Rebuilding Bodies, Alien Flyby, and the Dawn of the Age of Imagination

Phil and Stephen conclude their special Thanksgiving week series. Good-news-a-palooza wraps up with a Black Friday show presenting still more tremendously encouraging news that is breaking all around us. Once again, aliens are mentioned right in the title of the show! And once again, it’s a no Buzzkill Zone.

Heart failure could be treated using umbilical cord stem cells

Using stem cells derived from the umbilical cord, researchers have improved the heart muscle and function of heart failure patients, paving the way for noninvasive therapies.

Dr. Bartolucci and colleagues conducted a trial in which they compared patients who were given an intravenous injection with stem cells from umbilical cords with patients who received a placebo.

The results – which have been published in the journal Circulation Research – were deemed “encouraging” by Dr. Figueroa. He says that the findings could improve survival rates for heart failure patients, which are currently quite disappointing.

Half of all heart failure patients are expected to die within the first 5 years after the diagnosis, and the 10-year survival rate is less than 30 percent. Worldwide, 26 million people are believed to live with the condition.

In heart failure, the heart’s muscles weaken and can no longer pump blood adequately throughout the body. Worryingly, the threat of heart failure is increasing among people in the United States; the number of people affected is currently set at 6.5 million, and this is expected to rise by 46 percent by the year 2030.

Last of the Iron Lungs

Hours, days, and years sealed within a machine forcing breath into your lungs. This is life for people born before the polio vaccine.

Deep Learning is Eating Software

The pattern is that there’s an existing software project doing data processing using explicit programming logic, and the team charged with maintaining it find they can replace it with a deep-learning-based solution. I can only point to examples within Alphabet that we’ve made public, like upgrading search ranking, data center energy usage, language translation, and solving Go, but these aren’t rare exceptions internally. What I see is that almost any data processing system with non-trivial logic can be improved significantly by applying modern machine learning.

This might sound less than dramatic when put in those terms, but it’s a radical change in how we build software. Instead of writing and maintaining intricate, layered tangles of logic, the developer has to become a teacher, a curator of training data and an analyst of results. This is very, very different than the programming I was taught in school, but what gets me most excited is that it should be far more accessible than traditional coding, once the tooling catches up.

The essence of the process is providing a lot of examples of inputs, and what you expect for the outputs. This doesn’t require the same technical skills as traditional programming, but it does need a deep knowledge of the problem domain. That means motivated users of the software will be able to play much more of a direct role in building it than has ever been possible. In essence, the users are writing their own user stories and feeding them into the machinery to build what they want.

How Technology Is Leading Us Into the Imagination Age

Initially coined by Rita J. King, the imagination age is a theoretical period beyond the information age where creativity and imagination will become the primary creators of economic value. This is driven by technological trends like virtual reality and the rise of digital platforms like YouTube, all of which increase demand for user-generated content and creativity. It is also driven by automation, which will take away a lot of monotonous and routine jobs, leaving more higher-ordered and creative jobs.

An Organism That Regenerates Could Allow Us to Heal Humans

The gecko’s remarkable ability to regenerate its tail in the space of a month could help scientists figure out how to heal spine injuries in humans, and it’s all down to the regenerative ability of stem cells.

Scientists studying gecko tails at the cellular level – how they detach when under pressure, and how they grow back again – have found a particular group of stem cells known as radial glial cells are responsible for growing the tail back.

As gecko tails hold much of their spinal cord, the team from the University of Guelph in Canada thinks that studying these radial glial cells and their behaviour could give us a better understanding of how spinal cords could eventually be prompted to grow back in human bodies.

GEEKOUT

Oumuamua = Alien Spacecraft?

Time for Stephen to adopt the Giorgio A. Tsoukalos haircut?

WT 373-684