Boulder Future Salon

Roboforming: The future of metalworking? You start with a sheet of metal and two robotic arms pinch the metal, one from each side, and deform it precisely using math. There is so much force involved that the robotic arms experience backlash due to the imperfections in the gears and screws, and that has to be taken into account.

"Tesla reinvents carmaking with quiet breakthrough." "The company pioneered the use of huge presses with 6,000 to 9,000 tons of clamping pressure to mold the front and rear structures of its Model Y in a 'gigacasting' process that slashed production costs and left rivals scrambling to catch up."

"In a bid to extend its lead, Tesla is closing in on an innovation that would allow it to die cast nearly all the complex underbody of an EV in one piece, rather than about 400 parts in a conventional car, the people said."

"Mysterious moonquake traced to Apollo 17 lunar lander base."

"When they went to the moon, Apollo astronauts placed seismometers on the surface. Those instruments strikingly revealed that the moon experiences moonquakes, just as the Earth experiences earthquakes. In fact, scientists have since determined there are four types of moonquakes: Deep, shallow, thermal and the kind stemming from meteorite impacts."

"Triangulating the origin of the mystery quakes, researchers surprisingly realized they came from the Apollo 17 lunar lander base, which expands and vibrates each morning as it becomes heated by the sun."

The analysis is new but the data comes from October 1976 to May 1977.

Single-bladed floating wind turbine. From a Dutch company called Touchwind.

"It's designed around a massive single-piece rotor, sitting on the end of a pole that's draped over a big barrel, with a large floating buoy hanging beneath it."

"This one huge double blade, says Touchwind, should cost around 30% as much to make as the triple-bladed arrangements on traditional turbines. It doesn't require any expensive active blade-pitch control systems, and where most standard turbines need to shut down in wind speeds above 25 or so m/sec (90 km/h / 56 mph), this one is rated for speeds as high as 70 m/sec (252 km/h / 157 mph). Less downtime equals more productive hours and more energy."

The reason for the lack of active blade-pitch control systems is the wind itself and the dangling buoy server to control the angle of the blade, so it always has the right exposure to the wind.

"Funky AI-generated spiraling medieval village captivates social media."

Reminds me of M.C. Escher.

And check out the slideshow in the middle of the checkerboard medieval village.

The images are made with ControlNet. ControlNet allow you to, in addition to the text prompt, provide an additional image which will "condition" the generated image. If the condition is a simple black-and-white pattern, like a spiral or checkerboard, it turns out this effect is created in the output.

How exactly ControlNet works I can't really explain for you. Looking through the paper I can tell you that what it does is take a diffusion network and "lock down" the parameters. Then, on a block-by-block basis, it copies the blocks and makes the parameters on the copy changeable again. Diffusion networks are made of ResNet (residual network) "blocks" where a "block" is a group of layers of the same dimensions that function together.

While the original blocks are connnected together in a sequence, the copied blocks are treated as "nested", with the output from the first blocks going back into the original network near the end, and the output from later blocks feeding back into the original network near the center. When the output is fed back in, it first goes through a convolution the inventors call a "zero convolution". This doesn't mean the area used for convolution has zero size, like you might think. No, the "zero" refers to the idea that the convolution weights are initialized to all zeros, and grow from there to some optimized values over the course of training.

Anyway, *somehow* this creates a tension between the original image and the additional "condition" image such that the locked-down network pushes to preserve the style and structure of the original image while the trainable copy pushes to match the pattern in the condition image, and the end result is a combination of both.

"This tiny fingernail-length space thruster chip runs on the greenest propellant of all: water."

"Designed to manoeuvre the smallest classes of satellite, the operation of this Iridium Catalysed Electrolysis CubeSat Thruster (ICE-Cube Thruster) developed with Imperial College in the UK is based on electrolysis."

"Avoiding any need for bulky gaseous propellant storage, an associated electrolyser runs a 20-watt current through water to produce hydrogen and oxygen to propel the thruster."

"The ICE-Cube Thruster is so small in scale -- with its combustion chamber and nozzle measuring less than 1mm in length -- that it could only be assembled using a MEMS (Micro-Electrical Mechanical Systems) approach, borrowing methods from the microelectronics sector."

"A test campaign achieved 1.25 millinewtons of thrust at a specific impulse of 185 seconds on a sustained basis."

