3 things direct from the future

33rd Edition

Once every 2 weeks I will deliver “3 things direct from the future”. A 2 minute read that will always give you:

  • one thing that can help,
  • one thing to be wary of, and
  • one thing to amaze.

If this sounds interesting to you then please subscribe.


1. One thing that helps

Xenobots: Aliens From Frogs

Most of the robots we know are made of synthetic materials like metals and plastics. But this time, we have a different kind of bot: one made of actual living cells. Presenting the xenobots (not to be confused with the Xenomorph from the Alien movies). These xenobots may be the answer to cleaning up our clogged arteries.  

Xenobots colors

What’s a xenobot? It’s a creature derived from the stem cells of a frog embryo. Usually, these stem cells develop into the frog’s skin but when separated from the embryo they, amazingly, cluster together and use their hair-like structure called cilia to start to swim. 

While they have no brains and can’t reproduce, xenobots can react to their environment and stimuli. When they are presented with particles of iron oxide, they sweep them up into piles. And when they are cut, they can heal themselves. Mind-blowing right!

Researchers are still working on how to develop and program these newly created creatures. Possible applications include targeting cholesterol and fatty acids to clean up clogged arteries and potentially even clearing up polluted waterways. 


2. One to be wary of

Home Video Hack

Home security cameras provide a measure of protection by giving you a visual feed of what’s happening inside and outside your home. However, don’t forget about the need to keep your cameras secure.

In China, and most-likely elsewhere, hackers are actively targeting home security cameras to sell home video footage. While video of people in their most intimate moments fetches around $10, a simple video of a family lazing around in the living room still fetches $3. Why someone would want to watch my lot sitting around spilling their food and watching Marvel films baffles me but I guess there are weirder things around.

These ethically-challenged entrepreneurs actively install covert cameras in hotel rooms, but they are also actively hacking home camera systems. In fact, they offer your login credentials to buyers for access to a live feed of the hacked cameras. This has been going on all over China but it’s happened in other parts of the world too. So how can you protect yourself? Two simple but important things.

  1. Change your default password immediately. Hackers try to use your device’s default username and password, so once you get your cameras installed, change the default credentials immediately. Use strong passwords made up of letters, numbers and characters.  Don’t use personal details like names or birthdays and nothing from this list of Top 200 Most Common Passwords (apparently 27076 people use the password “daniel” and it takes 5 seconds to hack!)
  2. Update your firmware. When manufacturers find a loophole in their firmware, they patch them up through updates. Check for updates regularly and apply them as soon as possible.

Yes, in a span of a minute or two, you can make your home more secure. Time well spent.


3. One to amaze

Monkey Magic Thought Control

If you are an amputee that wants to control your prostheses in the same way you control your original limbs you would be incredibly optimistic at the moment with a lot of amazing work in progress.  Most of the methods currently being tested involve putting some wires into your brain to read the signals. While this is proving to be effective, it may not be completely appealing. Stanford University researchers have recognised this and are working on replacing the wires with ultrasound.

Domino-size (who knew dominos were a size-measure now?) ultrasound transducers have been implanted into the skulls of two monkeys, but importantly, without breaching the brain’s protective membrane. Ultrasound imaging is then used to read blood flow changes to see which neurons are active. This method can predict with 78% accuracy the eye movements of the monkeys as well as 89% accuracy in predicting whether the monkeys would reach left or right with a delay of just 2 seconds. 

This research looks to give patients another option for controlling their prosthetics. While it is currently slower compared with models that implant wires into the brain, further progress in ultrasound mind-reading might one day give us a way to control not only prosthetics but also external devices without the need for messing inside the brain.

Use the force Luke.

Have a great week.

Daniel J McKinnon

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