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AI in the works

Guess what I ran into in today? AIExperiments with Google. AI has been the talk of the town for a while. While it has been doing a lot behind the scenes, developers have been providing more and more hands on applications to see how it works, what it “sees”. AIExperiments is just that. I’ve only played around with Quick, Draw!. But it really gives you a feel for how AI does what it does. Aaaannnnnd there goes my evening.

Another project that Google made public recently was an AI system that created its own encryption algorithm. Basically, it consisted of three systems. System A would try to get an encrypted message across to system B. System E would intercept the message and try to understand /decrypt it. A would need to modify its encryption algorithm until E could not understand what it was trying to say. Now given that the communication only involved a 16 bit message and that it took 15,000 messages for A to be able to send the message with E able to guess 50% of the message (which is as good as flipping the coin on what each bit could be), nevertheless, the applications of such a system could be tremendous. More @ Wired

And that was demonstrated by another project that they released shortly after. A system creating it’s own language. To translate text from Portuguese to Spanish, the AI was taught to use the Portuguese to English translation and then translate the English phrase to Spanish. Over time, the AI learned to translate Portuguese directly to Spanish without any intermediate English translation. Meaning, the system learned to represent the concepts it uses to translate between other languages. More on Research @ Google.

A core part of AI is feedback. If it makes a decision, it needs to know whether or not it was right. It can then use this feedback to improve on its next decision because it has a little more idea about what is “expected”. So while AIExperiements might be “experiments”, ideas like this can be used to crowd-source information that can be used by AI systems to better our everyday lives.

Also, while you’re at it, there some other cool experiments folks have built for Chrome, Android and Arts & Culture. And what’s more, you can contribute too if you can build something along those lines.

-Akshar Rawal

 

Sun done, now the moon’s energy

We’ve harnessed the power of the sun’s energy through solar technology and SolarCity is an example of it. The Moon has been feeling bad about it and it wants to be helpful and important too. Well guess what, we might soon be putting it’s power to use. How, you say? Tidal energy.

Ocean waves carry immense power that is just waiting to be tapped into. We’ve tapped into the power of flowing rivers (waterfalls, primarily). Tidal waves are probably even more powerful than a river would be. So why not harness that energy? What’s been stopping us from doing so? The answer is technology. We did not have the system design that would be able to harness that power. With rivers, the turbine is forced to move with the flow with part of it being outside the water. This allows for it to be pushed at one end, forcing circular motion. But with the ocean waves, the turbine, to be in a wave intensive area, would either have to be completely submerged, or really, really huge. Let’s not go to designing huge turbines. We still have to move ships in the ocean.

So submerged it is. But being submerged would leave the traditional turbine design useless. Equal force on both ends would leave no room for the circular motion. The idea then would be to design the rotors in a hydro-dynamic fashion. We already have something similar. Wind mills, with their aero-dynamic designs. Why not replicate that? Actually people have and it has not turned out to be the best of the ideas. It is a bit inefficient, things don’t move as fast under the ocean pressure. And the marine life is not particularly happy about it either. But marine life primarily resides in the depth of the oceans. Why not do something closer to the shores? We have quite some ways around there too.

Well a British start up has done just that. It has proposed the plan to build a “Tidal fence” that will convert the power of the waves to energy as they moved towards the shore. It is expected to produce more power more cheaply than the off-shore wind farms. FYI, these are the non-eco-friendly installations in the ocean. Being in the shallow regions might prove to be friendlier to marine life. In any case, it is definitely an interesting venture but only an idea as of yet. It remains to be seen how it performs on the stage. You can read more about it over at Gizmodo.

-Akshar Rawal

SolarCity: Elon Musk and cousins

We’ve talked about Elon Musk’s more prominent ventures Hyperloop and SpaceX. But another firm that has Elon Musk’s name attached to it is Solar City. It is led by Lyndon and Peter Rive and was based on a suggestion by Elon Musk over a family discussion. Oh they’re cousins, Musk and the Rive brothers.

Solar City is exactly what it sounds like. Solar powered cities. But these aren’t cities being built by the company. Rather, the company strives to provide residential and commercial solar installations across the US. It offers financial solutions to it’s customers that fit into their budget structure while allowing them to switch to Green energy. It also takes care of the peripherals, like the paper work and installations and has quite a track record.

Since 2007, its first full year of operation, Solar City has been the leading residential solar power provider in California. It was also the largest residential solar installer in the US in 2013. Overall, it was ranked 2nd (residential and commercial installations). Solar City has expanded operations to 15 different states and is planning to build a new manufacturing facility in NY.

