Biotech: Human Modification and Augmentation

Biotech: Human Modification and Augmentation

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This Episode is sponsored by Audible   Biotechnology offers us a road to  virtually endless ways to modify,   alter, and improve on nature… but should  we use it to do the same to ourselves?   So today we will be examining biotech and  we should start by asking what we mean by   biotech. We are likely at the start of what  will be a long revolution in biotechnology   which will change life for humanity as thoroughly  as the industrial revolution and information   revolution have, if not more so, especially given  that it might involve changing people literally.   The word “biotech” means a lot of things to a  lot of people, so I think it would be useful   to spend a little time discussing what we  mean when we use the word in this episode.   The most obvious type is genetic manipulation.  In principle, if any person, animal, plant,   or microbe has an ability, it should be possible  to recreate that ability through genetic   manipulation. This should allow everyone to be as  smart as the smartest human who has ever lived,  

as strong as the strongest, and so on. It could  allow us to hibernate during long journeys through   space, or navigate by the Earth’s magnetic  field. In reality, the possibilities are   probably far greater than what has naturally  evolved and happens to have not gone extinct.   It could allow the restoration of long dead  species, or the creation of ones which we’ve   never seen, like walking trees, or intelligent  trees, or trees that grow candy or bacon.  

I suspect that when most people hear the term  genetic manipulation, what first comes to mind   is something like CRISPR, or using tailored  retroviruses as a way to alter the genes   of a living person by adding, subtracting, or  altering their DNA. This is known as “in vivo   gene therapy”, and is such an incredibly risky  and difficult approach that it may be very rare.   Retroviruses are pretty sloppy machines, and tend  to cause a lot of damage while making such edits,   potentially resulting in cancers. On top of  this, those viruses can also trigger dangerous  

and potentially fatal immune responses.  Since this approach is akin to modifying   an airplane while it’s in flight, it shouldn’t be  surprising that it’s difficult and very risky.   Of course, if it can be made more  reliable it could hold a lot of potential,   but we often instead imagine using more artificial  approaches like tiny robots instead of viruses,   which itself can be a fairly blurry  distinction of life versus machine,   especially given how tenuously viruses tend to  meet the definition of life and that such machines   would likely be reproducing and aping the viral  approach to that. Be it nanobot or retrovirus,   we still have a long way ahead before such methods  would become available for mainstream use.   An alternative to gene editing that might be  more likely is known as ex vivo gene therapy.   This is where you remove some tissue from a  person, perhaps just a few cells, and conduct   your gene modification on that. This approach  is much safer, since it’s completely external.  

If there are any problems with the editing  process, the cell culture can be destroyed   and a new culture started. This method also  makes available the use of some chemicals which   might be tolerated by the cell culture, but are  unsuitable for injection. Perhaps a chemical has   some benefit for a culture of liver cells, but  produces psychedelic effects on neurons: being   able to modify those liver cells in isolation  could be a handy solution to that problem.   The third gene editing approach, and by far the  most controversial, is germline editing. Folks  

often make the mistake in assuming this involves  germs somehow as an analog to retroviruses,   but it’s using the other, older meaning of  ‘germ’ as a seed or sprout, and works from   the premise of making your genetic edits from  that first seed with its single DNA copy.   This is where you would modify the genome of  an embryo, which then is modified in every cell   subsequently divided from that embryo, and grows  up with those edits integrated into the future   child or adult. Not only does this alter the  genome of every cell that child is ever able   to grow, but it also alters the genomes of  that child’s descendents. The consequences   of any decision to conduct germline editing  will last a lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes,   and could have far-reaching consequences indeed.  But despite its currently controversial status,   my guess is that germline editing is  likely to be very widespread in the future,   especially for non-human use. Incidentally, this is generally  

why I tend to like retrovirus and nanobot  options over germline editing. They rely   on using untold trillions of little viruses or  robots to change every necessary copy of DNA   inside a mature organism, which is trillions of  times more work, but leaves the door open for   agency. An adult would still be able to decide  for themselves what to change about themselves,   including whether they want to change themselves  back if their parents modified them earlier and   they, as an adult, decided they don’t want those  changes. Whether or not parents have a right to   modify their child’s genes, and how broad that  right is if it exists, is an interesting debate,   but one you can mostly circumvent if you have the  option of waiting and the option of reversal.   In general, we should probably expect gene  editing of humans in the foreseeable future   to be widespread but cautious. Swapping out  dysfunctional or lower-performing genes for   better-performing examples already found in  the wild human genome is pretty low risk,   but it’s difficult to imagine ethical  ways for novel genes to be safety tested.  

