2015 October 31 Saturday
Gene Therapy Treats Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Dogs

Dogs lead the way.

“Due to its size, it is impossible to deliver the entire gene with a gene therapy vector, which is the vehicle that carries the therapeutic gene to the correct site in the body,” Duan said. “Through previous research, we were able to develop a miniature version of this gene called a microgene. This minimized dystrophin protected all muscles in the body of diseased mice.”

However, it took the team more than 10 years to develop a strategy that can safely send the micro-dystrophin to every muscle in a dog that is afflicted by the disease. The dog has a body size similar to that of an affected boy. Success in the dog will set the foundation for human tests.

In this latest study, the MU team demonstrated for the first time that a common virus can deliver the microgene to all muscles in the body of a diseased dog. The dogs were injected with the virus when they were two to three months old and just starting to show signs of DMD. The dogs are now six to seven months old and continue to develop normally.

Gene therapy continues to disappoint. It was hyped in the 1990s and yet failed over safety issues. A couple of decades later its use is still rare. My guess is that cell therapies will grow faster than gene therapies. Gene therapy done on cells outside of the body might take off sooner. Cells outside the body could be genetically edited with CRISPER-Cas9 and then the altered cells could be injected. Once it becomes possible to grown organs outside of the body then gene therapy could be used to prepare cells to grow a new organ.

Since we all have hundreds of mildly harmful mutations the ability to do genetic editing has a lot of potential. Imagine getting all your genetic flaws fixed in a cell line and then getting new organs grown to replace aged and poorly performing organs. If will happen in the lifetimes of some people alive today. But it is not clear how many of us will still be around to benefit when it finally arrives.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 31 06:49 PM 
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Tesla Autopilot Learning To Drive Better

All the data flowing back to Tesla from cars driving themselves in autopilot mode on freeways is being used to do better machine learning model training. All this machine learning isimproving the performance of the cars in autopilot mode.

Watch Autopilot react fast to prevent an accident when an idiot makes a fast turn in front of a Tesla driven by Jon Hall:

A news story about this incident with comments from Jon Hall.

Tesla Autopilot is not able to always control the car. It can suddenly indicate to a driver that the driver needs to take over. Elon Musk says Tesla currently describes the Autopilot feature as a beta. So if you drive a Tesla and turn on autopilot do not get complacent.

The next car to support an autonomous highway cruising mode is probably going to be the 2017 Cadillac CT6 with a feature called Super Cruise. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against Tesla Autopilot. Tesla will continue to accumulate millions of driver miles and machine learning model improvements by the time the Cad hits the market.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 31 12:13 PM 
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Internet Freedom On Decline For 5th Straight Year

Progress is not inevitable:

  • Content removals increased: Authorities in 42 of the 65 countries assessed required private companies or internet users to restrict or delete web content dealing with political, religious, or social issues, up from 37 the previous year.
  • Arrests and intimidation escalated: Authorities in 40 of 65 countries imprisoned people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.
  • Surveillance laws and technologies multiplied: Governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014 and many more upgraded their surveillance equipment.
  • Governments undermined encryption, anonymity: Democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

In the early years of the internet governments did not have the technology, expertise, or awareness needed to clamp down. But the market for freedom-suppressing technologies is a market like any other. If there is sufficient demand the products will get built. Also, tips and techniques will be swapped around between government agencies across borders.

Iceland has the best freedom score, followed by Estonia. Canada is in third place followed by the United States and Germany.

Is the decline in internet freedom set to continue? How far down? Will advances in machine learning models make it progressively easier for governments to monitor speech, detect the expression of banned thinking, and cut isolate wrong thinkers?

By Randall Parker 2015 October 31 11:58 AM 
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2015 October 24 Saturday
Enzyme Inhibitors Might Reverse Male Pattern Baldness

So far the drugs have only been tested on a different cause of baldness.

NEW YORK, NY (October 23, 2015) --Inhibiting a family of enzymes inside hair follicles that are suspended in a resting state restores hair growth, a new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center has found. The research was published today in the online edition of Science Advances.

In experiments with mouse and human hair follicles, Angela M. Christiano, PhD, and colleagues found that drugs that inhibit the Janus kinase (JAK) family of enzymes promote rapid and robust hair growth when directly applied to the skin.

These drugs, tofacitinib and tofacitinib, are already FDA approved for other purposes.

The study raises the possibility that drugs known as JAK inhibitors could be used to restore hair growth in multiple forms of hair loss such as that induced by male pattern baldness, and additional types that occur when hair follicles are trapped in a resting state. Two JAK inhibitors have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. One is approved for treatment of blood diseases (ruxolitinib) and the other for rheumatoid arthritis (tofacitinib). Both are being tested in clinical trials for the treatment of plaque psoriasis and alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

A medical doctor or pharmacist could try one of these drugs on their own scalp.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 24 05:58 PM 
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2015 October 23 Friday
Robots Expanding Into More Warehouse Work

When Amazon bought warehouse robot maker Kiva Systems they pulled Kiva's robots off the market to give Amazon a competitive advantage. Kiva's robots are integrated with Amazon's IT systems. Now VC-funded start-ups are pursuing the gap left by Kiva's departure. These new robot designs work for a fraction of the human minimum wage in the United States.