But that’s not the best part. You know Tesla Motors? That is also an Elon Musk venture. What does that have to do with this? Well, what is it known for? High-storage car batteries. Combine that with the solar grid and you’ve got yourself a setup with almost no need for external utility. Solar City spent 3 years developing the software that facilitates the interaction between the photo-voltaic array, the grid and the Tesla batteries at home. But, (isn’t there always one?). Why but, there should be no but. But, REGULATORS. The big well-established companies stop earning and lose control. And they have a problem with that. Can you believe it? They have a problem with not earning. Anyways, but because of this, the local storage venture of Solar City is yet to kick off. And it remains to be seen if the regulators will comply. Read more about it @ The Atlantic.

You can get a free quote for your home or business over at http://www.solarcity.com/.

Read more in detail about the company on their wikipedia page.

-Akshar Rawal

Google’s Project Loon and Project Titan

In an attempt towards delivering internet to the far-fetched regions of the world, companies like Facebook and Google are experimenting with ways to deliver this service “Over the air”. Facebook recently finished it’s prototype of Project Aquila, a drone based Internet delivery system. But this isn’t the first of it’s kind. Google reportedly acquired a company called Titan Aerospace for something very similar. Google has been experimenting with balloons to provide a similar service. This is being done under the title Project Loom.

Project Titan is Google’s project to use drones to deliver internet connectivity to remote areas of some of the developing countries. Titan’s Solara 50 and Solara 60 are the two primary prototypes being researched at the moment. Solara 50 has a wing span of 50 meters and can carry a payload of unto 32kgs. Solara 60 on the other hand can carry up to 100kgs. The solar drones have been estimated to stay in flight for up to 5 years with simulations and experiments. They fly at heights of about 20 kms. They are reported to have functionalities similar to satellites, not just delivering connectivity. They can be used for weather monitoring with the appropriate equipment and other such monitoring that is typically done by satellites. The project is still under development. It remains to be seen how it fares against it’s expectations.

Project Loon is another venture of Google’s that os more focused towards providing connectivity “over the air”. It uses high-altitude balloons to extend connectivity of existing access points/satellites to remote areas. The balloons hover at about 32kms above the surface in the stratosphere. They are used as relay points for existing connectivity, instead of working on their own bandwidth. Google has crashed a few balloons during experimentation, the latest being on 23rd April 2015. This has been a rising concern for the project. Such malfunction during full-fledged operation could result in interference with flights and could cause serious problems for flight operators. The balloons have a flight time of about 100 days. But Google is reportedly working on improving that.

While these technologies would a decent advancement in the way we deliver technology to the masses, they come with their own flaws and risks. It remains to be seen how researchers work towards minimizing the risks and counteracting the flaws for maintain a safe haven for the living. After all, the physical life is more important than the life on the internet, or is it?

-Akshar Rawal

Facebook has an AVIATION TEAM!

Until yesterday I wasn’t aware of the fact that Facebook has an aviation team, let alone the fact that they have developed a solar powered drone with the wing-span of a Boeing 737. For reference, the Boeing 737 is the passenger aircraft with the capacity of 85 to 215 passengers which is the typical number for domestic flights.And yes, I am talking about the same Facebook that you use to network with people across the world. Apparently, they have completed the first prototype of Project Aquila, named after the eagle that carries Zeus’ thunder bolts in Greek mythology.

The motive of this venture, to provide internet access to parts unreachable of developing countries. The drone is expected to fly in the stratosphere above the weather of the earth. This takes it away from the turbulent part of the atmosphere. It still has to deal with some winds and extremely cold temperatures. Facebook expects the solar-powered aircraft to make flights that last for unto 90 days at a stretch between 60000 and 90000 feet high. This goal is however, yet to be achieved.

Another team at Facebook is working towards developing a laser technology that will be onboard the aircraft and do the actual work. They lasers will be used to transmit signals back to earth and facilitate speeds of 10s of Giga bits per second, which is way, way more than the 0 Gbps that the areas get now.

The aircraft, even with the wing span of a 737, is extremely light on it’s own. It remains to be seen what kind of weight the equipment onboard adds. Because this would significantly affect the aircraft speed and efficiency.

This is not the first venture of researchers to provide “Over the air” internet to the masses. Google has been testing drones of it’s own and it crashed one earlier this year. Google also has been working on “internet balloons”, which are essentially balloons doing the same thing. You can read more about them over at Google’s Project Loom and Project Titan. On the flip side, Facebook has also been researching satellite technologies that facilitate such communication. There are a number of other smaller firms that are working on similar prototyping. We’ve filled the land with cables and also the ocean. We might as well fill the skies, right? Poor sky, feeling all lonely without internet. Now even It will have Facebook :).

