Elon Musk’s Neural Link has issues in human trials. Hashtag Trending for Friday, May 10, 2024

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Google’s DeepMind makes a big step forward in understanding life at the molecular level,  Apple touches a nerve with its latest ad which can only be described as “tone deaf,” Elon Musk’s Neurolink’s first human experiment has some problems and a stark warning about the absolute devastation of the US economy if tensions lead to conflict in Taiwan.

All this and more on this “Murphy’s Law” edition of Hashtag Trending. I’m your host, Jim Love, let’s get into it.

In the quest to unravel the mysteries of how life works at the molecular level, researchers have a powerful new tool at their disposal. Google’s artificial intelligence lab DeepMind has unveiled the latest version of its AlphaFold program that can predict the complex interactions between proteins, DNA, RNA and other biomolecules. It’s an impressive technological leap…but one that still comes with some key caveats. Let’s take a look.

AlphaFold first made waves in 2020 when it cracked what was called the “protein folding problem” – determining a protein’s 3D shape from its amino acid sequence alone. This new AlphaFold 3 model exponentially expands on that, striving to model the interplay between nearly all of the molecules that drive biological functions within our cells.

As DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis puts it, understanding these dynamic interactions is crucial, as it’s the binding, folding and changing shapes of molecules that dictate whether vital processes work properly or go awry, potentially leading to disease. Accurately modeling these could open up paths to new drugs, vaccines or hardier crops.

However, the AlphaFold team acknowledges this latest AI is not a magic solution quite yet. In tests published in Nature, its predictive accuracy ranged from just 40 to 80 percent depending on the type of molecular interaction. The model also has a tendency to “hallucinate” and generate biologically implausible structures, particularly in flexible protein regions.

So while a powerful tool, AlphaFold 3 at this stage is more about rapidly narrowing down possibilities for deeper study using traditional techniques, rather than an absolute answer key.

Still, the DeepMind researchers remain optimistic about continuing to improve AlphaFold’s capabilities, with aspirations of one day modeling entire virtual cells. As imaging technologies also advance to provide more high-quality data on molecular dynamics, that could further propel what AlphaFold’s AI can learn.

For now, this latest iteration provides an exciting but still limited window into the countless interactions that give rise to all life on Earth. It’s a scientific frontier where human researchers and artificial intelligence are working in tandem to push the boundaries of knowledge.

Sources include: Axios

Apple has found itself on the receiving end of harsh criticism from celebrities and artists over a new iPad advertisement meant to showcase the device’s creative capabilities.

The one-minute ad depicts a variety of objects – musical instruments, art supplies, books – being compressed and crushed by a hydraulic press into an ultra-thin shape, symbolizing how all of that creative potential has been condensed into Apple’s latest iPad tablet.

But rather than celebrating the iPad’s possibilities, many are seeing the visuals of destroyed guitars, sketch pads and other artistic tools as a visceral metaphor for how technology is threatening creative pursuits.

Actor Hugh Grant condemned the ad as “the destruction of the human experience, courtesy of Silicon Valley.” Filmmaker Justine Bateman, a vocal critic of AI encroaching into the entertainment industry, blasted it as “crushing the arts.”

Even the ad’s attempt at inspiration from Apple CEO Tim Cook, who promoted it on X by saying “imagine all the things it’ll be used to create,” was met with derision. One songwriter likened the instrument crushing to “burning books.”

The furor touches a nerve at a time of widespread unease, particularly in creative fields, about automation and AI potentially replacing human artistic expression and skills. While embracing technology as a tool, many are fearful of it overtaking the role of artists and musicians themselves.

Apple has not publicly responded to the backlash. But the heated reaction demonstrates the sensitivity around emerging tech’s impact on creativity – and how corporations will be closely scrutinized for even perceived missteps that minimize or undervalue human artistry.

So while likely intended to be an avant-garde way to dramatize the iPad’s compressed capabilities, Apple’s ad instead triggered widespread scorn for its provocative and open-to-interpretation imagery of longstanding creative tools being rendered obsolete.

Sources include: The BBC

It’s been a milestone year for Neuralink, the brain-computer interface company founded by Elon Musk. But that pioneering work hitting a few speed bumps, as the company discloses a problem with the first-ever human implantation of its device.

