August 28, 2023

Emerging Technologies Highlights: Week of Aug 29, 2023

As in previous weeks, news from the artificial intelligence (AI)  industry dominates this week’s headlines.

First, in a milestone of neuroscience and AI, new AI-powered electrodes could allow paralyzed patients to speak again by decoding brain signals. Second, the US Air Force released an experimental aircraft run by AI, the first of its kind. Third, a new start-up has raised $40 million to predict the structures of unknown proteins and accelerate the development of drugs that could cure diseases and microorganisms that could clean up pollution. Fourth, on Friday, Alibaba launched two new AI models that can understand images and carry out more complex conversations. Each of these developments could be groundbreaking on its own. Together, they signal the rapid progress of the AI industry and its already game-changing ramifications for industries as diverse as defense, health, and bio-engineering. 

This week also brought important, not all positive, news items for the crypto world. On the plus side, JPMorgan released research suggesting that crypto-related liquidations are largely behind us, and the markets will stabilize soon. On the minus side, the Biden administration unveiled new tax rules that would force cryptocurrency brokers, including exchanges and payment processors, to report new information on users' sales and exchanges of digital assets to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The crypto community reacted negatively to the announcement, with major CEOs declaring that the move would result in crypto entrepreneurs leaving the United States as other countries opt for more favorable regulations. Whether the new policy has a dramatic effect or not, the Biden administration’s anti-crypto outlook does contrast with other countries, notably in Africa and Asia, where governments are doing everything they can to present themselves as suitable alternatives.


The bottom line: As a 30-year-old, Ann Johnson had a cataclysmic stroke that paralyzed her and left her unable to talk. On Wednesday, scientists reported a remarkable advance toward helping her and other patients speak again. In a milestone of neuroscience and AI, implanted electrodes decoded Mrs. Johnson’s brain signals as she silently tried to say sentences. Technology converted her brain signals into written and vocalized language and enabled an avatar on a computer screen to speak the words and display smiles, pursed lips, and other expressions.

The bottom line: EvolutionaryScale is led by Alexander Rives, who ran Meta AI’s protein-folding team until the tech giant shuttered the project in April. The founding staff of eight all come from the same unit, where they created a transformers-based model in the vein of OpenAI’s GPT-4 or Google’s Bard but trained on data about protein molecules to predict the structures of other unknown proteins. They used it to create a database containing 700 million possible 3D structures– key puzzle pieces for developing drugs that could cure diseases, microorganisms that could clean up pollution, or alternative ways to manufacture industrial chemicals.

The bottom line: It is powered into flight by a rocket engine. It can fly a distance equal to the width of China. It has a stealthy design and can carry missiles that can hit enemy targets far beyond its visual range. But what distinguishes the Air Force’s pilotless XQ-58A Valkyrie experimental aircraft is that it is run by AI, putting it at the forefront of efforts by the US military to harness the capacities of an emerging technology whose vast potential benefits are tempered by deep concerns about how much autonomy to grant to a lethal weapon.

The bottom line: AI is helping small businesses improve their marketing and save time and money, according to a new study by Constant Contact. The study surveyed over 1,000 small business owners and found that 91% of businesses that have implemented AI have seen an increase in their success. One of the most common ways small businesses use AI is to create personalized marketing campaigns.

The bottom line: Many researchers say that AI systems aren’t yet at the point of consciousness but that the pace of AI evolution has got them pondering: how would we know if they were? To answer this, a group of 19 neuroscientists, philosophers, and computer scientists have devised a checklist of criteria that, if met, would indicate that a system has a high chance of being conscious.

The bottom line:  Alibaba launched two new AI models — Qwen-VL and Qwen-VL-Chat — the company says can understand images and carry out more complex conversations on Friday. One example Alibaba gave is a hospital sign. Qwen-VL-Chat can answer questions about which floor of the building certain hospital departments are on by interpreting an image of the sign. This AI push comes from Alibaba’s cloud division, which aims to reignite growth as it prepares to go public.

The bottom line: Cryptocurrency brokers, including exchanges and payment processors, would have to report new information on users' sales and exchanges of digital assets to the IRS under a proposed US Treasury Department rule published on Friday. The rule is part of a broader push by Congress and regulatory authorities to crack down on crypto users who may fail to pay their taxes.

The bottom line: Several prominent crypto commentators have criticized the new crypto tax reporting rules recently put forth by US President Joe Biden. Many in the crypto community believe the stringent rules will push the crypto industry further away from the United States. Messari CEO Ryan Selkis was among those who responded unfavorably to the news, saying that if Biden secures reelection, the crypto industry will not flourish in the country. Likewise, Chris Perkins, president of crypto venture firm CoinFund, argued that other countries have surged ahead of the U.S., and these rules will inevitably result in reduced innovation flowing into the country.

The bottom line: Nathaniel Chastain, former head of product at OpenSea, has been sentenced to three months in prison for making tens of thousands of dollars through insider trading while working at the NFT marketplace. Chastain had been convicted of money laundering and fraud in a New York federal court in May, ending what the legal establishment calls the first stand-out insider-trading case in the cryptosphere.

The bottom line: The cryptocurrency market’s recent downtrend appears to be ending, with JPMorgan’s latest research suggesting that most long position liquidations have been completed. Positive developments have boosted Bitcoin’s price. Among them were a series of applications for the first U.S. exchange-traded funds (ETFs) linked to Bitcoin’s spot price. The players waiting for regulatory approval include BlackRock, Fidelity, ARK Invest, and 21Shares, among others.

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