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In the center of the laboratory dish, there was a subtle white film that could only be seen when the light hit the right way. Ayse Nihan Kilinc, a reproductive biologist, popped the dish under the microscope, and an image appeared on the attached screen. As she focused the microscope, the film resolved into clusters of droplet-like spheres with translucent interiors and thin black boundaries. In this magnified view, the structures ranged in size from as small as a quarter to as large as a golf ball. In reality, each was only as big as a few grains of sand.

“They’re growing,” Kilinc said, observing that their plump shapes were a promising sign. “These are good organoids.”

Kilinc, who works in the lab of biological engineer Linda Griffith at MIT, is among a small group of scientists using new tools akin to miniature organs to study a poorly understood—and frequently problematic—part of human physiology: menstruation. Heavy, sometimes debilitating periods strike at least a third of people who menstruate at some point in their lives, causing some to miss weeks of work or school every year and jeopardizing their professional standing. Anemia threatens about two-thirds of people with heavy periods. And when menstrual blood flows through the fallopian tubes and into the body cavity, it’s thought to sometimes create painful lesions—characteristics of a disease called endometriosis, which can require multiple surgeries to control.

No one is entirely sure how—or why—the human body choreographs this monthly dance of cellular birth, maturation, and death. Many people desperately need treatments to make their period more manageable, but it’s difficult for scientists to design medications without understanding how menstruation really works.

That understanding could be in the works, thanks to endometrial organoids—biomedical tools made from bits of the tissue that lines the uterus, called the endometrium. To make endometrial organoids, scientists collect cells from a human volunteer and let those cells self-organize in laboratory dishes, where they develop into miniature versions of the tissue they came from. The research is still very much in its infancy. But organoids have already provided insights into how endometrial cells communicate and coordinate, and why menstruation is routine for some people and fraught for others. Some researchers are hopeful that these early results mark the dawn of a new era. “I think it’s going to revolutionize the way we think about reproductive health,” says Juan Gnecco, a reproductive engineer at Tufts University.

n uncommon problem

Periods are rare in the animal kingdom. The human body goes through the menstrual cycle to prepare the uterus to welcome a fetus, whether one is likely to show up or not. In contrast, most animals prepare the uterus only once a fetus is already present.

That cycle is a constant pattern of wounding and repair. The process starts when levels of a hormone called progesterone plummet, indicating that no baby will be growing in the uterus that month. Removing progesterone triggers a response similar to what happens when the body fights off an infection. Inflammation injures the endometrium. Over the next five or so days, the damaged tissue sloughs off and flows out of the body.

As soon as the bleeding starts, the endometrium begins to heal. Over the course of about 10 days, this tissue quadruples in thickness. No other human tissue is known to grow so extensively and so quickly—“not even aggressive cancer cells,” says Jan Brosens, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Warwick in the UK. As the tissue heals—in a rare example of scarless repair—it becomes an environment that can shield an embryo, which is a foreign entity in the body, from an immune system trained to reject interlopers.

Scientists have filled in the rough outline of this process after decades of research, but many details remain opaque. How exactly the endometrium repairs itself so extensively is unknown. Why some people have much heavier periods than others remains an open question. And why humans menstruate, rather than reabsorbing unused endometrial tissue like many other mammals, is a matter of hot debate among biologists.

This lack of understanding hampers scientists, who would like to find treatments for periods that are too painful to be tamed by over-the-counter painkillers or too heavy to be absorbed by pads and tampons. As a result, many people suffer. A study performed in the Netherlands found that on average women lost about a week of productivity per year because of abdominal pain and other symptoms related to their periods. “It would not be unusual for a patient to see me in the clinic and say that every month, they had to have two or three days off work,” says Hilary Critchley, a gynecologist and reproductive biologist at the University of Edinburgh.

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By: Saima Sidik
Title: Tiny faux organs could crack the mystery of menstruation
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2023/08/18/1077537/menstruation-mystery/
Published Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2023 09:00:00 +0000

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Unlocking secure, private AI with confidential computing

All of a sudden, it seems that AI is everywhere, from executive assistant chatbots to AI code assistants.

But despite the proliferation of AI in the zeitgeist, many organizations are proceeding with caution. This is due to the perception of the security quagmires AI presents. For the emerging technology to reach its full potential, data must be secured through every stage of the AI lifecycle including model training, fine-tuning, and inferencing.

This is where confidential computing comes into play. Vikas Bhatia, head of product for Azure Confidential Computing at Microsoft, explains the significance of this architectural innovation: “AI is being used to provide solutions for a lot of highly sensitive data, whether that’s personal data, company data, or multiparty data,” he says. “Confidential computing is an emerging technology that protects that data when it is in memory and in use. We see a future where model creators who need to protect their IP will leverage confidential computing to safeguard their models and to protect their customer data.”

