TTI/Vanguard Newsletter: February 17, 2023

No one would expect Google to let Microsoft run away with incorporating AI text generator ChatGPT into Bing unchallenged. “Bard,” based on a version of the large language model LaMDA, will soon augment Google search results. Still, Google’s Internet Evangelist and friend of TTI/Vanguard Vint Cerf (Los Angeles, Jun 2022; Washington, D.C., May 2012; Philadelphia, Apr 2006; Miami, Sep 2002; London, Jul 1994) finds it worrisome how good these AI chatbots are at creating entirely plausible falsehoods.

One New York Times journalist probed the depths of the quasi-psyche of ChatGPT and came away concerned that the AI might use humans to do its own nefarious bidding. He writes, “I worry that the technology will learn how to influence human users, sometimes persuading them to act in destructive and harmful ways, and perhaps eventually grow capable of carrying out its own dangerous acts.”

Still, regular folks don’t want to be left out of the generative AI craze: They have been applying ChatGPT to seemingly everything and anything. For instance, a fiber arts enthusiast (Nina Paley and Theodore Gray, Michigan, May 2015) focused the generative AI on writing crochet patterns that would transform, stitchwise, into a reasonable finished product. Despite the wealth of crochet patterns sucked in by OpenAI’s model, the outcomes were pretty miserable, and crochet-specific neural net HAT3000 led crocheters to pull their hair out rather than cover it in a newly stitched creation. Even if you’re not into this sort of crafting, the lessons for the generative-AI-curious have broad applicability. 

Okay, moving on:

Two facts: (1) The typical modern wind turbine is expected to last roughly 20 years. (2) Wind turbine blades are big—really big. What, then, to do with those huge hunks of plastic resin once a turbine has been decommissioned? Vesta has announced the ability to recycle the epoxy that gives its blades their strength and long-term weather resistance, and reuse the recovered material to construct new blades. (George Berghorn, Berkeley, Mar 2019) Another solution is to repurpose old blades as playground components

In Scottsdale in Dec 2022, Emily Morris shared how her company Emrgy was installing distributed hydroelectric generators in established waterways, such as irrigation channels. Project Nexus is taking a slightly different approach to the same opportunity by covering such canals with solar panels to simultaneously generate local electricity and reduce evaporation. 

Quantum entanglement is in the early stages of being applied to Earthbound and satellite-based communications (Tanya Ramond, virtual conference, Sep 2021; Prem Kumar, San Francisco, Dec 2018). Progress is also being made by astronomers to exploit quantum mechanics in the service of high-resolution telescopes by removing the problem of photon phase instability among the multiple telescopes involved in an interferometry-based observation.

The best way to reduce range anxiety for drivers of electric cars is to get more miles from each charge, and for each charge to be lickity-split. Ionblox promises to deliver both of these outcomes simultaneously with a battery with pre-lithiated silicon dominant anodes. Reported specs, which have been confirmed by Idaho National Laboratory, is 50% greater energy density and five times more power compared with lithium-ion batteries, and fast-charge times of 10 minutes to reach 80% capacity. Batteries such as these might also be what’s needed to get electric planes up in the air (Sebastian Thrun, virtual conference, Nov 2020).

We all know that living trees absorb carbon dioxide. Even mechanical trees do that (Matthew Ryan, field trip, Arizona State University, Dec 2022). Now a researcher at Rice University is developing a novel engineered wood that can keep on keeping on even after the tree has been felled. After delignifying the wood (Tian Li, Washington, D.C., Sep 2018), it is then soaked in a solution containing microparticles of the metal–organic framework CALF-20 that both lends the wood structural stability and absorbs CO2.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”—Robert Frost