TLDR Daily Update 2020-01-30

Big Tech & Startups

Stories about tech giants, startups, and venture capital
Apple has a Vladimir Putin problem (8 minute read)
Russia passed a law in November 2019 that will require all smartphone devices to preload applications that provide information about its users back to the government. The information harvested includes location, financial, and message data. Unless Apple complies with the regulation, which kicks in during July 2020, it will have to pull out of Russia. The law is part of Vladimir Putin's goal to create a sovereign internet. Apple has yet to release a statement about the changes. Making these changes would go against Apple's principle of honoring user privacy over the interest of federal governments. Its position on privacy has landed the company in trouble with the US government in the past. Preloaded apps would pose just as real a threat as an official backdoor. Apple has recently changed Ukraine to be part of Russia in its weather reporting, a move that was heavily criticized on Ukrainian social media. The choices that Apple faces highlight the increasing power that large tech companies' decisions have on geopolitics.
Meena is Google’s attempt at making true conversational AI (3 minute read)
Conversational AI is a term for AI that can interpret human words, speak to people, or carry out tasks or computations with natural language. The best-known AI assistants today are not exactly conversational. Google has revealed Meena, a conversational neural network with 2.6 billion parameters that can handle multiturn dialogue. Google released a Sensibleness and Specificity Average metric to measure the ability of a conversational agent to maintain responses in a conversation that make sense and are specific. Humans rank around 86 percent on the SSA, and Meena scores around 79 percent. Google claims that Meena is the best AI agent built for conversation and available online today.

Science & Cutting Edge Technology

Stories about scientific breakthroughs and futuristic technologies like AI, blockchain, and space travel
Robots learn to sweat to stop overheating (3 minute read)
Material scientists have created a robot hand that is designed to sweat when overheated in order to cool down. The three-fingered machine has pressurized reservoirs filled with water inside its fingers which are connected to the surface via ducts made of heat-reactive plastic. When the plastic reaches a certain temperature, the pores open and water is released onto the surface, evaporating and cooling the machine down. Most robots are made of metal, which is good at dispersing heat, but soft robots designed for delicate tasks like medical procedures and packing fruit are made from rubber, which is a good insulator. One of the downsides to sweating is that it reduces friction, which could be an issue for gripping-type robots. There are GIFs in the article showing the sweating robot in action.
Lab-Grown Heart Muscles Have Been Transplanted Into a Human For The First Time (1 minute read)
Researchers in Japan have performed the first lab-grown muscle transplant. Degradable sheets containing lab-grown heart muscle cells were placed on areas with damaged heart muscle cells in a patient. The heart muscle cells were grown from induced pluripotent stem cells. If the patient from the study responds well to the treatment, the researchers plan to perform the same procedure on nine other people within the next three years. All of these patients suffer from a condition that requires a heart transplant in severe cases. This technique could be the much-needed alternative to heart transplants as finding suitable heart donors is difficult and transplanted organs have a much higher risk of rejection by the patient's immune system.

Programming, Design & Data Science

Tools, open source libraries, and other resources for programmers, designers, and data scientsts
Rich (GitHub Repo)
Rich is a Python library that creates rich text and formatting in the terminal. Developers can add color, emojis, style, tables, markdown, and source code syntax highlighting to their scripts and applications. Instructions and examples are available in the repository.
Scripts (GitHub Repo)
This repository contains five small scripts to make life better. The scripts can help generate ssh keys from passwords, bypass AMSI for VBA, send text to speech using the Windows Speech interface, automate Excel, and load shellcode with SYLK.

Miscellaneous

Random stuff techies might be interested in
Japan is building a 60-foot-tall, walking Gundam robot (3 minute read)
The construction of a 60-foot-tall walking Gundam robot will start in Yokohama in October this year. Gundam first aired in 1979, leaving an indelible mark on Japanese culture and the world of animation. Sales of Gundam miniature figurines approached half a billion back in 2015. This is the fourth full-size Gundam attraction that designer Masaki Kawahara has worked on. The robot will weigh around 25 tons and have 24 degrees of motion. Building the robot will stretch the limits of common motor, materials, and actuator technologies. It will be developed using the open-source Robot Operating System and Gazebo simulation software. A full-scale virtual copy of the robot will be released so that aspiring programmers can play with it and develop their own actions and poses. The seven-minute press conference announcement video is linked at the bottom of the article.
A robot named Little Peanut is delivering food to people in quarantine amid the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak (1 minute read)
A video filmed in a hotel in Hangzhou, China, shows a robot called Little Peanut moving from door to door carrying food to residents. Multiple robots were used to serve guests on each floor of the 16-story hotel on Monday and Tuesday in order to reduce human contact and prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. The guests were passengers from a flight to Hangzhou from Singapore. They were quarantined after two passengers were found with a fever. As of Wednesday, the coronavirus has killed 132 people in China and infected nearly 6,000 people worldwide.
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