Researchers writing in the journal Nature say that by treating the metabolic and molecular causes of human aging, it may be possible to help people stay healthy into their 70s and 80s.
The diseases of old age — such as heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease — tend to come as a package, the researchers write. More than 70 percent of people over age 65 have two or more chronic diseases. But, they noted, studies of diet, genes and drugs indicate that interventions targeted to specific molecular pathways that delay one age-related disease often stave off others, too.
"Heart failure doesn’t happen all at once," Fontana said. "It takes 30 or 40 years of an unhealthy lifestyle and activation of aging-related pathways from metabolic abnormalities such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes to give a person heart failure in his 60s. So we propose using lifestyle interventions — such as a personalized healthy diet and exercise program — to down-regulate aging pathways so the patient avoids heart failure in the first place."
His own research has highlighted potential benefits from dietary restriction in extending healthy life span. He has found that people who eat significantly fewer calories, while still getting optimal nutrition, have “younger,” more flexible hearts. They also have significantly lower blood pressure, much less inflammation in their bodies and their skeletal muscles function in ways similar to muscles in people who are significantly younger.
Fontana and his co-authors also point out that several molecular pathways shown to increase longevity in animals also are affected by approved and experimental drugs, including rapamycin, an anticancer and organ-rejection drug, and metformin, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes.
Numerous natural and synthetic molecules affect pathways shared by aging, diabetes and its related metabolic syndrome. Also, healthy diets and calorie restriction are known to help animals live up to 50 percent longer.
But it’s been difficult to capitalize on research advances to stall aging in people. Fontana and his colleagues write that most clinicians don’t realize how much already is understood about the molecular mechanisms of aging and their link to chronic diseases. And scientists don’t understand precisely how the drugs that affect aging pathways work.
Fontana and his colleagues contend that the time is right for moving forward with preclinical and clinical trials of the most promising findings from animal studies. They also call for developing well-defined endpoints to determine whether work in animals will translate to humans. They are optimistic on that front because it appears that the nutrient-sensing and aging-related pathways in humans are very similar to those that have been targeted to help animals live longer and healthier lives.
But challenges abound. The most important change, they argue, is in mindset. Economic incentives in biomedical research and health care reward treating diseases more than promoting good health, they note.
"But public money must be invested in extending healthy lifespan by slowing aging. Otherwise, we will founder in a demographic crisis of increased disability and escalating health care costs," they write in Nature.
"The combination of an aging population with an increased burden of chronic diseases and the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes could soon make healthy care unaffordable for all but the richest people," Fontana added.
Because octopuses can swim, crawl and manipulate objects, they make “the ideal underwater robot,” said Francesco Giorgio-Serchi, a scientist at the Research Center on Sea Technologies and Marine Robotics here, who is working on the project.
In a small seaside laboratory, he and others have been tinkering away on a prototype of a multiarmed robot they call PoseiDrone for the sea god Poseidon. Pieces of half-built arms are scattered about, and an inflatable kiddie pool sits between tables.
It was in that modest body of water that their robotic octopus got its sea legs, as it were.
It did so well in the pool that the researchers borrowed a small boat and deployed it in the Ligurian Sea, still attached to their controls via cables. It successfully swam in the waves and adeptly crawled along the rocky bottom.
Robotic technology is generally based on hard materials — a logical approach, because they can be controlled with precise movements and low computing power. Soft robotics is something else altogether, promising “the mechanical versatility you find in natural organisms,” said Carmel Majidi, a mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute who is working to develop sensitive artificial skin and strong artificial muscles.
Imagine a roving vacuum cleaner that could literally squeeze itself into nooks where dust bunnies hide. Or more grandly, Dr. Majidi said, exploration vehicles, construction drones, “wearable robots and maybe even implantable robots.”
A group at Harvard used molds from a 3D printer to create a prototype of a soft, octopuslike four-legged robot that could be controlled via tubes of liquid or air. And here in Italy, Dr. Giorgio-Serchi and his colleagues recently acquired a 3D printer that allows them to design, experiment and revise quickly.
They aim to replicate the key features of an octopus: eight arms to provide an almost infinite range of motion; the ability to squeeze through any opening larger than its chitinous beak; and an unusual nervous system in which the arms are semiautonomous and the central brain is thought to do little more than issue general commands (“Arms, let’s go catch that crab!”).
