• Don’t tell your kids about this AI, or it might do their homework…
  • A big month for SpaceX and Starlink…
  • This robot can “wear” different exoskeletons…

Dear Reader,

On a list of really bad ideas, this one would have to be pretty close to the top…

Last month, a team of European researchers published a paper on how they revived eukaryotic viruses from ancient permafrost.

Unlike bacteria, humans and animals are multi-cellular organisms, thus we’re eukaryotes. The researchers dug deep into the Siberian permafrost to discover seven types of these eukaryotic viruses.

And then they proceeded to revive them?$!#?. The youngest virus was 27,000 years old and the oldest was 48,500 years old, setting a record.

The research team was happy to announce that all nine viruses they revived were still capable of replicating and infecting cells… Great.

For anyone curious as to what these ancient viruses look like under a microscope, here’s a peek at a few of them.

Ancient Eukaryotic Virus Buried in Permafrost

Source: biorvix.org

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re likely saying something like: “For the sake of the planet, please stop it. Just stop.”

Having been through hell for two-plus years due to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) gain of function research performed on coronaviruses in Wuhan, China to see if scientists could make a coronavirus more infectious and deadly, the thought of reviving eukaryotic viruses that are tens of thousands of years old seems to lack any common sense.

Of course, I believe in the scientific process and celebrate intellectual curiosity. But reviving what the researchers call “zombie viruses” that the living world has never been exposed to – and thus has no natural immunity to – seems like a very bad idea.

While they assured us that the viruses are “not a public health threat,” I have to say that doesn’t give me any comfort at all. 

If we learned anything during the pandemic, it was that we no longer can trust public health officials, the broad scientific community, or even the scientific journals. We now know that they censored and banned peer-reviewed scientific research that didn’t fit the desired narrative. 

This was not a scientific process – or a transparent and honest process – at all.

Worse yet is that grant money was only distributed to support research that fit the desired narrative. Sadly, we learned how corrupt the unscientific process has become.

So no, we can’t know for certain if one of these zombie viruses is, in fact, a risk that could lead to a worldwide pandemic. And there’s no way to know that the viruses are being managed with the appropriate level of biosafety protocols.

After all, the Wuhan Institute of Virology was celebrated as a Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory with the highest level of biological safety in the field of virology…. and we all know how well that went.

This research reminds me all too much of a Michael Crichton novel, like The Andromeda Strain. Hopefully The Walking Dead isn’t a sign of things to come.

I’d much rather this scenario remain fiction rather than fact. And that the researchers leave the zombie viruses where they belong… hidden deep, dark, and cold in the permafrost.

OpenAI has the whole tech industry buzzing again…

It’s been two and half years since OpenAI released its groundbreaking generative artificial intelligence (AI), GPT-3.

If we remember, GPT-3’s product launch had Silicon Valley humming. That’s because GPT-3 could write stories, tech manuals, and even software code upon command. Users simply tell the AI what to produce, and it will do so.

Well, OpenAI has done it again. It just released a public demo of something called ChatGPT. And now the tech industry is buzzing all over again. In fact, over 1 million people used this product in just the first five days after it went live.

ChatGPT is an upgraded version of GPT-3. We can think of it like GPT-3.5. In addition to an improvement over GPT-3, what sets ChatGPT apart is that it has a user-friendly interface that works much in the same way as a search engine.

And ChatGPT can do everything GPT-3 does, except better and faster. It can answer basic questions. It can write essays about any given topic. It can compare and contrast different philosophies and opinions. And it can write software code upon command.

For example, somebody asked ChatGPT to write code capable of providing trading recommendations in real-time. And sure enough, it did.

And get this: ChatGPT is open and available to the public. Anyone who wants to experiment with it can go to chat.openai.com.

Fair warning though – we might not want to let our kids know about this. ChatGPT could probably do their homework for them quickly and easily.

Here’s an example of how incredible the AI is:

ChatGPT Text Prompt

Source: OpenAI

Here, I asked ChatGPT to write an essay about how a stoic mindset could lead to a more peaceful world. And as we can see, the AI did a terrific job. If we didn’t know better, we would think this was written by a knowledgeable human.

ChatGPT isn’t perfect, and sometimes it spits out nonsense, but it’s incredibly impressive and an indication of what’s right around the corner. This is one of the most-important developments in AI this year.

Actually, two big things happened this year with regard to AI-powered human assistance. The first was Google’s release of its upgraded Google Assistant. It’s a digital assistant that can answer questions, order goods, and even make restaurant reservations for users.

Anyone with an Android phone or Google Home device has full access to Google’s AI. It’s a remarkably functional tool that can save a lot of time on a daily basis for those who learn how to use it throughout their day. The convenience is incredible.

ChatGPT is very similar, except it takes it to a completely different level. This AI can actually do valuable work for any number of industries.

For those of us who do a lot of writing, ChatGPT can help with idea generation and basic facts. 

It’s capable of being used for drafting essays, doing homework, even developing written content for just about any purpose. For developers, it can help with writing software code. Anyone involved in marketing can use ChatGPT to write headlines, taglines, and compelling copy.

