Sharks, Ebola, and Fairchild Semiconductor

Have you seen what is coming [next]? Please visit the agenda for our [next] conference, being held in San Francisco on December 2–4. 

Remember when Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce left Fairchild Semiconductor and put together a dream team at a little startup they called “Intel”? It’s hard not to think about that when reading about ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers and a group of former Cisco engineers at a startup, Pensando Systems, that hopes to challenge Amazon’s cloud/virtualization business. (Doug Burger, San Francisco, Dec 2017; Adam Selipsky, San Francisco, Feb 2010; Vishal Sikka and David Reed, San Diego, Feb 2009)

For our Kroger field trip (Monroe, Ohio, April 2019), CTO (and beloved TTIV member) Brett Bonner told us, “We find cameras to be the best sensors.” Store cameras there even monitor the shelves for out-of-stock items. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have now similarly found that cameras do a better job of monitoring gym exercises than wearable sensors. And an app version of their system lets you monitor your own exercise with your phone.

It’s not hard to know that a 20-foot great white shark bit your kayak, especially when it leaves two big teeth behind. Knowing exactly when it happened, though, might be harder—unless you, like a Catalina, Calif., kayaker last weekend, look at your fitness tracker for a spike in your heart rate. (Marco Della Torre, San Francisco, Dec 2013)

Dyson has discovered, apparently to its surprise, that it’s more than a bit harder to make an EV than a vacuum cleaner or a hand dryer. Even throwing a $3.2B budget at the problem didn’t put the company on the road to a profitable vehicle. Now it’s throwing in the towel—though continuing to develop the underlying battery and sensing technologies. (Amory Lovins, Washington, D.C., Oct 2011, William Mitchell, St. Louis, Sep 2008)

For the first time in 130 years, renewables are generating more electricity in the U.K. than fossil fuels. From a carbon point of view, the news is even better, since the renewable category doesn’t include nuclear generation. (Jonathan Chu, San Francisco, Dec 2017)

Swiss researchers have come up with a prosthetic hand that implements what they call “shared control.” The robotic hand reads muscular activity on an amputee’s stump to infer intended finger movement, but also takes over to regrasp an object when it starts to slip. (Dustin Tyler, San Francisco, Dec 2016, Hugh Herr, Geneva, Sep 2005)

It’s an established fact that active learning—where students don’t merely passively listen to a lecture—is more effective (Vivienne Ming, Anant Agarwal, Jersey City, Oct 2013). Yet students and faculty resist it, in part, a new study finds, because they incorrectly perceive it to be less efficacious. It’s hard not to think of Pam Mueller’s talk (Brooklyn, Jul 2016) about taking notes by hand versus using a computer.

Quick Hits

We’ve worried about the lack of transparency in AI, especially for deep learning systems, at least since Erik Mueller (Austin, Feb 2016) spoke about it, but now that Turing Award winner Yoshua Bengio is on the case, maybe something will happen.

There wasn’t an Ebola vaccine when Barbara Han (Austin, Feb 2016) told us about her methodology for predicting the recurrence of infection by this and other extreme viruses. Now that there is one, it’s all the more important to predict future outbreaks, and researchers at the University of Washington think they have a model that can.

You know the joke about not needing to outrun the bear, so long as you can outrun the guy next to you? Imagine an AI stock trader that can’t predict the market, but can predict a slower (human) trader’s behavior. The AI investor now has the best insider information that automation can buy. (Nagui Halim, Philadelphia, Jul 2015).

At press time, the first all-female spacewalk is underway, Godspeed!

"Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go."