Tech Stories From Around the Web

Apr 17, 2022

TRANSPORTATION

Drones Are Turning Into Personal Flying Machines
Clive Thompson | Wired
“For eons, sci-fi illustrations depicted people zipping around cities in little flying vehicles. Now those Golden Age fliers might finally be arriving—and ‘they’re just big drones,’ says Chris Anderson, a longtime drone pioneer and COO of eVTOL firm Kittyhawk (and Wired’s former editor in chief). Consider this a lesson in innovation: Big breakthroughs don’t always come from where you’d expect.”

VIRTUAL REALITY

The US Military Is Building Its Own Metaverse
Will Knight | Wired
“On May 10, two fighter pilots performed a high-altitude proto-metaverse experiment. A few thousand feet above the desert of California, in a pair of Berkut 540 jets, they donned custom AR headsets to connect to a system that overlaid a ghostly, glowing image of a refueling aircraft flying alongside them in the sky. One of the pilots then performed a refueling maneuver with the virtual tanker while the other looked on. Welcome to the fledgling military metaverse.”

HEALTH

First Patient Dosed With Experimental Cancer-Killing Virus in New Trial
Ed Cara | Gizmodo
“Vaxinia is billed as an oncolytic virus, meaning it prefers to target and infect tumor cells. Scientists have been hopeful about using these kinds of viruses to directly kill off cancer cells for more than a century, but with limited success so far. In recent years, some teams have decided to explore a slightly different plan of attack. This genetically modified virus not only infects and harms cancer cells, but also forces these cells to become more recognizable to the immune system.”

ENERGY

Nuclear Fusion Is Already Facing a Fuel Crisis
Amit Katwala | Wired
“It doesn’t even work yet, but nuclear fusion has encountered a shortage of tritium, the key fuel source for the most prominent experimental reactors. …Atmospheric levels peaked in the 1960s, before the ban on testing nuclear weapons, and according to the latest estimates there is less than 20 kg (44 pounds) of tritium on Earth right now.”

IMPACT

Wingcopter Details Plans to Deploy 12,000 Drones Across Africa
Brian Heater | TechCrunch
“Wingcopter this week announced a partnership with Continental Drones designed to establish a massive delivery network spanning 49 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. The deal sets the lofty goal of deploying 12,000 of Wingcopter’s 198 drone systems over the course of the next 5 years.”

ENVIRONMENT

The Wonder Material Graphene May Have Found Its Killer App
Editorial Staff | The Economist
“Concrete is as far from superconductivity on the technological sexiness spectrum as it is possible to get. Yet it is an important material and of great concern to those attempting to slow down global warming, because the process of making it inevitably releases carbon dioxide. And graphene may hold the key to reducing that contribution considerably.”

SCIENCE

How to Build a Wormhole in Just 3 (Nearly Impossible) Steps
Paul Sutter | Ars Technica
“You’ve got yourself a fancy new spaceship and you want to start on a five-year tour of the galaxy. But there’s a problem: Space is big. Really big. And even at the fastest speeds imaginable, it takes eons of crawling across the interstellar voids to get anywhere interesting. The solution? It’s time to build a wormhole. …It’s a staple of science-fiction, and it’s rooted in science-fact. How difficult could it be? Here’s a hint: incredibly difficult.”

FUTURE

Lavaforming: One Architect’s Wild Idea to Construct Buildings From Molten Lava
Elissaveta M. Brandon | Fast Company
“[Arnhildur Pálmadóttir] has unveiled three ideas for how the lava would be harnessed: digging trenches for lava to flow into when a volcano erupts, drilling into magma (before it erupts and turns into lava), and 3D-printing bricks with molten lava. The proposal is focused on Iceland but it could apply to the 1,500 other active volcanoes that are scattered around the globe.”

ENERGY

These Materials Were Meant to Revolutionize the Solar Industry. Why Hasn’t It Happened?
Casey Crownhart | MIT Technology Review
“For many, compounds called perovskites have long held promise as potentially cheaper, lighter, more efficient solar materials. But despite the excitement—and a flurry of startups to commercialize the technology—some experts caution that perovskite-based solar cells could still be nearly a decade away from having a significant commercial impact, if it ever happens.”

