Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fundamental Advances in DNA Nanotechnology: Probes, Synthesis, Photonics, and 3D Printing

The focus of the 11th annual conference on the Foundations of Nanoscience (FNANO) held April 14-17, 2014 in Snowbird UT was self-assembled architectures and devices. The conference continues to be important in providing a comprehensive look at fundamental enabling technologies across a range of nanoscience fields and the eventual advent of molecular electronics.

The majority of the conference discussed self-assembled architectures and devices in the context of DNA nanotechnology (using DNA as a structural building block in nanomaterials construction). DNA is the material of choice for constructing nanoscale objects. It is a useful construction material because the interactions between complementary base pairs are understood, and can be designed and built to create frames and scaffolds that hold other molecules and create structures on their own.

The main technique in DNA nanotechnology is inducing self-assembly, where advances in different methods were discussed such as lithography, 3D printing, electro-chemicals, electronics, and photonics (controlled light interactions with matter).

The scale and required replicability of nanomaterials engenders a strong focus on tool development to determine and assess the progress and quality of self-assembly and other operations. New research was presented in tools related to working with DNA such as probes, detectors, samplers, nanopores, and nanochannels. In silico modeling and prediction remains a crucial step, for example improving the prediction of DNA and RNA folding helps in targeting RNA interference.

Synthetic biology, biomedicine, energy, and basic materials continue to be the important application areas for DNA nanotechnology.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Big Data: Reconfiguring and Empowering the Human-Data Relation

A strong new presence in contemporary life is big data (the collection and use of personal data by large institutions). As individuals, we can feel powerless in our relation with data.

At present, the human-data relation is one of fear, distance, powerlessness, lack of recourse, and diminished agency. There is an asymmetry of touch in the human-data relation where data can see and touch us without our noticing or being able to touch back. What is missing from the human-data relation is the capacity for humans to touch data in a meaningful way. The asymmetry of touch leads to an incomplete subjectivation of both the human and the data: big data creates a false composite in trying to model and understand the whole individual a few electronically-traceable activities, while humans almost no sight or conceptualization of the entity that is big data.

There are at least two ways to humanize and improve the human-data relation. One is reconceptualizing subjectivation and personal identity as a malleable and dynamic association of elements and capacities, and the other is reconfiguring the power relation between humans and data. To balance the power relation so that humans are more empowered, non-profit institutions, watchdog organizations, and community groups could be created for the defense of personal data, and privacy could be overhauled as a practical impossibility and recast into a system of access rights and responsibilities conferred upon data.

Presentation: The Philosophy of Big Data
Video (in French): La reconfiguration de la relation humaine-données par le toucher

Sunday, April 06, 2014

New Fields of Research Defined by Open Science Visionaries

The purpose of an open-science non-profit research startup like DIYgenomics is research innovation.

The value is in being able to propose a unique and visionary research agenda of questions that are forward-looking and not the focus or interest of the institutional research industry.

Research innovation falls into two tiers:

First is preventive medicine questions, ‘medicine that matters to me’ (e.g.; small groups or individuals), and non-pathologies.

More importantly, the second tier is defining completely new fields of research such as athletic performance genomics, social intelligence genomics, cognitive performance genomics, and DIYneuroscience, and making progress on widespread philosophical and societal problems such as the destigmatization of physical and mental health issues, and the reduction of discrimination as a broad social problem.

DIY open-science, crowdsourced health social networks, and community biohacking labs are the early-stage startup/venture capital arm of the expanding preventive medicine ecosystem of health services, and are able to surface projects of interest that can then be pursued at the institutional level as relevant.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Personhood Beyond the Human: the Subjectivation Scale of Future Persons

Philosophical concepts are useful for considering a potentially diverse landscape of future persons.

One important question is subjectivation – how individuals form and what constitutes an individual. The less helpful approach is focusing on classification and definition which is discriminatory and doomed to death by detail. A more fruitful approach is Simondon’s theory of individuation.

For Simondon, the current and future world is an environment of dynamic processes like individuation. Individuals participate in but do not cause individuation. Most importantly, individuals exist on a spectrum of capacity for action with other living beings including animals, human persons, and possibly a variety of future persons.

