Issue #291

Happy New Year! 2020 was definitely an interesting time to be alive. A lot happened, including in the spaces we are interested in here - transhumanism, robotics, AI, biotech. A 2020 summary is in work, so stay tuned for that! In the meantime, I wish you all the best in 2021. Let's make 2021 much better than 2020!

This week - dancing Boston Dynamics' robots; from bionic cows to bionic humans; a surprising connection between AI and human brains; and more!


More Than A Human

The Ethical Challenges of Connecting Our Brains to Computers

"Any neurotech applications should consider potential consequences for the autonomy, privacy, responsibility, consent, integrity and dignity of a person", writes Dario Gil, adding that "neurotech challenges corporations, researchers and individuals to reaffirm our commitment to responsible innovation. It’s essential to enforce guardrails so that they lead to beneficial long-term outcomes—on company, national and international levels. We need to ensure that researchers and manufacturers of neurotech as well as policymakers and consumers approach it responsibly and ethically".

US Army Developing Mind-Reading Tech for the Battlefield

New research funded by the US Army Research Office (ARO) successfully separated brain signals that influence action or behaviour from the signals that do not. ARO neuroscientists say they've learned to decode and separate the neural signals that direct behaviour from the rest of the brain's signal output. While that doesn't allow anyone to read minds, it's an important step towards understanding how to decipher complex brain activity. The new research is part of the US Army's wider neuroscience plans, that could ultimately lead to soldiers communicating via brain waves in the future.

Health-tracking implants can create bionic cows. Are humans next?

Australian company EmbediVet makes implants to track cow's health but in truth, they have bigger plans - to one day offer such devices for humans.

Artificial Intelligence

What AlphaGo Can Teach Us About How People Learn

Here is an interview with David Silver of DeepMind discussing MuZero (Deep Mind's newest self-learning AI), reinforcement learning, and the secret to making further progress in AI.

AI mirrors the way human brains see in 3D

Researchers have found surprising similarities in how AlexNet, artificial neural networks designed to recognise images, resembles neurons in human brains responsible for image recognition. One of the researchers working on this described the result is a "spooky correspondence".

Could AI be the future of bike race coverage?

This article shows now AI enters the world of sport coverage in cycling. It describes an AI that can recognize cyclists and track them, producing data that then can be used to help commentators and audience better understand what is going on. This technology can also benefit the teams, providing them with auto-generated edits with their members or data about how much time they were shown on TV.

Google's AI taps into the minds of the great poets

Google's latest AI project Verse by Verse asks users to write the first line for a poem and then to select up to three famous poets whose style they would like to incorporate into their writing. Verse by Verse then generates additional lines of verse, with suggestions from each of the selected poets. And line by line, it generates a poem with you. You can play with Verse by Verse here.

Robotics

► Boston Dynamics - Do You Love Me? (2:54)

Here are some dancing Boston Dynamics' robots to put a smile or terrify you, depending on how do you feel about our robot overlords.

Robots that mimic the natural world

Robotics researchers are turning to nature for inspiration. With biomimicry, maybe one day we will see aluminium mosquitoes on Mars while plastic hoverflies deliver our meals and divers swim alongside robotic fish.

Metal Spheres Swarm Together to Create Freeform Modular Robots

This is one of the most interesting designed robots I've seen. FreeBOTs are metallic spheres packed with motors to allow them to move and magnets to allow them to stick together. The simulation published on YouTube shows how a bunch of those robots can work together to climb stairs or overcome obstacles. I can imagine how shrinking those robots to the size of a pebble and having thousands of them can create a swarm that behaves like a fluid, similar to microbots from Big Hero 6.

Biotechnology

Chemical Engineering to Build Bones for Humans with Egg Shells and Origami

Here is an interview with Dr. Gulden Camci-Unal who is working at the interface of biomaterials and bioengineering, including the design, synthesis, and characterization of functional biomaterials for applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, development of in vitro disease models for personalized medicine, as well as work in the area low-cost point of care diagnostics. Her work interestingly brings in another interesting theme that we’ve touched on past shows, that of biomimicry, and looking at structures in nature, such as eggshells, plant leaves, marine sponges, and origami paper, to help guide viable and cost-effective bioengineering strategies.

2020 Was a Breakout Year for CRISPR

Wired lists five CRISPR breakthroughs that happened in 2020, from its applications in medicine to disease detectors, and ending with awarding two researchers who discovered CRISPR with Nobel Prize.

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