COMPUTING

This Two-Inch Diamond Disc Could Hold a Staggering Billion Blu-Ray’s Worth of Data
Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo
“Using quantum memory techniques, it’s estimated that a two-inch diamond wafer will have enough data density to store the equivalent of one billion Blu-Ray discs worth of data, or roughly 25 exabytes. That’s staggering, and could theoretically solve the world’s data storage needs, but despite the Adamant Namiki Precision Jewelry Co. planning to commercialize this new manufacturing technique as early as next year, it will be quite a while before you can order a new smartphone with 25 exabytes of data onboard.”

ROBOTICS

Impressively Strong Robot Just Shattered a World Record by Jumping Over 100 Feet in the Air
Andrew Liszewski | Gizmodo
“The robot’s jumping performance is believed to have reached the maximum possible performance of the materials used. When the tension in the bows is released, the robot accelerates from 0 to 60MPH in just nine milliseconds, exerting an acceleration force of 315g (most humans can’t endure more than 9gs) and leaping to a height of almost 100-feet.”

NANOTECHNOLOGY

World’s Smallest Gears Measure Mere Nanometers to Power Molecular Machines
Michael Irving | New Atlas
“Molecular machines and nanorobots could be extremely useful in the coming decades, helping to construct electronic components, transport drugs through the body, or manipulate individual cells or molecules. To that end, scientists have developed nanoscale versions of many machine parts, such as motors, pistons, pumps, wrenches, and propellers. Now, the FAU team has added another vital machine part to the list—gear wheels.”

TECHNOLOGY

Why Twitter Is More Powerful Than the Printing Press
Jessica E. Lessin | The Information
“…those who dismiss [Elon] Musk’s takeover of Twitter as just a modern example of a rich mogul buying printing presses or television stations fall into a dangerous trap. They forget that the internet is unlike any communication technology that has come before it; they underestimate the power of the technology to scale and to control the public conversation.”

GADGETS

MIT Develops a Speaker Thinner Than Sheet Music
Haje Jan Kamps | TechCrunch
“This thin-film loudspeaker produces sound with minimal distortion while using a fraction of the energy required by a traditional loudspeaker. The hand-sized loudspeaker the team demonstrated, which weighs about as much as a dime, can generate high-quality sound no matter what surface the film is bonded to.”

SPACE

Could Key Ingredients for Life Have Arrived From Space? Scientists Say Yes
Will Dunham | Reuters
“A fresh examination of meteorites that landed in the United States, Canada and Australia is bolstering the notion that such objects may have delivered to Earth early in its history chemical ingredients vital for the advent of life. Scientists previously had detected on these meteorites three of the five chemical components needed to form DNA, the molecule that carries genetic instructions in living organisms, and RNA, the molecule crucial for controlling the actions of genes. Researchers said on Tuesday they have now identified the final two after fine-tuning the way they analyzed the meteorites.”

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

The Emerging Types of Language Models and Why They Matter
Kyle Wiggers | TechCrunch
“Several types are emerging as dominant, including large, general-purpose models like OpenAI’s GPT-3 and models fine-tuned for particular tasks (think answering IT desk questions). …These different approaches have major differences in strengths, shortcomings and requirements—here’s how they compare and where you can expect to see them deployed over the next year or two.”

AUGMENTED REALITY

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel Thinks the Metaverse Is ‘Ambiguous and Hypothetical’
Richard Lawler and Alex Heath | The Verge
‘Just ask a room of people how to define it, and everyone’s definition is totally different,’ [Spiegel said]. [He] also told The Verge’s Alex Heath that companies making metaverse pitches ‘are really talking about something that doesn’t exist yet,’ as opposed to augmented reality, where ‘there are 250 million people engaging with AR every day in just the Snapchat application.’ Those AR interactions include everything from the goofy selfie effects that Snap made popular years ago to more advanced shopping experiences.”

