The Argument Against Quantum Computers

  The mathematician Gil Kalai believes that quantum computers can’t possibly work, even in principle.

Sixteen years ago, on a cold February day at Yale University, a poster caught Gil Kalai’s eye. It advertised a series of lectures by Michel Devoret, a well-known expert on experimental efforts in quantum computing. The talks promised to explore the question “Quantum Computer: Miracle or Mirage?” Kalai expected a vigorous discussion of the pros and cons of quantum computing. Instead, he recalled, “the skeptical direction was a little bit neglected.” He set out to explore that skeptical view himself.

Today, Kalai, a mathematician at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is one of the most prominent of a loose group of mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists arguing that quantum computing, for all its theoretical promise, is something of a mirage. Some argue that there exist good theoretical reasons why the innards of a quantum computer — the “qubits” — will never be able to consistently perform the complex choreography asked of them. Others say that the machines will never work in practice, or that if they are built, their advantages won’t be great enough to make up for the expense.

Kalai has approached the issue from the perspective of a mathematician and computer scientist. He has analyzed the issue by looking at computational complexity and, critically, the issue of noise. All physical systems are noisy, he argues, and qubits kept in highly sensitive “superpositions” will inevitably be corrupted by any interaction with the outside world. Getting the noise down isn’t just a matter of engineering, he says. Doing so would violate certain fundamental theorems of computation.

Kalai knows that his is a minority view. Companies like IBM, Intel and Microsoft have invested heavily in quantum computing; venture capitalists are funding quantum computing startups (such as Quantum Circuits, a firm set up by Devoret and two of his Yale colleagues). Other nations — most notably China — are pouring billions of dollars into the sector.

Quanta Magazine recently spoke with Kalai about quantum computing, noise and the possibility that a decade of work will be proven wrong within a matter of weeks. A condensed and edited version of that conversation follows.

When did you first have doubts about quantum computers?

At first, I was quite enthusiastic, like everybody else. But at a lecture in 2002 by Michel Devoret called “Quantum Computer: Miracle or Mirage,” I had a feeling that the skeptical direction was a little bit neglected. Unlike the title, the talk was very much the usual rhetoric about how wonderful quantum computing is. The side of the mirage was not well-presented.

And so you began to research the mirage.

Only in 2005 did I decide to work on it myself. I saw a scientific opportunity and some possible connection with my earlier work from 1999 with Itai Benjamini and Oded Schramm on concepts called noise sensitivity and noise stability.

What do you mean by “noise”?

By noise I mean the errors in a process, and sensitivity to noise is a measure of how likely the noise — the errors — will affect the outcome of this process. Quantum computing is like any similar process in nature — noisy, with random fluctuations and errors. When a quantum computer executes an action, in every computer cycle there is some probability that a qubit will get corrupted.

Kalai argues that limiting the noise in a quantum computer will also limit the computational power of the system.

Video: Kalai argues that limiting the noise in a quantum computer will also limit the computational power of the system.

And so this corruption is the key problem?

We need what’s known as quantum error correction. But this will require 100 or even 500 “physical” qubits to represent a single “logical” qubit of very high quality. And then to build and use such quantum error-correcting codes, the amount of noise has to go below a certain level, or threshold.

To determine the required threshold mathematically, we must effectively model the noise. I thought it would be an interesting challenge.

What exactly did you do?

I tried to understand what happens if the errors due to noise are correlated — or connected. There is a Hebrew proverb that says that trouble comes in clusters. In English you would say: When it rains, it pours. In other words, interacting systems will have a tendency for errors to be correlated. There will be a probability that errors will affect many qubits all at once.

So over the past decade or so, I’ve been studying what kind of correlations emerge from complicated quantum computations and what kind of correlations will cause a quantum computer to fail.

In my earlier work on noise we used a mathematical approach called Fourier analysis, which says that it’s possible to break down complex waveforms into simpler components. We found that if the frequencies of these broken-up waves are low, the process is stable, and if they are high, the process is prone to error.

That previous work brought me to my more recent paper that I wrote in 2014 with a Hebrew University computer scientist, Guy Kindler. Our calculations suggest that the noise in a quantum computer will kill all the high-frequency waves in the Fourier decomposition. If you think about the computational process as a Beethoven symphony, the noise will allow us to hear only the basses, but not the cellos, violas and violins.

These results also give good reasons to think that noise levels cannot be sufficiently reduced; they will still be much higher than what is needed to demonstrate quantum supremacy and quantum error correction.

Why can’t we push the noise level below this threshold?

Many researchers believe that we can go beyond the threshold, and that constructing a quantum computer is merely an engineering challenge of lowering it. However, our first result shows that the noise level cannot be reduced, because doing so will contradict an insight from the theory of computing about the power of primitive computational devices. Noisy quantum computers in the small and intermediate scale deliver primitive computational power. They are too primitive to reach “quantum supremacy” — and if quantum supremacy is not possible, then creating quantum error-correcting codes, which is harder, is also impossible.

What do your critics say to that?

Critics point out that my work with Kindler deals with a restricted form of quantum computing and argue that our model for noise is not physical, but a mathematical simplification of an actual physical situation. I’m quite certain that what we have demonstrated for our simplified model is a real and general phenomenon.

My critics also point to two things that they find strange in my analysis: The first is my attempt to draw conclusions about engineering of physical devices from considerations about computation. The second is drawing conclusions about small-scale quantum systems from insights of the theory of computation that are usually applied to large systems. I agree that these are unusual and perhaps even strange lines of analysis.

