Signals From The Frontier

Covering Deep Tech signals that indicate the future may be different from today:

DishBrain is a hybrid creation that combines 800,000 living brain cells with silicon substrates and has demonstrated intelligent like behaviour. The Technology, Opportunities, and Challenges of Synthetic Biological Intelligence is a recent paper that considers some of the ethical implications of this work.

It is now fairly straightforward to encrypt data in motion and at rest but managing encrypted data whilst it’s being processed remains a key challenge. MongoDB’s Queryable Encryption approach allows servers to handle queries on data whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the data both from the service operators and the database itself.

  • Messaging app Signal has announced it has updated it’s open source protocol to include quantum resistance by using Post-Quantum Extended Diffie-Hellman encryption. This is probably for the best as we are seeing advances both in quantum hardware but also in the algorithms. A recent paper proposes a way to factor very large numbers that may be more efficient than Shor’s Algorithm.
  • I lived in Singapore for ten years and so have experienced the clogging clouds of smog generated by the annual burning of palm trees across SE Asia. 2015 was a particularly bad year in which fires in Indonesia put 600 million tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere and an estimated 100,000 people died from the air pollution across SE Asia. So great news that a team from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh have developed a 100% plant-based alternative to palm oil that they claim is 70% better for the environment and 80% lower in saturated fats.
  • Maersk has launched the world’s first methanol powered containership, the Laura Maersk. The other big contender for marine fuel of the future is Ammonia. But Ammonia has some serious health and safety risks associated with it as this article highlights.

Deeptech Reads

Articles covering emerging technologies in more depth:

  • In good news for our current understanding of physics, Scientists have demonstrated that both matter and antimatter respond to the force of gravity in the same way.
  • How will we feed astronauts on Mars and beyond? Spacefarming: The future of Food Exhibition in the Netherlands is exploring new ways to produce nutritious and sustainable food on Earth and in harsher environments. The Food Ingredients website provides a “taster” of some of the technologies on show.
  • I bought my daughter an original Tamagotchi last weekend which reminded me of the Tamagotchi Effect – our human tendency to form an emotional attachment with even simple objects. Today, as Professor Emily Bender says: “We now have machines that can mindlessly generate words, but we haven’t learned how to stop imagining a mind behind them.” That’s why this report from Public Citizen exposing the dangers of deceptively anthropomorphic systems is well worth a read.
  • Is AI a form of alchemy or strictly in the domain of engineering and science? This debate was sparked by a VentureBeat conversation with Thomas Krendl Gilbert and had industry luminaries such as Yann LeCun and Ilya Sutskever taking positions on either side. As for me, I follow the wise words of Alan Moore in defining Magic as Art. In that case, the “art” of coding, symbol manipulation and linguistic focus of much of modern deep learning clearly places it on the magic side of the equation.
  • Gartner estimates that cyberattacks on the 15 billion current IoT devices will cost over $50B in 2023. Brute forcing weak passwords remains the primary attack vector and the situation has become so bad that cybercriminals are deploying features in their IoT malware designed to thwart rival malware! Another challenge with IoT is powering the devices. Researchers from the University of Michigan have made significant progress in developing ferroelectric semiconductors that are just 5 nanometers thick. This could enable extremely efficient, low-power devices, as well as devices capable of storing and processing both traditional and quantum information.
  • Research commissioned by Parkwalk, the UK’s largest investor in spinouts has highlighted that funding in the sector is falling. A decade of consistent growth has seen over £13Bn invested into UK spinouts but the total amount invested has fallen year on year in 2022, and is set to fall again in 2023 as a result of higher interest rates and lower risk appetite but also off the back of a record 2021.
  • Tesla has a goal of fully automating its production line. This article explores how Tesla is able to develop a new car model from the ground up in 18 to 24 months (compared to 3-4 years for the traditional car manufacturers). One of the major hurdles that remain for full production automation is a way to run and connect cables within the cars for the increasing amounts of complex electronics that are embedded within them.
  • And finally a trilogy of books on material science to add to your reading list:
    • Between Making and Knowing is about the tools and history of materials science looking at how each technique is used and has developed over time. It also explores how making things is not simply a precondition of knowledge but a form of knowledge in of itself.
    • Between Nature and Society is a philosophical biography of materials that explores the central role that materials play in human society. The book examines how fifteen materials have shaped human history and culture.
    • Between Science and Industry explores the role of institutions in promoting material science and engineering and investigates the emergence of material science as a discipline.

Deeptech Deals

A round up of deep tech deals and new programs: