News

Synthetic Biology: The Xenobot Future Is Coming

Posted by Peter Rudin on 27. November 2020 in News No Comments

A new field of science called “synthetic biology” aims to digitize genetic manipulations. Xenobots are living robots, made up of masses of cells working in coordination, that can help unlock the mysteries of cellular communication.

These living robots can undulate, swim, and walk. They work collaboratively and can even self-heal. They are tiny enough to be injected into human bodies, travel around, and—maybe someday—deliver targeted medicines.

Soon, how we reproduce, repair ourselves, prevent disease will be the result of intentional choice, not chance. But the ability to recode cells, de-extinct species, and create new life forms will come with ethical, philosophical, and political challenges.

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AI trying to Diagnose Depression from Brain Waves

Posted by Peter Rudin on 13. November 2020 in News No Comments

An estimated 17.3 million adults in the U.S. have had at least one major depressive episode, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. But with 1,000 possible symptom combinations, depression manifests differently in different people. Today’s assessments mostly rely on conversations with clinicians or surveys.

X, Alphabet’s experimental R&D lab, recently detailed Project Amber, which aimed to make brain waves as easy to interpret as blood glucose. The Amber team sought to marry machine learning techniques with electroencephalography (EEG) to measure telling electrical activity in the brain.

It took three years for the Amber team to create a low-cost, portable, research-grade system designed to make it easier to collect EEG data.

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The Evolution of Modern Intelligence

Posted by Peter Rudin on 30. October 2020 in News No Comments

For about 300,000 years after Homo sapiens first appeared, tools and artifacts remained surprisingly simple. Starting 50,000 to 65,000 years ago, more advanced technology started appearing: complex projectile weapons, sewing needles, ceramics etc.

This sudden flourishing of technology is called the “great leap forward” supposedly reflecting the

evolution of a fully modern human brain. But fossils and DNA suggest that human intelligence became modern far earlier.

Culture can evolve even if intelligence does not. Humans in ancient times lacked smartphones and spaceflight, but we know from studying philosophers such as Buddha and Aristotle that they were just as clever. Our brains did not change, our culture did.

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AI has Limits because it lacks a Physical Body

Posted by Peter Rudin on 16. October 2020 in News No Comments

We are witnessing the emergence of a new commercial industry with tremendous potential. There are no areas that are beyond improvement by AI – no tasks that cannot be automated, no problems that cannot at least be helped by an AI application.

But is this strictly true? Research in the new field of developmental robotics is now exploring how robots can learn from scratch, like infants. The first stages involve discovering the properties of passive objects and the “physics” of the robot’s world.

So, while disembodied AI definitely has a fundamental limitation, future research with robot bodies may one day help create lasting, empathetic, social interactions between AI and humans.

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Finally, much improved AI-Features for Alexa

Posted by Peter Rudin on 2. October 2020 in News No Comments

Starting in the coming weeks, Amazon says that Alexa will ask questions of users to help the assistant better understand what they mean. Alexa will also soon be able to change intonation depending on the context of back-and-forth conversations, building on Amazon’s advances in neural text-to-speech technology.

In Follow-Up Mode Alexa will let multiple people join conversations with without having to use a wake word for every utterance. Called Natural Turn Taking — Alexa will leverage acoustic and linguistic cues to determine whether a request is directed towards it.

Alexa’s sound detection is expanding as well, with recognition of things like a baby crying, barking dogs, and the sound of snoring. Later this year, customers will be able to choose to set up routines that can kick off when Alexa detects one of those sounds.

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Microscopic Robots Ready to Patrol Your Body

Posted by Peter Rudin on 18. September 2020 in News No Comments

Tiny robots have long captured our imagination, especially for their promise in medicine. Famed physicist Dr. Richard Feynman imagined teams of “swallowable surgeons” that roam the body and perform surgeries on demand.

Last week researchers at Cornell University tackled one of the most pressing problems in micro-robotics: getting those robots to move in a controllable manner. 

At just 40 μm wide and 70 μm long – smaller than single-celled algae – the width of the average human hair and on par with a grain of salt, the robots are the smallest micro-robots with onboard electronics in existence so far developed. Their small size makes it easy for them to get sucked into the narrowest needles without damage.

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink is Neuroscience Theater

Posted by Peter Rudin on 4. September 2020 in News No Comments

Discover the nature of consciousness, cure blindness, paralysis, deafness, and mental illness – those are just a few of the applications that Elon Musk and his 4-year old company Neuralink believe electronic brain-computer interfaces will one day bring about.

However, in a widely publicised event last month, Neuralink has provided no evidence that it can (or has even tried to) treat depression, insomnia, or a dozen other diseases. It is unclear how serious the company is about treating disease at all.

Musk continually drifted away from medicine and back to a much more futuristic “general population device,” which he called the company’s “overall” aim. He believes that people should connect directly to computers to keep pace with artificial intelligence.

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Facebook and other tech giants ‘too big to fail’?

Posted by Peter Rudin on 21. August 2020 in News No Comments

Like banks in the 2008 financial crisis, Facebook and other tech giants are “too big to fail”, according to research from Oxford University that calls for new regulations to protect users, and society, in the event of a possible collapse.

In their paper, Carl Öhman and Nikita Aggarwal argue that the world’s biggest technology companies are unlikely to suddenly go out of business – but the world is unprepared for what would happen if they did.

For users, the collapse of Facebook could have wide-ranging ramifications. Most immediately, losing use of the site itself. That, notes Aggarwal, is a particularly acute problem in many developing countries, “where Facebook is the main way people communicate”.

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AI to Make Drug Discovery Fast and Personalized

Posted by Peter Rudin on 7. August 2020 in News No Comments

The sobering truth is that 90 percent of all drug possibilities fail. The few that do succeed take an average of 10 years to reach the market and cost anywhere from $2.5 billion to $12 billion to get there.

Covid-19 is uniting the global scientific community with its urgency, prompting scientists to cast aside nation-specific territorialism, research secrecy, and academic publishing politics in favour of expedited therapeutic and vaccine development efforts.

Riding the convergence of massive datasets, skyrocketing computational power and remarkable innovations in AI, we are not far from a world in which personalized drugs, delivered directly to specified targets, will graduate to the standard of care.

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Inside a Cyber-Ransomware Attack

Posted by Peter Rudin on 24. July 2020 in News No Comments

Security researchers have revealed the anatomy of a cyber-attack, showing how cyber criminals gained access to a network and deployed ransomware.

The network was initially infected with the Trickbot malware before the hackers started to hunt around to find out how to make money out of it.

From the initial Trickbot infection, through profiling the network, to finally initiating the Ryuk malware attack took around two weeks.

According to the FBI, Ryuk is an extremely lucrative project for its criminal developers, generating roughly USD 61 Mio. in ransom between February 2018 and October 2019. More sophisticated extortion attempts are expected to follow.

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