December 2015

BITCOIN

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1 Bitcoin = $427

 

The World’s strongest currency in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015

SG Kinsman

 

Peace, Liberty, Progress

As 2015 wraps up, Bitcoin, with no government backing, enjoys being the best performing currency in the world. – Erik Voorhees

 

Bitcoins Per Person

Total BTC / World Pop = 0.00205182

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14,950,900 bitcoins

7,286,639,688 people

Given that a bitcoin currently cost $433, there are only enough bitcoins for every person to have $0.89 worth.

If bitcoins were distributed using the current global distribution of wealth, 99.9% of people would have $0.17 worth of bitcoins, and people in the top .001% would have 0.62 bitcoins each.

It might make sense just to get some in case it catches on. If enough people think the same way, that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. – Satoshi Nakamoto 

Bitcoins Per Person

 

Google Searches for Bitcoin Skyrocketing

– imgur

 

Bitcoin Price to Surge in 2016

Bitcoin’s price has already almost doubled in the last three months, putting it on track for its best quarter in two years.

It hit $500 last month for the first time since August last year

“Today the worth of bitcoin is $1 per capita in the world (population),” Bobby Lee said, referring to the value of all the bitcoins in circulation, around $6.5 billion. “For such an innovative, decentralized digital asset, I say ‘boy, are we undervaluing it’. But it takes a while for people to realize that.” –Jemima Kelly

 

 

MINING

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Hash Rate Hits All-Time High of 900 Petahash/s

Bitcoin has added more computational power to securing its network in the past 2 weeks than it had in total 18 months ago. – Jameson Lopp

 

 

ALTCOINS

Top 5 Strongest Currencies in 2015

(Change against US $ at 12 December 2015 against rates one year ago)

  1. Bitcoin (XBT) +21%
  2. Israeli Shekel (ILS) +2%
  3. US Dollar (USD)
  4. Swiss Franc (CHF) -2%
  5. Japanese Yen (JPY) – 2%

Bottom 5 Weakest Currencies in 2015

  1. Venezuelan Bolivar (Black market rate) -78%
  2. Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH) -34%
  3. Brazilian Real (BRL) -33%
  4. South African Rand (ZAR) -31%
  5. Colombian Peso (COP) -28%

Note that the money used in the world’s freest financial system — Bitcoin — has appreciated the most, and the money used in the world’s most Socialist and regulated economy — Venezuela — has lost the most value. – SG Kinsman

 

Short Gold, Long Bitcoin was a Great Trade in 2015

The bear market in gold continued in 2015 (down 11.2 per cent).

Sell an ounce of gold to buy bitcoins at the beginning of this year, and you can now buy back 1.62 ounces. – John Authers

You know gold bugs are starting to get uncomfortable. Bound to become one of the biggest contributors to BTC future rally. – Alex B.

 

 

MARKETS

Overstock.com SEC Approved to Issue Shares Using Bitcoin Blockchain

In a Form S-3 filed with the SEC on November 10, Overstock.com sought approval to issue up to $500 million in new securities “from time to time” in the form of common stock, preferred stock, depositary shares, warrants, debt securities or units.

Overstock’s t0 (tee-zero) platform has been working on bringing equity trades and settlement to the blockchain since it was first announced in April 2015. In July, Overstock sold the first cryptobond on the blockchain. – Jacob Donnelly

 

Bloomberg Commodity Index

Commodities are down again. The Bloomberg Commodity Index is at the lowest level since June 1999.

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Jeroen Blokland

 

Largest Crude Oil Declines in History

2008-09: -68%

2014-15: -67%

1990-93: -65%

1985-86: -63%

1996-98: -54%

Charlie Bilello, CMT

 

 

COMPANIES / PROJECTS / PRODUCTS

“The Falcon Has Landed”

 

 

SpaceX Breakthrough with Falcon Rocket Return

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has for the first time brought a booster rocket back to earth after it deployed satellites into space, a key step towards making space flights more commercially viable.

Amid deafening cheers from employees watching in the company’s mission control room on Monday, SpaceX returned the first stage of the rocket to a launch pad at Cape Canaveral around 10 minutes after it had lifted off.

The landing at Cape Canaveral — during which the rocket landed gracefully on a series of landing legs that had helped to slow it during the descent — came after three failed attempts at landing rockets on barges at sea by the company.

