Many fiction movies today are inspired by science and technological advancements around them. But is this always the case? Not if you consider how a number of fiction movies, specifically Sci-Fi, have inspired the world of science and encouraged our capacity for innovation.
Sci-Fi movies have predicted and shaped our lives more than you could imagine. Yet, one series seemed to have stood out just by the sheer number of ways it keeps inspiring our innovations even today – that series is Star Trek.
A lot of things predicted in this movie have been created, with many more underway.
Perhaps the most outstanding of these predictions have to do with the world of medicines and how we treat illnesses.
When the original series of Star Trek began in September 1966, a whole lot of people were marveled by the bold predictions. Many were inspired and many more found the ideas preposterous.
Just as was announced in its voice-over introduction, it was clear that this series would challenge man “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Now, humans have taken giant leaps within the last few decades to bring us the technological advancements that we now enjoy freely today.
To understand how ridiculous these ideas sounded when the original series was produced, remember that its first episode was aired in 1966.
The story was set somewhere in the Milky Way Galaxy towards the close of the 23rd century. A group of scientists in a spaceship went out to explore the galaxy and discover more about things around them.
A lot of technologies displayed in the series were simply stunning for the average mind. Even the high-class literate people such as doctors and professors were wowed by these technologies.
Star Trek would go on to become the most inspiring series in the world of medicine and would herald the birth of remarkable advancements today.
For example, in Star Trek, one of the most controversial devices featured was the Tricorder.
The Tricorder, an abbreviation of “TRI-function reCORDER”, is a device with a sensor scanner which helps in scanning, analyzing and recording data. It comes in three major variants, even though there are a few others for special use.
There is the standard, general-purpose tricorder that is used for scouting areas that are unfamiliar, examining living things and recording technical data.
There is also the engineering tricorder that is used specifically for engineering tasks within the starship.
The medical tricorder is the one that stunned a lot of people. The medical tricorder helps the doctors in diagnosing diseases and collecting information about the patient’s body, all through the sensor, thereby requiring little professional help.
No cuts, no lacerations – just advanced technology packaged into a portable, hand-held device!
Imagine a device available to everyday consumers, with which you can perform self-diagnosis of a number of medical seconds and even take a few basic vital measurements, all within seconds.
That was the marvel that Star Trek displayed to the world. While it seemed really impossible then, we are getting closer to this actualization by the day.
Already we now have CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds. These are non-invasive technologies that help discover things going on in the body without having to cut the organs open.
These would have sounded like fantasy back when Star Trek was released.
But we didn’t stop there. Note that there have been many scanners in the past which usually focused on diagnosing one condition or take specific health measurements.
But, just like the medical tricorder, this was expected to cover more grounds.
With the help of Qualcomm, a global competition known as X Prize was launched in 2012 with the singular aim to create a device that looks as much like the medical tricorder as possible.
The inducement prize was $10,000,000! As you would expect, hundreds of companies from 30 countries took on the challenge.
The device that was to be built should be lightweight, portable, handheld, non-invasive and able to diagnose up to 13 medical conditions, ranging from sore throat to colon cancer.
Then, the final product would be tested on 30 people with the conditions within 3 days. This competition spurred innovation in a way that was unprecedented. The diagnosis was expected to be generated within 24 hours.
At the end, a team called the Final Frontier Medical Device finally emerged victorious when they built DxtER.
This device is built on a complex, custom-built AI that allows it to successfully up to 34 conditions long before the 24 hours elapses.
With the development, we can expect to be able to get this marvelous device for around $500 soon. Now, the Tricorder is closer to us than ever!
One of the most remarkable devices shown on Star Trek is Geordi’s VISOR. The VISOR is an acronym for Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement.
Because Geordi LaForge was born blind, he had to rely on this device to “see”.
This device sends visual signals straight to his brain, helping him see all the electromagnetic spectrum.
This would have looked pretty far-fetched to the people of that time, but now we have devices that are capable of something similar.
In 2005, some scientists from Stanford University developed a chip that can be implanted at the back of the retinas of blind patients.
Patients with this implant would wear a pair of glasses equipped with a special camera.
The image captured by the camera is then transmitted to the chip, which would then go through the process of passing the signal to the visual cortex of the brain.
While the result might not produce perfect 20/20 eyesight, it is good enough to move around without the need of a walking stick.
An even more recent device was the one created in Israel by a team of scientists led by Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Dr. Amir Amedi.
This device gathers the visual data and translates it to sound, which is then fed into the visual cortex to trigger different parts of the brain.
This is so remarkable that blind patients can “see” objects, people, postures and even written words.
Not many people love getting needles inserted into their body during vaccination or plain medical injection.
No one ever likes the feeling, but it was seen as a necessary evil. Then Star Trek showed us hypospray. The job of this device is to replace needles entirely.
It works by pushing the fluid straight into your skin in under a millisecond, without the need of a needle.
This is possible because of how fast the pressure pushes the liquid (a stunning 340 meters per second) and how thin the ampoule is (as thin as a mosquito’s proboscis).
Admittedly, the hypospray works on a technology that isn’t so new. In fact, it is older than Star Trek.
The technology is called jet injection. However, all the devices that tried implementing the technology in the past lacked fine control.
Now, the MIT injector has solved that problem and stands a chance of finally replacing our needle and syringe. Not only is it faster and safer; it is also less painful.
One other medical advancement to be noticed in Star Trek is the sickbay. This sickbay is way ahead of the sickbays that could be found in the 60s.
From this bed, it is easy to diagnose illnesses with the aid of machines.
Now, such advancements are now real. A sickbay has been unveiled at a British hospital, which uses outstanding technologies that could only be described as space-age to diagnose a wide range of diseases and health conditions, from stomach ache to cancer.
This works in a non-invasive way by gathering data based on the sight, smell, and feel of the condition for analysis and diagnosis. It even has equipment that would be very useful as a probe on a mission to Mars. Talk about Star Trek happening in real life!
While these are more directly relevant in the medical world, there are even more technologies that were inspired by the movie. The handheld communicators inspired the flip phones. In fact, in 1996, Motorola named the first flip phone “StarTAC.”
The same can be said of the touch-based control panels called PADDs (personal access display devices). They would later inspire our iPads today. Also, remember the giant silver earpiece worn by Uhura while sitting at the communications station. This is a clear inspiration for today’s Bluetooth earpiece.
Mobile storage devices like floppy disk drives and USB storage devices got their inspiration from Star Trek. Even GPS came 30 years after it has been predicted in Star Trek.
Now, the question is how this one series could inspire us so many and shape the world of medicine and technology as a whole. In fact, it remains one of the most culturally-influential media franchises till date. Some would be suspect that this might have been inspired by some alien technology not disclosed to the public.
While we can’t prove this, one thing is certain: The mind behind this series will continue to inspire our advancements in science, medicine, and technology for a long time.
Samsung developing TV controlled by your BRAIN
Samsung is developing a TV system that might one day allow users to flick channels and adjust the volume using their brains.
The so-called Project Ponthius is part of a cooperation between the South Korean electronics giant and the Center of Neuroprosthetics of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland.
The aim of the project is to give people with severe physical disabilities, like quadriplegia, a chance to enjoy their favorite shows without the help of others.
The company presented a prototype during its developer conference in San Francisco last week.
‘How can we provide accessibility to people who cannot move or who have extreme limitations on their movements,’ senior scientist at EPFL Ricardo Chavarriaga said during the panel.
‘We’re making tech that is more complex, that is more intelligent, but we should not forget this tech is being made to interface with humans.’
The system uses a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to connect the viewer with the TV set.
The BCI relies on a headset covered with 64 sensors and an eye-motion tracker.
The scientists are currently taking brainwave samples to determine how the mind behaves when we have a desire to watch movies.
This could one day lead to a system that uses cues from the brainwaves to make predictions, and then eye movements to confirm.
Once selections have been made, the software will be able to build up a viewer profile and inform future suggestions, streamlining the content selection process.
Although the technology might one day help people who have been paralyzed, it is unlikely to become mainstream anytime soon.
That’s because to use the current prototype users will need to apply gel to their heads before wearing a sensor helmet, something that may be more cumbersome than spending a few minutes looking for the remote control that you lost in the sofa cushions.
Samsung and EPFL are also working on another system that will allow viewers to interact with TV sets with their brainwaves alone.
This system could be particularly useful for people who suffer from disabilities such as locked-in syndrome, the highest form of paraplegia.
Other companies are also working on BCIs that might one day allow humans to interact with machines.
They include Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is developing ‘ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers’.
