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The White Pill: No Earth Impacts in the Next 1000 Years
white pill #6 // a near-earth water comet, magic kitchen drawers for instant food delivery, the human immunome project, and 9000-year-old blueprints
Readers: it’s the sixth issue of The White Pill, our weekly roundup of evocative, fun, mind-melting new developments in space, engineering, medicine, tech, and science.
Included in this week’s issue is a new recurring feature, the White Pill Investment Index, where we’ll catalog investment deals in companies developing future-forward products and services. It’ll take up the “lead story” spot in this issue, so check it out below.
But first, some excellent news…
Look up? “As far as we know, there’s no impact in the next 1,000 years,” the lead author of a survey of near Earth objects (NEOs) that will soon be published in Astronomical Journal told MIT Technology Review. Of the known one-kilometer-in-size-or-bigger asteroids that are near Earth, none are projected to collide with us, the study says. For context, the asteroid that likely caused the dinosaurs to go extinct 66 million years ago was 10 kilometers in size. Excellent news. (Probably.) (Space.com)
Scientists are using AI to map the human immune system. One of the last true mind-bending moonshots in the natural sciences was the Human Genome Project. In 1990, a team of scientists set out to sequence all 20,000+ genes in the human genome; by 2003, the monumental task was complete, and it spurred a cascade of still-unfolding medical advances. Today, another exponentially more ambitious project is underway: the Human Immunome Project, which aims to use artificial intelligence to create a digital simulation of the human immune system. The immunome is far more complex than the genome, and contains millions of times more data. It will be no easy task, but if seen through to completion, “the potential impacts could be enormous, from improving the effectiveness of cancer therapies to shedding new light on the ongoing mystery of Long Covid.” Excellent news. (Freethink)
How about a city-wide underground delivery network? Pipedream Labs has partnered with Wendy’s “to build the future of Hyperlogistics.” That means they’ll pilot “an underground… tube that lets [Wendy’s] safely send food to any number of portals in their parking lot,” cutting out the need for a drive-through. But more compelling is Pipedream’s long term goal: “to create city wide underground delivery networks that enable fast, near free, autonomous delivery… Imagine having a magic drawer where you can get your groceries, Wendy's order, or Amazon packages within minutes of ordering.” Really cool thread explaining all this, with pics — and a live case study in a residential community — is here. Bezos even makes a cameo.
Fusion news flowing. NuScale Power, the company developing “the first and only [Small Modular Reactor (SMR)] design to be approved and certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with steel manufacturer Nucor to explore aspects of powering their steel plants with NuScale’s SMG. Whether it happens remains to be seen — encouraging development regardless. (@NuScale_Power)
California companies announce 100x scaleup of direct ocean capture facility. Earlier this month, Captura and AltaSea announced a partnership to construct an ocean carbon removal system at the Port of Los Angeles capable of capturing 100 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Powered by renewable energy, Captura’s facilities use electrodialysis to remove CO2 from seawater and permanently sequester it — a technique that has the potential to remove gigatons of carbon dioxide annually, enabling the oceans to absorb an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. (Globe News Wire) (New Atlas)
New sponge can clean polluted water, recovering critical minerals from mining waste in the process. (rawmaterials.net)
Stanford researchers “developed digital skin that can convert sensations such as heat and pressure to electrical signals that can be read by electrodes implanted in the human brain.” It can reportedly integrate seamlessly with real skin and not only shows potential for prosthetic limb technology but also for artificially intelligent humanoid robot tech. (phys.org)
Artificial Intelligence, machine learning
“The robots are coming. And not just from Tesla.” Vancouver-based Sanctuary AI released details about its all-purpose humanoid robot called Phoenix, which is powered by LLMs and designed to perform physical labor. It’s 5’7’’, can go three miles per hour, and can carry up to 55 pounds. (Press release) (@TheSanctuaryAI)
Her IRL. It’s slow, ugly, and sounds too robotic, but a guy did just go and create a wearable prototype that’s basically like the AI in Her. It sees using a camera attached to his ring, and hears and speaks through a headset. In the video, you can see it responding to the creator’s questions about the view outside, and the weather. Wild. Read his full description of the project here. (@MinaFahmi)
Atomically thin artificial neurons boost machine learning efficiency. Researchers from Oxford, IBM, and the University of Texas have made an important breakthrough on the hardware side of artificial intelligence computing. Machine learning efficiency has for decades been hindered by an inability to integrate both “feedforward” and feedback signals. Earlier this month, the group reported it had overcome this barrier by stacking “2D materials” — e.g., a few-atom-thick slice of graphene — to create artificial neurons that, by processing both electronic and optical signals, can run separate feedforward and feedback paths simultaneously. This development will enhance our ability to perform complex computing tasks such as unsupervised learning. (Oxford News)
OpenAI released its ChatGPT app for iOS, and a TON of new plugins for its plugins mode. (OpenAI)
The White Pill Investment Index is a new feature of the White Pill that will track investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products.