The retrieval of the SpaceX booster marks the fulfilment of a goal that rocket engineers have been pursuing almost since the dawn of space exploration.

The only previous reusable space launch vehicle — the US’s Space Shuttle — proved to need far more reconstruction between flights to repair damage caused during atmospheric re-entry than anticipated when it was initially planned in the 1960s.

Shortly after the rocket’s return and the satellites’ deployment, Mr Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, said on Twitter that he was heading to the landing area to see the returned rocket.

“Welcome back, baby!” he wrote.

Robert Wright

 

After SpaceX Makes History, Musk Talks About a City on Mars

“This may one day be looked back upon as the day that the Space Age really began, because it showed that you can return a stage for reuse without a huge standing army of technicians to do it—unlike the shuttle,” Charles Lurio, who writes a space newsletter wrote Monday evening after the launch and landing.

For Musk, whose main goal is the colonization of Mars, the landing shows that the technology to reuse powerful rockets is real.

“I think it really quite dramatically improves my confidence that a city on Mars is possible,” he said on a call with reporters Monday evening. “That’s what all this is about.” – Christian Davenport

 

The Major Challenge for the Entire Aerospace Industry is Cost Reduction

The main problem with cost is that each rocket flies exactly once. Imagine if airplanes only few once—a plane ticket would cost $1.5 million.

The air travel industry is a big thing only because they can reuse the same plane again and again and again. In order to create a genuinely reusable rocket that revolutionizes the cost of space travel, you have to figure out how to land the giant first stage of the rocket vertically.

For decades, space agencies around the world have put billions of dollars into figuring out how to land a rocket successfully. This is a truly historic moment in the Story of Humans and Space and a game changer for humanity’s future as a space-faring civilization. – Tim Urban

 

The 21st Century Space Race: Elon Musk vs. Jeff Bezos

Billionaires Musk and Bezos race to develop reusable rockets

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and other space entrepreneurs see reusable rockets as the key to dramatically reducing the cost of access to space, which could enable more missions and make exploration as far as Mars a more realistic goal. – USA Today

SpaceX’s landing came just under a month after Blue Origin, the space launch company backed by Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, achieved the first successful recovery of a rocket booster, in a test flight.

Mr Musk congratulated the company but pointed out that there were far higher speeds and other challenges involved in recovering a rocket that had put an object into orbit.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket had gone only into sub-orbital space and is far smaller than the Falcon 9

Mr Bezos appeared to revisit the controversy on Monday when he tweeted after SpaceX’s successful retrieval of the Falcon 9: “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!”  – Robert Wright

 

The Military-Industrial Complex Launch Scam

Elon can’t say this, but “nail in the coffin” for traditional launch industry.

No way to compete with Falcon-Reusability & performance. – Peter Diamandis

In an industry full of middleman price hikes and decades-old equipment, SpaceX’s tightly controlled in-house supply chain and cutting edge technology has made it the world’s cheapest option for space delivery. For years, the US government has relied on two major aerospace companies—Boeing and Lockheed Martin, along with their joint venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA)—for domestic launches. ULA charges the government—and the US taxpayers—$380 million per launch. For a similar launch, the US government only pays SpaceX $133 million. For launches with other customers, without all of NASA’s special requirements, SpaceX charges $60 million per launch.

Given the unbelievable bargain, SpaceX unsurprisingly has a long line of customers vying for their services—they currently have a backlog of over 50 planned launches, worth over $5 billion. They’re doing everything they can to ramp up production, aiming to soon make 40 Falcon 9s a year. Musk believes that within a few years, SpaceX will cost less than a tenth of the industry average, and he believes SpaceX can take over the majority of the world’s commercial launches.

This is a big deal for the US, not just SpaceX.

The US, through Boeing, is proud to be one of two major airplane producers (with Europe’s Airbus being the other), but for some reason, the country has allowed itself to become an insignificant part of the global launch industry—while Europe, Russia, and China dominate. The main provider of US launches, ULA, gets most of its business from the US government, and gets the most expensive part of its hardware equipment—the engines—by buying them from Russia. SpaceX is making the US a big player in the launch industry again as business increasingly pours in from all around the world—and they manufacture almost everything domestically.

While SpaceX might be a terrific development for both Americans and the future of space travel, not everyone is so pleased about their arrival on the scene.