And finally, they argue that these engineering difficulties are not fundamental barriers, and that with sufficient hard work and resources, the noise can be driven down to as close to zero as needed. But I think that the effort required to obtain a low enough error level for any implementation of universal quantum circuits increases exponentially with the number of qubits, and thus, quantum computers are not possible.

How can you be certain?

I am pretty certain, while a little nervous to be proven wrong. Our results state that noise will corrupt the computation, and that the noisy outcomes will be very easy to simulate on a classical computer. This prediction can already be tested; you don’t even need 50 qubits for that, I believe that 10 to 20 qubits will suffice. For quantum computers of the kind Google and IBM are building, when you run, as they plan to do, certain computational processes, they expect robust outcomes that are increasingly hard to simulate on a classical computer. Well, I expect very different outcomes. So I don’t need to be certain, I can simply wait and see.


Michio Kaku Described What Life Will Look Like in Twenty Years

Earlier today, Michio Kaku spoke at the World Government Summit in Dubai. I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd and, like those around me, I was both astonished and alarmed by what he had to say.

The topic at hand? Change.

It seems that each day brings with it a revolution in artificial intelligence, space travel, and DNA, which is the building block of life itself. Though these developments are inspiring, the rapid pace at which science and technology are advancing is sometimes a little disquieting. And according to Kaku, in the next twenty years, things are going to get really weird.

From toilets that read our proteins to walls that talk to us, Kaku painted a staggeringly beautiful (and somewhat comical) picture of the world of tomorrow.

Earth 2.0

Kaku began by noting that, as the years pass, our vernacular will evolve, keeping pace with advances in technology. What does this mean, practically speaking? That we’ll lose “computers.”

No, we won’t literally lose them, but we will lose that term. “The word ‘computer’ will disappear from the English language,” he said, adding that we will no longer say “computer” because the devices will be truly ubiquitous. From our bodies to our streets, everything will be a computer. There will be nothing that is not a computer.

Kaku continued by discussing how 3D printing will change the fabric of our lives, “We are talking about a new world. A world where, if you can imagine it, you can create it.” He described a world where we’re able to custom print shoes or jewelry or any other bit of attire. And he discussed how, if you want a toy for your child, in the world of tomorrow, all you’ll have to do is download it, and it will be ready for printing in your very own living room.

To this end, your house will be more than a place to call home — it will be a tool in and of itself. Oh, and you will also talk to your wallpaper. Wait, what?

Things to Come: A Timeline of Future Technology [INFOGRAPHIC]

“In the future, we will have smartpaper,” Kaku elaborated. This paper will be able to show us any information that we request, just like computer screens do today. And it’s not just that we will talk to our walls, they’ll talk back. To this end, the architecture of our living spaces will be transformed — our walls will become our smartphones, laptops, and TV screens.

Imagine sitting in a chair in your living room, speaking aloud, and rushing yourself off to the farthest corners of the digital world. That sounds remarkable. It also sounds isolating and, perhaps, more than a little lonely.

Of course, technology also has the potential to help us connect with people wide and far. Kaku noted this point, outlining how tech will allow us to exchange thoughts and ideas as never before. “You will be able to talk to people in any language because your contact lenses will translate speech,” Kaku predicted.

Want to take a trip? Regardless of whether you’re going near or far, you won’t own your car; you also won’t drive one. Cars will drive you. You’ll also be able to travel much lighter than you do today because, as was mentioned above, you’ll be able to create most of what you want or need on demand.

For the things we do what to buy, Kaku believes we’re headed toward a future that will be socioeconomically unlike anything we’ve experienced.

“We are building up to something that I call ‘perfect capitalism,’” he said, describing the concept as “eliminating the middlemen, eliminating all the frictions of capitalism.” In this society, Kaku said, “the winner” will be all of society. The losers? The middlemen. The Stockbrokers.

The final, lingering question, then, is — what about us?

“Artificial intelligence may give us something that the kings and queens of old could never conquer: the aging process,” Kaku explained. Things get old and die because they accumulate errors. Once we’re able to use AI to compare millions of genomes from old people to millions of genomes from young people, we will identify precisely where aging takes place. Then, we’ll eradicate it.

It is a pretty picture, to be sure. But is it a picture that is accurate? At the present moment, I’m not entirely positive. Check back in twenty years.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Denial, Political Biases, and Personal Beliefs

It’s no secret that Neil deGrasse Tyson has strong feelings when it comes to the intersection of science and belief. Science, he says, is objective. It’s not something that you believe or do not believe; it’s something that you accept or don’t accept. It remains true regardless of your personal beliefs.

At the opening day of the World Government Summit, which took place this weekend in Dubai, Tyson spoke with Futurism about the current state of our world, why some nations refuse to accept science, and the dire consequences we’ll face if those nations continue to reject the truths science reveals.

When asked about how governments around the world are doing in terms of science, whether they are doing right by their citizens and supporting a sound science education, Tyson said the state of affairs is, sadly, “highly unequal.” He continued by noting that, globally, how much investment there is in science and technology varies according to how much available funds a nation has.

“I think it may be considered a luxury to fund scientific research if it’s not completely obvious how that research will help you,” he told Futurism. Though, as he went on to point out, it’s exactly that kind of inquiry — knowledge for the sake of knowledge — that makes scientific advancement possible. Oftentimes, advances come because of random happenstance.

He’s right: from lasers to electricity to X-rays, scientific developments aren’t always the result of someone knowing exactly what it is they are doing. That often comes far, far later. To that end, Tyson noted that it is important for nations to invest heavily in science whenever and wherever they can, as it always pays in the longrun.

“You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

“Innovations in science and technology, we’ve known forever, are the engines of tomorrow’s economy,” Tyson said. “You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

The conversation then turned to the situation in the U.S., where the current (and often controversial) sociopolitical climate is having a demonstrable influence on the ability of scientists to make progress in their research.

