The Future of Money – The Basics of Blockchain Technology

Throughout the history of the world there have been thousands of currencies developed, including silver, gold and brass coins as well as paper money. With technology beginning to dominate international growth, and the need for transparency in transactions, there has been a great movement towards producing emoney as well.

shutterstock_349952822The first form of digital currency to be developed was Bitcoin, from an idea proposed by Satoshi Nakamoto. Created and held electronically, this type of money is known as cryptocurrency and is based on blockchain technology. It is produced using software designed to solve mathematical problems. One of the major differences between Bitcoin and paper currency is the fact that it can’t be decentralised, meaning that no single institution would be able to control the network. The currency is created digitally by a group of people that anybody can join, and a limit has been placed on the number of Bitcoins that can be ‘mined’ in this controlled online environment. To encourage transparency, the mathematical formula which is used for Bitcoin production is available for everybody to view online.

Bitcoin’s success has inspired the creation of other forms of emoney, most notably in several African countries. After Tunisia launched their blockchain technology based currency, Senegal quickly followed suit and announced that they will be using online currency alongside their paper one. Even though created from blockchain technology, it will still be controlled and distributed by the government and central banking system. This means that the amount that is in circulation will be easily monitored and regulated. Senegal’s e-currency, known as eCFA, has already passed the emoney regulations which have been set by the West African Economic and Monetary Union and is expected to be introduced into the system shortly.

shutterstock_461973784These currencies have set Africa apart as the pioneers of a new era of financial stability. The security and transparency of the blockchain technology, means that the system cannot be tampered with and the economy will be allowed to thrive. After being introduced into circulation in Senegal the eCFA will be introduced in other countries that currently use the West African franc including: Ivory Coast, Benin and Niger.

Other forms of emoney is also being explored and developed on an international level and countries are adapting the technology to suit their specific requirements including China, Singapore and Sweden. Many banks have already started using blockchain technology to record and handle transactions, and other industries which require high levels of security and monitoring are researching ways of moulding it to suit their needs.

Limited Time Left on Earth – Stephen Hawking’s Prediction for Humanity

Even though scientists have considered the possibility of humans being able to live on another planet, most of our space exploration to this point has been to satisfy our immense curiosity. Is it possible, however, that the survival of our species will rely on us finding a home outside of Earth? World renowned, and greatly respected, scientist Stephen Hawking has recently expressed this exact concern. He has publicly stated that humanity will be unable to continue living on this ‘fragile’ planet for more than another 1000 years.

Hawking, who made this announcement at the Oxford Union, said that his conclusion was based on several contributing factors. These include: overpopulation, a growing resistance to antibiotics which will possibly cause worldwide pandemics, habitat destruction and what seems to be our most unnecessary human compulsion – war. Nuclear and autonomous weapons are sources of widespread, uncontrollable destruction, and even the creators of many new weapons are unaware of the full extent of the damage that their designs may have on the Earth.

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As an intelligent species we have also taken steps towards creating artificial lifeforms, in our own image. The consequence of this to humanity has been predicted in many science fiction films and books, and is now becoming a high possibility. This is the fact that our artificial intelligence is so advanced that they may turn on the humans that created them. If this ever happened, due to their combined intellect, strength and longevity, robots would be a force that humans would be unable to control after letting loose on the earth.

The reasons that the scientist based his beliefs on are not just those controlled by humanity, but also a factor outside of our planet. This would be a possible result of actually making contact with extra-terrestrial beings. We have no idea whether they will be friend or foe, and how destructive they might be to our species and planet once we have approached them. Hawking’s scientific opinion is that they will be either the best thing, or the worst that has ever happened to us. Many other scientists also share the view that any alien species that is able to communicate with us may either surpass us in intellect, and therefore uninterested in us for more than experimental purposes, or may be violent and determined to attack Earth rather than befriend those on it.

Based on his certainty that our planet will soon be inhabitable, Hawking has taken steps towards finding humanity a future possible home. He advises ‘remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet,’ and is one of the major investors in the Breakthrough Starshot program currently exploring our nearest star system. Stephen also urges us to continue to enjoy our life on earth as ‘2016 is a great time to be alive.’ Even though there are many that disagree with his thoughts about the future of mankind on the planet, it would be hard not to agree with his belief that we are certainly living in an exciting era.