Remember last post when we took a deep look into what’s going on under the hood of the auto and oil/gas industries, and it turns out it’s all pretty messed up and humanity is kind of being taken for a ride without realizing it? Because that’s what happens when opaque industries have a “special” relationship with the government and barriers to entry that keep out competition from underdogs? And how Tesla is kind of exposing all of that and forcing a fat, happy, and docile industry to innovate, and how they all desperately wish Musk would disappear?

I could almost just copy and paste that section into this post as well.

The space launch industry is like a handful of auto mechanics in a small town that all charge about ten times as much as they need to, but because A) customers are clueless about the process and what it should cost, and B) all the competition overcharges as well, there’s no incentive to upgrade equipment, increase efficiency, and bring down costs. SpaceX is like a newcomer to town who sets up an auto shop, comes up with newer, better ways to fix cars, works harder than anyone else, and is able to charge a fraction of the price for the same service. Which ruins everything for the town’s other auto mechanics.

In 2014, Europe’s Arianespace—a major player in the global launch industry—asked European governments for additional subsidies to handle competition from SpaceX. A Falcon 9 trip to GTO (the highest satellite orbit) now costs $15 million less than a launch on China’s historically-cheap Long March rocket. As for the other major player in the launch market, Musk has said, “My family fears that the Russians will assassinate me.”

All around the world, launch customers are noticing what SpaceX is doing, then looking at their own launch company and asking, “Wait why am I paying so much?”

When I asked Musk about all the industries that want to drop a piano on his head, he said, “It’s a roomful of toes—it’s hard to avoid stepping on them.” And of all the toes SpaceX is currently stepping on, it’s stepping the hardest on ULA.

ULA, the Boeing and Lockheed joint venture, charges more than anyone for a space launch. But it doesn’t matter what they charge. ULA doesn’t have to compete with the rest of the world’s launch market—because ULA gets a constant flow of automatic business from the US military. Here’s how it works:

1) The US military needs to launch a lot of things into space, so there’s plenty of business.

2) Because military equipment is tied to national security, the US wants the launches done by an American company.

3) Because space launching, like auto repair, is an opaque process to the public and to politicians, no one knows that ULA’s launch price tag is much higher than it needs to be.

4) ULA works with the government on a “cost plus basis,” meaning their payment for a launch is a percentage of whatever the launch costs them—i.e. they’re incentivized to make it cost more, not less.

5) There’s ample money to go around because of the US’s astronomical military budget.

6) Most infuriatingly, many of the decision-makers in the US Department of Defense are friends with the leadership of ULA, and ULA is a common place for DoD officials to work when they retire from government. So ULA is more likely to get a nod and a wink from the DoD than an audit into how they spend their money.

What that all adds up to is at best, a flawed system that puts zero pressure on lowering costs and at worst, a grand-scale government scandal—all paid for by the US taxpayer.

And do you know what a ULA-DoD circle jerk really doesn’t want around? A company like SpaceX. SpaceX had succeeded in winning much of NASA’s business, but in order to be awarded a military launch contract, a company needs special certification, and curiously, SpaceX had a very hard time becoming certified. Calling bullshit on the process, and knowing that the law requires there to be fair competition for the military’s launching needs, in 2014 Musk brought the issue to Congress, making the case that “SpaceX is not seeking to be awarded contracts for these launches. We are simply seeking the right to compete.”

But he received a lot of pushback. Despite clear evidence that ULA charges six times SpaceX’s rate per pound of payload, politicians like Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama (one of whose biggest donors is the aerospace industry) argued that it was a national security issue—an odd line of argument, considering that ULA pours money into Russia, buying their engines and other parts, while SpaceX does all of their business in the US.

In an interview a few months ago, Musk vented about the situation: “ULA has decided that they’re afraid even of an unfair competition. They don’t want a fair competition. They don’t even want an unfair competition. They want no competition at all…they’re afraid that we’ll take some of the huge gravy train they have exclusive access to, or that it’s not going to be as big.”

SpaceX has made some progress in the last year and has been awarded a small number of military launches, but only a tiny fraction—this is a battle SpaceX will be fighting for a while. I asked Musk about the difficulty of competing against ULA. His response: “These are not pushovers, it’s the military-industrial complex. You know in movies, how they do terrible things? Well yeah, those guys.” – Tim Urban

 

 

The First Person to Hack the iPhone Built a Self-Driving Car… in His Garage.

