Tag Archives: technology

The First CRISPR Patients Are Living Better: Why That Matters After 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about CRISPR, biotechnology, and the prospect of ordinary people enhancing their biology in ways straight out of a comic book. In my defense, this past year has created plenty of distractions. Some have been so bad that my usual optimism of the future has been seriously damaged.

While my spirit is wounded, I still have hope that science and technology will continue to progress. If anything, it’ll progress with more urgency after this year. A great many fields are bound to get more attention and investment after the damage done by a global pandemic.

We can’t agree on much, but we can at least agree on this. Pandemics are bad for business, bad for people, bad for politics, and just objectively awful for everyone all around, no matter what their station is in life.

There’s a lot of incentive to ensure something like this never happens again is what I’m saying. While we’re still a long way from ending pandemics entirely, we already have tools that can help in that effort. One is CRISPR, a promising tool I’ve talked about in the past. While it wasn’t in a position to help us during this pandemic, research into refining it hasn’t stopped.

Despite all the awful health news of this past year, some new research has brought us some promising results on the CRISPR front. In terms of actually treading real people who have real conditions, those results are in and they give us reason to hope.

One such effort involved using CRISPR to help treat people with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic condition that hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It affects over 4 million people worldwide and often leads to significant complications that can be fatal.

Since CRISPR is all about tweaking genetics, it’s a perfect mechanism with which to develop new therapies. Multiple patients have undergone experimental treatments that utilize this technology. In a report form NPR, the results are exceeding expectations for all the right reasons.

NPR: First Patients To Get CRISPR Gene-Editing Treatment Continue To Thrive

At a recent meeting of the American Society for Hematology, researchers reported the latest results from the first 10 patients treated via the technique in a research study, including Gray, two other sickle cell patients and seven patients with a related blood disorder, beta thalassemia. The patients now have been followed for between three and 18 months.

All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.

The New England Journal of Medicine published online this month the first peer-reviewed research paper from the study, focusing on Gray and the first beta thalassemia patient who was treated.

“I’m very excited to see these results,” says Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize this year for her role in the development of CRISPR. “Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”

Make no mistake. This is objectively good news and not just for people suffering from sickle cell disease.

Whenever new medical advances emerge, there’s often a wide gap between developing new treatments and actually implementing them in a way that makes them as commonplace as getting a prescription. The human body is complex. Every individual’s health is different. Taking a treatment from the lab to a patient is among the biggest challenge in medical research.

This news makes it official. CRISPR has made that leap. The possible treatments aren’t just possibilities anymore. There are real people walking this planet who have received this treatment and are benefiting because of it. Victoria Gray, as referenced in the article, is just one of them.

That’s another critical threshold in the development of new technology. When it goes beyond just managing a condition to helping people thrive, then it becomes more than just a breakthrough. It becomes an opportunity.

It sends a message to doctors, researchers, and biotech companies that this technology works. Some of those amazing possibilities that people like to envision aren’t just dreams anymore. They’re manifesting before our eyes. This is just one part of it. If it works for people with Sickle Cell Disease, what other conditions could it treat?

I doubt I’m the first to ask that question. As I write this, there are people far smarter and more qualified than me using CRISPR to develop a whole host of new treatments. After a year like 2020, everyone is more aware of their health. They’re also more aware of why science and medicine matter. It can do more than just save our lives. It can help us thrive.

We learned many hard lessons in 2020, especially when it comes to our health. Let’s not forget those lessons as we look to the future. This technology is just one of many that could help us prosper in ways not possible in previous years. We cheered those who developed the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s start cheering those working on new treatments with CRISPR.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, futurism, health, technology

How Many Streaming Services Can We (Realistically) Have?

It’s official. The streaming wars are on.

Hell, it’s been official for the past several years and 2020 only accelerated it. The battle to dominate digital media in all forms is raging on multiple fronts and while many have their favorites, none can say they’ve won.

It’s Netflix versus Hulu versus Amazon versus Disney versus CBS/Viacom versus YouTube versus whatever other media companies are fighting for every possible eyeball. The stakes are high for consumers and content creators alike. There are billions in profits to be made and plenty of epic, culture-defining content to be made. It’s going to get intense is what I’m saying.

I don’t think I need to remind everyone just how much the streaming market has changed in the past 10 years. Even if you’re still a teenager, chances are you still vaguely remember the days before Netflix and chill. Media back then was movies, TV, and Blu-Ray/DVD collections. I’m not saying it was ideal, but that’s what we had to work with.

Then, Netflix came along and changed everything.

Then, every company and their deep-pocketed subsidiaries tried to catch up.

