Thomas's Innovation Wrap #4

🔒 Cybercrime, 🔬 Biohackers, and 💎 AI Assistants in Minecraft

Greetings from Seoul!

I’m currently travelling through Beijing/Seoul/New York seeing companies so this update may be a little shorter. Back home in Sydney next weekend.

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🔒 Cybersecurity, Cybercrime, and Cyberwar

Using AI to imitate voices was featured in this Bloomberg video over a year ago, and since then it’s only gotten better. Last week criminals used this technique to steal €220,000 from a UK company — they imitated the voice of the CEO and convinced an executive to send the money to an offshore bank account under the guise of needing to urgently pay a Hungarian supplier.

Twitter Founder/CEO Jack Dorsey had his Twitter account compromised. The vulnerability appears to have been at the phone company which was tricked into swapping his number to a new SIM. Twitter lets you tweet via SMS which is likely how the hacker tweeted from Jack’s account.

Google discovered a security vulnerability in Apple iPhones.

Analysts have long suggested that the iPhone and its iOS operating system are more secure than rival smartphones running Google’s Android software. 

So Apple watchers and security analysts were shocked by Thursday night’s disclosure from Google that a “small collection of hacked websites” had been used to infect what it estimated could be “thousands of visitors per week” over the course of more than two years.

The flaw was there for around 2 years before being fixed in February. Hackers exploiting the flaw would have been able to access text messages, photos, and device locations.

WIRED wrote a Guide to Cyberwar. The NY Times reported that US Cyber Command launched an attack in June that wiped out a critical database used by Iran’s paramilitary forces to plot attacks against oil tankers.

💊 Health

An excellent read: One Scientist’s Quest to Bring DNA Sequencing to Every Sick Kid (by Sarah Elizabeth Richards at WIRED).

When you put cancer cells into micro-gravity conditions for 24 hours, 80% to 90% of the cancer cells die. The Australian space medicine researcher that discovered this is now sending cancer into space, which will hopefully lead to insights that lead to innovative new cancer treatments.

🔬 Biology

For decades CRISPR could only cut and edit single genes but now it can cut and splice whole chromosomes as well. The new technique should allow larger changes than was previously possible and lead to greater production from industrial biotechnology.

A gene-edited cow has a major screwup in their DNA. The cow was just modified to be hornless, but the FDA also found the cow’s genome contained a stretch of bacterial DNA. The finding will reinforce the FDA’s treatment of gene-edited animals as new drugs that need extensive testing and approval.

A cow and her heifer

Glybera was a gene therapy for people with an ultra-rare blood disease, and it was also the first gene therapy that was ever approved. It came to market in 2015 with a $1 million price tag but was subsequently pulled after the therapy didn’t see enough demand. Now biohackers have created a cheaper “pirated” version of the gene therapy that costs less than $7000. The copy is based on the original Glybera papers and raises questions around whether piracy is coming to gene therapies and whether companies or regulators can (or should) stop it.

Li Ka-Shing donated HK$500m (US$64m) to open a new synthetic biology research lab at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Li said —

“Just as synthetic chemistry and petroleum were central to the 20th century, synthetic biology and DNA are the technological engines of this century, bringing disruption to traditional manufacturing and new opportunities in the industrialisation of biology.”

💎 Artificial Intelligence

Chinese ride-hailing group Didi Chuxing will launch an autonomous taxi service in Shanghai. A launch date hasn’t been announced yet, but permits were granted on Wednesday.

Facebook Research is turning to Minecraft as an environment to train up its latest AI Assistant. Researchers are hoping to create an AI Assistant that can perform multiple tasks, and Minecraft provides an environment where their AI Assistant can have regular interaction with players which should help the system learn. The Minecraft Assistant is available for download here.

A Chinese startup called Shukun Technology has trained an AI algorithm to diagnose heart disease from CT scans with 95% accuracy. The algorithm is trained on millions of images and diagnoses.

Machine learning algorithms often need to train on labelled data, and often it’s people that need to do the labelling. Synced explores this billion dollar data annotation business that’s driving some of the AI breakthroughs we’re seeing today.

⚡ Other Snippets

The Economist features vertical farming with the conclusion that as costs fall it will eventually compete with old-fashioned greenhouses and conventional horizontal farms.

The New York Times looks at how apps are improving efficiencies in long-haul trucking.

KFC started offering Beyond Fried Chicken at one store in Atlanta on Tuesday. It took under 5 hours to sell out - in that time the plant-based meat they sold was equivalent to a week’s worth of normal popcorn chicken sales.

MIT scientists have designed a robotic worm designed to burrow into your brain. It’s hoped that one day it can be used to quickly clear blockages and clots that contribute to strokes and aneurysms.

Scientists have designed a gentle robot with noodle-like fingers to scoop up soft sea creatures like jellyfish.

Airbus, Boeing, and SoftBank Group are exploring stratospheric drones as a cheaper alternative to satellites.

And finally, yep… xkcd -

Nice To E-Meet You

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.