This is a fantastic story on many levels.

From the self-motivated hacking to the visionary tech to the unwillingness to conform to corp interests to the “Bitcoin preferred here”

Lesson from tech history seems to be that no matter how astonishing a company may seem just wait til you see the guys working out of their garage. – Michael Goldstein

George Hotz is taking on Google and Tesla by himself.

George Hotz, the first person to hack the iPhone, says he built a self-driving car in a month. How did he do it? Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance went to Hotz’s home to find out…

Bloomberg Businessweek

 

Amazon Prime Air

As far-fetched as it sounds, the era of drones delivering packages is about to begin, according to Amazon.

The company released a new ad on YouTube showing controversial British TV host Jeremy Clarkson praising the benefits of Amazon’s still in-development drone delivery service, Amazon Prime Air, along with an all new “hybrid” drone design that can switch between vertical and horizontal flight.

“A miracle of modern technologies,” Clarkson says, as the ad cuts to scenes of a father and mother using an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet to place an order for their daughter’s new soccer shoes using a new Amazon Prime Air button, which promises delivery in 30 minutes or less.

The new Amazon delivery drone rises vertically like a helicopter “to nearly 400 feet” before switching to horizontal flight orientation, “streamlined and fast,” like an airplane.

That altitude is no coincidence, as it’s what the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says is the upper limit for hobby aircraft, including drones. This friendliness with aerial regulation is new for Amazon; earlier this year, the company sparred with the FAA over delivery regulations.

Amazon, as well as Google and several other companies, were recently part of an FAA task force to figure out drone registration rules.

This new drone can fly for 15 miles straight, has automatic “sense and avoid” systems, and will be the first in a “whole family of Amazon drones, [with] different designs for different environments.” –Kelsey D. Atherton and Carl Franzen

 

Virtual Reality in 2016

2016 promises to be a watershed year for virtual reality as a commercial product. Here’s what to expect.

It’s been a decades-long journey for virtual reality, and 2016 will likely be its biggest step forward.

This won’t be the year that virtual reality goes mainstream, but you’re sure to hear more about the technology than ever before with big product launches from Oculus/Facebook, HTC/Valve, Sony, and Microsoft (although its HoloLens is technically augmented reality).

1. 2016 will be a learning year

First and foremost, 2016 will be an important year for broader audiences learning what virtual reality is in the first place. Some may not have ever heard of it. Some, may have only experienced it briefly, or in the form of Google Cardboard.

“There’s going to be a moment when we collectively realize the value of virtual reality, and that’s something different than we’ve had before,” said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. It’ll be a middle ground between what people have wanted these devices to do and what they can do.

 

2. Adoption will still be dominated by early adopters

Blau said not to expect a mass market response just yet. Rather, expect purchases from those interested and willing to spend their money on a technology that’s not necessarily a sure thing.

They may have already tried VR, they may even have devices. They’re curious and they don’t mind experimenting.

 

3. Mobile-driven VR will introduce many more to VR

2015 saw the beginning of the distribution of low-end virtual reality to the masses. The New York Times, Outside Magazine, and others delivered free Google Cardboard headsets to subscribers—who simply insert their smartphones to turn Cardboard into a head-mounted display.

The New York Times alone mailed out 1.2 million Cardboard units. This will likely continue into 2016 in various forms, like the recent Lucasfilm/Verizon/Google partnership in which Star War-themed Cardboard headsets were available for free at Verizon stores.

NextVR’s VR evangelist Helen Situ said Google’s done a good job of getting the minimum viable VR product out there in the form of Cardboard, and it will help give people an idea of what VR is to begin with.

“You have photos [of VR], YouTube videos of it, article after article, but at the end of the day, it’s just something you have to experience to spark your imagination into thinking about how this could change different industries like medicine, entertainment, sports, movies, even events,” Situ said.

Sitting above Cardboard is the Samsung Gear VR. The display is still a Samsung phone or phablet, but it does include sensors in the headset. As one of the first consumer HMDs to hit the market, it comes in at the relatively friendly price point of $99.

 

4. Get ready for bigger-budget content

Don’t expect VR movies just yet. Though, ABI Research’s Eric Abbruzzese said more money will get thrown at VR content.

Already major motion pictures like Insurgent, Jurassic World, The Martian, andStar Wars have created VR experiences to supplement their marketing efforts.

DigiCapital estimates that the VR market will be about $30 billion by 2020.

“We might not see a big budget game specifically targeting VR, but we’ll definitely see support for it. Then late 2016, early 2017, I think we’ll start seeing a lot of targeted VR games… We’re just now starting to see what the hardware can do to support that content,” he said.

Erin Carson

 

 

PRIVACY / INTERNET

World Begins Work on 5G Networks

Countries have approved a roadmap for developing a new generation of “5G” mobile networks.

The International Telecommunication Union said an assembly of radiocommunication experts from the UN’s 193 member countries had approved a plan detailing how to harmonise the development of the next generation networks.

ITU spokesman Sanjay Acharya told AFP the UN agency was “looking at a 2020 timeframe” for rolling out the new standard.

The new 5G technology is expected to deliver data speeds up to 1,000 times faster than the current 4G systems enabling fast transfer of data from Internet-connected devices from fitness bands to self-driving cars.

Tech specialists at the Boston Consulting Group estimated in a report earlier this year that mobile companies would have to spend $4.0 trillion on research and investments by 2020 to develop 5G. –AFP

 

Bitcoin Wallet Privacy Threat Model

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An updated version of our threat model is on GitHub: Open Bitcoin Privacy Project Threat Model

 

 

LEARNING / EDUCATION

Education is the Process of Conquering One’s Environment

* The widening of this circle ends only with life. Every day the world should be made new by some new acquisition of truth. – John H. Finley

* I don’t care about money. I want power. Not power over people, but power over nature and the destiny of technology. I just want to know how it all works. – George Hotz

 

Formal Education?

Sure, if you are lazy, want to fit in, be one in the herd, ‘secure’ a lowest level. But,if ambitious & curious go online. – Sprezzaturian

 

 

THE SINGULARITY

Science‘s 2015 Breakthrough of the Year is CRISPR

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The genome-editing method called CRISPR has matured into a molecular marvel that much of the world—not just biologists—has noticed, which is why it has been selected Science‘s 2015 Breakthrough of the Year.

CRISPR has appeared in Breakthrough sections twice before, in 2012 and 2013, each time as a runner-up in combination with other genome-editing techniques. But this is the year it broke away from the pack, revealing its true power in a series of spectacular achievements.

Two striking examples—the creation of a long-sought “gene drive” that could eliminate pests or the diseases they carry, and the first deliberate editing of the DNA of human embryos—debuted to headlines and concern.

Each announcement roiled the science policy world. The embryo work (done in China with nonviable embryos from a fertility clinic) even prompted an international summit this month to discuss human gene editing.

The summit confronted a fraught—and newly plausible— prospect: altering human sperm, eggs, or early embryos to correct disease genes or offer “enhancements.” As a genetic counselor quipped during the discussion: “When we couldn’t do it, it was easy to say we shouldn’t.” – John Travis

 

CRISPR: Humans 2.0

CRISPR’s unprecedented ability to edit genetic code will make possible a new generation of medical treatments.

In 2010 Biological engineer Feng Zhen attended a meeting during which one of his colleagues mentioned that he had encountered a curious region of DNA in some bacteria he had been studying. He referred to it as a CRISPR sequence.

“I had never heard that word,” Zhang told me recently as we sat in his office. “So I went to Google just to see what was there,” he said. Zhang read every paper he could; five years later, he still seemed surprised by what he found.

CRISPR, he learned, was a strange cluster of DNA sequences that could recognize invading viruses, deploy a special enzyme to chop them into pieces, and use the viral shards that remained to form a rudimentary immune system. T

The sequences, identical strings of nucleotides that could be read the same way backward and forward, looked like Morse code, a series of dashes punctuated by an occasional dot. The system had an awkward name—clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—but a memorable acronym.

The day after Zhang heard about CRISPR, he flew to Florida for a genetics conference. Rather than attend the meetings, however, he stayed in his hotel room and kept Googling. “I just sat there reading every paper on CRISPR I could find,” he said. “The more I read, the harder it was to contain my excitement.”

CRISPR’s unprecedented ability to edit genetic code will make possible a new generation of medical treatments.

It didn’t take Zhang or other scientists long to realize that, if nature could turn these molecules into the genetic equivalent of a global positioning system, so could we.

