The Wonder, June 22 - Space Catapult, Debate Bots and Artificial Pain

INthe wonder, blog, technology|BYsf appworks

A Weekly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology

Happy Friday!

Summer is officially here. If you’re looking for new shorts and flip flops, you no longer need to go to the mall. Amazon does that for you too with their new try-before-you-buy Wardrobe service, available to all Prime members.

This newsletter is an effort to highlight notable examples of like-minded people and organizations, inspired by new technology and eager to help people with it.

Enjoy!

Space Catapult

SpinLaunch has raised $40 million to develop a catapult to launch small and medium-sized rockets into space.

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Andrew’s Take: Jeff Bezos dismisses this as something you wouldn’t find credible after a few hours of analysis, but innovation is all about doing things that others don’t think will work. Investor buy-in does provide a measure of validation, but keep in mind that investors care more about the potential for disruption than the likelihood of success.      

Darius’s Take: SpaceX reduced the costs of accessing space by taking a non-conventional approach to rocket building. The space catapult would make deployment costs much cheaper. The first stage of a rocket launch is the biggest and most expensive. If you can just catapult high enough to get the rocket to stage two, that would be a major advance.

Debate Bots

IBM hosted a debate between two humans and an AI called “Project Debater”. In a debate about whether governments should subsidize space exploration, computer and human went back and forth making reasoned arguments and cracking jokes in real-time.

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Andrew’s Take: There are a number of complex issues that are extremely polarizing. Healthy debate is good, but humans have a tendency of getting ‘personal’. Perhaps we can use this technology to explore points and counterpoints to divisive issues without bias. This would make an awesome Alexa skill and could have cool implications in education as well.

Darius’s Take: This could be used as a powerful tool to gather relevant content on a topic and debunk misleading or deceitful information (#fakenews), but the trick will be in how the AI is designed to find good, credible sources of information. This prototype can only determine the veracity of information as it compares to its original data source.

Artificial Pain

Scientists from Johns Hopkins created a skin for devices that can sense a range of sensations, including pain.

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Andrew’s Take: There are some cool, practical applications here that are easy to applaud, but the big implications to me are in the concept of giving objects the ability to sense pain (or pleasure), and what that might mean when we interact with those objects. Would you feel bad if you knew it ‘hurt’ your coffee maker when you put too much coffee in it? It certainly takes us another step closer to robots becoming sentient.

Darius’s Take: This could really help robots better understand how not to harm themselves. Could it one day help them understand pain in such a way that they could also avoid causing pain in others?

Two Reasons To Sleep Better

Nasa unveiled a bold plan to protect earth from Astroids and rising ground under West Antarctica could prevent ice sheet collapse.

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

-Andrew and Darius