South Korea’s Defense Arm Announces Funding for Blockchain Projects

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has launched a pilot for developing blockchain applications for the defense industry, according to an official notice Jan. 11.

According to the program, the government ministry is planning to provide grants of up to 600 million South Korean won (about $530,000) for each project.

Small and large defense companies are encouraged to apply for funding via the website of the Korea Internet & Security Agency (KISA), a sub-organization of the South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT, the report notes.

According to British military-focused news outlet Jane’s 360, the move is a part of the country’s efforts to contribute to the development of so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies. The country’s 4IR focus has been reportedly outlined in its Defense Industry Development Plan, introduced in 2018, that looks to develop emerging technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous systems and big data analytics.

In September 2018, the KISA revealed plans to extend its public blockchain pilot projects to revive the domestic blockchain industry. As a part of the initiative, the South Korean government planned to spend around $9 million to promote blockchain projects across public and private sectors.

In December, Cointelegraph reported that a division for the United States Air Force had developed a blockchain-based educational tool for supply chain management in order to provide better visibility for the military’s complex logistics network.


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Author: Helen Partz
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MIT Scientists Score Breakthrough in Finding Bacteria That Produce Electricity

Deeps in mines, at the bottom of lakes, and even in your own gut, bacteria are hard at work producing electricity in order to survive in environments low in oxygen.

These potent little power producers have been used in speculative experiments and one day may power everything from batteries to “biohomes“.

There are many types of bacteria capable of producing electricity, but some are better at it than others. The trouble with these bacteria is that they are difficult and expensive to grow in a lab setting, slowing down our ability to develop new technologies with them.

A new technique developed by MIT engineers makes sorting and identifying electricity-producing bacteria easier than ever before which may make them more readily available for us in technological applications.

Electricity-producing bacteria are able to pull off the trick by producing electrons within their cells and releasing them through tiny channels in their cell membranes in a process called extracellular electron transfer, or EET.

Current processes for identifying the electricity producing capabilities of bacteria involved measuring the activity of EET proteins but this is a daunting and time consuming process.

Researchers sometimes use a process called dielectrophoresis to separate two kinds of bacteria based on their electrical properties. They can use this process to differentiate between two different kinds of cells, such as cells from a frog and cells from a bird.

But the MIT team’s study separated cells based on a much more minute difference, their ability to produce electricity.

By applying small voltages to bacteria strains in an hourglass-shaped microfluidic channel the team was able to separate and measure the different kinds of closely related cells.

By noting the voltage required to manipulate bacteria and recording the cell’s size researchers were able to calculate each bacteria’s polarizability – how easy it is for a cell to produce electricity in an electric field.

Their study concluded that bacteria with a higher polarizability were also more active electricity producers.

Next the team will begin testing bacteria already thought to be strong candidates for future power production.

If their observations on polarizability hold true for these other bacteria, this new technique could make electricity-producing bacteria more accessible than ever before.


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Author: JACOB BANAS
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Government Shutdown Delays Launch of New Tech Products

It’s day 21 of the US government shutdown, and the tech industry is starting to feel the heat.

 

Tech lovers may see fewer cutting-edge gadgets hitting the market in the next few months.

That’s because the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and other US agencies that certify the safety of consumer-electronics devices are closed due to the government shutdown, now in its 21st day.

And if the government doesn’t reopen soon, the shutdown could also affect the rollout of the next generation of wireless networks, built around 5G technology that promises to make them significantly faster and more responsive.

Trade group the Telecommunications Industry Association, which represents makers of telecom gear, said Friday that the shutdown is slowing the introduction of new connected devices that need certification from the FCC and that the closure could ultimately hamper 5G deployments.

The shutdown “comes at a vital moment when the US is competing to stay ahead of the world in the race to 5G,” said TIA Government Affairs SVP Cinnamon Rogers. If companies can’t get their required FCC thumbs-up, there’ll be a “serious and negative impact on the approval of new connected devices that are designed to enable both 5G deployment and the full ecosystem of next generation technologies that 5G will support,” he added in a statement.

The partial shutdown, which began Dec. 22 after the House of Representatives and Senate failed to come to agreement on President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund work on a border wall, doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. Neither congressional Democrats nor Trump show signs of caving to the other’s demands.

The impasse is having real economic consequences for 800,000 federal workers, who on Friday didn’t receive their first paycheck since the shutdown started. But the ripple effects are now starting to be felt more widely, including in the tech industry, where some device makers are being forced to put product launches on hold.

What’s being hit by the shutdown

The FCC officially ceased most operations Jan. 3 but kept some going, such as work on the 5G spectrum auction currently underway. But the agency furloughed more than 80 percent of its staff and shuttered several databases used by certification bodies authorized to work with product developers and labs.

The FCC requires most new devices that emit radio frequency energy to be certified to ensure that the energy doesn’t harm humans or interfere with other products or services that use radio spectrum. Almost all the actual testing is outsourced to FCC-authorized companies or Telecommunications Certification Bodies. For many products, though, the FCC must provide the final sign-off.

When the agency detailed its plans for the shutdown, it spelled out that these third parties wouldn’t “be able to upload applications for equipment authorization or issue grants of certification,” because they’d lack access to the necessary database.

“Any product with a transmitter in it is not getting certified until the shutdown ends,” said Ron Quirk, an attorney heading up the IoT practice for Marashlian & Donahue PLLC. “And if it’s not been certified by the FCC, manufacturers and equipment suppliers can’t sell it, or even market it, in the US.”

What kinds of products are we talking about? Think new phones, tablets, Wi-Fi routers and a host of internet-of-things gadgets, like the net-connected ball that watches your pets, the connected sensors for your home water system to combat leaks and waste, or the $400 internet-connected juicer.

And it’s not just FCC-certified devices. The shutdown could also impact some consumer-electronics products that’re considered medical devices and thus need approval from the FDA. That includes health care devices shown off at CES 2019 in Las Vegas this week: things like DIY sonograms, watches that measure your blood pressure, or vests that alert patients they’re in heart failure.

It’s unclear how many consumer-electronics products may be affected by the closure, since it’s hard to know where specific companies and devices were in the approval process when the shutdown started. Neither the FCC nor the FDA returned calls seeking comment.

But the list of new IoT devices needing FCC approval alone could be in the thousands, considering the number of new gadgets expected to flood the market over the next few years. In 2017, there were 8.4 billion connected devices. The volume should hit 20.4 billion by 2020, according to analyst firm Gartner.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel took to Twitter to comment on the sweeping effects of the shutdown on equipment makers.

“Go ahead, take a look at the back of the nearest electronic device,” she wrote in her tweet. “You’ll see an [FCC] number. The agency certifies every innovative mobile phone, television, and computer that emits radio frequency before they can head to market. Guess what is not happening during the shutdown?”

screen-shot-2019-01-11-at-8-07-25-pm

The FDA’s policy for device certification during the shutdown is somewhat different than the FCC’s. The agency has said it’ll still continue to process applications submitted before the shutdown took effect, but it won’t process any new applications. Still, attorneys from the law firm Hogan Lovells, who shepherd clients through the FDA approval process, say the backlog that’s growing during the shutdown will be a problem once the government reopens.

“Depending on the length of the shutdown, medical product centers may well be looking at a sizable backlog of applications to triage when the agency is fully operational again,” they wrote in a blog last month. “Thus, if the current shutdown persists, industry should anticipate that certain agency delays will likely continue for some time.”

Smaller companies to feel the heat

Experts also point out that it’s smaller startups, rather than huge tech companies, that’ll suffer the most from the shutdown.

“It’s companies focused on creating a ‘unicorn’ business around one or two key innovative products that will be affected most,” said Marc Martin, a partner at Perkins Coie LLP, who heads the firm’s communications industry group. “They don’t have a vast array of products in the market to keep them going.”

By contrast, companies like Apple, Samsung, and Sony might not be happy about putting their plans on hold, but delaying a product launch by weeks or even months “isn’t going to bring down their business,” Martin said.

Still, Martin and Quirk say their clients aren’t freaking out just yet. The timing of the shutdown, over the holidays, has likely softened the blow, since it’s typically a slower period. But concern is growing.

“It’s one thing if the shutdown lasts a few weeks,” Martin said. “Everyone can take some delay in stride. But if it goes on another month or two months, I’m going to be getting some angry calls.”


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Author: Marguerite Reardon
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Caper’s AI-powered shopping carts could represent the future of cashier-free shopping

Caper’s solution is far more scalable than others

While it seemed like brick-and-mortar retail would be all but killed off following the explosive rise of online shopping, what we’re instead seeing throughout the US is not death, but evolution.

Amazon has already proven with its “Go” stores that, using a combination of AI, sensors, and cameras, a completely cashier-free checkout experience is possible.

However, even if the system pays off in the long-run, it’s complex and difficult to scale. Installing and maintaining hundreds (if not thousands) of cameras and sensors across a superstore like Walmart or Target is likely a bit impractical.

That’s where Caper comes in. The start-up, founded by CEO Lindon Gao, has been working on an “AI-powered shopping cart” that will let customers simply grab items from store shelves and toss them in.

At that point, Caper says built-in sensors can automatically identify each item and tally up the total price of the cart’s contents. At the end of a shopping trip, customers can pay using a built-in payment terminal.

It’s easy to see how valuable Caper’s solution could be to major retailers. Unlike Amazon Go’s camera-based checkout technology, Caper’s carts sound much more scalable, without compromising on the promise of cashier-free shopping.

Caper has begun testing its technology in “2 grocery chains,” but only in a more limited format for now. Shoppers have to manually scan each item’s barcode before placing it in their cart, so the process isn’t as automatic as Caper hopes it will be in the future.

However, that could change during the rest of 2019, as Caper says it’s hoping to launch its technology across 150 additional store locations throughout the year.


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Author: Techspot
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US Energy Department Fuels Universities with $4.8 Million Blockchain Funding

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has said that it will be backing universities’ research and development projects, including blockchain, up to the tune of USD 4.8 million.

The funding comes from the Office of Fossil Energy under the University Training and Research initiative, which normally funds projects that show the potential to bring advancement to fossil fuel-based energy, while reducing the risks associated and bringing down operating costs.

Under the initiative, the US DoE encourages the development of cutting edge technologies that can make energy more affordable, especially though bringing efficiency into electrical grid systems.

The funding, normally meant for development in computing systems for coal-fired plants for analytical processing, water reprocessing and environmental sciences, is also seeking blockchain this time in order to “secure process signal data and other information flows within distributed sensor networks for fossil-based power generation systems”.

The DoE is not new to the technology, however. Almost a year back in January 2018, it had teamed up with BlockCypher, a blockchain company, to develop a multi blockchain system for energy bill settlements. It had also approved a USD 1 million grant to a Colorado blockchain company, Grid7, for the development of a decentralized energy grid.

The use of blockchain by energy sector from around the world is a recurring theme. South Korean state power company KEPCO is using the technology for the development of microgrids, while the affluent residents of Bangkok are already using blockchain on a trial basis for exchanging renewable energy.


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Author: Talha Dar
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Steemit Social Network Bans Users Amid Censorship Resistance

 

  • Steemit bans user account ‘thedarklord’ for attempting to leak documents exposing ‘truths’ about 9/11
  • The decision to censor account is faced with a backlash from users who claim Steemit went against their core value proposition to be censorship resistant and promote free speech
  • Steemit blockchain utilizes a proof of stake consensus protocol, which naturally makes it prone to centralized decision making

As we’ve discussed in the past, one of the most advertised benefits of the blockchain is its ability to prevent government censorship or any censorship from centralized organizations. To that end, many saw Steemit as the solution to the growing abuse of power by platforms like Facebook Google and Twitter, who time and time again have bowed down to the will of advertisers by censoring any user who shared even mildly controversial content.

Steemit, a decentralized social network promoted itself as being the censorship-resistant alternative to Facebook. According to recent reports, it appears that the platform has failed to uphold this core value proposition.

9/11 conspiracies violate Steemit’s ‘terms of service’

‘Thedarkoverlord’ is an account that belongs to a hacker group that has been trying to publish leaked documents that they claim expose hidden ‘truths’ about 9/11.

The group had previously tried to publish the documents on centralized platforms like Pastebin, Reddit, and Twitter. Predictably, those platforms all banned their accounts (apparently due to pressure from Government agencies).

Seeing as how they would never get their content published on centralized social media sites, the group thought that they would try their luck on a decentralized platform like Steemit. To their surprise, Steemit also banned them on January 7th due to a TOS violation.

The ban action itself wad made by Steemit developer RedBeard and can be seen on Steemit GitHub account. RedBeard added thedarkoverlord username into a list that is located on a file called GDPRUserList.

Source: Github print screen

Whether or not you agree with the methods by which this group attained and has threatened to expose this information, the fact remains that according to Steemit’s original promise to uphold censorship resistance, thedarkoverlord account should be entirely free to publish their findings without being banned.

User ban contradicts Steemit’s promises in the original white paper

To clarify, thedarkoverlord was only banned from the front-end interface to the Steemit Blockchain, meaning that although his content can no longer be viewed on the Steemit website, it can be seen on other front end interfaces connected to the Steem blockchain, like Busy.org. This in no way excuses the fact that Steemit has blatantly gone against the promises made in their original white paper:

“Steem is a decentralized network that is operated by witnesses in jurisdictions around the world. All user actions are publicly recorded on the blockchain, and can be publicly verified. This means that there is no single entity that can censor content that is valued by STEEM holders.”

As one would expect, Steemit users were angered by the censorship and expressed their grievances on Reddit and on the Github commit page as well.

How was censorship possible on a ‘decentralized’ social media platform?

Although Steem claims to be a decentralized platform, the reality is that their consensus protocol is much more prone to centralization than truly decentralized Blockchains like Bitcoin.

Steemit’s use of the proof of stake consensus protocol exposes them to situations where specific stakeholders can make decisions without full consensus from the community. This is a flaw that other proof of stake Blockchains like Ethereum are also exposed to. We are not sure if the decision to ban thedarklord was made by a Steemit user (or group of users) who staked a disproportionate amount of Steem tokens compared to other delegates. However, the rules of proof of stake most certainly allow for such a scenario to occur, which compromises the entire value proposition of Steem as a censorship resistance social media platform.

Ultimately, Steemit may have to make some drastic changes to their protocol and terms of service to regain users trust. As the market sentiment around cryptocurrencies remains bearish, Altcoins like Steemit don’t need any more reasons for their remaining holders to dump them.


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Author: ARNON
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New Bot Enables Millions to Send and Receive Cryptocurrencies on Facebook Messenger

A company is giving Facebook users a way to securely send and receive crypto through Messenger — all while keeping sensitive information private.

Lite.IM says its bot currently supports four cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and its own native currency, ZTX.

The company says it is “driven by a vision of what the world might look like if the founding ideals of the cryptocurrency revolution were actually realized” — a place where anyone can enjoy financial freedom irrespective of their technical skills or the region of the world where they reside.

A presence on Facebook Messenger is the latest milestone for Lite.IM. Its service was first made available through Telegram, along with old-fashioned text messages. Zulu Republic, the company behind the Lite.IM project, said that support for text messages has been essential in fulfilling its ambition, as it means “anyone with even the most basic mobile phone” can manage their crypto, with or without access the internet.

Faster than Facebook

The launch on Facebook Messenger means that Lite.IM is more ahead of the curve on crypto payments than Facebook is. Toward the end of last month, Cointelegraph reported on rumors that the social media giant was preparing to create a cryptocurrency for money transfers — geared toward users of Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

In a recent blog post, the team behind Lite.IM said: “With each new update, Lite.IM becomes more and more of a user-friendly cryptocurrency powerhouse, moving us closer and closer to widespread adoption. We’re proud to be bringing the world’s most popular cryptocurrency to the combined 2.5 billion users of Facebook and Telegram, not to mention all those who lack dependable internet access that can now manage Bitcoin via SMS messaging.”

Of course, Facebook has been in the doldrums of late amid ongoing concerns about how the data of its customers is used. Lite.IM says it has taken action to address any concerns that would-be users might have, stressing that chat records are never stored by the company. And with secure password forms and advanced private key encryption, third parties like Facebook are blocked from seeing any sensitive information that could lead to funds being compromised.

Updates on the way

Lite.IM says that “a ton of new features” are going to be released in the not-too-distant future, which will see its bots deployed on new platforms and with support for a greater number of cryptocurrencies.

In explaining its rationale for choosing social messaging as an outlet for crypto, Zulu Republic argues that such platforms are where the online world is heading — with usage, especially among younger generations, experiencing growth that far outpaces traditional social media companies.

