VII. Pedia Sapiens: A Genesis Future on Earth and in the Heavens
1. Mind Over Matter: A Quantum, Atomic, Chemical Materiality
Cole-Turner, Ronald, ed. Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011. The editor is a professor of theology and ethics at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A spate of recent books of this genre alternatively exalt instant powers to remake human and nature, a near singularity but sans checks or balances, or look aghast at an often misconceived Pandora’s box of genetic or social “engineering.” This volume presents a rare admission that a promised, recreated future is unavoidably opening, but we ought to only proceed with utmost careful, wise, spiritual guidance. As the contents and much text viewable on Amazon.com attest, the essays are a thoughtful attempt to engage and give meaningful depth to this new creation quite bursting upon us. Of note are lead chapters: “Contextualizing a Christian Perspective on Transcendence and Human Enhancement: Francis Bacon, N. F. Fedorov, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin” by Michael S. Burdett, and “Transformation and the End of Enhancement: Insights from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin” by David Grumett. Another humane contribution is Celia Deane-Drummond’s “Taking Leave of the Animal? The Theological and Ethical Implications of Transhuman Projects.”
Collins, Sean, et al. Materials Design by Evolutionary Optimization of Functional Groups in Metal-Organic Frameworks. Science Advances. Online November, 2016. University of Ottawa, Center for Catalysis Innovation researchers describe endeavors within the field of “computational materials science” (search Ceder) to “optimize” ligand compounds (molecules bonded to a metal atom) by way of machine learning and genetic algorithms. See also The Thermodynamic Scale of Inorganic Crystalline Metastability by Wenhao Sun, et al in this journal, for another advance.
A genetic algorithm that efficiently optimizes a desired physical or functional property in metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) by evolving the functional groups within the pores has been developed. The approach has been used to optimize the CO2 uptake capacity of 141 experimentally characterized MOFs under conditions relevant for postcombustion CO2 capture. A total search space of 1.65 trillion structures was screened, and 1035 derivatives of 23 different parent MOFs were identified as having exceptional CO2 uptakes of >3.0 mmol/g. The structures of the high-performing MOFs are provided as potential targets for synthesis. (Collins Abstract)
Copie, O., et al. Structure and Magnetism of Epitaxial PrVO3 Films. Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter. 25/49, 2013. Université de Caen Basse Normandie and CNRS-Ecole Centrale Paris researchers prepare, study and avail this especially versatile class of materials. We select this contribution out of thousands each month as an example of the worldwide project to discern and recreate the chemical substance of nature, for which we seem to have a limitless capacity. (The paper intrigued because in 1962 I grew one of the first GaAs epitaxial single crystal films in a laboratory in New York City.) And what a fantastic scenario on the face of it as some kind of universe that stochastically evolves sentient beings who are then able to so quantify its materiality as to begin a new, better, intentionally ordered “second genesis.”
Epitaxial means growing a crystal layer of one mineral on the crystal base of another mineral in such a manner that its crystalline orientation is the same as that of the substrate. Pr is the rare earth element Praseodymium.
Cronin, Leroy, et al. Catalyst: The Metaphysics of Chemical Reactivity. Chem. 4/8, 2018. In this new Cell Press journal, University of Glasgow chemists broach philosophical reflections about a “meta-chemical” reality which seems to have its own lawful propensities. Our material human inquiries and interactions can now be enhanced by neural net artificial intelligence learning methods which bode well for breakthrough achievements going forward.
The challenge for the chemist is not the use of artificial intelligence but the intelligent use of algorithms and automation for novel discoveries rather than just new molecules that are predictable. This development is crucial if chemical technologies are to shake the perceived failure of the combinatorial synthesis revolution. Ultimately, the development of such tools should build on the creativity of the chemist and allow discovers and developments that would not have been possible in isolation. With such approaches, the chemist will be able to boldly go into the unknown and active seek chemical novelty. (1761)
Crow, James Mitchell. The Anything Factory. New Scientist. August 19, 2017. A report about emerging technical abilities via sophisticated instrumentation and graphic computations which bode for the novel creation of atomic, chemical and all manner of inorganic and biological materials forms. Exemplary highlights are the work of Sander Otte in Quantum Nanoscience at the Technical University of Delft, and Stefano Curtarolo in Material Genomics at Duke University (search each).