The "newton" is the unit of force in the metric system. 1.25 millinewtons is about the amout of force a paperclip exerts on your hand from the force of gravity. It's not much but in the vacuum of space, a little force over time can add up.

Specific impulse, without going into the mathematical details, is a measure of fuel efficiency. The number is in "seconds" because it represents the length of time the thruster can maintain the given newtons of thrust for a pre-determined "unit" mass of fuel. The easiest way to understand these numbers is by comparing them to each other. If you look at the rocket engine comparison table on Wikipedia (link below), you'll see 185 seconds is worse than just about every rocket engine. SpaceX's Merlin comes in at 348 seconds, and the Russian RD-0146D comes it on top at 470 seconds.

So this engine provides little thrust, inefficiently, but its unbelievably compact size may still make it useful for tiny cubesats.

"Honda has a new e-scooter called the Motocompacto, which has an aesthetic that I would describe as 'irresistibly, heartbreakingly dorky and adorable.'"

"The new Motocompacto features an updated, but still retro look, with an all-white body that looks vaguely 1950s pop sci-fi. The scooter folds down for portability, and has a total range of 12 miles, with a battery that charges to full in 3.5 hours with its onboard charger using a standard household outlet. It will retail for just $995."

"Honda's Motocompacto has a top speed of 15 mph, and it's aimed at first- and last-mile transportation needs."

"We're in a productivity crisis, according to 52 years of data. Things could get really bad."

"From 1870 -- 1970, there was an incredible 50x increase in the productivity of the average manual worker. Let me break that down so it really lands for you like it did for me:"

"50x Increase: Imagine getting 50 hours of work done in one hour. Or imagine doing the work of 50 people by yourself."

"On Average: We're not just talking about a 50x increase for the most ambitious, smartest manual workers. We're talking about all manual workers."

"To put the profundity in context, the 'Great Boom' is one of the most amazing and under-appreciated events in economic history."

"Bizarrely, in 1970, lots of things started going downhill."

"The productivity growth rate decreased significantly (known as the productivity paradox)."

"At the same time that productivity overall was increasing (even if the growth rate dropped), most of the productivity gains went to the top earners while the middle class stagnated. This is known as the Great Decoupling."

"This stagnation is a big deal. When you stop believing that your kids will have a better life than you, you stop believing in the 'American dream.' And according to a 2022 survey of 1,300+ people in 19 countries, 70% of survey respondents believe their children would be worse off financially -- a significant increase compared to previous years."

"Other examples of stagnation include:"

"The price of energy is stagnant rather than decreasing."

"Transportation isn't moving faster than decades ago (ie, cars & planes)."

"Biotech innovation is 1/3 the rate compared to 20 years ago."

"Healthcare costs are increasing significantly without a big results increase."

"Higher education fees are increasing significantly without a big results increase."

"The high school graduation rate plateaued."

"The average lifespan in developed countries is stalling."

"Agricultural innovation has decreased significantly for the first time in nearly a century."

"Large construction projects are more expensive and take much longer."

"While there are more innovations overall, there are fewer innovations per person."

He (Michael Simmons) goes on to dismiss Moore's Law. This kind of surprised me. I've been taking it as a truism that productivity moved from the world of atoms to the world of bits is still productivity. Digital devices still confer benefits to their users, even if they don't result in increased energy production or any other traditional measure. The amount of entertainment, to cite one example, available to anyone with an internet connection today, would cost a fortune if someone tried to buy all the same stuff (whatever the rough equivalents would be) in 1970. It is to the digital revolution's *credit* that it has delivered more and more benefit *without* increases in energy consumption, material consumption, and so on -- it should not be a criticism. If it delivers benefits that are free or very close to free, then it is to be expected that such benefits will be hard to measure by traditional money-based measurements.

He has the (now famous) graph of the decoupling between productivity and wages, and that's what I thought the real issues was. That and the skyrocketing cost of certain non-digital goods, like housing, healthcare, and education.

He goes on to predict dire consequences: war, currency collapse, rise of communism, and environmental catastrophe. Well, I guess whether "rise of communism" counts as catastrophic depends on your political orientation; a lot of people are pro-communism. When the word comes up in conversation, I always ask people to define "communism" so I know what they're talking about when they use the word. Here, he doesn't give a definition, but says, "The more growth stalls, the more people there are calling for revolution, not just reform." That seems to be his point: stalling productivity is likely to lead to revolutions within countries, not just wars between countries.

