Have we been keeping an eye on Elon Musk?

Because he’s at the “implanting computer chips in pigs” stage.

Neuralink has a medical focus to start, like helping people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects. The technology could, for example, help paraplegics who’ve lost the ability to move or sense because of spinal cord injury, and the first human uses will aim to improve conditions like paraplegia or tetraplegia.

But there are obvious future (and futuristic) implications as well.

But Musk’s vision is far more radical, including ideas like “conceptual telepathy,” where two people can communicate electronically by thinking at each other instead of writing or speaking. The long-term goal is to head off a future where artificial intelligence vastly smarter than humans exterminates us.

Musk envisions people using Neuralink to connect to their own digital AI incarnations so “the future is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth,” Musk said. “It’s going to be important from an existential threat perspective to achieve a good AI symbiosis.”

And they’re also building robot doctors to do the implantation process itself.

Neuralink is building a robotic installer that ultimately is designed to handle the full surgical installation process. That includes opening up the scalp, removing a portion of the skull, inserting the hundreds of “thread” electrodes along with an accompanying computer chip, then closing the incision. The installer is designed to dodge blood vessels to avoid bleeding, Musk said.

I’m in favor of advanced technology, but let’s focus on getting a significant fraction of the population starborne before we try messing with AI, shall we?

Females are choosy…even at the molecular level

1bef6bc833So: this is interesting. Human eggs appear to be choosy about the sperm they attract to themselves.

Human eggs release compounds called chemoattractants into this fluid, which chemically communicates with sperm. While the exact chemicals are yet to be identified (some researchers suspect progesterone is involved), whatever it is can trigger sperm to change swimming directions.

“Follicular fluid from different females consistently and differentially attracts sperm from specific males,” the team wrote in their paper, finding that eggs attracted between 18 to 40 percent more sperm from their preferred males.

(Not, note, specifically the egg owner’s preferred male, but a preferred male.)

Scientists have also found that mouse IVF eggs prefer sperm from less related males. But this is the first example of human egg preferences, so the reasons and mechanisms behind it are still up for discovery.

Mind, there’s the very large caveat that the study’s methods might have–AKA, almost certainly will have–influenced the results.

For example, the IVF eggs they used had been through treatments that may have changed some biological processes.

Also, the concentrations of sperm were much higher than natural (20,000 sperm per egg instead of the average of around 250) and they were placed quite close to the egg – which may minimise differences in the effects of chemoattractants.


Here There Be Dragons – the deepest manned dive yet…

Via bayourenaissanceman, the New Yorker has an article covering Victor Vescovo’s dream come true–to be an explorer going where no man had gone before: seven miles below the surface of the sea.

Let me repeat that: HE WENT SEVEN MILES UNDERWATER. As you might imagine, it wasn’t easy.

When Alan Jamieson, the expedition’s chief scientist, contacted Heather Stewart, a marine geologist with the British Geological Survey, and told her that Vescovo wanted to dive to the deepest point of each ocean, she replied that there was a problem: nobody knew where those points were.

Most maps showing the ocean floor in detail are commissioned by people looking to exploit it. The oil-and-gas and deep-sea-mining industries require extensive knowledge, and they pay for it. But, with a few exceptions, the characteristics of the deepest trenches are largely unknown. As recently as the nineteen-sixties, ocean depths were often estimated by throwing explosives over the side of a ship and measuring the time it took for the boom to echo back from the bottom.

It may appear as if the trenches are mapped—you can see them on Google Earth. But these images weren’t generated by scanning the bottom of the ocean; they come from satellites scanning the top. The surface of the ocean is not even—it is shaped by the features beneath it. Trenches create mild surface depressions, while underwater mountain ranges raise the surface. The result is a vaguely correct reading—here is a trench!—with a ludicrous margin of error. Every pixel is about five hundred metres wide, and what lies below may be thousands of feet deeper or shallower than the satellite projects, and miles away from where it appears on the map.

Vescovo would have to buy a multibeam echo sounder, an advanced sonar mapping system, to determine precise depths and dive locations. He chose the Kongsberg EM-124, which would be housed in a massive gondola underneath the ship. No other system could so precisely map hadal depths. Vescovo’s purchase was the very first—serial number 001.

It was operated by a grad student. During one of the early dives:

Jamieson discovered a new species of snailfish, a long, gelatinous creature with soft fins, by looking through a viewport. The pressure eliminates the possibility of a swim bladder; the lack of food precludes the ossification of bones. Some snailfish have antifreeze proteins, to keep them running in the cold. “Biology is just smelly engineering,” Jamieson said. “When you reverse-engineer a fish from the most extreme environments, and compare it to its shallow-water counterparts, you can see the trade-offs it has made.”

Why does man(kind) instinctively hunger to be the First of everything? The article also offers a hint about that, as there was a follow-up dive to retrieve a stuck lander:

The control room was mostly empty. “When Victor first went down, everyone was there, high-fiving and whooping and hollering,” Buckle said. “And the next day, around lunchtime, everyone went ‘Fuck this, I’ll go for lunch.’ Patrick retrieves a piece of equipment from the deepest point on earth, and it’s just me, going, ‘Yay, congratulations, Patrick.’ No one seemed to notice how big a deal it is that they had already made this normal—even though it’s not. It’s the equivalent of having a daily flight to the moon.” McCallum, in his pre-dive briefings, started listing “complacency” as a hazard.

It is a hard road, and twisted, that leads man to the stars.