Headmaster Fired for Stealing School’s Electricity to Mine Crypto
A headmaster’s side hustle just cost him his job.
On Friday, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that Lei Hua lost his job as headmaster of a high school in China’s Hunan province because he was stealing electricity from the school — to power his cryptocurrency mining operation.
According to the SCMP report, Lei began mining the cryptocurrency ether from his home in June 2017. After he discovered how much electricity his mining computer was consuming, he decided to move it to the school. He later added another seven machines, with the school’s deputy headmaster getting in on the action with a computer of his own.
Lei got caught after teachers noticed the whirring noise of the machines. The government reportedly seized his earnings, but it’s hard to estimate how much Lei earned given the volatility of the crypto market. The school no doubt hopes it was at least enough to cover the $2,120 energy bill his computers racked up during their year of operation.
Whole World Problem
This could be read as a cautionary tale against mining crypto on the company dime. But it should also serve as a warning that the energy consumption of crypto mining is out of control globally.
These school employees would rather risk their jobs than pay the electricity bill that comes along with a mining operation — it’s that energy intensive — but other miners across the globe remain undeterred. They’re firing up their systems and collectively using enough energy to push the globe to the brink of a climate catastrophe.
And unlike Lei’s school, we can’t do anything to stop them.
READ MORE: Chinese Headmaster Fired After Stealing School’s Electricity to Mine Cryptocurrencies [South China Morning Post]
Neuroscientists Have Finally Tracked Down The Bilingual Language Switch in The Brain –
Breaking from a conversation in Spanish and turning it into a discussion in German is a two-step process that requires a degree of cognitive effort.
Until now, researchers have never been sure which part required more work: ending the first language or starting with the second. A new study reveals just what’s going on upstairs when we make a switch between languages.
“A remarkable feature of multilingual individuals is their ability to quickly and accurately switch back and forth between their different languages,” says study lead author Esti Blanco-Elorrieta from New York University.
This isn’t limited to Spanish and German, or even verbal languages. People who flip from sign languages to spoken word also appear to seamlessly blend one stream of thought into another.
But just how seamless is this process?
The anterior cingulate cortex helps us pay attention, while the pre-frontal cortex is the ‘thinking’ part of the brain, what we generally associate with decision making and other executive functions.
So it probably comes as no surprise that when we decide to switch between two languages, we might involve parts of the brain that look at what’s happening around us and evaluate outcomes before flipping the switch.
This jump in neural activity suggests the brain needs to work harder to move from one language to another. Far from a smooth transition, it’s clear there’s some hard peddling going on.
What hasn’t been clear is precisely what drives this change. Are we peddling to shut one mental language book, or open another? The two actions are virtually simultaneous, which makes them hard to tease apart.
One way to pinpoint the ultimate cause of this neural activity would be to look at the brain as it starts one language without stopping the first.
Breaking into English without pausing your Spanish monologue would require a second mouth, so we can forget two spoken languages. Instead, the research team turned to individuals who could English and American Sign Language, or ASL.
“The fact that they can do both at the same time offers a unique opportunity to disentangle engagement and disengagement processes – that is, how they turn languages ‘on’ and ‘off’,” says Blanco-Elorrieta.
The experiment itself involved naming images shown on flash cards, while having the magnetic fields of their brains mapped in a procedure called magnetoencephalography.
Repeating the process with 21 native ASL-English speaking volunteers – all children of deaf parents – provided the team with enough data in detailed resolution to identify the exact moment key areas of the brain kicked it up a notch.
It turns out we need to work at putting the brakes on one language, but don’t really need to do much to get our fingers and tongues wagging on the second.
“In all, these results suggest that the burden of language-switching lies in disengagement from the previous language as opposed to engaging a new language,” says Blanco-Elorrieta.
Surprisingly, this meant that it didn’t really take any more effort to name an image in ASL and English at the same time than it did to name it in just ASL. Naming it in English alone, however, was relatively easy compared to both.
Learning more about the neurology of bilingualism is an important field. Brains that can jump between different languages often have a slight cognitive edge on those that can’t. Having a second language on call might even help you recover faster from a stroke.
Of course it helps to start out young. But even those of us well past our linguist prime can still gain benefits from learning how to say “Pass the salt” in a few different languages.
If this study shows us anything, it’s that our brains find it relatively easy slipping from one language to the next. Just as long as you can put the brakes on your babble first.
This research was published in PNAS.
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