Damasceno, Pablo, et al. Predictive Self-Assembly of Polyhedra into Complex Structrues. Science. 337/453, 2012. As illustrated by 2010s organic crystallography displayed in colorful graphics, University of Michigan materials scientists in coauthor Sharon Glotzer’ Lab discover an array of inherent natural structurations. These efforts proceed, it is said, as part of their project to begin a new intentional creation.
Predicting structure from the attributes of a material’s building blocks remains a challenge and central goal for materials science. Isolating the role of building block shape for self-assembly provides insight into the ordering of molecules and the crystallization of colloids, nanoparticles, proteins, and viruses. We investigated 145 convex polyhedra whose assembly arises solely from their anisotropic shape. Our results demonstrate a remarkably high propensity for thermodynamic self-assembly and structural diversity. We show that from simple measures of particle shape and local order in the fluid, the assembly of a given shape into a liquid crystal, plastic crystal, or crystal can be predicted. (Abstract)
De Pablo, Juan, et al. New Frontiers for the Materials Genome Initiative. Npj Computational Materials. 5/41, 2019. In this new Nature journal, in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, twenty five researchers from universities and institutes across the USA preview of this worldwide endeavor which augurs to begin a new atomic and bio-chemical creation. A synthesis of deep neural net learning, algorithmic computations, and the latest stereochemical imaging has led to a steady flow of beneficial nanomaterials. But of most interest for a natural genesis is its metaphoric citation as an essential genetic project. Might coinage like atomics, atom-informatics, matteromics and more be rightly availed? See also Genetic Algorithms for Computational Materials Discovery Accelerated by Machine Learning by Paul Jennings, et al in this same issue (5/46), Materials Informatics by Krishna Rajan (a coauthor) in Annual Review of Materials Research (45/153, 2015), and Machine Learning in Materials Informatics by Rampi Ramprasad, et al in this journal (2017).
The Materials Genome Initiative (www.mgi.gov) advanced a new paradigm for accelerated materials discovery, design and development, by way of complementary efforts in theory, computation, and experiment. In May 2017, the National Science Foundation sponsored the workshop “Advancing and Accelerating Materials Innovation Through the Synergistic Interaction among Computation, Experiment, and Theory: Opening New Frontiers” to review accomplishments that emerged from investments in science and infrastructure. We cite key findings from the workshop and novel perspectives to guide future materials research and its translation into societal advantage. (Abstract)
De S. Cameron, Nigel and M. Ellen Mitchell, eds. Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2007. Another volume to try to make sense of the sudden advent of God-like capabilities to remake natural creation and our own bodies, brains, selves, and progeny. Somewhat formal and governmental, it struggles with a contrary culture that remains immersed in an unrepealed, fallen realm of flawed penitents. Futurist James Hughes’ article Beyond Human Nature wonders, in a different vein from Ted Peters (op. cit. in Allhoff, et al this section), why we are able to reinvent ourselves.
Deane-Drummond, Celia, et al, eds. Technofutures, Nature and the Sacred. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2015. There are several collections in this site section that seek to explore and consider a respectful way forward as auspicious potentials present themselves for collaborative human beings to intentionally imagine and remake every creature and cosmos anew. But the effort is tacitly confounded by ancient beliefs of a fallen world and flawed persons who ought not, without an admission of a self-existing, purposeful genesis universe to provide any intrinsic guidance and rationale. The chapter The Technologisation of Life: Theology and the Trans-Human and Trans-Animal Narratives of the Post-Animal by University of Notre Dame theologian Deane-Drummond might be the best entry.
The capacity of human beings to invent, construct and use technical artifacts is a hugely consequential factor in the evolution of society, and in the entangled relations between humans, other creatures and their natural environments. Moving from a critical consideration of theories, to narratives about technology, and then to particular and specific practices, Technofutures, Nature and the Sacred seeks to arrive at a genuinely transdisciplinary perspective focusing attention on the intersection between technology, religion and society and using insights from the environmental humanities. It works from both theoretical and practical contexts by using newly emerging case studies, including geo-engineering and soil carbon technologies, and breaks open new ground by engaging theological, scientific, philosophical and cultural aspects of the technology/religion/nature nexus. Encouraging us to reflect on the significance and place of religious beliefs in dealing with new technologies, and engaging critical theory common in sociological, political and literary discourses, the authors explore the implicit religious claims embedded in technology.
