Exponential Technology Report – 30 October 2019

This is the weekly report focusing on the news stories for the week that focus on exponential technologies.


A reminder that the exponential technologies fall into different categories, which are 3D printing and digital fabrication, Artificial intelligence (AI), Augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), Autonomous vehicles, Blockchain, Data Science, Digital biology and biotechnology, Digital medicine, Drone technology, Internet of things, Nanotechnology , Networks and computing systems, Quantum computing and Robotics.


For this report the format I use is to go through the exponential technologies in alphabetical order. All the links to the articles can be found by clicking on the image. I hope you enjoy it!



3D Printing and Digital Fabrication


Article: “Dubai creates world’s largest 3D printed building” - www.esquireme.com


In line with Dubai’s mission to embrace 3D printing into construction projects, the Emirates has just grabbed another world record for creating the first two-storey 3D printed building.


After more than a year of testing and tinkering, the property in Warsan has been unveiled and given its deserved record. Standing at 9.5 metres tall with an area of 640 square metres, it is the largest 3D printed building to date. Even more impressively, it was built with only 15 people.


The feat was achieved by laying a fluid across a path calculated by a computer. These fluids rapidly harden to form a solid structure. These solid structures are continuously build up on, adding more and more layers of fluid mapped out by a computer. This happens over and over till the layered solids form walls, ceilings and floors.


This is not the first 3D printed property in Dubai however, with Emaar Properties recently unveiling its idea for a residential complex of 3D printed townhouses, spanning 30,000 square metres across a 4km boulevard. The push to utilise the tech comes as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai announced three years ago his vision for Dubai. His Highness opened an office in the emirates for 3D printing development.


Dubai’s new record-shattering building is hailed as producing 60% less waste than conventional construction and proof of 3D printing as a method to produce complex buildings.



Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Article: – “Facebook AI can 'hide' people from facial recognition” – www.engadget.com


Facebook has already stopped using facial recognition by default, but now it might have a way for people to dodge facial recognition altogether. Its researchers have developed an AI system that can "de-identify" people in real time, including live videos. The approach pairs an adversarial auto-encoder with a trained face classifier to ever-so-slightly distort a person's face in a way that confuses facial recognition systems while preserving a natural look that stays recognizable by honest-to-goodness humans. You might see tiny differences in Jennifer Lawrence's face, for instance, but you won't have any doubt that it's her.


The AI doesn't need to be retrained for different people or videos, and produces only a "little" time distortion.


Don't expect this to reach Facebook in the near future. A spokesperson told VentureBeat that there were no plans to implement the research in its products. With that said, some of the practical applications are already clear. This could be used to automatically thwart third parties using facial recognition software to track people's activity or generate deepfakes. Theoretically, you could upload a video of a house party without worrying that your friends' facial data will be harvested against their will.



Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR, VR)

Article: “Microsoft’s DreamWalker VR turns your daily commute into a totally different one” – https://arstechnica.com


Researchers at Microsoft have developed new VR technologies that they claim allow users to remain fully immersed in a virtual world even while traversing public places in the real world on foot.


Microsoft describes the project, titled DreamWalker, as "a method for allowing people to safely navigate a given route in real-world environments, such as a daily walk to work, while seeing themselves strolling a different VR world, such as a city of their choosing."


The real-world path and corresponding virtual environment are planned in advance based on geolocation data, then updated on the fly as required in an uncontrolled outdoor environment. Any potential obstacles the user encounters while traversing real space are recorded by real-time sensing technologies in the VR apparatus, including a dual-band GPS sensor, two RGB depth cameras, and "a Windows Mixed Reality-provided relative position trace." Those obstacles may be replaced by obstacles in the virtual world, such as road blocks. Additionally, a video-game quest marker-like arrow will direct the user in what is deemed to be a safe and efficient traversal direction.


"Discovered obstacles that may move or appear in users' paths are managed by introducing moving virtual obstacles, or characters, such as pedestrians walking near users, to block them from any potential danger," the blog post explains. "Other options for controlling users' paths may include pets and dynamic events such as vehicles being parked, moving carts, and more, limited only by the imagination of the experience creator."

The system tries its best to introduce these virtual objects outside of the user's field of view to minimize unrealistic popup, not dissimilar to how a 3D video game environment uses streaming and frustum culling to maximize performance or introduce new assets to the scene.


