Category Archives: Innovation

New Approach to Possibly Eredicate Malaria altogether

Malaria is a well-known, deadly disease that has been torturing humanity for ages. The combat against this disease is an ongoing fight, but a Dutch research group decided to approach the problem from a totally different angle, and developed an innovative and promising approach. 

Instead of focussing on treating and curing patients or attacking the mosquitos (who, after getting the parasite from a patient infect other people), they focus on fighting the parasite and so preventing the infection of mosquitos; thereby targeting the spreading of the disease. As the mosquitos themselves only live for about 3 weeks, this means that (once trials are successful and the resources are there to work this out on a global scale) we might be able to combat malaria for once and for all within a considerable timeframe.

The idea is great, a typical example of thinking out-of-the-box — being creative with the knowledge you have and taking a different perspective. Research and trials are well on their way, and the funding that epidemiologist Teun Bousema recently received through the Gates award gives him the opportunity to develop this concept in what may become a groundbreaking project writing history. 

From Smog to Clean Air and Diamonds

The Smog Project —  a project that creates 75% cleaner air and diamonds.
Air pollution is a phenomenon we all know.  Most of us are aware that, probably, we should be doing something about it, but the real treat of global warming seems to be too distant for many to actually take considerable action. Still, we all know how refreshing it can be when you escape from the city for while to enjoy the ‘fresh’ air in rural places or at the beach.

Daan Roosegaarde, also involved in the glowing-plant project I blogged about earlier (yes, it seems like he is on his way to master innovative thinking), decided to address this urban pollution problem in an ambitious project to create smog-free parks in Beijing.

Not only will this result in ‘clean’ recreation areas for residents, an integral part of the project also includes the creation of diamonds from the residues of charcoal, which is a major component of the black dust.

By buying a designer smog-ring,

“you are buying a cubic kilometer of clean Beijing air” (Roosegaarde)

According to Roosegaarde, the rings are the “aware makers.”

Lasers installed on top of the centre-tower in the park(s) visualize the clean air (laser beams cutting through air only show for the human eye when they ‘hit’ particles).

The first pilot version of the park should be up and running by the beginning of next summer, and the first rings should be available by the end of 2014.

Another piece of innovative thinking with high potential for the community.

What do you think, will this project be as promising in practice as it appears to be in theory?

Check the full article here.

Artificial Intelligence: Exciting or Frightening?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) — a fascinating topic, which I keep having trouble with wrapping my head around, perhaps because I simply don’t know enough about it.

I just watched Her from Spike Jonze, a beautiful and fascinating film that I would totally recommend watching, and it made me think again about the insane speed of technological development and the question whether we will ever create something that is smarter than us and will eventually overpower ourselves? And in turn, whether that would be a bad thing, or whether we should just consider that as some new development in Darwin’s evolutionary theory?

The biggest issue in this whole debate is the idea of machines or operating systems developing a conscience and way of independent reasoning — together with their ability to learn by experience, could this be potentially problematic to the world as we know it now: where we control merely everything that’s artificial?

People have been exploring this possible potential path in technological development for years, especially in science-fiction. Think, for example, about supercomputer Hall from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssee. In his article Is Google Making us Stupid (2008), Nicholas Carr parallels his own mind and what the internet does to us to the character of Hall. Carr describes his “uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain.” He compares his feeling with the famous scene with supercomputer HAL,  where astronaut Dave Bowman is disconnecting the memory circuits that control HAL’s artificial brain. Carr states, “My mind isn’t going – so far as I can tell – but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think.”

I’m sorry, I’m wandering off topic to an entirely different trend that’s going on, which is also very interesting but we’ll save that for another time (I can suggest some readings on that one if you are interested).

Let’s get back to the relevance of 2001: A Space Odyssee for the future of AI. I guess the biggest question right now is, once we are at the point where operating systems can develop independently, will we still be able to pull the plug, like Bowman does with HAL, if needed or desired?

Please note I’m not arguing against AI or to stop technological development altogether, at all — it allows us to do a lot of amazing things in many different fields (more about AI in general in the video below). As I mentioned before, I’m just not quite sure yet what my stance on this issue is. I am sure that I find this a fascinating topic — the dazzling speed of technological advancements  is starting to blur the line between science-fiction and science-prediction.

Curious to see what you think about (the future of ) AI. Call out!

Light Producing Plants as Future Streetlights

Genetic modification, in my eyes, has besides far-reaching possibilities possibly even more far-reaching concerns. However, over the past years scientists used our knowledge of genetic modification in a very innovative way, and this year Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde takes their results to another level — looking into possibilities to light our world with glowing trees instead of street-lights (Article).

This is one of those simple ideas that is just genius. Someone came up with the idea of using genetic engineering techniques to insert genes from e.g. glowing jellyfish or fire flies into the DNA of plants, and over the past years several research groups  (bioglow, glowingplants) ‘simply’ did this, which resulted in literally glowing plants.

This new definition of natural sustainable light is hard not to consider as a ‘break-through,’ and it may very well dictate our street-view within the next 15 years or so.

Check this video in which Daan Roosegaarde shortly talks about glowing plants and his ideas at South by Southwest.

This could potentially save tons of money considering the cut on electricity, not to mention the pros nature-wise — more trees, less waste; more oxygen, less CO2.

What do you think? Are these ideas with realistic potential?

 

Connections: the core of ‘thinking’ – Deep Brain Stimulation

Connections are not only the key in creative and innovative thinking (see Welcome), but also form the core of thinking itself. Brain activity (‘thinking’) is, simply put, a pathway(s) or connection(s) that is active. The so-called firing of action-potentials in neurons (=activity) allows us to think, perform the tasks we do, and function altogether.

Many psychiatric disorders as well as neurological disorders (in my opinion these disorders lie on one big grey continuous spectrum, but for some clarification/discussion I would like to refer you here) result from an imbalance in these connections. Over the past three decades scientists have been busy developing a treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), with which they can interfere with these connections and alter their connectivity – ideally of course reversing the imbalance. Although there is still a lot to discover — even the exact effect DBS has is still under debate — it is a very exciting and possibly promising approach.

This entertaining but above all informative TED-talk by neurosurgeon Andres Lozano gives you a bit of an idea of what DBS entails and the remarkable results trials have shown.

Besides a possible novel treatment option, DBS also allows for a possibly better understanding of how connectivity in the brain works. Especially in combination with imaging techniques such as DTI (Diffusion Tensor Imaging) DBS research may be able to give us valuable insights into one of the core fundamentals of our brain — the way we are wired: connectivity.

Altogether, exciting stuff on the key idea of this blog: connections.

However, in this case it is not about making connections when creatively thinking about things but about the act of thinking itself: connectivity in the brain.