Exponential Technology Report – 23 October 2019

This is the weekly report focusing on the news stories for the week that focus on exponential technologies.

A reminder that the exponential technologies fall into different categories, which are 3D printing and digital fabrication, Artificial intelligence (AI), Augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), Autonomous vehicles, Blockchain, Data Science, Digital biology and biotechnology, Digital medicine, Drone technology, Internet of things, Nanotechnology , Networks and computing systems, Quantum computing and Robotics.

For this report the format I use is to go through the exponential technologies in alphabetical order. All the links to the articles can be found by clicking on the image. I hope you enjoy it!

3D Printing and Digital Fabrication

We start this week with 3D Printing.

Article: “Huge 3D printers could produce Mars-bound rockets soon” - www.techradar.com

Relativity Space is an LA-based startup which is another in a growing list of firms to truly innovate with large-scale 3D printing, although in this case, it’s not a boat which is being printed as we recently saw – but a rocket.

Indeed, Relativity has just received $140 million worth of Series C funding towards its overarching aim of being the first company to launch an (almost) entirely 3D printed rocket into orbit.

Other outfits, like SpaceX, may 3D print certain parts, but not the whole rocket – or rather 95% of it, with the exceptions being some electronics, cables and rubber gaskets – with that process achieved by giant 3D metal printers called Stargate.

These are the largest such devices in the world, the company claims, and as Wired reports, the first version of Stargate is 15 feet tall and has three robotic arms used to weld metal (supplied by miles of thin custom-produced aluminum alloy wire).

Stargate produces all the large parts needed for the rocket, with standard commercially available metal 3D printers used for the smaller bits and pieces which require more precision.

The first rocket the company is set to produce – Terran 1 – will have 100 times fewer parts than a comparably-sized standard rocket, with the aim being to manufacture it from raw material to launch-ready in under 60 days.

Terran 1 will have a payload capacity of up to 1,250kg and will be capable of launching mid-sized satellites. Commercial launches are expected to begin in 2021, and the firm already has contracts with the likes of Telesat and mu Space.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Article: – “World's first artificial intelligence university to open in Abu Dhabi” – www.thenational.ae

The UAE is rolling out its biggest effort yet to develop a workforce versed in artificial intelligence, as the rapidly-advancing technology transforms economies worldwide.

The Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), a new graduate-level AI research institution in Abu Dhabi, is accepting applications for its first masters and PhD programmes this month, with classes scheduled to begin in September 2020.

As the first university to have a singular focus on AI, the institution aims to attract students from around the world to advance the technology and propel the UAE’s economic diversification efforts.

The UAE was among the first nations to see an opportunity in AI for its economy. In 2017, the government rolled out an AI strategy, dubbed UAE 2031, outlining plans to use the technology to make governance more efficient and naming eight sectors it aims to transform including space, renewable energy, water and education. The country also appointed the world’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Omar Al Olama.

The university will offer master of science and PhD programmes in three of the fastest-growing areas of AI: machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing.

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR, VR)

Article: “A Big Supporter of Virtual Reality Content Just Backed Away. Here’s Why Consumer VR Still Isn’t a Sure Thing” – www.fortune.com

The U.K.’s state broadcaster went all-in on virtual reality (VR) a couple years ago, producing award-winning films. But now, the BBC is killing off its big VR push.

The closure of the BBC VR Hub, quietly announced at the end of a Tuesday blog post hailing the unit’s achievements, comes at a time when the future of consumer VR remains questionable.

The same day, Google effectively axed its Daydream platform by announcing a flagship phone (the Pixel 4) that does not support it, and discontinuing the Daydream View mobile headset—essentially, a device for holding an Android phone really close to your eyes. A spokesperson told The Verge that there “hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped.”

Samsung, meanwhile, has excluded support for its similar Gear VR headset from its new Galaxy Note 10 handset. As Oculus’s chief technology officer John Carmack noted, people are put off by how quickly phone-based VR drains the battery of the handset. There’s also the problem that, when a phone is secured in front of someone’s eyes to display VR content, they can’t use it for other tasks.

So it could well be that the BBC VR Hub’s activity was ahead of its time but—fittingly, in line with the BBC’s public service remit—a useful resource for future VR efforts inside and outside the organization.

If, that is, VR become as popular as the tech industry hopes. And with the current abandonment of the cheapest form of consumer VR—the flawed but accessible model of strapping a phone to your face—that’s still a big “if.”

Autonomous Vehicles

Article: “Hyundai is investing $35 billion in autonomous driving and electric cars" - www. edition.cnn.com

Hyundai does not intend to be left behind in the high-stakes race to build mass-market electric and self-driving cars.

South Korea's largest car company said Tuesday that it plans to invest 41 trillion won ($35 billion) into "future mobility technology" by 2025.

That massive pledge puts it on par with some of the industry's top players. Volkswagen (VLKAF) is spending €30 billion ($34 billion) over the next five years to make an electric or hybrid version of every vehicle in its lineup.

Hyundai (HYMTF) said Tuesday it plans to release 23 kinds of electric vehicles by 2025. That would make up roughly half of its new lineup.

The automaker has a powerful partner in its efforts to transform its business. The announcement was backed by a pledge from South Korea's government to spend 2.2 trillion won ($1.9 billion) on innovative auto technology.

The race to get fully autonomous cars on the roads is underway globally, and carmakers are under pressure to either get on board or risk getting left behind.

Japan's SoftBank (SFTBF) has invested billions in partnerships with Toyota (TM) and GM (GM) to help develop driverless cars. Ford (F) and Baidu (BIDU) have teamed up to develop self-driving cars in China. And Volkswagen (VLKAF) started testing electric cars fitted with autonomous technology on a section of Hamburg's streets.

But the effort is also expensive, eating into carmakers' profits at a time when auto sales are dwindling globally.


Article: “Bitcoin surveillance helped feds take down a massive child abuse site

” - www.technologyreview.com

Law enforcement officials in the US say they relied on sophisticated techniques for tracking Bitcoin transactions to take down “the largest child sexual exploitation market by volume of content.” It’s a reminder that criminals who think Bitcoin is a foolproof way to cover their tracks are mistaken.

US federal prosecutors have indicted 23-year-old Jong Woo Son of South Korea for operating a child sexual abuse site called Welcome To Video. In addition to Son, who had already been arrested and convicted in South Korea on separate charges related to child sex abuse, 337 of the site’s users—residing in the US and 11 other countries—have been arrested and charged, according to the Department of Justice.

Users of Welcome To Video traded Bitcoin for illicit content. Each new user would get a unique Bitcoin address when they created an account.

Contrary to what people may think, Bitcoin is not anonymous. There are ways to make transactions harder to track, but it’s long been possible to track the flow of illicit crypto-money by applying sophisticated analytical tools to public blockchain data. Law enforcement officials can use these tools along with real-world clues to connect dots and even de-anonymize users. Last year, investigators unraveled a complicated web of Bitcoin transactions allegedly orchestrated by Russian intelligence officers as part of an attempt to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election.

Chainalysis, a blockchain analytics firm, says investigators on the Welcome To Video case used its tools to unmask cryptocurrency exchanges that were sending money to the site. Law enforcement officials then went to those exchanges, which usually require users to provide identification, to collect more information. The bottom line: just because you are using Bitcoin doesn’t mean your tracks are covered.

Drone Technology

Article: “Rogue drones to be targeted by new hi-tech 'detect and destroy' unit set up by Home Office” – www.telegraph.co.uk

Rogue drones will be brought down by “detect and destroy” technology under plans for a new national counter-drone force to prevent Gatwick-style disruption, ministers have announced.

The new mobile special unit, to be set up by the Home Office, will be available to any police force or law enforcement agency in the UK to counter potential drone threats at major events or malicious attacks such as the chaos at Gatwick airport last Christmas.

The unit is expected to have military-grade cameras, radar and radio frequency scanners to detect rogue drones, similar to those deployed by the Army at Gatwick.

To bring them down, there is electronic jamming equipment and shoulder-launched bazookas that fire projectiles which deploy a net as they near a drone, ensnare it and float it to the ground with a parachute.

A bazooka with a 100 metre range has been tested by police at Heathrow while a more powerful version capable of reaching 300 metres is being developed.

It follows an agreement last month by the Five Eyes group of nations - the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - to “identify what more could be done at the manufacturing stage to mitigate drone risk by design.”