“One of the problems — I know the United Stated the best — is that most of our government, most of our elective government, stands for reelection every two years,” Tyson said. “So, if there are people coming in that don’t know science or appreciate it or understand it, then we are susceptible to having them cancel a project that might need a ten-year horizon or a twenty-year horizon to bear fruit.”

This, he noted, is obviously a less than ideal situation. To that end, he suggested that, perhaps, nations should have a dedicated budget set aside for research and development — a dedicated budget that is not subject to the whims of each new politician.

When discussing how nations can overcome the hurdle that exists where personal or cultural beliefs meet science — as happens when talking about gene editing, evolution, and a host of other topics — Tyson took a strong stance.

“It’s only a hurdle if your belief system is in denial of objective reality,” he said. “If you have a belief system that wants to say that something that an emergent scientific truth has established is somehow not true, then you should just give up at that point….if you cannot simultaneously allow both to co-exist, and one has to fight the other, you will have problems.”

Fortunately, there are alternatives to giving up. What has happened in the past is belief systems have adapted.

It is easy to see this throughout our history books. Religion used to say Earth was the center of the universe. Religion used to say that evolution was a myth. Some religious individuals may still cling to these beliefs, but many do not. The solution, it seems, is to simply wait for people to accept the objective reality that is presented to them — to let it speak for itself.

True, at times, it seems like deeply ingrained belief systems that contradict or deny scientific fact are unmovable pillars of life in the United States; stumbling blocks to progress that we simply have to put up with. Still, significant progress is being made around the world by countries willing to make a change. Though some may scream “communism,” India and Scotland are experimenting with a basic income. Sweden has taken powerful steps toward becoming carbon neutral, despite the fact that some think climate change is “fake news.” And advances are being made in embryonic stem cells, though they remain controversial.

As Tyson so eloquently explained, humanity is fully capable of shifting its paradigm. The evidence exists throughout history, and in modern times, we just need to remind ourselves that our beliefs can be molded to facts — not just the other way around. Sometimes, it just requires waiting.

“I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

When asked if he was hopeful about the future and government’s ability (or willingness) to change its tune, Tyson laughed. “I’m neutral,” he said, but quickly added, “I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

Our Universe Thrives As An Integrated Whole. Why Should Our Food Be Any Different?

Our Universe Thrives As An Integrated Whole. Why Should Our Food Be Any Different?

We live in a universe — a reality — that is made up of circles within circles; interconnected, interdependent, and whole. Sages have been saying this for thousands of years, and in recent times scientists in an array of disciplines — from physicists to demographers — have come to this same conclusion. You may be wondering what this has to do with nutrition and your health. In one word: Everything.

Our fragmented worldview

If our world is so entwined and interdependent, why is this not readily apparent to most people? We have the distinct misfortune of living according to the Westernized paradigm wherein marketing rules the mind and heart. And the marketers include not only Wall Street ad agencies, but also leaders in the fields of religion, education, politics, medicine, psychology, and even natural healthcare This marketing, relentless and ubiquitous, has shaped the thoughts of people to the point wherein they think in terms of fragmentation instead of holism. Everything has been divided up into smaller groups, specialties, special interests, pieces, and isolated entities that exist out of context.

The conditioned, fragmented worldview has led us to perceive each other as separate “others” rather than seeing each other as the one big interactive family that we actually are. This is true not only socially, but also biologically, mentally, and spiritually. Our modernized societies have put us out of touch with other life forms as well, including the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as the environment and all of its ecological systems that determine the fate of our collective future as human beings.

Ours has often been referred to as a fragile planet. This is because there is a delicate balance that comprises the environment, living organisms, natural resources, and even the climate. When we offset this balance then we offset the whole fabric of life. This applies to the big picture as well as to the foods we eat.

In terms of health and nutrition, rather than regarding whole, natural foods as complete and harmonious, we’ve been misled to accept the fragmented paradigm of pharmacology that promises to heal our ills and keep us well.

The fragmented paradigm of pharmacology.

Pharmacology is based upon the principle that chemicals may be used to elicit a certain response in the physiology, mainly to either suppress or stimulate cellular function. Many natural healthcare practitioners have referred to this as addressing the symptoms but not the cause of the problem. Drugs do not feed the cells; they have no nutrient value. The pharmacological paradigm is at odds with the natural world, so why are we applying it to natural healthcare and the foods that we eat?

What is Nutrition?

Nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health, immune support, prevention of disease, repair of damaged tissues, cellular function, and growth. Integral to this definition is the fact that “food” does not mean parts of foods nor drugs. Foods come from real plants, while drugs and supplements come from manufacturing plants. If your food is not whole then it is not natural or balanced. This applies not only to your daily diet, but also to the supplements you take.

Many would argue that the modern practice of Nutrition has been pirated and usurped by the purveyors of the fragmented paradigm. It seemed for a short while — from the 1960s through the 1990s — that we were on target to recapture our wholeness visa vis the holistic health movement that seemed to be taking root. Holism taught that we must return to nature, not only by eating real foods in favor of processed and artificial ingredients, but also by understanding that the human body is best served when we regard it as a whole ecosystem that includes every cell of the body as well as the mind, spirit, and emotions. Holistic healthcare became very promising; it was the backlash to a fragmented worldview of healthcare that was not only not working for us, but actually making people worse off. But what went wrong?

