[Popular STEM] Curating the Internet: STEM digest for March 20, 2021

in hive-109160 •  2 months ago 

IEEE Spectrum's weekly selection of awesome robot videos; A Harvard Business School working paper discusses the network effect in social media; A paper uses quantum mechanics to explain DNA mutations; Robots inspired by hermit crabs achieve more generalized skills; and Two perspectives on markets for non-fungible tokens

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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.


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  1. Video Friday: Man-Machine Synergy Effector (March 19) - This week's weekly selection of awesome robot videos from IEEE Spectrum includes the following videos:

    This robot demonstrating real-world benefits from morphological adaptation is described in Nature:

  2. Assessing the Strength of Network Effects in Social Network Platforms (March 19) - Summarizing a working paper by Marco Iansiti, this article suggests that there is more to the "network effect" than just the size of a network, and that social networks need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. By clicking through to the working paper itself, the Overview informs us that older literature considered "network effect" as a function of network size, but that newer literature takes a more nuanced view, weaving in factors like the network's structure and ease of "multi-homing", both of which can substantially weaken the observed network effect. In particular, it says that structural traits like these may leave,
    highly clustered platforms particularly susceptible to competition.
    Drawing on the example of Facebook, the article argues that Facebook may be more vulnerable to competition than many imagine because it is composed of large numbers of small clusters and because most Facebook users also make use of other social media platforms. The article includes a literature review and analysis of network effects in social media, with a particular focus on Facebook, and then concludes with this point,
    The existence of competition in social media is evidenced by the regular entry and success of rivals, a strong user tendency to engage with competitors, and the necessity for constant innovation and investment by incumbents

  3. Why Does DNA Spontaneously Mutate? Quantum Physics Might Explain (March 17) - Citing a January 29 article in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, the article suggests that proton tunneling can trigger point mutations in DNA by allowing positively charged protons to leap between locations. According to the article, computational limits prevented the authors from studying both halves of the DNA strand, and from understanding exactly how the proton tunneling unfolds. This theory competes with an idea from classical physics that the protons move around DNA strands as a result of temperature induced jiggling. However, the new paper argues that classical physics cannot account for all known cases where protons are observed to bounce around the DNA. This paragraph summarizes the thinking,
    “Essentially, what we find is that the amount of this [happening] just via classical thermodynamics is very low, in comparison to when we run the numbers for quantum rates,” Slocombe said. In other words, proton tunneling likely drives more proton-jumping than heat alone does, he said.

  4. MIT’s HERMIT Crab Robots Can Do Anything You Shell Them To (March 17) - As a general rule, it's easier to construct a robot to be a specialist, instead of a generalist. One method for designing generalized capabilities into a robot is to have it use specialized tools. The new twist here is that the HERMITS are inspired by hermit crabs, a species of crab that transitions between shells as it gains in size throughout its life. In this design, Toio robots were modified by MIT's Ken Nakagaki in a way that allows the Toio robots to drive into custom shells and dock with them. These shells, in turn, can give the robots highly specialized abilities. In addition to being able to accomplish generalized tasks, the robots can scale up by just adding more of them. With 14 Raspberry Pis, the researchers have controlled as many as 70 of these robots at a time. Here is the project team's web site: HERMITS: ‘Mechanical Shells’ for Robotic Tangible UIs.

    Here is a video:

  5. Andreessen Horowitz leads $23M round for NFT marketplace OpenSea (March 18) - One of the world's largest markest for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is OpenSea. Now with $23 million of backing from the well-known venture capitalists, Andreessen Horowitz, this article speculates that OpenSea could become the "Amazon of NFTs". The article quotes Andreessen Horowitz general partner, Katie Haun, saying:
    OpenSea makes NFTs searchable, usable, and organized, but it goes further and provides a marketplace that brings all platforms together and eases transactions among all parties, the way eBay and Amazon do.
    Among the reasons for backing OpenSea, the firm cites six months of "off the charts growth".

  6. The NFT craze is being driven by ignorance (March 19) - Point/counterpoint: This article argues that recent growth in the NFT market is a bubble because NFT ownership doesn't guarantee any particular rights. Here is the crux of their argument:
    Here, we stumble upon a fundamental disconnect between the marketing of NFTs and the reality of what they offer. A plain reading of materials put out by NFT projects will give a vague impression of what the purchaser is entitled to at best and an outright misleading one at worst.

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It's just a small change, but it allows for all sorts of new things, as it allows robots to drive inside custom shells and mate with them, like a hermit crab. But unlike any hermit crab you've seen, these shells can be equipped with intelligent mechanical transmission systems that take advantage of robot motors to give them highly specialized capabilities on demand.

Doing an analysis of a topic such as robotics is a bit complex when you are not an expert on the subject, but I find this type of content very interesting since one is encouraged to learn a little more, it is quite interesting that generalist robots with reprogramming are specialists, the dream is that a robot has the reasoning capacity of a human and maybe it will be achieved one day, but a spirit that is life itself will be impossible to achieve

it is quite interesting that generalist robots with reprogramming are specialists

I agree. I was aware that some robots had been able to use tools, but I hadn't quite realized the significance of this capability. Also, I am always fascinated when programmers and engineers get their inspiration from nature.

the dream of engineers and programmers is that one day a robot can reason and make decisions for themselves.