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The Future Is Starting to Look Like the Future
white pill #25 // the metaverse is back, we now have ai with eyes, ears, and voice, we've officially mined an asteroid, and we're one step closer to the electrification of the us vehicle fleet
Readers, the future actually started to look like the future this week, and in this 25th issue of the White Pill, we’re going to show you how. OpenAI not only gave GPT eyes, ears, and a voice, but Meta released a pair of smart glasses on pre-order that will be updated with a multimodal AI that will feed you information about what you’re looking at in real time. This week we also learned that Microsoft is exploring plans to power their artificial intelligence compute with small modular reactors, and were stunned when Lex Fridman released a mind-bending episode of his podcast filmed entirely in the metaverse. Also: NASA returned samples from an asteroid it ‘mined,’ clinical trials for the first HIV vaccine began, Tesla unveiled that its humanoid robot Optimus learns by watching, and more.
Oh, please don’t forget — the White Pill has a X/Twitter account now, follow it for snackable science, energy, engineering, and space in your feed, and RT if you are so inclined.
Asteroid sample return update. In last week’s White Pill, we told you about the OSIRIS-Rex asteroid sample return mission. Mission success! The capsule containing the scientifically priceless material landed safely in Utah’s west desert, and is now back in Houston, where it has been opened. 30% of the material will be used for studies now, with the rest preserved for future generations with better tools. Just to recap, humans sent out a spacecraft 200 million miles or so, grabbed some rocks, and brought them back. No big deal. (NASA) (Twitter/X)
Frame dragging and time dilating. The first black hole to be imaged — supermassive black hole M87* (now renamed Pōwehi, a Hawaiian word meaning “the adorned fathomless dark creation”) is spinning, according to new research. Because of its huge mass, it actually pulls on and twists the surrounding fabric of spacetime in a process called frame-dragging, which is to say that if you’re in a frame-dragged region, it would be impossible to stay ‘still’ relative to the location of any object not getting frame-dragged.
Here you would also experience time dilation, meaning that while you personally continue to perceive seconds as seconds and your biological processes function on ‘normal time,’ an outsider listening to your heartbeat would perceive it as slowing down. For them, a lifetime — for you, seconds. How do we hack event horizons to jump to the future? The subject of another White Pill, perhaps… (Twitter/X) (Eureka Alert)
Can you believe that Perseverance captured imagery of a dust devil on Mars, on August 30? It's "moving east to west at a clip of about 12 mph (19 kph) along 'Thorofare Ridge.’” Video (above) is sped up 20x. (NASA)
The green comet Nishimura, only recently discovered in August, and which flew by Earth at peak brightness two weeks ago, is captured in this mindbending video being hit by a coronal mass ejection; you can see its tail clearly interacting with the explosion. Fascinating. (@ExploreCosmos_)
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The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. For last week’s deals, check out last week’s White Pill. Deals are sourced from Pitchbook.
Bird-like drones — Silent Flyer, a startup that’s developing a drone that’s indistinguishable from a seagull when viewed from a distance (see it and believe), raises an undisclosed amount of angel funding
Launching rockets from fighter jets — Starfighters Space, a company that owns a fleet of seven F-104 supersonic aircraft (did NOT know this was possible) to launch space-bound payloads from an altitude of 45,000 feet, raises $2.98 million in venture funding from Fortuna Investments and other undisclosed investors
Robots with human-level dexterity — Cambrian, a company developing manufacturing robots that can pick and place parts as small as toothpicks and paperclips, raises $3 million of venture funding from undisclosed investors
Sails on cargo ships — Ayro, the company behind the Oceanwings automated sails that can be retrofitted onto cargo ships to improve fuel efficiency, raises a $20.2 million Series B led by SWEN Blue Ocean Partners
Drones for powerline construction — Infravision, a company developing drones to be used for constructing power lines (these drones need to be powerful enough to string cables between towers), raises a $36 million Series A led by Energy Impact Partners
The Tesla of electric boats — Arc, a company building luxury battery-powered boats (their Arc One costs around $300k), raises a $70 million Series B led by Eclipse Ventures, with participation from a16z and others
Amazon is getting serious about AI — Amazon is in talks to invest an estimated $4 billion into AI startup Anthropic, an OpenAI competitor
Energy, Engineering, Computing
"There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen."
The metaverse is definitively here. Lex Fridman ‘filmed’ an entire podcast episode with Mark Zuckerberg in the metaverse — while the two were miles apart — and released it on X. The image above is from the episode, and shows their photorealistic avatars in conversation. On the ‘outside’, they can be seen having their conversation in different locations, wearing VR goggles and headphones. Watch it here.
Though my first thought was that this tech will be a great way for cislunar space contractors like moonbase operators and workers in geostationary orbit to battle homesickness, there are already people for whom this level of photorealistic detail will be life-changing: family members who live in different countries or states, soldiers deployed internationally and their spouses, oil rig workers, deep sea fishermen, patients in isolation (e.g. Covid 2020), airplane pilots, truckers — I have to imagine this product will be in extremely high demand among groups of people like these. The future looks like the future! (@lexfridman)
And so is multimodal AI? Meta and Rayban’s collaboration on smart sunglasses is finally starting to bear fruit. The sunglasses, which don’t look stupid, can take photos, livestream, and make calls; the five built-in mics allow you to give them voice commands (more on that in a second), and they double as headphones.