Might makes right. Holism was killed, or at least mostly marginalized, by Big Money and Big Marketing. The manufacturers of drugs and of processed foods took over the holistic, natural health industry as an invasive species. They applied their fragmented paradigm and sold it to the consumer and the patient as being better, quicker, easier, more convenient, more potent, and scientifically more powerful than what nature could provide. We have been conditioned to believe that science is smarter, better, quicker, and more powerful than nature. The voices of old timers like Ewell Gibbons, Bernard Jensen, and Jack LaLane were drowned out by marketing messages purveying short cuts and better life through chemistry. The pioneers such as Henry Bieler, MD, who taught that food should be our first medicine, are now silent. In their place are media star physicians touting the latest fad in supplementation, whether it’s zeaxanthin, lutein, coQ10, or whey protein isolate — all fractions of foods without the wholeness or naturally occurring constituents.

To use an overused analogy, we know that if you put all the individualized, unassembled parts of even the best-made automobile into a big box you will not have a working automobile. Chemically speaking, these parts, all included, will have the same chemistry as a functional car. But, alas, the functionality lies not in the chemistry, but in the interconnection of the parts. The same is true of foods. You can consume all your vitamins, minerals, proteins, and flavonoids in their separate forms in something called a “multivitamin,” but these will not function synergistically as they would if they were still assembled as one entity that we call a whole food.

Scientists looking for more natural means of addressing health issues, and those working for pharmaceutical concerns, have conditioned us to believe that parts of foods — such as vitamins, flavonoids, minerals, etc. — are acceptable replacements for nature’s whole foods. A good part of the reason for this is that corporations can make a lot of money selling the fragments, but only grocery stores can make serious money selling the real foods. When we stop to realize that the supplement industry is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, we start to see where the problem lies.

A food is either whole or it is not.

A food is either whole or it is not. There is no such thing as a vitamin bush or a mineral tree. And, if you add a lot of isolated vitamins into a food, they will not be connected to the food’s inherent, natural nutrients. This would be analogous to tossing a new steering wheel onto the front seat of a car and expecting it to have functionality.

Foods contain interconnected, interdependent, and synergistic parts so that vitamin C in a supplement bottle is not the same as acerola cherry, camu camu, amla berries, or a lemon. Such whole foods contain not only vitamin C, but also an array of other nutrients that exist within a complex, including subfactors of vitamin C. The other ingredients have been called cofactors, or helper nutrients, and they exist in all whole foods grown in nature. What’s even more important is that, despite whether we are consciously aware of this truth, our bodies know the difference.

Wholeness is life

The idea of wholeness is ubiquitous. It explains the nature of reality, whether we are discussing food, human relationships, physics, biology, the human organism, life forms, or nature itself. Candace Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotion, proved this when she showed that cell receptors exist throughout the body and that every bodily system works as one unified system. She was ridiculed for her discovery that even memory is contained in all cells, not just in the brain. Time and experimentation proved that she was correct. Physicist David Bohm, PhD, wrote a book called Wholeness and the Implicate Order in which he discussed how the totality of existence is an unbroken whole. The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti spoke of how the mind itself is a fragmented entity and the only way to escape from one’s own psychological conditioning is to see the totality rather than the parts. Failure to do this results in a life full of internal and external conflict.

Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a sociologist and physician who conducts research in the area of biosocial science, investigating the biological predicates and consequences of social phenomena. Speaking about human social networks, he noted, “Our experience of the world depends upon the actual structure of the network in which we are residing and all the kinds of things that ripple through the network. This is because human beings form a kind of super organism that has properties that cannot be studied by just studying the individuals.”

Protein researchers Carl Pfeiffer, MD, and Eric Braverman, MD, noted that amino acids compete for absorption with others in the same group. For example, the aromatic amino acid group (tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylalamine) and can inhibit one another’s passage into the brain. This competition usually occurs among amino acids with similar structures. Amino acids in each group participate in the same or similar actions and perform the same or similar functions, while dissimilar amino acids are absorbed differently and perform different functions. Because amino acids compete, when you consume them in isolation you risk suffering side effects.

In my book Whole Nutrition I showed how nutrients within foods exist within complexes. These complexes formed naturally over millions of years so that they exist as one functional unit. The power and usefulness of a vitamin, therefore, is only as good as the rest of the cofactors that support it in the food complex. A vitamin pill is not a food.

Nutritional supplements are either whole or not

Here is the truth that most practitioners and vitamin sellers do not readily acknowledge: A vitamin is not a food, and there are only a couple of companies that produce whole food supplements. Thus, most supplements (which, by the way, are manufactured by large pharmaceutical corporations regardless of whether the end product is called “natural”) fall into the paradigm of pharmacology as noted at the outset of this article. There are four basic types of supplements on the market today:

1. So-called natural vitamins and multivitamins. Although labeled “natural,” the truth is that a vitamin, mineral or any other nutrient is no longer in its natural state once it has been removed from its original food complex;

2. Synthetic vitamins and multivitamins. These are simply manufactured by scientists in a laboratory; there is nothing natural about them.

3. Whole food-based supplements. The word BASED is crucial in this description, because “based” implies that there is something to the formula besides whole food. As such, most whole food supplements do not consist of whole foods, but rather mixtures of isolated (sometimes synthetic) nutrients along with foods. This, of course, means that the manufacturer does not have complete faith in nature’s whole foods, and finds it necessary to give it a boost by means of enrichment or standardization. There are some very prominent whole food based supplements that are grown in yeast solutions and treated with isolated vitamins in a soup fed to the plants.

4. Truly whole food supplements. These products are foods that are not standardized or infused with isolates, but merely real foods compressed into a tablet.

Read the labels.

By reading supplement labels, you can spot which parts of a supplement is a food and which is a synthetic or isolate. Examples of the latter include ascorbic acid vitamin C, mixed tocopherols, folic acid, vitamin A palmitate, niacinamide, ester C, thiamine, etc.

