Friday, 7 December 2018

Sci-Fi Future is Here & Now (Part 4)


Gene Editing


National Human Genome Research Institute

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) 
Blade Runner (1982) 
Jurassic Park (1993) 
Mimic (1997) 
Gattaca (1997) 
X-Men (2000) 
Dark Angel (2000-2002) 
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) 
Resident Evil (2002) 
Andromeda (2000-2005) 
Splice (2009) 
Heroes (2006-2010) 
Elysium (2013) 
Jurassic World (2015) 
Orphan Black (2013-2017) 

The issue of genetic engineering, gene editing or genetic manipulation has been a staple of science fiction films and series as can be gauged from the above sample of films and TV series which have explored this theme from various standpoints. 

As we journey further into a new century, what was once considered to be an interesting part of speculative fiction and philosophical and ethical debate, has now become a disturbing reality confronting us all. 

We begin this segment of our journey from the realm of science fiction to the cusp of science fact with The International Summit on Human Genome Editing held recently in Hong Kong. 

Researchers, ethicists, and policymakers attending the meeting learned of a Chinese researcher’s astounding claim through media reports. The Chinese researcher, Dr He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China claimed that he had altered the genomes of twin baby girls, named Lula and Nana and that this modification would be passed onto future generations. In other words, the researcher claimed to have created gene-edited twins. 




According to He Jiankui, he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments. One pregnancy had so far been achieved. In each case, the father was infected with HIV while the mothers were HIV-negative. Dr He’s intention was to introduce a rare, natural genetic variation that makes it more difficult for HIV to infect its preferred target, white blood cells. He deleted a region of a receptor on the surface of white blood cells known as CCR5 using the revolutionary genome-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9. The goal was to protect the babies from HIV infection later in life by making the children’s cells resistant to infection by HIV. 



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CRISPR-Cas9: a customizable tool allowing scientists to cut and insert small pieces of DNA at precise areas along a DNA strand. The tool consists of; 

1. the Cas9 protein, (the wrench) 
2. the CRISPRs or specific RNA guides (the set of different socket heads) which direct the Cas9 protein to the correct gene, or area on the DNA strand, that controls a particular trait.

***********


It must be noted that the claim has yet to be reported in a scientific paper and has therefore not undergone the expected peer review process.

The sensitivity of the issue of gene editing of human beings can be seen from the reaction the scientist’s claim has generated. Comments such as “premature,” “ethically problematic,” “a serious violation of the Chinese government’s laws and regulations and the consensus of the Chinese scientific community” and “monstrous” have been hurled about to describe the possible scientific development. It is certainly light years away from being viewed as a ‘revolutionary advance’ or ‘breakthrough.’ The question is, why? 

If Dr He’s claims prove to be correct, there are many in the scientific community who would view his actions as having “seriously violate(d) academic ethics and academic norms.” 




At present, the use of CRISPR-Cas9 as a treatment for many genetic diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anaemia is being investigated. Incidents of gene editing have involved the use of so-called somatic cells that are not passed on to the patient’s children. Dr He Jiankui has appeared to have gone further by altering the genome in early stage embryos thereby affecting sperm and eggs (the germ line) and making the change heritable. Such procedures are barred in the United States and many other countries. 

Many would view the gene editing work as being nothing more than an experiment just to see if gene editing on an embryo could be done – the old answer to the question of, why do it? Because we can! The real question ought to be “should we do it?” and “What might the consequences be?” After all, there are many ways to effectively protect oneself against HIV without the need or the potential and unforeseen risks of editing the genes of an embryo to achieve the same result. 

The experimental nature of gene editing would suggest that caution needs to be exercised since no guarantee can be given that mutations and genetic problems would not occur later in life for those undergoing such a process. An important ethical consideration is raised with the possibility of exposing healthy normal children to the potential risks of gene editing for no real benefit. And what of the potential and unforeseen consequences to the entire human species!? For instance, if genes that are crucial to the human immune system are removed, could this then increase the risk of susceptibility to other diseases? 

If Dr He’s claims prove to be valid, I’m afraid that this is yet another case of scientific advancement in which the once closed and locked door has been opened just a crack. Whether we like it or not, having once been unlocked and opened, it is likely that the door will swing open wider letting in God knows what! 

No matter what checks and balances are put in place, someone somewhere will work secretly and under the radar on experiments such as gene editing. Take for instance, the reports of a team of biologists at the Oregon Health and Science University in the US who used CRISPR to genetically edit more than 100 human embryos. Most people in the scientific community were unaware of this until a paper was published! 

