There is only one Tuesday left for The Power of Networks, do not miss the much anticipated trio of Vassilis Zikas on blockchain, Jeannette Wing on Date for Good and Mark Seiden on Ratings and Reputations Online - all on March 23rd.
People with a penchant for ingenious design using mechanical gearing (Alexander Rose, virtual field trip, Long Now Foundation, Jun 2020) or technoarchology (Dennis Wngo, San Francisco, Dec 2014; Dave Hughes, London, Jul 2014) will be excited to learn that new research has advanced Michael Wright’s (London, Jul 2014) puzzling apart of the Antikythera mechanism.
We back up our data; shouldn’t we also have a backup of Earth’s flora and fauna? The Svarbard Global Seed Vault (Paula Bramel, Vienna, Jul 2013) does this for crop seeds, but what about the rest of the tree of life (David Hillis, Madrid, Jul 2003; Ryan Phelan, San Diego, Feb 2015; George Church, Boston regional meeting, Jun 2015)? A proposal is on deck for a “lunar ark”—a repository in subsurface lava tubes on the moon to cryogenically house dozens-to-hundreds of instances of zygotes for each of the Earth’s 6.7M known species of plants, animals, and fungi. In case of a full-system crash on our home planet, there would then be a chance to reboot.
Reversing the path of innovation from the moon to Earth, NASA will be commercializing the tires designed for its Mars rovers for use on two-wheeled vehicles back home. In early 2022, the SMART Tire Company will release its Shape Memory Alloy Radial Technology-based tires. Made of super-elastic NiTinol+, these are puncture-proof, lightweight, smooth-riding, and strong. Mark Bregman (New Zealand virtual startup forum, Feb 2021), we expect you to be rocking these on your mountain bike next year, and in time they could upend the broader tire market altogether.
The World Economic Forum’s World Business Council for Sustainable Development concurs with Will Barker, one of the Kiwi entrepreneurs that Mark brought to us last month (Mint Innovation, New Zealand Startup Forum, Feb 2021): electronic waste is a huge and growing global problem, requiring focused attention on reuse, recycling, and extending the life of existing products.
Microscale robots designed by Cornell physicists are jolted into shape—the shape of an origami bird. Their vision: “Imagine a million fabricated microscopic robots releasing from a wafer that fold themselves into shape, crawl free, and go about their tasks, even assembling into more complicated structures.” This is precisely what we saw from Marc Miskin a couple of years ago in Pittsburgh (Jun 2019), albeit with more rudimentary geometries.
As we all know, progress in battery technology doesn’t follow Moore’s Law; instead, it relies on breakthroughs in chemistry, such as that taking place at South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) to reduce the propensity for swelling that plagues lithium–ion batteries. (Does your laptop have a bulge in its base? That’s what we’re talking about here.) By introducing high-nickel and silicon-mixed anodes, this research team has created a solid electrolyte interphase on a high-capacity silicon–carbon anode that can tolerate volume changes induced by the lithiation of silicon and that furthermore enhances lifetime and chargeability of high-density Li–ion batteries. (Paul Braun, San Francisco, Dec 2015)
Also on the energy front, albeit on a larger scale, a new analysis of renewable energy indicates that the wind resource increases as the need for home heating rises, making winterized wind turbines well-suited to cold-weather electricity production. According to the Stanford researcher at the helm of this study, not only are wind and solar complementarily available, but wind, solar, and hydro—in combination with energy storage systems and well-implemented end-user incentives (no easy lift, to be sure!)—could meet all global energy needs, including during surges and weather crises. (Saul Griffith, San Francisco, Dec 2019; Feargal Brennan, Salt Lake City, Dec 2009)
Chess, Jeopardy!, and now debating. IBM’s latest task-specific AI is taking on debating champs and doing an admirable job (David Barnes, Pittsburgh, Oct 2012; James Barrat, Boston, Apr 2014). As this demonstrates, AI races are underway in quite a range of domains, which opens the door to a research domain of its own to assess the AI races most in need of global regulation and oversight. Researchers modeled AI races using evolutionary game theory (Kenneth Stanley, Brooklyn, Jun 2018; Washington, D.C., Sep 2015) and determined that regulations are most needed in AI races that achieve denouement rapidly, where success is achieved by moving fast and breaking things, rather than by slowing down and considering ethical consequences at every turn (John Leslie King, Robert Charette, and Tae Wan Kim, Pittsburgh, Jun 2019; Benjamin Kuipers, Brooklyn, Jun 2018).
Unless you’re still digging yourself out in Colorado or Wyoming, or think a spring break ski vacation is actually a good idea this year, this winter’s barrage of snowflakes is probably a fluffy memory by now. Good thing that Nathan Myhrvold (San Francisco, Dec 2012) took the initiative to team with Caltech’s Kenneth Libbrecht to build an ultrahigh-resolution camera capable of capturing the amazing intricacy of these C6-symmetrical wonders. Turns out that it took quite a feat of engineering (Clifford Ross, Pasadena, Feb 2006). This New York Times article digs into the science of snowflake formation and the fiddly engineering of the bespoke camera, and really delivers when it comes to (cold) eye candy.
“The wonder of a single snowflake outweighs the wisdom of a million meteorologists.”—Francis Bacon