Physicists have determined the geometry of an electron—a development that could make quantum dots a lot more useful. (Cun-Zheng Ning, San Francisco, Dec 2015; Tiger Tao, San Diego, Feb 2015)
AIs now dominate games like chess and Go, but they’re two-person in format—even the decisive Texas Hold ‘Em poker victories that Noam Brown (Brooklyn, Jun 2018) described last year involved one-on-one play. Now DeepMind is defeating humans in multiplayer games as well.
Chinese scientists and engineers released a code of ethics for artificial intelligence. (Ben Kuipers, Brooklyn, Jun 2018; James Barrat, Boston, Apr 2014)
The high cost of gene therapies is also raising ethical debates. How much is too much to save a child’s life? (Amitabh Chandra, Washington, D.C., Sep 2018)
One-third of our food supply is wasted between the farm and the table. In developed countries, most of it is wasted by households. This contributes to global warming as well as family budgets. Researchers at Imperial College London have come up with a two-cent food-freshness sensor that could replace “use-by” dates to much more accurately predict whether food is safe to eat. (Pashon Murray, Detroit, May 2015; Gene Giacomelli, St. Louis, Sep 2008)
A year after Guy Hoffman (Brooklyn, Jun 2018) told us about his soft robot, Blossom, he’s published a paper about it in the ACM Transactions on Human–Robot Interaction.
Perhaps the most surprising news in this story about a $270 Japanese toaster that toasts only one slice of bread at a time (Don Norman, San Jose, Feb 2003) is the fact that a majority of Japanese now prefer toast at breakfast to rice (Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, Washington, D.C., Oct 2011).
Quick hits from IEEE Spectrum:
Even (and maybe especially) with 5G looming, improvements in data compression are still welcome. So it was inevitable that researchers would use a recurrent neural network to compress and restore images and video with less data loss. (Richard Baraniuk, Phoenix, Dec 2008; Robert Lucky, Rancho Mirage, Ca., Jan 1994)
When the Google cloud went down this week, it didn’t just take out Gmail and YouTube. Nest smart doors couldn’t be unlocked, Google Fi users couldn’t make phone calls, and it even affected Snapchat and Apple’s iCloud services. (Adam Selipsky, San Francisco, Feb 2010)
Researchers at Google and KTH Royal Institute of Technology are getting closer to using quantum computers to break 2,048-bit RSA encryption. (Dan Nicolau, Jr. and Sr., San Francisco, Dec 2016) "The worst-case estimate of how many qubits will be needed to factor 2,048-bit RSA integers has dropped nearly two orders of magnitude."
One of the joys of rock climbing is touching the same rock that climbers did decades ago. Unless, of course, rockfall changes a route—which can also be deadly if climbers are on it. Researchers are now using thermal imaging to study the bond between rock features and Yosemite’s El Capitan in order to be able to see when they weaken. (Bill Parish, San Francisco, Dec 2013)
Want to become a patron to an open-source programmer? GitHub now has a “Sponsors” program to let you do just that. (Chris Wanstrath, Vancouver, Oct 2010; Jim Zemlin, San Francisco, Feb 2010; Bruce Perens, Miami, Jul 2005; Eric Raymond, Miami, Feb 1999; Adam Fudakowski, London, Jul 2014)
Yet another proposal for us to own our own social media and other personal data. (Judith Estrin, Berkeley, Mar 2019; Roger McNamee and Jonathan Taplin, Los Angeles, Mar 2018; Julian Ranger, London, Jul 2014; Jim Gemmell, San Francisco, Feb 2005)
Michelin has a new 3-D-printed airless tire that is lighter than previous ones and possibly more sustainable: one goal is for worn tires to be re-treaded instead of just thrown into landfill or recycled. (George Berghorn, Berkeley, Mar 2019)
The newsletter will be in Pittsburgh next week instead of your mailboxes; we’ll be back here on 6/21. In the meantime, we’ll see you in Pittsburgh or you can see us on the live stream!
"When radium was discovered, no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it."