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MJ22 back 01

pril 1969

From “Computer-Based Services in Personal Transactions”: The challenge thrown down by the computer for the future is to transmit information without the paper. This challenge leads to speculation about a “checkless society,” a phrase that has captured the imagination of journalists to the point of popularizing a concept long before economic, social, and legal aspects have been resolved. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., of IBM has written, “In banking alone, for example, the advances of yesterday are merely a faint prologue to the marvels of tomorrow. In our lifetimes we may see electronic transactions virtually eliminate the need for cash. To draw down or add to his balance, the customer in a store will insert an identification into the terminal located there, and punch out the transaction figures on the terminal’s keyboard. Instantaneously, the amount he punches out will move out of his account and enter another.”

MJ22 back 02

February 1980

From “The Bottom Line on Checkless Banking”:  Anyone who has ever deposited money in a soda machine, only to find that it does not deliver the product, knows that we humans have difficulty dealing with nonworking machines. Upon receiving his bank statement, a friend noted a mysterious $50 charge. He drove to the bank where he confronted the manager with his problem. The manager told him that it was a “computer transaction.” The friend knew he had not used the computer terminal for a transaction that particular day. Unfortunately, feeling intimidated, the fellow let it drop and later explained, “You can’t argue with a computer.” The consumer is still skeptical of ATM terminals. Experience has shown that human nature does not take quickly to change. The benefits to banks and retailers are overshadowed by enormous costs. Therefore, growth in this area will continue to be slow.

ugust 1997

MJ22 back 03

From “The Neverhood of Internet Commerce”: New technologies sometimes offer an illusion of benefit that holds true only within a narrow economic frame. While we eagerly chase the savings in money and effort that a new tool seems to offer, we may disregard the wider social costs that may eventually mock our sense of prosperity. Before we shift our purchases to Internet vendors, we need to recognize a hidden price we may end up paying: the demise of traditional shops. A bookstore is first and foremost a gathering spot for those who care about books and reading. In these places the purchase of a product is only part of the experience. Yes, we should use every Internet resource to explore the market and make intelligent comparisons. But when it comes to casting “dollar votes,” we can better spend the money closer to home, in a neighborhood where people actually live rather than the neverhood of digital bits.

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By: The Editors
Title: Money changes everything
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Published Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2022 09:00:00 +0000

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Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs



symmetry thumbnail 1

The explosion in text-to-image AI models like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2—programs trained to generate pictures of almost anything you ask for—has sent ripples through the creative industries, from fashion to filmmaking, by providing weird and wonderful images on demand.

The same technology behind these programs is also making a splash in biotech labs, which are increasingly using this type of generative AI, known as a diffusion model, to conjure up designs for new types of protein never seen in nature.

Today, two labs separately announced programs that use diffusion models to generate designs for novel proteins with more precision than ever before. Generate Biomedicines, a Boston-based startup, revealed a program called Chroma, which the company describes as the “DALL-E 2 of biology.”

At the same time, a team at the University of Washington led by biologist David Baker has built a similar program called RoseTTAFold Diffusion. In a preprint paper posted online today, Baker and his colleagues show that their model can generate precise designs for novel proteins that can then be brought to life in the lab. “We’re generating proteins with really no similarity to existing ones,” says Brian Trippe, one of the co-developers of RoseTTAFold.

These protein generators can be directed to produce designs for proteins with specific properties, such as shape or size or function. In effect, this makes it possible to come up with new proteins to do particular jobs on demand. Researchers hope that this will eventually lead to the development of new and more effective drugs. “We can discover in minutes what took evolution millions of years,” says Gevorg Grigoryan, CEO of Generate Biomedicines.

“What is notable about this work is the generation of proteins according to desired constraints,” says Ava Amini, a biophysicist at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Symmetrical protein structures generated by ChromaGENERATE BIOMEDICINES

Proteins are the fundamental building blocks of living systems. In animals, they digest food, contract muscles, detect light, drive the immune system, and so much more. When people get sick, proteins play a part.

Proteins are thus prime targets for drugs. And many of today’s newest drugs are protein based themselves. “Nature uses proteins for essentially everything,” says Grigoryan. “The promise that offers for therapeutic interventions is really immense.”