The company believes that harnessing the widespread adoption of existing platforms can help aid the adoption of cryptocurrencies overall. Its team says that, instead of creating brand new services, greater reach and momentum can be achieved by offering compatibility with the services that people already use on a daily basis. Not only could this prove advantageous for someone who owes their friend $5 for a pizza they shared the night before, but it could prove life-changing for those who rely on remittances — offering an understandable avenue for completing remittances while dramatically reducing the fees they have to pay for a service.

Lite.IM says research shows that the typical consumer only uses about nine apps per day, meaning it is crucial to connect with them directly in the environments where they are already spending most of their time. The project says this could also address the “massive user experience problem” that the crypto world is currently experiencing.


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Author: Connor Blenkinsop
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IBM Unveils World’s First Integrated Quantum Computing System for Commercial Use

At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), IBM unveiled IBM Q System One, the world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use.

IBM also announced plans to open its first IBM Q Quantum Computation Center for commercial clients in Poughkeepsie, New York in 2019.

IBM Q System One enables universal approximate superconducting quantum computers to operate outside the research lab for the first time. It’s a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing, which could one day enable breakthroughs in such areas as materials and drug discovery, financial services, and artificial intelligence.

Designed by IBM scientists, systems engineers and industrial designers, IBM Q System One has a modular and compact design optimized for stability, reliability and continuous commercial use. For the first time ever, IBM Q System One enables universal approximate superconducting quantum computers to operate beyond the confines of the research lab.

Much as classical computers combine multiple components into an integrated architecture optimized to work together, IBM is applying the same approach to quantum computing with the first integrated universal quantum computing system. IBM Q System One is comprised of a number of custom components that work together to serve as the most advanced cloud-based quantum computing program available, including:

  • Quantum hardware designed to be stable and auto-calibrated to give repeatable and predictable high-quality qubits;
  • Cryogenic engineering that delivers a continuous cold and isolated quantum environment;
  • High precision electronics in compact form factors to tightly control large numbers of qubits;
  • Quantum firmware to manage the system health and enable system upgrades without downtime for users; and
  • Classical computation to provide secure cloud access and hybrid execution of quantum algorithms.

The IBM Q Quantum Computation Center opening later this year in Poughkeepsie, New York, will expand the IBM Q Network commercial quantum computing program, which already includes systems at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York.

This new center will house some of the world’s most advanced cloud-based quantum computing systems, which will be accessible to members of the IBM Q Network, a worldwide community of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions, and national research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science.

IBM assembled a team of industrial designers, architects, and manufacturers to work alongside IBM Research scientists and systems engineers to design IBM Q System One, including UK industrial and interior design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, and Goppion, a Milan-based manufacturer of high-end museum display cases that protect some of the world’s most precious art including the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.

Together these collaborators designed the first quantum system to consolidate thousands of components into a glass-enclosed, air-tight environment built specifically for business use, a milestone in the evolution of commercial quantum computers.

This integrated system aims to address one of the most challenging aspects of quantum computing: continuously maintaining the quality of qubits used to perform quantum computations. Powerful yet delicate, qubits quickly lose their special quantum properties, typically within 100 microseconds (for state-of-the-art superconducting qubits), due in part to the interconnected machinery’s ambient noise of vibrations, temperature fluctuations, and electromagnetic waves. Protection from this interference is one of many reasons why quantum computers and their components require careful engineering and isolation.

The design of IBM Q System One includes a nine-foot-tall, nine-foot-wide case of half-inch thick borosilicate glass forming a sealed, airtight enclosure that opens effortlessly using “roto-translation,” a motor-driven rotation around two displaced axes engineered to simplify the system’s maintenance and upgrade process while minimizing downtime – another innovative trait that makes the IBM Q System One suited to reliable commercial use.

A series of independent aluminum and steel frames unify, but also decouple the system’s cryostat, control electronics, and exterior casing, helping to avoid potential vibration interference that leads to “phase jitter” and qubit decoherence.

A replica of IBM Q System One will be on display at CES.


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Author: CDR Info
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This is Verizon’s first 5G smartphone

Hint: The phone may sound familiar.

 

Verizon’s first 5G smartphone didn’t start out as 5G device. But it will once the wireless carrier formally launches its next-generation mobile service.

