James Hill-Khurana

Links: 1

Last Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Posted on: Jan 24, 2020

Interesting news and links I’ve stumbled across this week.

Recreating ARPA, the most successful research agency in history

Now Downing Street is trying to recreate it in Britain. Doing so is a long-held ambition of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, who has written that he wants to “make Britain the best place in the world to be for those who can invent the future.” As part of this goal, the government has promised to double research funding to £18bn in the next five years. An as-yet-undecided portion of this will go to a new agency, which will spend the cash on the sort of high-risk, high-reward research the private sector eschews. As Mr Cummings has noted, arpa’s budget was “trivial compared to the _trillions of dollars of value_” it created.

The current thinking is that it will be aimed at very pure maths or physical sciences. Mr Cummings has written that researchers will receive no micromanagement, with “bureaucratic cancers treated like the enemy”. Tyler Cowen of George Mason University says that in some ways the approach represents a return to earlier forms of patronage, like that disbursed by the Medicis, rather than the form-filling of modern academia.


Rolls-Royce plans mini nuclear reactors by 2029

Rolls-Royce is leading a consortium to build small modular reactors (SMRs) and install them in former nuclear sites in Cumbria or in Wales. Ultimately, the company thinks it will build between 10 and 15 of the stations in the UK.

“The trick is to have prefabricated parts where we use advanced digital welding methods and robotic assembly and then parts are shipped to site and bolted together,” said Paul Stein, the chief technology officer at Rolls-Royce.

He said the approach would dramatically reduce the cost of building nuclear power sites, which would lead to cheaper electricity.


Open Climate Fix

Open Climate Fix is a new non-profit research and development lab, totally focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as rapidly as possible. Every part of the organisation is designed to maximise climate impact, such as our open and collaborative approach, our rapid prototyping, and our attention on finding scalable & practical solutions.

By using an open-source approach, we can draw upon a much larger pool of knowledge and skills than any individual company, so combining existing islands of knowledge and accelerating progress.


Plants with self-sustained luminescence

We monitored these light-emitting plants from germination to flowering, observing temporal and spatial patterns of luminescence across time scales from seconds to months. The dynamic patterns of luminescence reflected progression through developmental stages, circadian oscillations, transport, and response to injuries. As with other fluorescent and luminescent reporters, we anticipate that this system will be further engineered for varied purposes, especially where exogenous addition of substrate is undesirable.


Why Google thinks we need to regulate AI

Now there is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it.


Scientists Create Living Concrete

The blocks also have the advantage of being made from a variety of common materials. Most concrete requires virgin sand that comes from rivers, lakes and oceans, which is running short worldwide, largely because of the enormous demand for concrete. The new living material is not so picky. “We’re not pigeonholed into using some particular kind of sand,” Dr. Srubar said. “We could use waste materials like ground glass or recycled concrete.”

The research team is working to make the material more practical by making the concrete stronger; increasing the bacteria’s resistance to dehydration; reconfiguring the materials so they can be flat-packed and easily assembled, like slabs of drywall; and finding a different kind of cyanobacteria that doesn’t require the addition of a gel.


An ant colony has memories that its individual members don’t have

A red wood ant colony remembers its trail system leading to the same trees, year after year, although no single ant does. In the forests of Europe, they forage in high trees to feed on the excretions of aphids that in turn feed on the tree. Their nests are enormous mounds of pine needles situated in the same place for decades, occupied by many generations of colonies. Each ant tends to take the same trail day after day to the same tree. During the long winter, the ants huddle together under the snow. The Finnish myrmecologist Rainer Rosengren showed that when the ants emerge in the spring, an older ant goes out with a young one along the older ant’s habitual trail. The older ant dies and the younger ant adopts that trail as its own, thus leading the colony to remember, or reproduce, the previous year’s trails.