Everyone knows about the fiercely anticipated, unprecedented, controversial, groundbreaking event coming up in November. We are talking about TTI/Vanguard’s [next] 2020 conference, of course. Beginning on November 10th and running until December 8th, you’ll hear from well-known speakers such as George Church, Tony Fadell, Gill Pratt, Jerry Kaplan - and a slew of others. Members should register now to join us!
Should the US government break up Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon? Benedict Evans (San Francisco, Dec 2015) has a nuanced answer that addresses how the Tech Big Four are not only different from each other - but also from historical examples such as Standard Oil and AT&T. He even draws comparisons to Microsoft’s antitrust efforts which, of course, scored a different outcome.
If you like tech history, check out this film, hoping to raise funds on Kickstarter. It covers a theme long addressed at TTI/V - how the magic of research and innovation is long gone, driven to the ground by an obsession with short-term ROI. You’ll likely recognize Alan Kay in the clip provided. (Alan Kay and Len Kleinrock, regional meetings, Summer 2015)
When a driver sits behind the wheel, the general goal is to get from here to there safely, despite a continual stream of distractions. In contrast, an autonomous-driving algorithm predicts an optimum path and sticks to it. Researchers at the Delft University of Technology’s Dept of Cognitive Robotics are building models to better reflect a human sense of risk (e.g., okay to risk enjoying the landscape when the road is bordered by grass but not when driving along a cliff edge). The goal is less to make autonomous cars better anticipate the behavior of human drivers. (Simon Tong, Brooklyn, Jun 2018)
In energy-harvesting news (Canan Dagdeviren, Washington, D.C, Sep 2018), with an eye toward generating an alternative to low-power batteries, researchers at the University of Arkansas have demonstrated the ability to extract a current from the room-temperature Brownian motion within graphene using a two-diode circuit.
Continuing the materials science–energy theme, researchers at the University of Quebec’s INRS are building a low-cost membraneless fuel cell to power portable electronic devices. The proof-of-concept prototype features selective electrodes in the cathode compartment that remain inactive to alcohol but sensitive to electricity-generating oxygen molecules extracted from the air. (Lanny Schmidt, Montreal, Apr 2004)
Remember that Dr. Seuss story about the pale green pants with nobody inside them? Perhaps those trousers served as inspiration to Yale materials scientist Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, who has created a robotic—yet comfortable—fabric, complete with actuation, fibers of variable stiffness, and sensing. Shape-memory alloys invoke actuation (e.g., bending), fiber stiffness is modified through temperature changes, and sensors painted onto the fabric with conductive ink detect those variations. This robotic fabric is being considered as a candidate for assistive clothing, self-deploying tents, and robotic parachutes. (Field trip SRI, Feb 2017; Stephen Jacobson, Atlanta, Dec 2004)
Meanwhile, at the University of Cambridge, when sensors consisting of silver and/or semiconducting fibers of single-micron thickness were 3-D printed onto facemasks, they successfully detected how moisture penetrates masks of different types: straight through surgical masks, but around the edges of N95 face coverings.
A multinational team of researchers are using the CRISPR/Cas9 pathway (Eric Kmiec, virtual conference, Sep 2020; George Church, Boston, Jun 2015) to reduce the percentage of lignin in poplar trees, making them better precursors for a variety of bio-based products, even while retaining their growth efficiency. The strategy could also be used as an efficient agricultural tool to engineer traits in other crops.
And congratulations to newly minted Nobel laureates Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for their development of CRISPR/Cas9 as a scientific gene-editing tool.
We are all in on anything that makes science more accessible. The French public scientific research organization CEA is making its browser-based Quantum Prisoner videogame available in English. According to the CEA, “[The game’s] only aim is to disseminate scientific and technical culture—and make science (even more) fun!”
Without adjustments to our economic system and regulatory policies, we may be in for an extended period of social turmoil.-- Jerry Kaplan