Posts tagged with "Futurism"

Experts say killer whales are teaching each other to attack boats

May 29, 2023

OrcasThey are nothing, if not organized. A sharp uptick in killer whale attacks on boats sailing off Europe’s Iberian Peninsula has led scientists to believe that orcas are actually teaching each other how to sink sailing vessels, Live Science reports.

Per Live Science, reports of increasingly aggressive encounters with orcas started back in 2020. But it wasn’t until this month that any of these increasingly hostile orcas had actually sunken any ocean-faring vessels.

And, while researchers can’t say for certain why the killer whales are suddenly sinking sailboats, according to a report by Futurism, they do have a compelling leading theory: revenge.

In short, as Alfredo López Fernandez, a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal and representative of the Grupo de Trabajo Orca Atlántica (Atlantic Orca Working Group), recently told Live Science, the prevailing theory is that one female orca nicknamed White Gladis—was traumatized by a sailboat. This “critical moment of agony,” as researchers are calling it, caused a behavioral change in White Gladis, who began to attack similar vessels.

“That traumatized orca,” López Fernandez says, “is the one that started this behavior of physical contact with the boat.”

As the theory goes, other adult orcas picked up on this behavior—becoming more aggressive with boats themselves. And now, the kids of those adults have seemingly picked up the behavior, too. At this point, according to López Fernandez, sinking sailboats is really just good ol’ family fun.

“We do not interpret that the orcas are teaching the young,” the researcher says, “although the behavior has spread to the young vertically, simply by imitation, and later horizontally among them, because they consider it something important in their lives.”

Testimony from sailors certainly seem to support this theory.

“There were two smaller and one larger orca,” skipper Werner Schaufelberger, whose boat was sunk by orcas on May 4 in the Strait of Gibraltar, told the German outlet, Yacht. “The little ones shook the rudder at the back while the big one repeatedly backed up and rammed the ship with full force from the side.”

“The two little orcas observed the bigger one’s technique,” Schaufelberger added, “with a slight run-up, they too slammed into the boat.”

The orcas reportedly are attacking a relatively small number of vessels passing through the area. But, if the situation escalates, it could be dangerous for sailors and orcas. Here’s hoping that chaotic legend White Gladis chooses peace soon.

Research contact: @futurism

Billionaire Peter Thiel says he’s freezing his body after death, just in case

May 10, 2023

Billionaire tech entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel says he’s freezing his body when he dies—if only as a moment of anti-death activism, reports Futurism.

Thiel explained his “just in case” cryonics aspirations to journalist and former Twitter filer Bari Weiss on Weiss’ podcast, Honestly, in a lengthy podcast episode published last week.

“I think of it more as an ideological statement,” Thiel told Weiss, as quoted by Fortune Magazine. “I don’t necessarily expect it to work,” he continued, “but I think it’s the sort of thing we’re supposed to try to do.”

In other words: Cryogenics might not ultimately work, but as one of the most vocal leaders on the immortality-seeking technological crusade, he’s duty-bound to freeze his ol’ bag o’ bones nonetheless. Gotta walk the walk if you talk the talk.

As for where he’s seeking to freeze himself, Thiel told Weiss that he’s eyeing the nonprofit Alcor Life Extension Foundationthe prominent cryo firm that back in 2009 was accused of both accidentally decapitating and accidentally freezing what appeared to be a can of tuna to the icy head of baseball great Ted Williams.

Thiel’s cryo plans aren’t all that surprising, as the billionaire’s enthusiasm for immortality tech has been widely documented. Along with making some notable investments into immortality tech firms, Thiel was famously accused of seeking blood infusions from young donors. And back in 2014, the venture capitalist took anti-aging to a whole new level when he declared to The Telegraph that he was “against” the concept of mortality.

“People have a choice to accept death, deny it or fight it,” Thiel told The Telegraph. “I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.”

Thiel reiterated a version of that 2014 argument in his recent conversation with Weiss, saying that we should at least understand why humans are doomed to toil away in our mortal meat suits.

“We haven’t even tried,” he lamented. “We should either conquer death or at least figure out why it’s impossible.”