It’s the way life works.

Nutrition hinges on the interrelationships, balance and complexity inherent in nature’s whole foods. To break this concept down to its most basic argument: The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Teamwork yields greater results than a group of individuals who do not cooperate. And, fragmentation, whether pertaining to nutrition, atoms, societies, or the human mind, leads to conflict rather than harmony. This is how life works; it is fundamental to every discipline and relationship in the universe.

Why Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch is utterly depressing

Elon Musk is right: silly and fun things are important. But some of them are an indefensible waste of resources


Falcon Heavy, world’s most powerful rocket, successfully launches – video

On Wednesday, two things happened. In Syria, 80 people were killed by government airstrikes. Meanwhile in Florida, Elon Musk fired a sports car into space. Guess which story has dominated mainstream news sites?

The much-anticipated launch of Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful every launched by a private company, went off without a hitch. Musk successfully sent his cherry-red Tesla roadster hurtling toward Mars, launching what a CNN commentator called “a new space age”.

Musk expects the rocket and car to orbit the sun for hundreds of millions of years, though some experts have speculated that it will disintegrate within a year. The event attracted phenomenal publicity: at one point, 2.3 million viewers were watching the event’s livestream, making the rocket launch a masterstroke of advertising for Tesla.

Meanwhile, in Syria, where hundreds of thousands of refugees may be forced to return to unsafe homes amid “global anti-refugee backlash”, an anti-government activist said despondently that he is no longer sure why he bothers to videotape the effects of bombing, since nobody ever pays attention: “I don’t know what the point is.” The UN human rights coordinator for Syria pondered what level of violence it would take to make the world care, saying that they are “running out of words” with which to try to describe the crisis.

There is, perhaps, no better way to appreciate the tragedy of 21st-century global inequality than by watching a billionaire spend $90m launching a $100,000 car into the far reaches of the solar system.

Musk said he wants to participate in a space race because “races are exciting” and that while strapping his car to a rocket may be “silly and fun … silly and fun things are important.” Thus, anyone who mentions the colossal waste the project involves, or the various social uses to which these resources could be put, can be dismissed as a killjoy.

But one doesn’t have to hate fun to question the justification for pursuing a costly new space race at exactly this moment. If we examine the situation honestly, and get past our natural (and accurate) feeling that rockets are really cool, it becomes hard to defend a project like this.

A mission to Mars does indeed sound exciting, but it’s important to have our priorities straight. First, perhaps we could make it so that a child no longer dies of malaria every two minutes. Or we could try to address the level of poverty in Alabama that has become so extreme the UN investigator did not believe it could still occur in a first-world country. Perhaps once violence, poverty and disease are solved, then we can head for the stars.

Many might think that what Elon Musk chooses to do with his billions is Elon Musk’s business alone. If he wanted to spend all his money on medicine for children, that would be nice, but if he’d like to spend it making big explosions and sending his convertible on a million-mile space voyage, that’s his prerogative.

But Musk is only rich enough to afford these indulgent pet projects because we have allowed gross social inequalities to arise in the first place. If wealth were actually distributed fairly in this country, nobody would be in a position to fund his own private space program.

Yet even on the theory that there’s no moral problem with frittering away hundreds of millions of dollars, and inequality is fine, there’s another reason we are permitted to care about what Musk does. A great deal of his fortune is not actually his own: it’s ours.

Musk’s empire is fueled by billions of dollars in government subsidies. The Los Angeles Times revealed in 2015 that Musk’s companies benefit from “grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits”, plus the tax credits and rebates that are granted to consumers for buying his products.

The average household income of a Tesla purchaser is in the multiple hundreds of thousands, yet the federal government pays people $7,500 to buy them through tax credits, and many states offer their own cash handouts. Because we’re all giving Elon Musk money, what he chooses to do with that money is very much our business.

Elon Musk is right: silly and fun things are important. But some of them are an indefensible waste of resources. While there are still humanitarian crises such as that in Syria, nobody can justify vast spending on rocketry experiments. That point was made plain in 1970 by poet Gil Scott-Heron, in his record Whitey On The Moon, which criticized the US for spending millions to send men on a pointless moon adventure while the country’s inner cities languished:

“I can’t pay no doctor bills

But whitey’s on the moon

Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still

While whitey’s on the moon.”

Whitey may not have gone back to the moon recently. But his sports car is now in space.

Study Shows Kids are Born Creative Geniuses But the Education System Destroys Imagination

Dr. George Land and Beth Jarman were commissioned by NASA to help the space agency identify and develop creative talent. The two were tasked to research school children in an attempt to identify creative individuals from which the agency could pick to help with their many products. In a recent TED talk, Land described his team’s surprising findings on the education system which are nothing short of shocking.

It seems American schoolchildren lose their ability to think creatively over time. As students enter their educational journey, they retain most of their abilities to think creatively. In other words, children are born with creative genius. Employing a longitudinal study model, Land and Jarman studied 1,600 children at ages 5, 10, and 15.

Surprisingly, Land said they discovered if given a problem with which they had to come up with an imaginative, and innovative solution, 98 percent of 5-year-olds tested at the “genius” level. Simply put, their answers to how the problem should be solved were brilliant.

Upon entry into the school system, those numbers started to drop dramatically. When the team returned to test those same subjects at age 10, the percentage of genius-level imaginative and innovative thinkers fell to an unthinkable 30 percent. The indicators led the researchers to believe the current educational system is to blame. Not only did 68 percent of those students lose their ability to think with imagination and innovation, the thought that only 30 percent could still do is unfathomable.

