In this week's Abundance Insider: AI-powered "aging clocks," VR in professional testing, and the first "solar sailing" spacecraft.
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SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Is Set To Launch The First-Ever 'Solar Sailing' Spacecraft Powered Purely By Light
What it is: Just last month, SpaceX launched its third Falcon Heavy rocket, deploying 24 satellites into orbit and unleashing a novel type of spacecraft: the LightSail 2. The first successfully deployed “solar sailing” spacecraft, LightSail 2 leverages tiny amounts of force exerted by the Sun’s emitted photons, which transfer some of their momentum upon contact. While far more negligible than forces on Earth, this “solar radiation pressure” adds up in the zero gravity of space, providing continuous acceleration without any pre-loaded fuel.
Why it's important: One of the most significant obstacles for the future of long space missions is the (seemingly) insurmountable constraint of fuel. LightSail 2 and its upcoming iterations, however, could soon change how vehicles propel themselves through space, capable of self-orienting and driven by the Sun’s constant beams at zero cost. Now that the Planetary Society’s mission is proving successful, we are fast approaching an era in which spacecrafts will set sail on cross-galactic journeys or pursue nearby solar systems, guided indefinitely by the “fuel” of our own star. | Share on Facebook
With Little Training, Machine Learning Algorithms Can Uncover Hidden Scientific Knowledge
What it is: Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have now developed an AI algorithm that can learn outside its training parameters. Scanning scores of articles, the AI system analyzes the relationships between words, effectively teaching itself the subject. In application, the algorithm “read” 3.3 million abstracts of research articles within materials science, successfully learning complex concepts, from the periodic table of elements to the crystal structure of metals. The Artificial Intelligence solution even demonstrated an unprecedented ability to identify gaps in materials science research, accurately predicting the discovery of entirely new thermoelectric materials.
Why it's important: In success, algorithms such as this one could soon plug into any subject material, instantaneously becoming an expert, identifying existing research limitations, and proposing new ideas for expansion. Over a lifetime, human researchers can probe only a tiny fraction of what Artificial Intelligence technology is now capable of devouring in a day. Streamlining the time-intensive process of cross-referencing articles, however, AIs could free human scientists to pursue open gaps and outstanding research questions. Driven by a newfound ability to digest tomes of research spanning decades and disciplines, scientific knowledge and resulting innovation are about to explode in scale. How can you use Artificial Intelligence to ride this wave of data-driven innovation? | Share on Facebook
Cooling/Heating Window Film Captures And Releases Solar Energy
What it is: A research team led by Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen at Sweden’s Chalmers University has developed a window film capable of absorbing solar energy during the day and releasing it as heat into building interiors at night. A novel iteration on the same team’s MOlecular Solar Thermal (MOST) system, developed a few years ago, the clear film adapts the technology whereby solar energy is stored in a liquid medium, embedding a norbornadiene-quadricyclane molecule. When exposed to sunlight, this incorporated molecule absorbs the majority of solar energy emitted by the rays that bathe it, soon releasing the energy as heat once no longer in direct daylight.
Why it's important: Beyond the obvious application of energy-efficient materials to skyscraper exteriors and home windows, similar materials science breakthroughs stand to transform the energy industry in numerous other settings. Moreover, while popular debate often targets solar energy in the context of the environment, innovative films and coating materials could have tremendous economic impacts, meeting global demands at a fraction of current prices. Long-term, how might we utilize energy-efficient materials in spacecrafts, clothing, or even smart city infrastructure? | Share on Facebook
South Korean Tech Breakthrough Could Change Biofuels Forever
What it is: Scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have engineered a novel method of more efficiently (and abundantly) producing biofuels. As standard biodiesel requires the transistorizing of vegetable oils or animal fats, a key obstacle to production is the need for large amounts of organic material and agricultural products. The KAIST team may have largely nullified this problem, however, developing an engineered bacterium that can produce greater volumes of fatty acids than ever before — a potential boon for biofuel cultivation.
Why it's important: Fuels from biomass could one day surpass petroleum-based fuels as the world’s most ordinary combustible fuel source. To achieve this, however, significant innovations are needed to make biodiesel cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, and the ratio of biomass to cultivated energy has proved a major barrier (i.e., optimal efficiency = deriving the maximum amount of energy from as minimal an amount of biomass as possible). By dramatically reducing the amount of biomass needed to achieve the same fuel density, KAIST’s breakthrough could chart a new future for biofuels, unleashing energy abundance renewably and more cheaply than ever before. | Share on Facebook
Deep Aging Clocks: The Emergence Of AI-Based Biomarkers Of Aging And Longevity
What it is: Advances in deep learning have now begun to converge with a renaissance in longevity research, helping us identify new biomarkers of age and pharmaceutical discovery methods. By treating age as a dataset feature correlated with other biomarkers, deep learning algorithms can now glean much more from photographs, population-level blood chemistry, transcriptomic data (such as RNA sequencing), and wearables-tracked activity. When probed correctly, these new markers of aging — dubbed “deep aging clocks” — are now manifesting tremendous value in pharmaceutical applications. A new form of deep neural net architectures, generative adversarial networks (GANs) can now create synthetic patient data sets, age-specific immunotherapies and vaccines, or even the bases of novel, life-saving drug therapies.
Why it's important: Countless AI startups are now rushing to leverage today’s renaissance in longevity research, while others, like Y Combinator, jump on the bandwagon to provide seed funding. Among new contenders, AI methods such as GANs can vastly accelerate progress in target identification and drug discovery for a broad spectrum of age-related diseases. As a result, personalized medicine and low-cost drug development could soon add an additional 20 to 40 healthy years on our lifespan — what are the implications as 100 becomes the new 60? | Share on Facebook
Walmart Is Using Virtual Reality To Help Decide Who Should Get Promotions
What it is: Walmart is now employing virtual reality to assess its employees and identify outstanding candidates most qualified for management promotion. Already, 10,000 of Walmart’s 1.5 million employees have undergone the VR assessment, testing their knowledge of the store’s departments and how they react in simulated sales scenarios. A key component of the company’s initiative to enhance employee efficiency, VR’s roll-out at scale aims to identify high performers from the crowd and reduce management overstaffing across store branches.
Why it's important: As simulated virtual environments and Virtual Reality hardware skyrocket in quality, this technology is rapidly permeating the professional training and hiring sphere. We might still be years away from Artificial Intelligence simulations of human-like virtual customers, or brain-computer interfaces that augment our management and communication abilities. Yet Walmart’s wide-scale deployment of Virtual Reality technology is a testament to its extraordinary present-day value in dematerializing and democratizing professional (and even psychological) skills training. What problems could you solve right now by deploying virtual simulation in your business? | Share on Facebook
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