An understandable fear many people may have is that the Pandora's box of genetic enhancements and designer babies will be unleashed. Will we usher in a world in which qualities such as height and intelligence can be pre-determined by editing or manipulating our genes? Unlikely perhaps, but if it can be conceived or imagined…..well…..??? 

Apart from the very laudable desire to treat currently untreatable diseases, which germ-line genetic engineering may allow us to do, we are now faced with the ultimate irresistible possibility of possessing power over our own biology and evolutionary direction as a species. 

The most we might hope for is that gene-editing will first be required to go through a process of serious informed public debate, including the necessary input and guidance of doctors, scientists, ethicists and religious authorities. If it is proved to be feasible, the process must be stringently governed and regulated. Its use ought to be restricted to dealing with medical needs where no other medical approach is a viable option. A medical approach should not be employed as a solution to a perceived social problem as appears to be the case with Dr He’s reported experiment. 

Perhaps the nuclear arms race of the Cold War era may offer us some salutary lessons. As a first step, we may need to acknowledge that we are entering a new kind of race: a genetic arms race. Left to their own devices, national governments and their scientific bodies will most likely rush to adopt the new technology before their adversaries and counterparts do. Funding will flow, advantage will be sought and the arsenal will grow!

Whatever rules, regulations or ethical codes of conduct  are put in place to control this technology will likely be vague, loosely worded and unenforceable. Don’t forget that Dr He’s reported experiment involved him defying the unofficial international moratorium on editing human embryos intended for a pregnancy! 

It may take the realization that direct experimentation on human beings is as MAD as the Cold War era policy of mutually assured destruction in order for us to achieve global consensus on what to do to avoid endangering the survival of our species. 

A decision will soon – very soon - have to be made involving a choice between going down the path of global governance and regulation or opting for self-regulation by the scientific community. Which will stand the most chance of preventing our species rushing headlong into potential disaster or indeed a brave new world of genetic inequality? Whether or not Dr He’s work proves to be valid, at least it may achieve this kind of much needed debate and thoughtful consideration - and that would be a good thing. 


©Chris Christopoulos 2018






Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Airing on COMET in December



                                       
YOU DON’T NEED A SUBSCRIPTION TO WATCH THESE GREAT MOVIES…

THEY’RE AIRING FOR FREE ON COMET!




Babylon 5 (Christmas Marathon)

This Christmas, after you sip your egg nog and trim the tree, turn on COMET TV for a spacey Christmas Marathon! Starting at 10a/9 C you can catch up on this classic sci-fi series!

Christmas Day Tuesday, December 25 starting at 10a/9 C



Stigmata (1999) (with special audio commentary)

Frankie is having a really bad day. Suddenly she is getting wounds similar to the crucification of Jesus. Yikes! The classic film Stigmata starring Oscar winner Patricia Arquette is showing on COMET TV with director’s commentary! Learn why the director chose certain shots and the behind the scenes of the horror classic!



Saturday, December 8 at 5/4 C (airing with special audio commentary)

Sunday, December 9 at 3/2 C (airing without commentary)


Area 10 



The best in cult classic films are airing all month long on Comet TV! If you’re in the mood for laughs check out Haunted Honeymoon, if you fancy a trip book your ticket to Futureworld, join Ah-Nuld for The Terminator and who doesn’t have those Jeepers Creepers!

Weeknights at 10/9 C

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

The Shout

The Cat Creature 


The Blair Witch Project

Disturbing Behavior

Runaway 

The Terminator

Futureworld

To All a Good Night

Haunted Honeymoon

Old Dracula

Jeepers Creepers

The Curse

The Curse II

Panga
AND MORE...

The Blair Witch Project (1999)


There’s something sinister lurking in Black Hills Forest and missing girl’s disappearance is linked to the legend of The Blair Witch! A group heads into the woods to find out what happened and the footage found after will send a chill down your spine. Don’t turn your back because you don’t know what’s lurking behind you….

Friday, December 7 at 10/9 C

Saturday, December 15 at 5/4 C

Thursday, December 20 at MIDNIGHT/11 C


The Terminator (1984) 

"I’ll be back!"

The original classic that started the franchise is airing on Comet TV! Catch Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton in their classic roles trying to defeat Skynet from launching total human extinction. Relive the first time you heard, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Tuesday, December 11 at MIDNIGHT/11 C

Friday, December 14 at 3/2 C

Wednesday, December 19 at 10/9 C


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984)



It’s a battle to the death! Buckaroo Banzai gets caught in the middle of two alien forces from Planet 10. But Buckaroo Banzai has the Overthruster which will bring the bad aliens back to their home planet, which the good aliens can’t allow to happen. Earth’s survival hangs in the balance!