It hasn’t always been smooth. Some people are still not over “The Officeleaving Netflix. Chances are there will be more upheavals like that as companies fight over who streams what and who has the streaming rights to a particular show or movie. That’s sure to get messy and I’m not smart enough to make sense of it.

However, as this war rages, I think there’s a relevant question worth asking. It’s a question that I’m sure both consumers like me and big media companies like Netflix and Disney ask as well. The answer could depend on how the war plays out.

How many streaming services can the average customer have?

Most people already pay for some form of streaming media. Most people subscribe to some form of pay TV, although that trend is in flux. The days of having all the entertainment you want with a simple cable subscription alongside Netflix is long gone and it’s not coming back.

Now, you have to be very selective and self-aware of what you want.

Do you want access to Disney’s vast library of content?

Do you want access to the library of shows from NBC or CBS?

Do you want access to the content from Warner Brothers, Universal, Dreamworks, Discovery, Cartoon Network, or 20th Century Fox?

You can have some, but you can’t have them all without paying way more than you ever would for cable. Even if you did, could you even watch all those streaming services enough to justify the cost? There are only so many hours in a day and there’s only so much attention we have to give. Even if we dedicated half our day to binging movies and TV, we couldn’t watch it all.

That’s the big limiting factor on streaming. It’s also the biggest obstacle any company faces with respect to their effort in the streaming wars. People can only watch so much and they only have so much they can reasonably spend on a streaming service. There comes a point where, even if the content is appealing, they just can’t justify the cost.

Personally, I have subscriptions to five streaming services. They are as follows:

Netflix

Hulu

Amazon Prime

Disney Plus

HBO Max

Now, it’s worth noting that I got HBO Max through my cable subscription. I’ve subscribed to HBO for years so it’s not something I consciously sought out. With Amazon Prime, I primarily used it for the 2-day shipping instead of streaming media, but I’ve certainly found some quality shows on that platform.

I’m not sure I can justify another subscription beyond this. Once my subscriptions cannot be counted on one hand anymore, I think that’s too much. I just cannot watch enough content to warrant paying extra. I say that knowing companies like Paramount and NBC have just launched their own streaming services.

Even though both networks include shows that I love, I’ve no intention of buying their streaming service. If my cable company offers it for free, like it did with HBO, then that’s great. I’ll certainly watch it, but I’m not paying extra.

I feel like a lot of people are in that boat. If they don’t have a cable subscription, then they’re already trying to save money and paying more for a streaming package just defeats the purpose. If they do have cable, then they’re probably not willing to pay more for something they’re already paying too much for.

It’s a tougher situation and one that I’m sure will get tougher in the coming years. It’s not cheap to run a streaming service. The profit margins can be thin if you don’t have the content. There’s a good chance that some streaming services will either fail or get absorbed into another, like CBS All Access did.

Then, there are the pirates and no, I’m not talking about the ones with eye-patches.

Before Netflix streaming, pirating copyrighted content was already pretty rampant. Since the streaming wars began, there has been an uptick in pirated streaming content. That is also likely to intensify the more fragmented the streaming market becomes. If people are really that unwilling to pay a whole subscription to watch just a single show, they will resort to piracy. It’s still distressingly easy.

That’s why this question matters, both for us and the companies who provide our entertainment. I don’t claim to know how it’ll play out. By the time it settles, there might be another major upheaval in the media to supplant it. Whatever happens, I feel like I’ve reached the limit on the number of streaming subscriptions I have.

That’s just me, though. What about you?

How many streaming services do you have and are you willing to pay for another? Our collective answer could very well change the course of the streaming wars.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology, technology, television

Our Future Robot Overlords Will Now Be Able To Dance (Thanks To Boston Dynamics)

As bad as last year was for so many people, there were some things that 2020 just couldn’t stop. When it comes to technology, a global crisis has a way of hindering certain processes while accelerating others. For many, that meant more telework and reliance on streaming media to stave off boredom.

However, it may very well end up being the case that 2020 proved just how frail human beings and their societies are. It only takes a tiny microscopic virus to send our entire society to a screeching halt. It’s sobering, but it’s probably going to be a source of humor for our future robot overlords.

I tend to be optimistic about the future and technological trends. I’m also somewhat of a pragmatist. I realize that we human beings have a lot of limits. Emerging technology, especially in the field of artificial intelligence, promises to help us transcend those limits.

Right now, it’s still mostly fodder for science fiction writers, futurists, and Elon Musk wannabes. We’re not quite there yet in terms of making a machine that’s as smart as a human. However, we’re probably going to get there faster than skeptics, naysayers, and the general public realize.

