• NASA gets a new “Moon suit”
  • A “new” entrant in the race for drone deliveries
  • Generative AI comes for the “Big Four”

Dear Reader,

One of the most egregious violations of data surveillance and privacy in the Western world, including that of children, has been lying in plain sight for years.

It is facilitated in a false veneer of a fun, entertaining, and absolutely mindless social media application known as TikTok. I’m almost certain that at least half of us are deeply familiar with this “app.”

After all, TikTok has an incredible 150 million daily active users in the U.S. alone. It’s equally successful in Europe as well, hooking an incredible 250 million users in the region with its dopamine-filled content.

It’s like a drug, plain and simple, that consumes precious minutes if not hours of time every day. That drug is so powerful that its users tend not to care about what the company is doing behind the curtain.

TikTok’s data surveillance practices and disregard for privacy regulations in the U.S. and GDPR regulations in Europe are very well known. Fines have been issued in the past, but it seems nothing has changed.

TikTok became a powerful platform for pushing political narratives, and its reach became attractive to those who wanted to abuse it.

For those who care to understand, TikTok was created by parent company ByteDance, which is a China-based company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

Its software collects not data-concerning usage within the TikTok application itself but surveils user activity on the smartphone or computer; including data that resides on the phone, GPS location, website history, and a wide range of data that most of us would not be comfortable sharing. And it all gets sent back to mainland China for analysis, storage, and utilization.

TikTok now has almost 2 billion monthly active users. It’s a surveillance net that spans the globe, tied to a nation state not known for respecting privacy or individual rights, and one that is currently quite adversarial to the United States.

I’ve never been a fan of the practices of Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook, Instagram), and Microsoft (LinkedIn, Bing) and others who surveil us without consent and sell access to our data to generate advertising revenues. But these companies do tend to play by the rules as outlined in the U.S. and Europe.

TikTok operates under a very different framework. As a result, it has quickly become a hot topic in the last couple of months. The calls to ban the application in the U.S. have reached a fever pitch, and rightfully so.

This has resulted in the U.S. Congress drafting bill S.686, also known as the RESTRICT Act – Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act. Wow – I think we’ll stick with RESTRICT.

It sounds good on the surface like most of these things do. TikTok should be banned. And we want to identify and remove national security risks, don’t we? Yes, but….

It does matter how this is accomplished. It might come as a surprise, but the RESTRICT Act is scary and, if signed into law, would confer wide reaching and frightening powers to the U.S. government that should make anyone shiver.

If the government determines that any individual or company is a “security threat” it is empowered to do pretty much anything it wants in terms of surveillance… and the penalties could be life-altering.

This includes the government’s “right” to hack into “desktop applications, mobile applications, gaming applications, payment applications, and web-based applications.”

It can access CATV networks or wireless networks to gain access to our homes or businesses.

The RESTRICT Act even gives the government the right to hack into our home Wi-Fi networks, our webcams to visually monitor what we’re doing, any of our home networking devices, and even video surveillance devices like a home security device or door cam.

I know what some of us are thinking… as long as we don’t do anything stupid, we’ll be fine. And five years ago, I probably would’ve agreed with that line of thinking.

But after the last three years, we saw the careers and lives of some of the most well accomplished epidemiologists, virologists, and computational biologists get destroyed. All because their research and commentary concerning their area of expertise was considered “a threat” to the desired political narrative of the central government. Some of them were even imprisoned.

The RESTRICT Act provides for penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison for those who are considered “a threat.”

And that’s why we should all be nervous, and why we should contact our members of Congress to urge them to say “No” to the RESTRICT Act in its current form.

If the U.S. government wants to ban TikTok, let’s do just that… ban TikTok. There’s no need to create these wide ranging and highly discretionary powers to surveil on U.S. citizens. This single threat from a major adversary can be addressed in a simple action and doesn’t require anything more.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Never let a crisis go to waste.

The RESTRICT Act is a stark reminder to watch out for the wolf in sheep’s clothing…

NASA is gearing up for the next manned mission to the Moon…

NASA just unveiled a brand-new spacesuit design.

This is the first major update to NASA’s spacesuit in years. And it is specifically built for the Artemis III manned mission to the Moon.

Here it is:

Source: NASA

Here we can see a modern, sharp prototype design.

The suit is portrayed in dark gray right now. But the final design will almost certainly be all white.

That’s because dark colors retain heat while white reflects it. This is important for anything exposed to direct sunlight in space, where there’s no atmosphere to protect them.

And as we can see, the new spacesuit design is a bit more agile than what we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s built to be more flexible around the joints than previous spacesuits. This will give astronauts greater mobility as they maneuver the low-gravity environment on the lunar surface.

