Monthly Archives: oktober 2016

Information and Big Data, the exploding ability to Design beyond Nature

By | Algemeen | No Comments

A combination of unprecedented control and manufacturing techniques allows us to structure and create new (meta-)materials over a large range of scales. This development will vastly increase the range of phenomena that we can understand, including known states of matter under new conditions and behavior of molecules over time in a living person. Even the idea of making synthetic cells or designing new, industrially useful forms of living systems is no longer science fiction. Creating this wealth of new materials, devices and living systems is likely to lead to a bigger revolution than the introduction of plastics. The design of such systems can be used to address major issues in the global societal challenges, such as in energy, health, and sustainability. These systems will also provide major new business opportunities, even with as yet non-existent products in so far non-existent markets.

Examples.

We are witnessing a revolution in our understanding and control of complex forms of matter. Complex systems (both organic, inorganic, and hybrid) are composed of individual entities (molecules, grains of sand, genes, viruses, cells, individual organisms) that interact with each other and with their environment in non-linear, dynamic ways. These interactions give rise to emergent properties at larger scales in space and/or time through self-organization. Complex systems arise at all scales –from elementary particle properties and interactions, magnetism, genetic and metabolic networks in living systems, to oscillating chemical reactions and self-organizing molecules, to intermediate scales in soft matter such as adaptive materials, colloids and granular media, turbulent multiphase and/or multicomponent flows, to macroscopic and cosmological scales such as turbulence in fluids and plasmas.

A theory of the fundamental physical laws unifying the quantum world of smallest particles to the largest structures of our universe is within reach. New theoretical ideas question the nature of space and time, including quantum black holes and the very early universe. An unprecedented number of connections between theoretical concepts will emerge linking areas of physics that superficially have little in common. For example, the remarkable correspondences between theories of gravitation and quantum field theories will allow us to make quantitative predictions of phenomena in solid-state physics, such as high-temperature super-conductors, which have so far been incalculable.

In technology, the extensive control over quantum superposition and entanglement forms an entirely new resource to be exploited as a novel conceptual basis for technology. New sensors reaching the fundamental limit of quantum sensitivity will be developed for applications such as single photon detection used in medical and space microscopes and for single nuclear spin imaging, i.e. MRI on single atoms.

Large-scale circuits are needed for a quantum computer capable of solving yet-unsolvable problems, notably the simulation of material properties, and also for deepening our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of quantum mechanics. It is expected this new control will allow to entirely suppress decoherence in large quantum systems, implying the ability to keep Schrödinger’s cat forever alive and thus solving what used to be a fundamental problem.

Society urgently demands new technologies to deal with grand societal challenges such as renewable energy, resource efficiency, climate change, scarcity of materials, and health care. The physical and chemical sciences are indispensable for finding solutions to these problems. At the same time these challenges create exciting new business opportunities that are bound to enhance the future economic competitiveness.

The for mentioned developments in science and technology are in a crucial position to contribute to solutions to the grand societal and ecological challenges of the future. There is every reason to be highly ambitious about the future.

Accelerated Evolution

By | Algemeen | No Comments

More and more in the early part of this 21st century we are being made to realize the creative power of complexity dynamics and its potential for system self-organization and emergence. In some arenas such as a multicultural society, the economy, technology, the arts, and even our daily lives, self-organization and emergence is a source of great diversity and creativity; but in other areas such as financial markets, terror networks, and the global climate it can be a source of great instability and destruction.

Over the last 400 years cause and effect has told us a lot about the dynamics of simple systems without feedback, but the dynamics of complex systems with feedback is a subject that is becoming increasingly relevant and important to understand.

Fundamentally complexity is consolidated information.  People might generally think about evolution in terms of plants and animals, but in reality plants and animal are really just information structures, and evolution simply creates ever complex information structures (structures that are ever more difficult to mathematically compress).

So essentially evolution is not about biology, it is about emergent information. Evolution created us, and we in turn create complex information structures.  In fact it could be reasonably argued that in our ever-more rapidly interconnecting world, we are likely fast approaching a phase transition in human development, a transition to a whole new age ; An Age of Accelerated Evolution.  And this new age of accelerated evolution will not be dominated by the old linear paradigm of simple cause and effect, but by the new nonlinear paradigm of complex Integration and Emergence…

Accelerated modern human–induced species losses.

By | Algemeen | No Comments

We live amid a global wave of anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss: species and population extirpations and, critically, declines in local species abundance. Particularly, human impacts on animal biodiversity are an under-recognized form of global environmental change. Arguably the most serious aspect of the environmental crisis is the loss of biodiversity—the other living things with which we share Earth. This affects human well-being by interfering with crucial ecosystem services such as crop pollination and water purification and by destroying humanity’s beautiful, fascinating, and culturally important living companions. Analysis shows that current extinction rates vastly exceed natural average background rates, even when the background rate is considered to be double previous estimates and when  data on modern vertebrate extinctions are treated in the most conservative plausible way. Emphasizing that calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis because the aim is to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity. Therefore, although biologists cannot say precisely how many species there are, or exactly how many have gone extinct in any time interval, it can be  confidently concluded that modern extinction rates are exceptionally high, that they are increasing, and that they suggest a mass extinction under way—the sixth of its kind in Earth’s 4.5 billion years of history.

Mass extinctions are devastating, and yet life eventually returns to normal. The rate of recovery depends on many factors, but the most important is the scale of the extinction. After most mass extinctions life recovers within a few million years. Recovery also depends on which plants and animals survive. If the mass extinction hit all groups more or less equally, as most seem to, then there is a good chance that one or two species from each major group will survive. These act as an ecological framework, occupying most of the broad niches, and so the basic ecosystem structure survives. New species evolve to fill the gaps and the recovered ecosystem may be quite comparable to the one that existed before the disaster.

In the past 500 years, humans have triggered a wave of extinction, threat, and local population declines that may be comparable in both rate and magnitude with the five previous mass extinctions of Earth’s history. Similar to other mass extinction events, the effects of this sixth extinction wave extend across taxonomic groups, but they are also selective, with some taxonomic groups and regions being particularly affected.

Species diversity ensures ecosystem resilience, giving ecological communities the scope they need to withstand stress. Thus while conservationists often justifiably focus their efforts on species-rich ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs — which have a lot to lose — a comprehensive strategy for saving biodiversity must also include habitat types with fewer species, like grasslands, tundra, and polar seas — for which any loss could be irreversibly devastating. And while much concern over extinction focuses on globally lost species, most of biodiversity’s benefits take place at a local level, and conserving local populations is the only way to ensure genetic diversity critical for a species’ long-term survival.

Because animal loss represents a major change in biodiversity, it is likely to have important effects on ecosystem functioning. Metaanalyses of biodiversity-ecosystem function studies suggests that the impact of biodiversity losses on ecosystem functions is comparable in scale with that of other global changes (such as pollution and nutrient deposition.. The effects of defaunation appear not to be merely proximally important to the ecology of affected species and systems but also to have evolutionary consequences. Several studies have detected rapid evolutionary changes inmorphology or life history of short-lived organisms  or human-exploited species. Because defaunation of vertebrates often selects on body size, and smaller individuals are often unable to replace fully the ecological services their larger counterparts provide, there is strong potential for cascading effects that result from changing body-size distributions. Still poorly studied are the indirect evolutionary effects of defaunation on other species, not directly affected by human defaunation. For example, changes in abundance or composition of pollinators or seed dispersers can cause rapid evolution in plantmating systems and seed morphology . There is a pressing need to understand the ubiquity and importance of such evolutionary cascades.

The evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history. Analysis emphasizes that our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years. If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue, humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits. On human time scales, this loss would be effectively permanent because in the aftermath of past mass extinctions, the living world took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to rediversify. Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species and to alleviate pressures on their populations—notably habitat loss, overexploitation for economic gain, and climate change. All of these are related to human population size and growth, which increases consumption and economic inequity. However, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.