‘Capacity for action’ (a Spinoza-inspired concept) is crucial because it focuses on degrees of capability (related to a particular quality or skill) as opposed to underlying nature. Capacity for action has all of the possibility and mobility of a future-looking frame, and none of the fixity and discrimination of classification.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Big Data becomes Personal: Knowledge into Meaning

One of the most significant shifts in the contemporary world is the trend towards obtaining and analyzing ‘big data’ in nearly every venue of life.

However, one of the biggest outstanding challenges is turning these large volumes of impersonal quantitative data into qualitative information that can impact the quality of life of the individual in a multiplicity of areas such as happiness, well-being, goal achievement, stress reduction, and overall life satisfaction.

For this reason, I have helped to organize the AAAI Spring Symposium this week (Big data becomes personal: knowledge into meaning) at Stanford March 24-26 to explore exactly this question of turning personal data into meaning as related in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Turning big data into personal meaning.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Post-Human Biocitizen

We find ourselves in a world with a frenetic pace of life sciences bio-innovation emanating from institutional science, startups, and community biolabs. New possibilities abound in a wide range of areas including  personal genomics, regenerative medicine, cellular therapies, anti-aging, microfluidic chips, quantified self tracking devices and apps, Google Glass, Google diabetes monitoring contacts, brain training and cognitive enhancement techniques.

At a higher level, two main themes emerging in bio-innovation are:
1) what is happening with ourselves as human subjects
2) what is happening regarding data

The human subject is in the process of evolving into a biocitzen, at the center of health optimization action-taking with a layer of quantified self-tracking gadgetry as a first line of defense, then a layer of preventive medicine health intermediaries (like genomic counselors) and peer collaborators in health social networks and community biolabs, and finally traditional public health services as final line of defense. 

Data's role is transforming even more quickly than the emerging biocitizen where the possibility of collecting, integrating, and sharing huge volumes of health data streams is now possible and required for the destigmatization of health issues and realization of preventive medicine. There are four main data streams to integrate: all of the omics (e.g.; genomics, metaboliomics, etc.), traditional health, quantified self-tracking gadgetry, and personal internet-of-things (e.g.; smart car, smart home). There is an important need to extend the concept of privacy and rethink the attendant rights and responsibilities of data regimes, quick likely with the advent of protective data intermediary services.

Presentation (en français): The Post-Human Biocitizen
Video (en français): Les personnes futures comme biocitoyens

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Correcting Cognitive Bias with Nanocognition, Machine Ethics Interfaces, and an Ethics of Reality

Along with the potential future possibility of changing our perceptual apparatus through nanocognition (nanorobot-aided cognition), comes an increased awareness of the many ways in which we are currently biased due to evolution and sociality.

There is the level of basic biology where nature’s evolutionary requirements filter, order, and hierarchialize the overwhelming amount of input data before it is routed to our cognitive circuits. Likewise, culture and society put a lens on our perception from an individual and group dynamics perspective in the form of attunement to power relations, social conditioning, status-garnering, mate selection, and gender-performing.

With the creation of machine ethics interfaces, we could have the ability to adjust for these built-in biases. It could be possible to choose different kinds of perceptual realities, and this then implies that there should be a philosophical consideration of an Ethics of Reality. An ethics of reality can address questions like: even if we can obtain access to some sort of objective external reality, is it more ethical to see raw reality the way we do now with evolutionary biases or is it more ethical to see a bias-corrected version? One imaginable results is the construction of a transhumanist viewpoint that it is unethical to experience raw reality because it is inhumane, unproductive, or perceptually harmful.

Nanocognition Series:

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Illiberty in Biohacking, Personal Data Rights, Neuro-diversity, and the Automation Economy

Illiberty is a new concept that describes the notion of a lack of liberty. In one way it is strange that a word for the opposite of liberty and freedom does not exist given how strongly these ideals feature in social, political, and cultural life. However, illiberty is quite subtle; it does not have the bluntness of the freedom-slavery opposition. Illiberty is the sense of a lack of liberty, particularly where there should be liberty. The justice-injustice pairing is similar to the liberty-illiberty relation.

As individuals, we continue to wake up to higher levels of consciousness in constituting ourselves as subjects, and now is the time to develop an awareness and response for new situations of illiberty.