The first smartphone will be Motorola’s Moto Z3, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg confirmed in an interview in the backstage of the CES 2019 keynote presentation area on Monday. But the catch? This originally launched in August as a 4G phone with the option of a Moto Mod attachment that would eventually give it a 5G capability.

36motorola-moto-z3

It turns out, the 5G Moto Mod will make the Moto Z3 the inaugural phone once Verizon turns on its mobile 5G service. A Samsung smartphone teased by Verizon and Qualcomm at the Snapdragon Tech Summit last month will be the second device. And while AT&T and Sprint have both said they will carry the Samsung phone too, Vestberg reaffirmed that it has an exclusive deal. That indicates the Samsung phone will likely come to Verizon first for an exclusive period before moving on to the other carriers.

While Vestberg declined to comment on the exact timing of the launch, you can sketch out the potential window. It’s widely anticipated that Samsung will launch a 5G variant of its Galaxy S10, which usually launches in late February around the Mobile World Congress trade show. Vestberg’s comments indicate that the service and the 5G Moto Mod will launch before then.

This would give Verizon an advantage as the first carrier to launch a 5G service with a smartphone. Carriers around the world have fallen over themselves to proclaim themselves as the first to 5G, which gives them bragging rights and helps cement the perception of network superiority. That’s become critically important as the competition for consumers heat up, since network quality remains a big deciding factor.

5G is all the rage at CES 2019, and is one of the dominant trends at the show. The next generation of wireless service is expected to bring a big boost in speed and network responsiveness, which opens the door to a better mobile experience, as well new areas of tech like streaming VR or telemedicine.

Vestberg has long proclaimed that Verizon would be the first to launch 5G. It rolled out a 5G variant of home broadband service in October, although skeptics claimed it didn’t count because it used non-industry standard technology. AT&T in December launched 5G mobile service, but customers in select cities can only tap into the network using Wi-Fi hotspots, and not smartphones.

Regardless of who’s first, it’s clear 5G is slowly turning from hype into reality, especially as broader deployments of the network are underway with many carriers around the world.  T-Mobile promises to have broader commercial service available early this year, and Sprint and LG are promising the first 5G smartphone. T-Mobile and Sprint promise to do even more together if they merge.


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Author: Roger Cheng
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Tech Breakthroughs of 2018

Development across the entire information technology landscape certainly didn’t slow down this year. From CRISPR babies, to the rapid decline of the crypto markets, to a new robot on Mars, and discovery of subatomic particles that could change modern physics as we know it, there was no shortage of headline-grabbing breakthroughs and discoveries.

As 2018 comes to a close, we can pause and reflect on some of the biggest technology breakthroughs and scientific discoveries that occurred this year.

I reached out to a few Singularity University speakers and faculty across the various technology domains we cover asking what they thought the biggest breakthrough was in their area of expertise. The question posed was:

“What, in your opinion, was the biggest development in your area of focus this year? Or, what was the breakthrough you were most surprised by in 2018?”

 I can share that for me, hands down, the most surprising development I came across in 2018 was learning that a publicly-traded company that was briefly valued at over $1 billion, and has over 12,000 employees and contractors spread around the world, has no physical office space and the entire business is run and operated from inside an online virtual world. This is Ready Player One stuff happening now.

For the rest, here’s what our experts had to say.

DIGITAL BIOLOGY

Dr. Tiffany Vora | Faculty Director and Vice Chair, Digital Biology and Medicine, Singularity University

“That’s easy: CRISPR babies. I knew it was technically possible, and I’ve spent two years predicting it would happen first in China. I knew it was just a matter of time but I failed to predict the lack of oversight, the dubious consent process, the paucity of publicly-available data, and the targeting of a disease that we already know how to prevent and treat and that the children were at low risk of anyway.

I’m not convinced that this counts as a technical breakthrough, since one of the girls probably isn’t immune to HIV, but it sure was a surprise.”

QUANTUM COMPUTING

Andrew Fursman | Co-Founder/CEO 1Qbit, Faculty, Quantum Computing, Singularity University

“There were two last-minute holiday season surprise quantum computing funding and technology breakthroughs:

First, right before the government shutdown, one priority legislative accomplishment will provide $1.2 billion in quantum computing research over the next five years. Second, there’s the rise of ions as a truly viable, scalable quantum computing architecture.”