Of course, the answer to that latter point may well be answered by simple biology. And to that end, immortality-seeking cryo has been decried by some experts as something along the lines of a pseudoscientific Hail Mary.

Regardless, whether Thiel’s anti-death investments will one day pay off remains to be seen. But even if he’s ultimately unable to attain immortality, at least he’ll die trying.

Research contact: @futurism

Scientists discover a leak in the bottom of the ocean

April 27, 2023

A hole in the bottom of the sea? It’s a cute song and, apparently, also a geological reality, reports Futurism.

Fascinatingly, the hole is leaking water up into the ocean—not down into the earth below. In a press release, researchers at the University of Washington said that the seabed hole off the coast of Oregon is located on top of the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault, and the fact that it’s leaking may not be a great omen for earthquake activity in the region.

Named “Pythias’ Oasis” after an oracle who hallucinated prophecies while sitting on a hot spring, this low-salinity, mineral-rich spring located on the Pacific Northwest seafloor has fascinated scientists since it was discovered back in 2015.

Now the school’s new research, published earlier this year in the journal, Science Advances, suggests that the almost-fresh water leaking out of it may be a sort of tectonic lubricant—and without it, the plate on which it sits could be in danger of shifting in a big, bad way.

While on an unrelated trip out near the strange spring, which is about 50 miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, researchers discovered something odd on their sonar: “unexpected plumes of bubbles about three-quarters of a mile beneath the ocean’s surface,” the press release notes.

Using a seafloor-exploring robot, the UW team learned that the bubbles “were just a minor component of warm, chemically distinct fluid gushing from the seafloor sediment.”

“They explored in that direction and what they saw was not just methane bubbles, but water coming out of the seafloor like a firehose,” Evan Solomon, a UW associate professor of Oceanography and seafloor geology specialist, said in the school’s statement. “That’s something that I’ve never seen, and to my knowledge has not been observed before.”

Later expeditions to the spring, which was first discovered by UW oceanography graduate and current White House Policy Adviser Brendan Philip, revealed to the researchers that the strange fluid shooting out of the spring is warmer than the water surrounding it by 16 degrees Fahrenheit, and per the team’s calculations, this suggests that “the fluid is coming straight from the Cascadia megathrust, where temperatures are an estimated 150 to 250 degrees Celsius (300 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit).”

“Loss of fluid from the offshore megathrust interface through these strike-slip faults is important,” the statement notes, “because it lowers the fluid pressure between the sediment particles and hence increases the friction between the oceanic and continental plates.”

Using an interesting metaphor, Solomon said that the “megathrust fault zone is like an air hockey table,” and, “if the fluid pressure is high, it’s like the air is turned on, meaning there’s less friction and the two plates can slip.”

“If the fluid pressure is lower, the two plates will lock,” he continued. “That’s when stress can build up.”

According to the researchers, this is the first known seafloor leak of its kind, although others could exist nearby without having been detected yet.

All told, it’s both a fascinating look into the operations of plate tectonics—which, the statement notes, is still a relatively new field of study—and a scary reminder of the kinds of natural disasters we may see in the future.

Research contact: @futurism

The FTC is readying a crackdown on online therapy provider BetterHelp

March 28, 2023

The Federal Trade Commission is making moves to bar the controversial online therapy company, BetterHelp, from sharing private mental health information with advertisers, reports Futurism.

In a new filing, the FTC has announced that it is moving to ban BetterHelp, a subsidiary of the telehealth company Teladoc, from sharing consumers’ mental health information with Big Tech companies like Facebook and Snapchat “after promising to keep such data private.”

“The proposed order also requires the company to pay $7.8 million to consumers to settle charges that it revealed consumers’ sensitive data with third parties,” the filing reads.

In a tweet thread explaining the move, FTC Chair Lina Khan said that the settlement “will be returned to the victims of BetterHelp’s deceptive practices”—a bold statement regarding the use of information by the company that made a cool billion dollars last year for its online therapy app.

“When a person struggling with mental health issues reaches out for help, they do so in a moment of vulnerability and with an expectation that professional counseling services will protect their privacy,” Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the agency’s statement about the order. “Instead, BetterHelp betrayed consumers’ most personal health information for profit.”

