship in another nation along with cash rewards for moving. An existing sovereign nation with the power to grant passports could then be in control of a group of very wealthy people and corporations. They could grant themselves citizenship and tax themselves very little. They could bring in highly skilled people to work on projects with high intellectual property rights value. Also, once robotic factories become fully automated they could set up robotic factories with little need for workers.

There is a roughly equivalent precedent for what I'm describing at the city-level. In Los Angeles County California the City of Industry (the real name of a city) has only 219 residents and over 10 times as many businesses. It exists so that the businesses in it do not have to pay high property taxes to a neighboring city.

I think robotic technology, cheap high bandwidth fiber, and the rising value of the most highly skilled workers will eventually make an island leveraged buyout an attractive proposition.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 28 11:45 AM 
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2013 November 26 Tuesday
FDA Moves To Shut Down 23andme Genetic Testing Service

The US Food and Drug Administration has told 23andme to stop selling personal genetic testing kits directly to consumers. Alex Tabarrok, an economist who has done work in medical policy, takes up the issue in an excellent post hitting many relevant notes.

At the same time that the NSA is secretly and illegally obtaining information about Americans the FDA is making it illegal for Americans to obtain information about themselves.

Knowledge about ourselves is dangerous. The FDA fears we might make bad medical decisions with this knowledge. Yes, sure. But America is (or at least is supposed to be) a free society. That is one of the risks of a free society.

One of the FDA's fears: women will get double masectomies based on genetic testing results. Well, women might also get double masectomies based on hearing Angelina Jolie describing why she decided to do the same. People will respond to information they hear in all sorts of ways. They'll go on diets, ask their doctors for specific drugs, ask for more medical tests. Hey, people do things. Their doctors are free to try to persuade them away from their ideas or even refuse to carry out a treatment.

But this is not only a question of individual freedom. Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) genetic testing promises a very large utilitarian benefit even to people who do not get tested. Alex gets to the absolute crux of the matter of why you should care deeply about this outrage: FDA obstacles in the way of the masses getting themselves genetically tested will greatly slow the rate of progress in figuring out what the genetic variants mean.

The FDA also has the relationship between testing and clinical validity ass-backward. The FDA wants to say no to testing until clinical validity is established but we are never going to discover clinical validity until we have mass testing.

We can speed up the rate of advance of genetic testing by getting ourselves genetically tested and then volunteering to medical researchers both medical information and our testing results. 23andme has already published research papers made possible by its customers.

Doctors and regulatory agencies used to be priesthoods who controlled our access to medical information about ourselves. There was a time when doctors would even withhold diagnoses for fatal diseases. We've come a long way toward openness and greater self knowledge. The FDA is fighting to maintain the ancien regime where they exercised much greater control over what we can know about ourselves. They can deny us a faster rate of medical research advance if they get away with it.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 26 08:22 PM 
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Imagine Orbiting Light Shields To Cool Venus

Some climate scientists believe that when the sun was less bright Venus had an atmosphere more like Earth. Then Sol's light output went up 30%.

Deflecting 30% of the Sun's light from Venus would require massive orbiting sheets of metal (aluminum?). Could transhumans 100 years from now pull off such a feat?

Cooling Venus seems more appealing than trying to make Mars hospitable. Mars lacks an atmosphere and is too distant from the Sun.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 26 08:22 PM 
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2013 November 25 Monday
High Testosterone Increases Mortality Risk?

Know anyone taking testosterone? The happy medium is the place to be. Avoid those extremes, high or low.

Chevy Chase, MD—Older men whose testosterone levels were neither low nor high tended to live longer, according to new research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Testosterone is a key male sex hormone involved in maintaining sex drive, sperm production and bone health. Physicians have long known that low testosterone levels can signal health problems, but the new study found men may not fare better when levels of the hormone rise too high.

Could be that the low testosterone is a sign that someone else is wrong rather than a cause of early death. Though someone without much sex drive probably finds life less worth living.

The part about dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is interesting because some men take drugs (finasteride and dutasteride) that block the conversion of testosterone to DHT. High DHT causes hair loss and prostate enlargement. Are they increasing their mortality risk?

"Older men who had testosterone in the middle range survived longer than their counterparts who had either low or high levels of the hormone," said the study's lead author, Bu Beng Yeap, MBBS, FRACP, PhD, of the University of Western Australia, based in Fremantle Hospital, Western Australia. "When the body metabolizes testosterone, it produces dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is tied to a lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. Having the right amount of testosterone and higher levels of DHT might indicate these men are in better health overall, or it could help them maintain good health as they grow older."

