3 things direct from the future

Edition 99

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

Gene Sounds

Doctors have enabled an 11-year old boy, who was born deaf, to hear again without the need for a hearing aid. Aissam Dam was the first person to receive gene therapy for deafness in the US. He began to hear sounds within four weeks – completely changing his life.

This approach aims to help people who have a mutation in a gene called otoferlin. This gene acts as a bridge between hair cells in the cochlea and the brain. Because of this mutation, the chemical messages cannot be passed fromthe hair cells to nerve cells, leading to deafness. The team carefully inserted otoferlin into the cochlea where it bathed every hair cell resulting in restoration of hearing.

Although this therapy is only for those who have otoferlin mutations, the approach is hoped to pave the way for more effective treatment of deafness using gene therapy. Not having to wear mechanical implants is a huge quality of life improvement for those afflicted.


2. One to be wary of

When Will You Die?

Would you like to know when you will die? What about the life of an entire country’s people? Well, AI can do just that.

Over in Denmark, researchers have trained AI to predict what would happen to people in the future. Such predictions included how likely people are to die, as well predicting their personality traits. The team used social, health and economic information gathered by the Danish government to train their AI. And when we say data, we’re talking about income, personal visits to healthcare providers, diseases and all things the government asks for. This information was arranged chronologically to create life sequences enabling AI to see distinct patterns. This information is then used to make fairly accurate predictions.

Why should we be wary? How much of our lives do we want organizations, both private and government, to know? How much do you trust that these organisations are keeping your data private? How much do you trust that they won’t use it for reasons you haven’t approved?

My answer: Not much.

3. One to amaze

Herculaneum Scrolls

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2000 years ago, The Herculaneum scrolls were buried under a volcanic eruption. They were discovered in the 18th century but nobody could figure out how to unroll and read the bloody things! Not an easy task!

Last year, a challenge was issued to the public to help decipher the contents of the carbonized scrolls. The organizers sent out CT scans of the scrolls that participants used to test their approaches. Less than a year later, the results are in! The winner is a team that heavily uses AI to help them get the job done. The process has three basic steps:

  1. Creating a 3D scan of the scroll;
  2. Tracing the crumpled layers to unroll the scroll, then;
  3. Identifying inked regions to trace out the letters.

The winning team of Youssef Nader, Luke Farritor, and Julian Schilliger won the $700K prize by deciphering more than 2,000 characters in total. Part of the secrets unlocked by AI states:

as too in the case of food, we do not right away believe things that are scarce to be absolutely more pleasant than those which are abundant”

This was a bit of a letdown for those hoping for ancient spells or pots of gold, but we’re only just getting going!

Have a great week.

Daniel J McKinnon

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