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Memory Implantation: Will You Choose to Alter or Destroy Your Memories If You Could?

The brain is fascinating, and it’s one of the many things humans are still struggling to understand. In an attempt to better comprehend its inner workings, neuroscientists studied memory a la “Inception”. The bold idea of planting false memories— that is, memory implantation —is no longer only on the big screen, as a pair of innovative minds have achieved success in a first of many for the neuroscience community. It may even hold the key to finally understanding how the human mind creates and destroys memories.

On the Case of Memory Implantation

The human mind is complex. Even some of the best brains in the world are still susceptible to an imperfect memory and experience forgetfulness. In fact, it’s not just losing memories that occur. Many people also remember things that haven’t even happened, which are known as false memories. Another type of false meories is having only partial correct recollections of things—with the rest—pretty much invented, such as the Mandela effect. This phenomenon is when a collective of people remembers something in a particular way, but in actuality was an incorrect memory. It was named after Nelson Mandela, whom for some reason many people believed died while in prison in the 1980s. (He died on December 5, 2013). It even went as far as people putting their foot down and saying they distinctly remember seeing his funeral on television.

While memory implantation or, more specifically in this point of discussion, implanting false memories is not a brand new thing, it only exists mostly based on suggestion. Because of the strange and funny way the brain works, scientists took the bold idea of memory implantation using sophisticated technology.

Of Mice and Memories

Steve Ramirez, who at the time was a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), executed the idea by tricking a lab rat inside a small metal and plastic box into thinking that it had previously been shocked in that location. Veritably, Ramirez and his fellow MIT colleague Xu Liu planted that false memory, resulting in the mouse undergoing signs of stress and trauma as if that event actually happened to it in that specific box.

The Ramirez and Liu experiment’s success was the result of a two-year effort in their idea that specific brain cells linked to memory can be identified and also be manipulated to remember a “memory” that never even happened. Howard Eichenbaum, memory researcher and director of the Center for Neuroscience at Boston University, praised this work. “It’s a real breakthrough,” Eichenbaum said. “(It) shows the power of these techniques to address fundamental questions about how the brain works.”

Another experiment, this time by Johns Hopkins neuroscientists, studied how signals between two nerve cells (synapses) travel in order to create memories. Interestingly, there are proteins found in those synapses that die and regenerate in such a pace that scientists simply cannot keep up. It took them a while to understand how learning lasts and becomes memories. The Johns Hopkins neuroscientists used large-scale studies of such proteins, as well as high-tech chemical analyses, to reveal proteins within synapses found in mice’s brains. While most proteins lasted only for 1–2 days, the team found 164 proteins that lasted far longer—as much as several weeks or months—and were estimated to last for years. These specific proteins are so stable that they essentially contribute to long-term memory and learning.

A Spotless Mind In Real Life?

Perhaps one of the most famous depictions of memory erasure and modification is the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. In the film, a company called Lacuna specialized in erasing targeted memories. The protagonists had memories of each other’s relationship together deleted from their minds by creating new ones that did not include the other person. In addition, movies like “The Bourne Identity”, “Men In Black” and “Total Recall” had similar memory implantation, erasure or modification plot points as well.

While the work of Ramirez and Liu was performed on lab mice, this feat opened the possibility of successfully manipulating, adding, or even erasing memories just like in the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. This fact can get polarizing: If science can help delete a bad memory or create a good one, what are its implications?

Implications of Memory Implantation, Modification or Destruction

On one hand, manipulating, adding, or even erasing memories can be a great cure for certain situations such as when a person is suffering from psychiatric distress [such as substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)]. A similar study by Christine Denny and her colleagues at Columbia University suggests that memories may be revived, even for people suffering from Alzheimer’s—a disease attached to the common assumption that a person experiencing it completely loses their memories. As such, the MIT, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia experiments may yield positive results for certain people under the right circumstances.