Of particular difficulty would be verifying  that novel genes don’t cause mental illness,   as proving safety would require testing on  a large population of sentient humans.   Any other testing protocol would still  allow some outlying cases to slip through.   If you’re planning on genetically modifying people  to be vastly smarter and stronger, you might have   to worry about them going all hyper-aggressive and  narcissistic and trying to take over the world,   like the classic sci fi example of Khan from  Star Trek. Needless to say, that’s hard to test   out safely or ethically, so you’d probably take  an incremental approach, even just when using   existing genes. We also have to keep in mind  that whatever approach most folks think is safe   doesn't mean that’s all we have to deal with. If some mad scientist and ambitious parents decide  

to try making a person who is very outside the  normal template, say they spliced in some squid   neurons because they thought it would result in  faster reflexes and overall mental augmentation,   we’d still have to deal with that person made  by that process. Similarly, while someone like   Khan might be imprisoned or executed for crimes  committed while trying to take over the world,   any children they had would still presumably  enjoy the same rights and if the Khan’s   kids or the squid-person wanted to set up  families that is something of a dilemma.   An area that is often neglected when people talk  about sci fi biotech is pharmaceuticals, but it’s   important not to underestimate the enormous  potential still left in the realm of drugs.   In particular, developments in genetic  research are assisting the development of   new pharmaceuticals in a variety of ways. Better understanding of what genes are   doing - especially when they malfunction  - can also point the way to new drugs.   For example, if a malfunctioning gene is causing  a serious health problem by producing a malformed   protein, you might solve the problem by  supplying the right protein in a pill.  

If the malformed protein is directly harmful,  you might solve the problem by making a drug   that binds to it, blocking its effect. If you want to introduce a highly complex   molecule into a person’s cells, a more efficient  route than injecting them with that molecule   might be to inject them with messenger RNA,  or mRNA, which codes for that molecule.   mRNA serves as instructions that the cellular  machinery follow to produce complex molecules   in your cells. Incidentally, this is how some  of the COVID-19 vaccines work - by tricking your   cells to manufacture the spike proteins present  on the surface of the outer shell of the virus.   Beyond more familiar applications of  pharmaceuticals, there are also some ways   they might be used in combination with genetic  modifications. You might control novel gene   expression by making the gene require a chemical  or element that it will never encounter in nature.  

Some gene-tailored animals that needed Tungsten  to live, for instance, are easily supplied with   tungsten but not from random plants and animals  in nature. This approach is potentially handy for   controlling tiny designer microorganisms, viruses,  or even nanobots we might make in the future.   When pharmaceuticals can’t fix the problem,  you might resort to cloned transplantation.   Failing organs or amputated limbs could  be grown as part of a full human body,   or with more advanced techniques, as individual  parts. It’s likely to be a slow process to grow  

adult-sized body parts from an embryo, but there  is likely a lot of potential for speeding up that   growth rate from decades to mere years or months.  Obviously the preferred goal is just to clone   the needed organ, not a whole person, science  fiction has a lot of examples of the latter case,   people grown to maturity just to serve  as an organ bank for another person,   or for a full body transplant of someone who  is old and plans to transplant their brain   into a younger clone. Being able to grow the  organs individually circumvents that issue.   Being able to take donated organs or advanced  prosthetics and implant them into people with no   fear of rejection is another goal of biotech, and  something that overlaps with the less-discussed   fields of synthetic or xeno cellular implantation.  Xeno Cellular Implantation is the implantation of   animal tissues modified to be compatible with  human biology and immune systems. For example,   you might implant modified bird cells into a  person’s scalp so they can grow feathers, or   cuttlefish cells into a person’s irises to produce  eyes that change color depending on mood.  

Tissues might be living cells, or non-living  scaffold material which is then colonized by   human cells. The example you might have heard  of is washing a pig heart free of its material   until just the protein scaffold is left beneath,  on which we may grow a human heart. This might   be done inside or outside a human. Currently  non-living scaffolds from pigs are used to grow   organs from human stem cells. Since the  non-living scaffold material contains no cells,   it generally doesn’t trigger an  immune response when implanted.  

If you want to produce complicated structures  already present in the animal kingdom,   it is much faster and easier to produce  them this way rather than trying to   program those structures into the genome. These techniques could also be used with   fully synthetic cells which do not come from  nature, but were instead designed by engineers   from the ground up. Tremendously useful  things can be done by modifying nature,   but at some point in the past we stopped spending  so much time modifying parts of trees and rocks   and instead spent time casting metals and weaving  carbon fiber. It seems likely that fully synthetic  

biology will provide advantages over modified  natural biology in certain situations.   One type of biotech that is almost never  depicted in sci fi is engineered microbiota.   Microbiota are the various microorganisms  which live on and inside of our bodies.   Engineered microbiota can be naturally evolved  organisms implanted from a different individual,   domesticated organisms, or fully  synthetic organisms designed by   engineers. The gut microbiota can be used  to produce and administer pharmaceuticals,   detect ingested substances, control appetite,  and metabolize previously indigestible   substances - for example, lactose. Some people  never develop dental cavities or obesity despite   eating the same diet as those who do. Often  this is due to a difference in microbiota.  

On the other hand, perhaps the most wildly  exaggerated type of biotech in sci fi   is mechanical implants or cybernetics. Cyborg sci  fi generally uses cybernetics for shock value,   so they’re depicted as bulky, intrusive,  asymmetrical, and almost always penetrating   the skin. The writers and special effects  team are specifically shooting for inhuman   and disturbing appearances, perversions  or adulterations of humanity,   and as is often the case for science fiction,  the science part often suffers for the fiction.   Needless to say, adding a 150 pound steel robot  arm in place of a flesh and blood arm doesn’t   allow you to lift enormous weights as the arm  is still attached to your flesh and blood torso.   In fact, you would likely struggle to even stand  up straight due to the asymmetrical weight load,   so you would have to do a rebuild  basically from the ground floor up   and that shouldn’t look all  non-symmetric and haphazard,   though I suppose a cyborg sub-culture might  have big cyberpunk roots and enjoy that look.   Also any device that permanently penetrates  through the skin is prone to infection.  

In reality, mechanical implants will likely  only be used when a biological solution is not   yet available, either not being invented yet or  because there’s a long lead time in manufacture,   like it takes a year to clone a lung or heart  or arm and you get the cybernetic version in   the meantime. They will tend to be as small as  possible, as soft as possible, and will avoid   breaking the skin whenever possible, at least  for physical augmentation, situations like mental   augmentation by including digital memory implants  or interfaces might need to be very inorganic.   One of the most useful implants would be a  digital radio circuit able to communicate   with the future equivalents of bluetooth and  wifi. This would allow internal systems to  

communicate with worn objects, and objects in  the environment. For example, you don’t need   to implant large quantities of digital memory.  Instead, you wear a small gadget on your person   which contains the memory chips, and this gadget  communicates with the implanted digital radio.   This type of neural radio would also give one  a communication capability that would have some   similarities to telepathy. You might be able  to communicate entire concepts or emotions,  

or you might just be limited to something like  hands free texting or silent phone calls. Even   with the more limited versions though, people with  this ability would seem connected in a way that is   qualitatively different than what is possible  via a cell phone. The cultural differences this   would produce are likely to be analogous  to trying to explain internet meme culture   to someone who has never seen a computer. The second most useful implant would probably be   input and output taps on your sensory systems,  giving you access to augmented reality,   virtual reality, and sensory recording. With the audio tap, you can play music with   perfect fidelity without headphones. So long as  your neural pathways are intact, it doesn’t even   matter if your hearing has been damaged. You  can turn off background noises, or the steady  

whine of tinnitus. You can play audiobooks  and podcasts while showering or scuba diving.   By linking to an external gadget capable of voice  transcription and real time language translation,   you could mute the actual voice of someone  speaking in a language you don’t understand, and   replace that audio feed with the translation. With the video tap, you could overlay a wide   variety of augmented reality elements, including  anything you currently look at your phone to see.   If that sounds annoying, imagine the display as  less like a bunch of obnoxious cluttered icons,   and more like a small window that you call  into existence when you perform some gesture,   for example perhaps reaching into your pocket.  It behaves very similarly to a cell phone except  

you can resize it to be as big or small as you  want at the moment, and when you let go of it,   it floats in midair. If you want, you can pull  more windows out of your pocket. But they weigh   nothing and they don’t make awkward, pointy  bulges in your pocket. When you’re done with it,   you just put it back in your pocket to dismiss  it, or maybe just blink a quick pattern.   Recipes or tutorials could hover in  front of you as you try to learn a skill.  

