This is a special issue for two reasons. First, it's the pi issue (314). Second - tomorrow will be six years since the first issue of H+ Weekly has been sent. I did not expect back then, sitting in the cafe of Google Campus in London, that six years later I will be still preparing this newsletter every week for over 600 people. And I did not miss a single week.
Thank you for being here and reading this. Here's to the next years of learning what new scifi things become a reality! 🥂
Now, back to business.
This week - MIT is building its own humanoid robot; DARPA is funding "living pharmacies"; open-source clone of GPT-3; unmanned drone refuelled a manned fighter jet; and more!
More Than A Human
The latest research in brain-computer interfaces has shown that imagining writing by hand is a faster way to communicate than imagining moving a cursor over a digital keyboard. In fact, it is twice as fast. This result can help people suffering from locked-in syndrome to communicate with the world faster.
DARPA is funding research to develop a wireless implantable device that will function as a “living pharmacy” for military personnel. It’s called a living pharmacy because everything the “patient” needs can be produced by their own body. Called NTRAIN (Normalizing Timing of Rhythms Across Internal Networks of Circadian Clocks), the device is intended to control the body's circadian clock and eliminate jetlag, fatigue, and even gastrointestinal issues. If successful, the implantable device could help populations beyond soldiers too, including shift workers, first responders, and the chronically ill. While it may sound like pure science fiction, the researchers behind the implant argue it may forever change how we treat diseases.
Here is Aubrey de Grey, one of the leading researchers in the antiageing field, sharing his thoughts about how the ongoing pandemic can help longevity research (or crusade, as he phrases it). The main argument is that longevity research would extend the health span (the period when the body is healthy and not breaking down due to ageing) which would increase the chances of survival and make future pandemics less disruptive.
Don't want to pay OpenAI for access to GPT-3? Eleuther AI got you covered with their open-source implementation of GPT-3 called GPT-J. Although smaller than GPT-3 (6 billion parameters vs 175 billion in GPT-3), GPT-J may find a place in smaller projects or as a starting point in researching and understanding modern massive AI systems.
Károly Zsolnai-Fehés explains, with his trademark enthusiasm, the paper showcasing an algorithm that can turn GTA V footage into photorealistic footage in real-time.
In a recently published paper titled Reward is Enough, researchers from DeepMind argue that studying the evolution of natural intelligence and building AI-based on reinforcement learning (which the lab is heavily researching) is the path towards artificial general intelligence.
Researchers at MIT are building a small scale humanoid robot. Their robot will be “a new humanoid robot design, an actuator-aware kino-dynamic motion planner, and a landing controller as part of a practical system design for highly dynamic motion control of the humanoid robot”. In other words, they are building a robot that can do parkour, similar to Boston Dynamics' Atlas. Can't wait for their videos!
The key strength, that this article talks about, is the agility of the drones and calls them the weapons of mass agility (WMA) for how cheap and scalable drones are comparing to traditional military assets, like tanks and warships.
US Navy and Boeing have successfully performed the first-ever aerial refuelling of a manned aircraft using a drone. Fully autonomous aerial refuelling has been performed in the past but this is the first time a human in a fighter jet interacted with a drone to refuel.
Inspired by birds, researchers have developed an algorithm that enables a swarm of drones to fly around obstacles in a formation. This is a small-scale experiment with just a handful of drones in a warehouse with fake Ikea "trees" but I'd love to see a follow-up experiment with more drones in a real forest, preferably with much higher speeds. It would look awesome.
Here is a demo of a quite dexterous soft robotic gripper. Not only it can grab delicate objects like cupcakes but can also hold them and rotate them.
This video from Bloomberg talks about xenobots - living robots made from the cells of frogs and designed by artificial intelligence. The creators of those biomachines explain how they made them and share what they can be used for - from collecting trash to cleaning human arteries to maybe even engineering better humans.
I saw this article from 2017 resurfaced this week and I think it is worth reminding how by carefully arranging A, C, G and Ts in DNA code you can take control over a gene sequencing machine.