Thomas's Innovation Wrap #2

💪 Powered shorts, 💊 rat brain stem cells, and 🤖 speaking with machines


Welcome to the second edition of my Innovation Wrap which covers the articles I found particularly interesting in tech/innovation/finance over the past week. If you like it feel free to subscribe to receive future updates. ✔️

💪 Augmented Humans

Harvard scientists have developed a soft exosuit resembling a pair of shorts that assists the wearer by reducing the metabolic work rate required to walk and run by 9.3% and 4.0% respectively (equivalent to being 7.4kg and 5.7kg lighter). They’re now developing a lighter, smaller, quieter version which will pave the way for real-world applications. An accompanying paper speculates that the transition from rigid wearable robots to soft exosuits like this one will eventually lead to implantable devices that can assist human movement. You can see the shorts in action here.

💊 Health

Cambridge scientists have managed to reverse ageing in rat brain stem cells. They discovered that ageing may not be inherent to the cell itself, but may be related to the stiffness of the environment around the stem cells.

"This is rather remarkable because it suggests an entirely new way of thinking about what controls aging in stem cells, and furthermore, since stiffness is a single factor from the environment, it suggest a means to straightforwardly reverse aging in stem cells'" Chalut explained.

They stressed that so far they’ve only demonstrated findings in just one stem cell system in rodents, and this may not work in humans.

In CRISPR news, the first human clinical trial that uses CRISPR to edit genes inside the body is about to begin. The trial is being run by Editas Medicine and Allergan, and it aims to correct a form of inherited blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) by restoring the gene’s normal function.

⚙️ Mobility

Amazon’s autonomous delivery Scouts have begun delivering packages in Irvine, California. This follows nearly 8 months of testing in a suburb of Seattle with thousands of successful deliveries.

A self-driving delivery robot that Amazon is calling Scout. (Amazon/AP)

CNBC has a video visiting Chandler, Arizona, to see Waymo test its self-driving vehicles.

The venture capital arm of UPS has made a minority investment in TuSimple, a self-driving freight truck startup that has been carrying mail across Arizona for several weeks.

🤖 Speaking with Machines

eMarketer estimates that 112 million people in the US now talk to voice assistants, up 9.5% from 102 million people in 2018, a trend which should continue as natural language understanding (NLU) keeps improving.

A group of AI researchers from NY University, University of Washington, Google’s DeepMind, and Facebook AI have introduced SuperGLUE, a new benchmark to measure progress of natural language-understanding AI. The new benchmark became necessary after a number of models - Microsoft’s MT-DNN, Google’s XLNet, and Facebook’s RoBERTa - surpassed the average human baseline set in the previous benchmark (GLUE, set up in 2018).

SuperGLUE should set a new bar for natural language understanding AI as it focuses on new tests like the ability to follow reason, recognise cause and effect, and the ability to answer yes or no questions after reading short passages. From the Facebook’s post:

To further challenge what AI systems can help us with, we also introduced the first long-form question answering data set and benchmark, which requires machines to provide long, complex answers — something that existing algorithms have not been challenged to do before. Current question answering systems are focused on trivia-type questions, such as whether jellyfish have a brain. This new challenge goes further by requiring machines to elaborate with in-depth answers to open-ended questions, such as “How do jellyfish function without a brain?” Existing algorithms are far from human performance, and this new challenge will push AI to synthesize information from different sources to provide complex responses to open-ended questions. .

SuperGLUE includes a leaderboard which currently has Facebook at #1 with its RoBERTa model.

⚡ Other Snippets

Bloomberg explores the China video game streaming market with a piece on Douyu and the billion-dollar race to become China’s Amazon Twitch.

After 2 years of testing, Nike has entered the subscription world with a subscription shoe service for kids (and their growing feet).

The We Company, the parent company of WeWork, filed its S-1 form ahead of an IPO. Initial coverage has not been positive.

Bloomberg has a video showing how chatbots will automate call centres.

How far can the alternative protein market go? Plant-based eggs are beginning to gain traction with JUST (a startup that has raised $220m to date) announcing that its alternative egg product has just been picked up by US supermarket giant Kroger. It will soon be rolled out to 2,100 stores.

A new radar device (Lumineye) detects how far away a person is behind a wall, and whether they’re moving or breathing.

If you wanted to build an AI-powered organisation how do you do it? Harvard Business Review has a guide.

A company in Australia is testing trees on the surface to detect gold deep underground.

If you include TVs, America’s elderly spends a lot more time looking at screens than the young.

That’s it for this week. If you enjoyed reading the Innovation Wrap, please forward it on to 2-4 people who you think might also enjoy it.

And have a great day!


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.