Thursday, August 28, 2014

Technology Influencing Human Evolution?

How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution

How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution

By Matthew Hughes
There’s not a single aspect of the human experience that hasn’t been touched by technology. Everything from industry, to medicine, to how we work has been fundamentally reshaped by the technologies which emerged in the second half of the 20th century.
Technology can also change the human in terms of his or her characteristics and abilities. Want to be smarter? You can take a Nootropic. Want to perceive the world with more detail and more information? Put on Google Glasses. Want to get stronger or more physically agile? There are medicines or robotic exoskeletons.
Technology has moved away from merely making our lives more convenient, and now it has the potential to change every aspect of what we are as humans. We are becoming transhuman. But what does that mean?

What Is Transhumanism?

Transhumanism is a movement that aims to understand what makes one human, and how we can surpass our natural limitations. It believes that there is an imperative to enhance our capabilities, and that limitations to those abilities can be overcome. More importantly, it believes that technology and science are the keys to overcoming them.
transhumanism computerbrain   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
But what are those limitations? They could be life expectancy. They could be mental acumen and intelligence. They could also be physical in nature, such as one’s strength, the speed in which one runs a race, or perhaps the way one metabolizes food.
Technologies and medicines that address these limitations are constantly being released, developed, and improved upon. More and more enhancement supplements or drugs are hitting the shelves of stores, and are being prescribed by doctors. But what does this mean for our society- are we all heading towards becoming more than human?

Why Do We Try To Enhance Our Species?

It is only recently that we’ve found ourselves actually able to extend our lifespans, our biological abilities, and our intellectual capabilities with technology. For millennia, humans lived within their biological boundaries, never overcoming them. Despite that, humans have always found an urge to become more than what we are, as history and anthropology shows.
Indeed, one can look back as far as the ancient Greeks for stories of people looking to enhance their physical capabilities. Perhaps the most famous of these is the tale of Icarus and Daedalus, who constructed wings so that they might take to the skies like a bird, and escape from imprisonment in Crete.
transhumanism icarus   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
One should also note that Greek mythology is replete with tales of quests for mythical Fountains of Youth which would eternally stave off death and allow one to become immortal. The desire to become more than human is certainly not new.
One individual who has done significant research in the field of transhumanism is Prof. Nayef Al-Rodhan, an Oxford University Scholar and senior fellow. He is also the Director of the Centre for the Geopolitics of Globalization and Transnational Security in Geneva, Switzerland.
transhumanism nayef   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
This Harvard and Yale educated neuroscientist, philosopher and author has written prolifically on the subject of transhumanism and its role in society, and is widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities in his field.
Prof. Al-Rodhan believes that humans have an innate nature that compels us to enhance our physical and mental abilities. This drive will eventually bring us to the brink of what he calls ‘Inevitable Transhumanism’, where humans fundamentally enhance their abilities through the convergence and adoption of a number of emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and genomics.
In ‘Inevitable Transhumanism? How Emerging Strategic Technologies will affect the Future of Humanity‘, Prof. Al-Rodhan postulates that humans are genetically and neuro-chemically hardwired to ‘feel good’, and are driven by a number of factors he collectively calls ‘Neuro P5’. These consist of power, profit, pleasure, pride and permanency.
Any technology that enhances a factor in the Neuro P5 is likely to be adopted, since it appeals to the feelings that make us ‘feel good’. This will then push us further and further to a transhumanist outcome, where the human experience is artificially enhanced or changed. Prof. Al-Rodhan believes in the inevitability of this, and describes it not as a question of ‘how’ or ‘if’, but rather ‘when’ and ‘at what cost’.
If we’re truly driven to artificially evolve past our biological capacities, then there are some questions that should be asked. Firstly, what will that look like? Secondly, what is our capacity to become transhuman? Finally – and perhaps the most pertinent question – what will the cost of doing so be?