Diamanti, Eleni. Quantum Signals Could Soon Span the Globe. Nature. 549/41, 2017. A commentary by a Pierre and Marie Curie University theorist on two papers in this issue, Satellite-to-Ground Quantum Key Distribution by Sheng-Kai Liao, et al, and Ground to Satellite Quantum Teleportation by Ji-Gang Ren, et al, which describe breakthrough beginnings of a worldwide quantum Internet with vast novel capacities. Both articles have over thirty, mostly the same, authors from institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Center for Excellence and Synergetic Innovation Center in Quantum Information and Quantum Physics, Key Laboratory of Space Active Opto-Electronic Technology, Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics and so on. (A concurrent NY Times op-ed piece notes that while the USA and UK are lately defunding scientific research, China is forging 21st century advances such as this, along with all manner of renewable energies.)
The laws of quantum physics give rise to protocols for ultra-secure cryptography and quantum communications. However, to be useful in a global network, these protocols will have to function with satellites. Extending existing protocols to such long distances poses a tremendous experimental challenge. Researchers led by Jian-Wei Pan present a pair of papers in this issue that take steps toward a global quantum network, using the low-Earth-orbit satellite Micius. They demonstrate satellite-to-ground quantum key distribution, an integral part of quantum cryptosystems, at kilohertz rates over 1,200 kilometres, and report quantum teleportation of a single-photon qubit over 1,400 kilometres. Quantum teleportation is the transfer of the exact state of a quantum object from one place to another, without physical travelling of the object itself, and is a central process in many quantum communication protocols. These two experiments suggest that Micius could become the first component in a global quantum internet. (Editor’s summary)
Dong, Xiao, et al. A Stable Compound of Helium and Sodium at High Pressure. Nature Chemistry. 9/5, 2017. A 17 member team based in China, Russia, the USA, Spain, and Germany achieve the first ever combined form of the most noble gas with another element. See also a commentary by Maosheng Miao in the same issue. We note in Mind over Matter as a premier example whence phenomenal human beings can advance nature’s materiality in ways that the old cosmos itself cannot.
Helium is generally understood to be chemically inert and this is due to its extremely stable closed-shell electronic configuration, zero electron affinity and an unsurpassed ionization potential. It is not known to form thermodynamically stable compounds, except a few inclusion compounds. Here, using the ab initio evolutionary algorithm USPEX and subsequent high-pressure synthesis in a diamond anvil cell, we report the discovery of a thermodynamically stable compound of helium and sodium, Na2He, which has a fluorite-type structure and is stable at pressures >113 GPa. We show that the presence of He atoms causes strong electron localization and makes this material insulating. (Abstract)
Faber, Felix, et al. Alchemical and Structural Distribution Based Representation for Universal Quantum Machine Learning. Journal of Chemical Physics. 148/241717, 2019. University of Basel chemists describe ways that cerebral and computational methods used to make atomic and biocompound formulations can gain rootings in an ab initio quantum realm. Allusions to a 21st century alchemy are prompted as collective human intelligence and ingenuity, drawing upon newly active natural phenomena, can begin to convert and create a novel materiality. See also Physical Machine Learning Outperforms “Human Learning” in Quantum Chemistry at arXiv:1908.00971, Recent Advances and Applications of Machine Learning in Solid-state Materials Science by Jonathan Schmidt, et al in npj Computational Materials (5/83, 2019), and The Alchemical Energy Landscape for a Pentameric Cluster in Journal of Chemical Physics (152/014106, 2019).
We introduce a representation of any atom in any chemical environment for the automatized generation of universal kernel ridge regression-based quantum machine learning (QML) models of electronic properties. The representation is based on Gaussian distribution functions, scaled by power laws and accounting for structural as well as elemental degrees of freedom. The elemental components help us to lower the QML model’s learning curve, and, through interpolation across the periodic table, even enable “alchemical extrapolation” to covalent bonding between elements not part of training. This point is demonstrated for the prediction of covalent binding in single, double, and triple bonds among main-group elements as well as for atomization energies in organic molecules. (Abstract excerpt)