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The decentralized web will be as big a game changer as the internet was in the '90s

Cryptocurrencies have had their time in the spotlight. Now it's time to focus on solving bigger problems.

  • The internet has witnessed many big developments since it was created. The next big one will be decentralization.
  • Right now, the internet is centralized, which cause many issues, not the least of which is big companies having power over vast amounts of data.
  • Over the past few years there has been a major increase in the number of decentralized projects working on making the decentralized web a reality in the near future.

Tim Berners-Lee

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We've come a long way since Tim Berners-Lee created the internet back in 1990.

What was once nothing more than a mere twinkle in his eye has become the center-point of the lives of millions of people all around the world.

From giving us instant access to information and helping us stay in touch with our friends and family members who live on the other side of the globe to helping us to do our weekly shopping without having to get out of bed and enabling us to collect and breed digital cats, the internet has enabled many changes — for better and for worse.

However, now that we seem to have understood more or less how and when to use the web, communication is about to change all over again.

‘Decentralization’ is the new big buzzword

We've made some rapid developments in technology over the past few years.

Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and of course, cryptocurrencies, have been all over the headlines and have attracted a huge amount of attention as a result.

Now, the next step for the web is decentralization — and it's kind of a big deal.

Why do we need a decentralized web?

With all our data in the hands of a small number of huge centralized corporations, we are at the mercy of hackers, increased surveillance, and increased censorship.

Since the recent reports of Google — a company that has always prided itself on bringing the fairest, most accurate search results in the world to its users — working on a censored search engine for China, there have been mounting concerns by human rights groups about the future of the web.

In an interview, Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International, stated, "In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory."

Considering how much of a monopoly Google currently has on the web (think YouTube, Google News, Google Maps, Google Drive and Google AdWords), such news is quite startling — and a little scary.

The big question many people are finding themselves asking is: What's the alternative?

It turns out, an encrypted, blockchain-operated decentralized web could be the answer.

Who are the major companies involved?

Over the past couple of years, there has been a significant rise in the number of companies dedicating their time, money, and resources to creating decentralized alternatives for some of the most popular centralized products.

TRON is one of the projects dedicated to establishing a decentralized web.

As one of the largest blockchain-based operating systems in the world, it has high throughput and can currently support approximately 2,000 transactions per second, drastically surpassing the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum, which can support only 3-6 transactions and 25 transactions per second respectively.

It also has high scalability and availability options which can support a huge number of users. The team's overall long-term goal is to make decentralized software more versatile in order to, ultimately, expand the industry.

The TRON team is made up of over 100 experienced international blockchain enthusiasts, who have a significant amount of experience and have been employed by internet giants such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu.

Earlier this year, TRON announced Project Atlas, in which they acquired file-sharing giant BitTorrent. The move marks the first major crossover between file sharing and decentralized technology, and has helped increase TRON's profile.

Meanwhile, companies like Graphite Docs have made a decentralized alternative to Google Docs that encrypts all your work, files, and messages, while still making them shareable.

Unlike a centralized service where your private information is at the hands of the provider, the files stored on Graphite Docs are completely owned by the user.

Similarly, projects like Skycoin are developing the backbone of a new decentralized internet, with a mesh network that pays users for supporting it. The Skycoin project and specifically its leading product Skywire has over 9,500 nodes online. One of the project's community members even built a dedicated page with a regularly updated map of all active nodes around the world.

Skywire's current testnet has functions similar to TOR but is actually much faster. Community members can build and operate their own simple DIY nodes called 'Skyminers' to access and expand the mesh network. Soon, they will also be able to purchase officially sanctioned Skyminers from Skycoin's website. During the testnet phase, running an approved Skyminer on the network earns Skycoin currency on a monthly basis. When mainnet launches these Skyminers will earn currency based on how much bandwidth they forward and process. This project, like many others with net-neutrality values at their core, is aiming to bring freedom and power back to the users and away from centralized, controlling ISPs and governments.

The future of the internet

We're still a long way off complete decentralization, but the popularity of the concept is becoming increasingly apparent.

As the problems of centralization become more obvious, it's likely that we'll continue to see a huge push towards a decentralized future as we move further into 2019.

Cryptocurrencies have had their time in the spotlight but now it's time to focus on solving bigger problems.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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