Tag Archives: Tech

Machines Learn Better if We Teach Them the Basics

QUANTA MAGAZINE

A wave of research improves reinforcement learning algorithms by pre-training them as if they were human.

Imagine that your neighbor calls to ask a favor: Could you please feed their pet rabbit some carrot slices? Easy enough, you’d think. You can imagine their kitchen, even if you’ve never been there — carrots in a fridge, a drawer holding various knives. It’s abstract knowledge: You don’t know what your neighbor’s carrots and knives look like exactly, but you won’t take a spoon to a cucumber.

Artificial intelligence programs can’t compete. What seems to you like an easy task is a huge undertaking for current algorithms.

Read the full story in Quanta Magazine

Physicists Controlled Lightning with Lasers on a Mountaintop

INVERSE

The car-sized laser can shoot up to 1,000 pulses per second.

LAST YEAR MARKED the 270th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod — but it’s more than a relic of history. The Franklin rod remains in use today because the simple design exploits some powerful physics: A tall metal rod lures in lightning and chunky wires dissipate the storm’s energy into the earth, sparing humans and surrounding structures.

But thanks to recent physics breakthroughs, a wild new technology could end the rod’s lightning safety monopoly.

Read the full story in Inverse

How the physics of farts could help prevent an outbreak

INVERSE

Meet the S.H.A.R.T. machine, a device helping AI analyze toilet activities.

AS DAVID ANCALLE opened video after video of diarrhea this year, it struck him: This is not what he expected to be doing for his Ph.D.

Ancalle, a mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech who researches fluid dynamics, is currently working to demystify the acoustics of urination, flatulence, and diarrhea. His team is training AI to recognize and analyze the sound of each bathroom phenomenon; in fact, research suggests that tracking the flow of our excretions could benefit public health.

Read the full story in Inverse

Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez Wants to Strengthen the Grid

WIRED

The UC San Diego researcher spoke at RE:WIRED Green about ways to use advanced control theory and machine learning to maximize sustainable energy sources.

THE UNITED STATES’ power grid is in trouble. Much of the country’s energy comes from nonrenewable resources that contribute to climate change. And as the resulting climate crisis brings more frequent heat waves, wildfires, and freezes, demand on the grid becomes greater and more erratic. The strain is heavy, but Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez has ideas for how to relieve the burden on the grid.

Hidalgo-Gonzalez directs the Renewable Energy and Advanced Mathematics (REAM) lab at UC San Diego. Her work focuses on finding new ways to incorporate more sustainable power into the grid, the kind of research that could create solutions for the blackouts that hit places like California and Texas during extreme temperature changes. “Unfortunately, we are expecting this almost every summer now,” Hidalgo-Gonzalez told attendees at the RE:WIRED Green conference on Wednesday.

Read the full story in WIRED

The Sustainable Future of Food Must Bring Everyone to the Table

WIRED

At this year’s RE:WIRED Green event, food scientists and environmental justice activists mapped out how we can end world hunger and preserve our planet.

HOW CAN WE feed the world sustainably? Right now, 325 million people are acutely hungry. 35 million Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The world’s food systems are uneven, fragile, and only becoming more fragile with the climate crisis.

“When we talk about from farm-to-fork, we need to transform the food system in a way that, yes, it supports our environment, yes, it supports our health, but also that it provides the economic return to all of the stakeholders across the food system,” says Ertharin Cousin. Cousin is the CEO and managing director of Food Systems for the Future, a nutrition impact investment fund she founded. She has worked on resolving global food insecurity and hunger for two decades.

She spoke at RE:WIRED Green on Wednesday about her work, the need for more innovation, and the opportunity to lift up historically marginalized food entrepreneurs.

Read the full story in WIRED

The AI Researcher Giving Her Field Its Bitter Medicine

QUANTA MAGAZINE

Anima Anandkumar wants computer scientists to move beyond the matrix, among other challenges.

Anima Anandkumar, Bren Professor of computing at the California Institute of Technology and senior director of machine learning research at Nvidia, has a bone to pick with the matrix. Her misgivings are not about the sci-fi movies, but about mathematical matrices — grids of numbers or variables used throughout computer science. While researchers typically use matrices to study the relationships and patterns hiding within large sets of data, these tools are best suited for two-way relationships. Complicated processes like social dynamics, on the other hand, involve higher-order interactions.