COMPUTING

How Apple’s Monster M1 Ultra Chip Keeps Moore’s Law Alive
Will Knight | Wired
“Apple’s most powerful chip to date has 114 billion transistors packed into over a hundred processing cores dedicated to logic, graphics, and artificial intelligence, all of it connected to 128 gigabytes of shared memory. But the M1 Ultra is in fact a Frankenstein’s monster, consisting of two identical M1 Max chips bolted together using a silicon interface that serves as a bridge. This clever design makes it seem as if the conjoined chips are in fact just one larger whole.”

AUGMENTED REALITY

Behind Mark Zuckerberg’s Big Plans for AR Glasses
Alex Heath | The Verge
“Zuckerberg calls AR goggles a ‘holy grail’ device that will ‘redefine our relationship with technology,’ akin to the introduction of smartphones. …Employees are racing to deliver the first generation [of Facebook’s AR goggles] by 2024 and are already working on a lighter, more advanced design for 2026, followed by a third version in 2028.​​ The details, which together give the first comprehensive look at Meta’s AR hardware ambitions, were shared with The Verge by people familiar with the roadmap who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.”

HEALTH

This Startup Wants to Get in Your Ears and Watch Your Brain
Steven Levy | Wired
“For years, people have been shifting from tracking their health through sporadic visits to a doctor or lab to regularly monitoring their vitals themselves. The NextSense team is gambling that, with a gadget as familiar as an earbud, people will follow the same path with their brains. Then, with legions of folks wearing the buds for hours, days, and weeks on end, the company’s scientists hope they’ll amass an incredible data trove, in which they’ll uncover the hidden patterns of mental health.”

CYBERSECURITY

Russian Hackers Tried to Bring Down Ukraine’s Power Grid to Help the Invasion
Patrick Howell O’Neil | MIT Technology Review
“The hackers attempted to destroy computers at a Ukrainian energy company using a wiper, malware specifically designed to destroy targeted systems by erasing key data and rendering them useless. The impact remains unclear. Ukrainian officials say they thwarted the attack, which they say was intended to support Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. If successful, the hack would have caused the biggest cyber-induced blackout ever.”

BIOTECH

An mRNA Vaccine Boost May Help CAR T-Therapy Treat Solid Cancers
Angus Chen | Stat
“While CAR T-therapy has cured some people with blood cancers, this form of immunotherapy has so far produced lackluster results for solid tumors like lung or kidney cancer. But a new early-phase clinical trial presented on Sunday at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference suggests that CAR T-cells may be able to shrink some solid tumors—as long as it gets a boost from an mRNA vaccine from BioNTech.”

SPACE

‘No Easy Feat:’ Daring Helicopter Rocket-Catch Attempt Set for Next Week
Passant Rabie | Gizmodo
“Rocket Lab will launch its Electron rocket from New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula, carrying 34 small satellites from commercial operators like Alba Orbital, E-Space, and Unseenlabs. But on its way back, the rocket booster hopefully won’t stick the landing, instead a helicopter will catch it mid-air with a customized Sikorsky S-92, a large twin engine craft normally used to transport oil and gas or for search and rescue operations, according to Rocket Lab.”

AUTOMATION

Driverless Car Appears to Flee the Scene After Being Pulled Over by Cops
Jonathan M. Gitlin | Ars Technica
“San Francisco police stopped one of Cruise’s autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs, likely because the car’s headlights were not on despite it being night. In the video, first posted to Instagram on April 2, an officer can be heard saying, ‘There’s nobody in it.’ But a few seconds later, after the officer walks back to his police car, the autonomous vehicle—perhaps deciding that the traffic stop was over—tries to drive away before pulling over to a stop a few hundred feet away.”

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Can Computers Learn Common Sense?
Matthew Hutson | The New Yorker
“Oren Etzioni, the CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, in Seattle, told me that common sense is ‘the dark matter’ of AI.’ It ‘shapes so much of what we do and what we need to do, and yet it’s ineffable,’ he added. …If computer scientists could give their AI systems common sense, many thorny problems would be solved. …Such systems would be able to function in the world because they possess the kind of knowledge we take for granted.”

