AM signals: petabyte brain, CRISPR issues, human crashes self-driving car

Jan. 26, 2016

A human taking control of a self-driving test car from Cruise Automation collided in an unoccupied parked vehicle. The Wall Street Journal quotes Bryant Walker Smith, who wrote a book-length paper on the legality of autonomous vehicles, as calling the computer-to-human transition time the “mushy middle” of autonomy.

Biotechnology firm Editas Medicine wants to use CRISPR gene-editing technology to treat disease, but the company faces a patent problem. Farai Chideya at FiveThirtyEight writes, “Editas licensed the technology in 2014 from the patent holder, scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as part of its research into genomic medicine, including cancer immunotherapies. But earlier this month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office accepted a challenge to the Broad Institute group’s patent from the University of California, which is backing a rival group of scientists.” There are also ethical questions with respect to whether CRISPR would be used for germline editing as well as somatic treatments, writes Chideya.

Spacecom, which lost contact with its Amos-5 satellite last year, announced it will launch Amos-6 in May via a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, according to Broadband TV News. Facebook and Eutelsat plan to use the satellite’s Ka-band to bring Internet to sub-Sahara Africa.

Salk researchers contend the memory capacity of the brain is far higher than common estimates. Their work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy efficient and could help engineers build computers that are incredibly powerful but also conserve energy. “This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience,” said Terry Sejnowski, Salk professor and co-senior author of a paper published in eLife. “We discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computation power. Our new measurements of the brain’s memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web.”

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