Multifunctional appliances used to have zillions  of buttons and knobs, but then they started   replacing that with touch screen interfaces.  In an era of ubiquitous augmented reality,   appliances will have almost no hardware interfaces  at all. They’ll be stylish and sleek. If you need   to make an adjustment to your breadmaker or 3D  printer, you’ll just pull out a virtual interface   that becomes as large as you need it to be. And  when you’re done, you make the interface disappear   again. They’d probably have no other buttons,  just a jack for manually adding some universal  

control device if needed. They might not even  have power cords, as we are making progress on   wireless power transmission and that too might be  a very handy way to power some internal machinery   on a person, like implants or nanobots. You could view movies on arbitrarily large,   virtual screens, and even dim the rest of your  vision if you want. The movie might completely  

surround you, as though you were inside of a  spherical screen. Go further with this concept,   and you can imagine replacing all of your  sensory inputs with a full virtual reality.   If the computer generating the virtual imagery  is smart enough, the VR experience might tailor   itself to the real-world environment around you  to prevent injury. Doorways and staircases would   still be there, but they might look like a dungeon  portal or a marble staircase from a mansion.   Full VR would presumably benefit from an olfactory  and taste override, so you could smell the jungle   or taste elvish cooking. Humans have a lot more  senses than the commonly claimed seeing, hearing,   smelling, tasting, and touching. For example,  touch could be broken into a tactile sense,  

proprioception, temperature, pain, and balance.  Hunger and thirst don’t seem to easily fall into   any of those categories. Some of these senses  can be kind of dangerous to mess with, though.   For example, it’s hard to imagine much good  coming of messing with one’s sense of balance,   unless you’re lying on the ground. Messing with proprioception (which   is your sense of where your body parts are  located in space) seems even more dangerous,   as you could be flailing around without realizing  it. Pain overrides might take some people aback,  

but at least moderate levels could presumably  spice up video games. Conversely, the usefulness   of being able to dampen down severe, natural  pain goes without saying. It’s still not without   dangers though, as pain often serves as a warning  that you’re doing something you shouldn’t be.  

Presumably, plenty of injuries will result from  people using pain dampening for stupid things,   but that’s also the case with literally  every technology ever invented.   So how do you interact with  all of these virtual objects?   One way would be for a computer to read the  neural signals actually produced by your retinas,   and use that to determine where your hands  are, assuming they’re in your field of view.   A better method might be to tap into the neural  circuits involved in your sense of proprioception.   Either of these techniques would allow you  to use your hands and fingers to interact   with virtual objects and user interfaces.  As we looked at in our episode on Mind  

Augmentation, we also have the learned and  programmable Universal Remote option.   We can currently insert a few thousand leads into  animal’s brain that would react to stimulation,   which is what Neuralink has been  working on for the last few years.   In a human, these could act as a rather deliberate  mental button the person learns to mentally push,   with each connection being something a person  could learn to flip by thinking in a certain way,   much like flicking a finger or blinking, and  this could act like some blank keyboard we could   set each mental button or hotkey combination as a  control for some device and the person would learn   to be rather deliberate in flipping it. This gives you all the advantages of   thought-control without the concerns about  accidentally activating it, especially if   its a mental button combination, as it would be  more akin to accidentally punching in your pin   code or accidentally saying a specific sentence.  You’re not going to accidentally write a contract,   sign it, and file it while you’re asleep.  Such neural augmentation is something we  

can already do, on animals anyway, and I  suspect this will be where we see our first   thought control devices emerge from. But presumably it would eventually be   possible for a more invasive system  to read your intentions directly.   Rather than opening a virtual user interface for  the air conditioner, you would simply desire the   temperature to lower slightly and the machinery  would respond. This is often how such things   are depicted in science fiction, but reading  intentions is likely to be a far more complicated   task than simply reading sensory inputs. But as I said before, these types of implants  

would likely only be mechanical until  they could be replaced with biological   versions capable of doing the same things. One technique that’s almost never discussed is   what we might call “neural shaping”. This would be  the artificial guiding of a person’s own neurons   to produce engineered circuits. For example, one  might implement digital calculator circuitry in a  

tiny corner of your brain, giving you the ability  to calculate the cube root of a 10 digit number   as quickly and easily as you parsed this  sentence. It also allows wiring shunts around   neural damage/scarring, enabling us to cure most  forms of paralysis, and some mental illnesses.   Lastly, there is the possibility of nanobots,  and as I mentioned earlier the line between   them and something like a retrovirus or  engineered microorganism can be blurry.   But I think it’s reasonable to say the term  nanobot should only be used for things which   don’t already have a good name, and thus would  not apply to bacteria, viruses, or enzymes.   This is more to do with defining our terms  for the sake of easy discussion than accuracy.  

The capabilities of these devices in fiction are  often either wildly exaggerated, or just as often,   wildly underestimated. For a nanobot to  work it needs some systems which are very   challenging to engineer at nano scales including  power, data processing, and sensory input.   It will also produce heat and get  worn and torn by doing activities,   which is the missing bit that prevents them from  being the super-fast magic wands sometimes seen in   fiction. The faster a mechanical device works, the  more damage it causes to itself for each activity,   and the more energy it needs to do  that activity, generally speaking,   while at the same time it produces heat faster  simply from doing more things in a shorter time.   As is often the case with technology, the real  bottleneck on it is getting rid of the heat,   and we explored this notion in more detail  in our episode on the Santa-Claus Machine.   Of course, to make heat it needs to have a source  power that’s fueling the work it does to produce   heat as a waste product. The most readily  available sources of power in an organism  

are either blood sugar and oxygen, or beamed  power from an external source. The latter is   sufficient in a clinical setting, but can be  awkward to maintain as part of day to day life.   Beamed power for nanobots is more complicated  than at macro scales due to minimum size   restrictions on antennae versus wavelength. One alternative is the multi-tiered approach   we sometimes discuss for nanotech,  where you have bigger microscopic   factory and controller bots who produce and  manage many specialized species of nanobots,   and in a similar way to how mitochondria produce  fuel for our cells, you might have a large control   bot producing some nanobot-specific fuel via  beamed power. There are a lot of chemicals that  

can be used as a fuel and assembled to provide  abundant power, and this might make a good way to   prevent problems like grey goo - where nanobots  who build other nanobots get loose and turn   everything on a planet into copies of themselves.  In the same way a rare element or alloy could   limit excessive production, a control-fuel  specific to the body, or to certain situations,   could provide an extra layer of safety. Data processing would also consume a large   portion of a nanobot’s total power budget, and  space is limited for complicated logic circuits.   Sensory input is important too, as you probably  only use nanobots if you have a task that needs   to be done at a particular location in your  body, but not in others. Most importantly,   they might not self replicate. Designing a  device to self replicate is more challenging   than designing a similar device that doesn’t,  and requires additional hardware, resources,   and capabilities. It also raises enormous  liability risks in the event that it colonizes  

people without their consent, or replicates out  of control within the intended host. Again this is   why the larger microscopic, or even macroscopic,  robot factories and control centers we discussed   a moment ago might be handy, potentially  with many tiers of bot, each manufacturing   the next lower tier of smaller robots. An important subject worth mentioning with   networked biotech is data security. A complete  VR sensory overlay sounds like amazing fun   until you contemplate someone hacking  your hardware to blind and deafen you   while cranking your pain levels up to maximum.  Or the hacker could compromise your sensory taps   in order to see and hear everything you do without  your knowledge or consent. More advanced implants   allow more advanced hacks, allowing the hacker to  literally read your thoughts or expose you to fake   realities. Hacked nanobots could do whatever  nanobots can do, and it won’t be pretty.  

So what’s possible with all this stuff? I’ve  already mentioned a number of applications here,   but the possibilities are almost infinite.  Other easy stuff includes curing all genetic   disorders forever and using vaccines and other  immune system enhancements to eradicate many   contagious diseases the way we have eradicated  smallpox. Cancer is an inherently tricky disease,   but survival rates have been increasing and  will likely continue to do so for a long time.   Appearance modifications have always been on the  cutting edge of medical science and this will   undoubtedly continue. The trend toward increasing  obesity will suddenly go into rapid reversal.  

Noses and jawlines will be sculpted, and  sometimes in ways that are inheritable.   Presumably there will be a brief period  where there are suddenly large numbers of   people walking around looking like Barbie dolls or  Conan, and possibly a phase afterward where this   was seen as excessive and tacky. I mentioned that  early cyborgs might embrace the cyberpunk genre   and intentionally go for the jarring or gross  imagery we often see with cyborgs in that genre,   while others would presumably try more  desperately for a natural human look the   more augmented they were, like getting  moles, baldness, or liver spots added.   So that could go either way, with folks embracing  inhuman forms, or idealized human forms, or very   natural forms, and we’ll probably have periods and  subgroups doing all of the above in various ways.   A lot of the stigmas we have about body alteration  have to do with safety and cost, and concerns   about the psychology of the person doing them  when we view those as potential problems.   We view getting a rhinoplasty to alter the nose to  a more preferred but normal human shape as being   vastly different than putting on cosmetics  that include colors found on no human skin,   because the latter is cheap, safe, and  fast to add or remove, so why someone   might choose to do it doesn’t raise concerns  about an unhealthy mental state or body image.  

In a civilization where you can change physical  characteristics cheaply, quickly, and safely,   and change them back again cheaply, quickly,  and safely, you would presumably see a lot of   folks doing so, and with less concerns  about mental health and body image.   Extensive Biotech should let people live  longer, and they'll be healthy for longer too,   so I would not be surprised if folks felt like  changing things up physically from time to time.   I mentioned mental health a moment ago and  Biotech has a role to play there, as well.   Mental health problems such as clinical  depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder   are likely to become less and less common as we  develop a better understanding of the causes,   and better drugs and implants to help us treat  them, as well as better counseling techniques   I would hope, but we’re focused on biotech  today. Certain gene variants are likely to  

be associated with certain mental health  problems, and Biotech should allow options   for easy early detection and intervention. Augmentations - possibly excluding cosmetic ones   - are likely to creep in slowly and quietly unless  some avenue for unethical human experimentation   suddenly opens up. The risks to subjects  being augmented are literally life and death,   and the risks to organizations doing this research  are severe financial and reputational damage,   possibly even criminal penalties if everything  isn’t above board. A certain amount of risk is  

likely to be viewed as acceptable when battling  leukemia or MS, whereas scientists taking risks to   add cat ears to people is likely to get a lot less  leeway or sympathy when something goes wrong.   One of the big risks is the potential for  unanticipated interactions between different   biotech treatments. Maybe a rare gene variant  is discovered that is associated with cavity   free teeth, and another one is discovered that  is associated with champion weight lifters.   Great! So, a generation of parents pays gene  clinics to add these two discrete genetic   modifications to their embryonic offspring.  Unfortunately, when the children reach middle age,  

it’s discovered that the specific protein forms  produced by the two gene variants combine to leave   plaques in the brain, resulting in early onset  dementia or hyper-aggression in the mid-life.   Doctors have been administering these two  genes to kids for decades by the time the   interaction is discovered, and now you have  a bunch of musclebound, cavity-free lunatics   wandering the Earth, presumably turning to  cannibalism with those perfect teeth of theirs.   In the more distant future, people living in  space habitats and colony ships will likely   no longer experience muscle wasting or other  maladies which result from long periods in zero   G. Their tissues might be made tougher to allow  them to hold their breath for long periods of time  

while working unprotected in space. You might  add something like an additional eyelid,   like cats have, with the intent of allowing  folks to keep their eyes open in a vacuum,   where liquids normally freeze or turn to gas.  It’s uses in turning desolate planets habitable,   either by molding the planet to  be more earth-like, terraforming,   or sculpting species to be more adapted to that  planet - Bioforming - are topics we have examined   on other occasions, but are clearly enormous. Biotech is potentially both a great danger to  

humanity, but also a great potential boon, as  is often the case with an emerging technology.   But it differs from most, as it doesn’t just allow  humans to alter their environment or interact with   it in novel ways. Biotechnology lets us alter  the human itself, for better or for worse.   So we have a couple of announcements  along with our upcoming schedule, but   first... Last week we were looking at the  impact of Multiverses on the Fermi Paradox   and we mostly looked at the alternate  reality types of Multiverses,   not those dealing with older Universes or parts of  our own Universe beyond the edge of the Observable   Universe, where the CMB originates, the  Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation,   and it's a topic we’ll probably look at in the  future but I wanted to give a shout to my friend   Brian Keating, host of the Into the Impossible  Podcast which is also available here on Youtube.   Brian’s been one of the strongest forces for  conceiving and pushing forward research for Cosmic   Microwave Background Radiation, having worked  on BICEP2, and he’s currently the Director of   the Simons Observatory under construction in the  Atacama Desert that will continue that research.   He’s also the author of the book “Losing the  Nobel Prize” which discusses the BICEP experiments   but also zooms in on some problems we  have nowadays with how we go about these   super-large or important research projects and  how it might be hindering scientific progress.  

It’s a wonderful exploration of how scientific  progress takes place and the audiobook version is   excellently narrated, so I’m glad to name it our  May 2021 SFIA Audible Audiobook of the Month.   Audible has the largest collection of Audiobooks  out there, indeed it is so large you could hit the   play button and still be listening to new titles a  few centuries from now, and as an Audible member,   you will get (1) credit every month good for any  title in their entire premium selection—that means   the latest best-seller, the buzziest new release,  the hottest celebrity memoir or that bucket list   title you’ve been meaning to pick-up. Those titles  are yours to keep forever in your Audible library.   You will also get full access to their  popular Plus Catalog. It’s filled with   thousands and thousands of audiobooks, original  entertainment, guided fitness and meditation,   sleep tracks for better rest and  podcasts—including ad-free versions of   your favorite shows and exclusive series. All are  included with your membership so you can download   and stream all you want—no credits needed. And you can seamlessly listen to all of those on   any device, picking up where you left off, and as  always, new members can try Audible for 30 days,   for free, just visit Audible dot com  slash isaac or text isaac to 500-500.  

As a sidenote, this episode and  the one from two weeks back,   Post-Human Species, began as a a single episode  suggested by a pair of our regular editors,   Jason Burbank and Jerry Guern, and  evolved into two separate topics,   and maybe a third for down the road, each of  which they assisted in writing with Jason being   the principal co-writer of today’s script and  Jarry the Post-human script from two weeks back.   I’ve said it before and will say it  again, it’s awesome to get to meet   and work with so many talented folks, and most  times they come right from our own audience,   pitching an episode idea to me or volunteering  some time to edit script or make graphics.   On a personal note, my wife Sarah and I are moving  this month so there may be some disruptions,   delays, or errors as we get out and over  and settled into the new place and studio.   It's more out in the country so I can  further enjoy solitude and the hermit life,   and Sarah can move and expand her blueberry farm  and start her new beekeeping hobby - which I   blame in part on my friend Cody don Reeder from  Cody’s Lab - though mostly for me finding them   interesting and safe enough to have hives in my  backyard. If you’re looking for some fun stuff to   watch while waiting on our next episode, Cody’s  Lab and Brian Keating’s “Into the Impossible”   both contain endless hours of fun  and mentally stimulating content.  

Speaking of those upcoming episodes, this was our  first for May and we have plenty more ahead. Next   week we will move on to Alien Languages and how  to decode them, then we have our mid-month Scifi   Sundays episode on Laser Pistols, Lightsabers, and  other scifi weapons. After that we’ll be discuss   Arcologies, giant buildings containing whole  communities and ecologies and how to design them,   before wrapping up our episodes with Solar Flares  and their impact on the Fermi Paradox. Then   Closing May out with our Monthly Livestream Q&A on  Sunday, May 30th, hopefully from our new studio.   If you want alerts when those and other episodes  come out, make sure to subscribe to the channel,   and if you’d like to help support future  episodes, you can donate to us on Patreon,   or our website,, which are  linked in the episode description below,   along with all of our various social media forums  where you can get updates and chat with others   about the concepts in the episodes and many other  futuristic ideas. You can also follow us itunes,  

Soundcloud, or Spotify to get our  audio-only versions of the show.   Until next time, thanks for  watching, and have a great week!

2021-05-07 19:01

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