• This biotech startup is swinging for the fences…
  • IBM has my ears perked up with this latest move…
  • Facebook takes a stab at productivity…

Dear Reader,

Back in the early ‘90s, after completing my undergraduate work in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, I considered pursuing graduate-level studies in planetary sciences.

My thinking was that if I couldn’t be an astronaut, at least I’d get to work on space exploration and study planets, moons, and other extraterrestrial objects.

That’s what brought me to Tucson, AZ. I went to check out the University of Arizona, which has one of the top graduate programs in the country for planetary sciences. While I was there, I drove out to a place called Oracle, where the odd structure below sits.

Biosphere 2

Source: The New York Times

The Biosphere 2 was an ambitious experiment designed to explore the dynamics of closed ecological systems for supporting human life in outer space. I wanted to see it for myself, so I visited and toured the facility after its first closed experiment had finished in 1993.

The experiment, not my visit, didn’t go so well… But a lot was learned. There were problems with food production, low oxygen levels, issues with plant and animal populations, and, of course, there were problems with the people. After all, the experiment locked up eight people in a relatively small space for two years. Trouble was bound to happen.

But this was the purpose of the experiment – to see what happened and determine better ways to design and support these kinds of extraterrestrial habitats. In that, the project was a success.

And it’s happening again, but this time the experiment is being led by NASA.

At the Johnson Space Center in Texas, Mars Dune Alpha will host a crew for a full year in a simulated habitat. Those chosen will live life as if they were on Mars, including a simulated delay in communications with Earth.

Mars Dune Alpha Rendering

Source: ExtremeTech

The program, known as Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), is currently taking applications for participants. The first year-long mission will begin next fall. And I’m hoping that at least a few of my readers will give it a shot.

If you’re between 30–55 and have a master’s degree in engineering, mathematics, biology, physics, or computer science, you can go here to apply.

It would be amazing if one of our subscribers worked at the bleeding edge on a project like this. And, of course, it would be great to hear from you as well.

This project at NASA signals the beginning of our civilization evolving into a multi-planetary species. Access to space is being democratized.

And we’re seeing an absolute revolution in space technology that is being spearheaded by SpaceX, Axiom Space, and many others following in their footsteps.

We are going to see some remarkable things happen before this decade is out. Things that most of us thought were not possible.

We have so much to look forward to.

Ad astra.

This stealth company just caught my eye…

As regular readers know, I start tracking bleeding-edge technology companies very early in their life cycles – long before they ever go public. That’s part of what gives me an edge over Wall Street analysts.

And a new stealth company formed in July has already caught my eye.

The company is named Science Corp. That’s a rather ominous sounding name in my opinion. It sounds innocuous at first, but then you think that there must be something serious happening behind the scenes. And in this case there is.

The company launched with a $47 million venture capital round on July 21. That’s an incredible raise for a brand-new company right out of the gate. Typically, seed rounds tend to be less than $5 million and are designed to fund a team to prove out their idea.

The person behind Science Corp is Max Hodak, who was formerly a co-founder of the Elon Musk brain-computer interface venture Neuralink.

We have talked about Neuralink several times in these pages. The company is developing brain-computer interface (BCI) technology that allows a brain to be connected to a computer wirelessly.

This kind of technology has been worked on for years with limited success, but Musk and his team have been stirring the pot as usual and making material progress. Neuralink’s BCI enabled a monkey to play an old video game with its mind back in February. Science fiction has become science fact.

And here’s where the story gets really interesting…

Hodak left Neuralink earlier this year. We don’t know exactly why. But we do know that Hodak and Musk had strong disagreements over the direction of the company and the technology. It’s likely Hodak left to pursue his own ideas regarding how BCI technology should be developed.

That said, Science is in stealth mode, so we don’t know the specifics. However, the company’s open job postings provide us with some insight. Science is actively looking for experts in CRISPR genetic editing technology as well as people skilled in optics design and the mass production of stem cells.

Reading the tea leaves, we can determine that Science likely wants to apply genetic engineering technology in order to enhance the use of a brain-computer interface. Genetic engineering and stem cells can be employed in a way to repair or perhaps enhance parts of the human brain. There could be links related to the control of a computing device.

So Science is obviously swinging for the fences here. Moonshots like this are very exciting. And the company is venturing into some bioengineering areas that Neuralink has likely not explored. That’s exciting.

Whenever we see truly incredible scientific breakthroughs, they almost always come as a result of scientists being free to explore different angles. We never know ahead of time which approach will be the best one. We need multiple groups willing to explore different ways of doing things. And that’s what is happening here.

So I’m very excited to watch this story play out in real time. I’m going to be tracking both Neuralink and Science, as well as a handful of other BCI-related companies.

Technology that enables us to interact with computing systems without a keyboard is the future. The “computer” will fade away, and our user interface will radically change. I can’t wait.

IBM just might become interesting again…

One of my favorite conferences of the year is a geeky little semiconductor conference called Hot Chips. I used to attend this conference in person, but it has been entirely virtual for the last two years. Despite that, this year’s conference did not disappoint.

At Hot Chips 33 (2021), IBM unveiled a new semiconductor architecture called Telum. This is IBM’s first semiconductor with an artificial intelligence (AI) accelerator built right into the chip.

IBM’s Telum

Source: IBM

It’s designed for AI inferencing – the ability of AI software to take in data and infer a solution or insight. We can think of inferencing as an AI’s way of thinking, extrapolating, and predicting.

This is one of the hottest spaces in semiconductor design right now, and it’s a bit surprising to see IBM coming out with such bleeding-edge architecture. IBM hasn’t been a semiconductor company in nearly a decade. Clearly, the company still does some interesting research and development (R&D).

IBM plans to release the Telum architecture in the first half of next year. That means we could see it within the next nine months or so. It will be manufactured by Samsung using a 7 nanometer (nm) manufacturing process. That’s on the leading edge of semiconductor design right now. The bleeding edge is 5 nm, and TSMC is already working on a 3 nm process.

That said, for this application, which will be used primarily in data centers, 7 nm works great. IBM envisions its new AI chip taking on some critical applications for larger enterprise customers.

Telum will be used for applications like detecting fraud and money laundering in real time. It will also be geared toward doing risk analysis, loan processing, and trade settlement.

So we can see that IBM plans to cater to its core customer base like large financial services and insurance companies here. That’s big business.

As regular readers know, I’m not typically very excited about legacy incumbents like IBM. And I think IBM absolutely bungled its Watson AI project. That said, this company is making some moves that have my ears perked up.

As we discussed back in May, IBM just made a breakthrough on 2 nm semiconductor manufacturing technology. IBM is still a few years away, but its 2 nm chips could deliver either a 45% performance increase or a 75% reduction in energy use over current 7 nm chips.

What’s more, IBM is breaking out its managed service infrastructure business into a new company called Kyndryl, which is planned to happen by the end of this year.

To me, this is the least interesting part of IBM’s business. Spinning it out paves the way for IBM to do some interesting things with the cloud services, software, and semiconductor business units that are left.

So I’m curious to see how this split unfolds. While I remain skeptical, I can see a scenario where IBM might become interesting again. That’s something I never thought I would say.

It’s very difficult for corporations with a lot of muscle memory to dramatically change their business and radically change where they are investing for future growth. We’ll see if IBM has the willingness to make the tough decisions and get back on track for growth.

Thumbs down on Facebook’s first take on a metaverse…

Mark Zuckerberg recently claimed that he is in the early stages of transforming Facebook from a social media company into a “metaverse” company. A metaverse is a virtual world in which people can meet and interact with one another.

Zuckerberg went so far as to say that this transition will be complete in the next five to 10 years. That’s a dramatic statement. And simply put, I don’t believe it.

As a first step, Facebook just launched its Horizon Workrooms product. This is a collaboration tool where people can don Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality (VR) headsets and meet with each other in a virtual space. Avatars represent each person inside this metaverse. And there are even interactive tools such as a whiteboard for users to collaborate with.

Here’s a look… It might make you chuckle:

Horizon Workroom

Source: Oculus

Each of these avatars represents a person wearing an Oculus headset. Each user sees the room from the first-person perspective of their own avatar.

And they all interact with the objects around them using hand-held controllers that sense their movements. For example, when a person points their index finger in real life, that action is reflected in the metaverse.

What’s more, Horizon Workrooms enables people without VR headsets to join through a video call. That way they can see what’s happening in the workroom on their phone, tablet, or computer screen and view the avatars as well.

This is supposed to represent step one of Facebook’s grand plan. But to me, this looks and feels like something Microsoft would launch (that’s not a compliment).

It’s just a mish-mash of awkward technology that’s supposed to enhance productivity. It seems like Facebook is trying to put a stake in the ground with enterprise team software instead of leveraging its foundation in social media.

Facebook is not known for being a productivity company. In fact, I would argue it’s exactly the opposite. Facebook has probably been the single biggest destroyer of productivity over the last two decades. Its platform has been a major time-suck for billions of people around the world on a daily basis.

Plus, this is an indication that Facebook is swallowing Oculus whole. It even renamed the annual Oculus Connect conference to Facebook Connect. That likely means much less autonomy for the Oculus team, which isn’t a good thing.

So I’m not at all excited about Facebook’s metaverse plans. I don’t think the transition will be very successful.

And there are certainly companies out there doing more interesting things in the metaverse space…

In fact, I’m confident the metaverse will be more than just a buzzword. There will be multiple metaverses that users will enjoy. Just like there isn’t one blockchain, there won’t be just one metaverse.

And in each metaverse, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are going to play a major part. They will come in the form of objects used for gaming in a metaverse, “skins” that an avatar wears, digital clothes that represent metaverse fashion, art, collectibles.

We’ll even see the emergence of the digiphizzy, which is an NFT that is linked with a real-world physical product. If you buy one of these digiphizzy’s, you’ll actually receive something IRL (in real life). In a metaverse, NFTs are both a form of currency and a marker of value, as well as status and style.

As companies figure out how to represent their brands and businesses in this new market, the metaverse is going to explode. And crypto and blockchain technology will be a huge part of its success.

If investors want to learn more about how to invest in bleeding-edge trends like the metaverse and NFTs, then please go here to find out how to get started.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge

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