DreamWalker actually uses another Microsoft Research-developed tech called Mise-Unseen—which "allows covert changes to be made to a VR environment while a user's gaze and attention are fixed on something else"—to do this thanks to eye-tracking tech.



Autonomous Vehicles

Article: “The race to build a flying electric taxi” - www.bbc.co.uk


For any commuter the prospect of being whisked to and from work in a fraction of the time it usually takes is pretty irresistible.


No traffic jams, no train delays and no cold platforms - what's not to love?

This is the promise of more than a hundred companies developing electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

Like helicopters they don't need a runway, but unlike helicopters they promise to be quiet and cheap.


Yet the dream seems to be some way off. Industry experts say that taxi services using such aircraft won't be a mass-market phenomenon until the 2030s.


So what is the hold up?


There are good reasons why the eVTOL industry is focussing on short hops in and out of cities.


Firstly, there are plenty of potential customers in cities; secondly, eVTOL aircraft can't fly very far.


Most have batteries that can allow them to fly for around half an hour. In the case of Germany's Volocopter this amounts to a range of about 22 miles (35km) with a maximum speed of around 68mph (110km/h).


Other companies have boosted range by adding wings. So companies like Germany's Lilium have an aircraft which can take off vertically but can also tilt its wings and engines and fly more like a regular plane. Lilium expects its aircraft to have a range of 185 miles (300km).


Vertical Aerospace in the UK is also working on eVTOL with wings that it hopes will fly more than 100 miles.


But the industry would still dearly love to see a breakthrough in battery technology which would make all these prototypes much more useful aircraft.



Blockchain

Article: “China's President Xi Jinping wants the country to 'take the leading position' in blockchain” - www.theblockcrypto.com/


China's President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that the country's communist party should regard blockchain as a core technology for important innovative breakthroughs and should commit to accelerating the development of the technology.


Xi stressed that China already has a solid foundation to develop blockchain technology. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen and let China "take the leading position in the emerging field of blockchain." The country needs to accelerate the standardization of blockchain research, which will, in turn, give China more power in setting rules and standards internationally, Xi said.


According to Xi, China will also promote the integration of blockchain technology with the real-world economy and solve real problems in the existing banking and financial systems.

China has also been researching and developing its national digital currency for almost five years and is "ready" to launch it in the near future.



Digital Biology and Biotechnology

Article: “Super-precise new CRISPR tool could tackle a plethora of genetic diseases” – www.nature.com


For all the ease with which the wildly popular CRISPR–Cas9 gene-editing tool alters genomes, it’s still somewhat clunky and prone to errors and unintended effects. Now, a recently developed alternative offers greater control over genome edits — an advance that could be particularly important for developing gene therapies.


The alternative method, called prime editing, improves the chances that researchers will end up with only the edits they want, instead of a mix of changes that they can’t predict. The tool, described in a study published on 21 October in Nature1, also reduces the ‘off-target’ effects that are a key challenge for some applications of the standard CRISPR–Cas9 system. That could make prime-editing-based gene therapies safer for use in people.

The tool also seems capable of making a wider variety of edits, which might one day allow it to be used to treat the many genetic diseases that have so far stymied gene-editors. David Liu, a chemical biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts and lead study author, estimates that prime editing might help researchers tackle nearly 90% of the more than 75,000 disease-associated DNA variants listed in ClinVar, a public database developed by the US National Institutes of Health.

The specificity of the changes that this latest tool is capable of could also make it easier for researchers to develop models of disease in the laboratory, or to study the function of specific genes, says Liu.


“It’s early days, but the initial results look fantastic,” says Brittany Adamson, who studies DNA repair and gene editing at Princeton University in New Jersey. “You’re going to see a lot of people using it.”


Prime editing may not be able to make the very big DNA insertions or deletions that CRISPR–Cas9 is capable of — so it’s unlikely to completely replace the well-established editing tool, says molecular biologist Erik Sontheimer at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. That’s because for prime editing, the change that a researcher wants to make is encoded on a strand of RNA. The longer that strand gets, the more likely it is to be damaged by enzymes in the cell.