"Nvidia engineer's message to Google AI researchers: Leave your company". "Jacopo Pantaleoni joined Nvidia in 2001 when the company had less than 500 employees." "In July, as Nvidia boomed like no other company, Pantaleoni says he resigned, giving up a substantial amount of unvested stock units, after coming to a realization."

"This market of machine learning, artificial intelligence" is "almost entirely driven by the big players -- Googles, Amazons, Metas" -- that have the 'enormous amounts of data and enormous amounts of capital' to develop AI at scale. Those companies are also Nvidia's biggest customers. 'This was not the world I wanted to help build.'"

"The concentration of power in the hands of tech giants like Google is the real danger of AI."

Commentary: In the late 90s, I had boundless enthusiasm for the internet because I saw it as a "democratizing" force, empowering regular people and decentralizing power. We can now see it did the opposite, concentrating wealth and power in a small handful of companies. Now I accept the simple, now-obvious reality that technology is a wealth concentrator. I expect the emerging AI era to turbocharge wealth concentration. It is true that tech goes through eras and disruption happens. The dominant companies of the mainframe era didn't dominate in the PC era, and the dominant companies of the PC era don't dominate in the current internet and mobile device era. The current dominant companies, the "Googles, Amazons, and companies formerly known as Facebooks" (I still can't bring myself to say "Meta", oops I just did), are clearly all determined to remain dominant, but we'll see. The point is, there is disruption, there is churn, but after the dust settles, what we see looking backward is that wealth is more concentrated than it was before. More wealth is concentrated in fewer top companies, more wealth goes to not just the upper 1% but the upper 0.1%, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio increases, more people work for large and very large companies as economic power becomes concentrated, Fortune 500 companies are on one side or another of a larger and larger percentage of financial transactions, and so on.

What do you all think, will there be a time in 30 or 40 years, when most of the labor all over the world is done by robots supplied by one or a small handful of companies? I'm guessing 5 or 6 at most.

"Can Godot deliver?" ponders Joanna at Chickensoft.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know about the fiasco in the game development world regarding the Unity video game engine.

"The game engine company Unity has once again gained notoriety for offending its users. This time, they've announced a $0.20 per install fee for games that surpass $200,000 in revenue."

"Unity's recent cash grab is not all that unexpected, either: this is just the latest transgression in a string of unpopular decisions. In case you missed it, here's what the world's most-popular game engine has been up to:"

[...list of stuff...]

But behind the scenes, this has sparked a great deal of interest in Godot, the leading open source game engine.

"Whether or not Unity intended to, I think they've awoken a sleeping giant. Godot almost seemed ambivalent to Unity before -- but now they're promising to take care of the users that Unity has left behind."

"So, if I was a big studio with millions of dollars to toss around, I'd put it into Godot. Free software can't be stopped."

Chickensoft makes open source tools for Godot and C#.

"NixOS: The hype is real!"

NixOS is a Linux distribution that has its own package manager and with it, its own programming language. The entire system configuration is in one configuration file. You edit the configuration file, and the system adds and removes apps all by itself. You can copy the file to another computer and replicate the entire system from just that configuration file.

It does this with a human-readable file and "functional" package manger that handles packages in a fully isolated manner. It has the largest repository of any Linux with over 80,000 packages. Packages declare exactly which versions of dependencies they use, and the Nix package manager will guarantee the different versions will be isolated.

Updates are atomic, meaning the updates are done entirely or not at all. The old system is kept and you can always switch back to it. NixOS never breaks because you can always roll back to a working system.

NixOS doesn't sacrifice performance and makes all the Linux desktop environments available.

That's what's in the video. Now my own commentary. NixOS has been around for 20 years, but it may just now be reaching the "critical mass" of functionality and users for it to break out. I suspect it may break out slowly. Like the people in the Jupiter Broadcasting podcast (link below) say, maybe it 10 years most Linux users will be using NixOS, but the transition will probably be gradual. I'm going to try it out.

I put the word "functional" in quotes above on purpose. In regular english, "functional" just means something works as intended. But in computer science, the word "functional" has a very particular meaning. Think "math functions" like you learned in calculus class. In computer science, a functional programming language is a language where functions are treated as deterministic mathematical functions, which take an input and compute an output, and crucially, produce so "side effects" altering data outside the output data. In regular "imperative" languages, the language executes a series of statements which update the program's state.