Illiberty extends the familiar equity, social justice, privilege, and access struggles and covers a larger conceptual ground. Here are some new cases of illiberty, many of which we may be unaware: 
  • Labor Rights: Mind liberation from working in the corporation, working for others
  • Personal Data Rights: rights and responsibilities conferred upon personal data, especially big health science data streams: personal genome data, pacemaker data, biometric data, quantified self-tracking gadgetry data, neuro-data streams
  • Citizen Scientist Rights: Non-institutional conduct of scientific research, biorights, biohacking, the biocitizen, community labs
  • Neural Rights: Neurodiversity, ASD (autism spectrum disorder), introversion, mind emancipation 
  • Economic Rights: Basic income guarantee (JET Vol 24, Issue 1), automation economy, post-scarcity economy
  • Augmentation Rights: Rights and responsibilities of augmented persons
Illiberty Studies – Research Agenda 
  1. Develop the illiberty concept drawing on: Derrida (democracy to come – inherent illiberty in the conceptualization of liberty), Rancière (emancipation), de Soto (responsibility-taking maturation), Dussel (liberty recast as liberation), Foucault (self-imposed disciplinary power) and Deleuze (micro-fascisms in one’s own thinking). 
  2. Identify the conceptual shifts and argument structure in the historical development of equality philosophies (decolonialism, feminism, queer theory, transgender, marriage equality, neurodiversity, polyamory) 
Illiberty Working Group

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Microbots: Automation Revolution Continues with Miniaturized Electronics

Ratcheting down technology’s price-performance improvement curve, we have seen the evolution of computers from the size of a room to a PC to a smartphone to a credit-card-sized micro-controller to a smartwatch to now finally the point where they are almost invisible (Figure 1).

It is not likely to be the big robots of automotive factories that ‘take over the world’ or at least continue to take over labor, but rather microbots.

A recent trend in scientific advance has been microbots such as termite robots that build houses, nanomotors being controlled for the first time in living cells, Google’s electronic contact lenses, blood tests 2.0 (finally! more immediate and orders of magnitude cheaper, though still via physician hegemony), and personalized drone delivery services.

This all points to the ongoing miniaturization of computing, including new use cases and interesting philosophical and ethical problems that could arise when technology is invisible. We are generally aware of technology in our environment now, think of the UK’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras, or the trackability of web-surfing history, but a new conceptual adjustment may be required when technology is more pervasively integrated and invisible.

Figure 1:  Miniaturization Trend, Next Node: Microbots (Source)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Personalized Drone Delivery: the new Personal Computer?

Miniaturization, robotics, and the hastening automation economy are coming together in interesting new ways. Personal drone delivery services could be a fast-arriving concept. Amazon announced PrimeAir in November 2013, to possibly be ready for launch in 2015 pending US FAA regulations of personal drone airspace. In the ideal case, the service would deliver ordered items within 30-60 minutes. Similarly, Dubai and the UAE announced a personalized drone delivery service including eye-scanning verification for government documents. Personalized or at least targeted micro-delivery via drones is not a new idea. One obvious use is delivering aid, medicine, and other supplies to remote, war-torn, economically-strapped, crisis-based, or other remote or sensitive geographic areas (Singularity University example: Matternet). As is the case with many newtech ideas, a modern version of personal remote delivery was conceptualized in Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End (2006).

The potential cost savings, convenience, and efficiency gains make a strong argument in favor of personalized drone delivery. Immediately many human-based delivery and courier services could be put out of business. Supply chains could be reinvented to support services that still need both a human and drone aspect (such as court filings and within office building deliveries), although amphibious drones could be just around the corner: robotic-on-land and flying-in-air for urban office and apartment building deliveries. Hiro Protagonist is out of a job not due to landing in a swimming pool but due to personalized drone pizza delivery services!

Longer-term implications could include a redesign of how space is used. Personal drone delivery services could become like the pneumatic tubes or dumbwaiters of the past, including the secure vestibule area already envisioned for delivery at home and office entry areas. Downtown traffic and congestion could be significantly reduced. An obvious challenge is quality of life degradation due to noise and the visual detritus of drones. Are human civilizations relegated to becoming the hive substrate for the incessant and pervasive buzzing of personal drones circling as they conduct their business? Hopefully the 'Prius drone' (e.g.; quiet) and pleasing visual design will be part of the modernization. Personal drone delivery could be an important intermediary step on the way to the 3D home printing of all desired objects.

Figure 1: Let them Eat Drones (photography drone at Versailles). Image Credit