scifi poster

Sometimes, we need to take a look at technologies, their trends, and their consequences from alternative points of view. This week, a slew of stories popped up around the web showing just how much things are changing but in unexpected ways. Settle in and read how the future is unfolding.

Enjoy this week’s stories!

ARTIFICIAL LIFE: Binary Code Can Now Copy Itself Like DNA
Jordan Pearson | Motherboard
“’There’s no doubt in my mind that living and intelligent technology will be the next really big thing the same way that we’ve had a revolution with information technology.’”

VIRTUAL REALITY: Forget Oculus Rift
Will Oremus | Slate
“Do you look like an idiot holding a cardboard box up to your face and jerking your head around wildly? You do. That’s just part of the bargain with virtual reality at this point.”

SCIENCE FICTION: Can science fiction writers predict trends in technology’s future?
Peter F Hamilton | New Statesman
“As science fiction writers, we design our future fictional worlds by extrapolation. It doesn’t matter what kind of book we’re writing, satire, military, space opera, dystopia, the fundamentals of the society have to be in some way believable. To do this we take what we see around us today, and run with it.”

CULTURE: Did Jesus Save the Klingons?
Clara Moskowitz | Scientific American
“Which religion will have the toughest time reconciling aliens with its beliefs? The ones that have decided that we humans are the sole focus of God’s attention.”

WEARABLES: The unpopular take on wearable technology
Jack Wallen | TechRepublic
“Companies that design and manufacture wearable technology should focus less on trying to create a replacement for the smartphone and more on devices that can actually serve a purpose in ways nothing else can.”

BUSINESS: Humanity’s Last Great Hope: Venture Capitalists
Christopher Mims | The Wall Street Journal
“While research and development is critical to creating new technologies, total spending on R&D as a percentage of U.S. GDP has been stagnant since the 1960s…by itself that might not be a problem; the real issue is that the proportion of R&D spending going to basic research has declined precipitously.”

GAMING: For South Korea, E-Sports Is National Pastime
Paul Mozar | The New York Times
“’Fourteen years ago, you had a government that gave a thumbs-up to e-sports — it was professionally organized, and it was on television, so it became a mainstream thing…the way soccer is around the world.’”

[Image credit: futuristic space landscape courtesy of Shutterstock]

Some Like It Hot Just Might Be The Funniest Movie Ever Made

There are tons of hilarious performances in the history of modern movies, but Jack Lemmon’s turn in Some Like It Hot is absolutely, positively, one of the funniest—if not the funniest—of all time.

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Scientists discover that comet stinks and has dunes just like Earth

The spacecraft Rosetta keeps surprising everyone with amazing new photos taken in pursuit of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken just 7.4 kilometers from its surface. These images reveal dunes just like those you can find on Earth. Scientists have also found that it really stinks.

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darpa-brain-sensor-graphene-11

A new implantable brain chip developed by the University of Madison-Wisconsin may help advance our understanding of the human brain. The chip is flexible, transparent, biocompatible—and uses a graphene sensor array just four atoms thick.

To understand a system, we have to observe it, and so far, observing the living brain has proven challenging. Current observation methods of structure and activity tend to interfere with each other, so we can choose structure or activity, but generally not both.

“Historically, we’ve kind of looked at one or the other: we either take high-resolution imaging to look at how the brain is structured, or we poke and prod it with electrodes to try and measure its activity,” Justin Williams, a UW-Madison professor of biomedical engineering and an author on a paper detailing the implant, told Motherboard.

Ideally, of course, researchers would like to look at both structure and activity at the same time. The problem? The implants used to directly measure signals in the brain tend to block the view of imaging techniques intent on recording brain structure.

Graphene, the much-lauded (but still experimental) supermaterial may offer a solution.

In its purest form, graphene is a one-atom-thick lattice of biocompatible carbon. The device’s sensor, comprised of just four sheets of graphene, is extraordinarily thin—this accounts for its flexibility and transparency. Further, because graphene is highly conductive it can be used as a sensor of electrical activity in the brain.

Taken together, the sensor is thin (and robust), transparent, flexible, and conductive—it can measure brain activity without interfering with other instruments.

The graphene sensor array is placed on a flexible plastic backing that conforms to tissue.

The graphene sensor array is placed on a flexible plastic backing that conforms to tissue.

“Our devices are transparent across a large spectrum—all the way from ultraviolet to deep infrared,” says Jack Ma, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison. “We’ve even implanted them, and you cannot find them in an MR scan.”

Beyond traditional methods, graphene implants could also work with a brain research technique called optogenetics in which scientists genetically manipulate neurons to respond to light. And they might improve neuromodulation therapies where patients with brain disorders use electrical stimulation from implants to control symptoms.

“Despite remarkable improvements seen in neuromodulation clinical trials for such diseases, our understanding of how these therapies work—and therefore our ability to improve existing or identify new therapies—is rudimentary,” says Kip Ludwig, a program director for the NIH’s neural engineering research efforts.

Though the Darpa-funded project was primarily concerned with research, they have begun exploring medical device applications too. In one instance, they collaborated with the University of Illinois Chicago to build a contact lens with dozens of sensors to detect retina injury and perhaps, in the future, aid in early diagnosis of glaucoma.

To become widely used, researchers still need to learn how to make graphene cheaper. Currently, there is no industrial method for its production. However, as production techniques improve and the material becomes increasingly affordable and more widely available, graphene-based biosensors might prove useful throughout the body.

Image Credit: University of Madison-Wisconsin

The first full look at Ultron from Avengers 2 (yes, it's one scary BMF)

Allegedly, this is the first look at the full Ultron, the evil robot that is set to wreak havoc in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the second installment of the series directed by Joss Whedon. It really looks like one menacing son of a gun.

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This Micro-USB Cable Might Just Be Worth $39

Normally, if you tried to sell me a 10-foot micro-USB cable for thirty-nine shiny American dollars, I’d laugh in your face before storming off to Amazon and paying $7 for the privilege (with GOLD CONNECTORS no less). But honestly, Native Union’s fancy-ass cable might just be worth it.

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Microsoft Is Stopping Free Xbox Music Streaming

From December 1st you will no longer be able to stream Xbox Music for free on your PC, phone or favourite web-accessing device.

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Google Now cards appear to have started warning us about impending solar eclipses. Which is, uh, useful?

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carvey-desktop-cnc-machine-kickstarter-1

How many desktop 3D printers have we seen on Kickstarter in recent years? Too many to count. But 3D printing is only half of the digital manufacturing promise. Where 3D printing is additive—CNC machines, guided by digital designs, subtract material.

Give a CNC machine a digital file, and it’ll painstakingly sculpt your design from a solid block of material like some kind of robotic Leonardo Da Vinci.

But most CNC machines are big and expensive. They aren’t typically available to your average maker or tinkerer. Or if they are, they’re kits requiring assembly. Now, however, a new Kickstarter campaign is aiming to remedy the situation by offering an affordable, pre-assembled desktop carving machine called Carvey.

Carvey is an enclosed desktop CNC router. It accommodates a range of milling bits, has a build area of a foot by eight inches, carves up to a depth of 2.75 inches, and works with dozens of materials including woods, soft metals, plastics, waxes, and foams.

The machine uses its own proprietary web app, Easel, or the CAD, CAM, and machine control software of your choice. In Easel, users draw a 2D design, the software converts it to 3D, and after selecting a material, the machine carves away.

What might one make with Carvey?

The campaign shows silver jewelry, acetate and wood sunglass, a fiberboard speaker box, a walnut and silver metallic acrylic address sign, and an acrylic and birch circuit board and electronics enclosure. (And why couldn’t you download a file for a simple tool, say a wrench, or a replacement part and fabricate it at home?)

The campaign has raised almost five times its $50,000 goal with nearly a month to go.

The team say they’ve been developing Carvey for over a year and a half. They have a working prototype, and the Kickstarter will fund a manufacturing run. Early backers can get a machine for $1,999, later backers will pay $2,399. They’re aiming to fulfill orders by this time next year—but it’s a complex project, so, grain of salt.

Also, although Carvey’s software seems much more user friendly than standard 3D modeling software, we wonder if it’s still less for the average weekend crafter, more for makers with experience in design programs and trouble-shooting in the workshop.

And Carvey isn’t set up to do full 3D—so, don’t expect to sculpt super sci-fi motorcycle helmets from a hunk of metal. Five-axis routers, like the one from Daishin in the video below, still cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

All that said? This is a pretty cool idea.

Desktop 3D printers are stuck on one material. They’re relatively slow. And the plastic they use is expensive. Carvey, on the other hand, is multi-material, looks to be pretty fast, and uses conventional materials at, presumably, conventional prices.

Sure, consumer 3D printing is still evolving, there are items you can’t make any other way, and Carvey may well have shortcomings that aren’t readily apparent. But it’s awesome that, for the cost of an (expensive) laptop, you could plug that same computer into a machine that precision-carves a solid block of metal in your den or garage.

Image Credit: Carvey/Kickstarter

I Built a Keyboard from Scratch

I made a keyboard – let me tell you about it! I’m even typing this post using the keyboard I built. How meta.

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