On the bright side, lowering blood DHT seems to cut the risk of prostate cancer.

Too low is worse than too high.

Men with the lowest testosterone levels had the highest cumulative mortality rate, followed by the men with the highest testosterone levels. Men with circulating testosterone levels in the 9.8 to 15.8 nmol/L range tended to live longer.

If we only knew enough about our genetic genetic risks and accumulated damage we could tune our metabolisms with drugs to cut our greatest medical risks without doing much to boost our other medical risks.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 25 09:13 PM 
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2013 November 24 Sunday
Epigenome Changes As Muscles Age

Scientists are studying changes of gene inactivation as our muscles age. Useful information for understanding the arrows of causation between genetic changes and other changes in cells as they age.

Our epigenome is a set of chemical switches that turn parts of our genome off and on at strategic times and locations. These switches help alter the way our cells act and are impacted by environmental factors including diet, exercise and stress. Research at the Buck Institute reveals that aging also effects the epigenome in human skeletal muscle. The study, appearing on line in Aging Cell, provides a method to study sarcopenia, the degenerative loss of muscle mass that begins in middle age.

The results came from the first genome-wide DNA methylation study in disease-free individuals. DNA methylation involves the addition of a methyl group to the DNA and is involved in a particular layer of epigenetic regulation and genome maintenance. In this study researchers compared DNA methylation in samples of skeletal muscle taken from healthy young (18 - 27 years of age) and older (68 – 89 years of age) males. Buck faculty and lead scientist Simon Melov, PhD, said researchers looked at more than 480,000 sites throughout the genome. "We identified a suite of epigenetic markers that completely separated the younger from the older individuals – there was a change in the epigenetic fingerprint," said Melov. "Our findings were statistically significant; the chances of that happening are infinitesimal."

A very thorough understanding of genetic regulatory changes in aging will tell us whether gene therapy or drugs to alter gene expression could help rejuvenate muscle. Will we find no effective solution for muscle aging short of cell therapy?

Looks like some of the problems with muscle aging might be due to degradation mechanisms for muscles to receive signals from nerves.

Melov said scientists identified about six-thousand sites throughout the genome that were differentially methylated with age and that some of those sites are associated with genes that regulate activity at the neuromuscular junction which connects the nervous system to our muscles. "It's long been suspected that atrophy at this junction is a weak link in sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass we get with age," said Melov. "Maybe this differential methylation causes it. We don't know."

How much of the methylation is just random bad stuff happening to the cell? How much of it is intentional in order to shut down genetic systems that are too damaged to still function? Even if the methylation patterns with age are not needed for protection that does not mean we'll necessarily be able to find ways to reverse them. It might be easier to send in cell therapy regardless of why the epigenomic state of cells increasingly hobbles their function with age.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 24 08:52 PM 
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2013 November 23 Saturday
COX2 Inhibitor Pain Pills Prevent Marijuana Memory Loss

Okay stoners, try to remember this: Ibuprofen and other COX-2 inhibitors will probably improve your memory formation ability if you get stoned a lot.

The main active ingredient in marijuana is Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), and drugs based on this compound have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients. But these drugs have not been approved for a wider range of conditions, in part because of Δ9-THC-induced side effects. Moreover, there are no effective FDA-approved treatments for these side effects because, until now, little was known about the molecular pathways underlying these impairments.

In the new study, Chen and his team discovered that Δ9-THC treatment caused an increase in levels of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) in the mouse hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory. Drugs or genetic techniques that reduced COX-2 levels in mice prevented memory problems and neuronal abnormalities caused by repeated Δ9-THC exposure. Because COX-2 is inhibited by over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, the findings suggest an easy strategy to prevent the side effects of marijuana.

Be warned: Selective COX-2 inhibitors up your risk of a heart attack. Non-selective OTC COX inhibitors also probably boost your risk of a heart attack. Feed a heart and starve a memory? Or feed a memory and starve a heart?

Of course, if you've got pain from cancer the risk of heart attack seems like a minor concern and you might also already be taking ibuprofen anyway.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 23 08:04 PM 
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2013 November 21 Thursday
Even Memory Recall Prodigies Susceptible To False Memories

People who can recall exceptional amounts of detail from years past can be tricked into making fake memories.