It won’t happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen in the span of a single year. When it does happen, though, hindsight will make it painfully obvious that the signs were there. This was bound to happen. We had ample time to prepare for it. Being fallible humans, we could only do so much.

In that sense, I suspect that years from now, we’ll look back on what Boston Dynamics did to close out 2020. This company, who has a history of making robots that look way too advanced to exist outside a Terminator movie, decided to do something with their robots that would leave an indellible mark on the year.

They succeeded by teaching their robots how to dance.

I know it already went viral, but it’s worth posting again. Remember this video and this moment. Chances are it’ll be a major indicator years from now that this is when robots began catching up to humanity in terms of capabilities. At this point, it’ sonly a matter of time before they exceed us.

When that time comes, will we be ready? Will we embrace them while they embrace us?

If they don’t, just know that they will now be able to dance on our graves.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, futurism, technology

Big Tech, AI Research, And Ethics Concerns: Why We Should All Worry

In general, I root for technology and technological progress. Overall, I believe it has been a net benefit for humanity. It’s one of the major reasons why we’ve made so much progress as a global society in the past 100 years.

I’ve sung the praises of technology in the past, speculated on its potential, and highlighted individuals who have used it to save millions of lives. For the most part, I focus on the positives and encourage other people to have a less pessimistic view of technology and the change it invites.

That said, there is another side to that coin and I try not to ignore it. Like anything, technology has a dark side. It can be used to harm just as much as it can be used to hurt, if not more so. You could argue that we couldn’t have killed each other at such a staggering rate in World War II without technology.

It’s not hyperbole to say that certain technology could be the death of us all. In fact, we’ve come distressingly close to destroying ourselves before, namely with nuclear weapons. There’s no question that kind of technology is dangerous.

However, artificial intelligence could be far more dangerous than any nuclear bomb. I’ve talked about it before and I’ll likely bring it up again. This technology just has too much potential, for better and for worse.

That’s why when people who are actually researching it have concerns, we should take notice. One such individual spoke out recently, specifically someone who worked for Google, an organization with deep pockets and a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.

According to a report from the Associated Press, a scholar named Timnit Gebru expressed serious concerns about Google’s AI research, specifically in how their operating ethics. For a company as big and powerful as Google, that’s not a trivial comment. This is what she had to say.

AP News: Google AI researcher’s exit sparks ethics, bias concerns

Prominent artificial intelligence scholar Timnit Gebru helped improve Google’s public image as a company that elevates Black computer scientists and questions harmful uses of AI technology.

But internally, Gebru, a leader in the field of AI ethics, was not shy about voicing doubts about those commitments — until she was pushed out of the company this week in a dispute over a research paper examining the societal dangers of an emerging branch of AI.

Gebru announced on Twitter she was fired. Google told employees she resigned. More than 1,200 Google employees have signed on to an open letter calling the incident “unprecedented research censorship” and faulting the company for racism and defensiveness.

The furor over Gebru’s abrupt departure is the latest incident raising questions about whether Google has strayed so far away from its original “Don’t Be Evil” motto that the company now routinely ousts employees who dare to challenge management. The exit of Gebru, who is Black, also raised further doubts about diversity and inclusion at a company where Black women account for just 1.6% of the workforce.

And it’s exposed concerns beyond Google about whether showy efforts at ethical AI — ranging from a White House executive order this week to ethics review teams set up throughout the tech industry — are of little use when their conclusions might threaten profits or national interests.

I bolded that last sentence because I think it’s the most relevant. It’s also the greatest cause for concern. I suspect Ms. Gebru is more concerned than most because the implications are clear.

When a tool as powerful as advanced AI is developed, who gets to determine how it’s used? Who gets to program the ethical framework by which it operates? Who gets to decide how the benefits are conferred and the harms are reduced?

Moreover, how do you even go about programming an AI with the right kind of ethics?

That’s a very relative question and one we can’t avoid if we’re going to keep developing this technology. I’ve tried to answer it, but I’m hardly an expert. Ms. Gebru was definitely in a better position than me or most other people with a passing interest in this field.

Then, she gets fired and starts expressing concerns publicly. The fact that she can and Google isn’t facing much in terms of repercussions should be concerning. It may also be a sign of the larger challenges we’re facing.

Google, like many other organizations researching advanced AI, is a profit-seeking tech company. They’re not some utopian technocrats. They’re a business who is obligated to make their investors happy. Advanced AI will help them do that, but what kind of consequences will that invite?

If profit is the primary motivation of an advanced AI, then what happens when it encounters a situation where profit comes at the cost of lives? There are already human-run companies that make those decision and people die because of them. An advanced AI will only make it many times worse.

