Issue #310

This week - using young blood to reverse ageing; Pentagon inches towards letting AI control weapons; a new promising gene-editing tool; a brain implant translates thoughts of writing into text; and more!


More Than A Human

Persuading the Body to Regenerate Its Limbs

Some animals have the ability to regrow lost limbs. Some worms can even regrow their entire body after being sliced in half. Many scientists are trying to figure out how this mechanism works to use in medicine. And while many are looking in genes for the answers, Michael Levin explores bioelectricity and how tissues can be persuaded to regrow with electricity.

Can Blood from Young People Slow Aging? Silicon Valley Has Bet Billions It Will

Taking the blood of young people to live forever was something we saw only in horror stories. Until scientists started experimenting with transfusing blood from young mice to old mice and noticed that the older mice got better. Soon after a huge amount of money went into companies trying to commercialise their research therapeutic properties of young blood to make people live longer... or to make real-life vampires.

► Using Machine Learning to Mind Control a Flamethrower (6:38)

I think this device had to be eventually built. It was a matter of time until someone grabbed a cheap brain-computer interface, hack it and add some machine learning to control a DIY flamethrower.

A New Brain Implant Translates Thoughts of Writing Into Text

Using a new neural implant, a paralyzed individual managed to type out roughly 90 characters per minute simply by imagining that he was writing those characters out by hand. As the researchers themselves put it, this "is not yet a complete, clinically viable system." There is more work and more trials to be done but the initial results are very promising.

Artificial Intelligence

DeepMind Wants to Use AI to Transform Soccer

Top-level data science has arrived into the world of football. DeepMind is partnering with Liverpool to go through the massive amount of data the football club has accumulated about each of their games and each of their player to help them get an edge against other clubs.

The Pentagon Inches Toward Letting AI Control Weapons

Recent exercises with a large number of drones performed by the US Army showed the military that it is unfeasible for humans to be in control of the drones all the time. The solution - give control over the drones to AI, possibly even giving the AI the choice of using the weapons. “Is it within a human's ability to pick out which ones have to be engaged” and then make 100 individual decisions? “Is it even necessary to have a human in the loop?”, said General John Murray of the US Army Futures Command. The anti-killer robot activists are raising an alarm that this line of thought is a slippery slope that can end up badly.

Robotics

Paper art robot gripper can pick up a grain of sand

Inspired by origami, robotics researchers have created a new type of robotic actuator made from a single sheet of paper. The paper was cut in such a way that it can wrap itself around various objects without damaging them - from raspberries to pens to even a single grain of sand.

Swarm of ‘dumb’ robots works together to get stuff done

How about instead of a big, complex and expensive robot we make a bunch of small dumb robots to do the same task? To investigate this idea, researchers at Georgia Tech built BOBbots - a swarm of small robots “about as dumb as they get”. No sensors, no memory, no complex communication or computation. The research has proven that these robots are indeed capable of collectively clearing debris that is too heavy for one alone to move. These swarms are also more adaptable and robust.

Biotechnology

A New Gene Editing Tool Rivals CRISPR, and Can Make Millions of Edits at Once

A team led by the famed synthetic biologist Dr. George Church published a paper showing how we can use retrons - a strange piece of bacterial machinery we don't know a lot about - to simultaneously edit millions of DNA sequences. Compared to CRISPR, the new technique is simpler and offers gene editing at a massive scale without damaging the DNA strand.

First Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Released in U.S. Are Hatching Now

This week, mosquito eggs placed in the Florida Keys are expected to hatch tens of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes, a result of the first U.S. release of such insects in the wild. A biotechnology firm called Oxitec delivered the eggs in late April as part of a federally approved experiment to study the use of genetic engineering—rather than insecticides—to control disease-carrying mosquito populations. Scientific American speaks with Omar Akbari, a molecular biologist whose lab works on genetic control technologies, about the experiment, how safe it is and what are the limitations of this technique.

DNA arranged into tiny Lite-Brite style pegboards could help us store tons of data for centuries

This article explains how using DNA arranged into pegs and pegboards which are then read by a microscope can store 330 gigabits of data per square centimetre, paving the way towards DNA-based storage capable of storing every tweet, email, photo, song, movie and book ever created in a volume equivalent to a jewellery box for centuries.

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