In recent years, BetterHelp and competitors like Talkspace have come under scrutiny from the psychiatric community due to their opaque professionalism standards, which make it hard to tell whether the mental health professionals that people are connected to through the service are actually qualified.

Last year, a jarring example of this concern came to light when a gay BetterHelp patient said that he was linked with a homophobic Christian therapist who told him his sexuality was wrong—a debacle that, unsurprisingly, left the man traumatized.

With this new FTC bombshell, companies like BetterHelp now have even more to answer for and, as Levine said in the statement, the order will, if approved, “be a stout reminder that the FTC will prioritize defending Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation.”

Research contact: @futurism

Former biotech CEO arrested for implanting phony medical devices in patients

March 14, 2023

New bad guy alert: According to an FBI indictment, Laura Perryman, the former CEO of a health-tech company called Stimwave, was arrested on Thursday, March 9, in connection with a scheme to create and sell a non-functioning dummy medical device for implantation into patients suffering from chronic pain,” Futurism reports—accusations that Perryman’s lawyer has since denied.

In other words, the FBI is alleging that Florida-based Perryman knowingly created and sold fake medical implants that were entirely made out of plastic to medical systems and their patients, under the guise that the devices would be able to ease chronic pain.

The news comes after Stimwave filed for bankruptcy last year, and has previously agreed to pay $10 million over a related whistleblower lawsuit, Reuters reports.

Perryman and Stimwave—which, according to Engadget, received FDA approval for an early version of its implant back in 2014—actually sold two different rodlike implants, which they claimed could alleviate pain by way of electrical signaling (no addictive painkillers supposedly required).

“From the patient perspective, they definitely want pain-relief alternatives that are not opioids,” Perryman told Engadget in an interview back in 2017, “but taking the leap from opioid to surgery and a tiny battery inside your body sounds daunting.”

Perryman’s firm even had some big-name celebrity sponsors, notably football Hall of Famer Joe Montana.

“If this [were] another major surgical process, I probably would’ve said no,” Montana told CBS—which did a whole segment documenting Montana’s experience undergoing the “state of the art” procedure—in 2019. “But I really think this is going to be the answer to my knee and I’m looking forward to an hour or two from now when I get done.”

Montana added, “It’s just like anything. What’s good for me is not always what’s good for you, right? Everyone should do their own research on it. But I wouldn’t be doing this and moving forward with it if I didn’t believe it wasn’t something that could help people.”

But as Vice explains, their first product—a nine-inch-long, computer-chip-embedded device dubbed the “Pink Stylet”—was often too large for doctors to comfortably implant into some patients. But rather than turn down any potential sales, the FBI alleges that Perryman and Stimwave instead came out with the “White Stylet that they claimed was just a smaller and more comfortable— but equally as effective—version.

It’s unclear which version of the device Montana received—which, as it turns out, could’ve made a huge difference.

Because the White Stylet was nothing more than a piece of plastic, according to the FBI’s indictment. No computer chip, no electrical signaling. Just plastic.

And they weren’t cheap, either: According to the FBI, Perryman and Stimwave sold the phony plastic tubes at over $16,000 a pop.

“As alleged, at the direction of its founder and CEO Laura Perryman, Stimwave created a dummy medical device component — made entirely of plastic — designed to be implanted in patients for the sole purpose of causing doctors to unwittingly bill Medicare and private insurance companies more than $16,000 for each implantation of the piece of plastic,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the indictment.

“The defendant and Stimwave did this,” he added, “so that they could charge medical providers many thousands of dollars for purchasing their medical device.”

Meanwhile, Perryman’s lawyer Jared Dwyer of Greenberg Traurig called the allegations “wrong, starting with the description of the neurostimulator that Laura invented” in a statement to Futurism.

“Every piece of that system had a function and was necessary depending on the patient’s needs,” he added. “And, at the end of the day, the components that were used were up to the doctors. This is a case about a company looking for a quick way out that decided to scapegoat the founder.”

Per the indictment, Perryman has officially been charged with “one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and healthcare fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of health care fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of ten years in prison.”

As the FBI notes in the indictment, these are still only accusations, and Perryman has yet to go to trial.