Once an artificial intelligence system is as smart as a human, it’s going to be capable in ways we don’t expect and can’t control. If it’s ethics and goals aren’t aligned with us, then what’s to stop it from wiping humanity out in the name of profit?

It’s a distressing thought. It’s probably a thought that has crossed Ms. Gebru’s mind more than once. She may know how close or far we are to that point, but the fact that this is already a conflict should worry us all.

We’ve already become so numb to the greed and excesses of big business. Tech companies may conduct themselves as this team of future-building visionaries intent on making the world a better place, but the profit motive is still there. Like it or not, profit is still a hell of a motive.

Eventually, artificial intelligence will get to a point where it will either adopt our ethics or choose to formulate its own, which may or may not align with ours. When that happens, no amount of profit may be worth the risk.

Now, we’re still a ways off from an artificial intelligence system on that level, but it’s still quite possible that there are people alive today who will grow up to see it. When that time comes, we need to be damn sure these systems have solid ethical frameworks in place.

If they don’t, we really don’t stand a chance. We’re a society that still kills each other over what we think happens when we die without seeing the irony. Even a marginally advanced AI will have no issues wiping us out if we make doing so profitable.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, technology

Vaccine Update: The Impact Of The Moderna Vaccine (Beyond COVID-19)

Sometimes, it takes a terrible global crisis to spurn huge leaps in technology. World War II was arguably the greatest crisis of the modern era, but it helps advance some of the greatest technological leaps in history. We can argue whether those advances were worth all the death and destruction, but there’s no denying that our world wouldn’t be the same without them.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t on the same level as World War II, but it is, by most measures, the greatest crisis the world has faced in the past 50 years. It hasn’t just caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and immeasurable amounts of suffering. It has completely disrupted this big, interconnected world that we’ve come to depend on.

We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. Beyond the loved ones who have perished, our entire sense of security and hope has been shattered. We now realize just how vulnerable we were and how inevitable this was. As bad as it is, there is some good coming out of it.

Usually, a crisis like this helps break down the barriers that divided us and hindered progress, technological or otherwise. Never before has the world been more united or engaged in a singular effort. Before 2020, we probably didn’t know much about vaccines or vaccine research. We just knew that Jenny McCarthy tried to be relevant again by protesting them.

That’s changing now. The global effort to create a vaccine for this terrible disease has been watched and agonized over for months. Most recently, we got a much-needed glimmer of hope from Pfizer, who reported that their vaccine is 90 percent effective. I celebrated this news like everyone else.

Then, we got an even greater glimmer of hope from the other vaccine front-runner by Moderna. Not only is their vaccine in the final phase of testing, like Pfizer. It’s even more effective and promises to be easier to store and distribute.

CNN: Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective, according to company data

The Moderna vaccine is 94.5% effective against coronavirus, according to early data released Monday by the company, making it the second vaccine in the United States to have a stunningly high success rate.

“These are obviously very exciting results,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor. “It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.”

Moderna heard its results on a call Sunday afternoon with members of the Data Safety and Monitoring Board, an independent panel analyzing Moderna’s clinical trial data.

This is objectively great news in a year when we’ve had precious little of it. These two vaccines may very well be the one-two punch we need to end the COVID-19 pandemic and return to some semblance of normalcy. I would still like to go to a movie theater or baseball game at some point in 2021. These vaccines may make that possible.

However, I’d like to take a moment to speculate beyond this terrible pandemic that has uprooted so many lives. I know that’s not easy to do when the crisis is still very relevant and inflicting plenty of suffering. I still think it’s worth attempting, if only to imagine the better world that emerges from this mess.

That’s because both these vaccines aren’t like your typical flu shots. For one, flu shots aren’t nearly as effective as what Pfizer and Moderna reported. According to the CDC, you’re average flu shot is between 40 and 60 percent effective. That’s still important because the flu can be deadly. Anything you do to reduce it can only further public health, in general.

The problem is the flu shot, and most vaccines like it, are based on old technology. At their most basic, they take a non-infectious or weakened strain of a pathogen and use it to amp up your body’s immunity. It’s crude, but it works. Literally nothing has saved more lives than vaccines.

The problem is that vaccines are notoriously hard to develop. They take a long time to test and an even longer time to approve. Until this pandemic, there just wasn’t much incentive to improve on that process. Now, after these past 8 months, the incentive couldn’t have been greater.

That’s what sped up the development of mRNA vaccines, the technology behind both Pfizer and Moderna. It was reported on as far back as 2018. While this technology isn’t completely new, it has never been developed beyond a certain point. There just wasn’t any incentive to do so. A global crisis changed that.

