Arecibo’s end, meta-legs, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2022#41)

Autumn arrived and it hit hard. Writing this from the bed under my blanket, with a hot tea besides me. This week I want to share just three stories: the end of Arecibo’s telescope, a moral debate regarding research on animals, and the latest gamble from the creator of Facebook. Let’s start:

Collapsing history

A couple years ago, the Arecibo’s Observatory facility collapsed in a shocking way (you can take a look at the video below). The site was kind of abandoned and no repairs had been done in years, and this week we got the news that the US has decided to not rebuild the iconic telescope. Instead, they plan to build an education center focused on STEM dissemination. While I understand that rebuilding this kind of telescope does not make a lot of sense (after all, there are plenty of observatories around that have continued its research), it is sad to see such a cool piece of history being lost.

US opts to not rebuild renowned Puerto Rico telescope, on AP News
The National Science Foundation won’t rebuild the Arecibo Observatory telescope, on The Verge

When does a rat stop being a rat?

Interesting discussions came up in relation to a paper that was published this week. Scientists have shown that it is possible to implant human brain cells onto the brain of mice, and after several weeks, those cells integrate in the brain of the animals, being totally functional parts of their brain. The idea behind this procedure is to study how human brain diseases work, and while this is a noble endeavour, it raises moral questions that should be addressed.

First of all, when you manipulate up to 1/6th of the brain of a rat, can you consider it to be a rat anymore? Of course, no one would say that those rats became humans (and actually the scientists studied their behaviour and found no signs of increased intelligence), but if they are not more human, what can they tell about human diseases/behaviour? If the answer is nothing, then this raises a second point: should we increase the ratio between human/rat brain cells until we can get insights on human diseases? If we do so, would those rats still be rats, or science would be doing research on humans? Many questions and little to no answers, but a relevant debate.

Are rats with human brain cells still just rats?, on the MIT technology report
Maturation and circuit integration of transplanted human cortical organoids, on Nature
Human brain cells transplanted into baby rats’ brains grow and form connections, on the MIT technology report
Human brain cells implanted in rats prompt excitement — and concern, on Nature

Stretch those legs

Puzzling moves by Zuckerberg after Meta’s anual presentation on virtual reality. Besides showing their new VR headset (that’s an expensive piece of hardware), a couple of details that piqued my attention. First, he is trying to rewrite history by telling a lot of bullshit about how the early days of personal computers and the development of the internet happened. Microsoft was one of the biggest forces back then and they did many moves that hindered not only the privacy of people, but also negated the development of incredible technology by using monopolistic practices. Now, Mark states that he wants an open metaverse, where companies work together to offer the best services (of course, on his platform), and they are partnering with Microsoft on the development of virtual reality enterprise software. No need to say that he did talk nothing about open software/hardware and user rights.

In PCs, I think you’d say that Windows during the ’90s and 2000s especially was really the primary ecosystem in computing. The open ecosystem was winning.

Mark Zuckerberg

Then he went on several rants about different ecosystem models (open vs walled gardens, also known as Android vs Apple). While I am not a fan of walled gardens, and I truly think that an open platform is not only better for technology but also for its users, I cannot believe that Zuckerberg really gives a shit about those topics. He does not want to create an open platform for people to connect because that platform already exists (the web). He is just fleeing from Facebook scandals after years of his terrible management, in one of the biggest gambles in tech history. In a world where privacy on the net is becoming paramount, a platform where fake news are rampant and which serves as a tool to manipulate elections cannot survive. The only way Facebook/Meta persists is for VR headsets to become the next smartphone, with billions of people putting them at their homes. The thing is, all tech giants know that the smartphone has reached its peak and are looking for that next big thing. Both Google and Apple are developing either augmented reality or virtual reality devices, and that’s why I think Meta partnered with Microsoft (another loser in the field of consumer electronics). Also, it makes a lot of sense that Mark started attacking Apple anytime he can, trying to shape the narrative to his advantage. Just like Facebook did for more than a decade.

An Interview With Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella About Partnering in the Metaverse, on Stratechery
What does Mark Zuckerberg think ‘open’ means?, on The Verge
Zuckerberg’s $1,499 Headsets Won’t Help Meta, on Bloomberg

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Now listening: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Fake As Fu@k
Featured image: Arecibo Telescope, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Cornell U., NSF

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