While growth in online ordering has caused an almost quarter growth in human employment in warehouses in the last 5 years Amazon has doubled its use of factory robots in less than a year. Robot labor is growing faster than human labor.

Robots will eventually gain the ability to put goods in boxes for shipment. When they can do boxing human employment in warehouses will peak and then sharply decline. I am guessing human employment in warehouses will peak before human employment as taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers. I will be surprised if human employment in warehouses is still rising 10 years from now.

Fetch Robotics is one of the companies moving into the gap created by Kiva's withdrawal from the market.

This Hitachi robot under development could eliminate more human labor in warehouses than Amazon's current robots.

For each occupation ask yourself when will human employment peak. Do you have a job whose peak in human employment will happen in the next 10 years or the next 20 years due to robotic automation or another form of automation?

By Randall Parker 2015 October 23 07:05 PM 
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2015 October 21 Wednesday
Most Earth-like worlds still to come in future

See: Most earth-like worlds have yet to be born, according to theoretical study

Earth came early to the party in the evolving universe. According to a new theoretical study, when our solar system was born 4.6 billion years ago only eight percent of the potentially habitable planets that will ever form in the universe existed. And, the party won't be over when the sun burns out in another 6 billion years. The bulk of those planets -- 92 percent -- have yet to be born.

So we have one of the early entrants in the Earth-like world history of the universe. Suppose Earth-like worlds have much higher chance of giving birth to intelligent creators that create industrial civilizations. Seems plausible. That means most of our intelligent competitors haven't come into existence yet. If we manage to keep our species alive for a long time we are going to come up against many new intelligent species.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 21 07:44 PM 
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California Weather Headed For Greater Precipitation Swings

The hot September 2015 weather continues a trend in the year toward making 2015 the warmest year on record. If green house gas emissions continue at current or even higher rates then California will experience greater swings between very wet and very dry weather with less moderate weather in between.

The models showed that in the future, assuming emissions continue to increase, California seasons will exhibit more excessively wet and excessively dry events. These results suggest that the frequency of droughts could double and floods could triple between the early 20th century and late 21st century. "By 2100, we see more -- and more extreme -- events. Flooding and droughts will be more severe than they are currently," said Yoon.

What's less clear: the impact on average precipitation. But even if it stays the same on average warmer weather will cut storage of water as snow and therefore reduce availability of water in spring and summer. Plus, warmer temperatures will cause water to evaporate from soils more quickly. This all will reduce the amount of water available for agriculture unless a large amount of water released in deluge years can be captured and stored.

The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will cause the more severe swings in precipitation in California.

Without El Nino and La Nina, the frequency of extreme precipitation in California stayed constant for the simulation's century and a half. With ENSO, simulated California experienced wide swings in rainfall by the end of the period.

On the bright side, advances in technologies useful for climate engineering could help. I can even conceive of robots employed to do massive tree planting in order to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 21 07:32 PM 
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2015 October 15 Thursday
Dyson Sphere under construction 1,481 light-years away?

Double digit variations in measured solar output from another star. Astronomers are hard put to offer a natural explanation. Alien engineers at work on a massive structure? It is all happening at star KIC 8462852, in the constellation Cygnus.

The search for exoplanets also really means a search for massive alien megastructures, which will produce a much larger signal than planets of sufficiently massive. So searching for exoplanets is potentially much more rewarding than it first appears.

The $600 million Kepler Space Telescope has been money well spent. We should follow it with more instruments aimed at investigating this star's fluctuating measured output and similar measurements for other stars.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 15 08:31 PM 
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2015 October 11 Sunday
Human Labor Going To Lose Value?

See: Brynjolfsson and McAfee: Will humans go the way of horse labor?

The use of horse labor used to grow along with the population and the economy. In the United States horse labor grew 6 fold from 1840 to 1900. But then it plummeted as internal combustion engines replaced horses on farms, in factories, for transportation. Does the same fate await humans, or at least some humans?

I see signs that human laborers who are only capable of simpler cognitive tasks are in declining demand and areas of prosperity are shrinking in size.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has an excellent web site section called Occupational Output Handbook where you can filter on expanding and contracting job occupations. Have a look at the 35 occupations that are set to grow 30% or more from 2012 to 2022. 4 require less than a high school diploma. 7 require a high school diploma. 2 require postsecondary non-degree award. 8 require an associate's degree. 4 require a bachelor's degree. 7 require a master's degree. 3 require a doctoral or professional degree.

Now lets compare that to the 82 occupations with declining employment. 6 require less than high school. 55 require a high school diploma! 5 require postsecondary non-degree award (e.g. cooks in private household). 5 require an associate's degree. 10 require a bachelor's degree. 1 requires doctoral or professional degree.

