A Weekly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology
Written by MaCall Manor, on behalf of SF AppWorks
Can you believe it's almost March?
1. Brain Gain
Researchers from HRL Laboratories in California have purportedly developed a simulator capable of feeding data directly into a human's brain.
Alongside tech reminiscent of the legendary film, this may or may not be the opportune moment to report that Andrew Greenstein, our fearless leader, considered debuting a one-time-only breakout role as an extra in the new Matrix movie (which is shooting in San Francisco this month). However, he ultimately declined due to prior engagement.
The experiment involved studying electric signaling in a trained pilot's brain, then using that data as input for less experienced subjects as they practiced in a flight simulator. The results were impressive: subjects using the electrode head-caps improved their abilities by 33% over the placebo group. The study was published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal.
A head researcher on the project, Dr. Matthew Phillips, notes the methodology behind their approach dates back to Ben Franklin and ancient Egyptians, both of whom used electrical currents to stimulate various results. However, a more serious scientific investigation into these practices began in the 2000s.
An investment of over £1.2 billion has been secured in the UK to be used for the latest supercomputer technology. Amassing great quantities of climate data to predict and analyze severe weather patterns, the machine will be wielded in the battle against climate change.
*That moment when someone sees every last bit of your data and you're no longer mysterious.*
The computer is expected to become the world's most advanced weather and climate technology available. The data it harvests will help shape government policy toward climate change oriented solutions.
Sent from Above
Some of the improvements rendered by the supercomputer will be more accurate rainfall predictions, better forecasting at airports, and enhanced information for the energy sector, among others. Says Professor Ted Shepherd, Chair of the Science Review Group, "improved daily to seasonal forecasts and longer-term climate projections will equip society with a greater ability to proactively protect itself against the adverse impacts of climate change."
In Other Money,
The UK government also announced a £30 million investment in "advanced supercomputing services," which will provide researchers with resources for breakthrough work in fields ranging from AI to energy storage, to therapeutic drug design and other critical scientific developments.
3. Watt-er Power
The scientific journal "Nature" has published a paper detailing a device capable of producing electricity using only ambient humidity.
Potential business opportunity with 24 Hour Fitness?
He's got the Power
Xiaomeng Liu, a graduate student at Princeton University (who was ironically trying to do something completely unrelated) stumbled on a method of conducting power across a fiber-like protein derived from bacteria... hence we are now graced by this "bio-electronic" device as an alternative energy source. While protein fibers have been explored before for their conductive properties, Xiaomeng's discovery was instrumental in understanding humidity's application to the process.
Xiaomeng was trying to understand why a current was being picked up by his equipment when he realized there was a correlation between the volt and the ambient humidity input, so to speak. After drawing this connection, the lab constructed a device made from a conductive plate coated in the bacteria's protein fibers and some thin strips of electrode. This created a sort of mesh material through which humidity could enter and then be harnessed as a source.
Pros and Con(traptions)
Questions remain about the machine's ability to maintain itself indefinitely, as it requires a gradient of humidity that would theoretically render itself inert by evening out over time. Regardless, scientists on the project are excited about the technology's prospective use on larger scale hardware.
4. 🚫 Echo-dropping
Two computer science professors at the University of Chicago have developed a device to prevent Amazon Echo and similar smart speakers from listening in on conversations.
Petra Ford for The New York Times
Love it, but looking forward to a 2.0 design. This looks a bit like a car part.
The bracelet is constructed with 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when turned on. While the sound cannot be picked up by most human ears, smart speakers or microphones within range will only record a high-frequency sound, effectively preventing an Echo or HomePod from accidentally recording a would-be private conversation.
On the Record
Interested in the stats of accidental device activation, researchers from Northeastern University conducted an experiment in which they played 120 hours of TV for a multitude of smart speakers. In startling results, the speakers woke up dozens of times to noises that sounded like wake or command words and began recording.
5. Ear Purifier
Dyson has released a patent for an air purifier that doubles as a pair of headphones.
Image courtesy of Dyson Ltd.
Can it also purify the music the kids are listening to these days?
Each "ear cup" has a motor connected to a propeller that spins around 12,000 rpm, drawing in roughly 1.4 liters of air per second. The headphones actually contain a filter that prevents dust and bacteria from entering. The filtered air travels through a mouthpiece to a perforated air vent, jetting rich oxygen toward the wearer's mouth.
The patent comes amidst a crucial need for air pollution oriented solutions, especially in Asia; President Xi Jinping of China has stated that pollution is one of their government's most urgent concerns. Although Dyson is most widely known for its vacuums and hand dryers, the company has been expanding its popular line of standing air-purifiers in Asia...the precursors to this interesting patent.
6. Ant-AI biotic
Machine learning has been used to discover a potent antibiotic capable of killing even some of the most drug-resistant bacteria.
Great, first they came for our jobs and now they're stealing our superbugs.
Researchers created a "deep learning" algorithm to identify types of molecules able to kill bacteria by feeding a program data regarding almost 2,500 drugs and natural compounds. What the AI came back with was described as "one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered to date." Sweet.
This discovery marks the first in its class by unleashing artificial intelligence on the expansive digital archives of pharmaceutical compounds. The antibiotic was found effective in killing a broad range of typically antibiotic-resistant strains—including some pathogens ranked as the most deadly by the World Health Organization.
7. Wok Star
Physicists from Georgia Tech have devised a kinematic model for wok-tossing that will yield "perfectly browned" fried rice.
Talk about burying the lede...
The Willy Wok-a of Science?
If you haven't heard about David Hu's lab at Georgia Tech, prepare to be blessed: his renowned work inquires into the bizarre and brilliant, from behavioral science of various climbing insects, to the unique properties of cat tongues, to a Nobel Prize winning examination of wombats' "cubed poo." Once David and a grad student realized their shared interest in the physics of cooking, they took to the lab to crack the code on the perfect Wok dish.
The dynamic duo's experiment honed specifically on fried rice, also known as "scattered golden rice." They found that the secret lies in a certain chemical interaction of carbohydrates and amino acids treated with high heat, otherwise known as the "Maillard reaction." This effect results in the perfect browning of various foods.
8. 3D Chocolate'd
Barry Callebaut, one of the world's largest cocoa processors, has announced it can now 3D print chocolate with its new 3D printed studio, deemed "Mona Lisa."
This story is VERY close to my heart, and I have to admit that in terms of quality assurance I remain skeptical.
While 3D printed chocolate has technically existed for years, the technology was not considered sufficient for mass production until now. The firm claims it's capable of printing thousands of pieces of chocolate at a time, all while maintaining a handmade "appearance." (Again, does anyone else find that concerning?)
Reality Choc ✔
Real pastry chefs will create designs, which can then be mass produced for a variety of uses. The process has been described as "a technological breakthrough in innovation that positions the Mona Lisa brand at the forefront of the industry." If anyone from Mona Lisa is reading this and needs a taste-tester, you know where to find me.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoy the Wonder, please consider sharing it with a friend. We'll see you next month!
-MaCall Manor, on behalf of SF AppWorks