A team of neuroscientists announced a pretty cool creation on Wednesday: a completely transparent brain. Using a new technique involving something called hydrogel, the visionary crew turned an entire mouse brain into a rather durable substance that has the consistency of transparent jello. The best part? It still works (for the most part). They call it Clarity.
I Got Saved at San Diego’s Creationist Museum (Just Kidding, It Sucked)
In addition to the fancy multi-million dollar creation museum in Kentucky, there are several smaller, shittier ones dotted around the US. Last weekend I took a trip to the one in San Diego called the Creation and Earth History Museum. I brought a camera with me so you could laugh at it from the comfort of your own home without having to deal with any weirdos.
There was a fleeting moment when I first arrived at the museum when I thought it might actually be a fun place. There were a bunch of model dinosaurs outside, and inside near the entrance they had one of those electro-plasma things where the lightning follows your finger as you touch it. And everyone loves those (although, like all things in museums that are there for children to touch, it was coated in some kind of sticky substance that smelled like McDonald’s).
But then I turned a corner and found myself in snoozetown’s central square. This is, essentially, what every single room of the museum looked like: a wall covered in little signs.
Have the people who made this thing never been to a science museum? They’re AWESOME! They’ve gotindoor tornadoes, mock spaceship rescue operations, robots that are able to autonomously interact with visitors… they’ll even let you drive a goddamn 350-ton train. That’s the competition. And the Creation and Earth History Museum is gonna come at it with a wall full of shit to read?
And the barrage of text doesn’t stop with the signs. They have these little computer printouts, called “Insight…,”next to each exhibit that you can take home so you can read more about it later.
And if that STILL isn’t enough reading for you, they have QR Codes to reveal EVEN MORE info.
I read almost everything in the museum. (Mostly by taking photos of each sign to read at home later. I genuinely don’t think there would be enough hours in the day to read everything while you were there.) Here’s a breakdown of what I learned about their version of history:
- God created the universe in seven days.
- There was no bad stuff in the world until that dick, Adam, ate an apple.
- Noah’s Ark was real and it’s stuck on top of Mount Ararat, but nobody can find it.
China Is Engineering Genius Babies
It’s not exactly news that China is setting itself up as a new global superpower, is it? While Western civilization chokes on its own gluttony like a latter-day Marlon Brando, China continues to buy up American debt and lock away the world’s natural resources. But now, not content to simply laugh and make jerkoff signs as they pass us on the geopolitical highway, they’ve also developed a state-endorsed genetic-engineering project.
At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people, and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles that determine human intelligence. Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and bump up every generation’s intelligence by five to 15 IQ points. Within a couple of generations, competing with the Chinese on an intellectual level will be like challenging Lena Dunham to a getting-naked-on-TV contest.
Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist and lecturer at NYU, is one of those 2,000 braniacs who contributed their DNA. I spoke to him about what this creepy-ass program might mean for the future of Chinese kids.
VICE: Hey, Geoffrey. Does China have a history of eugenics?
Geoffrey Miller: As soon as Deng Xiaoping took power in the late 70s he took the whole focus of the Chinese government from trying to manage the economy, to trying to manage the quality and quantity of people. In the 90s they started to do widespread prenatal testing for birth defects with ultrasound, and more recently they’ve spent a lot of money researching human genetics to figure out which genes make people smarter.
What do you know about BGI Shenzhen?
It’s the biggest genetic research center in China and I think the biggest in the world, by a considerable margin. They’re not just doing human genetics; BGI is also doing lots of plant genetics, animal genetics, anything that’s economically relevant or scientifically interesting.
Are you in touch with them?
I just got an email a couple of days ago saying that they’d almost finished doing the sequencing for the BGI Cognitive Genetics Project, the one I gave my genetics to, and that the results would be available soon.