On the other hand, memory implantation or modification and destruction may also have negative implications, especially regarding ethics. Some would even argue that while people experience unpleasant memories, not all of them are truly bad; some would say that they may even be necessary sometimes. For example, remembering and learning from a past mistake is crucial to a person’s development and any future actions they could take because of those lessons. As such, experts think the ability to get rid of or at least soften memories may have a bold and drastic effect on society and may even have a disruptive impact on the law.

Either way, these studies on mice have a long way to go before they could actually be done on humans. If such a piece of technology is already available, would you choose to reboot your memory just like you would a computer?

Laser Fusion And The Actuality of “Absolutely Clean Energy” in 10 Years!

An international team of researchers working from the University of South Wales in Sydney, Australia is developing a technique using a new generation of lasers to create fusion without the need for fuel elements that leave radioactive waste. This bold idea of laser fusion will produce “absolutely clean energy” and can be achieved within the next decade.

Led by theoretical physics emeritus professor Heinrich Hora, his international team of physicists is working on these high-intensity lasers producing more power than ever before—that it will make it viable to create fusion energy with hydrogen-boron reactions.

Laser Fusion and the Australian Team Working on the Project

Hora and his international team believe that the path to fusion via hydrogen-boron is closer to reality and appears to be more promising than the other approaches, including the deuterium-tritium fueled fusion being pursued by the French International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and the U.S. National Ignition Facility. The Australian approach would require extreme temperatures of about 200 times the temperature of the core of the sun—which has been difficult to achieve until now. The team believes that advances in laser technology would make it possible.

Hora’s team is convinced that their approach in laser fusion is ahead of all the current technologies pursuing fusion energy. It was Hora who made the prediction in the 1970s that it is possible to fuse hydrogen and boron without thermal equilibrium. In his theory, instead of heating the fuel to the sun’s temperature through the use of high-strength magnets that will control the superhot plasma in the toroidal chamber, using hydrogen-boron could be achieved with two powerful bursts of laser in rapid succession. The laser bursts will apply precision non-linear forces that compress the nuclei together.

Hydrogen-Boron Fusion

The difference between hydrogen-boron fusion from other laser fusion approaches is that it does not produce neutrons—which means that radioactivity does not escape in this reaction. This approach generates energy that converts directly into electricity, unlike the other energy production sources, including nuclear fission, coal and gas that rely on heated liquids to drive the turbines. The main problem with hydrogen-boron fusion approach is the need for high temperatures that may reach about 3 billion degrees celsius.

New developments in laser technology have made it closer to the development of a dual laser approach. A series of experiments from around the globe have demonstrated that an “avalanche” fusion may be triggered in a trillionth/second blast by a petawatt level laser pulse, with fleeting bursts that pack quadrillion watts of energy. The ensuing fusion is achievable once scientists are able to utilize this avalanche. This type of reaction has been confirmed by simulations, parallel tests, and experiments that Hora and his colleagues from six nations conducted.

HB11, an Australian company holding Hora’s patents, believes that if the forthcoming research will not run into any unforeseen major engineering problems, they could build a prototype reaction within the next 10 years.

What makes the approach simpler is the fact that the fuel used and resulting waste products are safe, and there is no need for a turbine generator and heat exchanger, with the lasers readily available.

This bold idea of laser fusion could result in a safer and more viable energy source for decades to come. The race for clean energy is truly on.

Grocery is Evolving, Here are Six Trends

The year 2017 was big for the grocery industry especially after Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods and its 460 plus stores.  The purchase gave the e-commerce giant access to cost structure, business practices, and spending practices of consumers inside the store to marry with their digital channels.

Last year, the grocery industry also saw the convergence of online and offline channels. Business Insider reported on how average consumers would shop at five different types of stores to fulfill their grocery needs. The article also cited a Deloitte 2013 American pantry report that the trend grew stronger in 2017 with the arrival of more online stores and delivery options.

Consumers are now more discerning and are armed with more spending power along with ways to research and buy products. They no longer settle for less when it comes to things that they want. They hunt for both large and private-label companies that have a wide selection and have value-for-money products.