-Akshar Rawal

Up next… Journey to the center of the Earth

Who’s up for it? C’mon,  I know you want to go. You’re just scared of the heat and the wierd plants and animals, aren’t you? Well you don’t need to worry about the heat anymore. And about the weird flora and fauna,  you can go check out for yourselves, in a few years, hopefully.

See, the thing is, scientists have discovered or rather simulated a material that has a melting point higher than the temperature of the outer core of the earth. And you wouldn’t want to go any further anyways. And I say simulated, because scientists have simulated this material and performed tests on it. Their next task is to actually manufacture this hot stuff and perform actual experiments on it.

This supposed material will be composed of Hefnium, Carbon and Nitrogen. It will have a melting point of roughly 4400K. To give you a comparison, the earth’s outer core is about 4300K. And this is about 2/3 of the sun’s surface temperature. Hey, what do you know, you can even make it pretty close to the sun.

The uses of such a material could be manifold. But it remains to be seen if it can be manufactured for actual use. So before you start digging to the center of the earth, hold your horses and read more about the discovery over at Gizmodo.

-Akshar Rawal

Google’s patent for a “memory device”

Anyone watch the series “Black Mirror”? Anyone? Anyone? Someone! No one? Well either ways. The show is about how technology can lose its purpose if not used wisely. I’m getting to the patent part. Hold on! There is this one episode in the show about the future of a memory device that stores and displays memories as required.

Turns out, Google actually patented a device that does just that. Now there’s already cameras and video recorders that can do that. So what’s new? It’s Google best part. SEARCH. More specifically, search memories. It’ll show up photos/videos stored as real time video, when asked things like, “Hey what’d we do last Friday at 8?”.

The uses would be endless. It can be used in investigation. It can be used to reminisce. It can be used to fight depression (hopefully). But all of these have their downsides too. It can cause depression with sad memories. With all the hacking happening all around, people can stalk you even more closely, rather more creepily. I suggest you go watch Black mirror for more.

In any case, it is an exciting product. It is about time, Google took search to the next level eh? Anyone can search a gallery for dog photos by searching for “dogs”, right? 🙂 (Oh, if you don’t know what I’m talking about check out Google photos review)

Check out more details about the patent over at Gizmodo.

-Akshar Rawal

Re-writing the future of electronics with Physics

In the earliest days, man knew physical compounds as being the smallest category of size, until the discovery of molecules. The same went for molecules, until the discovery of cells. Then from cells to atoms, then to sub-atomic particles. And sub-atomic particles are not limited to protons, neutrons and electrons. There’s baryons, fermions, mesons, leptons, photons, gluons and many more. Wikipedia has a pretty interesting article about the sub-atomic particles.

More recently, scientists have been studying the birth of the universe. The universe is assumed to be composed of dark matter and dark energy, something that scientists haven’t quite been able to figure out. And to determine the same, they have been trying to reproduce events from the big bang to study the creation of these. The LHC or Large Hadron Collider is used to accelerate particles to near-light speed before they are collided to observe these effects. The Higgs-Boson particles were first of these mysterious particles observed during these simulations. And they have led to tremendous advancements in the world of Physics.

One such study, not with the LHC, has lead to the discovery of what are known as Weyl Fermions. They were hypothesized but never observed, until recently. These particles are massless (like photons and gluons) but highly stable. Counter-intuitely, they cannot exist by themselves. Instead they exist as quasi-particles. They are not particles, rather they are a disturbance in a medium, like some electronic activity, that acts like a particle in free space.

The property of these quasi-particles that is important to the world of electronics is the fact that:

  1. They only interact with other Weyl Fermions.
  2. They retain their speed and course while they interact.

What this entails is that they can be used to carry a charge over long distances without generating heat or getting scattered. Electrons exhibit both properties, they generate heat and repel each other, forcing scattering if allowed. It waits to be seen what more can they offer.

IFLScience has a detailed report on the discovery. You can check it out here.

-Akshar Rawal

eSIMs: You up for it?

Samsung and Apple are reportedly working on devices that support eSIMs. RIP SIM cards. Or maybe not. Who knows. But let’s discuss the option. Pros:

  • Easier provider switching. It will be as easy as switching credit cards on your Amazon account.
  • No SIM size problems.
  • Personalized account management online, possibly.
  • Universal SIM, if they really need some hardware.
  • Users can set up carriers for their devices during setup.

Cons:

  • Providers would lose control, but it might go to device manufacturers.
  • This reduces the options for the user, risking the prices to go up.
  • Providers would be able to work with manufacturers to limit options during setup. But this would be what they do now with locked phones.

Gizmodo has a detailed post on the birth of SIM cards, their evolution and the story of eSIMs now. You can check out their post here.

-Akshar Rawal

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