CRISPR–Cas9 and prime editing both work by cutting DNA at a specific point in the genome. CRISPR–Cas9 breaks both strands of the DNA double helix and then relies on the cell’s own repair system to patch the damage and make the edits. But that repair system is unreliable and can insert or delete DNA letters at the points where the genome was cut. This can lead to an uncontrollable mixture of edits that vary between cells.


In addition, even when researchers include a template to guide how the genome is edited, the DNA repair system in most cells is far more likely to make those small, random insertions or deletions than to add a specific DNA sequence to the genome. That makes it difficult — and in some cases, nearly impossible — for researchers to use CRISPR–Cas9 to overwrite one piece of DNA with a sequence of their choosing.


Prime editing bypasses these problems (see 'Precision editor'). Although it also uses Cas9 to recognize specific DNA sequences — just like CRISPR–Cas9 does — the Cas9 enzyme in the prime editing tool is modified to nick only one DNA strand. Then, a second enzyme called reverse transcriptase and guided by a strand of RNA, makes the edits at the site of the cut.



Digital Biology and Biotechnology

Article: “Scientists Are Literally Spinning Up Lab-Grown Meat” - www.wired.com


When Cypher is selling out his compatriots over dinner with Agent Smith in The Matrix, he muses: “I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”


In a simulation like the Matrix, ones and zeroes represent every nuance of that steak—the texture, the smell, the flavor. Here in 2019, scientists are still stuck in the lab, racing to reverse-engineer animal flesh component by component, with the goal of one day feeding the carnivores among us in a (theoretically) more sustainable way. To that end, Harvard researchers have taken inspiration from a cotton candy machine to develop a kind of meat scaffold made of thin strands of gelatin that mimic muscle fibers, on which animals cells grow. It’s a step toward steaks, chicken breasts, and pulled pork grown in a factory instead of a field—but before you get too hungry, understand that it’ll be quite some time before slabs of lab-grown meat land on your plate.


So, about that cotton candy machine: The carnival version works by heating sugar in a container and spinning it at high speed, flinging the sugar out and crystalizing it into strands, which form into a cloud, usually colored pink. Same principle behind the machine these researchers pieced together—though theirs spins much faster, at 30,000 rpm. And pardon this next metaphor, but the next component is a sort of toilet bowl. “If you put that cotton candy machine upside down in a toilet bowl full of solvent, you could spin a whole lot of fibers,” says Harvard bioengineer Kit Parker, a coauthor on a new paper describing the work.


The solvent, a mixture of ethanol and water, keeps the fibers from falling apart as they fling out of the supercharged cotton candy machine. The fibers themselves are made of pig-derived gelatin, which is a product of broken-down collagen. In a regular steak, collagen forms what’s known as the extracellular matrix, or the scaffolding that holds the meat together. How it's cooked, then, defines its structure and flavor. For instance, you’ve probably had at least one terribly cooked steak that curls up at the edges. “It's not very tasty, it's pretty dry,” says Parker. “The collagen curled up instead of transitioning into gelatin.” By contrast, in slow-cooked pulled pork, the low temperatures give collagen the chance to turn into flavor-packed gelatin. And by using gelatin to make these fibers, the researchers can create a tender meat analog.


Now, some big caveats here: The researchers didn’t do a taste test because for one, this isn’t a food-safe lab. Also, this lab-grown meat isn’t cooked, which will transform it in complex, yet to be studied ways. And growing the animal cells—whether in a petri dish, as other lab-grown meat companies are tinkering with, or on these gelatin fibers—is still a tricky process that requires the right temperature, moisture, and nutrient content.


It’s all very expensive, in large part because the process requires pricey animal-derived serums to nourish the growing cells. But the focus on the cost of lab-grown meat has overshadowed some of the industry’s challenges with nailing the chewiness. “Up until this point, a lot of the talk has been about reducing costs and scaling up,” says Elliot Swartz, senior scientist the Good Food Institute, which promotes the lab-grown meat industry. “All those things are extremely important, but there’s also a lot of work to be done on this replication of texture to make these products that consumers are going to want to buy.”