The downward spiral continued to be demonstrated at age 15. When the researchers returned, the percentage of genius-level students had dropped to an abysmal 12 percent. Gasps could be heard all around the room as the audience attempted to process how such a brilliant group of students could sink so low in their imaginations and ability to solve problems with innovation.

Land blames the Industrial Revolution and its burgeoning factories for the demise of creativity. During that era, Land said the natural approach to teaching and learning led educators to develop “factories for human beings, too, called ‘schools’ so we could manufacture people that could work well in the factories.”

From a qualitative perspective, teachers point to governmental intrusion into the dumbing down of the nation’s school children. Starting with the development of the Department of Education, the federal government’s handprint is all over some of the worst decisions regarding public policy and education.

From the Clinton Administration’s mandated federal testing guidelines, to Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, to the disastrous Obama Administration’s Common Core Curriculum, teachers everywhere have complained they’re not teaching any longer. They’re simply instructing students to achieve the minimum educational requirements necessary for them to pass a standardized exam.

Predictably, during those administration’s attempts to force a model of education upon the nation, the homeschool movement has flourished. Parents were forced to come to the conclusion their local public school was failing to provide an education sufficient for their children to be able to attend college.

As a result, Land’s team was not surprised to find only 2 percent of adults (Age 31) still retain their ability to think imaginatively, with creativity and innovation. He said:

Look, folks, if we’re going to enter the future with hope, that’s not going to do it. We have to do something about it.

Land says people can actually get back to thinking creatively with imagination if they will get rid of stinking thinking. He urges listeners to get rid of three aspects of education: judgment, criticism, and censorship.

When students come up with a brilliant idea they’re met with constant criticism, therefore they become conditioned to think like the masses, instead of coming up with an accepted alternative solution.

“Find the 5-year-old,” in yourself, Land implores. He says it has “never gone away” and can be accessed at any moment. Land said “So, The Great Designer said, ‘I’m gonna put that mechanism in so they exercise it every day in case they ever need an idea.’ You’ve got that capability, absolutely!”

But Land says we only exercise that genius part of our brains when we’re dreaming. So dream big! Dream often. And don’t let naysayers rain on your imagination.

Using brain scan imaging, Land demonstrated how the brain is practically useless when it’s afraid. In contrast, the human brain is exceedingly active when it’s imagining.

Without specifically criticizing the educational system, Land addressed the major problem with teaching students to get the “right answer.” He says, instead, students should imagine many possibilities to achieve innovation and problem-solving.

According to Land, in order for industry to survive, it must be continually innovating, and adapting to change, expecting the landscapes to evolve, and evolve with it. Instead of becoming fixated on one right solution, come up with 30-40 imaginative ones to become innovative.

Jack Burns is an educator, journalist, investigative reporter, and advocate of natural medicine.

The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio review – why feelings are the unstoppable force

What the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks, a neuroscientist argues. Turn to emotions to explain human consciousness and cultures
Skin trade: Homeostasis, 2005-2006, by Liza Lou. Homeostasis is the key word throughout the book.

Nietzsche would have given four cheers for this intricately argued book, which is at once scientifically rigorous and humanely accommodating, and, so far as this reviewer can judge, revolutionary. Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, sets out to investigate “why and how we emote, feel, use feelings to construct our selves … and how brains interact with the body to support such functions”. We are not floating seraphim, he reminds us, but bodies that think – and all the better for it.

From Plato onwards, western philosophy has favoured mind over “mere” body, so that by the time we get to Descartes, the human has become hardly more than a brain stuck atop a stick, like a child’s hobbyhorse. This is the conception of humanness that Damasio wishes to dismantle. For him, as for Nietzsche, what the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks, and further, both functions are inextricably intertwined. Indeed, from the very start, among the earliest primitive life forms, affect – “the world of emotions and feelings” – was the force that drove unstoppably towards the flowering of human consciousness and the creation of cultures, Damasio insists.

The idea on which he bases his book is, he tells us, simple: “Feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavours.” In claiming simplicity, it is possible the author is being a mite disingenuous. The tone in which he sets out his argument is so carefully judged, so stylistically calm and scientifically collected, that most readers will be lulled into nodding agreement. Yet a moment’s thought will tell us that we conduct our lives largely in contradiction of his premise, and for the most part deal with each other, and even with ourselves, as if we were pure spirit accidentally and inconveniently shackled to half a hundredweight or so of forked flesh.

“Feelings, and more generally affect of any sort and strength,” Damasio writes, “are the unrecognised presences at the cultural conference table.” According to him, the conference began among the bacteria, which – who? – even in their “unminded existence … assume what can only be called a sort of ‘moral attitude’”. In support of his claim, he adduces the various ways in which bacteria behave that bear a striking resemblance to human social organisation. The implication is, then, that “the human unconscious literally goes back to early life-forms, deeper and further than Freud or Jung ever dreamed of”. Damasio’s argument is that we are directly descended not only from the apes, but from the earliest wrigglers at the bottom of the primordial rock pool.

Antonio Damasio … wholly his own man.

The keyword throughout the book is homeostasis, of which he offers a number of definitions, the clearest of which is the earliest, and which he favours enough to set it in italics: homeostasis is the force – the word seems justified – that ensures that “life is regulated within a range that is not just compatible with survival but also conducive to flourishing, to a projection of life into the future of an organism or a species”.

Damasio, whose books include The Feeling of What Happens and Self Comes to Mind, is a scientist but also a convinced, one might say a crusading, humanist. He wants us to recognise the richness of life in all its aspects, good or bad; but he is no sentimentalist. The human condition is one of struggle and assertion and the will to prevail: “Life comes equipped with a precise mandate: resist and project life into the future, no matter what.” Here again the shadow, or the radiance, of Nietzsche’s thinking falls across the page.