Researchers soon learned how to create synthetic versions of the RNA guides and program them to deliver their cargo to virtually any cell. Once the enzyme locks onto the matching DNA sequence, it can cut and paste nucleotides with the precision we have come to expect from the search-and-replace function of a word processor.

“This was a finding of mind-boggling importance,” Zhang told me. “And it set off a cascade of experiments that have transformed genetic research.”

With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system.

The potential impact of CRISPR on the biosphere is equally profound.

Last year, by deleting all three copies of a single wheat gene, a team led by the Chinese geneticist Gao Caixia created a strain that is fully resistant to powdery mildew, one of the world’s most pervasive blights.

In September, Japanese scientists used the technique to prolong the life of tomatoes by turning off genes that control how quickly they ripen.

Agricultural researchers hope that such an approach to enhancing crops will prove far less controversial than using genetically modified organisms, a process that requires technicians to introduce foreign DNA into the genes of many of the foods we eat.

The technology has also made it possible to study complicated illnesses in an entirely new way.

A few well-known disorders, such as Huntington’s disease and sickle-cell anemia, are caused by defects in a single gene. But most devastating illnesses, among them diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, are almost always the result of a constantly shifting dynamic that can include hundreds of genes.

The best way to understand those connections has been to test them in animal models, a process of trial and error that can take years. CRISPR promises to make that process easier, more accurate, and exponentially faster.

Inevitably, the technology will also permit scientists to correct genetic flaws in human embryos. That raises the possibility, more realistically than ever before, that scientists will be able to rewrite the fundamental code of life, with consequences for future generations that we may never be able to anticipate.

For much of the past century, biology has been consumed with three essential questions:

What does each gene do?

How do we find the genetic mutations that make us sick?

And how can we overcome them?

With CRISPR, the answers have become attainable, and we are closing in on a sort of grand unified theory of genetics.

“I am not sure what a Golden Age looks like,” Winston Yan, a member of Zhang’s research team, told me one day when I was with him in the lab, “but I think we are in one.”

Michael Specter

 

“This is Why We Will Beat Cancer”

As the price of sequencing plunges, cancer clinics throughout the United States have begun to study their patients’ tumors in greater detail. Tumors are almost never uniform; one may have five mutations or fifty, which means, essentially, that every cancer is a specific, personal disease.

Until CRISPR became available, the wide genetic variations in cancer cells often made it hard to develop effective treatments.

“What I love most about the CRISPR process is that you can take any cancer-cell line, knock out every gene, and identify every one of the cell’s Achilles’ heels,” Eric Lander, the fifty-eight-year-old director of the Broad, told me recently.

Lander, who was among the leaders of the Human Genome Project, said that he had never encountered a more promising research tool. “You can also use CRISPR to systematically study the ways that a cancer cell can escape from a treatment,” he said. “That should make it possible to build a comprehensive road map for cancer.”

Lander went on to say that each vulnerability of a tumor might be attacked by a single drug. But cancer cells elude drugs in many ways, and, to succeed, a therapy may need to block them all.

That strategy has proved effective for infectious diseases like AIDS. “Remember the pessimism about H.I.V.,” he said, referring to the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when a diagnosis was essentially a death sentence.

Eventually, virologists developed a series of drugs that interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate. The therapy became truly successful, however, only when those drugs, working together, could block the virus completely.

The same approach has proved successful in treating tuberculosis. Lander is convinced that it will also work for many cancers: “With triple-drug therapy,” for H.I.V., “we reached an inflection point: we were losing badly, and one day suddenly we were winning.”

He stood up and walked across the office toward his desk, then pointed at the wall and described his vision for the future of cancer treatment.

“There will be an enormous chart,” he said. “Well, it will be electronic, and it will contain the therapeutic road map of every trick that cancer cells have—how they form, all the ways you can defeat them, and all the ways they can escape and defeat a treatment.

And when we have that we win. Because every cancer cell starts naïve. It doesn’t know what we have waiting in the freezer for it.

Infectious diseases are a different story; they share their knowledge as they spread. They learn from us as they move from person to person.

But every person’s cancer starts naïve. And this is why we will beat it.” – Michael Specter

 

Anti-Aging Research: Metformin

The SENS Research Foundation, Google Calico and Human Longevity, Inc. are racing to churn out the most promising anti-aging and longevity research

“There is an increasing number of people realizing that the concept of anti-aging medicine that actually works is going to be the biggest industry that ever existed by some huge margin, and that it just might be foreseeable,” Aubrey de Grey, founder of SENS and the Methuselah Foundation (which awards grants to for anti-aging research) told the Guardian.

