(Net)working for the weekend

We were delighted when some community members described Tuesday’s session as one of the most mind-bending TTIV events of all. We certainly enjoyed it. If you missed the mysterious ways of collaboration between networks of all kinds - people, cells, molecules, even sheep – reach out to Kelly and she can *connect* you with the videos and material.

Coming up on Tuesday, March 9th, we’ll explore the powers of information. And we’ll be back to our normal Zoom direct link. So if you – like us – lost your patience with the beta system that we tested out this past week, the good news is that it is gone.

When the set of stakeholders comprises the entire global population and what is at stake is faster movement toward herd immunity from SARS-CoV-2, a collaboration between TTI/V member Johnson & Johnson and Merck to expand vaccine production is a wholly welcome development. (Joel Crutcher-Gershenfeld, virtual conference, Mar 2021)

Last week we noted Eric Schmidt’s (San Jose, Sep 2000) views on the relative AI prowess of the United States and China. Now the commission he chaired—the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence—has released its full findings in a 756-page report (or an interactive version, if you prefer).

Last week we also highlighted a new way of visualizing our planet, then Len Kleinrock took our invitation to plummet down the rabbithole of map projections during his opening to The Power of Networks conference. This week, we offer a multidisciplinary study into visualizing the past that relies on computational tools to unlock the secrets of “letterlocked” communications. Several years ago, Dave Hughes (London, Jul 2014, and associated field trip, British Museum) explained the use of CT scans of mummies to reveal their secrets without disturbing their wrappings; MIT researchers are doing similarly to digitally unfold and read—for the first time ever—undelivered missives from as long ago as the 1600s. Bonus: Who knew that “computational origami” was a thing?

Step 1: Couple a brain-computer interface with a face-devising generative adversarial neural network (Rajesh Rao, San Francisco, Dec 2013; Kenneth Stanley, Brooklyn, Jun 2018). Step 2: Show people images of faces, and ask people to mentally focus on those they find attractive (Irmak Sirer, Los Angeles, Mar 2018). Step 3: Have the GAN create portraits that the particular individual deems attractive (Alex Reben, San Francisco, Dec 2019). This is what researchers from Scandinavia did, with an admirable 80% success rate. Applications could go beyond the obvious—dating apps—and extend to the direct exposure of implicit bias (Christian Rudder, Philadelphia, Jul 2015; Julie Ancis, Washington, D.C., Sep 2017; Cody Butain and Julie Ancis, virtual conference, Oct 2020).

Cuttlefish are uniquely capable at camouflage (Jaron Lanier, Atlanta, Nov 2000), but they’re also smart in a more human way: the ability to delay gratification. When a behavioral ecologist at the University of Cambridge subjected several specimens to an aquatic version of the Stanford marshmallow test, each of them held off eating a dead shrimp if the promise of a much more desirable live prawn was in the offing were they to wait. (Frans de Waal, Atlanta, Feb 2014)

A history professor has inked an article on robotic fish. TTI/Vanguard has its own history on the topic, including two field trips (Univ of Maryland, Sep 2019; Scripps Inst of Oceanography, San Diego, Feb 2015) and a variety of speakers, including John Long (Boston, Apr 2014) and Ed Lu (San Francisco, Dec 2013). That was then; this is now: A team of Chinese researchers have constructed a self-powered soft robotic fish that can swim in the depths of the Mariana Trench (10,900 m!)—that is, this new entrant is both pliable and capable of withstanding the enormous pressures.

Never is the power of the Internet more apparent than when access is denied (Revolutions conference, Washington, D.C., May 2012). During 2020—a year when access was more important than ever—India has topped the list of slowing or denying access altogether, particularly in the region of Kashmir that it controls.

Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.--John Lennon