Technologies That Enhance The Human Experience

Human-enhancing technologies tend to be grouped under the all-encompassing term ‘Human Enhancing Technologies’. These do not refer to technologies and tools that treat illness and disabilities, but rather enhance our physical and cognitive abilities past what is realistically biologically possible.
One example is Lockheed Martin’s Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC). This hydraulic-powered exoskeleton was developed at the University of California, and aims to enhance the endurance, strength and speed of soldiers on the battlefield.
transhumanism hulc   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
It allows soldiers to carry weights of up to 90 kilograms (200 pounds) whilst running at a top-speed of 16 kilometers (10 miles) per hour for extended durations. Although the HULC is still in an early stage of its development, it seems almost certain that this endurance, strength and speed enhancing technology could eventually find itself onto the battlefield, not only transforming the capacities of soldiers wearing it, but also potentially giving the US military a real, tactical edge.
One doesn’t have to stay in the military field to see how HETs can allow us to exceed our biological limitations. Take, for example, the latest piece of wearable technology from Google – Glass. Although it is still far from being a mature product, Glass has demonstrated how it can rapidly enhance one’s cognitive abilities past what is considered normal.
transhumanism googleglass   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
It has been dubbed the ‘Transhumanist’s Swiss Army Knife’, and for good reason. Glass allows users to communicate in languages they’re not familiar with, to ‘offload’ their memory to Google Glass for later recall, and to view meaningful information about their surroundings in their peripheral vision.
And then there are technologies that, although they are nothing more than a distant speck in the horizon, present an encouraging avenue for significant human enhancement. Technologies such as human genetic engineering, may be used in the near future to enhance our capabilities beyond what is biologically tenable.
Animal testing has already shown that subtle tweaks to a genetic makeup can result in increased physical performance. Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland have been able to exponentially increase the strength of mice by genetically suppressing an inhibitor called NCoR1, which resulted in greater muscle growth, improved muscle density, and larger amounts of mitochondria.
The human application of this is still somewhat speculative. Despite that, it remains a probability that one day we could adapt gene therapy and genetic engineering in order to make one live longer, become more intelligent, or able to perform significantly demanding physical tasks.
transhumanism gene   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
HULC, Google Glass and human genetic engineering each compliment one of the factors in Prof. Al-Rodhan’s Neuro P5 list. And as one might expect, public enthusiasm and interest for these transhumanist technologies is huge, and looks set to become a significant part of the world in which we live.
Transhumanism truly does seem to be inevitable, and has a capacity to change our lives and our potentials. But what does this mean for the evolution of our species?

Transhumanism, Evolution And You

Darwinian evolution by means of natural selection is by far the most convincing explanation for the origin of our species. It can be concisely explained as descent with modification. As genes are passed down, ‘errors’ are made. The genetic changes which are best suited to an environment are retained, as they contribute to the survivability of the carrier.
transhumanism evolution   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
But what about evolution through ‘unnatural selection’, as National Geographic puts it. It seems that our natural, biological evolution simply cannot keep pace with the dizzying array of human enhancing technologies that emerged, and have shaped how we think, and our physical capacities.
It could be argued – as it was in Smithsonian magazine – that we have become the engineers of our own evolution. Citing developments in nootropics, genetic manipulation and nanomedicine, the case was made that we are approaching the precipice of being able to effectively shape our own species through artificial means, effectively supplanting our biological processes.
It’s also been hypothesized that human enhancing technologies will circumvent or undermine thought processes and instincts that developed as a result of our biological evolution. In ‘Inevitable Transhumanism’, Prof. Al-Rodhan wrote:
“The use of technologies to modify our emotions, our bodies and our neurochemical balances, is bound to undermine and alter the instincts that have developed over millions of years in the process of human evolution and was pivotal to our survival thus far.”
The transformative effect technology has had on the development of our species cannot be denied. Despite its promise, there are a number of concerns about transhumanism, and what it means for the human experience, and the future of the human race.

Concerns About Transhumanism

The Transhumanist movement is not without its share of detractors. The concerns about it are diverse, as are the detractors themselves. And they don’t mince their words.
Take Francis Fukuyama , a well-known American political scientist. In an op-ed for Foreign Policy Magazine, he described transhumanism in no uncertain terms as the ‘World’s Most Dangerous Idea‘.
He is best known for his ‘End Of History’ thesis which postulates that the evolution of human governance has stopped due to a lack of necessity, since we have reached the pinnacle of our political and economic evolution. Its main argument is that Western liberal democracy and free-market economics is the most perfect system to rule by, and has regularly and historically demonstrated to be a better system than anything else, including communism and authoritarianism.
transhumanism fukuyama   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
The success of countries that have adopted a liberal democratic system of governance are so successful, and so developed they have effectively signaled the final form of human government, as there is nothing else that could possibly surpass it in terms of its economic success, and its ability to ensure political representation for the masses and social cohesion.
Fukuyama has a number of concerns about the move towards human enhancement. The first is that it could fundamentally reshape human nature, the outcome of which could be impossible to predict. Another concern is that it threatens one of the fundamental tenants of liberal democracy: the absolute equality of people, regardless of their status, color, class or ability. In the same piece, he asked:
‘If we start transforming ourselves into something superior, what rights will these enhanced creatures claim, and what rights will they possess when compared to those left behind?’
These are difficult questions, but ones that seemingly have an answer. Prof. Al-Rodhan reconciles transhumanism with human rights and dignity with his ‘Sustainable History’ thesis, where he argues that the stability and longevity of any political order relies entirely upon a guarantee of dignity for all citizens, at all times, and under all circumstances. Al-Rodhan insists that moral, ethical and legal global guidelines are urgently needed to make sure that these technologies are used correctly.
transhumanism sustainablehistory   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
Therefore, any technological advancements that would result in the improvement of the cognitive and physical abilities of some would not result in the marginalization of others, as it would eventually result in the disastrous unraveling of society.
‘While dangers to human nature, dignity and destiny are real, I am not suggesting that technological innovations and the potential for enhancement should be halted or stifled. I am instead calling for urgent global action at the UN level to define international moral and bioethical guidelines on what potential enhancements are acceptable to our global societies and on what terms.’
He also raises the concerns that there are some significant challenges to be addressed and soon: for example, who gets enhanced, who has the right to decide, and do adults have the right to choose their own babies attributes. Are these choices determined by economics, politics or ethnic and ideological persuasions? These are all very serious considerations that must be addressed before humanity goes along that inevitable path to make sure that the dignity of all is maintained in this brave new world.
Others are concerned that any change in our biological limits would result in the undermining of the human experience, and render our existence devoid of meaning. This argument has been made by the Californian environmentalist and ethicist Bill McKibben, a noted and fierce critic of transhumanism.
transhumanism mckibben   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
In his book ‘Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age‘ he argued that human limitations – such as mortality – exist for a reason. He believes that to remove them would result in making human life meaningless, and that removing our biological limitations would also remove the necessary context in which we make meaningful choices about our life.
This argument is a convincing one, albeit one that makes a significant number of assumptions about what a technologically enhanced life would look like. Firstly, it assumes that such a life could not possibly have meaning.
I find that hard to swallow. Surely a person with an artificially enhanced life-span would still be able to find meaning in doing the activities that person enjoys, and in spending time with loved ones? One might also find meaning and pleasure in using one’s enhanced abilities to accomplish tasks and solve problems they find to be particularly challenging.
transhumanism family   How Technology May Be Influencing Human Evolution
There are countless other arguments surrounding transhumanism. These stretch from the belief that one should not play God, to the prediction that a transhumanist future would result in such enhancements only being available to the wealthy, whilst the poor would be left behind.
These arguments are hard to respond to. Perhaps the only real answer is to wait and see what happens when our technological capacity catches up with our ambition to rebuild the human.

Excited About Your Transhumanist Future?

It’s hard not to be excited about a future where one can be engineered to be smarter, stronger and healthier. This future seems inevitable, as our human nature pushes us towards self-improvement by any means possible. With that said, many are concerned about the transformative effect transhumanism would have on human society, and its implications for human rights and governance.
The debate surrounding transhumanism will rage on. With that said, I’m willing to bet that our future will be an enhanced one.
But what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments in the box below.
Photo Credits: Head with cables Via Shutterstock, Ken Leach (UC Davis)Francis Fukuyama (Andrew Newton), Bill McKibben (University Of Michigan)Nicku / Shutterstock.com                Source: www.makeuseof.com

How Heat Affects Your Computer

How Heat Affects Your Computer, And Should You Be Worried?

How Heat Affects Your Computer, And Should You Be Worried?

By Philip Bates
From time to time, we all get concerned about our computer’s temperature. But should we be worried? How exactly is your PC affected by heat? And what does it do to cool itself down?
Whenever you hear that little fan overdoing itself, mild panic might set in. Heat does affect your computer – but is it as bad as it sounds?

Which Components Generate Heat?

Thermal radiation is just the by-product of electromagnetic movement within millions of circuits, and the internal resistance it encounters – or to put it another way, electricity powering your computer is the simple reason why your computer becomes hot. Even LEDs produce it, though it’s minimal because the amount of electricity needed to function is low. Naturally, the volume of electricity needed for each component varies depending on the operations being performed, but there are some consistently with higher temperature output.

A computer’s core, its Central Processing Unit (CPU), naturally generates heat as it carries out algorithms, as does the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which typically handles 3D imaging for display. Gaming can result in higher temperatures, especially as they often require GPUs to carry out complicated calculations (in many instances, the GPU can generate more heat than the CPU). Hard disk drives can also contribute to heat generation, especially when copying large files.
Similarly, the optical disc drive can generate large amount of heat when playing DVDs or CDs, both as it forces discs to spin and as it reads the contents using a laser.
It’s important to remember that room temperature, too, affects the internal workings of your computer. Higher room temperatures can affect performance, especially exceeding 80°F/27°C since the computer’s internal heat will be greater.

How Does Heat Affect Performance?

pc hero overheating laptop   How Heat Affects Your Computer, And Should You Be Worried?
As part of the PC’s own cooling system, the motherboard, comprising of major components like the CPU and memory banks, instructs intensive applications to slow down. To avoid damage, it can even instruct components to shut down as a fail-safe. In some cases, this can cause your whole computer to turn off without warning; in extreme circumstances, this can occur continually until a new fan is fitted. This can particularly be a result of overclocking, running the CPU at a greater speed than intended by its manufacturer.
For many of us, we just accept that the more we use a PC, the more it slows down. Sometimes, minor calculations are wrong, but the computer soon corrects itself. Heat can also cause your computer to freeze, resulting in you restarting. More often than not, however, performance is not greatly affected; in fact, mostly, you won’t even notice.
But that doesn’t mean overheating doesn’t have greater consequences.

How Does Heat Affect Your Hard Drive?

Even though HDDs don’t consume nearly as much electricity as either the CPU or GPU, they are very sensitive to temperature changes, and excessive heat can irreparably damage your hard drive.
Handheld fan   How Heat Affects Your Computer, And Should You Be Worried?
A simple fact of physics: cold makes things contract; heat makes things expand. Through heat transfer, thermal expansion can warp the internals, meaning discs might not be read properly. This is an extreme example, but the HDD would need replacing.
More seriously, though, most agree that heat can reduce your hard drive’s lifespan, with National Instruments reporting that an increase of just 5°C above room ambient temperature can take up to two years off a drive’s expectancy.
Correlation between disc drive failure rates and high temperatures is questionable, however, even leading Google engineers to conclude that “at moderate temperature ranges it is likely that there are other effects which affect failure rates much more strongly than temperatures do.” Effects are greater with older drives, especially those over three years old.
Normally, data can be recovered, but when it comes to a damaged hard drive, things get a little more complicated.

How Does Your Computer Deal With High Temperatures?

The most notable way your computer draws heat away from sensitive components is with a heat sink — normally located by the CPU or sometimes GPU — which pulls heat from its surroundings through conduction and using fins to dissipate higher temperatures across a wide area, i.e. the rest of your computer’s case and out through vents at the back. Heat sinks vary in size depending on the system’s expected performance, based upon Thermal Design Power (TDP).
fanless motherboard   How Heat Affects Your Computer, And Should You Be Worried?
Heat sinks are most commonly made from aluminium alloys, a soft metal with high heat conductivity; copper is also extensively utilised, but it is more expensive than aluminium and greater in density so is only used in costlier and vaster industrial systems. Heat sinks are also used in some gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, which has to deal with very detailed graphics; a more highly-conductive material than aluminium is needed, so copper is largely used.
The majority of PCs also include an additional circular fan near the heat sink to aid airflow and reduce the effect on nearby components.
Larger fans are used to suck cooler air from the computer’s surroundings, convey it through the case, and expel it at the rear. On a hot summer’s day, you might open windows at the front of your house and leave the back door ajar, leading to fantastic air flow throughout; case fans in coordination with vents work on the same principle.
Designers also have to take into consideration the computer’s casing, so that suitably permeable materials help to dissipate excessive heat, as well as the space left inside between components.

