Issue #138

This week – cloned monkeys; a response to a response to Slaughterbots; China has already gene-edited 86 people using CRISPR; how fast is AI progressing; and more!


More than a human

Brain prosthesis aims to provide breakthrough for people struggling with memory loss

Researchers at USC and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have developed a brain prosthesis designed to help people suffering from memory loss. The prosthesis, which includes a small array of electrodes implanted into the brain, has performed well in laboratory testing in animals and is currently being evaluated in human patients.

 

Some real-life cyborgs

Here’s a post I did on Imgur about some real-life cyborgs <shameless plug>

 

Augmented evolution: Why the definition of “human” is about to change

“I think that the definition of being human is about to change a lot in the next century,” says Michelle Thaller, astronomer and Assistant Director for Science Communication at NASA. Over the next few decades, Thaller speculates that humanity’s augmented evolution will begin as we start to merge with AIs. Our biological bodies might just be a first step in human evolution, says Thaller, and high-tech implants and neural interfaces may make it possible for us to design our own bodies.

 

Artificial Intelligence

MIT Scientists Design Artificial Synapse to Power Brain-Like Computer Chips

Researchers at the MIT have performed what they call the first ever practical test of an artificial synapse. While the tests only happened in computer simulations, the tests were promising. The researchers used the artificial synapse designs to recognize different handwriting samples. The simulation they ran managed to almost match what existing traditional algorithms can do in terms of accuracy — 95 versus 97 percent.

 

Wise up, deep learning may never create a general purpose AI

AI and deep learning have been subject to a huge amount of hype. In a new paper, Gary Marcus argues there’s been an “irrational exuberance” around deep learning and points out the limitations of AI, like the need for vast amount of labelled data to train, lack of generalisation in deep learning systems, transparency and bias, and lack of flexibility and adaptability to new situations.

 

Google CEO: AI is a bigger deal than fire or electricity

“AI is one of the most important things humanity is working on,” Sundar  Pichai said. It’s more profound than electricity or fire. It’s fair to be worried about AI,” he continued. “We don’t want to just be optimistic about it. We want to be thoughtful about it.” But opting out of shaping the future of the technology isn’t an option for U.S. companies, he said: “History shows that countries that pull back don’t do well with the change. You have to harness the change.”

 

How Fast Is AI Progressing? Stanford’s New Report Card for Artificial Intelligence

AI is moving fast but how fast you might ask. Scientists from Stanford were asking themselves the same question. To answer it, they created AI Index. It takes many metrics into consideration, like venture capital investment, attendance at academic conferences, published papers and open source projects to tell how much progress we have done in AI.

 

Robotics

The next big breakthrough in robotics

Fine motor skills, or in other words, robot dexterity, is poised for a breakthrough. Recent advances in machine learning, Big Data, and robot perception have put us on the threshold of a quantum leap in the ability of robots to perform fine motor tasks and function in uncontrolled environments. This article also describes possible practical applications of more dexterous robots in home, military, space and medical environment.

 

Why You Should Fear ‘Slaughterbots’—A Response

A response to a response to Slaughterbots, that viral video about killer robots. This response is written by people who are behind the campaign and they point out where they agree and where they disagree.

 

Designing Customizable Self-Folding Swarm Robots

Researchers at the University California, San Diego, are taking the first steps towards robotics swarms that can be rapidly customized, self-assembled, and then self-deployed, without needing tedious human intervention at every step of the way. They’re laser-cut from flat sheets, can fold themselves up, and then skitter away with only a minimum of human finger-lifting.

 

Harvard’s milliDelta Robot Is Tiny and Scary Fast

Harvard’s milliDelta is a millimeter-scale delta robot based on origami-inspired engineering that can reach velocities of 0.45 m/s and accelerations of 215 m/s². If the numbers don’t say anything to you, check the videos inside the article. This little robot is really fast.

 

Biotechnology

Cloned monkeys: First primate clones are created in lab

We are one step closer to cloning humans. Two monkeys named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua have become the first non-human primates to be cloned using the same technique as Dolly the sheep 20 years ago – somatic cell nuclear transfer. The long-tailed macaques were born several weeks ago in a laboratory in China.

 

Could Artificial Wombs Be a Reality?

Last year, scientists were able to put a lamb fetus into an artificial womb and keep it alive. The science is in large part motivated by the high, and steadily rising, number of babies born preterm or before 37 weeks of gestation. Those babies could be put into an artificial womb to finish their gestation. The same technology could be also used to remove the need for a women to carry a child and that opens a new set of questions for bioethics.

 

While the U.S. waits, China has been CRISPRing human cancer patients since 2015

As The Wall Street Journal reports, China has already gene-edited 86 people using CRISPR-Cas9 since 2015. Unhindered by rules and regulations like the ones in America to prevent science experiments gone wrong, Hangzhou doctor Wu Shixiu has been using the technique on cancer patients.

 

These 3D Printed Health Monitoring Tattoos Contain Live Bacteria

The team at MIT has created a 3D printed health monitoring tattoo made with live bacterial ink. This tree-like tattoo has changes its colour depending on which chemicals or temperature it is exposed to.

 

If We Could Engineer Animals to Be as Smart as Humans—Should We?

Advances in neural implants and genetic engineering suggest that in the not–too–distant future we may be able to boost human intelligence. If that’s true, could we—and should we—bring our animal cousins along for the ride? If you’d like to ponder more on the concept of making animals smarter and uplifting, check this video by Isaac Arthur.