Playing God with jaw-dropping controversial science

Playing God with jaw-dropping controversial science

Ask many 21st students what they’d like to do in future with their lives and very few will confess to wanting to be a scientist. Days spent in a lab testing things in dishes and tubes, uncertainty over what used to be a stable career, along with a deep sense of social exclusion, make it a less attractive option in an IT-controlled world.

The truth is that science has lost the elusive romantic quality that has always given it a ferocious appeal to those with IQ readily available to spend on it. The hunger for scientas (“knowing”) has been overtaken by the profitability of toolmaking (technology).

In the early days, our intellectual ancestors would stare at the skies and be overwhelmed with wonder at how this beautiful Eden works; their extraordinary passion and curiosity to explore and discover meant it was a vocation inhabited by those who had to know, not just wanted to.

Ironically, we are entering an unprecedented age of global communication that has given us the ability to collaborate in a way that has never before been capable in human history, and is allowing us to share and develop knowledge at an exponential rate. There has never been a more fertile ground for our species to advance itself. And it just keeps getting more and more powerful. The more we communicate and hypothesise, the more we realise how little we know and how few inventions have been created in proportion to those that could be realised.

Modern day science is adventuring into territories unimagined by our grandparents; science fiction is struggling to stay ahead. As a discipline it has the unique capability to inspire, fascinate, capture and horrify all in one. The excitement and wonder of discovery has never left; in fact, a computerised world is empowering us to generate more mind-blowing technologies than ever before.

Switching Off The Disease of Ageing

Dr Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University and the SENS foundation leads the world in the field of gerontology, and believes the first human to live to be 1000 years old could be 60 today. In time it may be possible for our species to have an indefinite lifespan through rejuvenation therapy and genetic alteration. Ageing, like all aspects of the human condition, is mapped into the biological blueprint of our genes. By all accounts our life expectancies in the Western world are growing faster than we expected. De Gray’s theories portray ageing as a treatable “disease”, and revolve around switching off the genes that control the process. By perpetually repairing the 7 main types of cellular and molecular damage we physically experience, and switching off the genes that control ageing, and you turn off ageing itself.

Terraforming Other Planets

In the late 20th century, the world’s population doubled. It will double again within the next few decades, and we are running out of space and resources. Terraforming is the science of creating and modifying other planets so they are inhabitable for humans to colonise, like Earth. Few scientific endeavours can be bigger and bolder than planning the creation of a new planet. The first candidate, naturally, is Mars. NASA has defined the conditions suitable for habitability as “extended regions of liquid water, conditions favourable for the assembly of complex organic molecules, and energy sources to sustain metabolism.” The only drawback is that the shortest program is expected to take approximately 300 years.

Engineering The First Synthetic Life

Craig Venter (one of the sequencers of the human genome) and his team announced in 2010 that they had created the first fully functioning, reproducing cell controlled by synthetic DNA — a bacterial organism whose genome had been deliberately created and engineered as a completely new form of life not previously found on Earth. The field of synthetic biology is the study of creating artificial life in vitro from non-living (abiotic) substances: biochemicals and their component materials that is originally designed by a computer. The result is new species, the modification of existing ones, a deeper understanding of the origins of life itself, and the fascinating possibility to re-creating extinct organisms. With practical cloning just years away, the practice of replacing a genome at a cellular level in a host organism means we are close to being able to create entirely new forms of life.

Telepresenting Your Human Avatars

Derived from multi-screen videoconferencing and similar to holographic projection, Telepresence is a suite of advanced technologies that bring virtual reality to communication. Visually, the person being communicated with is reproduced visually as if they were actually physically present in the room, complete with minute details of their appearance and actual movements. One industry expert has described telepresence as the human experience of being fully present at a live real world location remote from one’s own physical location. Someone experiencing video telepresence would therefore be able to behave, and receive stimuli, as though part of a meeting at the remote site. The industry leader of the sector is Cisco Systems. Potential applications include remote education and medical surgery, hazardous situation inspection, artistic expression and the visual depiction of artificial intelligence.

The Venus Project’s Blueprint For Human Evolution

Described as a “modern day Da Vinci”, Jacque Fresco has committed his life to the design of futuristic cities and their accompanying social systems. The most attention-grabbing aspect of his work is the global removal of money, due to his belief that poverty, crime, corruption and war are the result of scarcity created by the present world’s profit-based economic system, which also stifles the progress of socially-beneficial technology. The Venus Project is the ongoing development of working blueprint for how humanity might evolve a new resource-based economy where money is relegated as a n outdated and highly primitive exchange mechanism, and energy resources are entirely self-sustaining.

The Controlled Drugs That Cure Depression & Addiction

Due to the stigmatisation of illegal psychoactive drugs, research on their alternative therapeutic benefits has been extremely limited. 2 of the most promising naturally-occurring candidates have been shown to demonstrate their potential as “miracle” substances. Ibogaine, a psychedelic chemical found predominantly in Apocynaceae family genus has been shown to be one of the most powerful addiction-interrupting substances ever discovered: in essence. After only several applications, it appears to be able to cure serious physical addictions to heroin and cocaine. The natural antidepressant action of the nicotine molecule on mood regulation has also provided a new blueprint that has been capitalised on by pharmaceutical companies to produce a new advanced generation of medication to treat depression and other mental illness.

Metamaterials For Producing Invisibility Cloaking

What might seems like a space-age technology, invisibility is fundamentally the study of light: the speed and direction of how it relates to materials. In theory, an object that is considered invisible or cloaked is one that neither adsorbs or reflects light (i.e. is transparent, or allows light to pass through it) and is effective when the human senses cannot perceive it visually through the eyes by visible light. In 2006, work on the first real-world invisibility cloak started in Britain after experiments on a 2D model to evade near-infra red proved a limited success. Current research is focused on using photonic metamaterials supported by nano-rods that simultaneously interact with every possible wavelength of light and are able to dynamically change their refractive index. If properly constructed, such a cloak would actually guide rays of visible light around an object — much like a rock diverting water in a stream. For now, however, the technology only works in two dimensions and only comes in the ultra-petite size of 10 micrometers across.

Weaponising The Weather

The most devastating weapons we possess are not of the nuclear variety, as is a common perception. For earth-shattering, mindlessly destructive, carnal madness, the top of the pile are systems that can manipulate nature’s own violent force and have subsequently been banned by the UN for their potential to deliberately cause natural disasters — manipulation of the weather and Earth’s tectonic movement. As far-fetched as it might sound, aerial silver iodide has been used en masse for decades for “cloud-seeding” and storm prevention (as well as hypothetical research into inducing drought), and serious money has gone into the concept of hurricane engineering through selective heating/cooling. Other avenues being explored by military science are disrupting the Earth’s crust to induce earthquakes and volcanic activity, wide-scale flooding and deliberately destroying ozone in specific locations.

The Agricultural Armageddon Database

In 2007, the Norwegian government unveiled the designs for a large-scale $5M facility built into the mountainside of an island near the North Pole (Spitsbergen) that is to house up to 3 million seed samples from all known varieties of food crops. The Svalbard International Seed Vault has been created with the aim of safeguarding the world’s agriculture from future catastrophes, such as nuclear war, asteroid strikes and climate change. In the event of an Armageddon, crops will be replanted and regenerated from the raw materials naturally refrigerated in North Europe. As Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust so cannily puts it, “If you design a facility to be used in worst-case scenarios, then you cannot actually have too much dependency on human beings.”

Star Trek’s Virtual Reality Holodeck

Directly inspired by the “Holodeck” in the fictional Star Trek series, immersive three-dimensional virtual reality systems are now in commercial production that claim to be simulate reality in a way never experienced before, without the use of headphones or goggles. One example is Blueroom ISV, who explain their design thus, “all surfaces are screens. Visual sequences are embedded seamlessly into an environment to create the feeling of being totally immersed in the a world with no external point of reference.” Locations can be changed at an instant, human characters added into the environment, and groups of virtual people that can control any aspect of their environment.