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 19, 2013 — People who can accurately remember details of their daily lives going back decades are as susceptible as everyone else to forming fake memories, UC Irvine psychologists and neurobiologists have found.

In a series of tests to determine how false information can manipulate memory formation, the researchers discovered that subjects with highly superior autobiographical memory logged scores similar to those of a control group of subjects with average memory.

But if they aren't fed false information their recall is quite accurate.

“While they really do have super-autobiographical memory, it can be as malleable as anybody else’s, depending on whether misinformation was introduced and how it was processed,” Patihis said. “It’s a fascinating paradox. In the absence of misinformation, they have what appears to be almost perfect, detailed autobiographical memory, but they are vulnerable to distortions, as anyone else is.”

So deceivers can deceive even people with great memories.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 21 07:40 PM 
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2013 November 20 Wednesday
Global Forest Loss Rate Has Accelerated

The lungs of the world are getting smaller.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A University of Maryland-led, multi-organizational team has created the first high-resolution global map of forest extent, loss and gain. This resource greatly improves the ability to understand human and naturally-induced forest changes and the local to global implications of these changes on environmental, economic and other natural and societal systems, members of the team say.

In a new study, the team of 15 university, Google and government researchers reports a global loss of 2.3 million square kilometers (888,000 square miles) of forest between 2000 and 2012 and a gain of 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) of new forest.

Forest loss has accelerated in many countries. Brazil's loss rate, while lower than it used to be, is still quite high.

Their study, published online on November 14 in the journal Science, documents the new database, including a number of key findings on global forest change. For example, the tropics were the only climate domain to exhibit a trend, with forest loss increasing by 2,101 square kilometers (811 square miles) per year. Brazil’s well-documented reduction in deforestation during the last decade was more than offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola and elsewhere.

Globalization, industrialization, population growth (especially in Africa): it is hard to see how this trend will stop, let alone reverse. The wood is used for construction. The cleared land is used for crops. Of course topsoil loss accelerates as a result and loss of surface soil can topple civilizations.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 20 08:33 PM 
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2013 November 19 Tuesday
Volcano Forming In Antarctica Under 1 Kilometer Of Ice

Volcano to erupt in Antarctica?

The discovery of the new as yet unnamed volcano is announced in the Nov. 17 advanced online issue of Nature Geoscience.

Even if it erupts it is unlikely to penetrate the ice all the way to the surface. But it will melt a lot of ice.

The scientists calculated that an enormous eruption, one that released a thousand times more energy than the typical eruption, would be necessary to breach the ice above the volcano.

On the other hand a subglacial eruption and the accompanying heat flow will melt a lot of ice. "The volcano will create millions of gallons of water beneath the ice—many lakes full," says Wiens. This water will rush beneath the ice towards the sea and feed into the hydrological catchment of the MacAyeal Ice Stream, one of several major ice streams draining ice from Marie Byrd Land into the Ross Ice Shelf.

By lubricating the bedrock, it will speed the flow of the overlying ice, perhaps increasing the rate of ice-mass loss in West Antarctica.

A really big volcanic eruption would make our futures much bleaker and, in the extreme, much shorter. I do not want the challenge of having to survive a Toba level of volcanic eruption or even an 1815 Tambora level of eruption.

What I wonder: could a massive eruption in Antarctica cause both a massive global cooling and a large rise in sea levels at the same time?

By Randall Parker 2013 November 19 09:06 PM 
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2013 November 16 Saturday
Bacteria Antibiotic Resistance: Running Out Of Alternatives

A group of British doctors writing in Lancet warn of the serious threat posed by the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

“Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat. Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible, and health-care costs are likely to spiral as we resort to newer, more expensive antibiotics and sustain longer hospital admissions.”

I agree. For starters, we really should just ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed.

The authors of the piece make a number of proposals to reduce the selective pressures that produce the resistant bacterial strains including better basic hygiene in hospitals and changes in the incentives that lead to overuse of antibiotics by physicians.

Every time we use antibiotics we select for resistant strains and basically use part of the effective life of an antibiotic. We should treat antibiotics as precious resources.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 16 07:57 PM 
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2013 November 12 Tuesday
Amazon Deforestation Seen Causing Western USA Drought

Another reason to save the Amazon.

In research meant to highlight how the destruction of the Amazon rainforest could affect climate elsewhere, Princeton University-led researchers report that the total deforestation of the Amazon may significantly reduce rain and snowfall in the western United States, resulting in water and food shortages, and a greater risk of forest fires.

