Innovation

To Like or Not to Like: Will Killing the “Like” Button Save Insta?

On July 17, Instagram announced the unthinkable: the company was exploring the idea of hiding the number of “likes” from its photo-sharing platform. According to the company, the new design would encourage “followers to focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get,” ostensibly shifting the emphasis away from the quantity of likes to the quality of content.

Meet CRISPR: Humanity’s Shiny New Tool

One of biology’s wilder facts is that we’re all family. You and me, sure, but also me and a mushroom. Triceratops shared genes with you. So does the virus that makes you cough, and a rosebush. Bacteria left us on the tree of life around 2.7 billion years ago, but the wet world they came from is still ours: One code runs all of life. The same proteins that imprint memories in your neurons, for example, do so in octopi, ravens, and sea slugs. This genetic conservation means tricks from one species can be hijacked. If you stick a jellyfish gene in a monkey, it’ll glow green.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Intolerable Genius: Berkeley’s Most Controversial Nobel Laureate

IN THE SUMMER OF 1984 the senior scientists of Cetus Corp., a Berkeley biotech company, found themselves in a bind. One of their employees, a promising young scientist named Kary Mullis, had dreamed up a technique to exponentially replicate tiny scraps of DNA. He called it polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and if it worked it would change the world and likely earn Cetus a mountain of money. The only problem was Mullis was an interpersonal wrecking ball.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Blue is an Elusive Color. One Artist Just Invented a New Shade.

Blue is an elusive color. Crush the feathers of a blue jay or the wings of a Morpho butterfly and you’ll see gray dust; our perception of their electric blue hue depends on microscopic structural features that bend the light just so. The blue sky is merely a mirage of refracting light, as are blue eyes. Truly blue pigments are exceedingly rare in the natural world, which is perhaps part of their allure—blue is our favorite color, according to an international, cross-cultural survey.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Blood Work: The Citizen Sleuth Using Genealogy to ID the Dead

ON APRIL 24, 1981, THE BODY OF A YOUNG WOMAN with auburn braids and a fringed jacket was discovered off the side of a road in Troy, Ohio.

She had been strangled to death only hours before. Authorities took DNA samples but couldn’t find a match for the woman. For decades, she was described only by the clothes on her back: “Buckskin Girl.”

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

There’s an App for That! Earthquake Early Warning Is Here.

On the 30-year anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, Governor Gavin Newsom stood near the Oakland entrance of the Bay Bridge, a portion of which collapsed during the quake, and announced the launch of MyShake, the United States’ first earthquake early warning system.

“The price of admission for living here is preparation,” Newsom said. “Today we are making a big leap forward.”

Whose Fault?

When a series of earthquakes rolled through the Mojave Desert over Independence Day weekend, the 500,000 Angelenos who’d downloaded the mobile app ShakeAlertLA thought they’d receive advance warning. Notification never came. Left to their own (silent) devices, many expressed frustration: Had the United States’ new earthquake early warning system, co-piloted by UC Berkeley researchers, failed its first major trial?

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

Warning! AI Is Heading for a Cliff

Asked if the race to achieve superhuman artificial intelligence (AI) was inevitable, Stuart Russell, UC Berkeley professor of computer science and leading expert on AI, says yes.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

5 Things Philip Dick Got Right: A Total Recall of Electric Sheep

It was a half a century ago this year that Berkeley High grad and Cal drop-out Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? hit the shelves. Set in 2021, the story follows the systematic annihilation of renegade androids in a post-apocalyptic, nuclear-ravaged San Francisco. (In short: man made robot, robot outsmarted man, man crushed robot.) Though a work of fiction, the novel is revered to this day for its astute insights on the future of man and machine—perhaps because so much of the story has, in some form or another, become reality.

From Closet Gamer to Millionaire: How Kevin Chou Made It Big

The only child of Taiwanese immigrants, Kevin Chou grew up bored and lonely in Moorpark, a sleepy middle-class suburb of Los Angeles.

As he recalls it, he spent much of the ’80s in his parents’ dining room playing 8-bit floppy disk games on his father’s IBM XT.

“I had no friends. I had video games,” Chou says today with a wry laugh.

“It’s very surreal,” says Chou, “to go from being a closet gamer to watching a whole generation cheer on, and aspire to be, gamer-athletes—we’ve all won. And it hasn’t been that long.”

From the Summer 2019 issue of California.

Meet Frances Arnold, Teenage Rebel Turned Nobel Laureate

At 15, she was a class-skipping, catch-me-if-you-can maverick hitchhiking to D.C. to protest the Vietnam War. Looking back on those years now, Frances Arnold says, “Fifteen is one of those terrifying ages, where you’re frustrated because you know something’s wrong, but you have no idea how to fix it. So I did what I could, which is protest.

“But as I’ve gone through my life,” she continues, “I know that it’s my responsibility to fix it. I’m much better at fixing things than protesting.”

She pauses.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

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