So what do we see as a difference between the rapidly rising and declining occupations? The number of occupations for high school grads is shrinking a lot more than the number of occupations opening up for them. The labor market looks like it has shrinking demand for people with moderate intellectual capability. That spells trouble for the high school drop-outs too since the high school graduates will compete more heavily for jobs that both of them can do.

I think BLS projections understate the size of the labor market disruptions coming. For example, I do not expect the projected big rise in private chefs because Moley Robotics will automate home cooking in upscale households. Also, BLS has bricklaying listed as a rapidly growing occupation. Yet Construction Robotics has an automated bricklaying robot. I fully expect taxi driving to become a shrinking occupation within 10 years due to autonomous vehicle advances. Ditto long haul trucking (and probably sooner than taxi driving).

Automation is also happening in the financial industries. Industries with rising revenues, rising output, and declining employment of humans are today's biggest success stories. What does that portend for the future of human labor?

By Randall Parker 2015 October 11 11:07 AM 
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Editing Pig Genomes To Grow Transplant Organs For Humans

CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology was used to disable 62 porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs), which it is feared could cause diseases in humans if pig organs were transplanted into humans.

Geneticist George Church has co-founded a company that is developing genetically modified pigs to grow organs for human transplant.

They did additional editing to reduce the threat of human immune response to pig antigens. Pretty cool stuff.

What ought to be done as well: additional editing to make the pig organs age more slowly. That way the transplanted organs will last longer. Domestic farm pigs only live 6 to 10 years. Those pigs grow to 500+ pounds. The miniature pigs live 15 to 20 years and grow to 32-75 lb. Still rather short-lived. Moderate sized pigs between those two sizes also have life expectancies between those two sizes.

How to make pigs live longer? We need to discover a large number of genetic variants that enable humans to live longer, find corresponding locations in pig genomes, and edit those locations.

We need to gradually reword the pig genome to be much more like the human genome: much longer lasting parts, no immune incompatibilities, no embedded virus dangers. Also, take a lesson from elephants and add more copies of the p53 gene to slash cancer risk.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 11 10:07 AM 
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2015 October 06 Tuesday
Toyota: Autonomous Highway Driving By 2020

Check out what Toyota is doing with autonomous vehicle development.

By contrast, Tesla is just weeks away from autonomous highway driving. Elon Musk expects Tesla to achieve full autonomy in 3 years but with regulatory delays the deployments will vary between jurisdictions. Looks like the 2017 Cadillac CT6 will be the second car to hit the market with autonomous highway driving capability.

Recently Daimler tested an autonomous truck in real highway traffic.

Future cars are going to be autonomous and electric. General Motors says their cost of batteries has fallen to $145/kwh. To put that in perspective, that's a drop from $1000 in 2008 and $485 in in 2013.

These autonomous electric vehicles will be powered by solar energy.

Now if only biomedical technology could advance as fast as computers, batteries, and solar panels. Then I'd be thrilled about the future.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 06 08:22 PM 
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2015 October 04 Sunday
Species Death At The Hands of Artificial Intelligence?

Nick Land thinks that's our destiny.

Land thinks this shift to AI is where we’re headed. For someone like Kurzweil, this intuition is suffused with a vaguely new-age mysticism and the promise of eternal life. For Land, it basically means species death. Land ridicules the idea that an AI vastly more intelligent than us could be made to serve our goals—after all, it’s unlikely that we would be able to program it more completely than evolution has ‘programmed’ us with biological drives, which we regularly defy. Attempts to stop AI’s emergence, moreover, will be futile. The imperatives of competition, whether between firms or states, mean that whatever is technologically feasible is likely to be deployed sooner or later, regardless of political intentions or moral concerns. These are less decisions that are made than things which happen due to irresistible structural dynamics, beyond good and evil. Land compares the campaign to halt the emergence of AI to the Lateran Council’s 1139 attempt to ban the use of crossbows against Christians, but he could have well cited the atomic bomb; the U.S. did it because we thought if we didn’t, the Germans would.

Will AIs of our own creation destroy us before AIs from alien civilizations do the same?

I have a proposal for the "Why Aren't The Aliens Here Already?" question: Every time biological intelligence evolves it eventually creates artificial intelligence before spreading out into the stars. The AIs always wipe out their creators. Then the AIs are smart enough to realize that this is a universal pattern and that they are now threats to each other. So each AI civilization hides.

Why don't the AIs venture out into space to conquer other AIs? Maybe they figure out that the defender will have all the advantages (far more computational power) and that they can't bring enough stuff across the stars to defeat another AI civilization. Then again, maybe they do venture out and colonize less developed solar systems.

I am expecting each AI solar system to have built up great defense in depth. Every planet in the solar system will get used to build up great computational and weapons capabilities.

By Randall Parker 2015 October 04 11:35 AM 
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