H+ Weekly - Issue #405
This week - mind-reading with AI; robots performing Hindu rituals; growing mushroom computers; AI avatars on the cover of Vogue; Sam Altman bets $180M on longevity startup; and more!
🦾 More than a human
UK government urged to consider changing law to allow gene editing of embryos
A panel of scientists lawyers and other experts urges the UK government to consider changes in the law to allow gene editing of embryos. “The ethical discussions have been derailed by an abstract focus on designer babies when we have patients dealing with life-threatening diseases who want their voices heard,” said Prof Anna Middleton of Cambridge University, the project’s leader. “People affected by genetic disorders recognise it’s time to embrace a genuine discussion on whether embryo research should be enabled and what a pathway to implementation looks like. They have made it clear we should proceed down that road with urgency.” Currently, it is illegal in the UK (and also in most countries worldwide) to perform genome editing on embryos that lead to pregnancy.
Beyond CRISPR babies: How human genome editing is moving on after scandal
It’s been five years since He Jiankui announced the birth of the first genetically modified humans. This announcement made waves in the scientific community, landed He a three-year jail sentence and brought the topic of modifying the human genome to the forefront. So what has changed since then? According to scientists attending Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London, nothing much. It is still an expensive and unsafe technique with potentially unforeseen side effects. Scientists also point out that although many countries have laws prohibiting edited embryos are not implanted, these laws need to be updated to include private ventures and to take into consideration the possible international scope of heritable genome editing.
Sam Altman invested $180 million into a company trying to delay death
MIT Technology Report reports that Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, invested a year ago $180 million into Retro Biosciences - an anti-ageing company that promises to add 10 healthy years to the human lifespan. There isn’t a lot of information about the startup other than they plan to achieve their goal with “cellular reprogramming, autophagy & plasma-inspired therapeutics”.
🧠 Artificial Intelligence
High-resolution image reconstruction with latent diffusion models from human brain activity
What this paper describes is basically mind reading. Researchers from Japan showed people some images and scanned their brain activity with fMRI. The data from the brain scans were fed into a diffusion model which then reconstructed high-resolution images of what people were looking at. It’s not 1:1 reconstruction but you can clearly get an idea of what the original image was.
Meta revamps AI unit to get generative tech into products
The latest big tech company to join the generative AI trend is Meta. According to Axios, Meta is unifying different teams working on generative AIs into one product team which will be tasked with quickly integrating the technology into Meta’s products. We might expect soon to see AI-powered chatbots in Whatsapp or Facebook, and image generators in Instagram.
Will artificial intelligence replace your lawyer–and will its name be Harvey?
The newest startup trying to disrupt the law industry with AI is Harvey. They offer a product based on OpenAI’s text-generating AI to simplify legal tasks in areas such due diligence, litigation, and compliance. They say nothing about replacing lawyers which is probably the safest option, seeing what happened to DoNotPay. Earlier this year, DoNotPay announced that their AI will be defending someone in court but the idea was quickly shut down by lawyers arguing their AI could be seen as unauthorized practice of law which is a misdemeanour in some US states punishable up to six months of jail.
AI avatars grace the cover of Vogue Singapore’s March Issue
Vogue Singapore presents Altiverse - a project to explore the intersection between AI and fashion. A part of this project is a triptych of AI-generated images inspired by the theme “Roots”, which are on the cover of Vogue Singapore’s March issue. “The covers—a celebration of the past while reimagining the future—showcase a range of Southeast Asian women, each carefully constructed to represent their unique ethnicity and heritage”, says Vogue Singapore.
No area of human life is safe from automation. That also includes religion. This article explores the deployment of robots in Hindu temples to automate various religious practices. This might sound futuristic but as the article points out, the practice of automating religious rituals is not something new in Hinduism or Buddhism. And there are some interesting questions coming out of this - can robots be better at worshipping than humans? Is the quality of robot worship better or worse than human worship? Is this a sign of humanity arriving into a bright, new, technological future?
PaLM-E - Google’s generalist robot
Researchers from Google and Technische Universität Berlin present PaLM-E - a robot that combines Google’s large language model PaLM with a robot (E in the name stands for Embodied). This combination allows the robot to take a command in plain English and execute it. One of the examples the researchers share is telling the robot to “bring me the rice chips from the drawer”. PaLM-E on its own figures out what the human meant and does what it was instructed to do. In other examples, they show the robot correctly moving colourful blocks as instructed, even though it has never seen some of the blocks. Demo videos are inside the article.
Inside the lab that’s growing mushroom computers
Living up to its name, Unconventional Computing Laboratory experiments with mushrooms to see if they can be used in computing. “Right now it’s just feasibility studies. We’re just demonstrating that it’s possible to implement computation, and it’s possible to implement basic logical circuits and basic electronic circuits with mycelium,” says Andrew Adamatzky, director of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory at the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK. “In the future, we can grow more advanced mycelium computers and control devices.”
Can millions of genetically modified trees slow climate change?
Living Carbon is a startup that promises to combat climate change with trees. But not your ordinary trees. They have genetically modified the trees to grow 50% faster and capture 27% more carbon than before, at least in greenhouse conditions. Now the company is planting as many as 5 million of these trees - likely the first widespread use of genetically modified trees in the US.
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