Storing Computer Data As Holographic Light

At present, computing is still surprisingly primitive and depends entirely on binary information stored physically on the surfaces of magnetic tape (or optical media), which is slowly becoming more inefficient by the day. The natural replacement before sub-atomic storage is using light to store information inside a disk volume, using different angles and wavelengths to record multiple 3D holographic images as well as optimising available space. Both IBM and Lucent have developed limited prototypes to date, although the 3 main companies actively developing the technology are InPhase, Aprilis, and Optware. Compelling advantages include higher storage volumes (a 4cm disk is estimated to be able to hold 3900GB), faster retrieval rates, portability and increased reliability. Downsides include the massive price tag, data sensitivity, physical storage limits and competing technical standards. Using light for storage is the historic equivalent transition copper made to fiber-optic cabling, or cassette recording to CD-playback.

Electricity Through The Air

Not since the days of Nikola Tesla has such a revolutionary technological step been taken as the wireless transfer of energy. In 2009, startup Witricity demonstrated mobile phones and televisions charging wirelessly without cabling using the principles of simple physics developed from the work of MIT scientist Marin Soljacic. To date, our main source of portable power is the battery, of which about 40 billion are disposed of to the detriment of the environment every year. Wireless electricity exploits the inherent resonance of low frequency electromagnetic waves (100ft and higher) to transmit energy between a transmitter and receiver, enabling electricity to be transported over the air from a power source to a device. When opposing coil attachments that have the same frequency resonance come into range of each other, energy is able to flow between them safely due to the entirely magnetic nature of the “far field” effect at the distance of one wavelength. Should the technology be adopted mainstream, the next generation of children born in our century will never use wires again.

Twisting Space Geometry For Anti-Gravity

Newton’s law of universal gravitation has always been regarded as a stubborn constant. In physical cosmology, astronomy and celestial mechanics, anti-gravity is the idea of creating a place or object that is truly free from the force of gravity, and not an illusory or opposing “balancing” mechanism such as aerodynamic life. Amongst the scientific effects that mimic it are magnetic levitation, tidal forces and Ionocraft, and theories are centred around the ability to create reactionless propulsion. In general relativity (applied in the early 20th century), gravity is not a force in the traditional sense of the word, but the result of the geometry of space itself. However, according to the current widely accepted physical theories, verified in experiments, and according to the major directions of physical research, it is considered highly unlikely that anti-gravity is possible. Which is all the more reason for scientists to pursue it.

The Suicide Mission To Set Up A Space Gas Station

The one factor space scientists believe prevents commercial space travel becoming a reality is the ability to refuel at a space fuel station, as 90% of a ship’s weight is its propellant and enough is always needed to come back. In the last 90s a NASA operation detected a huge hydrogen signature at the Shackleton crater on the south pole of the moon, estimated to be holding over 10 trillion tonnes of water in the sediment. One of the most extraordinary acts of the next decades will be the scientific venturing of a $15BN industrial mission to the moon in order to establish a hydrogen mining station that can make economical earth-space transport a reality.

Breaking The Light Speed Barrier

The Alcubierre drive, also known as the Alcubierre metric or Warp Drive, is a speculative mathematical model of a spacetime exhibiting features reminiscent of the fictional “warp drive” from Star Trek, which can travel “faster than light”. In 1994, the Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed a method of stretching space in a wave which would in theory cause the fabric of space ahead of a spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would ride this wave inside a region known as a warp bubble of flat space. Since the ship is not moving within this bubble, but carried along as the region itself moves, conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation do not apply in the way they would in the case of a ship moving at high velocity through flat spacetime. Also, this method of travel does not actually involve moving faster than light in a local sense, since a light beam within the bubble would still always move faster than the ship; it is only “faster than light” in the sense that, thanks to the contraction of the space in front of it, the ship could reach its destination faster than a light beam restricted to travelling outside the warp bubble. Thus, the Alcubierre drive does not contradict the conventional claim that relativity forbids a slower-than-light object to accelerate to faster-than-light speeds.