Also called to the table is Spinoza – on whom Damasio has written at length – and his emphasis on conatus, the essential force by which all things strive to persevere, and which had for Spinoza the same significance that homeostasis has for Damasio.

There are echoes here too of William James, that most endearing of philosophers, as when Damasio pauses for a brief, Jamesian consideration of the anomalous fact that for all the hi-tech sophistication of modern life, we still cling to the primitive pleasure and reassurance of the domestic fireplace. And James would have been delighted by Damasio’s “everydayness”, his readiness to acknowledge the fundamental underpinnings of even our highest endeavours, for instance when he remarks in wonderment: “It is intriguing to think that the enteric nervous system” – that is, the gut – “might well have been the very first brain.”

But Damasio, while ever ready to salute his predecessors and peers, is wholly his own man, and The Strange Order of Things is a fresh and daring effort to identify the true spring and source of human being – of the being, in fact, of all living things – namely feeling. As he beautifully puts it, “The sick patient, the abandoned lover, the wounded warrior, and the troubadour in love were able to feel.” The truth of this is simple and profound; how else may we be said to live, except by feeling?

The Next 25 Years of WIRED Start Today

In the first issue of WIRED, published 25 years ago this year, founding editor Louis Rossetto declared that “in the age of information overload, THE ULTIMATE LUXURY IS MEANING AND CONTEXT.” (Caps his.) If anything, that simple observation rings even truer today. That’s why WIRED has always valued depth. We dig deep into our subjects, reveling in wonky engineering details that other publications skip. We think deep thoughts about the future. And we form deep relationships with our audience—connecting them to a community of ideas and encouraging them to think harder about the future they want to inhabit.

For most of our history our business model, primarily built on advertising, rewarded that depth. Advertisers are eager to connect with our sophisticated audience, and WIRED remains the best way to reach them. But in recent years, that industry has proven fickle and tumultuous, and a too-slender reed upon which to hang our entire business.

That’s why today we are launching a paywall—a business that rewards our connection to our audience and will help us keep WIRED a home for unique, surprising, challenging, and sophisticated journalism for the next quarter-century and beyond.

Careful readers may note here that, as the voice of the digital revolution, we have hewed to Stewart Brand’s famous notion that “information wants to be free,” a declaration that some have interpreted to mean that nobody should ever pay for digital content. But read the rest of Brand’s statement: “On the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it is so valuable,” he told Steve Wozniak in 1984. “The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.” That tension persists today. Even as information has become cheap or free to distribute, we believe that quality information—built on great reporting, vivid writing, and illuminating insight—remains valuable.

By subscribing to WIRED, you can help us continue our legacy of fresh insights, deep reporting, stunning design, and beautiful writing. The details are here, but in a nutshell: If you read four articles in a month, you will be invited to subscribe to read further. If you subscribe, you not only get unlimited access to and a print subscription, you’ll also receive a free YubiKey—a crucial tool for protecting yourself online. You’ll get access to a digital edition of our magazine, delivered fresh to your tablet every month. And when you visit us online, we’ll take out the ads.

But the real benefit of your subscription is that you’ll ensure that we can continue producing great stories and content. To that end, we want to announce three new programs we’re launching with the paywall. First, we’re happy to introduce the all-new Backchannel—a home for our most ambitious digital long-form journalism. Our long features are routinely the most popular on our site, and that’s why we are building a special home for them—and doubling our investment in producing them.

Next, we’d like to unveil our new Ideas section. WIRED has always prided itself on what we call mind grenades—expansive, surprising ideas that change the way the world thinks. We are now dedicating a section of our website to publishing the biggest ideas from the most exciting thinkers in the world—including MIT MediaLab head Joi Ito, Magic and Loss author Virginia Heffernan, Big Chicken author Maryn McKenna, and Jason Pontin, the former editor of MIT Technology Review.

Finally, we are unleashing an entirely new kind of story—WIRED Guides. These are definitive, authoritative guides to the most important subjects in the WIRED world. Need an update on the state of drone technology? Don’t know the difference between supervised and unsupervised artificial intelligence? Want to finally understand how the blockchain works? WIRED Guides have you covered, with enlightening essays and links to great stories from WIRED’s unparalleled archives.

For a quarter-century, WIRED has watched as the internet has rewritten everything about journalism and media—who creates it, what we expect from it, and how we support it. And yet, at heart, Louis’ central observation in our launch issue is as true today as it was 25 years ago—when mere information is cheap and plentiful, context and meaning are more valuable than ever. The paywall refocuses our business around that simple truth.

Stem Cell Therapy for Concussions: Is It for Real?

‘We haven’t even begun to study this’

Earlier this week, MedPage Today received an email from someone representing plastic surgeon Joel Singer, MD, of Park Avenue Stem Cell in New York City. According to the email, Singer is “treating unnamed NFL players for brain injuries that came as a result of repeated concussions.” The email went on to suggest that Singer uses autologous fat-derived mesenchymal stem cells for these procedures. Singer’s website also invites athletes to “learn about the benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for the treatment of Concussions and other medical conditions.”

This being an application of stem cell therapy we had not heard of before, we asked Michael De Georgia, MD, a neurologist and critical care specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, for his views on such treatments for brain injuries. In this video, he explains that stem cell treatments have shown promise in early studies for certain conditions, but there is currently no evidence that stem cell infusions have any benefit in the context of concussion.

Following is a transcript of De Georgia’s remarks:

Well, there’s obviously a lot of optimism about stem cells in the treatment of brain injury, including ischemic stroke and traumatic brain injury, mainly because of its pluripotential nature. There have been hundreds of preclinical animal studies showing in general the beneficial effects of stem cells, including the reduction of infarct volume.