We split the index into two sections, Notable Investments and Wildcards.
Notable Investments will include larger investments in companies developing evocative, interesting products, most of which are led by the most well-known VC firms.
Wildcards will include investments of nearly any size in companies also doing exciting, futuristic stuff, but which are led by lesser-known firms.
It’ll take a minute for us to make sure that every week, the index is more or less comprehensive, so if in the meantime you notice a notable deal that’s missing, let us know in the comments. Date range will be current month, so this one — our first — starts at May 1.
AI tools — Runway, one of the startups behind Stable Diffusion that’s developing an impressively large array of video AI tools raises $100m in Series D at a $1.4b valuation.
AI recycling — AMP Robotics, which develops a system for recycling that uses AI “to identify and recover recyclables with rates of speed and precision previously unknown to the industry” raises $99m in Series C venture funding in a deal led by Congruent Ventures and Wellington Management.
Anti-aging tech — NewLimit, a company dedicated to curing aging, well-known for being co-founded by Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, secures $40m in venture funding from Dimension Capital, Founders Fund, Kleiner Perkins and more.
Open source LLMs — Together, a company dedicated to developing open source LLMs and a decentralized cloud for AI computing, raises $20m in seed funding in a deal led by Lux Capital.
AI voice — Eleven Labs raises $18.5m in Series A-1 and Series A-2 from Andreessen Horowitz; the company develops an AI-based voice tool that converts a speaker’s English to other languages in the same voice, intonation, and emotion.
Green materials — Partanna raises $14m in seed funding from Cherubic Ventures (Flexport, Hims and Hers, Calm) to develop building materials that absorb carbon dioxide; Partanna is now pre-money valued at $178m.
AI memory — Rewind, developer of a tool that "records anything you’ve seen, said, or heard and makes it searchable," is in the process of raising $12m in a round led by New Enterprise Associates, which puts the company's pre-money valuation at ~$338 million. Andreessen Horowitz led the company’s ~$10m seed round.
Lifespan diagnostic company (they tell you how long you’re going to live) BioGraph raises nearly $30m in a deal led by Human Capital.
Clean Hydrogen Works raises $30m in venture funding to manufacture hydrogen-ammonia in Louisiana, which will “be shipped to global markets as a clean energy feedstock.”
“Developer of wearable neurostimulation devices designed to offer opioid withdrawal relief” Spark Biomedical raises $16m.
Bryn Pharma, developer of a nasal-based epinephrine (instead of a shot, like in epi pens) raises $15m.
Agile Space Industries, which manufactures in-space propulsion systems, raises nearly $11m in seed funding from Caruso Ventures, among others.
Orbital Outpost X, working on technology that will enable humans to extract resources from the moon, raises $5m.
Wireless vehicle charging company HEVO raises $2.7m in equity crowdfunding.
Alegenesis, a materials company that intends to develop fully biodegradable plastic from algae, raises $1.3m of Series A.
Human composting (basically, an alternative to burial/ cremation) company Recompose raises $1.2m in equity crowdfunding.
Powered by GPT-4, Milo is working on an “AI copilot for parents,” and raises nearly $1.2m.
Sustainable Skylines, developer of outdoor drone advertisement systems that could disrupt the aerial advertisement industry (planes that trail an ad banner), raises $1m of angel funding.
