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Hey Bill Nye! What If We're Descended from Extraterrestrials?

Such a question assumes we'd be able to contact aliens should we find them. Bill's not entirely sure we'll be able to.

Jesse Lawrence: This is Jesse from Central Texas. What are some of the reasons you think extraterrestrials will come to Earth and how should we react to them and how do you think we will react to them? And on top of that what are some of the consequences things like organized religion will have when they eventually make it here?

Bill Nye: Jesse I kind of thought that’s where you were going when you started with the aliens coming from some other world and then: "Well how do you think religions will react?" I guess it depends on the religion. The current pope is going to roll with it. He’s going to send Vatican scientists out there to take a meeting with them and they’ll speak Latin or whatever the heck.

But I know what you’re driving at. If you want to think about this Jesse, talk about extraterrestrials. You say what’s going to happen when they visit. I don’t think they’re going to visit. However, it’s very reasonable that we will in, Carl Sagan in fashion, detect a signal to it from some other star system. That’s very reasonable. I make no guarantees. It’s the Christmas light problem, the holiday light problem where the lights are blinking. Our light of being able to receive electromagnetic wave from another civilization has to be on when another blinking civilization light is on so that we can cross paths not only in space, but in time. We have to have both civilizations existing at the same time. And with the universe that’s at least 13.6 billion years old, it’s not necessarily a given thing that everybody will be — their lights will be on at the same time.

And if you want to think about this Jesse, and religions, it’s very reasonable, absolutely not proven — we may have the means to prove it — very reasonable that you and I are a descendent of extraterrestrials. They just found liquid water on Mars, super salty water on Mars that flows every, apparently, flows every Martian year, every time Mars goes around the sun, it gets warm enough in this one area; the liquid water flows for a while; briny water evaporates. It’s very reasonable that there’s something alive on Mars or certainly that there was something alive on Mars. Then it’s very reasonable that Mars was hit with an impact. You can show that Mars was hit with an impact or comet or asteroid about 3 billion years ago. And some of the material of Mars was thrown off into space and some if it landed here. We find rocks on Earth that are clearly of Martian origin. I bought one online for kicks. And suppose some especially robust Martian microbe, a Marscrobe was in this piece of material, landed on Earth in an especially fertile time era 3 billion years ago. And you and I are descendants of Martians. Do, do, do, do — do, do, do, do.

And one of the things you mentioned religion and you mentioned that you were in Texas. I will say I did this debate with this guy in Kentucky who has been very outspoken that he thinks NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is wasting tax dollars looking for life elsewhere because he — as near as I can tell believes that he has a book written 50 centuries ago translated into English, translated many times. He believes that’s what’s in this book overwhelms everything that we can observe and record and infer about nature. So I guess it depends on the religion, how religions will react when we discover life on another world or we receive a signal from another civilization. That’s a cool question man. Carry on.

"How should we react to aliens?" asks Jesse from Texas. Such a question assumes we'd be able to contact aliens should we find them. Bill's not entirely sure we'll be able to. A civilization thousands of light-years away would be extremely difficult to communicate with. It might end up being impossible.


Bill then refocuses on a pretty fascinating idea: Is it possible that we're extraterrestrials? New research on Mars in the coming decade will help us find out if humans are really the descendants of Mars-based microbes that were docked off that planet and onto ours millions of years ago.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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