And that’s just scratching the surface…

One of my big predictions in our 2021 Prediction Series was that we would see a powerful mass-market digital assistant become available this year. Well, Google Assistant and ChatGPT are it. Combined, that prediction became a reality with an even higher level of functionality than I expected within this year (with ChatGPT).

And here’s the most exciting part: ChatGPT is just a precursor for the highly anticipated GPT-4.

This is expected in 2023, but based on the progress we’ve seen out of OpenAI – the company behind GPT-3 and ChatGPT – I expect we’ll see the release in the first half of next year.

Starlink’s second-generation satellites are going up…

SpaceX’s Starlink division is having a big year.

Back in September, Starlink partnered with T-Mobile to enable cellphone coverage in remote areas via Starlink’s satellite internet services. This effectively means the end of dead zones for T-Mobile customers.

And then in October, Starlink announced a new product line called Starlink Aviation. It’s going to bring high-speed satellite internet to commercial airlines.

Obviously, powering these services requires a large satellite constellation. And to that end, Starlink just received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to put 7,500 more satellites into low-Earth orbit. This will take Starlink’s satellite count from about 3,200 to well over 10,000.

And there’s a nuance here. Starlink’s next 7,500 satellites aren’t the same as the first 3,200. They’re an upgraded version. Second generation – Starlink 2.0.

As we would expect, Starlink’s high-speed satellite internet services require high-performance satellites. And that’s exactly what these next-generation satellites are.

In fact, the new satellites weigh about one and a quarter tons. That’s roughly five times heavier than the first-generation satellites. This increase was necessary to enable much higher throughput needed for high-speed satellite communications. 

This next generation also comes with much higher power, which is what will enable satellite-to-smartphone emergency communications related to the deal with T-Mobile.

And to make the upcoming launches economically feasible, SpaceX had to rethink its entire launch plan.

With the first Starlink satellites, SpaceX would launch about 60 at a time on its Falcon 9 rockets. Launching in bulk like this keeps costs low.

But with the new satellites, far fewer of them would fit on the Falcon 9. So to keep it economical, SpaceX will launch Starlink’s next-gen satellites on its massive Starship.

For the sake of new readers, the Starship is the world’s first reusable all-purpose spacecraft. It’s made of stainless steel and shaped like a giant corn silo.

And when I say it’s massive, I mean massive. This thing is 394 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide.

Here it is:

SpaceX’s Starship

Source: SpaceX

SpaceX plans to conduct 22 Starship launches a year for the next six years. That will suffice to get these next 7,500 satellites into low-Earth orbit in an economical way.

This will average nearly two Starship launches a month. That’s an absolutely incredible pace, but something that SpaceX has already demonstrated with its Falcon 9 launches.

This is an exciting month for SpaceX – and the future of space exploration, for that matter. SpaceX is gearing up for its first orbital flight of the Starship, which is a precursor for the planned, manned missions to the Moon in the next few years.

Before then, SpaceX will have had plenty of practice launching payloads into orbit for Starlink and other customers prior to the Moon mission. 

Robotic metamorphosis – the next generation of robotics…

We’ll wrap up today with exciting new research out of MIT’s computer science and AI lab.

A team there developed a new robotic system that can “wear” different exoskeletons to perform all kinds of different tasks. The below visual displays the system in action:

The Primer Origami Exoskeleton Robot

Source: YouTube

Here, we can see the robot utilizing different exoskeletons to walk, roll, sail, and even glide through the air with wings. It’s robotic metamorphosis in action.

And notice how these exoskeletons are all shaped like origami? They’re very flexible. And they fold into the proper form when exposed to heat.

This is very much like a concept called 4D manufacturing. In this case, the fourth dimension is heat.

What I love about this is that it fills a very pressing need with regard to robotics.

We’ve talked a lot about the race to develop a general-purpose robot in these pages. Tesla’s Optimus is the perfect example.

General-purpose robots like Optimus are designed to do a wide array of tasks that are primarily focused on augmenting human activities. Optimus is being designed to safely interact with us and improve productivity, as well as fill the gap in the labor force.

But of course, there are some tasks these robots just won’t be good at given their humanoid form. And that’s where MIT’s robotic system comes in.

These robots are kind of like transformers. They have a core robotic unit that can take different forms by attaching to different exoskeletons. Each exoskeleton is designed with a specific task in mind.

If we think about it, we do something similar with our clothing choices. When we go to work out, we typically put on athletic clothing. But when we go outside in the winter, we wear very different clothing to keep warm.

It’s the same concept here.

This kind of system could be a fantastic complement to general-purpose robotics. A robotic platform like this can be tasked with work that’s better performed in the absence of human labor. For example, cleaning up a toxic spill, or traversing a narrow pipeline to find any clogs or cracks.

A system like this also has the added benefit of being cost-effective. Optimus will be expensive, likely around $20,000 to $25,000. Smaller systems like this will likely be sold by the core robotic unit, and then supplemented with task-specific exoskeletons.

I’m interested to see if anyone spins up a company focused on commercializing this technology.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge