Will you have to carry a vaccine passport on your phone?
But a lot is happening behind the scenes to expand these uses, some of it very quickly. Governments, airlines, employers, universities, and many other groups are intensely debating how and why people will need to show verified health records.
Some of the terms being thrown around are confusing, like “vaccine passport.” In some scenarios, your records might function like an actual passport—think of arriving at the airport in a new country, pulling out your smartphone, and scanning a digital record of your vaccination or negative test. But those records could also act like a work authorization at your job, or a pass to get into restaurants, bars, and shopping malls.
Proponents argue that digital health credentials could help us get back to “normal,” but there are lots of roadblocks to making these ideas a reality, both on a medical and technical level.
Immunization doesn’t mean safety
While several vaccines appear highly effective at preventing symptoms of covid-19, we don’t know whether they stop people from catching and spreading the virus asymptomatically. Trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine suggested it may limit transmission from asymptomatic carriers, but Pfizer and Moderna’s trials didn’t regularly test participants for the virus if they didn’t have symptoms.
More data is needed to prove conclusively that vaccination prevents you from giving covid-19 to other people, and how long immunity lasts. It’s also important to remember that what’s true for one vaccine may not be true for another.
Without these crucial pieces of information, vaccination credentials only prove that you received a vaccine on a particular date—not that you do not have and cannot catch the disease. In the meantime, a negative covid test remains the best evidence that you’re not contagious. And since tests are far from perfect, you should still follow public health guidance about limiting spread whenever you can.
Digital records help combat fake information
There is already a booming black market in fake test results that is diminishing trust in printed records and driving demand for cheat-proof digital documents.
Many governments, as well as airlines and other businesses are trialing or in talks to build “health pass” apps, which let users ask participating labs and health systems to send authenticated test results and other data straight to the app, bypassing verification concerns.
There are a lot of players in the field, including IBM, the Commons Project, and the Covid Credentials Initiative. They’re coming at the problem from different angles but are ultimately chasing the same goal: let people share required information about their health, while protecting other private information. Yet it’s still too early to rely on any of these for a fast and widespread solution.
Linking up systems is very difficult
Health-pass makers are mostly focused on test results for now, but any of those technologies could work just as well for vaccine records, if all the systems worked together.
Unfortunately, that’s a much bigger challenge than signing deals with a couple of big testing companies. Connecting any systems across borders means navigating a patchwork of languages, databases, and privacy laws. Even in the UK, where the National Health System maintains a database of vaccine recipients, the government has put any talk of vaccine “passports” on hold.
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.
The Download: China’s retro AI photos, and experts’ AI fears
Across social media, a number of creators are generating nostalgic photographs of China with the help of AI. Even though these images get some details wrong, they are realistic enough to trick and impress many of their followers.
The pictures look sophisticated in terms of definition, sharpness, saturation, and color tone. Their realism is partly down to a recent major update of image-making artificial-intelligence program Midjourney that was released in mid-March, which is better not only at generating human hands but also at simulating various photography styles.
It’s still relatively easy, even for untrained eyes, to tell that the photos are generated by an AI. But for some creators, their experiments are more about trying to recall a specific era in time than trying to trick their audience. Read the full story.
Zeyi’s story is from China Report, his weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on tech in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday.
Read more of our reporting on AI-generated images:
+ These new tools let you see for yourself how biased AI image models are. Bias and stereotyping are still huge problems for systems like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion, despite companies’ attempts to fix it. Read the full story.