Companies like uBiome now make it possible to know what bacteria live in our nose, mouth, gut or skin and help us diagnose potential health issues before they even arise. With genetic testing, microbiome testing is the most revolutionary tool in modern, personalized medicine. But what does it all mean?
The human body hosts hundreds of billions of bacteria, a number that varies with the food we eat, how often we wash ourselves, brush our teeth, take antibiotics or drink alcohol or other antibacterials (ginger, garlic, turmeric), but generally exceeds the number of human cells, and can even occasionally outnumber them by a factor of ten to one. These bacteria live in symbiosis with us, helping us digesting foods, metabolizing vitamins, sugars, fats and amino acids, enhancing our immune system, and protecting us from other pathogenic bacteria or fungi. Together with viruses and fungi that reside inside us they form our microbiome. Disruption of the delicate balance of our microbiota can lead to a whole range of health problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, colitis, cancer, bacterial vaginosis, strep throat, ear infection, nose congestion, eczema, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more. This phenomenon is known as dysbiosis.
The first self-driving cars should hit the road by 2015. In a decade's time a large part of the world's vehicles will be autonomous. What impact will that have on our lives and the way we perceive cars?
Google has been working on autonomous cars for several years, having logged over 1 million km (700,000 miles) on US roads in five different states between April 2012 and April 2014, without any incident. The company recently announced that it would build its own self-driving cars, rather than modifying vehicles built by other manufacturers. Two hundreds of these tiny two-seater prototypes are expected to start circulating in US streets in 2015.
An astonishing new technology, Thermal Touch, converts any object or surface into a touchscreen. The entire world suddenly becomes clickable and interactive. You can order an item seen in a magazine by touching the photo, or play virtual chess on en empty table.
This could be the device that brings Augmented Reality to everyday life. Integrated to Google Glass it would revolutionize the way we interact with our environment and other people - perhaps even more so that smartphones themselves.
Altering our genes provides an enormous potential for personal enhancement, life extension and cosmetic modifications. But we are not entirely the products of our genes. The environment also plays a big part in modelling who we are. With this in mind, let's see how much we can expect from gene therapy to enhance our lives, or from genetic engineering to design future generations.
Advances in genetics now permit to edit one's genome relatively easily. Gene therapy is now used exclusively to fix diseases, but could soon be used by transhumanists for genetic enhancement, such as augmenting one's mental faculties or improving one's physical appearance. What exactly can we modify and what are the risks involved ?
The 21st century initiated a new era for human genetics, the era of gene therapy. Although gene therapy was first experimented in the 1990's, only single base pairs could be edited, and not always reliably. Many techniques have evolved over the years to modify snipets of one's genome more easily and with accrued accuracy. The most promising, known as CRISPR-Cas9, allows to alter larger stretches of DNA in one time. Using a single short strand of RNA in conjunction with a protein that find and cut a desired DNA sequence, an enzyme called Cas9, the CRISPR method makes it easy to replace, delete, or add any desired sequence of DNA.
Computers will soon be able to simulate the functioning of a human brain. In a near future, artificial superintelligence could become vastly more intellectually capable and versatile than humans. But could machines ever truly experience the whole range of human feelings and emotions, or are there technical limitations ?
In a few decades, intelligent and sentient humanoid robots will wander the streets alongside humans, work with humans, socialize with humans, and perhaps one day will be considered individuals in their own right. Research in artificial intelligence (AI) suggests that intelligent machines will eventually be able to see, hear, smell, sense, move, think and speak at least as well as humans. They will feel emotions of their own and probably one day also become self-aware.
The technological singularity requires the creation of an artificial superintelligence (ASI). But does that ASI need to be modelled on the human brain, or is it even necessary to be able to fully replicate the human brain and consciousness digitally in order to design an ASI ?
Animal brains and computers don't work the same way. Brains are massively parallel three-dimensional networks, while computers still process information in a very linear fashion, although millions of times faster than brains. Microprocessors can perform amazing calculations, far exceeding the speed and efficiency of the human brain using completely different patterns to process information. The drawback is that traditional chips are not good at processing massively parallel data, solving complex problems, or recognizing patterns.
The technological singularity may not happen as long as humans don't allow it to happen. And is it reasonable to let it happen in the first place ?
One of the prerequisites for the intelligence explosion of the singularity is that a strong artificial intelligence (SAI) be able to recursively improve itself, meaning that it could autonomously improve the design of its constituent software and hardware. While it is reasonable to assume that an AI of equal or slightly greater than human intelligence possess the ability to improve its own software, it won't be able to modify its hardware without human assistance.
Uploading the content of one's mind, including one's personality, memories and emotions, into a computer may one day be possible, but it won't transfer our biological consciousness and won't make us immortal.
Uploading one's mind into a computer, a concept popularized by the 2014 movie Transcendence starring Johnny Depp, is likely to become at least partially possible, but won't lead to immortality. Major objections have been raised regarding the feasibility of mind uploading. Even if we could surpass every technical obstacle and successfully copy the totality of one's mind, emotions, memories, personality and intellect into a machine, that would be just that: a copy, which itself can be copied again and again on various computers.
It is not possible to transfer our consciousness into a computer, even if (or when) computers achieve consciousness of their own. The best analogy to understand that is cloning. Identical twins are an example of human clones that already live among us. Identical twins share the same DNA, yet nobody would argue that they also share a single consciousness.
Human society and individual lives are are about to undergo the a dramatic transformation due to exponentially accelerating technologies. Discover what will happen in the next 20 years.
In his landmark book The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil explains how information-based technologies progress at an exponential rate. For example, in 1972, the microprocessor of a personal computer could only perform 100,000 instructions per second (0.1 MIPS). In 1978 it was one million instructions per second (1 MIPS). In 1993, the Intel Pentium reached a speed of 100 MIPS. By 2002, a processing speed of 10,000 MIPS had become common. In the 30 years from 1972 to 2002 the speed of PC's increased 100,000 times. This trend is accelerating over time in a hyperbolic fashion, known as exponential growth. It took 21 years, from 1972 to 1993, for computation speed to increased 1000 fold, but only 10 more years to increase again by the same factor. In other words speed progressed twice faster. This phenomenon has been observed for in practically all technologies, be it for RAM memory, data storage, DNA sequencing cost, number of cell phone subscribers, number of people connected to the Internet...
Most adults alive today grew up without the Internet or mobile phones, let alone smartphones and tablets with voice commands and apps for everything. These new technologies have altered our lifestyle in a way few of us could have imagined a few decades ago. But have we reached the end of the line ? What else could turn up that could make our lives so much more different ? Faster computers ? More gadgets ? It is in fact so much more than that. Technologies have embarked on an exponential growth curve and we are just getting started. In 10 years we will look back on our life today and wonder how we could have lived with such primitive technology. The gap will be bigger than between today and the 1980's. Get ready because you are in for a rough ride.