“Laura looks forwarded to addressing these allegations in court,” Dwyer told Futurism.

But given the evidence, things aren’t looking great for her. Besides, you involve Joe Montana in your scam, and you involve the fury of the American public.

“Our Office will continue to do everything in its power to bring to justice anyone responsible for perpetuating health care fraud,” said Williams, “which in this case led to patients being used as nothing more than tools for financial enrichment.”

Research contact: @futurism

Two peas from different pods: Your doppelganger may have strikingly similar genes and habits

March 8, 2023

You’ve heard stories about twins separated at birth who unwittingly go on to live similar lives—but what about doppelgangers who aren’t closely related by blood, but just look incredibly alike? Do you have one, and just how similar is he or she, beyond just looking like you?

A one-two punch of a fascinating photography project and a follow-up scientific study tackles these very questions, reports Futurism.

The photos, by Canadian photographer François Brunelle, convincingly capture the uncanny resemblance of doppelganagers. Have a peek at these lookalikes—who, we should clarify again, are unrelated.

Brunelle’s photos caught the eye of geneticist Manel Esteller at the Leukemia Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain. Together, they tracked down 32 pairs of lookalikes whom Brunelle then photographed. Esteller got their DNA samples and, with a team of researchers, put their photos through three different facial recognition algorithms to determine which pairs were the most similar, narrowing it down to 16.

The findings, published in the journal, Cell Reports: Those 16 doppelganger pairs had much more similar DNA than the remaining pairs who weren’t considered as visually similar by the algorithms.

But that’s not all. Beyond just being lookalikes, the study found that the doppelgangers also tended to act alike—at least in the sense that they had similar education and smoking habits. Height and weight, too, were close between pairs.

“These people really look alike because they share important parts of the genome, or the DNA sequence,” Esteller told The New York Times.

While it may seem like common sense that people who look alike share more similar genes than those who don’t, Esteller says it had “never been shown”—until now.

It’s a more complicated question than it seems, and involves the bafflingly complex world of epigenetics, or how genes express themselves. The expression of genes plays a sizable role in how you look, and can be affected by environmental factors in a person’s upbringing—or even, some scientists now believe, by hisor her ancestors’ experiences.

Just how much of a role is hard to quantify, but the findings of the study seem to show that the genomes themselves, rather than the expression of the contained genes therein, plays the larger role.

“Thus, nature is very strong, but nurture tunes up the genome a little bit,” Esteller said to Gizmodo.

Logically, it comes down to sheer numbers. With billions of people in the world, there’s bound to be someone out there by pure chance that looks like you, right?

Strongly linking DNA to appearances and behavior could obviously have some useful medical implications—like using physical indicators to assess a patient’s risk of disease—but it could just as easily have some damaging ones too, bordering on detestable practices like eugenics and phrenology.

Still, it’s no doubt an intriguing revelation — just one that needs to be approached with caution.

Research contact: @futurism

Users assumed AI was decoding their personalities, but it only gave random feedback

February 14, 2023

Myers-Briggs. Astrology. BuzzFeed quizzes that tell you what kind of bread you are, according to your favorite Twilight quote. Based on their abundance alone, it’s safe to say that people—whether they’re seeking to self-categorize as a means of self-discovery, or simply as a way to quell some existential dread—really, really love a personality test, reports Futurism.

And sure, feeling aligned with a personality test is usually pretty harmless. But according to a new study published in the journal, Consciousness and Cognition, our willingness to believe existential personality label-makers may have serious implications for the ongoing rise of both brain-computer interfaces and artificial intelligence (AI).

To test how effectively they could trick individuals into identifying with a BS personality subscription, an international team of Canadian and Swedish researchers used social media—where astrology, pop psychology, and other personality-ascribing systems are prevalent—to recruit 62 participants, who were under the impression that they were testing a new type of neurotech that, according to the study, “could accurately read their thoughts and attitudes.

“To begin our hoax scenario, we intended to build participants’ trust in the machine by pretending that it could decode their preferences and attitudes,” the study authors wrote. “The system included a sham MRI scanner and an EEG system, that supposedly used neural decoding driven by artificial intelligence.”

