We've Built a New Dimension: The #1 Reason to Be Optimistic About Technology


It’s easy to be disenchanted with the current state of technology. Some people bemoan the broken promises of the Jetsons and ask where the flying cars are. Others point out that we haven’t cured cancer yet, and that there is no easy and efficient meal-in-a-pill. Many more ask where the magical mega-cities with high speed trains and tubes are.

But the problem with these people is that they’re looking at the wrong world. Behind our screens, in an ethereal dimension that’s not quite invisible, we’ve been busy building entire new worlds over the past 15 years. Every single moment of the day there are hundreds of millions of people milling around in a digital cocktail party with hundreds of their friends. Others are building castles, caverns, and entire new civilizations in Minecraft, while more still are wandering through massive bookstores and magazine stands to read the news of the day.

Hundreds of millions of man-hours have gone towards these construction projects of unimaginable proportion. Each time you see someone’s face perched over a phone or screen, you’re seeing someone in the process of inter-dimensional travel. While their bodies may be present, their minds are somewhere else -- enjoying the spectacle and excitement of these new worlds we’ve conceived. And, in an instant, they can travel from New York to Boston to chat with a friend from college, or all the way to Europe to exchange pictures with a long lost friend currently residing along the canals of Copenhagen. It’s truly remarkable.

But it’s hard to appreciate the grandeur of what’s we’ve built. This is because these new worlds are abstract and nebulous - existing in the minds of users and in ever-changing liquid crystal displays. It’s easy to look at a 500 story building, constructed with hundreds of tons of steel, and feel a sense of awe. It’s much harder to look at a search bar on a 4.87 by 2.31 inch screen and feel the same astonishment.

The move toward a greater digital existence can be seen as depressing -- and I think there are many many negatives caused by new technologies (here, here, here, here and here). Every new creation has undesirable second order effects. However, we have built libraries the size of which the world has never seen, department stores that would have been impossible in the physical world, and forums of a size and scope that are impossible on the earth we inhabit. While we once had to deforest land and take precious physical resources to build all of this, today we can create these wonders with electricity, silicon, and wires. With more and more digitization, it looks like we just might do a better job of conserving the beauties of our environment, and building a world with more and more things but much less clutter.

Consumption without the chaos. Travel without the hassle. It’s easy to be pessimistic about what we’ve accomplished in the past three decades -- we don’t have all the flashy gadgets of science fiction. But who would have predicted that we would have created a whole new dimension, one that we can jump into, and enjoy, any time of day? I call that an accomplishment.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

U.S. Navy ships

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
Keep reading Show less

Why so gassy? Mysterious methane detected on Saturn’s moon

Scientists do not know what is causing the overabundance of the gas.

An impression of NASA's Cassini spacecraft flying through a water plume on the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • A new study looked to understand the source of methane on Saturn's moon Enceladus.
  • The scientists used computer models with data from the Cassini spacecraft.
  • The explanation could lie in alien organisms or non-biological processes.
Keep reading Show less

CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

Quantcast