From next month all owners of drones weighing more than 250 grammes will be required by law to register their device with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. Anyone who fails to do so faces fines of up to £1,000.

There were 168 police recorded drone incidents in England and Wales in 2018, and 165 drones were recovered at prisons in 2016 and 2017.

The use of drones has grown rapidly with more than 5,000 commercial operators currently registered in the UK. The industry is expected to contribute an extra £42 billion to the UK economy by 2030, with more than 76,000 commercial and public sector drones expected to be in use by this date.

Quantum Computing

Article: “Barclays demonstrates proof-of-concept quantum clearing algorithm” - www.computerweekly.com

A team of researchers from Barclays’ chief technology and innovation office, in collaboration with IBM, have published a paper describing a proof-of-concept quantum optimised application.

The paper, Quantum algorithms for mixed binary optimization, published earlier in October, discussed an algorithm the team had applied to transaction settlement for ensuring the integrity of trades in securities.

The paper described the problem of transaction settlement as one that is difficult to optimise. This is because it requires a combination of both the legal constraints that must be satisfied when settling delivery-versus-payment transactions and the additional optionality introduced by what the authors describe as “collateralising assets and utilising credit facilities”.

The more trades that are involved, the more complexity increases, said Braine. “If only a small number of trades exist, the calculations can probably be done in your head,” he said. “Scale up to 10-20 and you end up using paper. Beyond this is the realm of classical computing architectures. When there are hundreds of trades, classical computer algorithms begin to experience limitations.”

Braine added: “As it scales up further, you need to use heuristics, which includes techniques like simulated annealing.” This uses an optimisation process to identify a sufficient subset of transactions that can be cleared, he said. These transactions are then actually settled.

In cases where the securities trade involves 50,000 to 100,000 transactions, Braine said there would be chains of transactions, such as A to B to C to D to E, all of which must be executed in the correct order. “You also get cyclic dependency and collateralisation around credit lines.”

With a seven-qubit system, he said, the team explored the core optimisation problem in securities transaction trading. “In our case, we were able to identify certain features that were of sufficient complexity,” he said.

This was the optimisation that could then be run on IBM’s cloud-based quantum computer. “When looking at quantum optimisation, you’re not looking at whether it runs better for clearing three trades,” said Braine. “Of course not – you can do that in your head. Does it run it better for a few, say 10? No. What we are looking for is whether the quantum computing has the potential to handle tens of thousands of trades and whether we can solve the trade settlement problems and get a better result on a larger scale.”


Article: “Robot hand solves Rubik’s cube, but not the grand challenge” – www.bbc.com

A remarkable robot, capable of solving a Rubik’s cube single-handedly, has demonstrated just how far robotics has advanced - but at the same time, experts say, how far we still have to go.

OpenAI’s system used a computer simulation to teach the robot hand to solve the cube, running through routines that would take a single human some 10,000 years to complete.

Once taught, the robot was able to solve a cube that had been slightly modified to help the machine tell which way up it was being held.

Completion time varied, the research team said, but it generally took around four minutes to complete the task.

“The ability to solve the Rubik’s cube in the real world, on a robot hand, is actually extremely difficult,” said Matthias Plappert, team leader for robotics at OpenAI, speaking to the BBC.

“You need to very precisely control your fingers, you need to do it for a very long time without kind of messing up in between. and a lot of different things can happen in the process.”

Mr Plappert hailed the team’s method of gradually injecting complications into the process - simulated hindrances that would force the robot to adapt in order to complete the cube.

This technique - called automatic domain randomisation (ADR) - was used, the team said, to give the robot consistent, intricate dexterity that can handle changes in the environment that go beyond what a computer could predict and simulate.

He said OpenAI’s ADR technique was genuine progress, but handling items more complex and unpredictable than a Rubik’s cube will require more research.

“Will we get to the point where a robot could pick up a deck of cards and shuffle them like a Las Vegas croupier? Or anyone who's reasonably good at doing that? That could be 10-20 years off.

“We’re far from being able to replace kitchen workers who chop up vegetables, or even pick up and you know, do dishwashing. All those are very complex tasks.”

The BBC has not been able to independently verify the performance of OpenAI’s robot. And, while details were not disputed by the experts the BBC spoke to, OpenAI’s research paper was not peer-reviewed.

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