Nix applies this "functional" concept to package management. They've made a "purely functional package manager." This means that it treats packages like values in a purely functional programming language, "pure" meaning it forbids all side effects. Packages, once installed, never change after they have been built. If a different version of a package is needed, it gets built and lives alongside the first one, and likewise can never change. Cryptographic hashes are used to differentiate the versions. All these packages are stored in the "Nix store".

The Nix build process ensures package dependency specifications are complete. The build process can only find resources that have been declared explicitly as dependencies, so if any are missing, the build will fail.

It's definitely a different philosophy from traditional Linux. And may have some pitfalls for those used to regular Linux (see below).

A short course (tutorial) on prompt engineering. Just as when doing Google searches, you don't know what is happening under the hood. So you learn what works by experimentation. Here are some things Ania Kubow has figured out.

Clear instructions: "Correct my paragraph" is not a good prompt. Long, detailed instructions are ok. A human might be annoyed, but GPT-4 doesn't mind. Don't say "the election" -- specify which election you are talking about. "Write the code to filter out some ages from data." It gives you Python code -- oh no, you didn't want Python code.

Adopt a persona: "Write a poem as Helena. Helena is 25 years old and her writing style is similar to 21st century poet Rupi Kuar. Write a poem for her 18-year-old sister's high school graduation."

Specify the format: If you want a checklist, ask for a checklist. Or a summary, or a detailed explanation. "Create a checklist for preparing for a job interview." Give it examples. (She calls this "few-shot prompting" for some reason.)

Avoid leading the answer. Limit the scope. Beware of hallucinations. Learn about embeddings. She doesn't comment on the weirdness of the word "embeddings", but I always do, like right now.

She talks about the basics of using the API so you can do this stuff programmatically.

A CRISPR-free DNA editing system has been invented. It is claimed it can do effective base editing in the nucleus, mitochondria, and chloroplast genomes of plant and human cells.

The alternative system is called CyDENT and it's based on a preceding technology TALE. "TALE" stands for "transcription-activator-like effector". Before explaining what CyDENT is about, it might first be worthwhile to explain a bit about TALE. TALE proteins, which were discovered in bacteria (Xanthomonas bacteria, if you care to know), have the special property that they can be reconfigured to match any DNA sequence. To make these proteins work as gene editors, they are fused to something called a deaminase. A deaminase, in turn, is a fancy word that means a protein that can convert one DNA base to another. For example there are deaminases that convert C to T.

The shortcoming of this system is that the deaminases are themselves double-stranded pairs of DNA. The bases that they edit likewise have to be double-stranded. The new CyDENT base editing system fuses TALES with a single-strand-specific cytidine deaminase that has been found called FokI nickase.

There are some additional components: an exonuclease and a uracil glycosylase inhibitor. Exonucleases pop nucleotides off the end of a DNA strand one at a time. They are called "exo" because there's such a thing as endonucleases, which operate in the middle of a DNA strand. There are different exonucleases depending on which end of the DNA strand you want to pop, and there are exonucleases for RNA, too.

I have no idea what the uracil glycosylase inhibitor is for. A uracil glycosylase inhibitor is a protein that inhibits uracil DNA glycosylase, which is an enzyme that removes uracil from DNA. It's considered a "repair" enzyme. RNA uses uracil while DNA uses thymine. So if there's any uracil in DNA, it shouldn't be there.

Ok, at this point we turn our attention back to the main actor, the FokI nickase. It's called a "nickase" because it "nicks" DNA strands. Great name, eh? In case you're wondering, no, the "Fokl" part of the name doesn't come from the great Dr. Fokl, it comes from the name of the bacteria where it was discovered, Flavobacterium okeanokoites.

So the idea is that the TALE proteins find the target strand of DNA, the Fokl nickase "nicks" the DNA strand, exposing the desired region, the exonuclease pops nucleotides off one strand, leaving a short single stranded DNA segment. The DNA deaminase steps in here and modifies the DNA in the single-stranded segment.