To make quicker headway, some of the PoseiDrone’s components, such as the electronics, remain hard for now. The exterior will be silicone — a material whose density, like that of an octopus, is similar to water’s.
The drone’s potential missions include inspecting and repairing underwater turbines, wave-energy generators, oil rigs, ship hulls and perhaps fishing nets. In contrast to a hard-bodied underwater bot, which would need to hover at a safe distance from such equipment, the PoseiDrone should be able to attach itself directly without damaging the equipment or itself, Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said. Sending robots down to perform dangerous tasks could also help keep human divers safer.
The drone can already crawl, swim and even carry small tools. But it is not yet ready to repair a turbine.
“It sounds pretty prosaic,” he added, “yet one of the biggest challenges is just wiring. This was true 20 years ago, and it’s still true.” The PoseiDrone’s movements still rely on external control of conventional motors and actuators.
Nevertheless, the octopus robot is more sophisticated than a standard robot covered in rubber, Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said. Its abundance of soft, elastic materials enables it to do things most other robots cannot — much as stiff-jointed humans cannot do what an octopus can, despite our soft skin and muscles.
“Without the soft part,” Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said, “it would just be a pile of motors and cables.”
Also like real cephalopods, the PoseiDrone, whose body is about the length of an adult human hand, could be just about any scale — from fractions of an inch to dozens of feet across. A larger version is in the works. And perhaps not reassuring to those who fear a robot uprising, the bigger it is, “the easier it is to make it stronger — and fast,” Dr. Giorgio-Serchi said.
Bruce Sterling once said something like: “the future is on a sliderbar between the grim meathook future and the bright green spime world“. Well it’s clear now that those are two options on the one Möbius strip; two sides of the one dystopic, bad penny. Any hope for a bright internet-of-things that isn’t just another tool of surveillance seems a naive dream in the Snowden Effected world we all share.
The true horror of the real isn’t the ghoulishness of reporters walking through the wreckage of a passenger plane shot down for no reason on breakfast television. It’s that for all the politicians making speeches over the bodies of dead children, there is no empathic energy to be channelled into tv or approval ratings as the West Antarctic Ice Shelf falls into the ocean and the Arctic bubbles with ever more methane. Efforts to visualize this on a local level completely fail to resonate. Yet these are exactly the things that will cause more regional conflicts around the Earth; more water wars, more heavy weather events, more refugees. More bad news to obsessively dissect on 24hr news channels; experts for every facet, infinite opinions. No action. More dead children.
Our global civilisation: seemingly ever more doomed, completely intent on wallowing in its death throes, turning its spasms into some macabre dance to be celebrated. Are we to be only numbed spectators, or can find our way through this and locate the seeds of the next thing, to plant in the ashes of the world we knew and loved and helplessly watched die? Can we plan now how to re-purpose the very tools causing its destruction and pull this culture out of its nosedive? Please.
This is because the presence of a hard structure beneath the waves attracts barnacles and other crustaceans, and, in turn, fish. Dr Deborah Russell, a research fellow at the Scottish Oceans Institute at the University of St Andrews, explained how the “reef effect” attracts seals. “Things like barnacles and mussels will settle on hard structures and then that in turn will attract other marine species and it builds up over time.”
Here, we show that human participants spontaneously match facial expressions of an android physically present in the room with them. This mimicry occurs even though these participants find the android unsettling and are fully aware that it lacks intentionality.
Interestingly, a video of that same android elicits weaker mimicry reactions, occurring only in participants who find the android “humanlike.”
These findings suggest that spontaneous mimicry depends on the salience of humanlike features highlighted by face-to-face contact, emphasizing the role of presence in human-robot interaction.
Further, the findings suggest that mimicry of androids can dissociate from knowledge of artificiality and experienced emotional unease. These findings have implications for theoretical debates about the mechanisms of imitation.
They also inform creation of future robots that effectively build rapport and engagement with their human users.