But the translation of those preclinical studies to a reliable and consistent therapy that improves the outcomes has been more challenging. There have been a handful of randomized trials, none of which have really panned out, even for ischemic stroke. There has been a little more research done in ischemic heart disease. There have been dozens of randomized trials, some of which have shown a benefit in terms of heart function. But even in those two conditions of ischemic heart disease and ischemic stroke, there have not been any large, randomized, double-blind controlled trials that have shown that consistent benefit. For concussions, there have been especially no clinical trials for this. While there is reason to believe that stem cell therapy may be beneficial, I think it’s way too early to jump to the conclusion that it is beneficial for patients.

Most of the research [on therapies in general] has focused on traumatic brain injury, again, in terms of animals models and clinical trials. There is a whole range of studies, mainly clinical studies, looking at how to diagnose concussions and how to translate some of what we know about traumatic brain injury, more serious traumatic brain injury, into more minor brain injuries like concussions. But to date, there is not a foolproof, simple treatment for concussion, other than rest, which is what we advise our patients.

As a physician scientist, we’re always open to new ideas and to looking at different ways of using innovative therapies. Having said that, we need to be very cautious about claims and promises to patients who may be under the assumption or the belief that this therapy has been showed to be effective, and it hasn’t. So as long as studies are being done in a carefully controlled way, under an institutional review board (IRB), ethically approved way, then I think this type of stem cell research is fine and appropriate. What we need to be careful about is the application of these non-proven therapies to patients under the guise of a proven therapy, which it is not yet.

I think that we’re all open to new ideas and innovative therapies, but we’re not quite there yet in terms of the science to advocate stem cell therapy really for anything yet. We’re probably closest for ischemic heart disease. For ischemic stroke, we’re not quite there yet. For traumatic brain injury, we’re not there yet. For concussions, all bets are off. We haven’t even begun to study this, really.

Building a shared future in a fractured world starts with education and health

It’s that week again. When the world’s corporate and political leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum.

This year, the theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” captures a vital and challenging task. We only have one planet, so military conflict, economic crises, poverty, and climate change are everybody’s business.

We have both been involved in the running of large countries, as prime minister of Australia and as health and foreign minister of Ethiopia, respectively. Our two nations are very different in many respects, but we have both seen firsthand that what creates a shared future for a nation is to invest in its people. If you provide everyone with affordable health care and education, then you drive up economic growth and drive down inequity and poverty. In doing so, the damaging political and economic fractures in a society are reduced.

Both of us have left our governments to lead global efforts to invest in health and education because we strongly believe that such investments are essential to solving the enormous challenges the world is facing over the coming years.

Investing in education and health is not charity. If we did not know this already, a report released by the advocacy group Global Citizen and the bank Credit Suisse at Davos reminds us of two vital statistics. First, if all children were to leave school with the ability to read, there would be a 12 percent decrease in global poverty levels. Second, according to the Education Commission’s 2016 Learning Generation report, a dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, generates earnings of $10 in low-income countries and nearly $4 in lower-middle income countries. For every $1 allocated to childhood immunizations, there is a $44 net return rate on investment. And the world’s top economists estimate that every $1 spent on health yields up to $20 in full-income growth within a generation.

 The costs associated with inaction are as devastating as this return on investment is impressive. If anyone doubts that we stand to lose a great deal financially if we do not invest in global health security, just think back to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. The U.S. National Academy of Medicine estimates that “the annualized expected loss from potential pandemics is more than $60 billion,” compared to the costs of preparedness of around $4.5 billion. Yet, the World Health Organization’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies, which many countries rely on to contain deadly disease outbreaks, is woefully underfunded.
Even more troubling is that half the world’s people don’t have access to essential health services, and almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year because of out-of-pocket health spending.

Investing in prevention is also why health and global education, particularly the education of girls and children with disabilities, must be prioritized on the global agenda. Neglected tropical diseases can cause preventable blindness and disabilities that hold people back. Girls and children with disabilities are often the most marginalized and face additional barriers to accessing health care and well-being, to participating in schooling, and to fulfilling their full potential. The cost of not educating all of our children and youth and harnessing their potential is simply too great. We need to focus on education — not “sometime in the future,” but right now. Indeed, without radical progress, by 2030 over 825 million young people will not have the basic secondary school skills needed to get a job.

In today’s world, the large majority of countries can actually afford to provide universal health coverage and universal access to quality education. It’s less a question of economics than of political will. For the few low-income or conflict-affected countries that can’t finance health and education from their own coffers, donor funding from multilateral organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and MalariaGavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Partnership for Education can help to strengthen health and education systems.

Bridging the financing gap starts with donors stepping up and supporting GPE’s Financing Conference this February to help reach over 800 million children in 89 countries by 2020 or with the anticipated launch of the new African Leaders Malaria Alliance scorecard on NTDs at next week’s African Union Summit. We trust that engaged leaders know that investing in areas such as health and education is not just the right thing to do; it is also the most practical, resulting in more stable, prosperous societies and economies.

 Innovation is also key to this cycle, and we are pleased to see this is a core focus in the Credit Suisse report. As those in extreme poverty generally live in the most remote, vulnerable communities, progress will require new efforts to reach them. We need to mobilize new technologies and forms of capital to support the most marginalized, especially women and those with disabilities. We also need to remove discriminatory practices that prevent all individuals from unleashing their full talents and invest in their education, economic empowerment, and health.

Changes of mindset, real commitment, and action are needed. With the necessary political will, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible, whether it is eradicating a disease such as polio or ensuring that every child has a good, basic education to prepare for a rich, meaningful, healthy life.