Two things before we jump into this week's issue.
First, I'd like to welcome two new patrons on Patreon. Eric joined on a Transhuman level and Steve joined as a Posthuman. Thank you both for your support! You can join them on Patreon if you would like to support the newsletter, too.
Second - I have started working on a series of meetings on biotech and its impact on manufacturing, food production, medicine and more. I'm looking for people interested in joining the team and help with organising the events - from looking for speakers to managing social media and building the community. If this is something that interests you or you know someone who could be a good fit as a speaker, send me an email or DM me on Twitter. I'll share more details soon!
Ok, with all of that out of the way...
This week - the efforts to make text-based AIs less racist; a call to stop lethal autonomous weapons; Boston Dynamics' celebrates one year of Spot roaming in the wild; bacterias turning plastic into vanillin; and more!
More Than A Human
Average human life expectancy has almost doubled since 1850. One might think it is because we are living longer but researchers say the increase in human life expectancy is more likely the statistical outcome of improved survival for children and young adults, not slowing the ageing clock. The article does not say that but maybe with that done, the next step should be investing in antiageing therapies?
NASA announced winners of one of their Centennial Challenges - The Vascular Tissue Challenge, which goal was to grow a tissue with blood vessels. Scientists were able to grow human tissues and vascular tissues but no one till now was able to successfully combine both. NASA will send the winning team's tissue sample into space to study the effects of low gravity and radiation on human tissue and hopes the challenge will massively help bring the vision of 3d printing and growing tissues into reality here on Earth.
Language models like GPT-3 can write poetry, but they often amplify negative stereotypes. Researchers are trying different approaches to address the problem. Some ask people to make the AI generate hate speech and then flag it as such. Others try to remove training data containing hateful comments at a cost of further marginalising some groups of people. There are also researchers calling to train AI to be more grounded with reality. But this article also highlights another problem - people rush to deploy AI systems but almost no one has a plan what to do when something goes wrong.
An AI arms race is already underway. That's the blunt warning from Germany's foreign minister, Heiko Maas. "We're right in the middle of it. That's the reality we have to deal with," said Maas.
"AI is neither artificial nor intelligent. It is made from natural resources and it is people who are performing the tasks to make the systems appear autonomous", says Kate Crawford in this interview with Guardian about the hidden costs of AI systems and biases baked into them.
The recent reveal of the first autonomous drone attack on humans brings closer the vision of Slaugherbots the Future of Life Institute warned us against four years ago. In response to that event, the authors of Slaughterbots it may not be too late to put the evil "Slaughterbots" genie back in the bottle, if the world acts now.
It's been a year since Spot left Boston Dynamics' labs and went into the wild world helping people do their job. This short video shows how people were using the robot in that time.
Waymo, Alphabet's self-driving car company, announced a partnership with transportation logistics company JB Hunt to move cargo in automated trucks in Texas. The first route they’ll drive is between Houston and Fort Worth (around 260 miles or 420km long), which Waymo claims is “one of the most highly utilized freight corridors in the country.”
Mechas look cool but are extremely hard to build with little to no advantage over traditional tanks or robots, said robotics experts when asked to review some famous mechas from video games.
Scientists in the UK have genetically engineered Escherichia coli to transform plastic waste into vanillin. ‘Instead of simply recycling plastic waste into more plastic, what our system demonstrates for the first time is that you can use plastic as a feedstock for microbial cells and transform it into something with higher value and more industrial utility,’ says Stephen Wallace from the University of Edinburgh. The biotransformation ‘isn’t just replacing a current chemical process, it’s actually achieving something that can’t be done using modern synthetic methods.’