Category Archives: Issues in Science

Is artificial intelligence going to destroy the world?

One of the hottest topics in computer science these days is the risk of artificial intelligence. Some people think it poses great risk to human beings and will destroy the world, other believe it will greatly improve the quality of life of everyone. In this article I will discuss what are the potential risks and benefits of artificial intelligence.

Stephen Hawking, one of the most well known scientists in the world, recently said in a BBC interview that “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He believes that the natural evolution of human race is not fast enough to complete with the improvement of computer intelligent, especially once computer learns how to redesign itself. In this rate sooner or later computer is going to take over.

Elon Musk, one of the most well known inventor in the world, also warned about artificial intelligence. He said in a recent interview at MIT that AI is “the most serious threat to the survival of the human race.” He urged governments of different countries to provide regulatory oversight to make sure AI won’t be used foolishly. He also donated $10 millions dollars to the Future of Life Institute to research how to keep AI friendly to human.

Quantitatively, how high is the chance for a super intelligence to destroy human? According to a research called Global catastrophic risks survey by the Future of Humanity Institute, there is a 5% chance of human extinction by 2100 by the hand of AI, the highest of any category. According to another survey by Microsoft Academic Search, the median year by which machines can carry out most human professions as least as well as human with 10% confidence is 2024, and with 90% confidence is 2070.

Source: Deviantart

So should we all work to shut down AI research for the humanity? Not necessary. Because even if computer become superior to human, there is no reason now to believe that it will be hostile to human. May be it will be neutral to us and do their own thing, or may be they will be friendly to us and do all of our work like in the movie WALL-E. We just don’t know the answer now. But what we know is that there are some more urgent matter for human to deal with, such as pollution, nuclear weapons, global warming, and diseases like Ebola. AI should not pose a treat to humanity at anytime soon.

By: Yiu Leung Wong

Lagoons to provide tidal waves of power

We’ve all heard of the story regarding fossil fuels: they’re running out, they’re damaging the environment and they’re causing climate change. The energy sector must diversify into new forms of production if we’re to secure the future of our planet.

Fossil fuel plant (Courtesy - Gerry Machen)

Fossil fuel plant (Courtesy – Gerry Machen)

Moves have been made across the world towards nuclear energy. France generates 75% of its requirements in this manner, with low costs of production and high economic gains of over €3 billion per year to the economy. However, this will fall to 50% by 2025 due to concerns over safety given the 2011 Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster following a tsunami. Over 19,000 people died, whilst a further 120,000 remain uprooted with 67.5% stating they have relatives who are showing signs of physical or psychological distress.

Artist’s impression of the Swansea lagoon (Courtesy Tidal Lagoon Power)

Renewable energies offer an alternative, from wind turbines to solar farms, but what of the ocean? The UK-based firm Tidal Lagoon Power has unveiled plans for six lagoons in Wales and England to provide 8% of the UK’s electricity. These tidal energy lagoons would be a world-first and have been supported by the UK government; the Energy Secretary Ed Davey has set-aside £30 billion from the existing renewable energies budget. The first installment would construct a five mile wide breakwater more than two miles out to sea in Swansea. This scheme could produce energy for 14 hours per day, powering 155,000 homes. If successful, a much larger Cardiff lagoon of 90 turbines over 22 km could follow and be in operation by 2022, powering more than 1.5 million homes. Tidal systems provide predictable energy sources, unlike wind and solar, but just how would this be captured?

Video courtesy – NMANewsDirect

The lagoons would operate a gated mechanism. As the tide comes in, water builds up outside the wall before gates are opened and water enters. Turbines capture this motion and generate electricity. As the tide goes out once more, the water is released from the lagoon with energy captured by turbines once again.

Concerns have been raised regarding the initial costs of the project along with the price of the energy when returned to the grid. At £168 per MWh, the cost is more than twice that of onshore wind. However, as technology develops and efficiency increases, costs will fall to £90-95 per MWh; this is comparable to nuclear energy priced at £92.50 per MWh.

Environmental groups are widely positive upon the prospects of the lagoons. Minimal impact is forecast regarding the tide flow of estuaries; the vital habitat of wading birds. However, anglers are concerned that migrating fish may stray into turbines. Although, Tidal Lagoon Power states that this effect will be offset by the sea walls creating reef habitat to actually increase numbers.

Wading bird of the estuarine habitat (Courtesy Clematis Wilt)

Wading bird of the estuarine habitat (Courtesy Clematis Wilt)

Overall, the construction of tidal lagoons to harness natural ocean movements appears a positive. After the initial costs fall, the system will provide a substantial portion of electricity at low environmental costs in a renewable manner. The UK could act as a platform for such systems on a global scale.

Toby Buttress

The Harmful Sun: Evidence for Post-Exposure Damage


Woman applying sunscreen on to her face for maximum protection against the UV-radiation

Woman applying sunscreen on to her face for maximum protection against the UV-radiation of the Sun. Source:Flickr commons. Image by earthlydelights

It is common knowledge that the ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the Sun has the ability to cause skin-cancer. For this reason, many of us make sure to apply sunscreen before we depart for the beach on a sunny day. But is the sunscreen doing it’s job? Is it effective in preventing skin-cancer?

Sunscreen can come in the form of a spray or a creme and is vital for protection from the Sun’s harmful rays. As described in this article, sunscreen functions to protect your skin by absorbing the UV rays, acting as the first-line of defence. The article also mentions that no matter how high the protective power of the sunscreen, not all of the UV-rays will be absorbed and some will ultimately reach the layers of the skin.

As per this BBC article, as these UV-rays make it past the sunscreen, they are absorbed by a component of the skin called melanin. Similar to how sunscreen is the first layer of defence, melanin is the second layer of defence against the sun’s rays. Again, melanin does not absorb all of the UV-rays and some pass through to the deeper layers of the skin. This article says that once the UV-rays penetrate the melanin, they can cause disruption at the DNA-level which may cause skin-cancers.  This is not the whole story, however.

The video by Kevin Boyd through Ted-Ed explains why sunscreen is necessary to prevent skin-cancers:

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According to a new study out of Yale University, scientists have discovered that the Sun’s UV rays have the ability to do damage for more than three hours after exposure. The study found that once the melanin absorbs the UV-rays, it initiates a series of chemical reactions in the skin that produces heat. This heat, it was discovered, is what ultimately damages the DNA, hours after initial exposure to the sun.This is a huge breakthrough as it was not previously known what happens to the UV-rays after being absorbed by melanin.

Yes, the sunscreen that is on the market now still protects against UV rays, however, it does not protect against the post-exposure damage that occurs. So no, the present form of sunscreen is not as effective as it should be. The real-life implication of this study is that now scientists can produce an ‘evening-after’ sunscreen that can be applied after exposure, protecting your DNA from the heat and ultimately preventing cancers.

Finally, a quick note for all those that don’t feel the need for any sunscreen; not only are you putting yourself at risk for cancer when you are in the sun but also for up to four hours later,even if you are indoors. Until this new type of sunscreen is developed, I think it’s essential that we allow for as little UV-rays to get to our melanin as possible. So, lather up!

A sign that reminds everyone to 'use plenty of sunscreen' to protect themselves from the harmful rays of the Sun

A sign that reminds everyone to ‘use plenty of sunscreen’ to protect themselves from the harmful rays of the Sun.  Source: Flickr commons. Image by Alex Liivet



Three-Parent Babies

Last month, the United Kingdom voted to legalize “three-parent babies.” They are the first country to allow this procedure and within a year, the first of these babies will be born.


Mitchondrial replacement can prevent mitchondrial disease from being passed on to future generations
Photo courtesy of Flickr

These babies will have three parents in an attempt to eradicate mitochondrial disease. In short, this disease is caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA which in turn leads to insufficient energy for the cell’s survival. The death of cells causes the organs to fail ultimately leading to death. This illness is passed through the mother to her children. There are three traditional choices for mothers with this disease that hope to have children. They can adopt a child, use a donor egg, or become pregnant and at 11 weeks have the fetus tested for mitochondrial disease. At that point, they can choose to terminate the pregnancy. However, there is new hope on the horizon for prospective mothers in the United Kingdom that have this disease. The government recently legalized a method of three-person in-vitro fertilization, mitochondrial donation.


There are two methods of mitochondrial DNA replacment, maternal spindle transfer and pronuclear transfer.
Photo courtesy of Flickr

There are two different methods of mitochondrial donation. The first is named maternal spindle transfer where the repair is completed before fertilization. An egg is taken from both the mother and the donor and both the nuclei are removed. Next, the mother’s nucleus is kept and inserted into the donor’s egg while the donor’s nucleus is destroyed. Then, the donor egg containing the mothers nucleus and healthy mitochondria is fertilized with the father’s sperm. Finally, the egg is implanted back into the mother.

The other method of fertilization is named pronuclear transfer. In this procedure, the repair is done after fertilization. First, an egg is taken from both the mother and the donor. Then, they are fertilized with the father’s sperm. Before the eggs have a chance to replicate, the chromosomes from each egg are taken out. Next, the donor ones are thrown out and the donor egg is filled with the mother’s chromosomes. Finally, the egg is implanted in the mother.

There are many ethical concerns attached to this issue causing countries including Canada to hold back on legalizing this procedure. In Canada, this specifically has to do with the fear of opening the doors to designer babies. Not only are designer babies horrifically dystopian and Brave New World-esque, it may also decrease the natural variability of the human race, something that is required for the race to survive and adapt. However, changing a baby’s mitochondrial DNA is a far cry from creating designer babies. The procedure has no effect on their hair or eye colour and it isn’t enhancing them in any way. In fact, the change affects less than 1% of the baby’s total genome.

Other ethical concerns include “germline” genetic engineering, the fact that one of the embryos are destroyed in the pronuclear transfer and that we are unsure of this procedure’s effects on humans. Even with these concerns, this procedure is worth it if we can eradicate a painful disease affecting millions.

Check out this video by Elliot M. that sums up mitochondrial replacement:

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– Siana Lai

New Species Discovered in Antarctica?

Planning on travelling to another continent as a vacation? Why not book a flight to Antarctica? Antarctica may have long winters and short day-light hours but new species are still being discovered till this day. Thousands of scientists travel during the summer hoping to make astonishing discoveries and get a better understanding of this bitter-cold and isolated world.

A recent discovery has been made on fishes living beneath Antarctica by drilling holes through the ice and feeding a camera through it. These are not your ordinary fishes but rather a worm-like fish that live beneath a 740 m thick ice. Ross Powell, who led the team to this project, mentions that it is incredible how these species have managed to thrive with little to no sunlight and be isolated from rest of the world. These cameras usually pick up lifeless mud environment with at most microbe activities. However, the discovery of these fishes has definitely intrigued many scientists.

Fish found below Antarctica ice Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU)

Fish found below Antarctica ice Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU) Source: Scientific American

Furthermore, even though there are a few species thriving in Antarctica, how were their ancestors able to survive for thousands of years?  An international team has discovered that steam and heat from the volcanoes have helped many species to survive in ice ages. In addition, a team lead by Ceridwen Frazer has collected data for many decades and pinpointed a common trend. His team found that there were more species living near the volcanoes compared to other places. Frazer explains that these large volcanoes melted large ice caves that are warmer than outside. This has allowed species to survive during cold ice ages.

Antartica Credit: Vincent Van Zeijst Source: Wikimedia Commons

Antarctica Credit: Vincent Van Zeijst Source: Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the environment of Antarctica has sustained life for thousands of years. However, there is a growing concern of large volumes of ice melting causing a rise in sea level and destroying ecosystems. Scientists are using computer software to run simulations of possible outcomes in the next few years. For example, they looked in East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin. Currently a thick rim of ice at the coast is holding this basin in place. If this rim of ice were to melt, the basin can cause a rise of 300-400 cm in sea level.

Credit: Newsy Science from Youtube

Lastly, action has been taken to prevent the destruction of Antarctica due to global warming. Changes in sea level have devastated the food web by flooding its environment.  Commission for the Conservation of Antarctica Marine Living Resources’ (CCAMLR) are making an effort to protect waters around Antarctica.

Taking a step back, Antarctica has provided homes to many species. Scientists are still discovering new species in little to no sunlight areas.  Now there is a growing concern with sea level rise due to melting ice sheets, and we must do our research to find ways to prevent this deep concern. If you love the cold, then make sure to stop by Antarctica on your next flight.

-Manpreet Takhi

Tattoo removal might be easier than you think

Do you have a tattoo that you regret getting? Maybe your tattoo is not appropriate for your future career or you made a spontaneous decision to get one. For whatever reason, one in six people who have tattoos hate them so much that they want them surgically removed.


Woman has to get tattoo removed due to her job because the U.S. Marine Corps does not authorize any hand tattoos. Source: Slick-o-bot Wikimedia Commons

Luckily, surgery may not be needed because Alec Falkenham, a Ph.D. student from Dalhousie University, is developing a tattoo removal cream as a painless alternative. This topical cream promises to eventually make any tattoo fade away.


Using a tattoo needle. Source: James Gray-King Flickr

To make a tattoo, tattoo needles are used to go through the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, and send dyes into the dermis, the deepest layer of the skin, causing an inflammatory response. This would then signal the immune system to send a type of cell called macrophages to the wounded site. As a result, the macrophages eat up the dye and show up as the desired colour which is visible through the skin. In order to remove the tattoo, Falkenham’s cream allows new macrophages to consume the macrophages with dye and then migrate to the lymph node, essentially removing all of the tattoo’s dye.

Below is a video by TED-Ed which goes into further detail of the science behind tattoos:

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This tattoo removal cream would challenge current methods such as surgery or laser removal. Surgery requires the excision of the skin containing the tattoo and then stitching it back together, and laser removal uses a highly concentrated light to break the dyes apart so that the immune system can clear them away.

An article states that surgery is better for smaller tattoos but would still leave a scar, while laser removal is a long and painful procedure, and does not promise full removal of the tattoo. Moreover, the price of surgery could range from $500-$1000 and laser removal could be $200-$350 per session with a suggested 4-5 sessions. Alternatively, the tattoo removal cream would not cause any pain or scarring, and it would cost 4.5 cents per square centimetre for each treatment.

Falkenham’s cream has the potential to be a popular choice for many people regretting their tattoos because it would be a cheaper and painless alternative. It could even promote more people to get tattoos knowing they could remove them with a simple cream. The idea of this cream is enticing, but some things still need be known such as the amount of applications in order to see a noticeable change, whether the cream permanently removes the tattoo or just fades most of it, or the side effects while using the cream. Although Falkenham’s cream is still in its research stages, it would be interesting to see the results of his tests and if successful, a finalized product for commercial use.

-Ian Villamin