Here some of the biggest Grocery Trends for 2018 that are changing the industry:

1. The Intelligent Shopper Who Reads Ingredient Lists

According to Innova Market Insights, mind-body connection has a great influence when it comes to introducing new food products to the supermarket. This is because 70% of UK and US customers want to know and understand the ingredient list of the foods that they consume.

Apart from wanting to know what’s inside a box of food, items that have ethical claims on the box have also been experiencing a seven-fold increase in sales since 2010.  Consumers now want to know where their food comes from, how it’s made, and the route it takes before it arrives at the grocery shelves.

2. Fresh Produce is King

In a recent Packaged Facts survey, 75% of shoppers said the produce department is the most important section of the supermarket. This is followed by meat, poultry and seafood at 60%. Store band products and farm foods ranked third and fourth at 36% and 35% respectively, while the in-store bakery was deemed least important at 29%.

This survey clearly shows that grocery stores and retail outlets need to offer more fresh produce to retain more customers. The public has waned away from packaged, frozen, and heavily frozen food and now want fresh and healthier options. In the online store setup, the challenge is how to keep fresh food in the inventory without the high supply chain costs associated with carrying perishable goods.

3. More Farmers’ Markets and Artisanal Products

Farmers’ markets have also become in demand because people are now willing to spend for premium, hand-made items. They’re also interested in personally knowing the people who raised the pig or cattle that they eat. There are plus points for those who prepare their own products. Farmers’ markets offer a wealth of produce and products ranging from wild honey, mushrooms, organic eggs, chickens, sausages and hams.

The fresh and home-made stamp is more appealing to consumers now rather than buying canned or processed products laden with preservatives and chemicals that they do not understand. The beauty of the farmers’ market is that consumers can directly ask producers details about their products. . This gives buyers the satisfaction that they’re bringing home honest food which they know are good for them and their families.

4. Multi-Sensory Experience

Another practice that will become increasingly popular this year is tactile or the sense of touch. If you think about it, there is nothing more hands-on than being a chef or a home cook. The new in-thing when it comes to food products and packaging is making it multi-sensory.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in visuals when it comes to our food just like the multi-colored unicorn drink or the pure black food. There are now rainbow-colored Doritos that are definitely more appealing to the eyes. There are also a lot of desserts in the market that are hard to pass up because of how they’re presented on the display stand.

When it comes to beverages, juices with bits of aloe or tapioca balls are a hit because they add a different flavor and sensation to the tongue.

All of these are meant to enhance the dining experience by making the food more than just one-dimensional.

Moreover, 3D printing is now possible and the technology is picking up. This bold development has opened up a new world of possibilities in the food retail and grocery industry.

5. Ordering via Technology

Technology and food used to be worlds apart but bold innovations and ideas have made them fit perfectly together.

Thanks to Artificial Intelligence, home-based assistants such as Alexa, Sonos, and Google Home. They provide new ways to order and buy food and other home essentials. Recently, one of America’s biggest chain of convenience stores and coffee Shops, Sheetz, announced that their made to order food offered in all of their 564 stores can now be ordered via Alexa.

Experts predict that there will be over 55 million smart devices in homes across America by 2020, and this will make each phone or tablet a component that forms the largest supermarket or grocery chain on the planet.

The Internet of Things will soon pave the way for functional smart refrigerators and pantries that can order or re-stock needed supplies before they run out. Consumers will never experience running to the convenience store because they’re out of shampoo or toothpaste.

6. Smaller Stores, More Personalized Service

Packaged Facts also reported the average size of supermarkets in the US has been shrinking since 2006. The current average is 46,000 square feet, with more smaller-format stores opening. Walmart and Kroger are leaning heavily in the small stores market. For example Kroger’s Turkey Hill Market has an average size of only 6,800 square feet. The contents are more limited to everyday items and produce intended for people who shop every day or on a fairly regular basis.

This is a stark contrast to the S n R’s and Costco’s which encourage shopping for the long haul.

The smaller stores also give shoppers a sense of community and personalized service. The products are curated and recommended to shoppers with consideration of their previous purchases. For example, a store employee won’t recommend a new organic peanut butter brand to a person known to have allergies or push chicken thighs on sale to a vegetarian.

This may be considered trivial but consumers feel more comfortable shopping at a place where sellers understand their needs.

Times have indeed changed. Supermarkets are no longer just about what’s instant and readily available. Consumers are once again king and they are not afraid to wield their purchasing power to get the things that they want – whenever and wherever. Cost is only consequential to good quality, freshness and convenience. These trends will only expand and continue in the years to come.

 

Smart Cities in Africa: Their Rise and The Challenges in Their Construction

Africa is one of the last places on earth to urbanize—but it’s a development that’s finally happening. Some optimists are convinced that smart cities in Africa are the new frontier. Sustained population growth will drive economic development, with Africa potentially supplanting China as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse.

Much of Africa’s urban growth has happened away from the public eye in the past few decades—that is, far from international news or media headlines. When it comes to the increase of cities—particularly, megacities with inhabitants numbering to 10 million or more—the discussion has been overtaken by Asia. After all, there are just three megacities in Africa—Cairo with 9.5 million residents, Kinshasa with 9.4 million and Lagos which has a 21 million population—with a few more expected to join their ranks in the coming decade.

 The Rise of Smart Cities in Africa

Different cities and countries use the concept of smart cities as possible solutions for a wide range of problems. These include mobility, continued growth, congestion, pollution, energy production and distribution, health services, connectivity, and sustainability. Everywhere in the world, plans for smart cities are being prepared, with Toronto, Canada heading the move.

For African countries, a smart city solves several problems and presents a wide range of opportunities. By using technology and creating new cities from the ground up, smart cities in Africa would help decongest crowded megacities, provide employment, develop new technologies, and help leapfrog the country’s economy.

Megacities as Solutions

A megacity, by definition, is an urban region that has more than 10 million dwellers. Currently, there are 29 megacities in the world with two of them located in Africa. By 2030, there will be six African megacities.

The pressures of urbanization will be greatest in Africa. In 2010, only 36 percent of all Africans lived in cities and this will increase to 50 percent by 2030. African cities need to undergo a transformation because the areas were not meant to handle such large populations. For example, Nairobi, Kenya—with three million people—was originally designed for 350,000 inhabitants only. Expected to become megacities soon are Accra, Johannesburg-Pretoria, Khartoum and Nairobi.

Creating a smart city near a major urban center is the best solution—hence, the idea of building smart cities in Africa. It will help decongest the area, attracting industries and companies to locate outside of the megacity at the same time. It would then attract new talent to work there and away from the established companies in the major cities.

Technology has shown to enable countries to jump development stages and join the digital revolution. The digital divide exists because these countries do not have the infrastructure and technology to compete with the world’s leading countries. With the use of technology and partnership with multinational companies, these countries can leapfrog, skip several stages of development, and be competitive on the world stage. Foreign capital and investments in digital ventures fuel smart cities.

Challenges in Building Smart Cities in Africa

For smart cities in Africa to become a reality, the country will need not only funding but also commitment and continuity. A lot of smart city initiatives depend on the infrastructure. Unfortunately, some of the planned developments have not yet taken off. An example is Ghana’s Hope City ICT park located outside Accra, which has yet to start four years after its announcement. Expected to be completed in 2030, Konza City in Kenya has already collected a number of tech companies. Another problem that will need to be addressed is the fact that 60 percent of Africa’s urban residents live in slum areas. Affordable urban housing options need to be developed and turned over to the masses in order for people to stop being “informal settlers” in various areas in the metropolis.

In relation to the topic of smart cities in Africa: Smart cities are bold initiatives meant to develop, improve, and enhance existing programs and infrastructure in many areas all over the world.  Planning is key, and issues of various sectors must be considered and factored in to make sure that nothing and no one is left behind. With development coming to Africa, it may be the new dawn that people have been looking forward to for decades.