Very simply, an mRNA vaccine does one better on traditional vaccines by using RNA to develop immunity. It’s not as easy as it sounds. To develop that immunity, it has encode itself with just the right antigen. That way, the antibodies it creates can attack the desired pathogen.

In the case of COVID-19, the mRNA vaccine attacks the distinct spike protein the virus uses to attach to host cells. It’s like a missile targeting a specific individual in a large crowd by locking onto the distinct hat they wear.

This approach has the potential to be much more effective at generating immunity to a particular disease. Instead of trying to mimic a virus, it just gives the immune system the necessary software it needs to do the work. It could potentially revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases.

For years, certain viruses like the flu and HIV have confounded efforts to develop a vaccine. Beyond the problems I listed earlier with regards to testing, the difficulty of creating a particular immune response to a particular antigen is very difficult. These viruses mutate and change all the time. With COVID, vaccines do have an advantage because they have a distinct feature.

The challenge for future vaccines against future pandemics is quickly uncovering a particular antigen that the mRNA can be coded for. In theory, all you would have to do is find the one key antigen that’s common to every strain of the virus. While viruses like the flu are notoriously diverse, they can only change so much.

It’s akin to trying to identify an army of spies in a large crowd. They may all look different on the outside, but if they all have the same socks, then that’s what you code for. With some refinements, an mRNA vaccine can stop a pandemic in its tracks before it ever gets beyond a certain point.

That assumes we’ll continue to refine this technology after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. I certainly hope that’s the case. This year has traumatized entire generations with how much pain and suffering it has inflicted. I sincerely hope that gives plenty of motivation to develop technology like this. That way, we never have to endure a disruption like this again.

To all those who helped develop this technology and these two vaccines, I hope you appreciate the impact you’ll make with this technology. The number of lives they could save is incalculable. Future generations may not remember your names, but they will be forever grateful for this wondrous gift you’ve given them.

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Filed under Current Events, futurism, health, technology, Uplifting Stories

Major Vaccine Update: My Reaction, Expectations, And Concerns

Like everyone else in this pandemic-ravaged world, I have been closely following any and all news regarding a COVID-19 vaccine. I liken it to waiting in a burning building with millions of other people and only a handful of firefighters trying to save the day. Those who have been working on this effort are real-life superheroes and we should be cheering them on.

Now, I’ve had some strong opinions about those who denigrate science, but I’ve also been very reluctant to get excited about any potentially good news. I attribute some of that to being jaded and cynical after seeing this pandemic do so much damage. I don’t deny that my spirit is still quite wounded after nearly a year of objectively awful news.

Well, wounded or not, the work continues. Those real-life superheroes I mentioned have never stopped this vital effort. To them, we should all be in awe, as well as grateful, because it looks like an effective vaccine is actually on the horizon, courtesy of Pfizer.

For those who might be a bit behind, this is what the Associated Press reported.

AP News: Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine is looking 90% effective

Pfizer Inc. said Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine may be a remarkable 90% effective, based on early and incomplete test results that nevertheless brought a big burst of optimism to a world desperate for the means to finally bring the catastrophic outbreak under control.

The announcement came less than a week after an election seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s handling of the scourge, which has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide, including almost a quarter-million in the United States alone.

“We’re in a position potentially to be able to offer some hope,” Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of clinical development, told The Associated Press. “We’re very encouraged.”

Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine with its German partner BioNTech, now is on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has the necessary safety information in hand.

Even if all goes well, authorities have stressed it is unlikely any vaccine will arrive much before the end of the year, and the limited initial supplies will be rationed.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said the results suggesting 90% effectiveness are “just extraordinary,” adding: “Not very many people expected it would be as high as that.”

I don’t want to understate or overstate the importance of this news. This is a big deal. This isn’t some hyped up treatment, like Hydroxychloroquine. This is a real vaccine developed by a real company by real scientists.

It’s also not one of those treatments that just came off the drawing board. This vaccine is currently in Phase 3 trials, which is the last phase for any vaccine or treatment to pass before it’s ultimately approved for public use. That means this vaccine is on the home stretch. It could conceivably be approved within the next few months.

That’s very different from some of the other overhyped treatments that were floating around earlier this year. That’s also why I didn’t get my hopes up. Most of those treatments weren’t beyond the first phase of testing and the vast majority of new drugs never make it to the final phase. The fact that this vaccine is even at that point is reason for hope.

Now, a part of me is genuinely encouraged by this. However, another part is still concerned.

My concern, however, has little to do with the science or the testing. I understand why it has to be so rigorous. I would defer to those much smarter and more experienced than me to deal with the specifics. Much of my concern has to do with the perceptions and perspectives this vaccine will bring if and when it’s approved.

