3 things direct from the future

Edition 91

Once every 2 weeks I will deliver “3 things direct from the future”. A 2 minute read that will always give you:

  • one thing that can help,
  • one thing to be wary of, and
  • one thing to amaze.

If this sounds interesting to you then please subscribe.


1. One thing that helps

Death Valley Desert Water

Stuck in Death Valley and need some water? No problem. Researchers led by Omar Yaghi of the University of California can help by extracting water from the air. Their method of doing so is unique, using a metal-organic framework (MOF) to extract water from the atmosphere and process it for drinking.

MOF-powered harvesters can operate in a low humidity environment with high capacity and high energy efficiency. When tested at Death Valley National Park in California, it produced the equivalent of a cup of water per-kilogram of the metal-organic framework. A cup of water in an extreme environment can be a lifesaver. The water harvester can also be carried in a handbag to bring it anywhere (and no-one would forget their handbag if taking a walk through Death Valley).

This is a completely sustainable and reusable way of producing water out of, literally, thin air. While it is useful already on this small-scale, if they can scale it to commercial levels, it’ll be huge.

2. One to be wary of

AI Financial Crisis

AI-powered “black box” trading algorithms have become very popular but could their increased use spark the next financial crisis? Gary Gensler, chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) thinks so.

A black box algorithm is a system where you cannot see the inner workings, only the input and the output. This means that AI algorithms function very much on their own. And there lies the problem. Gensler says “If deep learning predictions were explainable, they wouldn’t be used in the first place.”

The people building these systems tend to have similar backgrounds, and they train these models on similar data sets which means the weaknesses that come from such training are enlarged and multiplied. This poses the danger of algorithms making a decision to all sell the same thing at the same time. This could lead to a market crash. Increased regulation may only exacerbate this issue making the systems more similar.

How can we avoid such a scenario? One is by requiring higher capital from institutions that employ AI in their trades. This is to allow for a buffer for when an AI crash does occur. Another solution is to employ a “sniff test” on AI decisions. Ultimately, this means putting a human in charge over AI, but does this mean it’s easier to remove the AI entirely?

3. One to amaze

Nuclear Rockets To Mars

Draco 4 darpa nasa ussf caption

A holiday to Mars could take as little as six weeks! That’s what NASA promises in their new nuclear-powered rocket. It’s faster and more efficient than current conventional rockets but how does it work?

A nuclear fission reactor is used to heat up cryogenically-cooled liquid hydrogen. The rapid rise in temperature from 420 degrees Fahrenheit to 4,400 degrees expands the hydrogen and the gas is then pushed through a nozzle to propel the rocket. The nuclear reactor won’t be fired up until the rocket is in orbit to avoid the risk of a nuclear accident (thanks NASA) and this test rocket will remain in orbit for at least 300 years to allow for the decay of radioactive materials before they return to earth (thanks again).

Using this tech is more efficient than current chemical rockets allowing the nuclear-powered rocket to stay on for much longer and to hit higher velocities. If successful, going to Mars may take just around 6 weeks. The astronauts will be happy about their reduced exposure to radiation and the fact they won’t go loopy being inside a tin can forever.

To Mars and beyond!

Have a great week.

Daniel J McKinnon

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