In-utero fetal brain surgery performed successfully in US for first time. Surgeons at Boston’s Children Hospital delivered a miracle for parents Kenyatta and Derek Coleman earlier this year, and two months later, it seems the miracle was not a mirage. Their daughter-to-be had a rare brain malformation called a “vein of Galen,” which causes improper blood vessel development that can result in brain damage and heart failure. Expecting the worst, the parents had canceled their baby shower and all but given up hope. But the team at BCH decided to go for a Hail Mary in-utero operation, guided by ultrasound, using a needle to insert tiny platinum coils into the fetal malformation. It was the first time the procedure had been attempted in the US. It worked, and the Colemans’ daughter was soon healthy enough to be discharged from the NICU. Incredible news. (Freethink)
Researchers find second instance of rare mutation that protects against Alzheimer’s. Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer’s Disease (ADAD) is a rare form that typically starts degrading patients’ mental faculties around age 40, as opposed to the usual 65. In 2019, researchers identified a woman with ADAD who, curiously, didn’t develop symptoms until her 70s. They concluded she may have been protected by two rare mutations to her APOE gene. On May 15, that same team of researchers announced the discovery of a second patient who fits this pattern: a man with a rare mutation to his RELN gene did not develop symptoms until 67, despite having ADAD. While the two patients had protective mutations to different genes — APOE and RELN — there’s a striking commonality: both code for molecules that bind to the same cellular receptors. These molecules, the genes that code for them, and the cellular receptors they bind to are thus considered fertile ground for future research into Alzheimer’s treatment. (Freethink)
Researchers used CRISPR to find a potential antidote to the death cap mushroom, which causes the vast majority of mushroom-induced deaths worldwide. More, its toll on human health is growing as it invades new urban areas. The molecule CRISPR identified is already approved for other purposes by the FDA, and it’s effective at blocking the death cap’s most potent toxin in both mouse and human cells. (Inverse)
An anon 3D printed a life-sized model of his brain (that’s the picture at the top of this section) using only raw MRI data. White Pill approved mantle piece, paper weight, Christmas ornament, necklace pendant, thing to hang on your truck’s trailer hitch instead of truck balls, etc. (Twitter)
MIT engineers designed sutures from biological material that can be coated in gel that contains sensors, drugs, and therapeutic molecules. The sutures “could help patients with Crohn’s disease heal after surgery to remove part of the intestine… [or be] a reservoir for sensors for inflammation [and] drugs such as monoclonal antibodies to treat inflammation.” (MIT News)
Advanced brain cancer is difficult to treat because the best chemotherapeutics are at present unable to permeate the blood-brain barrier. But last week, researchers reported a six-fold increase in chemotherapeutic concentration in 17 patients with an ultrasound device implanted in their brains. Small sample size, but encouraging. (Stat News)
Close comet has water. This week, NASA’s James Webb telescope enabled a scientific breakthrough when, for the first time, it detected water vapor around a comet called Read in the main asteroid belt, “indicating that water ice from the primordial solar system can be preserved in that region.” That Read, with its water, lives in the main asteroid belt — a torus shaped entity centered on the Sun and roughly spanning the space between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars — is significant; the discovery not only expands our knowledge of the solar system's history, challenges previous assumptions, and provides insights into the distribution and preservation of water ice during the early stages of planetary formation, but also, like… The Expanse?? (NASA)
New exoplanet alert. Canadian scientists used data gathered by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope to discover and study a distant planet dubbed LP 719-18 d. The exoplanet exhibits a level of volcanic activity matched in our solar system only by Jupiter’s moon Io — which, aside from being cool, also means it could in theory support liquid surface water. While the planet doesn’t rotate, meaning one side is permanently facing its sun and thus is likely too hot for liquid water, its frequent volcanic eruptions could sustain an atmosphere thick enough to keep liquid water stable on its darker, colder side. The findings make this exoplanet a good candidate for further study by Spitzer’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. (NASA)
Powerful earthquake rocks Mars. Using data from NASA’s Mars InSight Lander, a Swiss research team has determined not only that Mars has a thicc crust (26-35 miles thicc to be exact), but also that it’s heated primarily by the slow radioactive decay of thorium and uranium deep in its core. The data they used originated from a powerful earthquake that generated seismic waves strong enough to circumnavigate the planet three times. (Futurism)
SpaceX’s launch of four astronauts to the ISS on the Falcon-9 rocket and Dragon capsule is scheduled for tomorrow, May 21, at 5:37pm ET. (@SpaceX)
As early as May 25, Virgin Galactic will launch six of its employees into suborbit for its fifth spaceflight to date. They’ll be blasted 262,000 feet above Earth’s surface, and get to enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness before descending back to prep for the company’s first commercial mission in June. (CNBC)
In 2020, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope and has for three years continued hurtling through space in a state of dormancy. But space startup Rhea Space Activity just received funding from the U.S. Space Force to launch a spacecraft that will repurpose Spitzer to detect hazardous near-Earth asteroids. (Futurism)
And finally, some cool pics
Archeologists discover oldest known ‘blueprints,’ age 9,000 years. The blueprints are of fairly enormous ‘kites’ — stone structures used to trap animals — and their level of accuracy and detail is “astonishing” according to co-author Wael Abu-Azizeh. These “accurate plans at scale” were created by Neolithic people in modern day Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and were found near the actual kites they depicted. (Motherboard)
Tour of the Titanic. The first full-sized digital scan of the Titanic was recently completed by Magellen, a deep-sea mapping company. The scan comprises over 700,000 images from every conceivable angle, depicting the Titanic in its entirety, down to minute details such as one of the propeller’s serial numbers. A documentary by Atlantic Productions about the process of mapping the ship is in the works. Watch the video here.
Sending you off with some great images snapped by NASA’s Terra satellite over the years. (NASA on Flickr)
Between now and Monday, Nick and I recommend to touch grass.
-Brandon Gorrell and Nick Russo