The first part of that concern stems somewhat from lingering cynicism. I genuinely worry that once news comes out that the vaccine is approved and being used, too many people will start behaving as though the pandemic is over. They’ll stop wearing masks and they’ll stop social distancing.

Even with a working vaccine, that will make things worse and people will suffer because of it. We already have enough problems with people refusing to wear masks. A vaccine could only make it worse and cause a spike in cases before the effects can take hold.

That is worth belaboring. It will take time for a vaccine’s effects to be felt. Even if this particular vaccine is available on January 1st, 2021, it’s going to take months for enough doses to be given. That doesn’t even get into the challenge of manufacture and distribution.

If we do eventually get to a post-pandemic world in 2021, it’s probably not going to be until some point later in the year. That’s not pessimism or cynicism. That’s just science and biology.

Another concern I have is basically the same I had when this mess started. Thanks to anti-science, anti-vaccine advocates, this pandemic could ultimately get extended because of peoples’ reluctance to take the vaccine. Even if these people are a minority, that’s still a huge problem that will ultimately hurt people.

Even those who aren’t advocates may still be reluctant to accept the science. There are members of my own family who are as reasonable and rational as they come, but even they say they will not be first in line to get the vaccine. That’s actually a popular sentiment. People say they support vaccines, but they won’t be first in line to get it.

To those people, I respectfully ask that you reconsider that position. Like it or not, this pandemic won’t end until enough people take this vaccine and develop immunity. Someone has to be first in line. If no one is willing to take the chance, then the virus will just keep spreading. It does not care how reluctant you are. It just cares that you’re vulnerable.

To that end, I’d like to state outright that, should this particular vaccine get approved for public use, I will gladly be first in line to take it. I’ll take that risk. I’ll roll up my sleeve and trust the scientists who worked so hard on this thing. If nothing happens, then I hope that’s enough to allay your fears and concerns.

I want this pandemic to end. We all do, at this point. I’d like to go to a movie theater or a baseball game at some point next year. However, we can’t wait for someone to end it for us. We have to play a part. The scientists and doctors are clearly doing theirs, more so than I can put into words. Now, let’s be ready and willing to do ours.

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Filed under Current Events, health

Streaming Music Into The Brain With Neuralink: Why I Want To Try It

Say what you want about Elon Musk. He’s an eccentric billionaire. There’s a lot to say and not all of it is good. Whatever you think of him, though, you can’t deny he has some big, bold ideas. You don’t become a billionaire tech icon without plenty of those.

I’ve talked about some of his bolder ideas before, namely the potential impact of Neuralink and brain/machine interfaces. I still contend those ideas are still as bold as ever. It’s just a lot harder to explore and contemplate them when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.

Despite the grim circumstances clouding our world now, Musk still finds a way to drop a new idea into the mix. This one is actually related to Neuralink and the world of brain augmentations. While this effort is still ongoing and very early, he did imply that the neural implants that this company would offer might have another feature that hasn’t been highlighted. Specifically, it’ll allow you to stream music directly into your brain.

It wasn’t treated as groundbreaking. In fact, this topic came about during a Twitter conversation between Musk and an engineer of all things. Usually, Twitter conversations are about as productive as arguing with a creationist, but on rare occasions, something beautiful emerges. I say this is one of them.

Digital Trends: Elon Musk says Neuralink chip will let you stream music into your brain

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s brain interface company, Neuralink, wants to let you stream music directly into your brain.

Musk recently said that Neuralink’s brain chip technology would allow people to stream music into their brains effortlessly. Musk confirmed the feature on July 19 over an exchange with a Twitter user who asked: “If we implement Neuralink – can we listen to music directly from our chips? Great feature.” Musk replied with a simple, “yes.”

Now, regardless of what you think of Musk’s claim or the technical feasibility of actually streaming music into the brain, I want to make one thing clear. I hope to leave no amgibuity.

I want to try this.

I really want to experience this at some point.

I love music as much as the next person, but my cumulative experience with headphones, stereo systems, and ear buds has been mixed at best. The idea of bypassing that entirely and streaming my favorite songs directly into my brain just has so much appeal and not just from a practical aspect.

Music can a powerful influence. That’s not just an opinion. There’s real science behind it. I’ve certainly experienced that. There are songs on my playlist that can affect my mood, my focus, and my emotional state. Those effects can be pretty diverse. That should be a given. You’re not going to react to a Metallica song the same way you react to a Taylor Swift song.

It’s a testament to how impactful music can be. Now, there might be a way to stream it directly into our brains? Sign me up!

