Think Inc. Thursdays #038

HAPPY THURSDAY! We hope it's a good one 😊

Today we fill you in on Earth’s new black box, xenobots that can reproduce themselves, the case for wrongful conception, Harvard matches your donations, and our podcast recommendations with John McWhorter, Steven Pinker and David Sinclair.

As always, let us know if you come across any interesting news – we love hearing from you ❤️

Have a great week,
Suzi

self-replicating xenobots

Check out these xenobots, or "living machines", made of frog cells.

These tiny bots are able to replicate themselves, making copies that can then go on to do the same. Here you can see them bumbling around like little Pacman, gobbling up loose cells that later become offspring.

This type of movement-created reproduction is called kinematic self-replication, and hasn't been seen before in living cells.

Researchers used the help of an AI program that predicted the optimal shape for the xenobots. Originally circular, they only lasted one extra generation before dying out. The Pacman shaped bots, however, last up to four generations!

This is being described as a breakthrough as it shows us that robots can copy themselves without human intervention.

The researchers hope that one day these xenobots could be programmed to perform useful functions such as finding cancer cells in the human body, or trapping harmful microplastics in the ocean.

earth's black box

Earth is getting a black box to record our response to climate change.

Just like the black boxes aeroplanes carry in case they crash, this black box will collect vital information that may help future civilisations in the unfortunate event that catastrophic climate change ends life as we know it 😱

The box will collect measurements including land and sea temperatures, ocean acidification, atmospheric CO2 and species extinction, as well as contextual data like newspaper headlines and social media posts. It’s already recorded data from the latest COP meeting in Glasgow.

The box is to be built on a remote outcrop on Tasmania's west coast, an area chosen over contenders including Malta, Norway and Qatar, for its geographical and geopolitical stability.

Built to outlive us all, it'll be a 10-metre long steel monolith filled with a mass of storage drives. It will have internet connectivity, and be powered by solar panels on the structure's roof, with batteries for backup storage.

wrongful conception

A 20-year-old woman from the UK has won a multimillion-dollar legal case against her mother's GP for wrongful conception.

Evie Toombes suffers from spina bifida, meaning she spends up to 24 hours a day connected to tubes. Before she was conceived, her mum asked her doctor whether she should take folic acid, to which the doctor said no. As a result, Evie was born with this severe disability.

But it's the ethics, not the legality of this case that got us thinking about utilitarianism and the work of Peter Singer.

People have tried to have Peter’s talks and events cancelled due to his ethics on giving birth to severely disabled children. But Evie's case shows us that these ethical questions are not straightforward, and we need our best and brightest minds to be writing and talking about them, and not having their conversations shut down because they're deemed offensive to some.

If you're interested in this topic, we recommend Practical Ethics by Peter Singer- we still have a couple of copies in our shop, and come see him discuss ethical dilemmas live next year on our tour.

Also, check out our 2022 Think Inc. Academy course An Introduction to Moral Philosophy 📚

the giving multiplier

Speaking of Peter Singer, he's pretty much the father of the effective altruism movement, which just celebrated Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving). But this isn’t just for Americans – Giving Tuesday is also celebrated down under!

As a way to celebrate, Harvard University created the Giving Multiplier, a tool that combats one of the biggest issues when it comes to donations: head versus heart decisions.

Many people want to give with their heart– they choose a charity they care about because of personal preferences, but don’t use their head to evaluate if they’re giving to an effective cause.

The Giving Multiplier taps into the psychology behind being charitable. For example, people enjoy giving $50 to a favourite group, and giving $100 might feel a little better, but it doesn’t feel twice as good, experiments have found. That leaves room for doing something else with that other $50, and the Giving Multiplier provides that opportunity.

If you want to give $50 to your favourite charity, Giving Multiplier will match that, and give it to an effective cause. If you’re wanting to donate at Christmas time, why not do it through Giving Multiplier, and double the benefit?

If you want to learn more about Effective Altruism, join our Think Inc. Academy course Doing Good taught by the incredible Luke Freeman from Giving What We Can.

podcast recommendations

Steven Pinker recently went on the Joe Rogan Experience to talk about his new book Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters.

They have a great conversation ranging from cognitive biases, to conspiracy theories, Neuralink, nuclear energy and… LSD! 😵‍💫

Give it a listen, and if you’re interested in critical thinking and rationality check out our Think Inc. Academy course Logic, Fallacies & Biases: The Art of Critical Thinking, back by popular demand in 2022.

Speaking of psychology, you’ve got a new episode of The Psychology Podcast by Scott Barry Kaufman, this time with our mate David Sinclair.

They chat all things ageing, and touch on the ethical implications of limitless lifespans, death, genetics, and data tracking.

We’ve still got a couple of copies of David’s book Lifespan in our shop– it’s a must-read!

Our last recommendation is the Persuasion podcast with Yascha Mounk, and his recent chat with another mate of ours, John McWhorter.

They discuss the question of whether “wokeness” is a religion, which is one of the core topics we cover in our course Politics as the New Religion – running again in 2022.

Photo of the week

Check out this incredible photo taken by award-winning Australian landscape and travel photographer, Stanley Aryanto.

Here you can see the Comet Neowise, a rare sight that can only be witnessed every 6,800 years! STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement), an atmospheric optical phenomenon that appears as a purple and green light ribbon in the sky, is also pictured, as well as the aurora borealis and the Milky Way.

This once-in-a-lifetime photograph was taken in Tent Ridge near Alberta, Canada.

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