But drug designers currently have to draw on an ingredient list made up of natural proteins. The goal of protein generation is to extend that list with a nearly infinite pool of computer-designed ones.

Computational techniques for designing proteins are not new. But previous approaches have been slow and not great at designing large proteins or protein complexes—molecular machines made up of multiple proteins coupled together. And such proteins are often crucial for treating diseases.

Oligomer Density 1
A protein structure generated by RoseTTAFold Diffusion (left) and the same structure created in the lab (right)IAN C HAYDON / UW INSTITUTE FOR PROTEIN DESIGN

The two programs announced today are also not the first use of diffusion models for protein generation. A handful of studies in the last few months from Amini and others have shown that diffusion models are a promising technique, but these were proof-of-concept prototypes. Chroma and RoseTTAFold Diffusion build on this work and are the first full-fledged programs that can produce precise designs for a wide variety of proteins.

Namrata Anand, who co-developed one of the first diffusion models for protein generation in May 2022, thinks

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By: Will Douglas Heaven
Title: Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs
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Published Date: Thu, 01 Dec 2022 18:37:38 +0000

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The Download: circumventing China’s firewall, and using AI to invent new drugs




This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How Twitter’s “Teacher Li” became the central hub of China protest information

As protests against rigid covid control measures in China engulfed social media in the past week, one Twitter account has emerged as the central source of information: @李老师不是你老师 (“Teacher Li Is Not Your Teacher”). 

People everywhere in China have sent protest footage and real-time updates to the account through private messages, and it has posted them, with the sender’s identity hidden, on their behalf.

The man behind the account, Li, is a Chinese painter based in Italy, who requested to be identified only by his last name in light of the security risks. He’s been tirelessly posting footage around the clock to help people within China get information, and also to inform the wider world.

The work has been taking its toll—he’s received death threats, and police have visited his family back in China. But it also comes with a sense of liberation, Li told Zeyi Yang, our China reporter. Read the full story.

Biotech labs are using AI inspired by DALL-E to invent new drugs

The news: Text-to-image AI models like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2—programs trained to generate pictures of almost anything you ask for—have sent ripples through the creative industries. Now, two biotech labs are using this type of generative AI, known as a diffusion model, to conjure up designs for new types of protein never seen in nature.

Why it matters: Proteins are the fundamental building blocks of living systems. These protein generators can be directed to produce designs for proteins with specific properties, such as shape or size or function. In effect, this makes it possible to come up with new proteins to do particular jobs on demand. Researchers hope that this will eventually lead to the development of new and more effective drugs. Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Your microbiome ages as you do—and that’s a problem

We’re all crawling with bugs. Our bodies are home to plenty of distinct ecosystems that host microbes, fungi, and other organisms that are crucial to our wellbeing. These ecosystems appear to change as we age—and these changes can potentially put us at increased risk of age-related diseases.

The big questions are: what can we do to maintain a happy microbiome—and, even if we manage to achieve it, will it actually help us to keep age-related illnesses at bay? Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, Jessica’s weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 China’s government is cracking down hard on protest content
Among other orders, tech companies have been told to take down guides on how to use VPNs. (WSJ $)
Workers at the Zhengzhou iPhone factory are under intense pressure. (FT $)
There’s no way for the Chinese government to abandon ‘zero covid’ without losing face. (Vox)
Protestors have embraced analogue methods to escape surveillance. (Rest of World)

2 FTX’s collapse is bad news for AI
The embattled crypto exchange invested hundreds of millions in AI projects. Will they have to pay it back? (NYT $)
FTX’s implosion is obviously not doing crypto’s reputation any favors, either. (WSJ $)
Bitcoin looks likely to further drop in value. (Bloomberg $)
What’s next for effective altruism? It’s not looking good. (New Yorker $)

3 Kanye West has been banned from Twitter, again
The rapper tweeted a vile antisemitic symbol. (BBC)
West also praised Hitler during an interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. (Vox)
His deal to buy Parler has fallen through. (CNN)

4 Weight loss app Noom is struggling with vulnerable users
The platform promotes a “psychological” approach to weight loss, which some conflate with therapy. (Insider $)

5 The high aviation costs of Amazon’s obsession with two-day delivery
Delivering goods via plane is neither cheap nor terribly efficient. (Wired $)
This company delivers packages faster than Amazon, but workers pay the price. (MIT Technology Review)