It’s not an incredibly radical idea, when you break it down. In a sense, the music and all its powerful influences goes to your brain already. It’s just indirect. First, it has to go through your ear and then your ear has to process the sound and then the interpretations of those sounds has to go to various parts of your brain. Neuralink is just offering a more direct path.

Imagine hearing something that makes no sound.

Imagine experiencing the emotions and excitement of music in a unique and intimate way.

It may not be the most groundbreaking use of neural implants, but I still want to try it. If being stuck in lockdown has taught us anything these past few months, it’s that we need a diverse range of experiences. There’s only so much we can get from binge-watching Netflix, playing video games, and Zoom chatting family members.

We need those experiences to enrich our lives. We have no idea what kind of state the world will be in by the time this technology is refined. Who knows what kinds of experiences we’ll pursue? Hopefully, I’m around to stream my favorite playlist directly into my brain. It might not be the most profound use of this technology, but it will definitely rock.

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Filed under futurism, Neuralink, Sexy Future, technology

The “Perfect” Sex Robot Thought Experiment

There’s a good chance that you’ve encountered someone who has a very strange kink. It’s probably not illegal, disgusting, or damaging. It’s just something that would make most people cringe if said out loud with a straight face. I won’t speculate on what that kink might be. I’ll just trust in the lurid imaginations of anyone reading this article to fill in the blanks.

With that in mind, I’d like to add another detail to that concept. Say you know this person’s kink. It rightly disgusts you. You believe it could be harmful to both the person and whoever they’re doing it with. However, you also know that they’ve never acted on this kink with anyone. On top of that, you know they’ll never act on it. Would you still trust them?

I know that last part is a bit of a stretch. We can never truly predict how anyone will act in the future. They could be the most disciplined person who ever lived, exercising restraint every day of their lives for years on end. They would only have to have one lapse to undermine others’ trust in them.

That’s why I’m framing it as a thought experiment. This is the sort of thing that just has no analog in the real world. It’s still important to contemplate because it can provide insights into who we are, who we trust, and how we conduct ourselves as a society.

Now, I want to throw sex robots into the mix. I promise there’s a legitimate point to that. This isn’t me speculating about the future of sex robots and other technology that’ll likely impact our sex lives. In fact, for this thought experiment to work, I’ll have to push the concept of sex robots to an extreme that is probably beyond any technology we’ll see in our lifetimes.

That’s because it requires that we envision the concept of a “perfect” sex robots. Now, I put “perfect” in quotes because perfection is subjective, especially when it comes to complex issues like human sexuality. It’s just a useful way to envision a form of sexual expression that goes beyond just sex with robots.

For the sake of the thought experiment, here’s a quick definition of what constitutes a “perfect” sex robot.

The robot is of a humanoid form and composed of universally malleable matter. It can effectively shape-shift into anyone, taking on any appearance the user desires, including that of celebrities, fictional characters, or private citizens. The robot can also take on inhuman forms. It can have fully functional sex organs of any gender or entirely new genders.

It also has an artificial intelligence that allows it to perfectly mimic any identity, role, or personality the user wishes. There are no restrictions or taboos. The robot is completely obedient, cannot be harmed, and never suffers.

In essence, the perfect robot is like Mystique from the X-Men combined with Rosie from “The Jetsons.” It can look any way a user wants. It does anything the user wants. It’s basically the ultimate sexual outlet. It doesn’t matter how tame or perverse your kink is. This robot will act it out with you whenever you want.

Why does that matter?

Well, it matters because horrible sex crimes and abuse still happen. As disgusting as it is to acknowledge, people do horrific things to other human beings to obtain sexual gratification. While most people aren’t like that, those deviant individuals still exist. These twisted desires still exist. There are those who don’t act on them, but if the desire is there, it’s still worthy of concern.

I think it’s relevant, given how much concerns over sexual assault and sexual abuse have become in recent years. On top of those concerns, there are other taboos and cultural attitudes that have been skewing our collective sexuality for centuries. From organized religion to sexy video game characters, there are many forces influencing our desires.

That brings me back to the essence of this thought experiment. This is where we have to both use our imaginations and speculate on how we conduct ourselves in a society.

Imagine that this perfect sex robot exist.

Now, imagine that everyone has one or several as soon as they reach an age at which they can consent to sex.

Everyone can carry out whatever depraved sex act they wish with this perfect sex robot, even if it’s illegal.

It doesn’t matter what their income is, where they live, or what their background is. Everyone has access to this perfect sex robot.

People can still form relationships with real people. They can still have children and raise families, like they always do.