Breakthrough Initiatives – Upgrading the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life

The overwhelming size and age of the Universe are both indications that earthlings should not be the only living creatures within it. Human exploration has already shown that there are a large amount of habitable planets in other galaxies. Scientists believe that our limited technology is the main reason that we have not been able to access these other intelligent beings in their star systems. They constantly aim at improving space technology so that we will be able to make contact with aliens sooner rather than later.

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In 2015, Julia and Yuri Milner, in collaboration with astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, formed the Breakthrough Initiatives Program. Its aims are to ‘explore the Universe, seek scientific evidence of life beyond Earth and encourage public debate from a planetary perspective.’ The program consists of three main areas which are simultaneously being developed:

Breakthrough Listen – This is a comprehensive search of the universe, using telescopes and other space exploration devices, which aims at locating the slightest possible artificial radio and/or optical signals. The study currently includes the 100 nearest galaxies to ours, 1,000,000 stars and the plane and centre of our galaxy, the Solar System. The public will have access to all that is observed, as the Breakthrough Initiatives designers believe that space exploration should include the entire world.

The National Astronomical Observatories of China has recently formed a partnership with Breakthrough and this has allowed the world’s largest telescope, FAST, to join others which are already a part of the project, including the Green Bank Telescope in the USA and the Parkes Observatory in Australia.

shutterstock_356797187Breakthrough Message – A competition with the top prize of $1,000,000 has been announced for individuals, or groups, to design a complete message about life on our planet and its people. This should be made with the intention of communicating with any extra-terrestrials that might be found. The public is included in order to create awareness of the mission, and get the general outlook behind space exploration.

Breakthrough Starshot – This branch of the program is in charge of producing technology which will be able to facilitate our expansion. The main aim is enable an unmanned flight to our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, within the next 25-30 years. It is believed that the craft would need to travel at 20% the speed of light in order to get there, and would be transporting Nano craft space robots on its initial voyage.

As our search for aliens continues, the likelihood of projects like the Breakthrough Initiatives arising continues, and with it the possibility of finding them increases.

Wind Turbines – The Future of Clean Energy Sources

In 1888, Charles F. Bush invented the first electricity-generating wind turbine in Cleveland, Ohio. It had a diameter of 17 metres and was able to generate 12 kW of power. Wind turbines have evolved significantly since, and the Wind Engineering Section of Kushu University, in Japan, has found a way to potentially triple their energy output. One of the aims is to make wind energy cheaper than both coal and nuclear power in the country, and eventually the world.

windlens-ed02During the Yokohama Renewable Energy International Exhibition 2010, they unveiled the new design, which works by putting a wind lens around the turbine blades. This also makes it possible to increase their safety levels, as well as decrease the unbearable noise usually associated with wind turbines. The wind lens is a brim that surrounds the inside of the blades and diverts the air from the exhaust outflow, which is located behind them. The turbulence then creates a low pressure zone behind the turbine, which causes more wind to pass through it. The blade rotation increases and subsequently the energy output. The engineers believe that each lens would be able to provide enough energy for an average household.

The proposed end structure would be similar in shape to a giant honeycomb, but the Wind Engineering Section of the University finds it challenging to apply these lenses to larger sized turbines. To test the theory they constructed two wind turbines on the campus, which are each 34m high and able to generate 100kW of power. They will use these models to figure out ways to apply the technology to larger turbines in the future. Each turbine also has a rotor which spans 12.8m and a diffuser with a diameter of 15.4 m.

windlens-ed01These wind turbines are being monitored as part of their larger project to build an offshore energy farm. The wind turbines will be mounted on a hexagonal shaped base, which is low in cost but sufficiently sturdy to withstand the marine conditions. Placing these in coastal areas will take advantage of the sea breezes, and reveal the probability of them being a main source of power for the country. The bases also make it possible to link other turbines together and create larger platforms.

The technology has already been applied to smaller units, averaging between 3 and 5 kW of output, which are being used by businesses to increase their energy while lowering the costs. Kushu University believes that the design will extend worldwide after the field tests prove that it is a much more efficient energy source. This would be good for both the countries involved and the world in general as this clean energy source would significantly decrease atmospheric pollution.

Proxima B – The Closest Earth-like Planet to our Solar System

The infinite nature of the Universe indicates that there are or should be other habitable planets. Our natural curiosity, as human beings, dictates that we will continue searching until we find them. After that we will make it a priority to explore these planets, and the life that we find there, in the most thorough way possible. A team of international scientists, based at the Queen Mary University in London and led by astronomer Guillem Anglada-Escude, have recently discovered a planet in the habitable zone of our neighboring star system. Temporarily called Proxima B, the team believes that this is the closest we have come to verifying the existence of life outside of our Solar System.

The closest star system to ours is the Alpha Centauri which consists of three stars; Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B and Proxima Centauri, which is a red dwarf meaning that it is smaller and cooler than our sun. The planet has been discovered orbiting this star and, because of its distance, is believed to be warm enough for water to remain in liquid form on some parts of its surface. This is one of the main criteria that determines whether a planet will be able to sustain life.

shutterstock_413371993Proxima Centauri is a more active star than our sun, which would result in the planet being exposed to 100 times more radiation. Without any protective magnetic field, this level would be detrimental to any living organism. If the planet does have an atmosphere, however, life would still be able to survive especially in its water bodies.

Proxima B is 30% larger than earth and 95% closer to its sun, being only 4 million miles away as opposed to our planet’s 93 million.  It orbits the star every 11.2 days, and is located approximately 4.2 light years away from us. This distance means that, even with current technology, it will be possible to send a probe there in as short as a few years. The biggest mystery about Proxima B, even though it is centred in a habitable zone, is whether or not there is actually life on the planet.

If the planet was formed by being blown away by stellar radiation, it means that without an atmosphere it would be unable to sustain life. Another obstacle to the presence of any living species is the fact that Proxima B may be tidally locked, meaning that the same side of the planet always faces the sun. An atmosphere as thick as earth’s would allow it to rotate in a way that would provide the entire surface with the necessary warmth, in order to create habitats in which plants and animals would be able to survive. Since there is so much potential for life on this new planet, some scientists have ventured as far as to say that we can assume that life exists there until it is proven that there isn’t.

Rio Olympics 2016 – Protecting the Athletes

There has been a rampant outbreak of the Zika virus in warmer climates, including Brazil, over the past few months. The disease is mosquito borne, and passed to humans when they are bitten. Even though the majority of the people who contract the virus are asymptomatic, athletes and spectators are being warned that there are serious health risks to unborn babies. If infection occurs in the mother while pregnant, there is the possibility of the child being born with an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development.

WHO (The World Health Organization) has declared this outbreak a global emergency and have recommended that athletes, and anybody else attending the Olympics in Rio, take precautionary methods. This means wearing mosquito repellent, using condoms or abstaining from sex completely while in Brazil and for eight weeks after returning home, and wearing cool clothing that covers most of the body.

shutterstock_363993479The Brazilian organisers have given Olympic teams the option of having a mosquito screen in the athletes’ rooms. These would need to be paid for by each country requiring them. The Brazilian team has already put in their request, as well as suggested that their main sponsor, Nike, provide more long-sleeved apparel. The rooms that the athletes will be staying in are also air conditioned to prevent mosquitos from accessing the interiors. Spectators are advised to book accommodation with ac themselves wherever possible.

Other countries are also doing their best to protect their athletes. The British Olympic Association has been meeting with specialists from the London School of Tropical Medicine to find strategies that will lessen the chance of being bitten and acquiring the virus. Australia has taken a common sense approach to keeping their team safe. All the athletes are being supplied with condoms that have shown ‘near complete’ defence against the Zika virus in laboratory studies. These dual protection condoms have a physical barrier as well as an anti-viral lubricant. The Olympic team has also signed a contract with a repellent supplier to ensure an adequate amount for the duration of the games.

Most athletes have accepted that the bug bites and possibility of being affected with Zika are just a disadvantage associated with the host country, but others have taken their safety concern into their own hands. Greg Rutherford, the United Kingdom long jump champion, has every intention of going to defend his title but will be freezing his sperm before he attends. His partner will also remain in the UK, in order to ensure the health of any children they have afterwards.

Other athletes have pulled out of the games this year altogether, feeling that their health is more important than their performance. Australian golfer, Marc Leishman, and American cyclist, Tejay van Garderen, whose wife is pregnant, are among these. The Olympic Games themselves will continue as planned, however, and the competition will more than likely be no less fierce than it always has been.