TTI/Vanguard: Read to the end for the good jokes! Aug 28, 2020 Newsletter

There is still time to register for our September virtual conference, The Game Has Changed: 2020. Kickoff is Tuesday!

Good news on the medical front #1: A dozen Israeli labs will be rolling out a combinatorially clever form of pool testing for SARS-CoV-2. Each person’s sample is divided among several pools, such that positivity analysis across the set of pools pinpoints the virus-laden individual(s) within the full batch. The three researchers behind this methodology have formed the company Poold Diagnostics and intend to bring the approach to U.S. labs. (Dominic Suicu, Seattle, Mar 2020)

Good news on the medical front #2: The FDA has approved Abbott to manufacture its inexpensive ($5), fast (15-minute) COVID-19 test. It intends to produce a hefty number of tests (50M) monthly by October and release them with an app to be used as a “digital health pass” by those with negative results. We have some reservations, though: accuracy (false positives and negatives hover in the 2–3% range—according to Abbott), distribution (although the form factor is akin to a pregnancy test, they are to be administered professionally and therefore require infrastructure), and longevity of results’ utility (a negative test today doesn’t mean you won’t contract the virus tomorrow, meaning the health pass should be deemed ephemeral).

Questionable news on the medical front: In the meantime, the CDC altered its guidance on testing this week, specifying that “healthy people” need not be tested following close, extended exposure to others who test positive for COVID-19—this, despite broad consensus among immunologists and epidemiologists that up to half of all transmission stems from asymptomatic/presymptomatic individuals. (Dominic Suicu, Seattle, Mar 2020; Anthony Goldbloom, podcast, Spring 2020)

Amidst United States Postal System stress, Amazon is going it alone on deliveries, delivering an increasing share of its still-growing package load.

We wonder if those Amazon delivery trucks are using Google Maps? If so, they’ll experience yet more color and context soon, thanks to Google’s recent use of satellite images and machine learning to add more details. (Alexandre Bayen, Los Angeles, Mar 2018)

Did you know that, 15 years ago, the U.S. defense community had a top secret deal with Apple to utilize iPods to record and cloak data? Neither did we. (Charles Gandy and Eric Haseltine, Washington, D.C., Sep 2019)

Were you impacted by Zoom’s service disruption on Monday, August 24? If yes, you are not alone. Millions of users were locked out of the ubiquitous communication tool due to an “application-level bug.” It is a good reminder that while many of us are working in a physically decentralized way, our dependence on certain tools is anything but diversified.

Dan Gould and Michele Ruiz recently taught us plenty about unconscious bias (virtual conference, Jun 2020). LinkedIn is now addressing AI algorithms that perpetuate unconscious bias in their search results.

Fake it til you make it? One college student proved just how easy that can be using OpenAI’s third generation of its Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT-3) deep-learning-based autoregressive language model that produces human-like text. So, is GPT-3 crushing former AI capabilities? Some people think so. But others disagree, including Gary Marcus (San Francisco, Dec 2019; Brooklyn, Jun 2018; San Diego, Feb 2015; Boston, Apr 2014).

Federal capital continues to find places to land. The latest $1B is devoted to quantum and artificial intelligence research, as both areas have been identified as national security priorities. Still, China has announced that it will pour $10B into a single quantum research lab. (Prem Kumar, San Francisco, Dec 2018)

Want to learn more about quantum? Then tune in for our session from John Preskill, who popularized the term “quantum supremacy.” He is among the many game-changing speakers joining us for our September event.

Looking for a way to give back? Code for America will be conducting their 8th annual National Day of Civic Hacking on Sep 12, 2020. Learn more here. (Michal Migurski, Washington, D.C., Sep/Oct 2014)

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The TTI/Vanguard Team