Thomas's Innovation Wrap #13

🛰️ Real-time tracking of everything on earth, 🔬 the Book of Life, and 💎 reconstructing images from reading brainwaves


Here’s your weekly wrap of technology, innovation, and finance news.

🛰️ Space

In one year, Planet Labs has built as many satellites as the rest of the world combined. The company, along with competitors like Orbital Insight, are aiming to move from periodic satellite images to being able to track almost everything on Earth in real-time. The ultimate goal is to create a service where users can ask questions about the entire planet, a concept Planet Labs refers to as a Queryable Earth.

Image: North Korea

Caterpillar is working with NASA to develop autonomous and remote-controlled mining equipment to use on the moon. NASA is scheduled to return to the moon in 2024.

🔬 Biology

Scientists are aiming to record the genetic sequences for every complex living species on the planet (the “Book of Life”) with the Earth BioGenome Project. So far they’re 0.28% done.

Taking advantage of a million-fold decrease in the costs of genetic sequencing since 2003, when human DNA was first mapped, we recently launched the Earth BioGenome Project. We are seeking to fully sequence everything on the planet, on land and in the oceans, that has cells with nuclei, over the next 10 years.

Genetically modifying a plant sounds like it should be difficult, but it could soon become as easy as spraying them with water after scientists discovered a new gene-modification technique that uses DNA attached to nanoparticles that can penetrates the plants’ leaves.

It seems every week there’s a new reported use for CRISPR. This week it’s editing rice DNA to fight against a devastating bacterial infection.

💊 Health

Last month Innovation Wrap #9 highlighted a new way CRISPR was being used to attack bacteria (in the lab). This research was explored further in a New York Times piece last week titled “Is Crispr the Next Antibiotic?” — the piece explores how this new technique compares to the current state of antibiotics and concludes the CRISPR technique has advantages but it’s still in the early days of development.

Every year 7,300 people die in the US because they can’t find an organ donor. Advances in genetic engineering is now leading to pigs being genetically modified in the hope that sufficient gene edits could make pig organs suitable for human transplantation down the track.

More than two decades later, advances in genetic engineering have revived the prospect of so-called xenotransplants. The hottest source of debate in the field: exactly how many gene edits are needed in pigs like these to overcome the species barrier. A well-funded US company, eGenesis, which leads the more-is-better-camp, says it has made a “double-digit” number of changes to the pigs it raises with a sister company in China.

⚙️ Mobility

Waymo began offering their robotaxi service in Phoenix without a backup driver for the first time. These “rider only” trips are currently being limited to a few hundred test users.

Here’s what driving next to a driverless car looks like:

Despite this milestone, Waymo’s CEO thinks driverless trucking will catch on faster than driverless taxis.

💎 Artificial Intelligence

Researchers in Russia have developed a neural network that can reconstruct a rough image of what you’re looking at by reading your brain waves in real time. Below is the actual image next to the image that was reconstructed from reading brain waves.

Neural network reconstructs human ‘thoughts’ from brain waves in real time

🙊 Censorship

Twitter announced it would ban political ads and issue ads.

The policy will mean Twitter will need to decide what is and isn’t an “issue ad”. Is an ad talking about the benefits of a new coal mine banned? Is an ad supporting climate change action banned? We shall see.

Twitter announced the change just before Facebook’s earnings announcement to make a clear contrast with Facebook’s policy of not fact-checking ads from politicians.

Google has stayed silent on the issue. Meanwhile, Trump’s false Biden ad has appeared more often on YouTube than on Facebook.

TikTok was in the news several times. The US is undertaking a national security review of the app due to concerns the Chinese-owned company was censoring content to appease Beijing. Quartz reported that TikTok could be the next social platform plagued with disinformation and that teens on TikTok have no clue they are perpetuating racist stereotypes. US tech giants are responding to TikTok by launching or acquiring similar services.

On a related note, more than half of 11-year-olds in the US now have a smartphone.

⚡ Other Snippets

AT&T unveiled details of its HBO Max streaming service. The service will launch in May and is priced at $14.99 per month, equal to its current stand-alone HBO Now app but more expensive than every other streaming service except the highest tier of Netflix.

People don’t realise how widely their data is shared. Knowledge@Wharton looks at what’s being done about it.

While many don’t sell their data, they often do share access to it. For example, PayPal disclosed that it shares consumer data (such as name, address, phone number, date of birth, IP address, bank account information, recent purchases) with hundreds of entities around the world.

Music streaming is still growing strongly - Spotify reported it now has 248 million monthly active users, of which 113 million are subscribers (up 31% over the past year). Apple Music had 60 million subscribers (paying and on free trials) at the end of June.

Miners are aiming to shift their underground fleets to electric.

Electric cars could charge in 10 minutes with a new kind of battery.

The Robot Report looks at 5 ways in which construction robotics is disrupting the industry.

Uber announced a push into financial services with Uber Money.

Memory company Micron is moving into AI processing with its acquisition of AI hardware and software Fwdnxt.

Blizzard made a number of new game announcements at BlizzCon, with the two key announcements being the confirmation of Diablo IV and Overwatch 2. The event opened with a cinematic for Diablo IV which takes the franchise back to its gothic horror roots.

Have a great week,


About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.