One of the most promising avenues of research centers around Metformin, a diabetes medication thought to prolong life.

This year, the FDA approved the first human clinical trials for an anti-aging medication. Researchers will test preliminary mouse studies that suggest Metformin could increase average lifespan by nearly 40 percent.

Joshua A. Krisch

 

Rose’s Law for Quantum Computers Marches On

[Update in 2015: the hardware curve that is “Rose’s Law” (blue diamonds) remains on track. The software and performance/qubit (red stars, as applied to certain tasks) is catching up, and may lag by a couple years from the original prediction overlaid onto the graph] – Steve Jurvetson

When I first met Geordie Rose in 2002, I was struck by his ability to explain complex quantum physics and the “spooky” underpinnings of quantum computers. I had just read David Deutsch’s Fabric of Reality [1997] where he predicts the possibility of such computers, and so I invited Rose to one of our tech conferences.

We first invested [in D-Wave] in 2003 , and Geordie predicted that he would be able to demonstrate a two-bit quantum computer within 6 months.

There was a certain precision to his predictions. With one bit under his belt, and a second coming, he went on to suggest that the number of qubits in a scalable quantum computing architecture should double every year. It sounded a lot like Gordon Moore’s prediction back in 1965, when he extrapolated from just five data points on a log-scale.

So I called it “Rose’s Law” and that seemed to amuse him. Well, the decade that followed has been quite amazing.

So, how do we read the graph above?

Like Moore’s Law, a straight line describes an exponential. But unlike Moore’s Law, the computational power of the quantum computer should grow exponentially with the number of entangled qubits as well. It’s like Moore’s Law compounded. (D-Wave just put together an animated visual of each processor generation in this video, bringing us to the present day.)

And now, it gets mind bending. If we suspend disbelief for a moment, and use D-Wave’s early data on processing power scaling (more on that below), then the very near future should be the watershed moment, where quantum computers surpass conventional computers and never look back. Moore’s Law cannot catch up.

A year later, it outperforms all computers on Earth combined.

Double qubits again the following year, and it outperforms the universe. What the???? you may ask… Meaning, it could solve certain problems that could not be solved by any non-quantum computer, even if the entire mass and energy of the universe was at its disposal and molded into the best possible computer. It is a completely different way to compute — as David Deutsch posits — harnessing the refractive echoes of many trillions of parallel universes to perform a computation.

First the caveat (the text in white letters on the graph).  D-Wave has not built a general-purpose quantum computer. Think of it as an application-specific processor, tuned to perform one task — solving discrete optimization problems.

This happens to map to many real world applications, from finance to molecular modeling to machine learning, but it is not going to change our current personal computing tasks. In the near term, assume it will apply to scientific supercomputing tasks and commercial optimization tasks where a heuristic may suffice today, and perhaps it will be lurking in the shadows of an Internet giant’s data center improving image recognition and other forms of near-AI magic. In most cases, the quantum computer would be an accelerating coprocessor to a classical compute cluster.

There is also the question of the programming model. Until recently, programming a quantum computer was more difficult than machine coding an Intel processor. Imagine having to worry about everything from analog gate voltages to algorithmic transforms of programming logic to something native to quantum computing (Shor and Grover and some bright minds have made the occasional mathematical breakthrough on that front).

With the application-specific quantum processor, D-Wave has made it all much easier, and with their forthcoming Black Box overlay, programming moves to a higher level of abstraction, like training a neural network with little understanding of the inner workings required.

In any case, the possibility of a curve like this begs many philosophical and cosmological questions about our compounding capacity to compute… the beginning of infinity if you will.

While it will be fascinating to see if the next three years play out like Rose’s prediction, for today, perhaps all we should say is that it’s not impossible. And what an interesting world this may be. –Steve Jurvetson, October 2012

 

The Watershed Moment: Quantum Computer Announcement from Google

Boom! Google just announced their watershed results in quantum computing using their D-Wave Two.

It is rare to see a 100,000,000x leap in computing power… at least in this universe! =)

From the D-Wave board meeting today, I learned that it cost Google $1m to run the massive computation on their classic computers. The SA and QMC (classic computers) data points cost $1m of energy, and the green curve totally choked on large problem sets (that’s why there are no green data points in the top right). The D-wave computer operating cost was well over 100x less.

