Thursday, March 24, 2016

10 Breakthrough Technologies

Immune Engineering
Precise Gene Editing in Plants
Conversational Interfaces
“I hope to someday have grandchildren who are mystified at how, back in 2016, if you were to say ‘Hi’ to your microwave oven, it would rudely sit there and ignore you.”
Reusable Rockets
spaceflight could become a hundred times cheaper..... the future of spaceflight will be far more interesting than the Apollo-era hangover of the past 40 years.
Robots That Teach Each Other
an average experiment generates 100 gigabytes of information ..... Researchers are already working on autoimmune disorders, like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Infectious disease is also in the sights of T-cell engineers.

Precise Gene Editing in Plants

CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.
a lab in China has used it to create a fungus--resistant wheat; several groups in China are using the technique on rice in efforts to boost yields; and a group in the U.K. has used it to tweak a gene in barley that helps govern seed germination, which could aid efforts to produce drought-resistant varieties. ..... The gene-editing technique could be critical in helping scientists keep up with the constantly evolving microbes that attack crops ...... “It takes millions of dollars and many years of work to go through the regulatory process,” Kamoun says. “But the pathogens don’t sit and wait for you; they keep evolving and changing.” ....... Big and small companies alike are jumping in. ..... The big question is whether CRISPR crops will be governed by the same regulations as GMOs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already said some examples of gene-edited corn, potatoes, and soybeans (edited using a different method, known as TALENs) don’t fall under existing regulations. But both the United States and the more restrictive European Union are now conducting reviews of today’s regulations. And Chinese authorities have not said whether they will allow the crops to be planted.

Conversational Interfaces

Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.
A growing number of China’s 691 million smartphone users now regularly dispense with swipes, taps, and tiny keyboards when looking things up on the country’s most popular search engine, Baidu. China is an ideal place for voice interfaces to take off, because Chinese characters were hardly designed with tiny touch screens in mind. But people everywhere should benefit as Baidu advances speech technology and makes voice interfaces more practical and useful. That could make it easier for anyone to communicate with the machines around us. ...... “The best technology is often invisible, and as speech recognition becomes more reliable, I hope it will disappear into the background.” ...... they offer a glimpse of a graceful future in which there’s less need to learn a new interface for every new device. ...... There are thousands of Chinese characters, and although a system called Pinyin allows them to be generated phonetically from Latin ones, many people (especially those over 50) do not know the system. It’s also common in China to use messaging apps such as WeChat to do all sorts of tasks, such as paying restaurant tabs. And yet in many of China’s poorer regions, where there is perhaps more opportunity for the Internet to have big social and economic effects, literacy levels are still low. ....... Robots or home appliances, for example, could be easier to deal with if you could simply talk to them. ...... a powerful new speech recognition engine called Deep Speech 2. It consists of a very large, or “deep,” neural network that learns to associate sounds with words and phrases as it is fed millions of examples of transcribed speech. Deep Speech 2 can recognize spoken words with stunning accuracy. In fact, the researchers found that it can sometimes transcribe snippets of Mandarin speech more accurately than a person. ....... Baidu’s progress is all the more impressive because Mandarin is phonetically complex and uses tones that transform the meaning of a word. Deep Speech 2 is also striking because few of the researchers in the California lab where the technology was developed speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or any other variant of Chinese.

The engine essentially works as a universal speech system, learning English just as well when fed enough examples.

Reusable Rockets

Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.
If this can be done regularly and rockets can be refueled over and over, spaceflight could become a hundred times cheaper.

Robots That Teach Each Other

What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?

DNA App Store

An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.

SolarCity’s Gigafactory

A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.
efficiencies in the lab are even higher: researchers have made exotic solar-cell materials with efficiencies of up to 40 percent.


A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.
Slack gives you a centralized place to communicate with your colleagues through instant messages and in chat rooms, which can reduce the time you have to spend on e-mail. Whether you’re on a mobile device or a desktop computer, you can upload files, get and manipulate information stored in spreadsheets or other business applications, and easily search through past conversations. But many of the core features have been around since the 1990s. And there have been other “Facebook for the office” software packages that resemble Slack and have failed to generate anything close to the same level of enthusiasm. ...... more and more people now get work done on mobile devices, in collaboration with people who aren’t always in the same office at the same time. ....... Slack funnels messages into streams that everyone who works together can see. That “allows you to ‘overhear’ what is going on in an organization, which research has shown can lead to business impact,” he says. “It’s a kind of ambient awareness that you just don’t get from e-mail.” ...... Slack messages tend to be short and casual, much more like the mobile text messages that people are increasingly favoring over e-mail in their personal life

Tesla Autopilot

The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.
give drivers something similar to what airline pilots employ in flight ..... The car could manage its speed, steer within and even change lanes, and park itself. ..... Everyone wanted to know what it felt like, the strange surrender of allowing a car to take control. The only moments that seemed like magic were when the car parked itself or changed lanes, mostly because watching a steering wheel turn all on its own was unnatural and ghostly. ...... the thing that quickly becomes strange is driving a car without Autopilot. “You’ll feel like the car is not doing its job,” he said. ...... my car accelerated and slowed more smoothly than it ever could have with me in charge.

Power from the Air

Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.
energy harvested from nearby TV, radio, cell-phone, or Wi-Fi signals ..... Transferring power wirelessly is not a new trick. But getting a device without a conventional power source to communicate is harder, because generating radio signals is very power-intensive and the airwaves harvested from radio, TV, and other telecommunication technologies hold little energy. ..... weak radio signals can indeed provide all an Internet gadget needs ...... tiny passive Wi-Fi devices could be extremely cheap to make, perhaps less than a dollar. In tomorrow’s smart home, security cameras, temperature sensors, and smoke alarms should never need to have their batteries changed.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Tech News (2)

Free money! What’s not to like?
An earlier incarnation, called the negative income tax, was pitched by the conservative economist Milton Friedman in the early 1960s as a way to curtail the growing government antipoverty programs of that era. ...... among many tech elites and their boosters, the idea of a basic income seems to have morphed from an antipoverty strategy into a radical new way of seeing work and leisure. ....... the economy is becoming increasingly dominated by machines and software.

A Future Without Jobs? Two Views of the Changing Work Force
A problem I have with the idea of a universal basic income — as opposed to, say, wage subsidies or wage insurance to top up the earnings of people who lose their job and must settle for a new job at a lower wage — is that it relies on an unlikely future. It’s not a future with a lot of crummy work for low pay, but essentially a future with little or no paid work at all. ...... They see a future in which a small group of highly skilled tech workers reign supreme, while the rest of the job world resembles the piecemeal, transitional work we see coming out of tech today (Uber drivers, Etsy shopkeepers, people who scrape by on other people’s platforms). ...... techies have a philosophical bent toward big ideas, and U.B.I. is very big. ..... Norwegians work 20 percent fewer hours per year than Americans; Germans 25 percent fewer. They have taken much more of their wealth in the form of leisure rather than money. ......

And, by the way, I’ve read about robots that can program. So maybe the programmers aren’t safe either.

...... It will be O.K., under this policy, to choose a life of learning instead of a low-paying bad job. ..... a universal basic income functions properly only in a world with little or no paid work because the odds of anybody taking a job when his or her needs are already being met are going to be fairly low. ...... If the idea of robots taking over sounds like science fiction, the idea of the American government agreeing to tax capitalists enough to hand out checks to support the entire working class is in an entirely new category of fantasy. ...... One of the reasons some libertarians and conservatives like U.B.I. is that it is a very simple, efficient and universal form of welfare — everyone gets a monthly check, even the rich, and the government isn’t going to tell you what to spend it on. Its very universality breaks through political opposition. .....

Andy Stern, the former head of the S.E.I.U., will soon publish a book calling for a basic income

. ...... The techies, as usual, are either way ahead of everyone, or they’re living in some other universe. .....

tools and techniques we have developed in recent times — from gene sequencing to electron microscopes to computers that can analyze data at enormous speeds — are about to open up vast new frontiers of possibility.

Covering Donald Trump, and Witnessing the Danger Up Close
and the mood shifted, as well, turning tense and electric...... One young woman, a Trump supporter, was shoved against the metal barricades and began to cry. A group of older women left early, shortly after a man holding a “K.K.K. 4 Trump” sign was hustled out nearby.