Dry winters.

The researchers report in the Journal of Climate that an Amazon stripped bare could mean 20 percent less rain for the coastal Northwest and a 50 percent reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water for cities and farms in California. Previous research has shown that deforestation will likely produce dry air over the Amazon. Using high-resolution climate simulations, the researchers are the first to find that the atmosphere's normal weather-moving mechanics would create a ripple effect that would move that dry air directly over the western United States from December to February.

In case you do not know: the winter months are when it rains in California.

The impact of homo sapiens on the planet is becoming so big that it is causing environmental problems beyond just species extinction.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 12 09:52 PM 
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Corn For Ethanol Speeds Topsoil Erosion

Read this whole article. We should not erode away our topsoil for ethanol from corn.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Causes bigger dead zones in ocean areas near river outlets too. Americans have a view of the United States of being not only self sufficient in food but also a big crop exporting nation. But the United States is down to only 15% of domestic corn now getting exported. Throw in some population growth and more soil erosion and we'll shift to a food importing nation. Bad outcome.

Globally soil erosion is a big problem: "Every year in the world an estimated 20 million hectares of arable land are rendered infertile simply owing to water-induced erosion." Soil depletion is cutting crop yields.

Although improved technology – including the unsustainably high use of fertilisers, irrigation, and ploughing – provides a false sense of security, about 1% of global land area is degraded every year. In Africa, where much of the future growth in agriculture must take place, erosion has reduced yields by 8% and nutrient depletion is widespread.

"Soil fertility is both a biophysical property and a social property – it is a social property because humankind depends heavily on it for food production," says Bob Scholes, who is a systems ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

This brings to mind David Montgomery's excellent book Dirt: The Erosion Of Civilizations. Recommended reading, though not if you prefer blissful ignorance.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 12 09:41 PM 
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2013 November 07 Thursday
People Lie More In Afternoon Than Morning?

If you want to get the truth out of someone do not wait until the afternoon. The researchers call this the "morning morality effect."

Our ability to exhibit self-control to avoid cheating or lying is significantly reduced over the course of a day, making us more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon than in the morning, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"As ethics researchers, we had been running experiments examining various unethical behaviors, such as lying, stealing, and cheating," researchers Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard University and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business explain. "We noticed that experiments conducted in the morning seemed to systematically result in lower instances of unethical behavior."

They found the same results people tested in a lab and in experiments done on the internet.

This could be a result of willpower depletion as the day takes its toll on mental resources. A great book on that subject: Willpower by Roy Baumeister and Johh Tierney. It is worth thinking about how to structure your day and the order of your interactions to make the most effective use of your limited supply of willpower.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 07 06:58 PM 
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Tyler Cowen: The Computer Better Off Without You?

Promoting his new book Average Is Over Tyler Cowen sees a future where only the people who can enhance the value of computers will make much money.

So I think since 1973 we’ve had a fair amount of productivity gains of the kind lowering costs, but we’ve done much less to make American workers more productive. What I think the future will look like is a world where no single productivity statistic captures very well what’s happening. You could put it this way; the great stagnation will end for some people, but not for everyone. And just ask yourself the question: are you more productive working with the computer or is maybe the computer better off without you?

I keep telling anyone who will listen: Upgrade your skills. If you have the mental chops to do math then develop skills that involve using lots of information and processing it to find useful patterns. Get yourself out of the jobs that are going away. The people who the computer can live without are doing worse.

Tyler sees a future of geographic segregation.

One relatively easy way to do this is to move to a cheaper area. So I think we’re going to see more geographic segregation. States which have cheaper real estate will become more popular. Cities like San Francisco and Manhattan, they will become more and more the province of the wealthy. And ghettos will disappear. We’ll look back on the 20th century as this strange era when so many poor people lived in these fantastic cities and not quite be able to understand that.

I think the geographic segregation will go much farther with the owners of robot factories moving their equipment to low population countries to avoid taxes to support welfare states for the unemployed masses. Natural resource owners, tech company owners, and the most highly skilled and smart workers will trade with each other.

If you are a 30 year old truck driver be aware: You will not be a 50 year old truck driver. The trucks in 20 years (and probably sooner) will drive themselves. Making a living as taxi driver? That job will be gone as well. Bank teller? Gone baby. Working at a cash register? Fast food chains are making self-serve ordering systems. For example, McDonald's in Europe.

How about flipping burgers? Automated burger makers, automated wait staff in Japan, automated wait staff in Germany, automated self-serve food.

