In Weekly disruption feed

Electric flying car that takes off vertically could be future of transport and Adidas’ latest 3D-printed shoe puts mass production within sight. Enjoy this weekly feed of inspiring, interesting and intellectual articles and news, with a focus on disruption!

Flying cars almost here?

Close to a year ago we wrote about Larry Page and a few other entrepreneurs pursuing a dream of flying cars. Now they have been beaten to it, by Munich-based Lilium, backed by investors Niklas Zennström. The company are planning a 5-seater jet capable of vertical take-off and landing that can be used for urban air-taxi and ride-sharing services. Lilium are also promising 300km and a top speed of 300km/h, theoretically that London to Paris in less than an hour. When do we first see these things flying around in our cities? Before 2020??

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Mass produced 3D-printed shoes

We have written about 3D-printed shoes before but it has mostly been prototypes, limited series or customized shoes for professionals. Now Adidas is taking the next step with their Futurecraft 4D. The midsole of the shoe is produced by a resin based 3D-printer made by a Silicon Valley Start-Up called Carbon. By using 3D-printing technlogy the engineers can achieve seamless changes in firmness and other characteristics throughout the sole by simply adjusting the structure in the 3D-model. Something that would require several pieces of different materials glued together if using traditional production methods. Adidas is planning to reach a volume of 100 000 shoes by the end of 2018.

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The wizard hat

About a month ago we wrote about Elon Musks new company Neuralink working on a Brain Machine Interface (BMI). As well as Musk previously mentioning that humans will need an external “boost” if we are to keep up with smarter and smarter computers. Now, Tim Urban at Wait But Why has written a long and (mostly) great piece of what Neuralink is really doing. We highly recommend most of what Tim writes, for instance on AI and Elon, and here is a SHORT of his recent roughly 118 page “blog post”.

In the Tim’s prologue he writes “I feel like I took a time machine to the future, and I’m here to tell you that it’s even weirder than we expect”, and that actually summarizes the blog post quite well. But to start the post Tim goes back millions of years in time to explain the development of the brain and how the Brain works (to the small degree that we actually understand). Through millions of years of evolution our planet has developed our (humans and other animals) brains to where we are today, starting with a nervous system and adding the limbic system for feelings and the neocortex for “thinking”. Then we are introduced to the concept of BMIs, allowing us to connect our brains to machines. But in order to understand it we first have to understand the workings of the brain itself.

“One of the most information-dense, structured, and self-structuring matters known to man, all while operating on only 20 watts of power (an equivalently powerful computer runs on 24,000,000 watts)”.

He explains the basics types of neurons; interneurons (neurons that communicate with other neurons and allow us to “think”), sensory neurons (feel) and motor neurons (move).

Neurons in turn have ability to alter themselves chemically, structurally, and even functionally, allowing your brain to optimize itself to the external world—a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.

As a summary of the brain we have quite a good understanding of the big picture (neocortex, limbic system, grey matter etc.) and the little picture (neurons chemical and electrical reactions), BUT we are missing all that middle stuff about how each part of the brain actually does its thing. Part of the reason for this is the neuroplasticity meaning how each brain works is different. Despite this it’s actually physically working with the brain that is the hardest part of BMI. Two main problems stand out: 1) How do we get the right information out of the brain? 2) How do we send the right information into the brain?

In the brain there are 20 billion somas (neural cell nucleus) and each of them have a multitude of connections to other neural cells (some go as high as thousands of connections). On top of this, in every cubic millimeter of cortex, there’s a total of a meter of tiny blood vessels. Try “tapping” in to that network and extract information… That’s what BMI engineering is all about

Today’s technology consists of varies applications of scans (like MRI) or electrodes connected physically in your brain and in fact thousands of people with disabilities are helped by some sort of BMI already. There are for instance robotic arms controlled through BMI and in fact one of Neuralink’s founders and his team built an entire exoskeleton that allowed a paralyzed man to make the opening kick of the World Cup. We also have similar type tools as hearing or seeing aids being developed. However while these tools are unbelievably advanced today, they will seem like Stone Age technology to future humans.

There are some major hurdles in front of us, for one to get to a breakthrough Elon and his team believe we need to connect to a million neurons. Today’s maximum is about 500 neurons at once—which is either super far from a million or really close, depending on the kind of growth pattern we’re in. If we add 500 more neurons to our maximum every 18 months, we’ll get to a million in the year 5017. If we double our total every 18 months, like we do with computer transistors, we’ll get to a million in the year 2034. Currently, we seem to be somewhere in between, doubling every 7,4 years, which means it would take till the end of this century to get to a million. Another hurdle is of course BMIs won’t sweep the world as long as you need to go in for skull-opening surgery to get involved… So, If everyone you know in 40 years has electronics in their skull, it’ll be because a paradigm shift took place that caused a fundamental shift in this industry. That shift is what the Neuralink team will try to figure out.

There are currently other teams working on early stage technologies like a nano-scaled electrode mesh that “molds” with the brain or even using carbon nanotubes—a million of which could be bundled together and sent to the brain via the bloodstream… So there is definitely advancements already!

Tim calls the future version of BMIs a wizard hat, one that would be our tertiary layer—a new “physical” brain part to complement the other parts of our brain. That sounds really strange but Elon has a different way of looking at it:

“The thing that people, I think, don’t appreciate right now is that they are already a cyborg. …people—they’re already kind of merged with their phone and their laptop and their applications and everything.”

Elon also calls language “lossy”, and when you consider being able to instantly see how someone else thinks you understand what he means. Today, if two people say “I’m sad, that means two different things.

Then of course the post includes a number of predictions that may or may not happen, and we recommend you at least skim through this post when you have time to read them all. Some extracts:

Your car (or whatever people use for transportation at that point) will pull up to your house and your mind will open the car door. You’ll walk up to the house and your mind will unlock and open the front door. Conversations might essentially seem like telepathy and you could brainstorm together with a computer. A surgeon could control a machine scalpel with her motor cortex instead of holding one in her hand, and she could receive sensory input from that scalpel so that it would feel like an 11th finger to her. And if something goes wrong her expert colleague could “take the wheel” and connect their motor cortex to her outputs to take control of her hands.

You could get the enjoyment of “eating like shit” without actually putting crap food in your body. OR perhaps coolest, you could go past the limit of your senses and even “upload” knowledge to your brain.

But there is also the bad guys. Who will have more opportunity to spread hate or build hateful coalitions or even hack you BMI. That could even mean a clever hacker might be able to change your thoughts, or your vote, or make you want to do something terrible you normally wouldn’t ever consider. And you wouldn’t know it ever happened.

Elon, however, thinks about this even further. “I think that, conceivably, there’s a way for there to be a tertiary layer that feels like it is a part of you. It’s not a thing that you offloads you, it is you.” He sees it as only a matter of time before superintelligent AI rises up on this planet—and when that happens, he believes that it’s critical that we don’t end up as part of the less superior. That’s why, in a future world made up of AI, he thinks we have only one good option: To be AI.

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