Wednesday, December 12 at 3/2 C

Thursday, December 20 at 5/4 C


ALSO ON CHARGE....

Watch action stars, every-day heroes and insane athletes engaged in battles, chases, showdown and so much more. CHARGE! Ready for Action


Airing on CHARGE! in December

Hurtin’ For A Burtin’

From Dusk Till Dawn TRILOGY
  1. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) 
  2. From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) 
  3. From Dusk Till Dawn 3: Hangman’s Daughter (2000) 
Tuesday, December 4 starting at 8/7 C

Friday, December 14 starting at 10/9 C

Saturday, December 22 starting at 2/1 C


Chantastic Movie Marathon 


The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Supercop (1996)

Accidental Spy (Te Wu Mi Cheng) (2001)

Friday, December 7 starting at NOON/11a C

Saturday, December 15 starting at 2/1 C

Wednesday, December 19 starting at 10/9 C

Xmas Day Tuesday, December 25 starting at 8/7 C


CHiPs (Series)

California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers Jon Baker and Frank "Ponch" Poncherello cruise the freeways of Los Angeles, solve crimes and help people in trouble in this cop show. The stakes usually weren't very high -- the better to highlight the personal lives of Ponch and Jon.

Weekdays at 11a/10 C

Weeknights at 6/5 C








Friday, 30 November 2018

Battle in Outer Space (宇宙大戦争 Uchū Daisensō) (1959)


We shall fight them in space! We shall fight them on the moon! We shall fight them on the earth! We shall never surrender!



Directed by Ishirō Honda
Produced by omoyuki Tanaka
Screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa
Story by Jotaro Okami
Music by Akira Ifukube
Cinematography Hajime Koizumi
Edited by Ichiji Taira
Production company: Toho
Running time: 93 minutes


Cast


Ryô Ikebe: Maj. Ichiro Katsumiya
Kyôko Anzai: Etsuko Shiraishi
Minoru Takada: The Commander
Koreya Senda: Professor Adachi
Len Stanford: Dr. Roger Richardson
Harold Conway: Dr. Immerman
Elise Richter: Sylvia
Hisaya Itô: Kogure
Yoshio Tsuchiya: Iwomura
Nadao Kirino: Gravity Man
Kôzô Nomura: Rocket Commander
Fuyuki Murakami: Inspector Iriake
Ikio Sawamura: Lantern Man
Takuzô Kumagai: Alien
Katsumi Tezuka: Alien


HERE COME THE PLANET SMASHERS!
The Moon is Captured! The Earth is Next!
SPACE DECLARES WAR ON EARTH - OUTLAW PLANET CAPTURES THE MOON!
Space Wages War on Earth!

SEE! Space-shaking last battle of earth rockets vs. flying war saucers!
SEE! Space saboteurs juggle earth's bridges...ships...trains...like toys!
SEE! Earth's minds controlled by rays from outer space!
SEE…
The Biggest Battle Ever Put On Film!


Trailer

Read on for more......

Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Atomic Submarine (1959)



A low-budget sci-fi thriller with overbearing narration, grainy stock footage, ordinary effects and cheap sets, but also containing some quite interesting concepts and plenty of action.



Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet
Produced by Alex Gordon
Screenplay by Orville H. Hampton
Story by Irving Block; Jack Rabin
Music by Alexander Laszlo
Cinematography: Gilbert Warrenton
Edited by William Austin
Production company: Gorham Productions, Inc.
Distributed by Allied Artists Pictures Corporation (US); Warner-Pathé (original, UK)
Running time: 72 minutes
Budget: $135,000 (approx.)


Cast


Arthur Franz: Lt. Cmdr. Richard 'Reef' Holloway
Dick Foran: Cmdr. Dan Wendover
Brett Halsey: Dr. Carl Neilson Jr.
Tom Conway: Sir Ian Hunt
Paul Dubov: Lt. David Milburn
Bob Steele: CPO 'Grif' Griffin
Victor Varconi: Dr. Clifford Kent
Joi Lansing: Julie
Selmer Jackson: Adm. Terhune
Jack Mulhall : Justin Murdock
Jean Moorhead: Helen Milburn
Richard Tyler: Carney
Kenneth Becker: Frogman Powell
Sid Melton: Yeoman Chester Tuttle
Frank Watkins: Watkins




Trailer
 
It's 1968 – 10 years into the future!
Ships and submarines crossing the North Pole have mysteriously vanished!
The nuclear sub, Tiger Shark is sent out to investigate.
What they discover is not so much out of this world as…….
Deep within its waters!


Read on for more.....


Monday, 22 October 2018

Sci-Fi Future Is Here & Now (Part 3)

Look, Up in The Sky! It's A Bird? It's A Plane! No, It’s A…..Drone!

For now, we’ll set aside what many people consider to be the vile use of military drone technology by governments for the purposes of violating other nations’ sovereignty to carry out state-sanctioned extra-judicial assassinations that often result in “collateral” damage.



For the purposes of this post, consider a scenario that was presented in a sci-fi film called, Runaway (1984) starring Tom Selleck who plays a police officer who specializes in malfunctioning robots. He soon finds himself uncovering a plot involving the programming of robots to kill. In one scene he investigates a suburban home where the domestic robot has become homicidal. One of his tools is a small drone which he sends into the house to provide him with video surveillance of what is taking place. Don’t forget that what is commonplace today was being depicted (predicted?) 34 years ago as part of the police force’s arsenal of surveillance tools.


"Floater" camera drone in Runaway


Fast forward to 2018 and we have reports of a “leading defense expert” proclaiming that the use of artificially intelligent drones to monitor crowds at major events and report "irregular behaviour" to authorities will become widespread.

Meanwhile in Australia, Victoria Police have disclosed plans to use such drones as part of its new counter-terrorism strategy. The drones possess biometric features within their cameras that look for patterns of behaviour and can detect "unusual behaviour" in a crowd. The drones will then report findings back to officers, who can then investigate the potential threat.


The question to consider is whether such a course of action will simply add yet another layer to the ever-expanding reach of the cctv saturated "surveillance state?" Not to mention the fact that the simple private and domestic use of drones has raised concerns about the abuse of this technology by those who try to clandestinely pry into other people’s lives and invade their privacy!

It is difficult to argue against the use of drone surveillance technology when the stated intention of its deployment is to protect the community. However, that does not mean that it should not be questioned and even prevented from being implemented should the use of such technology diminish people’s right to privacy and their personal freedoms.

Take for instance the notion of “irregular behaviour.” What constitutes unusual behaviour? Who determines what is unusual, abnormal or irregular behaviour? Should such determinations be left to artificial intelligence? Would such monitoring lead to perfectly innocent people being identified and singled out? Would people fall into the habit of constantly self-monitoring their movements, actions and interactions with others? Could this behaviour identification eventually be extended to profiling of individuals and groups?

It is certainly true and not surprising that terrorist and militia groups have begun to employ weaponized drone technology. It has been reported that certain groups in Iraq have used drones equipped with grenades during battles. We can also not forget the apparent assassination attempt by means of a drone of the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during a speech at a military parade on Aug. 4. 2018 


Drones are becoming more cost-effective for governments and the military but the same also applies for terrorist groups. Before we know it, we’ll end up having a world living in constant fear of death raining down from the sky at any time and place!

Added to that scenario, is the ever increasing reliance on artificial intelligence to make decisions, extending even as far as one day making ethical and moral decisions.


It is a worrying fact that the community has been somewhat lulled into a degree of complacency when it comes to the increasing use of surveillance by CCTV cameras. Playing on our concerns about our security and safety could also lead us to become more accepting of the use of drone surveillance technology as well. Will we also be prepared to live our lives nervously looking over our shoulders and up at the skies in between being transfixed by our screens?



©Chris Christopoulos 2018

Monday, 15 October 2018

Sci-Fi Future Is Here And Now (Part 2)

A Brave New Weird & 
Worrisome 
World


In 2012, Mitinori Saitou at Kyoto University and his colleagues reported that they had produced mature mouse eggs and sperm from stem cells and had used them to breed healthy mouse pups.

Six years on from that development, it has recently been reported that immature human eggs were created by Japanese researchers using stem cells that were derived from blood cells, thereby bringing us a step closer toward creating human eggs in a lab dish.

The Japanese scientists turned adult human blood cells into induced pluripotent stem cells possessing the ability to become any cell in the body and which the scientists then transformed into very immature human eggs.

This was achieved by placing the induced human pluripotent stem cells into miniature ovaries that were created from mouse embryonic cells. The scientists created a tiny artificial ovary inside of which were very immature human egg cells. It is significant to note that the experiment occurred entirely within an incubator within a laboratory.


Such research of course may hold the promise of helping millions of people around the world who suffer from infertility for a variety of reasons. It could also enable gay couples to have babies with sperm and eggs made from their own skin cells.

For better or for worse, it may also ultimately be a major step towards the time when humanity eventually takes control of its own evolution.

Humanity is now faced with the prospect of being able to mass-produce human eggs in labs. This capability would no doubt raise the kinds of societal, moral and ethical concerns that have featured in many science fiction stories such as Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World (1932) and in films such as, Gattaca (1997) and The Island (2005).

For instance, what if babies could in the future be made from the blood, hair or skin cells of children, grandmothers or even deceased people? What if babies were made from cells stolen from people who have simply had samples of their hair obtained by some underhanded means? Would any of us wish to have our offspring brought into this world without our consent? And what of the legal status of such offspring?

If we can make human eggs and sperm from our skin cells, what implications does this have for how humans reproduce, how we relate to each other and what it in fact means to be human.

Of particular concern is the possibility this research opens up for genetic testing and screening of embryos before a baby is “born.” It may beneficial when it comes to identifying abnormalities, which means the discarding of embryos possessing such abnormalities. We must also consider the likely implications of having parents, medical professionals or indeed governments determining which embryos go on to become babies. Would we wish to condone a process which amounts to a form of back door eugenics?

We knew this was coming! It is coming! Now that it’s just about to arrive on our doorstep, can our ethical, moral, legal, social, political and other institutional bodies and frameworks put in place the necessary principles and guidelines that will enable us to retain our human dignity?

By The original uploader was GoldenBear at German Wikipedia. - Life Issues Institute, 1721W Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45239, 513.729.3600, www.lifeissues.org, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22862400



©Chris Christopoulos 2018

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Sci-Fi Future Is Here & Now


Bendable & Flexible Technology


By Superdiddly - PhotographyPreviously published: www.hml.queensu.ca/paperphone, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27732010


Science fiction films and TV series have often presented a world of the future in which digital screens come in various forms such as ultra-thin tablets that roll up into the shape of a tube, curved billboards and even foldable newspapers containing video images

Up until now we are accustomed to living in a largely flat-screen world. However, we are fast approaching a time in which that world will be replaced by one in which any surface can become a screen capable of displaying moving high-resolution images.

The technology powering flexible, bendable displays is developing apace, and it won’t be that long before we will be taking up display technology that has shed the confines of a case and which is flexible, bendable and curved.

A Chinese firm called Royole have had their phones’ ultra-thin, flexible, full-colour screens incorporated into apparel such as top hats and T-shirts. The ability to watch video footage playing on someone’s chest, although at first sight is rather gimmicky, could be made use of by corporations to advertise their products. In effect we could become effective walking advertising billboards. If people trip over and crash into things while walking and using their phones now, imagine the carnage resulting from being distracted by watching video images on other peoples’ clothing! 
 

One person’s corporate or even aesthetic opportunity could also be another person’s idea of hell in which we are forced to live in a world where every surface around us has been turned into a screen that constantly spews out OLED visual pollution.

OLEDs or organic light-emitting diodes emit their own light, and don’t require a backlight which means they can be affixed to thin, lightweight materials such as plastic. Flexible OLEDs have been around for a few years and LG has even demonstrated a 65-inch TV that can be rolled up. The challenge has been not just to have a display that can flex but to also ensure that the other components such as batteries can flex too.
 





In addition, we have learned recently that engineers at ANU (Australian National University) have invented a semiconductor with organic and inorganic materials that can efficiently convert electricity into light. It is also thin and flexible enough to help make devices such as mobile phones bendable. Not only that, but devices made with such organic materials will be biodegradable, recyclable and will therefore help to reduce e-waste. 

One can only hope that we don’t become a society in which technology is increasingly seen as just being a readily consumable and disposable commodity and that information itself isn’t reduced to something that is merely consumed and discarded at will.

The organic component of the newly invented semiconductor has the thickness of just one atom - made from carbon and hydrogen while the inorganic component has the thickness of around two atoms.

The development of such ultra-thin and flexible electronics components possessing organic-inorganic hybrid structures will make possible the creation of bendable mobile phones and display screens. The computer-like characteristics of mobile phones today will be dwarfed by the potential supercomputer performance of mobile phones of the future. 


It also seems that such technological developments are presaging a time not far from now when organics and non-organics are fused together and we all have computer and communications technologies incorporated within our bodies.

Will we be ready to realize the full potential of these new technologies and venture beyond the need to take pouty-lipped selfies, share Instagram pictures of our food or update our status on Facebook? Will the development of such technologies present us with further social dilemmas by which we find ourselves shackled in some kind of virtual techno-prison overseen and manipulated by corporate and political overlords?




©Chris Christopoulos 2018