Per the research, the fake system was relatively elaborate, with the procedure featuring “three main phases: basic brain reading, human error detection, and attitude feedback.”

During each phony “phase,” each participant was asked to evaluate how much they agreed with various personality and opinion-related prompts. The fake system, meanwhile, falsely worked to “accurately decode” answers that they held “unconsciously in their brain and can be decoded from neural activity.”

In other words, participants were made to believe that using advanced neuroscience, the machine could tell them what they thought, not just how they thought. And according to the study, participants ate the results right up, convinced that the machine knew them better than they knew themselves.

“As the machine seemingly inferred participants’ preferences and attitudes, many expressed amazement by laughing or calling it ‘cool’ or ‘interesting.’ For example, one asked, ‘Whoa, the machine inferred this? … Oh my god how do you do that? Can we do more of these?’

“None of the participants,” they continued, “voiced any suspicion about the mind-reading abilities of the machine throughout the study.”

While the researchers did note a few caveats to their work, the fact that no one voiced any suspicion about the machine’s efficacy—how it worked, if it was really capable of reading minds—is indeed spooky. It certainly says something about the willingness of humans to be categorized, particularly by a force outside of themselves. But perhaps to an even greater degree, it says a lot about how much faith people put in algorithms and machines, especially when you consider that a great deal of the “preferences” and “attitudes” that the researchers’ machine presented were prickly political outlooks.

“In sum, we believe that our admittedly uncommon and elaborate paradigm may help produce realistic reactions to future neurotechnologies,” the authors concluded—warning of the potential implications of what such a machine might be capable of in the future. “This paradigm offers promise in emulating these neurotechnologies to better understand and prepare for their eventual consequences.”

Research contact: @futurism

Startup backed by ‘Jurassic World’ producer to revive extinct dodo using complete genome

February 2, 2023

The flightless bird known as the dodo has been missing since the late 17th century, when humans hunted them into extinction—but that’s not stopping the biotech startup Colossal Biosciences from trying to bring it back from the dead, reports Futurism.

A self-branded “de-extinction” company, Colossal already has made headlines— vaunting its ambitious plans of reviving other animals, including the wooly mammoth and the tasmanian tiger.

Now, Bloomberg was first to report, Colossal is armed with a boatload of additional money, bagging another $150 million in investor backing, bringing the total to $225 million since 2021.

And even more tantalizingly, according to lead paleogeneticist Beth Shapiro, Colossal is now the sole possessor of a complete dodo genome, sequenced from a DNA sample that was extracted from preserved remains in Denmark.

Shapiro says that the company isn’t bringing the dodo back on a whim, of course, but to find methods to combat the ongoing extinction crisis that is, bluntly put, very, very grim.

“We’re clearly in the middle of an extinction crisis,” Shapiro said, as quoted by CNN. “And it’s our responsibility to bring stories and to bring excitement to people in [a] way that motivates them to think about the extinction crisis that’s going on right now.”

Actually resurrecting the dodo, even with a complete genome, will be extremely challenging, and some would argue impossible. At best, the result would be the closest possible proxy—a hybrid that’s slightly altered—and not a wholly original dodo.

And anyone that’s watched the blockbuster 1993 movie, Jurassic Park, could tell you that this might be a bad idea, or at least one that should be approached with extreme caution.

That isn’t deterring investor Thomas Tull, though, whose United States Innovative Technology Fund has been among Colossal’s biggest backers (in full disclosure, the managing partner of Futurism’s parent company, North Equity, is an investor in Colossal, although neither was involved in this story in any way.)

Strikingly, Tull also produced the sans-Spielberg 2015 sequel, Jurassic World, an installment in a franchise that warns that resurrecting long-extinct creatures is not a great idea.

Then again, dodos aren’t anywhere near as ferocious as velociraptors or the mighty T-Rex; but the impact of any creature introduced (or reintroduced) into a new ecosystem and food chain—no matter how feeble or fearsome—is difficult to foresee.

