TTI/Vanguard Newsletter: May 26, 2023

IBM is putting big money ($100M) behind its quantum computing initiative in conjunction with the Universities of Tokyo and Chicago, with the intention of also drawing Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory into the fold. The hope is that, in ten years, those funds will transform into a 100K-qubit quantum-centric supercomputer.  Nearer term—next month, in fact—TTI/Vanguard will hear from a firm intent on upping the ante by an order of magnitude, not in dollars spent, but rather in qubits delivered: one million. TTI/V members should register now to hear PsiQuantum’s Terry Rudolph speak in Montreal along with the rest of the Rebooting Computing lineup. If you’re not a current member and wish to become one, contact Kelly Baughman.

Think what you will about TikTok, but the platform is serving as a stage for people who have shortcutted the creative process by using image generators like DALL-E (Aditya Ramesh, Washington, D.C., Sep 2022) and generative text synthesizers like ChatGPT (Data, AI, and Robotics, Boston, Mar 2023) to tell stories about what the world might be like today if nations that were at the losing end of imperialist struggles had, instead, triumphed over their oppressors. Click here to read the article.

At the intersection of human intelligence,representational language, and marginalized communities, Alaskan Inuit school children developed a new numeral system, dubbed Kaktovik numerals. Their spoken language, Iñupiaq, uses an oral counting system built around the human body in which the fundamental numbers are 5, 10, 15, and 20 (digits on one arm, two arms, both arms and one leg, and the entire body, respectively). The symbols the children devised to correspond with Kaktovik numerals lend visual intuition to arithmetic operations, most notably long division. Scores on standardized math tests rocketed upward for kids who were co-taught Kaktovik and the conventional Hindu-Arabic decimal system. None of this is news, since it happened three decades ago, so why report on it now? The latest release of Unicode, v15.0, provides a virtual identifier for each Kaktovik number and Google is building a font for the numerals into this year’s release of Android, thereby thrusting Kaktovik numerals and the culture that underpins them into the hands of whomever might wish to embrace them. (John Gustafson, San Francisco, Dec 2013; John Wu, Beijing, Jul 2006) Click here to read the article.

And, think what you will about Meta (Jonathan Taplin, Los Angeles, Mar 2018; Boston, Apr 2017; Pasadena, Feb 2002), but its new AI models are expanding generative AI into not only the world’s common languages but into its esoteric ones as well, which can help preserve those at the edge of extinction. (Achal Prabhala, Washington, D.C., May 2012). The training set for this project? The New Testament Bible—text with a definite (and some would say a definitive) point of view and hence potentially a source of bias. And, speaking of Taplin, he’ll be joining TTI/Vanguard in Half Moon Bay, December 11–13, for [next], where he’ll share his thoughts on “the end of reality.” Time to pencil it in on your calendar.

Move over, F; it’s G’s turn. The first baby conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) was born nearly 45 years ago; the first to be conceived through in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) could conceivably [pun intended] be born by the time Louise Johnson Brown turns 50 or so. Japanese researchers began with ordinary cells from male mice, induced them to become pluripotent stem cells, and then turned those into egg cells: each egg cell was derived from a male mouse cell by duplicating its existing X chromosome and jettisoning its Y. After fertilization with male sperm cells, 630 embryos were transplanted into female mice. From these, seven live mouse pups were born; and, of these, one female and one male offspring ultimately proved fertile as adults. Clearly much work is needed before an analogous procedure becomes commonplace for humans—if it ever does, as the eugenic potential for such a procedure when combined with CRISPR/Cas-based gene editing looms large. Click here to read the article.

The ideal renewable energy source is ambient (like solar) and continuous (like hydro), but neither of these examples is both available everywhere and all of the time. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, happened upon what might become a ubiquitous and sustainable source of electricity: atmospheric moisture, aka humidity. Three years ago Jun Yao’s lab demonstrated that thin-film devices made from bacterium-sourced nanoscale protein wires can generate continuous electric power; they have now improved upon this concept with an Air-gen device constructed with sub-100-nanometer-long holes that can elicit electricity from ambient atmospheric moisture. The key turned out to be the geometry of the porous device, not the material itself, suggesting a future of low-cost electricity generation. Click here to read the article.

It’s only a short-term deal (through 2026) to manage the Colorado River, but it’s one adequately palatable step—thanks to Inflation Reduction Act grants to water rights holders for cutting back usage—toward the U.S. Southwest collectively adapting to the realities of its low-water future. The real negotiations start now. Sarah Porter (Scottsdale, Dec 2022) is quoted in the article as cautiously optimistic: “Before 2026 we could be back in that danger zone again.” Click here to read the article.

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.”—Benjamin Franklin​​​​​