What would change in this scenario? How would everyone conduct themselves in a world where they always had an outlet for whatever sexual desires they wanted? From decadent billionaires to working class people, they can all live out whatever fantasy they want with whoever they want.

Take it a step further. Imagine you met someone whose predilections you knew. Maybe they share it with you or you find out. Whatever it is, you find it abhorrent. You believe that, if they did this with anyone other than a sex robot, they’d be guilty of a horrific crime. However, they’ve never done it with anyone other than the robot and never would. Would you still associate with that person?

Even if you had a guarantee that nobody ever acted out their perverse desires on anyone other than a sex robot, would you still be comfortable around that person? Hell, flip the roles. Imagine you told someone about your kinks and they found it horrifying. How would you feel if they resented you, even if you never acted on them with real people and never would?

Keep following the possibilities.

Imagine someone uses their perfect sex robot to sleep with your spouse, parent, sibling, or child.

Imagine someone who claims to be heterosexual, but engages in homosexual acts with their sex robot.

Imagine someone who is never abusive with anyone, but horrifically abuses their sex robot.

I’ll stop short of adding more layers to this experiment. I think I’ve gotten my point across. For now, I encourage everyone to contemplate this. Think about how you would conduct yourself around people in this scenario. Think about what it would mean for society, as a whole.

There are no wrong answers, but the possibilities are as profound as they are kinky.

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Filed under health, human nature, sex in society, sex robots, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

Why You Should Be (Very) Skeptical About Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

There’s no way around it. This global pandemic has been a year-long gut punch to everyone on this planet. Some nations have taken those punches better than others, but even those who’ve handled it well still contend with its effects. It’s frustrating and agonizing. Nobody denies that at this point.

We also accept that there’s no way to definitely end this pandemic without a vaccine. That’s why many people, including myself, follow any news about potential vaccines closely. It’s easy to get excited when we hear about the progress some organizations have made. It’s even tempting to think that we’re close.

Avoid that temptation because, if you take the bigger picture into account, we’re not that close. It’s very likely that we’ll be without a proven vaccine for the rest of the year. It’s for that same reason that you should take Russia’s announcement of a successful vaccine, which it dubbed Sputnik V, with immense skepticism.

I’m not just saying that as an American or as someone who has mixed opinions about Russia and its autocratic government. Believe me, I’d love it if this vaccine were as effective as Russian claimed. I’d gladly celebrate it and commend Vladimir Putin’s knack for “motivating” development. That’s how much I want this pandemic to end.

However, there are some very good reasons to be cautious about this claim. Forget, for a second, that it’s coming from Russia, a country with an extensive history of large-scale disinformation campaigns. Just consider this simple scenario.

Imagine if someone walked up to you and claimed they had an app on their phone that could predict lotto numbers. You’re both intrigued and impressed. You ask for proof that it works. That person refuses to give it. They also ask for information about the program. They only give you the barest of basics, which you can’t verify.

Would you be willing to accept that this program works?

Moreover, would you be willing to accept it if doing so meant risking your life and that of your entire community?

Chances are most reasonable people would be skeptical and for good reason. That’s exactly why you should be skeptical of Russia’s claim. Russia has not released any scientific data on its vaccine testing and has not conducted the kind of large-scale test that most vaccines require to determine their safety and effectiveness. Without that kind of test, it’s impossible to tell whether the vaccine is effective.

That’s why practically every major health organization on the planet isn’t celebrating just yet. They’re not completely discounting it, though. There is a genuine interest in reviewing the data. That’s critical since this isn’t some fancy space probe. This is something we’re injecting into living human beings. We need to make sure it’s safe. Otherwise, we could end up causing more suffering than we prevent.

Beyond just causing a spike in cases, due largely to a false sense of security, an ineffective vaccine could undermine the public’s faith in public health. Vaccines have already been subject to all sorts of negative scrutiny in recent years. If this vaccine proves less-than-effective, it could set public health back years and lots of people will die because of that.

That’s what’s at stake here. There’s a time to rush something and a time to take bold risks. This isn’t one of them. Public health and medical science is not something we can rush. This isn’t like going to the moon or breaking the sound barrier. Those efforts required risks, but that risk was taken on by a few willing and brave individuals.

When it comes to medicine, the risks go beyond the test subjects. We cannot and should not take big risks when millions of lives are potentially at stake. This virus has already killed way too many people. Buying into a vaccine before we know for sure it’s effective could ultimately kill even more.

I’ll say it again. I want this pandemic to end as much as anyone. I want this vaccine to work as well as the Russian government claims. However, I’m not prepared to roll up my sleeve until those claims are verified. I encourage others to exercise similar caution.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, technology