Do you think your job will last your whole working career? If not, what are you going to do about it?

If you see a change coming adjust to it before you are forced to adjust. The sooner you adjust the easier the adjustment and the better the terms you can make for yourself in the new order.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 07 11:18 AM 
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2013 November 06 Wednesday
Odds Of Large Asteroid Strike Raised By Order Of Magnitude

Be ready to duck and cover. Recent scientific research has caused scientists to boost their estimated risk of a large asteroid strike.

We need a much larger effort to search for asteroids on dangerous courses headed for Earth. This will give us more time to duck and cover. Bert the turtle never gets hurt:

Duck into your personal bomb shelter if an asteroid strike is going to be close but not directly on you. If you sleep in your bomb shelter then at least at night the lack of warning won't be a problem.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 06 08:38 PM 
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Smartphones Interfere With Learning

The digitally distracted society.

The typical college student plays with his or her digital device an average of 11 times a day while in class, according to a new study by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln associate professor.

More than 80 percent admit that their use of smart phones, tablets and laptops can interfere with their learning. More than a fourth say their grades suffer as a result.

I see this in the workplace as well. Do you see people messaging a lot while at work? They do it on their phones and on chat sessions on their computers.

My guess is that smartphones and instant messaging have made some people more productive while making other people less productive. It is hard to tell the relative proportions.

What I think people need: a way to graph over time how much time they spend per day messaging and on the phone across all their interface devices.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 06 08:11 PM 
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2013 November 05 Tuesday
Major Tom Aging Faster In Space

Ground control to Major Tom: You are getting older faster.

Bethesda, MD—As nations strive to put humans farther into space for longer periods of time, the real loser in this new space race could be the astronauts themselves. That's because experiments conducted on the International Space Station involving cells that line the inner surfaces of blood vessels (endothelial cells) show that microgravity accelerates cardiovascular disease and the biological aging of these cells.

Floating in a most peculiar way.

We did not evolve in space. So we are not adapted to it. We need biotechnology capable of reengineering our bodies before we'll be able to live healthily on the Moon or Mars.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 05 08:48 PM 
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2013 November 03 Sunday
Battery Packs As Car Structural Parts

Imagine your car trunk lid as a battery pack.

The same sort of thinking applies to solar panels. Check out solar photovoltaic roof shingles.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 03 10:02 AM 
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Smarter 2 Year Olds Better Liars

Beware smart 2 year olds telling you a story.

As early as two, children who are more developmentally advanced are much better liars.

Modest proposal: anyone who genetically engineers their kids for high IQ should be restricted in the number of genetic variations they add for enhanced tendencies to tell lies and to lie well.

I also think that parents should not be allowed to genetically engineer really smart psychopaths. Though psychopaths can be really efficient CEOs. Perhaps there is a way to genetically engineer safe psychopaths?

By Randall Parker 2013 November 03 09:53 AM 
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Less Rain From Earth Cooling Geoengineering?

Sulfates released into the atmosphere to cool the planet would reduce water evaporation and therefore reduce rain. The article gets into

Massive satellite arrays to reduce insolation could avoid this problem. Their orientation could be changed in a 24 hour cycle so as to let thru more light when the light will strike water and less light when the light will strike land. They could even most reduce light over deserts so the deserts wouldn't dry out as much. This process could even be tuned to let in more light on areas of the ocean from which evaporated water is most likely to precipitate on land. So, for example, let in more light where the prevailing winds off of the coasts of northwest Canada and Alaska will carry the water over land.

Given sufficiently cheap photovoltaics and robotic construction machines the resulting electric power could be used to drive desalinators and water pumps to move massive amounts of clean water far in land. Imagine desalinators on the coasts of Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia pumping water hundreds of miles inland to irrigate agriculture. The water then would evaporate from farm fields and rain down again even further inland.

Another idea: picture offshore floating structures covered with solar panels that use their energy to pump water up pipes a couple of hundred feet to be sprayed into the air. They could increase water evaporation. Probably this would cost far too much for the amount of water generated. But in a world with really cheap energy and huge numbers of robots a mechanized means of doing evaporation just where you want it might be affordable.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 03 09:53 AM 
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2013 November 02 Saturday
Genetic Variations Between Brain Cells In Same Brain

Some people are human genetic chimeras which have cells from two different fraternal twins which fused into a single human during early embryonic development. Human chimeras are thought to be rare. But chimeras have produced some amazing medical stories such as the woman who failed a genetic test to prove she was the mother of her children. Turns out her ovaries came from a fraternal twin. Now some research on large genetic variations in human brains show that even people who started with a single genome at the embryo stage end up with a lot of genetic diversity between neuron cells taken from the same brain and lower but still substantial amounts of genetic diversity in skin cells.