How WeChat Is Extending China’s School Days Well into the Night

A Bitcoin-Style Currency for Central Banks

10 Breakthrough Technologies:2016

Reinventing Marketing in the Digital Era

Business Models, Information Technology, and the Company of the Future

The Nature of the Firm—75+ Years Later

Pentagon Hackers Are Waging America’s First Cyberwar

Immune Engineering

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Tech News (1)

Archinaut, a 3D Printing Robot to Make Big Structures in Space

Why Prospecting Asteroids for Precious Resources Is Now Possible [Video]
Most of the raw materials we value on Earth exist in much larger quantities in space. ..... “The first trillionaire in the world is going to be the person who first mines asteroids.”
Drones Have Reached a Tipping Point—Here’s What Happens Next
Over the past few years, drones have moved from the "government phase" to the "consumer phase" into the "commercial phase." ........ Drones are demonetizing rapidly. Ten years ago, drones were million-dollar military/industrial things. Today they are on the shelves of Walmart. ...... "They started at $1,500 and now they're at $500 and they're soon going to $50, with even better technology onboard. The price decline in the industry is staggering." ..... "You will basically see supercomputer performance in toy level devices, just as we're already seeing with smartphones." ..... The next big breakthrough in drone research will be "sense-and-avoid." ....Right now, drones are either manually piloted or GPS piloted, but as we integrate them into our urban fabric, they'll need true autonomy...... "Drones will need to have eyes. Sensors like radar, LiDAR, stereo vision, sonar, and they'll need to use this to autonomously avoid obstacles and fly. It's environmental awareness and it is necessary to safely navigate worlds they've never explored." ...... The way we're going to digitize the planet is by putting sensors out there on drones ..... Satellites are going to be complementary, covering big areas but at lower resolution. ..... "Today the FCC doesn't have to regulate or give you a license for Wi-Fi because it's low power and self-de-conflicting — it's not a threat to anyone," says Anderson......"In the future, as drones become small enough, with low kinetic energy, and smart enough, I believe the FAA will regulate them like Wi-Fi. We want the FAA to create kind of an 'open spectrum' sandbox to allow for huge amounts of innovation."
Eye on the Cure: Can Algae Genes Restore Vision in First Optogenetics Human Trial?
Given the power of optogenetics to fine-tune brain circuits, rumors of its potential use in humans as therapy have floated around since its inception...... In one previous study, after optogenetics treatment, previously blind mice could swim out of a chamber in which the escape route was brightly lit. On average, they escaped as fast as mice with normal vision.
This Remarkable Robot Hand Is Worthy of Luke Skywalker
most Star Wars tech is beyond us...... Artificial bones were 3D printed from a laser scan of a real skeleton hand; ligaments were fashioned from ultra-strong, lightweight strings; and laser-cut rubber sheets act as soft tissue for stability, flexibility, and torque. All this is controlled by an array of servos and cables. ...... Some of the hardest tasks to automate in factories require human-level dexterity (e.g., handling circuit boards to tightly packing boxes). ...... Xu says we're making progress printing bone structures with biocompatible materials, making biodegradable ligaments, growing muscles in petri dishes, and learning to regenerate peripheral nerves.
Space and Technology: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life
there are an estimated 100 billion billion Earth-like planets in our universe. ...... we're finding evidence of liquid water all over the solar system, and the one thing we know about life on Earth is the need for water. ..... in our own solar system, organic compound-glazed comets drift everywhere ..... we should be inside a life-spawning factory of a universe. ..... our universe has 500 billion billion stars like our own, and orbiting those suns are another 100 billion billion Earth-like planets. That is 100 habitable planets for every grain of sand on Earth. That’s trillions of opportunities for some other planet to grow life. ...... there would be one million planets with life in the Milky Way Galaxy alone ..... if even just a handful of alien civilizations have advanced beyond our current level of technological progress, humanity should be waking up to a universe like the world of Star Trek.
The Near Future of VR and AR: What You Need to Know
try to predict the future when AI, robotics, VR, synthetic biology, and computation are all doubling, morphing and recombining… You have a very exciting (read: unpredictable) future. ..... VR will ultimately impact everything from real estate to retail and healthcare and education. Business meetings, conferences and concerts will soon all be held in virtual environments. ...... Over the past two years, well over $5 billion has been invested in AR and VR by all of the major technology companies, from Google to Microsoft and Samsung to HTC....... we're now reaching a crossover point where hardware technology will let us scan rooms and the people in it, and convert those scans into 3D objects at a very low cost ..... "There will be a magical turning point where the pixel size in our displays will get so small that you can't see them." ...... "When we've developed displays with between 4K and 8K resolutions (roughly), there will be a moment when we can't tell the difference between reality and virtual/augmented reality (at least with our eyes)." ...... we'll be able to animate you at a distance, talking to somebody else with a perfect representation of your facial movements. Think of a film like Avatar and how they transferred the actors onto those characters in the movie. You're going to be able to do that live, in a meeting, where you're going to be that character and it's going to move and express itself emotionally like you do. ..... Why go to conferences, school, or travel for business if you can have richer, deeper experiences from the comfort of your living room? ...... "If you can buy your kid a $600 virtual reality headset, and they can study five times as fast as anybody else, and they don't have to be in a particular neighborhood or near a school to do it, they are just going to adopt these things. They are that much better." ...... In success, your Magic Leap headset will allow you to view a virtual TV anywhere, on any wall, or a mobile phone screen on the palm of your hand, or the air in front of you, then there is no need to carry around clunky glass devices in your pockets or hang TVs on your walls.
Why Big Tech Companies Are Open-Sourcing Their AI Systems
Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon have been making remarkable progress developing artificial intelligence systems. Recently they have released much of their work to the public for free use, exploration, adaptation and perhaps improvement. ..... “deep learning” — an approach that organizes layers of neural networks hierarchically to analyze very large data sets not just in search of simple statistics but also seeking to identify rich and interesting abstract patterns. ......

