I just love me some Science Daily. Science Daily is awesome because it presents breaking science news at the level of the lab, which means that by reading it, you’ll be hearing about science breakthroughs at their most nascent phase. Typically, things that get talked about on Science Daily are years from being commercialized into household products and the likes. The best part about Science Daily is that the articles are written in such a way that even the most recreational science lovers can understand. For everything from astronomy to psychology to quantum physics, SD has become basically my only science news source (okay, okay, I read Pop Sci occasionally).
Without further adieu, I’d like to present two particularly interesting recent scientific breakthroughs that I found particularly curious…
We’ve made a huge step forward in being able to stop diseases like cancer and cystic fibrosis by literally altering our genetic code. All of us are the way we are because of the way our DNA instructs our bodies to make proteins. Playing a critical role in this whole process is messenger RNA, or mRNA, which take instructions from the DNA and actually direct the steps necessary to create the proteins. Now if there were some way to alter these instructions, we’d be able to make sure that certain disease-causing proteins never got made, effectively eliminating the disease before it starts…and this is just what researchers have successfully done at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
The research team figured out a way to create “guide RNAs” that latch themselves onto specific mRNAs and alter their instructions (if you’re interested in reading about how the guide RNAs actually carry out this function, be sure to read the full article). Personally, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a bigger deal made about this. I think this is a huge step forward in our eventual ability to re-code our DNA from the inside out, allowing us to both avoid diseases as well as improve our physical and mental attributes. Of course, the latter of the two is where ethics most clearly come into play. I mean, it’s one thing to alter our DNA as a means toward avoiding disease. It’s a whole ‘nother ball game when you start talking about altering our DNA to create a superior physical and mental human race. It might sound outlandish, but how could you see this technology going in any other direction? For realz.
Since our brains are the most powerful and complex computers that exist, it makes sense that computer scientists have been on a quest to create computers that essentially mimic the human brain. To date, one of the biggest advantages our brains have over computers is the fact that our brains can both process and store memory simultaneously, while computers still have to separate the two functions, thus inefficiently consuming time and power.
Well, now researchers at the University of Exeter have successfully demonstrated simultaneous information storage and processing–a MAJOR leap forward in creating computers that function like our brain. This discovery is noteworthy for two reasons. First off, it marks a certain level of understanding of the way that our brains work. These researchers were able to accomplish this result by literally recreating the synapses and neurons found in our brains. Secondly, this breakthrough is the most obvious leap forward I’ve seen in creating a computer that mimics our brain, opening up a whole new world of computer function. If computers could work like our brains do, the power savings and computing abilities of computers would grow exponentially to a point where computers can accomplish scary levels of function beyond our wildest dreams. This is what Ray Kurzweil talks about when he forecasts a sentient computer than could can AIDS in under a second, or build blueprints for interstellar spaceships, for instance.
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