Has there ever been a leap forward like this in human history? (in any thing, like computing, energy processing, transportation… I am guessing there have purely algorithmic advances of this magnitude, but having trouble thinking of a single advance of this scale) – Steve Jurvetson, December 2015

 

Building The Quantum Dream Machine

John Martinis has been researching how quantum computers could work for 30 years. Now he could be on the verge of finally making a useful one.

With his new Google lab up and running, Martinis guesses that he can demonstrate a small but useful quantum computer in two or three years. “We often say to each other that we’re in the process of giving birth to the quantum computer industry,” he says.

The new computer would let a Google coder run calculations in a coffee break that would take a supercomputer of today millions of years.

The software that Google has developed on ordinary computers to drive cars or answer questions could become vastly more intelligent. And earlier-stage ideas bubbling up at Google and its parent company, such as robots that can serve as emergency responders or software that can converse at a human level, might become real.

As recently as last week the prospect of a quantum computer doing anything useful within a few years seemed remote. Researchers in government, academic, and corporate labs were far from combining enough qubits to make even a simple proof-of-principle machine.

A well-funded Canadian startup called D-Wave Systems sold a few of what it called “the world’s first commercial quantum computers” but spent years failing to convince experts that the machines actually were doing what a quantum computer should.

Then NASA summoned journalists to building N-258 at its Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, which since 2013 has hosted a D-Wave computer bought by Google.

There Hartmut Neven, who leads the Quantum Artificial Intelligence lab Google established to experiment with the D-Wave machine, unveiled the first real evidence that it can offer the power proponents of quantum computing have promised.

In a carefully designed test, the superconducting chip inside D-Wave’s computer—known as a quantum annealer—had performed 100 million times faster than a conventional processor.

However, this kind of advantage needs to be available in practical computing tasks, not just contrived tests. “We need to make it easier to take a problem that comes up at an engineer’s desk and put it into the computer,” said Neven.

That’s where Martinis comes in. Neven doesn’t think D-Wave can get a version of its quantum annealer ready to serve Google’s engineers quickly enough, so he hired Martinis to do it.

“It became clear that we can’t just wait,” Neven says. “There’s a list of shortcomings that need to be overcome in order to arrive at a real technology.”

He says the qubits on D-Wave’s chip are too unreliable and aren’t wired together thickly enough. (D-Wave’s CEO, Vern Brownell, responds that he’s not worried about competition from Google.)

Google will be competing not only with whatever improvements D-Wave can make, but also with Microsoft and IBM, which have substantial quantum computing projects of their own.

But those companies are focused on designs much further from becoming practically useful. Indeed, a rough internal time line for Google’s project estimates that Martinis’s group can make a quantum annealer with 100 qubits as soon as 2017.

The difficulty of creating qubits that are stable enough is the reason we don’t have quantum computers yet. But Martinis has been working on that for more than 11 years and thinks he’s nearly there.

The coherence time of his qubits, or the length of time they can maintain a superposition, is tens of microseconds—about 10,000 times the figure for those on D-Wave’s chip.

Martinis aims to show off a complete universal quantum computer with about 100 qubits around the same time he delivers Google’s new quantum annealer, in about two years.

He thinks that once he can get his qubits reliable enough to put 100 of them on a universal quantum chip, the path to combining many more will open up. “This is something we understand pretty well,” he says. “It’s hard to get coherence but easy to scale up.”

Figuring out how Martinis’s chips can make Google’s software less stupid falls to Neven.

He thinks that the prodigious power of qubits will narrow the gap between machine learning and biological learning—and remake the field of artificial intelligence. “Machine learning will be transformed into quantum learning,” he says. That could mean software that can learn from messier data, or from less data, or even without explicit instruction.

Neven muses that this kind of computational muscle could be the key to giving computers capabilities today limited to humans. “People talk about whether we can make creative machines–the most creative systems we can build will be quantum AI systems,” he says.

Neven pictures rows of superconducting chips lined up in data centers for Google engineers to access over the Internet relatively soon.

“I would predict that in 10 years there’s nothing but quantum machine learning–you don’t do the conventional way anymore,” he says.

A smiling Martinis warily accepts that vision. “I like that, but it’s hard,” he says. “He can say that, but I have to build it.” – Tom Simonite

 

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