At the moment, companies can grow animal cells to make unstructured products like ground beef or chorizo just fine, because it’s a mush of meat. But to actually replicate a steak in the lab—hoo boy, that’s going to take some work. Not only does the meat have to grow in nice fibers, you have to incorporate connective tissues and fat—that critical component that makes a rib eye so good and lean chicken kinda meh. If it all comes together and lab-grown steaks eventually are what's for dinner, they’ll be meticulously engineered foods that somehow look and smell like meat before and after cooking, and then somehow taste and feel like meat in your mouth.



Networks and Computing Systems

Article: “Pentagon awards $10bn cloud computing deal to Microsoft, snubbing Amazon” – www.theguardian.com


The Pentagon has awarded Microsoft a $10bn cloud computing contract, beating out favourite Amazon, whose competitive bid drew criticism from US president Donald Trump and its business rivals.

Bidding for the huge project, known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, pitted leading tech titans Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and IBM against one another.

The contracting process had long been mired in conflict of interest allegations, and drew the attention of Donald Trump, who has publicly taken swipes at Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. Trump in August said his administration was reviewing Amazon’s bid after complaints from other companies.


Amazon is considering options for protesting the award, a person familiar with the matter said.


Although the Pentagon boasts the world’s most potent fighting force, its information technology remains woefully inadequate, according to many officials.


Officials have complained of having outdated computer systems and being unable to access files or share information as quickly as they might be able to in the private sector.



Robotics

Article: “Want $125k? Just Donate Your Face to Some Humanoid Robots” – www.popularmechanics.com


Need a pile of cash, fast? Have a face? Then step right up to waive the copyrights to it. In exchange, you'll receive about $125,000. And best of all, one day you'll see your mug on an army of humanoid robots.


Geomiq, an additive manufacturing and machining startup based in London, is looking for a person to fork over their face for a new line of human-looking robots. Full stop.

While the details are tight under wraps, we do know there's potential for said face to be mass produced on thousands of robots. In terms of the client, little was disclosed outside the fact that the company is privately funded and has taken investments from venture capitalists and a fund in Shanghai.


The robot is meant to work as a "virtual friend" for elderly people, so there's a good chance this client works in the medical field. The project has been underway for five years and is expected to go into production next year.


As for the secretiveness? The company in question said it wants anonymity due to the nature of the product. But the robot will soon be "readily available" to the public, and the company thinks this campaign will create some buzz ahead of the official release.

The good news: If your face is indeed selected, you'll at least be fully debriefed on the details. But you won't be contacted if you aren't chosen.


"We know that this is an extremely unique request, and signing over the licenses to your face is potentially an extremely big decision," Geomiq wrote in the blog post.



Robotics

Article: “First-ever humanoid robot powered by cloud artificial intelligence” – www.techrepublic.com


Who needs to use that delicate tiny sewing staple, when there's now a robot that can thread a needle for you?

CloudMinds XR-1, 5G Humanoid Robots with vision-controlled grasping tech and intricate manual tasks, interacted with guests at the Sprint exhibit at the Mobile World Congress 2019 Los Angeles, (MWC19) in Los Angeles.

The XR-1 robot is powered by cloud artificial intelligence (AI)--one of the first of its kind--Sprint True Mobile 5G, and proprietary vision-controlled grasping tech, which means it not only can thread a needle, but can serve drinks and can be programmed to do other tasks, including manufacturing.

The revolutionary XR-1 robot is a service robot, which also leverages human operator input for constant learning.

"Overall, intelligent cloud robots paint the most vibrant picture of how 5G's ultra-low latency, exponentially faster speeds, and wider reach can dramatically improve response time and enable a new world of applications," said Bill Huang, founder and CEO of CloudMinds, in a release.


A combination of new technologies brings XR-1 to life

  • Cloud Brain – HARIX (Human Augmented Robotics Intelligence with eXtreme Reality): CloudMinds' Cloud Brain is a hybrid operating platform. Supervised by a human operator, the highly scalable system can host numerous robot "brains" simultaneously. Vision processing, natural-language processing, robotic motion-control, vision-guided grasping, and manipulation are just some capabilities integrated organically into the platform.

  • Nerve Network (Ultra-secure intranet): Mission-critical solutions require unprecedented levels of connections' security, from the chip to the cloud.

CloudMinds' Virtual Backbone Network (VBN) combines high-performance, low-latency fixed, and mobile-network technology; blockchain technologies; and other innovations to manage cloud robotics through connectivity completely isolated from the internet, guaranteeing security.



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