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US approves lab-grown meat for consumers - H+ Weekly - Issue #420
This week - who is afraid of AI; European Parliament approves the EU AI Act; debunking longevity myths; how to make a meat leaf; shape-shifting origami robot; and more!
On Wednesday this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed two companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, to sell lab-grown meat. This ruling makes the United States the second country in the world, following Singapore, where consumers can purchase lab-grown meat.
"It is a dream come true," said Uma Valeti, CEO of Upside. "It marks a new era."
This dream of lab-grown meat was over 90 years in the making. Winston Churchill was among the first to propose the idea of growing meat in industrial vats. In his article "Fifty Years Hence" published in 1931, he envisioned what the world would be like in 1981 and wrote, "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."
Research on cultured meat progressed quietly throughout the 20th century. In 2001, dermatologist Wiete Westerhof, along with Willem van Eelen and Willem van Kooten, announced that they had filed for a worldwide patent on a process to produce cultured meat. This marked the beginning of the field's growth as more people joined the efforts to develop a viable method of producing slaughter-free meat.
The field gained significant attention in 2013 when the first lab-grown burger has been cooked and eaten at a news conference in London.
Over the following decade, more researchers joined the field, and numerous startups emerged, promising to provide lab-grown meat to consumers. Initially, the cost of producing a lab-grown burger exceeded $300,000, and it took two years to grow. Over time, the cost dropped to below $100, but it remained significantly more expensive than traditional meat.
Some researchers and startups chose to incorporate plant-based ingredients in their products or even completely forgo meat, focusing on plant-based alternatives that feel and taste like meat. This approach led to companies like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, among others, receiving faster approvals than those working on cultured meat. Today, plant-based meat alternatives are readily available for purchase in supermarkets worldwide.
In 2020, Singapore became the first country in the world to approve lab-grown meat for sale. The US company Eat Just received a green light to sell cultivated chicken meat in Singapore.
Both Upside Foods and Good Meat plan to initially introduce their cultivated meat at high-end restaurants before scaling up production to reduce costs for grocery stores. Upside's chicken will be launched at Bar Crenn in San Francisco, while Good Meat's product will be sold initially at an undisclosed restaurant in Washington, D.C.
The proponents of cultured meat argue that it is an ethical and sustainable way to provide meat. Some even predict that by 2040, 60% of meat will come from lab-grown sources rather than from traditional animal farming. Moving meat production to laboratories or vats can also have a positive impact on the environment. One study has found that nearly 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture come from livestock. The United Nations estimates that globally, livestock production contributes to more than 14% of all man-made greenhouse gases.
Lab-grown meat production would also reduce the amount of land required for agriculture. The expansion of cattle farms, for instance, has been a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Currently, almost half of the habitable land is used for agriculture, with meat and other animal food products requiring the most land per 100 grams of protein.
However, all of these potential benefits are based on assumptions, and we won't fully understand the impact of lab-grown meat until it reaches industrial-scale production. Some critics question the potential environmental impact of lab-grown meat, highlighting the potentially high energy requirements involved (assuming we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy production).
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🦾 More than a human
This is a fascinating conversation with longevity expert Andrew Steele where he provides more context around longevity research, debunks some myths, and explains some very important nuances that get lost between scientific papers and popular media. Steele also shares his critique on what Bryan Johnson and Chris Hemsworth are doing to popularise longevity and points out the curious correction between Blue Zones (areas where people are claimed to live longer than usual) and higher rates of pension fraud.
Model embryo with heartbeat replicates cells in early pregnancy
Scientists have created a model human embryo with a heartbeat and traces of blood. The synthetic structure, created from human stem cells without the need for eggs, sperm or fertilisation, replicated some of the cells and structures that would typically appear in the third and fourth week of pregnancy. It is important to note that the synthetic embryo did not have the structures needed to develop into a foetus. This was done intentionally by the research team to prevent ethical controversies and align with international agreements and guidelines.
AI algorithms find drugs that could combat ageing
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have created an AI algorithm to sieve through thousands of research papers and identify potential drug candidates for experimental testing. According to the study, this algorithm successfully screened over 4,000 chemicals and identified 21 promising candidates. Out of these candidates, three have demonstrated the ability to eliminate senescent cells without harming healthy cells in laboratory tests conducted on human cells.
🧠 Artificial Intelligence
Europe moves ahead on AI regulation, challenging tech giants’ power
The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved the EU AI Act, an extensive package designed to protect consumers against potentially harmful uses of artificial intelligence. I will be doing next week an in-depth breakdown of what the EU AI Act actually says, what it means for the tech industry and what are the next steps. Subscribe to H+ Weekly to be notified when the post is out.
Two US lawyers fined for submitting fake court citations from ChatGPT
A US judge has fined two lawyers and a law firm $5,000 after they submitted a court filing which included six citations made up by ChatGPT. The judge P Kevin Castel said in a written opinion there was nothing “inherently improper” about using artificial intelligence for assisting in legal work, but lawyers had to ensure their filings were accurate. If you want to learn more about this case, I recommend this video from Legal Eagle where he dives into the legal details of this case.
The AI Apocalypse: A Scorecard
Since ChatGPT was released in November 2022, the voices calling to be cautious with AI started to be more prominent. The release of GPT-4 amplified those voices and brought the conversation about AI safety and the possible dangers of AGI (including human extinction) to the mainstream. IEEE Spectrum has compiled the viewpoints of prominent AI experts and researchers on AGI and AI safety, presenting them in a convenient scorecard format. These scorecards allow to quickly assess whether these experts believe that large language models will eventually lead to AGI and whether AGI poses an existential threat to humanity.
How existential risk became the biggest meme in AI
The number of high-profile names that have now made public pronouncements or signed open letters warning of the catastrophic dangers of artificial intelligence is striking. This article from MIT Technology Review examines how the discourse on AI safety has gained widespread attention. It suggests that the reason for the current surge in momentum, in contrast to the deep learning era, is the widespread exposure people have had to advanced AI systems like ChatGPT. François Chollet, an AI researcher at Google, explains, "People are taking AI seriously because they see a sudden jump in capabilities as a harbinger of more future jumps."
Researchers from EPFL present Mori3 - a shape-shifting robot that can morph from 2D triangles into almost any 3D object. The robot is assembled from flat triangular modules that can be easily joined together to create polygons of different sizes and configurations. For these reasons, researchers hope robots similar to Mori3 will find use in space exploration where their versatility and ease of transporting will be advantageous.
Can We Learn to Embrace Robotic Caregivers?
As the population in developed countries grows older, some researchers look at robotics as a possible solution for the upcoming problem of how to give adequate care to older people. It is as much a technological problem as well as a cultural one. Human-like robots may not be the best option here due to the expectations people have of a human-like robot. What the article also emphasizes is that robots should be seen as assistants to support human caregivers rather than replacements.
Thanks to movies like Terminator, robots don't have a good reputation. This can lead to some problems as there are more and more robots interacting with people, making people feel anxious or afraid. So, what's the solution? Make robots look friendly and cute.
The Thought Emporium recreates an experiment in which a spinach leaf is stripped from cells, leaving only the cellulose and lignin scaffolding, and replaces them with rat cells, resulting in a meat leaf. The techniques he shows are explored in tissue recellularization research and may one day be used to grow organs for transplantation.
H+ Weekly sheds light on the bleeding edge of technology and how advancements in AI, robotics, and biotech can usher in abundance, expand humanity's horizons, and redefine what it means to be human.
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