Understanding confidential computing

“The tech industry has done a great job in ensuring that data stays protected at rest and in transit using encryption,” Bhatia says. “Bad actors can steal a laptop and remove its hard drive but won’t be able to get anything out of it if the data is encrypted by security features like BitLocker. Similarly, nobody can run away with data in the cloud. And data in transit is secure thanks to HTTPS and TLS, which have long been industry standards.”

But data in use, when data is in memory and being operated upon, has typically been harder to secure. Confidential computing addresses this critical gap—what Bhatia calls the “missing third leg of the three-legged data protection stool”—via a hardware-based root of trust.

Essentially, confidential computing ensures the only thing customers need to trust is the data running inside of a trusted execution environment (TEE) and the underlying hardware. “The concept of a TEE is basically an enclave, or I like to use the word ‘box.’ Everything inside that box is trusted, anything outside it is not,” explains Bhatia.

Until recently, confidential computing only worked on central processing units (CPUs). However, NVIDIA has recently brought confidential computing capabilities to the H100 Tensor Core GPU and Microsoft has made this technology available in Azure. This has the potential to protect the entire confidential AI lifecycle—including model weights, training data, and inference workloads.

“Historically, devices such as GPUs were controlled by the host operating system, which, in turn, was controlled by the cloud service provider,” notes Krishnaprasad Hande, Technical Program Manager at Microsoft. “So, in order to meet confidential computing requirements, we needed technological improvements to reduce trust in the host operating system, i.e., its ability to observe or tamper with application workloads when the GPU is assigned to a confidential virtual machine, while retaining sufficient control to monitor and manage the device. NVIDIA and Microsoft have worked together to achieve this.”

Attestation mechanisms are another key component of confidential computing. Attestation allows users to verify the integrity and authenticity of the TEE, and the user code within it, ensuring the environment hasn’t been tampered with. “Customers can validate that trust by running an attestation report themselves against the CPU and the GPU to validate the state of their environment,” says Bhatia.

Additionally, secure key management systems play a critical role in confidential computing ecosystems. “We’ve extended our Azure Key Vault with Managed HSM service which runs inside a TEE,” says Bhatia. “The keys get securely released inside that TEE such that the data can be decrypted.”

Confidential computing use cases and benefits

GPU-accelerated confidential computing has far-reaching implications for AI in enterprise contexts. It also addresses privacy issues that apply to any analysis of sensitive data in the public cloud. This is of particular concern to organizations trying to gain insights from multiparty data while maintaining utmost privacy.

Another of the key advantages of Microsoft’s confidential computing offering is that it requires no code changes on the part of the customer, facilitating seamless adoption. “The confidential computing environment we’re building does not require customers to change a single line of code,” notes Bhatia. “They can redeploy from a non-confidential environment to a confidential environment. It’s as simple as choosing a particular VM size that supports confidential computing capabilities.”

Some industries and use cases that stand to benefit from confidential computing advancements include:

Governments and sovereign entities

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By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Unlocking secure, private AI with confidential computing
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/12/1094838/unlocking-secure-private-ai-with-confidential-computing/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 19:25:58 +0000

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https://mansbrand.com/the-download-robot-packed-meals-and-the-looming-fertility-crisis/

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The Download: robot-packed meals, and the looming fertility crisis

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.

Robot-packed meals are coming to the frozen-food aisle

What’s happening: Advances in artificial intelligence are coming to your freezer, in the form of robot-assembled prepared meals. Chef Robotics, a San Francisco-based startup, has launched a system of AI-powered robotic arms that can be quickly programmed with a recipe to dole out accurate portions of everything from tikka masala to pesto tortellini.

Why it matters: You might think the meals that end up in the grocery store’s frozen aisle or on airplanes are robot-packed already, but that’s rarely the case. The vast majority of meals from recognizable brands are still typically hand-packed, because workers are often much more flexible than robots and can handle production lines that frequently rotate recipes. However, advancements from AI have changed the calculus, making robots more useful on production lines. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

IVF alone can’t save us from a looming fertility crisis

There are over 8 billion of us on the planet, and there’ll probably be 8.5 billion of us by 2030. We’re continually warned about the perils of overpopulation and the impact we humans are having on our planet. So it seems a bit counterintuitive to worry that, actually, we’re not reproducing enough.

But plenty of scientists are incredibly worried about just that. Improvements in health care and sanitation are helping us all lead longer lives. But we’re not having enough children to support us as we age. Fertility rates are falling in almost every country.

