Issue #180

This week – AI news anchor makes a debut; news on recent developments in researching military robots; alarm over talks to implant UK employees with microchips; and more!


More than a human

Alarm over talks to implant UK employees with microchips

Britain’s biggest employer organisation and main trade union body have sounded the alarm over the prospect of British companies implanting staff with microchips to improve security. The Guardian reports that Biohax, a Swedish company that provides human chip implants the size of a grain of rice, is in discussions with several British legal and financial firms about fitting their employees with microchips, including one major company with hundreds of thousands of employees.

This is an interesting topic. Would you allow your employer to implant a chip under your skin? I have created a simple Yes/No form here. I’m just curious what do you think about it.

 

Being bionic: how technology transformed my life

Here is the story of Patrick Kane, who lost his right leg below the knee, all of the fingers on the left hand and the second and third digits on the right hand due to meningococcal septicaemia which he contracted when he was nine months old. In this article, he shares his story of being bionic almost from the very beginning of his life and how technology transformed him and helped him live a better life.

 

Robotic trousers could help paraplegic people walk again

Researchers from Bristol University unveiled a prototype pair of robotic trousers that they hope could help some disabled people walk without other assistance. The new so-called “Right Trousers” (the name is a reference to Wrong Trousers from Wallace and Gromit) use soft artificial muscles to create movement, as well as harnessing the wearer’s real muscles. These mimic human muscles in producing a force simply by becoming shorter and pulling on both ends.

 

Artificial Intelligence

Xinhua’s first English AI anchor makes debut

This short video shows Xinhua’s new news anchor. It looks like a real person and speaks like a real person but in fact it was generated by an AI to mimic a real news anchor. A real-life Eliza Cassan from Deux Ex: Human Revolution.

 

Robotics

Google is closing its Schaft robotics unit after failing to find a buyer

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is closing Shaft – its secretive unit that develops bipedal robots aimed at helping out in disaster efforts and generally looking badass. The robotics company was founded in 2012 and was bought alongside Boston Dynamics by Google in 2013. Alphabet was able to sell the latter company but was unable to find a buyer for Shaft.

 

The UK is Testing Robots to Deliver Food and Ammo to Soldiers

Last week, the British military four-week “Autonomous Warrior” experiment, the largest military exercise to focus on robots in British history. Primarily the Ministry of Defense hopes to use drones and other autonomous robots to improve reconnaissance work in and around a battlefield and to keep logistical supply chains open, getting resources to soldiers who need them. Others see these exercises as a step towards deploying killer robots by the UK.

 

Britain funds research into drones that decide who they kill, says report

“Despite public statements that the UK has no intention of developing lethal autonomous weapon systems, there is tangible evidence that the Ministry of Defence, military contractors and universities in the UK are actively engaged in research and the development of the underpinning technology with the aim of using it in military applications,” said Peter Burt, author of the new report Off the Leash: The Development of Autonomous Military Drones in the UK – produced by Drone Wars UK which campaigns against the development of unmanned systems.

 

China’s brightest children are being recruited to develop AI ‘killer bots’

A group of some of China’s smartest students have been recruited straight from high school to begin training as the world’s youngest AI weapons scientists. The 27 boys and four girls, all aged 18 and under, were selected for the four-year “experimental programme for intelligent weapons systems” at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) from more than 5,000 candidates, the school said on its website. The BIT is one of the country’s top weapons research institutes, and the launch of the new programme is evidence of the weight it places on the development of AI technology for military use.

 

Biotechnology

The promise and peril of gene drives

Here’s an article from The Economist about gene drives – a powerful application of genetic engineering designed to eradicate a target species from an ecosystem. The prime example is the research on how to make mosquitos that don’t transmit malaria. The article describes how gene drives work and then spends more time discussing ethical side of this technique.

 

Bacteria Ride Bionic Mushrooms to Generate Electricity

What do you get when you combine the high-tech world’s “wonder material”—graphene—with a lowly fungus? A bionic mushroom, of course. Researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology have reported in the journal Nano Letters the seamless merging of cyanobacterial cells and graphene nanoribbons on the cap of a mushroom. The resulting combination represents a three-dimensional interface between the microbiological kingdom (cyanobacteria and mushroom) and smart electronic nanomaterial (graphene nanoribbons). The researchers believe that this approach—which they refer to as bacterial nanobionics—can spur the development of next-generation “designer bio-hybrid” functional architectures for applications ranging from sensors to “smart” hydrogel materials.