It was once thought that each cell in a person's body possesses the same DNA code and that the particular way the genome is read imparts cell function and defines the individual. For many cell types in our bodies, however, that is an oversimplification. Studies of neuronal genomes published in the past decade have turned up extra or missing chromosomes, or pieces of DNA that can copy and paste themselves throughout the genomes.

The only way to know for sure that neurons from the same person harbor unique DNA is by profiling the genomes of single cells instead of bulk cell populations, the latter of which produce an average. Now, using single-cell sequencing, Salk Institute researchers and their collaborators have shown that the genomic structures of individual neurons differ from each other even more than expected. The findings were published November 1 in Science.

"Contrary to what we once thought, the genetic makeup of neurons in the brain aren't identical, but are made up of a patchwork of DNA," says corresponding author Fred Gage, Salk's Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease.

One implication: Research that uses identical twins to control for genetic influences on cognitive function understate the impact of genetic differences because lots of genetic differences exist in just a single brain. It also raises interesting possibilities: Maybe some geniuses (and some really low intelligence people) are the result of some copy number variations that were created when their brains were at early stages of development.

If copy number variations (CNVs) are creating differences in cognitive function in a single brain then that makes genetic research on the brain much harder. Every neuron tells its own genetic story. Also, getting one's whole genome sequenced becomes much harder and more expensive. Cells isolated from different locations in the body will tell a different tale. Sequence enough cells and it should be possible to identify which genetic variations arose after the initial fertilized egg. That will be useful. But all sorts of genetic variations in neurons or in other cells could make big impacts on local tissue function.

This result demonstrates why we need the ability to sequence a whole genome for just $100. It is easy to conceive of reasons why you could want to sequence the full genome for cells from 100 parts of your body. Local genetic variations could give you an easily upset stomach, a sleep disorder, or a skin condition. Lots of neurons have genetic copy number variations (CNVs) that didn't come from parents.

In the study, led by Mike McConnell, a former junior fellow in the Crick-Jacobs Center for Theoretical and Computational Biology at the Salk, researchers isolated about 100 neurons from three people posthumously. The scientists took a high-level view of the entire genome---- looking for large deletions and duplications of DNA called copy number variations or CNVs---- and found that as many as 41 percent of neurons had at least one unique, massive CNV that arose spontaneously, meaning it wasn't passed down from a parent. The CNVs are spread throughout the genome, the team found.

The miniscule amount of DNA in a single cell has to be chemically amplified many times before it can be sequenced. This process is technically challenging, so the team spent a year ruling out potential sources of error in the process.

Skin cells contain substantial genetic differences as well.

Interestingly, the skin cells themselves are genetically different, though not nearly as much as the neurons. This finding, along with the fact that the neurons had unique CNVs, suggests that the genetic changes occur later in development and are not inherited from parents or passed to offspring.

This study underscores the need to be very careful when creating stem cell lines for therapeutic purposes. Multiple cells will need to be isolated from different locations in the body, separately grown up into many cell lines, and then each cell line tested to determine whether it has too many harmful mutations to be suitable for growing replacement organs or for doing cell therapy to repair some organs.

Some of the CNV differences will be detectable using genetic tests that are much cheaper than genome sequencing. I also expect we will see the development of tests of messenger RNA (what DNA gets transcribed into before getting translated into proteins) to look for signs that some genes are expressed at much higher or lower levels due to CNVs.

Update: Chimeras could be avoided by use of in vitro fertilization. Only implant one embryo per cycle.

But how to control CNVs? That seems much harder. We need to know why they form more in neurons. Perhaps the formation of at least some of them is under a form of genetic regulation. One way to get a clue: sequence the genomes of twins. Also, sequence the genomes of multiple generations of a family. Do CNVs expand and contract across generations?

A recent story in Nature, Genome hacker uncovers largest-ever family tree, describes a family tree of over 13 million people. What is exciting about this. If substantial number of the living people in this family tree were sequenced we'd be able to see how fast single letter mutations and larger mutations happen across generations. How often do inherited CNV changes happen? We could know.

By Randall Parker 2013 November 02 09:34 PM 
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