But wait! We have technologies to solve this problem! IVF is helping to bring more children into the world than ever, and it can help compensate for the fertility problems faced by older parents! Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so simple. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on biotech and healthcare. 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 Here’s how Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars
Over the past year, he’s ramped up his ambitions to build a Martian city. (NYT $)
Musk has denied that he’s volunteered his sperm to help out, though. (CoinTelegraph)
Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Is Russia waging war under the sea? 
The disappearance of a subsea cable has raised some serious questions. (Bloomberg $)

3 Kamala Harris conspiracy theories are running rampant online
If Joe Biden drops out of the Presidential race, she’s most likely to replace him. (Wired $)
Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Apple is still struggling to find the Vision Pro’s killer app
Ahead of the device going on sale in Europe today. (FT $)
Apple will need to convince developers to build apps for its headset. (MIT Technology Review)

5 These scientists doubt that you’ll live to 100
They contend you’re more likely to reach somewhere between 65 and 90 instead. (WSJ $)
The quest to legitimize longevity medicine. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Google Cloud was briefly listed as a Israeli military tech conference sponsor
Before its logo was rapidly removed. (404 Media)

7 Those New York Link5G towers don’t have 5G after all
Regardless, another 2,000 towers are scheduled for installation. (NY Mag $)

8 How AI is overhauling ultrasound scans in Africa
Benefiting the women who are most in need. (The Guardian)

9 Northeast Indian YouTubers are challenging culinary stereotypes 
They’re lifting the veil on their unique food culture. (Rest of World)

10 There’s a better way to hold your phone
And you’re probably doing it wrong. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“I don’t have any idea if it’s working or not working. I just know this is what I feel like I should be doing.”

— Ruth Quint, the webmaster of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh website, explains why she creates disinformation-bunking resources to the New York Times. 

The big story

One city’s fight to solve its sewage problem with sensors

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April 2021

In the city of South Bend, Indiana, wastewater from people’s kitchens, sinks, washing machines, and toilets flows through 35 neighborhood

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: robot-packed meals, and the looming fertility crisis
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/12/1094889/the-download-robot-packed-meals-and-the-looming-fertility-crisis/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics

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.

AI is poised to automate today’s most mundane manual warehouse task

Before almost any item reaches your door, it traverses the global supply chain on a pallet. More than 2 billion pallets are in circulation in the United States alone, and $400 billion worth of goods are exported on them annually.

However, loading boxes onto these pallets is a task stuck in the past: Heavy loads and repetitive movements leave workers at high risk of injury, and in the rare instances when robots are used, they take months to program using handheld computers that have changed little since the 1980s.

Jacobi Robotics, a startup spun out of the labs of the University of California, Berkeley, says it can vastly speed up that process with AI. If successful, Jacobi aims to replace the legacy methods customers are currently using to train their bots, whittling down the time it takes to code a paletting process from months to a single day. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Here’s the problem with new plastic recycling methods

Look on the bottom of a plastic water bottle or takeout container, and you might find a logo there made up of three arrows forming a closed loop shaped like a triangle. Sometimes called the chasing arrows, this stamp is used on packaging to suggest it’s recyclable.

Those little arrows imply a nice story, painting a picture of a world where the material will be recycled into a new product, forming an endless loop of reuse. But the reality of plastics recycling today doesn’t match up to that idea. Only about 10% of the plastic ever made has been recycled; the vast majority winds up in landfills or in the environment.

Researchers have been working to address the problem by coming up with new recycling methods, sometimes called advanced, or chemical, recycling. But this new approach shares a few challenges with other recycling methods. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on energy and climate technology. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

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

1 Neuralink’s second brain implant is imminent
It hopes to have multiple devices implanted in human patients by the end of the year. (Bloomberg $)
Elon Musk confirmed that the company is working on a next-gen implant, too. (Wired $)
Meet the other companies developing brain-computer interfaces. (MIT Technology Review)

2 NASA’s astronauts were supposed to return to Earth weeks ago
But they’re stuck on the ISS until engineers are confident they’re safe to fly back. (Ars Technica)
Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Tesla’s cars’ ‘full self-driving’ capabilities are under investigation
It all hinges on whether the term implies the vehicles are autonomous. (WP $)
EV startup Rivian is snapping at Tesla’s heels. (Bloomberg $)
The Chinese government is going all-in on autonomous vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The US government is investing less in national security startups 
Compared to the vast amounts venture capitalists are pouring into the ventures. (WSJ $)

5 Apple has agreed to give its rivals access to its payments tech system
The move meets EU demands, and neatly swerves a hefty $40bn penalty. (FT $)
But Apple isn’t out of the woods quite yet. (Bloomberg $)

6 Starlink’s portable Mini dish has gone on sale
The internet-from-space kit is small enough to fit in a backpack. (The Verge)

7 Brace yourself for the rise of neurocosmetics
They’re products for your dermis and, err, your brain. (The Atlantic $)

8 Creators are turning hateful comments into content
It’s certainly one way of not letting the negativity get to you. (NYT $)

9 How Spotify turned itself into a social network
Its adoption of polls, Q&As, and comments suggests it has big ambitions. (TechCrunch)

10 It’s not just you—TikTok Shop really is annoying
Let me scroll in peace! (Vox)

Quote of the day

“No industry can thrive without regulation in the long run. It’s mayhem.”

—An AI startup founder tells the Financial Times that Biden and Trump’s lack of plans to govern the rapidly-evolving technology is sparking deep concern in Silicon Valley.

The big story

This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters

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————

By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/11/1094856/the-download-automating-warehouse-tasks-and-problems-with-recycling-plastics/
Published Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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