*Read this Gizmodo profile on an exciting startup in the space to learn more about this type of quantum computing

ENERGY

Ramez Naam | Chair, Energy and Environmental Systems, Singularity University

“2018 had plenty of energy surprises. In solar, we saw unsubsidized prices in the sunny parts of the world at just over two cents per kwh, or less than half the price of new coal or gas electricity. In the US southwest and Texas, new solar is also now cheaper than new coal or gas. But even more shockingly, in Germany, which is one of the least sunny countries on earth (it gets less sunlight than Canada) the average bid for new solar in a 2018 auction was less than 5 US cents per kwh. That’s as cheap as new natural gas in the US, and far cheaper than coal, gas, or any other new electricity source in most of Europe.

In fact, it’s now cheaper in some parts of the world to build new solar or wind than to run existing coal plants. Think tank Carbon Tracker calculates that, over the next 10 years, it will become cheaper to build new wind or solar than to operate coal power in most of the world, including specifically the US, most of Europe, and—most importantly—India and the world’s dominant burner of coal, China.

GLOBAL GRAND CHALLENGES

Darlene Damm | Vice Chair, Faculty, Global Grand Challenges, Singularity University

“In 2018 we saw a lot of areas in the Global Grand Challenges move forward—advancements in robotic farming technology and cultured meat, low-cost 3D printed housing, more sophisticated types of online education expanding to every corner of the world, and governments creating new policies to deal with the ethics of the digital world. These were the areas we were watching and had predicted there would be change.

What most surprised me was to see young people, especially teenagers, start to harness technology in powerful ways and use it as a platform to make their voices heard and drive meaningful change in the world. In 2018 we saw teenagers speak out on a number of issues related to their well-being and launch digital movements around issues such as gun and school safety, global warming and environmental issues. We often talk about the harm technology can cause to young people, but on the flip side, it can be a very powerful tool for youth to start changing the world today and something I hope we see more of in the future.”

BUSINESS STRATEGY

Pascal Finette | Chair, Entrepreneurship and Open Innovation, Singularity University

“Without a doubt the rapid and massive adoption of AI, specifically deep learning, across industries, sectors, and organizations. What was a curiosity for most companies at the beginning of the year has quickly made its way into the boardroom and leadership meetings, and all the way down into the innovation and IT department’s agenda. You are hard-pressed to find a mid- to large-sized company today that is not experimenting or implementing AI in various aspects of its business.

On the slightly snarkier side of answering this question: The very rapid decline in interest in blockchain (and cryptocurrencies). The blockchain party was short, ferocious, and ended earlier than most would have anticipated, with a huge hangover for some. The good news—with the hot air dissipated, we can now focus on exploring the unique use cases where blockchain does indeed offer real advantages over centralized approaches.”

*Author note: snark is welcome and appreciated

ROBOTICS

Hod Lipson | Director, Creative Machines Lab, Columbia University

“The biggest surprise for me this year in robotics was learning dexterity. For decades, roboticists have been trying to understand and imitate dexterous manipulation. We humans seem to be able to manipulate objects with our fingers with incredible ease—imagine sifting through a bunch of keys in the dark, or tossing and catching a cube. And while there has been much progress in machine perception, dexterous manipulation remained elusive.

There seemed to be something almost magical in how we humans can physically manipulate the physical world around us. Decades of research in grasping and manipulation, and millions of dollars spent on robot-hand hardware development, has brought us little progress. But in late 2018, the Berkley OpenAI group demonstrated that this hurdle may finally succumb to machine learning as well. Given 200 years worth of practice, machines learned to manipulate a physical object with amazing fluidity. This might be the beginning of a new age for dexterous robotics.”

MACHINE LEARNING

Jeremy Howard | Founding Researcher, fast.ai, Founder/CEO, Enlitic, Faculty Data Science, Singularity University

“The biggest development in machine learning this year has been the development of effective natural language processing (NLP).

The New York Times published an article last month titled “Finally, a Machine That Can Finish Your Sentence,” which argued that NLP neural networks have reached a significant milestone in capability and speed of development. The “finishing your sentence” capability mentioned in the title refers to a type of neural network called a “language model,” which is literally a model that learns how to finish your sentences.