If you're wondering what the point of all this is, it allows editing of single-stranded DNA in the absense of a bunch of stuff CRISPR requires, in particular the Cas9-guided R-loop structure and double-stranded DNA deaminases mentioned in the article. The R-loop structure is a complex 3-dimensional structure that forms when the Cas9 protein that the CRISPR system relies on finds its DNA target. Believe it on not, this structure involves the RNA strand that is the "guide" for the CRISPR editing process to form a "hybrid" double helix with one of the DNA strands -- the the "R-loop" actually consists of an RNA-DNA helix and a single-stranded DNA loop that is intertwined with the RNA-DNA helix.

Apparently it is really crucial for the system to be RNA-free, as that is the key to enabling it to work in the nucleus and in "organellar genomes" such as mitochondria and plant chloroplasts.

This might be a good time to tell you what CyDENT stands for, now that you'll understand all the terms in it. It stands for "cytosine deamination by nicking and editing technology".

BlazeBegin is another site for sharing startups. I had a look at their "trending" list. Here's some startups on it.

"Modivu AI Stylist analyzes the clothes in a photo and suggests new clothing items that would complement that style. For example, if a user shares a photo wearing a black dress, #Modivu #AI #Stylist can offer combinations that can be completed with a matching jacket, scarf, or jewelry. This way, users can enhance their style choices and find inspiration to create their unique fashion statements."

"SaveDay is a Telegram bot that allows you to capture and save a range of content, from articles to YouTube videos. Utilizing AI-driven search capabilities, SaveDay retrieves your saved items with just a simple description. It also generates concise keynotes, streamlining the process of content organization and sharing."

"Iconik AI helps in creating professional-grade app icons using AI. Generate icons with perfect designs and easily download them, following guidelines for iOS, Android, and web platforms in just a few clicks. Our advanced AI algorithms generate unique icons based on your preferences. Simply input your desired elements, select colors, and choose from various design options like minimalist, clay, or 2D game-inspired."

"Userlove is a no-code unified user experience platform for SAAS, that helps customers to unleash your product's potential and increase user engagement, retention and conversion rates. It's allow user to create Personalized product tours, User onboarding checklist, Collect customer feedback and sentiment in minutes using in-app survey & NPS. Get entire user journey & user behavior insights."

"2Slash: Generate social media content, Google Sheets formulas, email replies, enhance grammar and explore limitless possibilities! Transform any text field into an AI powered text field."

" AI-Powered Hotel Search Engine. Find a hotel room with an ergonomic workspace in 100+ countries."

"Ruly is a no-code software platform that helps businesses and individuals build responsive database web applications quickly without having to deal with technology. Use the drag-and-drop interface to design CRMs, ERPs, and SaaS applications."

Not all the startups are AI startups.

"JudgeUs is a new mobile app that transforms how couples resolve disagreements. Our platform uses the collective wisdom of the public to deliver a fair and impartial verdict on any issue. By letting people vote and choose between arguments, we make it easier for couples to reach decisions without endless debates and negotiations."

Just what every fighting couple wants?

"RAW is a dating app that encourages people to show their true, unfiltered version through daily photo updates captured in real-time only using a double camera. Unlike any other dating apps, RAW requires users to take a new photo every day using their device's two cameras. This new-real-live approach eliminates the need for stale, outdated content and reduces the likelihood of ghosting and catfishing, leaving room for honest connections and finding your new first love. One shot gets you into today's swipe game. The time of the posting changes daily -- so the users never know when and where they'll be 'caught', keeping them on their toes and creating an air of spontaneity."

"Kwiketo is a keto & low-carb snack subscription service which offers three different monthly snack boxes with free delivery. Discover up to 20 low-carb goodies globally and pay less for more fun."

I just discovered there's this website, Devpost, "The home for hackathons".

It has a machine learning/AI category. That category has the most number of hackathons, 40, and the most prize money, $1.261 million.

If you're looking to do hackathons, especially machine learning hackathons, here you go.

DARPA has launched the AI Cyber Challenge. A DARPA competition that combines AI with cybersecurity, with a $4 million first prize and $20 million in total prize money.

The goal of the competition is to develop a fully autonomous Cyber Reasoning System that finds and fixes, correctly, and without human assistance, vulnerabilities in the computer systems that will be used for the competition.

The corrections must not break any normal, intended functionality.

The computer systems used for the competition will have flaws put into them intentionally in the 25 classes of software weakness identified in MITRE's "2023 Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses" report.