“When you’re doing big things like this, who knows what you’re going to discover along the way,” Tull said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Hopefully we won’t be discovering the hard way that, in Jeff Goldblum’s iconic words, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Research contact: @futurism

Erectile disfunction pills may be linked to reduced risk of heart attack, scientists say

January 20, 2023

Good news for dudes. Taking erectile dysfunction drugs may not just help you get your mojo back—it may, per a new study, be linked to lowered risk of heart problems, too, reports Futurism.

Published in the journal, Science Advances, the study—out of the Huntington Medical Research Institute in Pasadena, California—has found what appears to be a link between taking ED meds like Viagra and Cialis and reduced rates of heart problems, including heart disease and death from a heart attack.

Known as Phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) Inhibitors or PDE-5i medications, this class of drugs—generally used to manage erectile dysfunction—has in the past been accused of leading to high blood pressure; but in the past 20 years, studies have suggested that they can both improve heart health and help with diabetes and cancer, too.

Looking at a large insurance and Medicare database, and drawing from prior research about ED drugs’ potentially cardioprotective effects, the HMRI team, along with researchers from the University of California-San Francisco, found that, compared to their ED-having counterparts who didn’t take medication for it, men who take PDE-5i drugs for their advertised purpose seemed to experience a 17%t lower rate of heart failure, a 15% lower need for angioplasty or heart stints, and a whopping 39% lower rate of death from heart disease-related complications.

What’s more, the researchers also observed a “25 [%] lower rate of death due to any cause” among men who take ED drugs than those who don’t take them, a press release about the study notes.

Drawing from anonymized patient records in an American private insurance and Medicare claims database, the researchers looked at a huge cohort of information gleaned from 2006 until 2020 — and of those claims viewed in retrospect, the researchers found that the greatest benefits seemed to be found in men who had heightened risk for cardiovascular problems, including those with diabetes. Part of the explanation, of course, may be related to the fact that sex, itself ,appears to be correlated with a longer life expectancy.

As with most data-based retrospective studies of this kind, the paper’s authors cautioned against declaring a direct correlation or cause between taking PDE-5i’s and lowering one’s risk for heart problems and advised further study on the subject. They also noted that they can’t name the exact nature of this link until more research is done on it.

All the same, this research is extremely promising—and, if nothing else, could reduce the stigma against taking ED medication.

Research contact@futurism

James Cameron says he commissioned a study on whether Jack could have survived in ‘Titanic’

December 29, 2022

Twenty-five years since its first release, director James Cameron‘s swooning epic, ‘Titanic,’ is still the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. Besides its storied legacy, it also has spawned an endless debate among fans on its ending: whether Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, could have survived the freezing ocean if he’d climbed onto the floating door with Rose, played by Kate Winslet.


And now, Cameron — renowned for his obsession with minute cinematic details—says he’s finally put an end to the debate with an actual scientific study, reports Futurism.


“We have done a scientific study to put this whole thing to rest and drive a stake through its heart once and for all,” Cameron told The Toronto Sun while promoting his latest blockbuster sensation ‘Avatar: The Way of Water.’


He revealed, “We have since done a thorough forensic analysis with a hypothermia expert who reproduced the raft from the movie and we’re going to do a little special on it that comes out in February.”


“We took two stunt people who were the same body mass [as] Kate and Leo,” the acclaimed director explained, “and we put sensors all over them and inside them and we put them in ice water and we tested to see whether they could have survived through a variety of methods and the answer was, there was no way they both could have survived. Only one could survive.”


  For now, that’s all the details we have on the study, but this isn’t the first time Cameron has addressed the perennial, nagging question. In 2017, he debunked a theory posited on the TV show, ‘Mythbusters,’ that Jack could have survived by tying Rose’s life vest to the door for buoyancy.

“You’re underwater tying this thing on in 28-degree water, and that’s going to take you five to ten minutes, so by the time you come back up you’re already dead,” Cameron told The Daily Beast at the time. “So that wouldn’t work.”


And science aside, Cameron thinks Jack’s death was thematically integral to the story—so there’s no point getting hooked up on something he’s not going to change his mind on anyway.


“No, he needed to die,” Cameron explained during the recent press tour. “It’s like Romeo and Juliet. It’s a movie about love and sacrifice and mortality. The love is measured by the sacrifice.”


Research contact: @futurism