“Tibetans live in a region that averages more than 4,000 meters above sea level. (Not for nothing is it called the roof of the world.) How did they come to be able to cope with their extreme environs? Some researchers in China and the United States think they might know, and their findings were published Wednesday in Nature. By sequencing DNA from a group of Tibetans and comparing the code to other gene databases, the researchers have discovered that Tibetans are inheritors of an ancient trait that helps regulate the oxygenation in their blood. But surprisingly, this trait did not arise in Homo sapiens. Rather, it came from another group of humans, the Denisovans—mysterious, little-known hominid cousins that died out some 40,000 years ago. The new study on Tibetans demonstrates for the first time an evolutionary advantage conferred directly by Denisovans, an adaptation that seems to be singular to the Tibetan people. For people whose ancestors lived in milder altitudes, experiencing a dearth of oxygen at great heights causes the level of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in blood, to increase in attempt to compensate. But this raises the likelihood of cardiac events in the short term, and it is unhelpful for reproduction, as it increases the risk of preeclampsia (hypertension during pregnancy). Tibetans don’t have the same reaction to elevation: They have greater fitness and higher fertility even when there is little to breathe. This, along with other respiratory adaptations, allows them to thrive where others cannot. Denisovans and Neanderthals are called extinct human “species”—a term that used to demark a clear line between two organisms incapable of interbreeding to produce fertile offspring. But the definition is no longer so clear. We know that these hominin cousins did couple with our Homo sapien ancestors—and some of us have inherited from them valuable modern traits. How we define “humans” past and present is a subject to contemplate—as fitting for scientists as for pilgrims to think about on their journeys across Tibetan plains.”
Apart from being fascinating in and of it itself, this matters because the Tibetan adaptation to high altitude living has long been held an example of modern human evolution, especially in popsci books like Children of Prometheus: The Accelerating Pace of Human Evolution.
To be fair, that book was published in 1998, and the first evidence of Denisovans found in 2010.
More like the accelerating pace of the understanding of the highly complex nature of human evolution.
All in all, not much information was exchanged in this set of Twitter replies and responses. It was a silly thing.
But each of us is going to have more and more bots acting on our behalf as well as trying to get our attention. What we see working on Twitter will soon spring from the computer and begin acting in the world.
Consider the digital assistants on your phone, the Facebook News Feed algorithm, even Priority Inbox for Gmail [and Twitter’s Tailored for You notifications]. All of these things are pieces of software that control one’s information flow.
As the “Internet of things” connects up an ever greater percentage of the physical world to the world’s networks, there will be little bots lurking in the coffeemaker and the shower. Nest already has a simple artificial intelligence built into its thermostat to try to detect and predict the ways that its users will consume energy.
The metaphor that I’ve been using to describe all this stuff is the microbotome. The microbiome is the set of non-human organisms that live within us. Many help humans digest food. The microbotome is all the bots that help humans digest information and interact with the machine world. The microbotome will become—if it’s not already—absolutely essential to economic and social survival.
In this scheme, the human is the center of an ecosystem, but each of the constituent members can interact with each other. It’s in those bot-to-bot interactions that things can get weird. Bot-to-bot interactions strike us as absurd. But they occur all the time already: Think of trading algorithms that detect an auto-tweeted news item and then execute financial transactions based on that information.
That’s the high-level version of this Taters-Calder-Bank of America conversation. But make no mistake: Both types of interactions are going to be happening more and more often as we invite these digital mediators into our lives, or they are deployed upon us.
And as we do, we will understand less and less of why things are happening. The most recent advances in what is called “deep learning” make the logic of the systems opaque even to their creators. Why this Facebook post in the newsfeed and not that one? Why this temperature at 4pm on a Tuesday? Why this route through New York? Why this stock trade?
There won’t be anyone to ask, but there will be many bots that would like to help.
In an unclassified but restricted report obtained by the Guardian under a public records request, the FBI predicts that autonomous cars “will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car.”
In a section called Multitasking, the report notes that “bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road which would be impossible today.”
One nightmare scenario could be suspects shooting at pursuers from getaway cars that are driving themselves.
The report, written by agents in the Strategic Issues Group within the FBI’s Directorate of Intelligence, says, “Autonomy … will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon that it is today.”
This presumably reflects fears that criminals might override safety features to ignore traffic lights and speed limits, or that terrorists might program explosive-packed cars to become self-driving bombs.
The FBI also claims that tailing suspects will be much simpler with the next generation of robot cars. “Surveillance will be made more effective and easier, with less of a chance that a patrol car will lose sight of a target vehicle,” says the report.
“In addition, algorithms can control the distance that the patrol car is behind the target to avoid detection or intentionally have a patrol car make opposite turns at intersections, yet successfully meet up at later points with the target.”