6 OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT is still spouting nonsense
It’s confidently regurgitating false information. (The Verge)
These six high-profile artists’ AI creations are quite something. (The Guardian)
While everyone waits for GPT-4, OpenAI is still fixing its predecessor. (MIT Technology Review)

7 The US Army wanted to recruit Gen Z gamers over

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: circumventing China’s firewall, and using AI to invent new drugs
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Published Date: Fri, 02 Dec 2022 13:10:00 +0000

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California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles



This week, dozens of companies are expected to compete for the right to lease the first commercial wind power sites off the coast of California in a federal online auction that could kick-start the state’s next clean energy boom.

Collectively, the winners will pay at least tens of millions of dollars for exclusive rights to submit plans to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for wind turbines at five sites that stretch across more than 370,000 acres of the Pacific. Three of the areas are clustered near Morro Bay along the central coast, starting about 20 miles due west from the picturesque seaside town of Cambria. Two more are located off Humboldt County in the north.

Annual average wind speeds around the Morro Bay sites reach 8 to 10 meters per second, exceeding those around some large offshore wind farms already developed in the North Sea. Towering turbines on the locations up for lease could deliver 4.5 gigawatts of clean electricity to the California grid, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes.

The state has an even more ambitious goal: building 25 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2045. That’s equivalent to nearly a third of the state’s total generating capacity today, or enough to power 25 million homes.

But the audacious plans for offshore wind face a daunting geological challenge: the continental shelf drops steeply just a few miles off the California coast. That makes it prohibitively expensive to erect standard offshore wind turbines, which are set atop fixed structures that extend to the seafloor. The turbines built near Morro Bay and off Humboldt, where water depths reach up to 1,300 meters (around 4,300 feet), will need to be placed on floating platforms, a speculative and very costly technology.

Some companies have begun using such platforms, which are tethered to the sea bottom on moorings, in places such as the coasts of Portugal and Scotland. But these sites still produce relatively little power. To meet its ambitious plans, California will need to develop sprawling fleets of these floating wind turbines very quickly.

The hope is that the state, as a huge consumer of electricity, will provide a giant early market for the technology, helping to scale it up, pushing down costs, and driving innovation in the nascent sector. If the industry does prove viable, it will unlock vast amounts of renewable resources around the globe that have largely been off limits to date.

But there are enormous engineering and regulatory challenges ahead. Achieving California’s targets could require creating or upgrading ports, constructing new vessels, streamlining permitting processes, building up a West Coast wind manufacturing sector, and shifting to new types of platforms that could be cheaper to deliver and install. And all of that would have to occur at an incredibly rapid pace.

David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission, readily acknowledges the looming difficulties, but he says the state is committed to working through them.

“This is a technology that is ripe and ready,” he says. “We’re all in.”

High hopes

The appeal of floating wind is obvious. Somewhere around 60 meters deep (nearly 200 feet) it becomes impractical for developers to build what are called fixed wind foundations. But the winds above deep waters far off the coast are often ideal: strong and consistent.

Off Morro Bay and other potential California sites, the winds dip at midday but rise in the early evening, in nearly perfect sync with consumer demand—and in much the opposite pattern from the electricity generated by solar farms.

Those characteristics will help the state’s grid operators draw more of their electricity from carbon-free sources through the evening, which will serve an increasingly crucial function as the California power sector moves off fossil fuels, says Alla Weinstein, chief executive of Trident Winds, which is part of the Castle Wind partnership bidding in the auction this week.

The state’s climate laws will require 90% of its electricity to come from such resources by 2035. That same year, California will mandate that all new passenger vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emissions, placing growing demands on the grid.

Hochschild says California also hopes a boom in floating wind will spur economic development, including the emergence of a state-based manufacturing sector near ports that could supply turbine blades, towers, and other components. Offshore wind development could spark tens of billions of dollars in investments over the next quarter-century, he says.

In addition to their monetary bids, companies participating in the auction can earn credits by committing to invest in workforce training, support the development of domestic wind supply chains, and engage with indigenous tribes and other underserved communities,

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By: James Temple
Title: California’s coming offshore wind boom faces big engineering hurdles
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Published Date: Mon, 05 Dec 2022 11:00:00 +0000

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