even experts do not understand when or how AI might become powerful enough to cause harm, damage or injury.

....... AI systems involve large — often very very large — amounts of code, so much that it stretches the ability of any single individual to understand in both breadth and depth. Scrutiny, troubleshooting and bug-fixing are especially important in AI, where we are not designing tools to do a specific job (e.g., build a car), but to learn, adapt and make decisions in our stead. The stakes are larger both for the positive and potentially negative outcomes. ........ Over the long run, Google and Facebook are not really in the business of selling ads, and Amazon is not in the business of selling merchandise. No, these technology companies are powered by your eyeballs (and data). Their currency is users. Google, for example, gives away email and search for free to draw users to its products; it needs to innovate quickly, producing more and better products to ensure you stay with the company. ...... AI is central because it, by design, learns and adapts, and even makes decisions. AI is more than a product: it is a product generator. In the near future, AI will not be relegated to serving up images or consumer products, but will be used to identify and capitalize on new opportunities by innovating new products.
Will the End of Moore’s Law Halt Computing’s Exponential Rise?
Since 1991, the semiconductor industry has regularly produced a technology roadmap to coordinate their efforts and spot problems early. ...... Because the chief outcome of Moore’s Law is more powerful computers at lower cost, Kurzweil tracked computational speed per $1,000 over time. This measure accounts for all the “levels of ‘cleverness’” baked into every chip—such as different industrial processes, materials, and designs—and allows us to compare other computing technologies from history. The result is surprising........ Moore’s Law is the fifth computing paradigm. The first four include computers using electromechanical, relay, vacuum tube, and discrete transistor computing elements. ...... “When Moore’s Law reaches the end of its S-curve, now expected before 2020, the exponential growth will continue with

three-dimensional molecular computing

, which will constitute the sixth paradigm.” –Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near .......... Artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, virtual reality, unraveling the human genome—these are a few world-shaking advances computing enables. ...... As a society, if we just believed that single trajectory of Moore’s, and none other, we would have educated differently, invested differently, prepared more wisely to grasp the amazing powers it would sprout.
Don’t Be Alarmed: AI Won’t Leave Half the World Unemployed
we can pretty much automate the job of an airline pilot today. Indeed, most of the time, a computer is flying your plane. But society is likely to continue to demand the reassurance of having a pilot on board even if they are just reading their iPad most of the time. ....... We also need to consider all the new jobs that technology will create. For example, we don’t employ many printers setting type any more. But we do employ many more people in the digital equivalent, making web pages. ..... the Oxford report gives a 98% chance of umpiring or refereeing to be automated. But we are likely to have just as many if not more umpires and referees in the future, even if they use technologies to do their job better. ..... In the US, the average working week has declined from around 60 hours to just 33. Other developed countries are even lower. Germans only work 26 hours per week. .......... Society would break down well before we get to 50% unemployment.
Where Artificial Intelligence Is Now and What’s Just Around the Corner
AIs will begin to sense and use all five senses. ...... We'll see revolutions in how we manage climate change, redesign and democratize education, make scientific discoveries, leverage energy resources, and develop solutions to difficult problems. ......... AI is being used to match clinical trials with patients, drive robotic surgeons, read radiological findings and analyze genomic sequences. ..... Ultimately, during the AI revolution taking place in the next three years, AIs will be integrated into everything around us, combining sensors and networks and making all systems "smart." ..... AIs will push forward the ideas of transparency, of seamless interaction with devices and information, making everything personalized and easy to use. We'll be able to harness that sensor data and put it into an actionable form, at the moment when we need to make a decision.
In the Future, Ownerless Companies Will Live on the Blockchain
poised to transform global commerce ..... Blockchain has been called “the most disruptive thing I’ve seen in my career” ........ Fundamentally, banks, auditing firms, legal services, and security systems are designed to authenticate the transactions that ripple across our planet. .......