LONGEVITY

Aging Clocks Aim to Predict How Long You’ll Live
Jessica Hamzelou | MIT Technology Review
“The big idea behind aging clocks is that they’ll essentially indicate how much your organs have degraded, and thus predict how many healthy years you have left. Among the hundreds of aging clocks developed in the last decade, though, accuracy varies widely. And researchers are still grappling with a vital question: What does it mean to be biologically young?”

CRYPTOCURRENCY

North Korea Pulled Huge $600 Million Crypto Heist, Feds Say
Monica J. White | Digital Trends
“Lazarus is a state-sponsored group of hackers, and this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about their attacks. According to Chainalysis, the group stole at least $400 million worth of digital assets in 2021. However, this means that the 2022 Axie Infinity hack is a huge escalation, seeing as the group managed to steal over $600 million in one go.”

ROBOTICS

MIT Engineers Built a Robot for Emergency Stroke Surgeries
M. Moon | Engadget
“The team, which has published its paper in Science Robotics, has now presented a robotic arm that doctors can control remotely using a modified joystick to treat stroke patients. That arm has a magnet attached to its wrist, and surgeons can adjust its orientation to guide a magnetic wire through the patient’s arteries and vessels in order to remove blood clots in their brain. Similar to in-person procedures, surgeons will have to rely on live imaging to get to the blood clot, except the machine will allow them to treat patients not physically in the room with them.”

COMPUTING

How Apple’s Monster M1 Ultra Chip Keeps Moore’s Law Alive
Will Knight | Wired
“Apple’s most powerful chip to date has 114 billion transistors packed into over a hundred processing cores dedicated to logic, graphics, and artificial intelligence, all of it connected to 128 gigabytes of shared memory. But the M1 Ultra is in fact a Frankenstein’s monster, consisting of two identical M1 Max chips bolted together using a silicon interface that serves as a bridge. This clever design makes it seem as if the conjoined chips are in fact just one larger whole.”

AUGMENTED REALITY

Behind Mark Zuckerberg’s Big Plans for AR Glasses
Alex Heath | The Verge
“Zuckerberg calls AR goggles a ‘holy grail’ device that will ‘redefine our relationship with technology,’ akin to the introduction of smartphones. …Employees are racing to deliver the first generation [of Facebook’s AR goggles] by 2024 and are already working on a lighter, more advanced design for 2026, followed by a third version in 2028.​​ The details, which together give the first comprehensive look at Meta’s AR hardware ambitions, were shared with The Verge by people familiar with the roadmap who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.”

HEALTH

This Startup Wants to Get in Your Ears and Watch Your Brain
Steven Levy | Wired
“For years, people have been shifting from tracking their health through sporadic visits to a doctor or lab to regularly monitoring their vitals themselves. The NextSense team is gambling that, with a gadget as familiar as an earbud, people will follow the same path with their brains. Then, with legions of folks wearing the buds for hours, days, and weeks on end, the company’s scientists hope they’ll amass an incredible data trove, in which they’ll uncover the hidden patterns of mental health.”

CYBERSECURITY

Russian Hackers Tried to Bring Down Ukraine’s Power Grid to Help the Invasion
Patrick Howell O’Neil | MIT Technology Review
“The hackers attempted to destroy computers at a Ukrainian energy company using a wiper, malware specifically designed to destroy targeted systems by erasing key data and rendering them useless. The impact remains unclear. Ukrainian officials say they thwarted the attack, which they say was intended to support Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. If successful, the hack would have caused the biggest cyber-induced blackout ever.”

BIOTECH

An mRNA Vaccine Boost May Help CAR T-Therapy Treat Solid Cancers
Angus Chen | Stat
“While CAR T-therapy has cured some people with blood cancers, this form of immunotherapy has so far produced lackluster results for solid tumors like lung or kidney cancer. But a new early-phase clinical trial presented on Sunday at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference suggests that CAR T-cells may be able to shrink some solid tumors—as long as it gets a boost from an mRNA vaccine from BioNTech.”