Conclusion

More often than not, your computer will deal with heat exchange unnoticed. Occasionally, fans need to rotate quicker when performing complicated tasks like maintenance, copying files, streaming data, and sharing files – there are several ways to silence noisy fans if this becomes infuriatingly frequent, although this could indicate an underlying problem.
Yes, heat can affect your computer – both its lifespan and performance – but in most cases, you have little to worry about.
Image credits: Shutterstock  Source: www.makeuseof.com

The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop

The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop Is Gorgeous — Here’s How To Try It

The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop Is Gorgeous — Here’s How To Try It

By Danny Stieben
For the last couple of years, the only desktop environment that has made any massive changes was Gnome due to its highly controversial switch from the classic Gnome desktop to the Gnome Shell design. However, now KDE has finally made some major changes when creating KDE 5 and has become the latest desktop environment to offer a brand new experience.
Have no fear, however. The change between KDE 4 and KDE 5 isn’t as severe as it was from KDE 3 to KDE 4. Instead, this new major version is all about an aesthetic refresh and a rebase of the whole KDE platform onto the new Qt 5 framework while reorganizing a few things. This should allow the desktop environment to be much more modern, less buggy, and provide a generally smoother experience.
While the KDE Frameworks 5 is considered to be stable, not all things KDE have been modernized. This is why the next wave of distributions such as Fedora 21, Kubuntu 14.10, and such won’t be shipping with it. Instead, it’ll likely come in the distribution releases after that, so it’ll be a while before everyone can enjoy it. Until then, you can use other methods to try out KDE 5 until it’s widely available.

Why Try KDE 5?

kde5 loading   The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop Is Gorgeous    Heres How To Try It
First of all, what’s the big deal about KDE 5? While the mechanics and general idea of the desktop remains virtually identical, KDE 5 uses newer technologies and fixes plenty of bugs during the move over to those new technologies. It also gets a face lift in the process, which I must admit is quite refreshing. The facelift is mostly complete, but there are still a few little details that need to be ironed out (such as the icon set).

Quick Tour Of KDE Plasma 5

kde5 desktop   The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop Is Gorgeous    Heres How To Try It
Taking a quick look around the KDE 5 desktop, you’ll notice that there’s less silver and more flat colors and transparency. Everything is easier on the eyes, and even the little prompts that appear for each tray icon have been redesigned. However, everything else is functionally there and in the same place. The menu still acts the same way, and the system settings work the same way also. Again, the only major difference in all of this is the new look.
kde5 settings   The New KDE Plasma 5 Desktop Is Gorgeous    Heres How To Try It
The new theme, called “Breeze”, is the new default in KDE 5. I personally love the theme a lot and would use it full-time if I could. For those who don’t like much change and would rather have the KDE 4 on the newer platform can still go back to the Oxygen theme.

How To Try KDE 5

Interested in trying KDE 5 out? There are a few ways you can accomplish this. The first is the download the latest snapshot ISO from Project Neon, which is simply an Ubuntu-based image that runs the latest build of KDE 5. Project Neon creates a new ISO every week, so it’s a great way to test out the latest progress in the desktop environment. You can easily write it to a USB drive and boot off of it, or you can run it in a virtual machine — it works just as well in there too. I recommend using this method because it lets you try out KDE 5 without messing anything up on your production system.
The other way is to add a Project Neon PPA to your Ubuntu-based installation and install the needed packages by running the command:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:neon/ppa && sudo apt-get install && sudo apt-get install project-neon-base project-neon-kdeplasma-addons
Alternatively, you’re supposed to be able to install the project-neon-allpackage to just install everything related to KDE 5, but I was somehow unable to find it.
You can then log out of your user account, and then log back in and choose the Project Neon desktop instead of your normal desktop environment. This way, you won’t have to download an entire ISO image every time you want to try the latest snapshot of KDE 5, but then you’ll have it directly installed on your system. Of course, you might want this if you’re planning on using KDE 5 as your daily driver, but that’s your own decision. I didn’t tell you to do that. The only other problem that I had with this method is that it didn’t really work quite as well. It showed the KDE 5 loading screen, but after that it just showed the wallpaper and nothing else. I’m not sure if that was just my installation or if there was a bug that may need to be fixed.

Do You Like KDE 5?

There you go — a quick and easy guide to try out KDE 5 in more than one way. I really like the new look of KDE 5 and I’m sad that it’ll still take so long before it is finally adopted by distributions — but I suppose that’s a good thing. By that I mean the anticipation, of course, and not the waiting.
What are your thoughts of KDE 5? Would it make you move from your current desktop environment? Let us know in the comments!

Source: www.makeuseof.com

Why Baby Powder is Not Just for Babies


As our babies grow up, we tend to forget the good old baby 
powder in the cupboard and not give it a second thought. 
Baby powder is mainly used for preventing diaper rash and 
as a deodorant. This is a total waste, since baby powder is 
actually incredibly useful!

Here are a few examples:

1. Keep ants away – Ants hate the smell of baby powder, so 
use it wherever you see them forming an ant line. They won't 
cross it.

Baby Powder Uses

2. Absorb oily stains – simply cover the stain with baby powder, 
let it absorb the oil and then put it in the laundry.

Baby Powder Uses

3. Greasy hair – Similar to the oily stains, baby powder can 
absorb the natural oil our bodies secretes, so sprinkle some 
on your hands, run it through your scalp and let it sit for a bit 
before a shower.

Baby Powder Uses

4. Keep washing gloves fresh – Sprinkle some baby powder 
into your gloves after you’re done with the dishes. It’ll 
absorb the moisture and prevent mold, plus it makes it easier to 
put them on next time.

Baby Powder Uses

5. Remove sand from your body – Going to the beach? Pack a 
small bag of baby powder with you and rub it on your feet when 
you leave the beach. The sand will come off with ease.

Baby Powder Uses

6. Keep your bed cool – On a hot summer’s night, put 
some baby powder between the sheets. It will absorb sweat and 
moisture in the air and keep the bed cool.

Baby Powder Uses

7. Stop hardwood floors from creaking – Pour baby powder 
on the floor and sweep it into the cracks. This will prevent 
the noise-creating friction and you’ll be able to enjoy the 
silence once more.

Baby Powder Uses

8. Sweaty feet – Putting some baby powder in your shoes 
absorbs the odors and sweat, keeping your shoes fresh and 
odourless.

Baby Powder Uses

9. Keep furniture from getting musty – A little baby powder in 
drawers and old furniture helps prevent furniture from building 
up mold due to moisture.

Baby  Powder Uses

10. Tangled jewelry – Got a knot of necklaces? Put some baby 
powder in there and start untangling it. You’ll be amazed 
how much easier it is!

Baby Powder Uses

11. Cards stuck together? – Throw them in a bag with 
baby powder, shake well and see how easy it is to separate 
them now.

Baby Powder Uses

12. Kitty-litter freshener – The cat’s sandbox smells? 
Sprinkle baby powder in there after scooping it and it will 
do wonders for reducing the smell.

Baby Powder Uses

13. Keep pests away from bulbs – If you’re doing some garden 
work, consider coating flower bulbs with a little powder. It will 
deter pests.

Baby Powder Uses

14. Stop that chaffing – Before going on a jog or power-walk, put 
some baby powder between your thighs. It will reduce the 
chaffing considerably.

Baby Powder Uses

It’s important to remember that baby powder is usually composed 
of talc (also known as “talcum powder”). Talcum powder is 
harmful if inhaled since it may cause aspiration pneumonia or 
granuloma.

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