That isn’t even the best part though. In this video of Zuckerberg presenting the glasses, he says Meta will send a software update to the smart glasses that will enable its AI to be multimodal. “If you want to know what the building is that you’re looking at, or for [the smart glasses] to translate a sign that’s in front of you, or if you need help fixing this sad leaky faucet, you can basically just talk to Meta AI and it’ll walk you through it.” Today, you can pre-order a pair for $299 or buy them on October 17. Who’s pre-ordering? (I might actually pre-order…) (The Verge)
Fusion for steel manufacturing. Fusion energy company Helion and steel producer Nucor just inked “an agreement to develop a 500 MWe fusion power plant at a Nucor steel manufacturing facility in the United States.” This has the potential to provide the vital stable power needed for the heavy industry, and will make steel production far cleaner and less impactful on the environment. Both companies noted it was the “first fusion energy agreement of this scale and is expected to pave the way for global decarbonization in industrial manufacturing.” (Helion)
Microsoft’s nuclear-powered AI. This week Solana covered Microsoft’s job posting for a a Principal Program Manager, Nuclear Technology, “who will be responsible for maturing and implementing a global Small Modular Reactor (SMR) and microreactor energy strategy.” This feels significant. From his piece:
The post goes on to describe a position charged with developing strategy for integrating microreactor power into the datacenters where Microsoft Cloud and AI reside. In other words: we are building artificial intelligence. Because artificial intelligence requires far more energy than we are currently consuming, we are also building a new, clean power source that generates more, not less power. All together: nuclear-powered machine superintelligence.
No suggestion of carbon credits in exchange for good will in the press. No implicit begging for a ribbon after buying solar panels from China, which are built in part by slaves, and constructed from material mined by children. Microsoft is quietly hiring a nuclear scientist to free itself from the rotting power grid, generate more power with the casual suggestion it will be using much more energy, and take an active hand in actually building a better world.
Honda has revealed its first fully electric car, a 300-mile range SUV crossover called Prologue that will be available in the first quarter of 2024, price in the upper $40k range. I think they could have made the interior look a lot better, but the news makes the total electrification of America’s vehicle fleet seem that much closer. (@SawyerMerritt)
GPT Plus and Enterprise users can now browse the internet using Bing, meaning it’s no longer limited to its September 2021 training data cutoff. Use the feature by starting a new chat and choosing the browse with Bing option. (@OpenAI) Also, it has eyes, ears, and a voice now — new features currently being rolled out will allow you to “have a voice conversation or show ChatGPT what you’re talking about.” ‘Her,’ anyone? (@OpenAI)
Tesla’s Optimus is improving, now able to sort objects on its own, as this new video shows. Optimus learned how to sort objects by watching video of how to do so. (Twitter/X)
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) announced it will build an AI supercluster to run compute for life sciences research, and specifically to build a cell modeling system that will enable significant breakthroughs in the discovery, prevention, and treatment of disease. From its editorial in MIT Technology Review:
Over time, we hope, this will enable scientists to simulate every cell type in both healthy and diseased states, and query those simulations to see how elusive biological phenomena likely play out — including how cells come into being, how they interact across the body, and how exactly disease-causing changes affect them.
While there are larger AI clusters dedicated to medical research that are privately owned, CZI says theirs will be one of the world’s largest for nonprofit scientific research, meaning essentially that “these digital cell models, and their associated data and applications, will be openly accessible to researchers worldwide.” (MIT Technology Review)
Clinical trial of the first preventative HIV vaccine has begun, with trial locations in the USA and South Africa. The vaccine is designed to prompt the immune system to produce “T-cells that can recognize HIV and signal an immune response to prevent the virus from establishing a chronic infection.” (SciTechDaily)
Finally, the fun stuff
Vacuum chamber demonstration. “In the world's largest vacuum chamber, a bowling ball and feathers are used for a real-life demonstration of a concept Galileo first proposed over 400 years ago,” reads the caption of an X post, above a video of a bowling ball and a feather falling at the same speed. When the feathers hit the platform, they bounce. This perplexing effect of a vacuum — think of it as ‘pure’ gravity ‘unencumbered’ by atmosphere — is counterintuitive, but foundational in the study of physics.
In normal atmospheric conditions (i.e., not in a vacuum), the feathers would fall much slower than the bowling ball due to air resistance. The surface area of the feathers, combined with their lightweight, causes them to experience a significant amount of drag, which slows their descent. But in a vacuum where the air is removed, there is no air resistance — the only force acting on the bowling ball and the feathers is gravity. With no air resistance to slow the feathers down, both the bowling ball and the feathers fall at the same rate. This demonstrates that gravity accelerates all objects equally, regardless of their mass, when air resistance is eliminated. Quite a thinker! (@wonderofscience)
Bronze Age ‘crater’ town. Above shows a cozy illustration of the Bronze Age Nuraghic village of Tiscali, located in Sardinia, Italy. Used or inhabited by the Nuraghic people, the spot was built inside a collapsed limestone cave, and scholarship hasn’t quite figured out all the details of why they were here. “Its particular location and dripping water collection systems suggest that the inhabitants could take refuge inside it for long periods of time and that this site may have represented the extreme defensive bulwark against invaders raids in Roman times,” is one explanation I came across. Anyways, for the next time you’re in Sardinia. (@DilettanteryPod)
How does the heart first start beating? Researchers used zebrafish to answer this important question, because despite the average (human) heart beating 3 billion times, how it first starts up has been a mystery until now. Unexpectedly, they found that all the heart cells started beating together at once, instead of a smaller group(s) beating, then spreading, which had previously been theorized. This was accompanied by electrical signals and spikes in calcium levels. “It was like someone had flipped on a switch,” one of the scientists said. (Technology Networks)
NOTE: An earlier version of this newsletter included an item about Varda Space Industries that we sourced from Pitchbook. Per Varda, the information Pitchbook published is completely inaccurate, so we’ve removed the item.
Touch grass this weekend.
(Also, do you know someone who’s a great writer who would want to work for Pirate Wires? Who should we interview? What should we write more about? Please get in touch if you’re interested in discussing.)