Like the internet democratized the exchange of information, transforming entire industries in the process, the blockchain promises to democratize the exchange of value, a concept with staggering possibilities.

...... “in the same way that we don’t refer to the internet as ‘PayPal’, we should be clear that ‘Bitcoin’ does not mean blockchain. PayPal is just one service built on top of internet protocols—Bitcoin is similarly built on top of the blockchain.” ....... “while Bitcoin itself may not stand the test of time, we can be sure that the blockchain is not going anywhere.” ........... Technologically binding smart contracts would bypass the need for sprawling financial back offices and expensive legal systems requiring lawyers, judges, auditors, and insurance professionals. Imagine a scenario in which a land title could check an online registry and automatically send itself to a new owner, eliminating a need for expensive title insurance to verify the legitimacy of the transaction. ....... One might design an account that automatically donates to relief efforts in the case of any or certain natural disasters, thereby removing the need (or even the option) of a case-by-case donation decision. ...... Imagine that a portion of FEMA’s funds were programmed to check a Hurricane’s status, and in the case of a Category 5 storm that makes landfall—it could allocate money to the correct local offices. ...... At a basic level, corporations themselves are fueled by contracts. We may live to see a new era of business and commerce built upon a more automated legal framework. Legal scholars and computer scientists have pointed out that an ecosystem of self-enforcing contracts would give rise to what are called

distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs)

. ....... Imagine in the future —summoning a taxi that not only has no driver, but that belongs to a computer network, not to a human being. ...... a world where a network-owned drone service might power its units from network-owned charging stations. Supply chains built on top of such a system might further reduce the costs of delivering goods anywhere in the world. ....... The blockchain may then deliver the software smarts to eat away at parts of the economy we hadn’t considered ..... human society after the proliferation of the blockchain will be as unfamiliar to us as anything we’ve experienced.
China’s Curious Dream of Floating Nuclear Plants on the Ocean
a floating, ship-based nuclear power plant. ...... The plants would be situated between 8 and 12 miles from the coast at a depth of at least 100 meters. Power cables would run to switchyard facilities situated on land......Being placed so far from land would help protect the plants against earthquakes and tsunami waves, which are relatively small so far out...... the country will build at least 100 new nuclear power reactors in the coming ten years. ..... the country will use nuclear power to help reduce its current heavy reliance on coal, and in doing so, dramatically lower emissions of CO2 and air pollutants, which have reached health-threatening levels in many areas.

China will invest more than a trillion dollars in nuclear energy over the coming years.

In time, it’s hoping to recuperate some of that by becoming a leading global exporter of nuclear technology. ...... ocean-based reactors would be more susceptible to terrorist attacks. ..... The US Navy has logged more than 5,400 reactor years and traveled more than 130 million miles. They have sailed all the seven seas, including some of the most hostile environments, without any publicized accidents.
Goodyear’s Awesome New Spherical Tire Design For Autonomous Cars
Car bodies of the future might be completely 3D printed. They may be completely autonomous — and now, they might have multi-directional spherical tires. .... Reinventing the wheel ..... Why bother attaching them to the car at all, when you can simply keep them in place with magnets? ..... the way a magnetic levitation train works. .... These trains use electrically charged magnets to lift train cars anywhere from a fraction of an inch to a few inches above the tracks. Once the train car is hovering above the tracks, electricity supplied through coils in the tracks creates magnetic fields that move the train. Since these trains float frictionlessly above the tracks, they can reach speeds of over 300 mph. ..... Inspired by brain coral and natural sponges, the 3D printed tire treads are designed to stiffen in dry conditions and soften when wet, like a sponge, to provide powerful control in all kinds of weather. ...... “What I'd really like to see is a provision for the wheels to be hollow and with some type of access hatch. That way you could fill one wheel with dirty laundry, some water and detergent, and by the time you arrive at your destination, boom, clean clothes! You could also insert peeled avocados, limes and some type of pestle in another wheel to create a delicious guacamole as you drive. The third wheel could be used for smoothies.”