Can Billionaire Technologists Save Us From the Dark Ages?

"Not only can small groups of people change the world, it's the only thing that ever has."

Sam Stein argues that due to $1.7 billion in looming sequestration cuts, NIH funding is drying up for human health research projects across the country. 


Stein points to the particularly compelling case of Dr. Anindya Dutta. The University of Virginia School of Medicine researcher

has identified the specific strands of microRNA, the molecule that plays a large role in gene expression, that are responsible for promoting the formation and fusion of muscular tissue. The implications for such a discovery are tantalizing. People who suffer from diseases like muscular dystrophy would have easier treatments, and the elderly would fall less often and recover faster when they did.

Due to cuts, however, Dr. Dutta says he is "living off fumes." In the broader context, we might be headed to a "dark age of science." 

Read more here.

Contrasted with the state of publicly-funded research, however, is the steady stream of news out of Silicon Valley. Elon Musk has devised a plan for a solar-powered high-speed transport system. Jeff Bezos buys The Washington Post. Sergey Brin funds lab-grown meat. James Cameron and others plan to mine asteroids for precious metals. 

Can these expensive and ambitious projects fill the void in a culture that many worry is losing its edge on innovation?

“The kind of people who are taking on the global grand challenges are interested in thinking big,” Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources tells The Financial Times. Indeed, Diamandis believes that this trend is part of a shift in which we will see individuals and small groups tackling challenges that once were the domain of governments and large corporations. 

In fact, when Diamandis launched Planetary Resources in April, 2012, he said:

"Not only can small groups of people change the world, it's the only thing that ever has."

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Russia sends its first android to space

The Russian-built FEDOR was launched on a mission to help ISS astronauts.

Photos by TASS\TASS via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Russia launched a spacecraft carrying FEDOR, a humanoid robot.
  • Its mission is to help astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
  • Such androids can eventually help with dangerous missions likes spacewalks.
Keep reading Show less

Human extinction! Don't panic; think about it like a philosopher.

Most people think human extinction would be bad. These people aren't philosophers.

Shutterstock
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new opinion piece in The New York Times argues that humanity is so horrible to other forms of life that our extinction wouldn't be all that bad, morally speaking.
  • The author, Dr. Todd May, is a philosopher who is known for advising the writers of The Good Place.
  • The idea of human extinction is a big one, with lots of disagreement on its moral value.
Keep reading Show less

this incredibly rich machinery – with Antonio Damasio

Picking up where we left off a year ago, a conversation about the homeostatic imperative as it plays out in everything from bacteria to pharmaceutical companies—and how the marvelous apparatus of the human mind also gets us into all kinds of trouble.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "Prior to nervous systems: no mind, no consciousness, no intention in the full sense of the term. After nervous systems, gradually we ascend to this possibility of having to this possibility of having minds, having consciousness, and having reasoning that allows us to arrive at some of these very interesting decisions."
  • "We are fragile culturally and socially…but life is fragile to begin with. All that it takes is a little bit of bad luck in the management of those supports, and you're cooked…you can actually be cooked—with global warming!"



Keep reading Show less