SPACE

‘No Easy Feat:’ Daring Helicopter Rocket-Catch Attempt Set for Next Week
Passant Rabie | Gizmodo
“Rocket Lab will launch its Electron rocket from New Zealand’s Māhia Peninsula, carrying 34 small satellites from commercial operators like Alba Orbital, E-Space, and Unseenlabs. But on its way back, the rocket booster hopefully won’t stick the landing, instead a helicopter will catch it mid-air with a customized Sikorsky S-92, a large twin engine craft normally used to transport oil and gas or for search and rescue operations, according to Rocket Lab.”

AUTOMATION

Driverless Car Appears to Flee the Scene After Being Pulled Over by Cops
Jonathan M. Gitlin | Ars Technica
“San Francisco police stopped one of Cruise’s autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs, likely because the car’s headlights were not on despite it being night. In the video, first posted to Instagram on April 2, an officer can be heard saying, ‘There’s nobody in it.’ But a few seconds later, after the officer walks back to his police car, the autonomous vehicle—perhaps deciding that the traffic stop was over—tries to drive away before pulling over to a stop a few hundred feet away.”

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Can Computers Learn Common Sense?
Matthew Hutson | The New Yorker
“Oren Etzioni, the CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, in Seattle, told me that common sense is ‘the dark matter’ of AI.’ It ‘shapes so much of what we do and what we need to do, and yet it’s ineffable,’ he added. …If computer scientists could give their AI systems common sense, many thorny problems would be solved. …Such systems would be able to function in the world because they possess the kind of knowledge we take for granted.”

LONGEVITY

Aging Clocks Aim to Predict How Long You’ll Live
Jessica Hamzelou | MIT Technology Review
“The big idea behind aging clocks is that they’ll essentially indicate how much your organs have degraded, and thus predict how many healthy years you have left. Among the hundreds of aging clocks developed in the last decade, though, accuracy varies widely. And researchers are still grappling with a vital question: What does it mean to be biologically young?”

CRYPTOCURRENCY

North Korea Pulled Huge $600 Million Crypto Heist, Feds Say
Monica J. White | Digital Trends
“Lazarus is a state-sponsored group of hackers, and this isn’t the first time we’ve heard about their attacks. According to Chainalysis, the group stole at least $400 million worth of digital assets in 2021. However, this means that the 2022 Axie Infinity hack is a huge escalation, seeing as the group managed to steal over $600 million in one go.”

ROBOTICS

MIT Engineers Built a Robot for Emergency Stroke Surgeries
M. Moon | Engadget
“The team, which has published its paper in Science Robotics, has now presented a robotic arm that doctors can control remotely using a modified joystick to treat stroke patients. That arm has a magnet attached to its wrist, and surgeons can adjust its orientation to guide a magnetic wire through the patient’s arteries and vessels in order to remove blood clots in their brain. Similar to in-person procedures, surgeons will have to rely on live imaging to get to the blood clot, except the machine will allow them to treat patients not physically in the room with them.”

BIOTECH

This Startup Wants to Kick-Start a Molecular Electronics Revival
Karmela Padavic-Callaghan | MIT Technology Review
“The new vision, shared by Roswell and other on-chip molecular technology makers, is of biosensors that would enable people to check in on biomarkers like vitamin levels or evidence of an infection with only a little more hassle than it now takes to check their heart rate on a smartwatch. In Roswell’s case, thousands of biosensors could detect different molecular interactions simultaneously, and the chips would be disposable.”

DRONES

The Drone Operators Who Halted Russian Convoy Headed for Kyiv
Julian Borger | The Guardian
“One week into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia massed a 40-mile mechanized column in order to mount an overwhelming attack on Kyiv from the north. But the convoy of armored vehicles and supply trucks ground to a halt within days, and the offensive failed, in significant part because of a series of night ambushes carried out by a team of 30 Ukrainian special forces and drone operators on quad bikes, according to a Ukrainian commander.”

ROBOTICS

Boston Dynamics’ ‘Stretch’ Robot Hits Production, and It’s Already Sold Out
Ron Amadeo | Ars Technica
“Stretch is available for purchase, but the price isn’t public so you’ll have to call the Boston Dynamics sales team. Whatever it costs, Stretch is apparently already a hit. The company’s press release says that ‘Stretch has been in pilot testing with a select group of customers over the last several months. All units scheduled for 2022 delivery have already sold out thanks to strong demand from those early customers.’i”

AUTOMATION

FedEx Will Test Autonomous Cargo Flights Next Year
K. Holt | Engadget
“The company has teamed up with Elroy Air, which is developing a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) cargo drone, to transport packages between sorting centers via autonomous flights. Elroy Air unveiled the Chaparral C1 drone in January. The company claims the hybrid-electric system has a range of up to 300 miles and can carry a load of up to 500 pounds in its cargo pod (so FedEx would need a lot of them if it wants to eventually replace planes). The drone has 12 electric motors and 12 propellers.”

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Bitcoin Nears Full Supply With 19 Million Coin Milestone
Brady Dale | Axios
“Bitcoin hit a milestone today that gets the world ever closer to the moment when the final new bitcoin will enter the world—the supply of coins broke 19 million. …Bitcoin is hard-coded so that it has both a predictable emission schedule and a hard cap of 21 million bitcoin. …The 18 millionth bitcoin was mined in 2019, but the 21 millionth won’t be mined until roughly 2140, provided the network sticks to the plan. That’s because every four years the emission schedule drops in half.”

INTERNET

This Prepper Is Building a Post-Apocalyptic Internet
Matthew Gault | Motherboard
“i‘We don’t just need one big network, built as an overlay on the Internet, we need a multitude of networks, and we need to connect them in a myriad of ways. We need thousands of networks without kill-switches and control mechanisms, and we need to bind them together, both over the Internet, around it and outside of it,’ [Mark Qvist] said. ‘We need a Hypernet that is constantly morphing and evolving, reconnecting, healing and developing itself. …The internet is great, but we need a lot more than just one of them.’i”

DIGITAL CURRENCY

The Future of Digital Cash Is Not on the Blockchain
Gilad Edelman | Wired
“The only kind of money that leaves no paper trail is paper. A bill introduced in Congress on Monday seeks to re-create the virtues of cash, privacy and all, in digital form. The ECASH Act would direct the US government to experiment with issuing digital dollars that are stored on hardware, not in bank accounts, and can be used without an internet connection.”

ROBOTICS

The 11 Commandments of Hugging Robots
Evan Ackerman | IEEE Spectrum
“i‘Hugging HuggieBot 3.0 is (in my humble and unbiased opinion) really enjoyable,’ author Alexis E. Block tells IEEE Spectrum. ‘We are not trying to fool anyone by saying that it feels like hugging a person, because it does not. You’re hugging a robot, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyable.’ …The researchers tested out HuggieBot 3.0 with actual human volunteers who seemed perfectly okay being partially crushed by an experimental hugging robot. Some of them couldn’t seem to get enough, in fact.”

AUGMENTED REALITY

Looking Through Mojo Vision’s Newest AR Contact Lens
Tekla S. Perry | IEEE Spectrum
“This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the Mojo lens in person. But since that last demo in 2020, the engineering team has moved from wireless power to batteries on board, increased the resolution of the display from 8,000 pixels per inch to 14,000, thinned commercial motion sensors and developed its own radio and power management, and created several apps.”

COMPUTING

Quantum Computing Has a Hype Problem
Sankar Das Sarma | MIT Technology Review
“It took the aviation industry more than 60 years to go from the Wright brothers to jumbo jets carrying hundreds of passengers thousands of miles. The immediate question is where quantum computing development, as it stands today, should be placed on that timeline. Is it with the Wright brothers in 1903? The first jet planes around 1940? Or maybe we’re still way back in the early 16th century, with Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine? I do not know. Neither does anybody else.”

TECH

Chatbots Could One Day Replace Search Engines. Here’s Why That’s a Terrible Idea.
Will Douglas Heaven | MIT Technology Review
“The vision of a know-it-all AI that dishes out relevant and accurate information in easy-to-understand bite-size chunks is shaping the way tech companies are approaching the future of search. And with the rise of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, language models are becoming a go-to technology for finding stuff out in general. But critics are starting to push back, arguing that the approach is wrong-headed.”


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