Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for November 13, 2019

Thirty year old paper retracted - but it's not a record; The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has suggestions about what to look for in the recent Facebook document leak; There are more than a million possible DNA-like molecules; A TED talk describing how quantum computing changes the game for cryptographers; and a Steem essay proposing the use of drone-carrying submarines to replace aircraft carriers

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  1. Thirty years after publication, a paper cited by creationists is retracted - Thirty years, to the month, after publication, the paper RETRACTED ARTICLE: In Vitro Studies of Interactions Between Frequent and Unique Mrnas and Cytoplasmic Factors from Brain Tissue of Several Species of Wild Timber Voles of Northern Eurasia, Clethrionomys Glareolus, Clethrionomys Frater and Clethrionomys Gapperi: a New Criticism to a Modern Molecular-Genetic Concept of Biological Evolution has been retracted. The 1989 paper received criticism in 1994 because it used methods that had never been published in scientific journals, and some of the papers it cited were riddled with basic errors like spelling and grammar. Additionally, some of the cited authors could not be found, and one of the authors did not write a paper that was credited to him. Dan Larhammar wrote the 1994 critique of the paper, but he was surprised last year when he learned that it had never been retracted. Larhammar contacted the journal, and after an exchange of e-mails, the article was now retracted. The paper's author, Dmitrii A. Kuznetsov has reportedly been dogged by allegations of fraud and misconduct, and resigned from the editor's position of two journals after scientific misconduct allegations in 2013. Perhaps surprisingly, thirty years is not a record. One paper was retracted 80 years after publication.

  2. What Reporters Should Look For in Latest Facebook Document Leak - On November 6, NBC news released 7,000 pages of leaked facebook documents. These pages included: 3,799 pages of sealed exhibits; 2,737 pages of exhibits; 415 pages of notes and summaries of the exhibits; and 20 pages of memoranda. This article, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), suggests that journalists should especially look for documents that provide perspective on how facebook's leadership views the market and those that shed light on Facebook's views towards privacy and competition. In particular, the EFF suggests that anti-trust law applies differently, depending upon whether Facebook considers itself to be a big-tech company in competition with other behemoths like Amazon, Google, and Apple, or if it considers itself primarily a social media company, with no credible competition. Further, the article suggests that it would be useful to illuminate value judgments in the documents that reveal whether Facebook is using its access to data in order to thwart competition.

  3. DNA Just One of More Than 1 Million Possible 'Genetic Molecules,' Scientists Find - According to a September 9 study in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, there could be more than 1 million chemical compounds that could store information for life in the same fashion as DNA and RNA. Co-author, Jay Goodwin, is quoted saying, "It is truly exciting to consider the potential for alternate genetic systems ... that these might possibly have emerged and evolved in different environments, perhaps even on other planets or moons within our solar system". Another co-author, Jim Cleaves adds that there are many more of these chemicals than the team expected. To make this finding, the scientists wrote a computer program to simulate the way that DNA and RNA assemble their nucleotides with unique pairings, all in a line, then they set it loose trying to model other molecules that will assemble themselves in the same fashion. In this fashion, they found 1,160,000 different molecules. A third co-author, Markus Meringer says that the next step will be to try to test some of these molecules in the lab. The findings might also fuel medical advances, as co-author, Pieter Burger suggests that this research could provide insights that lead to discovery of new drugs. h/t RealClear Science

  4. Cryptographers, quantum computers and the war for information - This TED talk was published in May, 2019, and it came across the RSS feed for on November 12. In the talk, cryptographer Craig Costello discusses the history of the cat and mouse game between code-makers and code-breakers. According to Costello, the contest has been going on for centuries. He gives one example of Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed when Queen Elizabeth was able to decipher coded messages between Mary and her soldiers. Then he gives the more familiar example of Alan Turing breaking the Nazi's Enigma machine, during WWII. Costello goes on to note that the contest seemed to be over in the 1990s, when cryptographers finally made codes that couldn't be broken in any reasonable amount of time. However, he says that the looming arrival of quantum computing reopens the contest, because quantum computers change the assumptions that cryptographers made when developing their algorithms. To break an encrypted string, he says, a classical computer must try all of the possible keys, one at a time. In contrast, a large enough quantum computer can try all of the possibilities in a single step. In closing, he issues a call for cryptographers to step up their work before quantum computers break the current ones. He also issues a warning, saying that hostile nations and criminals may already be storing encrypted information so that they'll be ready to break the encryption when quantum computing becomes available to them. Finally, he suggests that geometric problems in 500 dimensions might be the key to the next generation of encryption that will also be secured against attacks by quantum computers.

  5. STEEM Submarines With Drones - The Future Of Aircraft Carriers - In another example of the cat-and-mouse games that are so often associated with warfare, this short essay by @kralizec points out that although the air craft carrier is an imposing military force, it is also vulnerable to advanced modern weapons, such as hypersonic weaponry, high-speed torpedoes, or anti-ship ballistic missiles. For this reason, says @kralizec, the air craft carrier might fade into obsolescence within a generation. To replace them, the essay proposes the use of unmanned or lightly manned submarines that are loaded with autonomous drones. As an example, it suggests the use of American nuclear ballistic Ohio class submarines, which have the same firepower as an aircraft carrier, but a crew size of just 155 people.

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Comments 2

Genetic information will become encoded in illimitable way. Today a single human sperm has a bandwidth of about 1.5B bits. Each sperm in an ejaculation has some bespoke bits, and the total bandwidth of an ejaculation isn't a back of the hankerchief calculation, but it's higher than 1.5B bits which is ~a couple megabytes. The total volume of bits in an ejaculation is dependent on sperm count, which normally is above 60 million, meaning the total bandwidth of an ejaculation is ~120 million megabytes or higher.

Given that bandwidth potential and the ability to transcend extant DNA in utility via ~1m other mechanisms, I expect that not only bespoke creatures, but communications and information handling of every conceivable kind will ensue, and rapidly improve.

It will probably be a long time until we can fabricate silicon, or any other, robots that we can program in this way. Desperately avoiding degenerate memes regarding programmers and sexbots, btw.


13.11.2019 19:57

That's an excellent point. The article didn't approach it from that perspective, but this does seem to open up millions of new pathways for CRISPR-like technologies and other biological programming techniques as discussed in that TED talk from the other day. I spend so much time filtering articles and getting a basic understanding of the ones I include that I don't always think through their implications, so thanks for pointing that out!

14.11.2019 15:15