The Download: Saudi Arabia’s $1 billion plan to slow aging, and global energy turmoil
Anyone who has more money than they know what to do with eventually tries to cure aging. Google founder Larry Page has tried it. Jeff Bezos has tried it. Tech billionaires Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel have tried it. Now the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has around as much money as all of them put together, is going to try it.
The Saudi royal family has started a not-for-profit organization called the Hevolution Foundation that plans to spend up to $1 billion a year of its oil wealth to investigate the biology of aging and find ways to extend the number of years people live in good health.
The vast sum, which dwarfs American aging research spending, could make the Gulf state the largest single sponsor of researchers attempting to understand the underlying causes of aging—and how it might be slowed down with drugs. But US research organizations considering whether to take Saudi Arabia’s money will be forced to contend with the specter of its human rights record. Read the full story.
I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.
1 Global energy markets are changing dramatically
The dual concerns of climate change and the war in Ukraine are forcing governments to become far more active. (Foreign Policy $)
+ Biden is significantly stepping up measures to support solar panel manufacturing. (Reuters $)
2 Axon has paused plans to make a taser-equipped drone
After nine members of its ethics board resigned over its proposed plan to install the drones in schools to prevent future mass shootings. (WP $)
3 How the CIA was hacked
And why it missed the obvious red flags of its most probable candidate. (New Yorker $)
4 Why robots are edging out humans in South Korean factories
Scared of breaching a new worker safety law, companies are reducing their human workforces. (Rest of World)
+ A new generation of AI-powered robots is taking over warehouses. (MIT Technology Review)
5 Bitcoin’s founding principles aren’t standing the test of time
The myth of a decentralized network is largely just that—a myth. (NYT $)
+ White hat hackers are thwarting crypto criminals by stealing their targets first. (Motherboard)
+ Law enforcement crime units are getting better at seizing stolen crypto hauls, too. (NBC)
6 Dating apps are overrun with teenagers
Many users are too young—yet the platforms are failing to prevent them joining. (The Atlantic $)
+ Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love. (MIT Technology Review)
7 Non-addictive apps and games are taking off
Which appears to be a new, healthier direction for Silicon Valley. (Bloomberg $)
8 Why life after chronic pain is so confusing
Once you’re no longer experiencing it, defining your identity is tough. (Slate $)
+ Cannabis component THC may be better than CBD at easing chronic pain. (Insider)
+ There’s work underway to ease pain without opioids. (MIT Technology Review)
9 Tech whistleblowers are mostly women
Which is symbolic of the tech industry’s wider issues with gender equality. (Fast Company)
+ She risked everything to expose Facebook. Now she’s telling her story. (MIT Technology Review)
10 Millennials are boring 😴
It’s not just because they can’t afford to do anything fun. (New Statesman $)
Quote of the day
The Download: sleeping in VR, and promising clean energy projects
People are gathering in virtual spaces to relax, and even sleep, with their headsets on. VR sleep rooms are becoming popular among people who suffer from insomnia or loneliness, offering cozy enclaves where strangers can safely find relaxation and company—most of the time.
Each VR sleep room is created to induce calm. Some imitate beaches and campsites with bonfires, while others re-create hotel rooms or cabins. Soundtracks vary from relaxing beats to nature sounds to absolute silence, while lighting can range from neon disco balls to pitch-black darkness.
The opportunity to sleep in groups can be particularly appealing to isolated or lonely people who want to feel less alone, and safe enough to fall asleep. The trouble is, what if the experience doesn’t make you feel that way? Read the full story.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting.
But as we knock out the easy climate wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions.
Inside the conference where researchers are solving the clean-energy puzzle
The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) funds high-risk, high-reward energy research projects, and each year the agency hosts a summit where funding recipients and other researchers and companies in energy can gather to talk about what’s new in the field.
As I listened to presentations, met with researchers, and—especially—wandered around the showcase, I often had a vague feeling of whiplash. Standing at one booth trying to wrap my head around how we might measure carbon stored by plants, I would look over and see another group focused on making nuclear fusion a more practical way to power the world.
There are plenty of tried-and-true solutions that can begin to address climate change right now: wind and solar power are being deployed at massive scales, electric vehicles are coming to the mainstream, and new technologies are helping companies make even fossil-fuel production less polluting. But as we knock out the easy wins, we’ll also need to get creative to tackle harder-to-solve sectors and reach net-zero emissions. Here are a few intriguing projects from the ARPA-E showcase that caught my eye.
“I heard you have rocks here!” I exclaimed as I approached the Quaise Energy station.
Quaise’s booth featured a screen flashing through some fast facts and demonstration videos. And sure enough, laid out on the table were two slabs of rock. They looked a bit worse for wear, each sporting a hole about the size of a quarter in the middle, singed around the edges.
These rocks earned their scorch marks in service of a big goal: making geothermal power possible anywhere. Today, the high temperatures needed to generate electricity using heat from the Earth are only accessible close to the surface in certain places on the planet, like Iceland or the western US.
Geothermal power could in theory be deployed anywhere, if we could drill deep enough. Getting there won’t be easy, though, and could require drilling 20 kilometers (12 miles) beneath the surface. That’s deeper than any oil and gas drilling done today.
Rather than grinding through layers of granite with conventional drilling technology, Quaise plans to get through the more obstinate parts of the Earth’s crust by using high-powered millimeter waves to vaporize rock. (It’s sort of like lasers, but not quite.)
The emergent industrial metaverse
Annika Hauptvogel, head of technology and innovation management at Siemens, describes the industrial metaverse as “immersive, making users feel as if they’re in a real environment; collaborative in real time; open enough for different applications to seamlessly interact; and trusted by the individuals and businesses that participate”—far more than simply a digital world.
The industrial metaverse will revolutionize the way work is done, but it will also unlock significant new value for business and societies. By allowing businesses to model, prototype, and test dozens, hundreds, or millions of design iterations in real time and in an immersive, physics-based environment before committing physical and human resources to a project, industrial metaverse tools will usher in a new era of solving real-world problems digitally.
“The real world is very messy, noisy, and sometimes hard to really understand,” says Danny Lange, senior vice president of artificial intelligence at Unity Technologies, a leading platform for creating and growing real-time 3-D content. “The idea of the industrial metaverse is to create a cleaner connection between the real world and the virtual world, because the virtual world is so much easier and cheaper to work with.”
While real-life applications of the consumer metaverse are still developing, industrial metaverse use cases are purpose-driven, well aligned with real-world problems and business imperatives. The resource efficiencies enabled by industrial metaverse solutions may increase business competitiveness while also continually driving progress toward the sustainability, resilience, decarbonization, and dematerialization goals that are essential to human flourishing.
This report explores what it will take to create the industrial metaverse, its potential impacts on business and society, the challenges ahead, and innovative use cases that will shape the future. Its key findings are as follows:
• The industrial metaverse will bring together the digital and real worlds. It will enable a constant exchange of information, data, and decisions and empower industries to solve extraordinarily complex real-world problems digitally, changing how organizations operate and unlocking significant societal benefits.
• The digital twin is a core metaverse building block. These virtual models simulate real-world objects in detail. The next generation of digital twins will be photorealistic, physics-based, AI-enabled, and linked in metaverse ecosystems.
• The industrial metaverse will transform every industry. Currently existing digital twins illustrate the power and potential of the industrial metaverse to revolutionize design and engineering, testing, operations, and training.