TTI/Vanguard: Balloons, Robots, More!


Dear Claudia,

We originally called the September conference Game-Changers and planned to focus exclusively on CRISPR, energy and other, well, game-changers. But we’ve changed the name to “The Game Has Changed,” because it has. We all need to think very urgently about the present. We’ll still address nascent technology, but we’ll examine it through the prism of 2020. The dates are September 1, 15, 22, 29; all at 1 pm EST/5 pm GMT, with a virtual field trip to Stanley Black & Decker, hosted by friend-of-TTI/V Mark Maybury, on August 19. Stay tuned for a preliminary agenda next week.

Let’s start with the good news. Google Loon, which we first heard about from Mike Cassidy (San Francisco, Dec 2016), is now bringing connectivity to Kenya. Now let’s see those floating spheres do the same to remote-learning students in developed countries who lack connectivity.

And good news for non-U.S. students attending American institutions of higher ed: The Harvard–MIT lawsuit led ICE to rescind the Administration’s order, such that students will be able to enter or remain in the United States, even if their school uses only online instruction.

On campus, many colleges and universities will be augmenting food service with robots, both in the kitchen and to deliver food to hungry students (Clayton Wood, Seattle, Mar 2020, who will also take delight in continuing to use Coca-Cola Freeestyle soda dispensers without tapping touchscreens, instead using a phone app to select a customized beverage (Guy Wollaert, Atlanta, Feb 2014).

The more time we spend at home, the less we like the amount of time we spend on household tasks. Ex-Google robotic chief is ready to help with the launch of a robot that is light and lithe and ready to help with basic tasks like putting displaced items back on shelves and wiping down surfaces. (Steve Cousins, Boston, Apr 2014; Manuela Veloso, Boston, Apr 2014)

It’s been quite a week for high-profile hacking. First, facilitated by a Twitter employee, a bitcoin scammer took over Twitter’s most eminent accounts and then it became known that Russia’s Cozy Bear has penetrated pharmaceutical firms seeking inside info on vaccine development. (Antonio Rucci, Washington, D.C., May 2010)

Will banning 5G Huawei in the United States and the United Kingdom make those countries more secure—or just slower? Looks like we are about to find out. (Marko Papic, San Francisco, Dec 2019

So much of health news these days surrounds SARS-CoV-2, and for good reason. In the meantime, the scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria hasn’t gone away, but much funding to combat them has. Member organization Johnson & Johnson, along with other major pharmaceutical firms, have joined with the WHO to finance antibiotic startups in the hope of bringing novel antibiotics to market within a decade. (Dominic Suicu, Seattle, Mar 2020)

In a serious study, North Carolina professor has analyzed 39 years’ worth of hot dog eating competitions, concluding that 83 within ten minutes is the theoretical limit. “When adjusted for body mass, the world’s most competitive hot dog eaters could outeat a grizzley bear or a coyote. (Geoffrey West, San Francisco, May 2016; Jonathan Payne, London, Jul 2010)

The motion of the stem of a centimeter-scale robot inspired by coral polyps, developed at Eindhoven University of Technology, is influenced by magnetism and light, creating a local current to attract and capture contaminants from the liquid environment. The combination of two stimuli enables the robot to perform complex shape changes and actions. (Richa Batra, San Francisco, Dec 2019)

In an advance for the practical implementation of nuclear fusion, a team of plasma physicists spanning the University of Michigan, Sandia National Lab, and Cornell University has determined that, when imploding plasma cylinders, a helix-like, spring-shaped magnetic field provides the most even compression, reducing the propensity for the plasma to deleteriously leak from imperfections in the cylinder by as much as 70%. (Dennis Whyte, San Francisco, Dec 2015, and field trip to MIT’s Plasma Science Fusion Center, Cambridge, Apr 2017)

Some advances in lithium–ion battery technology (Paul Braun, San Francisco, Dec 2015):

- Cost cutting by eliminating cobalt from cathodes
- Faster charging and reduced likelihood of explosions by adding carbon nanotubes to anodes

Nature has created bacteria with an astounding array of capabilities. One has just been serendipitously discovered in Pasadena tap water by Caltech researchers that metabolizes manganese, performing chemosynthesis to convert CO2 to biomass. (Peter Girguis, Salt Lake City, Dec 2009)

No surprises here, but perhaps the light the pandemic is shining on the disproportional impact on work output of people—particularly women—with young children at home will finally lead to changed views on the importance of childcare and flexible work conditions now that men are gaining first-hand experience. (Maggie Jones, Washington, D.C., Sep 2018; Ian Stewart, Brooklyn, Jul 2016; Lucy Sanders and Catherine Ashcraft, Washington, D.C., May 2012)

Unfortunately, most warning systems do not warn us that they can no longer warn us.
Charles Perrow, Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies