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The Download, Mar 9, 2017: Atomic Data Bits, Blockchain Health Records, and Vegetable Tech

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

The World’s Smallest Data Bit
A single atom can now be used to store a binary value. IBM researchers have created the world’s smallest magnet from a single atom of holmium, and it does double duty as the smallest ever data bit, snatching the crown from molecular devices. Using a modified scanning tunneling microscope held within a nanometer of the atom, the researchers are able to both write data, by passing current to flip its magnetic poles, and sense the orientation of its field. The work is basic science, but it could inspire new ways to create small-scale storage.

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Is It Time to Invest in Vegetable Tech?
The healthiest foods of all are lacking innovation. Historically, the bulk of agricultural research in the U.S. has been focused on staple crops. But, as Politico points out, just 15 percent of the federal agricultural research budget is spent on specialty crops, which includes virtually all fruit and vegetables. That means efforts to increase yield, shelf life, and convenience for things like leafy greens and squishy berries have been lacking. Given that government guidelines suggest we should pig out on such produce to stay healthy, perhaps it's time to dangle a larger carrot in front of vegetable innovators.

Computer Vision's Video Visions
The AI revolution wants to understand how it's televised. Machine learning is now pretty good at understanding photographs, and has ambitious aims for moving pictures. Yesterday, Google showed off its Video Intelligence tool, which can accurately identify objects and scenes in clips—allowing people to search a video for, say, “cats”— and can even predict what kind of footage it's looking at, such as an ad. Meanwhile, Facebook’s AI chief, Yann LeCun, has loftier goals: he thinks that if AI systems watch enough video, they could even start to learn some common sense.

Ten Fascinating Things 

Google’s AI subsidiary, DeepMind, has announced that it will help the UK’s National Health Service to keep track of patient records using blockchain.

If you’ve tried to lose yourself in virtual reality, you’ll know that real-world wires can slow your progress. Will untethered headsets make VR more popular?

If Willy Wonka made pills, he’d make the MucoJet: a bursting capsule that uses a fizzing reaction to deliver vaccines straight into the wall of your mouth.

Now that we order most things online and store clerks can be replaced by machines, is the future of physical retail a reimagining of the vending machine?

3-D printers are limited to creating objects as large as the box they’re in. But hang the printer from the roof of a building and you can really go large.

Ever wondered how Silicon Valley startups offer staff so much stock while also convincing outsiders to buy in, too? Sometimes, using a dirty little valuation secret.

Samsung has plans to invest $300 million to create a new facility for manufacturing home appliances on American shores.

Inevitably, federal agencies are launching a criminal investigation into the WikiLeaks release of CIA files.

No emergencies, please: last night, a nationwide outage left AT&T users unable to make 911 calls. The FCC is investigating what went wrong.

Most of the time we obsess about how robots and humans can get along. But this little automaton does everything it can to avoid people.

Quote of the Day 

"There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America. That’s the bargain. And we made that bargain over two centuries ago."

— FBI Director James Comey explains why he believes widespread default encryption to be an affront to the delicate balance between privacy and security that defines life in America.

 

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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