The Space Composer
I am not someone who has a background in science. While it always intrigued me, it was not something that ever came innately. Working at Motherboard has helped me redefine the somewhat nebulous notion of science and what application it has in real life. As we started planning the second season of our Spaced Out series, it seemed important that we look to feature non-scientists thinking about the future of space.
Enter Robert Alexander, a classically trained composer who has always been fascinated with the sky. As Robert was thinking about his thesis he determined that he was interested in the practice of sonification. For those of you who are unfamiliar, sonification is defined simply as is the process of displaying data in an audio format (other than traditional speech). Robert was interested in listening to data and garnering what he and the world can learn from it. We go into it deeper in the piece, but I thought of it as such a novel idea. One thinks that most problems have a linear solution, but that is not the world we live in. There can and always will be another and maybe more creative way of finding the solution.
Anyone with enough brains and balls can build their own rocket and fly it to space. Or at least that’s what the non-profit, open source space project Copenhagen Suborbitals wants the world to realize.
Last September, we scuttled out to Denmark to meet the pioneers behind this new wave in do-it-yourself space exploration to find out how these backyard space rockets are made. Founded in 2008 by Kristian von Bengston and Peter Madsen, Copenhagen Suborbitals is now comprised of a coterie of 20-plus specialists determined to create the first homemade, manned spacecraft to go into suborbital flight.
If successful—a manned launch is projected for sometime in the next few years—Denmark would be the fourth country in the world, after China, to successfully launch a manned rocket into space. What’s exceptional about such a feat, if completed, will be Kristian and Peter’s ability to do so on a shoestring budget of a few hundreds of thousands of dollars, versus the tens of millions of dollars it costs government-funded agencies and the rising tide of private companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, or Bigelow.
How Are We Going to Die?
Illustration by John Bogan
According to history, the end has been forever nigh. If God isn’t about to destroy us, it’s our own weapons; if it’s not civil war, it’s foreign enemies or aliens. As such, it’s easy to get lost in the magnificent spectacle of uncertainty that plagues our very existence and lose sight of the things that might actually kill us all.
Stuart Armstrong is a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, where he’s been on a mission to gauge what sort of doom might befall mankind. The FHI makes it its business to track a bunch of legitimate apocalyptic risks, and Stuart was kind enough to offer me some insight into four of the most plausible:
“It’s either going to kill us all or we’re going to cope with it. Even if we just get human-level AIs, these things can be copied and trained; we can take the best of them and then we can network them together and form supercommittees with the intelligence equivalent of, say, Edison, Einstein, George Soros, Bill Clinton, Oprah, Plato, Goebbels, Bernie Madoff, and Steve Jobs combined—each entity brilliant in its own narrow domain and then networked with one another, running millions of times faster than any normal human.”
“With the ability to program cells as one programs computers comes the ability to engineer viruses, bacteria, and animal cells for specific and potentially deadly purposes. For the moment, what we have are basically superhackers who are making genomes that express certain things and propagate themselves.”
“With nanotechnology, we can build machines for spying and for military purposes on the tiniest of scales, seeding them throughout the ecosystem. This could collapse the need for trade and allow a completely disarmed state to build an arsenal in a single day, destabilizing the world.”
“The weapons of the Cold War are still out there, and their deadliness hasn’t decreased. Recent research has demonstrated that the nuclear-winter scenario remains plausible, even for a small-scale nuclear conflict. And proliferation remains a perennial possibility, especially if technological developments allow nonstate actors to get in on the game.”
Bring a box of tissues and read more from our Hopelessness Issue:
Thierry Legault is not your average amateur astronomer, inviting the kids over and pointing a dinky backyard telescope at the Big Dipper. He’s a renowned astrophotographer, painstakingly chronicling the orbits of planets, distant galaxies, spaceships, and—to the chagrin of the intelligence community—of the spy satellites we’re not supposed to see.
These days, we are inundated with a constant feed of reality defying images sent back to us from space by the very carefully calibrated equipment we send up there. But for Thierry, the act of capturing space is a much more personal process. It’s man versus nature.