Earlier this year, two systems (one, called ELMO, is from the Allen Institute for AI, and the other, called ULMFiT, was developed by me and Sebastian Ruder) showed that such a model could be fine-tuned to dramatically improve the state-of-the-art in nearly every NLP task that researchers study. This work was further developed by OpenAI, which in turn was greatly scaled up by Google Brain, who created a system called BERT which reached human-level performance on some of NLP’s toughest challenges.

Over the next year, expect to see fine-tuned language models used for everything from understanding medical texts to building disruptive social media troll armies.”

DIGITAL MANUFACTURING

Andre Wegner | Founder/CEO Authentise, Chair, Digital Manufacturing, Singularity University

“Most surprising to me was the extent and speed at which the industry finally opened up.

While previously, only few 3D printing suppliers had APIs and knew what to do with them, 2018 saw nearly every OEM (or original equipment manufacturer) enabling data access and, even more surprisingly, shying away from proprietary standards and adopting MTConnect, as stalwarts such as 3D Systems and Stratasys have been. This means that in two to three years, data access to machines will be easy, commonplace, and free. The value will be in what is being done with that data.

Another example of this openness are the seemingly endless announcements of integrated workflows: GE’s announcement with most major software players to enable integrated solutions, EOS’s announcement with Siemens, and many more. It’s clear that all actors in the additive ecosystem have taken a step forward in terms of openness. The result is a faster pace of innovation, particularly in the software and data domains that are crucial to enabling comprehensive digital workflow to drive agile and resilient manufacturing.

I’m more optimistic we’ll achieve that now than I was at the end of 2017.”

SCIENCE AND DISCOVERY

Paul Saffo | Chair, Future Studies, Singularity University, Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Stanford Media-X Research Network

“The most important development in technology this year isn’t a technology, but rather the astonishing science surprises made possible by recent technology innovations. My short list includes the discovery of the “neptmoon”, a Neptune-scale moon circling a Jupiter-scale planet 8,000 lightyears from us; the successful deployment of the Mars InSight Lander a month ago; and the tantalizing ANITA detection (what could be a new subatomic particle which would in turn blow the standard model wide open). The highest use of invention is to support science discovery, because those discoveries in turn lead us to the future innovations that will improve the state of the world—and fire up our imaginations.”

ROBOTICS

Pablos Holman | Inventor, Hacker, Faculty, Singularity University

“Just five or ten years ago, if you’d asked any of us technologists “What is harder for robots?  Eyes, or fingers?” We’d have all said eyes. Robots have extraordinary eyes now, but even in a surgical robot, the fingers are numb and don’t feel anything. Stanford robotics researchers have invented fingertips that can feel, and this will be a kingpin that allows robots to go everywhere they haven’t been yet.”

BLOCKCHAIN

Nathana Sharma | Blockchain, Policy, Law, and Ethics, Faculty, Singularity University

“2017 was the year of peak blockchain hype. 2018 has been a year of resetting expectations and technological development, even as the broader cryptocurrency markets have faced a winter. It’s now about seeing adoption and applications that people want and need to use rise. An incredible piece of news from December 2018 is that Facebook is developing a cryptocurrency for users to make payments through Whatsapp. That’s surprisingly fast mainstream adoption of this new technology, and indicates how powerful it is.”

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Neil Jacobstein | Chair, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Singularity University

“I think one of the most visible improvements in AI was illustrated by the Boston Dynamics Parkour video. This was not due to an improvement in brushless motors, accelerometers, or gears. It was due to improvements in AI algorithms and training data. To be fair, the video released was cherry-picked from numerous attempts, many of which ended with a crash. However, the fact that it could be accomplished at all in 2018 was a real win for both AI and robotics.”

NEUROSCIENCE

Divya Chander | Chair, Neuroscience, Singularity University

“2018 ushered in a new era of exponential trends in non-invasive brain modulation. Changing behavior or restoring function takes on a new meaning when invasive interfaces are no longer needed to manipulate neural circuitry. The end of 2018 saw two amazing announcements: the ability to grow neural organoids (mini-brains) in a dish from neural stem cells that started expressing electrical activity, mimicking the brain function of premature babies, and the first (known) application of CRISPR to genetically alter two fetuses grown through IVF. Although this was ostensibly to provide genetic resilience against HIV infections, imagine what would happen if we started tinkering with neural circuitry and intelligence.”


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Author: Aaron Frank
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