The timing of this announcement isn’t a coincidence at all. After all, NASA is gearing up for the forthcoming Artemis missions – especially Artemis III. This will be the first manned mission to the Moon in over fifty years. And it’s happening soon…

If we remember, Artemis III was originally scheduled to happen in 2024. At this point I think it’s more likely the mission will be pushed to late 2025 or early 2026… but that’s still less than three years away.

So it’s getting real…

And we should note that this spacesuit was not designed by NASA itself. Instead, private aerospace company Axiom Space produced the prototype and will deliver the production versions fitted for each astronaut. This is a company regular readers will recognize.

Axiom Space is the company that’s working on what will become the first commercial space station.

Initially Axiom’s space station will attach to the International Space Station (ISS). But it will detach and become a stand-alone space station once the ISS is decommissioned later this decade.

It’s exciting to see so much progress as we get closer to Artemis III. As a reminder, Artemis I was a great success, sending a space craft into orbit around the moon and safely returning to early last December. Artemis II is on track to take four astronauts on the same mission late next year, and Artemis III will follow after that.

This startup will power medicine deliveries by drone in the U.S…

Last week we had a look at Alphabet’s (Google) Wing division’s new approach to autonomous drone deliveries. It’s all about creating autonomous networks that can direct drones to any task or location based on real-time data.

Well, Wing isn’t the only game in town. Drone delivery startup Zipline just released its next-generation platform as well. And it’s made a ton of progress under the radar.

Last time we checked on Zipline, it had just teamed up with Walmart to deliver packages by drone in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

Prior to that, the company had done most of its work in Africa. Zipline pioneered medicine deliveries by drone in remote African locations where surface travel is either difficult or dangerous.

That was the perfect testbed for the technology. Zipline was able to optimize its system and produce its next-generation platform. It’s all about enabling fast and quiet drone deliveries. Here’s a look:

Source: Zipline

As we can see, Zipline’s drones are capable of flying over 300 feet above the ground. Then when they get to their delivery location, the drones stop and hover high in the sky. This keeps noise levels low on the ground.

While hovering, the drones release a delivery “droid” that has a controlled descent down to the ground via a tether. The droid drops off the package held in its cargo bay, then it’s lifted back up to the drone to get ready for the next delivery.

This has always been a big question in the drone-delivery space. It’s easy enough to fly a drone to a location, but how best to get the package to the ground? Does the drone have to land? That’s not always possible for certain locations. A parachute for the parcel? Drop the package in a protective case? The industry has been experimenting with all these approaches.

But this is a great system. And we might be surprised at how much progress Zipline has made with this.

The startup announced that its drones have already flown more than 40 million autonomous miles on deliveries. That’s quite impressive.

And Zipline is starting to ink some big partnerships here in the U.S.

It’s now working with outfits Michigan Medicine, Intermountain Health, and MultiCare Health System for drone-based medicine deliveries. And Zipline has inked a deal with Sweetgreen for fast food deliveries as well. Food delivery is an application that makes perfect sense. It’s time-sensitive and would benefit from a delivery mechanism like drones.

As such, Zipline’s goal is to complete about a million deliveries in the U.S. alone this year. And it’s making great progress with its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certifications to enable even more deliveries in the U.S. next year.

I fully expect that we’ll see a large number of drone delivery deals announced this year given how much progress has been made with the technology. It makes perfect business sense for many applications and is very well suited for non-urban deliveries that are time-sensitive.

Generative AI has arrived at the Big 4…

We’ll wrap up today with another big development on the generative artificial intelligence (AI) front. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) just announced that it is partnering with AI startup Harvey to bring generative AI to the firm.

We talked about Harvey just last month. The startup developed a new generative AI that’s very similar to OpenAI’s GPT-4. The big difference is that Harvey was trained explicitly on legal matters.

PwC is giving 4,000 of its legal professionals access to Harvey’s AI. They will use it to help with due diligence, regulatory compliance, and even accounting analysis.

Imagine an audit project where accountants are required to comb through years’ worth of accounting entries looking for mistakes or red flags. For humans, that’s an incredibly tedious task. And it would take a long time.

Not so for an advanced AI like Harvey. To the contrary, the AI could likely complete the task in a matter of hours, if not minutes. And it would perfectly identify all red flags and anomalies on the first pass.

Technology like this has the ability to review in seconds all legal agreements related to a company and summarize key agreements and terms. And it becomes a knowledge repository that can be quickly questioned to confirm specific details about individual agreements or groups of agreements. This is a remarkable timesaver that will result in not only increased productivity, but also reduced errors that would have otherwise been overlooked.

So this is another fantastic application for generative AI. It’s all about automating tedious tasks and augmenting humans in those areas where repetition is necessary.

I’m certain this will have an immediate and material impact on PwC – one of the largest accounting firms in the world. And I suspect we’ll see the rest of the Big 4 follow suit and adopt similar AI platforms very soon.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge