The Wonder, October 12 - Self-Texting Phones, Quake Detection, and 3D Printed Organs

INblog, technology, the wonder|BYsf appworks

A Weekly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology

Happy Friday!

What’s in a picture? That which we call a selfie by any other name would look just as good…except when AI is applied to make it look better. Increasingly, we’re seeing how AI can improve imagery in science and medicine, but its most practical application might be improving your abilities as a phone photographer. The new Google Pixel phone, for example, has an interesting feature called Top Shot. When you take a picture, the camera captures a burst of frames just before and after. It analyzes the photos and takes into consideration smiles, open eyes, and if the subjects are looking at the camera before choosing which image to display. It also analyzes the images for clarity. It reduces the quality of non-important parts of the image and it keeps the important parts at high res. It’s the kind of technology that only the military might have a decade ago and now can exist in the pockets of the five billion smart phone users worldwide. Happy shooting!

Now on to the Wonder.

Self-Texting Phones

Android creator Andy Rubin is building an AI phone that texts people for you.

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Andrew’s Take: You’d be surprised how good AI can be at finishing your thoughts (starting them is the hard part). Gmail started rolling out an auto-complete feature and it does a pretty good job of finishing standard sentences for me, saving me a few seconds per email. Hey, it adds up! I imagine people will lament our laziness if we can’t even be bothered to send a message, but the idea here isn’t to replace human conversation; it is to replace the mundane scheduling and logistics of human conversation, freeing us up for more meaningful human interactions…especially with the people sitting around watching us text.      

Darius’s Take: Andy Rubin has been reaching for straws, trying to build a new phone that flopped, then working on a smart speaker that he abandoned, and now he’s working on an AI assistant targeted at mobile communication. It’s an ambitious project that in theory sounds great, but practically we have a long way to go before AI can mimic a real conversation. And isn’t it kind of ridiculous to imagine two people’s AI bots chatting with each other while their owners are off doing something else?

Quake Detection

Stanford AI system detects even the smallest earthquakes from seismic data.

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Andrew’s Take: Wondering when the next ‘big one’ is going to hit is one of the great thrills of California living. But seriously, having even a few seconds of warning could actually be the difference between getting trapped under rubble and making it to a safe space. On a larger scale, it’s encouraging that we are getting better at using AI modeling to predict all sorts of natural events since it seems that our weather is getting less predictable. Hurricane Michael this week, with it’s sudden and shocking growth, was a stark reminder of that.

Darius’s Take: The trend nowadays is to add AI to an existing product in order to get better results. Here, the AI filters out background noise from earthquake data. The result? A system that can identify earthquakes much more precisely, and especially the small ones that seismic monitoring systems struggle to pick up. It already can predict aftershocks of an earthquake for up to a year. Earthquake predictions are coming next.

3D Printed Organs

University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles and his team have developed a method to 3D print cells to produce human tissue such as ligaments and tendons.

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Andrew’s Take: Bioprinting, or ‘regenerative health’, is attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in investment for a good reason – our bodies break down over time and it is hard to replace tendons, ligaments, and eventually organs. Until now.

Darius’s Take: Now that’s a 3D printer! We recently took on a 3D printing project and have learned a lot about how it works and we’re very excited and impressed with the possibilities, but this is on a whole new level. It’s actually a modified 3D printer that lays stem cells on top of each other. The precision of the printers makes it possible to organize the cells in desired patterns in order to grow into full-blown organs. I keep joking about this, but maybe we really are getting closer to immortality🙂

The Planets Align Tonight...

The five brightest planets can be seen at the same time tonight. Check out the western sky after sunset and you can see them forming a line rising up from the horizon. Mercury and Venus will be at the bottom, with Jupiter just above it. Higher up will be Saturn and Mars.

Thanks for reading! We’ll see you next week.

-Andrew and Darius