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The Download, Mar 30, 2017: AI’s Future, Nevada’s Lithium Rush, and a Robotic Tentacle

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Three Things You Need to Know Today

Even AI Needs to Innovate
Is artificial intelligence stuck in a rut? That’s what Gary Marcus, former head of Uber’s AI Lab, thinks. Speaking at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference in San Francisco, he explained that current machine learning trends and short-termism among companies trying to commercialize AI are limiting progress. Others are more sanguine: at the same event, Apple’s director of AI, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, described how new ways to imbue neural networks with qualities like memory and general knowledge could push the field forward.

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Nevada's Lithium Rush
Forget gold—the new rush is for lithium. Driven by insatiable desire for gadgets, electric cars, and grid storage, the elements required for battery production are in ever increasing demand, and are often pulled from the ground at high human cost. But while lithium has traditionally been mined across Australia, Chile, Argentina, and China, the world’s largest suppliers of the metal are now struggling to keep up with demand. Prices have quintupled in two just years, so now, Bloomberg reports, prospectors are pinning their hopes on reserves in Nevada.

Consumerism’s Toll on Eastern Air
Western desire for cheap goods is causing pollution that kills. Industrialization and widespread use of coal mean that countries like India and China struggle with awful air quality that kills millions of people every year. Now, a new analysis shows that economic consumption in the West was linked to 100,000 premature deaths due to air pollution in China during 2007. Could Donald Trump’s ambitions to reclaim manufacturing and ease environmental regulations bring some of those effects a little closer to home?

Ten Fascinating Things

The Chinese search giant Baidu lost its renowned AI guru, Andrew Ng, last week. Here’s how it plans to move forward without him.

In the past year, several blockbuster drugs that were expected to be widely used have failed to sell. Stat considers what biotech firms should do next.

Say hello to the world's fastest switch: take atomic indium wire, hit it with a laser, and you turn it from insulator to conductor as fast as quantum mechanics allows.

By carefully tagging antibodies with radioactive isotopes, researchers are now able to use PET scans to visualize how the immune system works.

The official police report from last week’s autonomous Uber crash reveals that the incident was more complex than first reported—and surprisingly human, too.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 smartphone is another anonymous rectangle—but also a push for relevance, stuffed with a new AI assistant, facial recognition, and AR

Always wanted to feel like you were in a video game? A new AI-powered drone follows your moves and avoids obstacles to produce third-person views of your life.

Do not be alarmed, but a disembodied robotic tentacle can grasp smooth objects and pass them to your puny human hand. Repeat: do not be alarmed.

No sector can shy away from technology these days. Take a peek inside the tech incubator that's injecting innovation into L’Oréal’s beauty business.

Lobsters, wedding outfits, and Tasers. These are among the stranger things that people have left behind in Ubers.

Quote of the Day

"I don’t think that machines themselves just making art for art’s sake is as interesting as you might think. The question to ask is, can machines help us make a new kind of art?"

— Google’s Douglas Eck explains why music-making AIs will still require Jimi Hendrix-like experimenters if they're to produce interesting new sounds.

Deep Dive


Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

lucid dreaming concept
lucid dreaming concept

I taught myself to lucid dream. You can too.

We still don’t know much about the experience of being aware that you’re dreaming—but a few researchers think it could help us find out more about how the brain works.

panpsychism concept
panpsychism concept

Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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