Luckily, Anandkumar has long savored such challenges. When she recalls Ugadi, a new year’s festival she celebrated as a child in Mysore (now Mysuru), India, two flavors stand out: jaggery, an unrefined sugar representing life’s sweetness, and neem, bitter blossoms representing life’s setbacks and difficulties. “It’s one of the most bitter things you can think about,” she said.

She’d typically load up on the neem, she said. “I want challenges.”

Read the full story in Quanta Magazine

This Blood Test Detects Cancer in Dogs. But Do You Want to Know?

WIRED

A startup just showed that its OncoK9 test accurately sounds the alarm for aggressive and advanced cancers. The catch? These often have no cure.

IT WAS TIME for Cici Pepperoni’s annual check-up, but Marina Inserra, the 7-year-old pit bull mix’s owner, wasn’t worried. Inserra worked as a veterinary assistant at the San Diego office where Cici was getting her exam, and as far as she knew, Cici was perfectly fine.

Along with the checkup, Inserra agreed to enter Cici in a clinical study by a company called PetDx that had partnered with her office. The company wanted healthy dogs to donate blood to help validate a test to screen for multiple cancers at once—a liquid biopsy.

Read the full story in WIRED

Drones Have Transformed Blood Delivery in Rwanda

WIRED

The autonomous aircraft have shuttled blood to rural, mountainous areas for years. A new analysis proves they’re faster than driving.

SIX YEARS AGO, Rwanda had a blood delivery problem. More than 12 million people live in the small East African country, and like those in other nations, sometimes they get into car accidents. New mothers hemorrhage. Anemic children need urgent transfusions. You can’t predict these emergencies. They just happen. And when they do, the red stuff stored in Place A has to find its way to a patient in Place B—fast.

Read the full story in WIRED

When Robots Multiply

GROW

These scientists created living robots out of frog cells. Now these “Xenobots” are reproducing.

IT WOULD PROBABLY have been the science story of the year—any other year. In January 2020, a team of biologists, roboticists and computer scientists announced that they had created the world’s first living robots. These Xenobots were cells culled from a frog, sculpted with the help of an evolutionary algorithm, and then set free to roam under the microscope. Liberated from the constraints of frogness, these cells had designs of their own. They collaborated. They interacted. They performed basic tasks. And eventually, in more recent experiments, they started to multiply.

This is the team’s latest revelation: Xenobots can autonomously assemble identical copies of themselves from individual cells floating in the spring water around them.

Read the full story in GROW.

To Test Cancer Drugs, These Scientists Grew ‘Avatars’ of Tumors

WIRED

Growing organoids in dishes and xenografts in mice lets scientists recreate a living person’s tumor—and test dozens of drugs against them at the same time.

IN 2018, ALANA Welm found herself in an exciting, yet burdensome, position. The University of Utah breast cancer research lab where she leads joint projects with her husband, Bryan Welm, had created lab-grown versions of real tumors isolated from living cancer patients. Each cancer had been translated into two kinds of biological models: xenografts, made by implanting tissue into mice, and organoids, miniature clumps of tissue grown in plastic dishes.

Each simulated cancer was a way to test which of about 45 drugs, some experimental and others approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, might perform best for the real patient. During testing on one patient’s organoids, the researchers isolated a drug that effectively killed its cancer cells. That was the exciting bit. The burden: Welm had no right to do anything about it. She couldn’t tell the patient or her doctor. “We were just doing this for research,” says Welm.

This particular drug had already earned FDA approval to be used against breast cancer, but it wasn’t approved for this patient’s type of cancer. So Welm dialed up her university’s Institutional Review Board, an ethics oversight group.“We called them and said: We found this, we really think we need to let them know,” Welm recalls. The board agreed; the team could bring the patient’s physician into the loop. “That really was an eye-opener,” Welm says. “Wow, we can actually make a difference!”

Yet by the time Welm reached the physician, it was too late. The patient passed away shortly after. “It was heartbreaking,” she says. But it was also motivating: The Welms’ team doubled down on efforts to refine their methods and turn their research into a clinical tool.

Read the full story in WIRED