In January, Neuralink implanted its brain-computer interface, called the Link, into a 29-year-old patient named Noland Arbaugh. It was a major step forward in testing the safety and viability of the technology, which is designed to allow those with paralysis to control computers and devices directly with their brain waves.

Initially, Neuralink reported the procedure went “extremely well.” They even live-streamed Arbaugh using the Link’s cursor control capabilities powered by his neural signals.

However, in a blog post this week, Neuralink revealed that in the weeks following surgery, a number of the hair-thin electrode threads responsible for reading those brain signals had retracted from Arbaugh’s brain tissue.

Fewer effective electrodes meant diminished performance in assessing the Link’s full speed and accuracy. So Neuralink says they’ve had to modify algorithms, enhance user interfaces, and refine techniques for translating neural activity as a workaround.

The company did not specify exactly how many of the 64 electrode threads had pulled back, but maintained the partial retraction has not posed a safety risk to the patient. Still, it’s an unintended wrinkle in this pioneering human trial.

Neuralink says Arbaugh continues using the system for up to 10 hours per day on weekends, and the blog post quotes him calling it a way to “reconnect with the world” despite the glitches.

Of course, brain-computer interfaces are an immensely complex technological frontier still in its earliest stages. Problems and setbacks are inevitable as teams like Neuralink’s push the boundaries into uncharted medical territory.

This revelation shows the long road of rigorous testing still ahead, to ensure not just the effectiveness of BCIs, but their safety over the long term when implanted into the brain. It’s a reminder that for all the ambition around this sci-fi-like technology, the human factor requires extreme caution and precision.

Neuralink has not commented beyond the blog post. But particularly under the spotlight of Elon Musk’s leadership, you can be sure they’ll be intensely scrutinized over how they navigate and learn from this earliest human implant experience as the work continues.

Sources include: CNBC

Escalating tensions over Taiwan took on new urgency this week, as a senior U.S. official warned that any potential Chinese invasion and seizure of the island’s semiconductor facilities would be “absolutely devastating” to the American economy.

The stark assessment came from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo during testimony before the House of Representatives. When asked about the impact if China were to take control of TSMC – the world’s most advanced chipmaker based in Taiwan – Raimondo did not mince words.

“It would be absolutely devastating. Right now, the United States buys 92% of its leading edge chips from TSMC in Taiwan.”

Her comments underscore the outsized role TSMC plays in supplying vital semiconductor components that power everything from smartphones and computers to automobiles and military hardware. The Taiwan-based company is the go-to producer of the most cutting-edge chips found in many of the world’s most advanced technologies.

Raimondo’s dire economic warning comes as the U.S. has ramped up government subsidies and incentives aimed at bolstering domestic chip production as a way to reduce this dependency on Taiwan and other Asian suppliers.

Just last month, her department awarded TSMC’s Arizona subsidiary $6.6 billion to support the company’s new $65 billion semiconductor plant being built in Phoenix. It’s part of the U.S. CHIPS Act providing over $50 billion to re-shore more chipmaking capacity stateside.

But even with TSMC’s multi-billion dollar investment in America, any disruption to its Taiwan operations resulting from heightened U.S.-China tensions would still risk far-reaching economic fallout according to Raimondo. A major study estimated U.S. chip prices could spike nearly 60% in such a scenario.

Raimondo did not comment on the likelihood of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. But her frank assessment signals the existential Stakes the semiconductor industry – and the entire modern tech supply chain – has in the fate and protection of TSMC’s Taiwan facilities as geopolitical friction intensifies.

Sources include: Yahoo Finance

And that’s our show for today.

Show notes are posted at our new home at technewsday.com or .ca either works and you can even play the latest or past episodes on our home page.  We’re also on You Tube with our experimental video show, getting ready for bigger and better video over the summer.

We love your comments and suggestions. You can reach us at editorial@technewsday.ca

Join us for the weekend edition, we’ll once again be sharing with our other podcast Cyber Security Today with a special guest.  And I’ll be back with the news on Monday morning. I’m your host, Jim Love, have a fabulous Friday.

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