Strike the Earth!, Fusion, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2022#50)

Just. Keep. Going. One. Week. Until. Holidays…


It’s over

The day has finally arrived. I have been quietly watching how the platform was degrading for a few weeks, and last night we reached a climax. First, the Devil banned the account covering his private jet flights. Then he started banning journalists reporting his misdeeds. Last, he started blocking Mastodon links, tagging them as dangerous. Enjoy your garden, buddy, I hope you build 10 km high walls all around it to keep you and your weird friends inside. So long!

Twitter blocks users from sharing Mastodon links, on BBC
Elon Musk starts banning critical journalists from Twitter, on The Verge
Twitter suspends Mastodon after it tweeted about Elon’s jet, on The Verge
We’re witnessing the brain death of Twitter, on the MIT technology Review

AI things

A couple interesting reads on AI this week. Not long ago everyone went crazy with the release of ChatGPT, flooding the net with examples of AI-generated texts. Some used the tool to write extensive texts with little to no effort, just retouching the generated results. Others even tried to code, with relative success. I just played a little bit, and while some results were surprising, others feel like the ongoing promise of «we are just X years away from general artificial intelligence» will keep coming up again and again. Putting myself in the shoes of a writer, I asked the AI to help me create a few interesting characters. The results really show a pattern: females tend to love Yoga, interesting people are young and have no kids, and everyone is a leader who takes risks. Okay.

I also found this story showing another example of how bias affects the results of AI art generators. In this case, Lensa, an app used by thousands of people to create digital avatars using a collection of selfies, rapidly started creating pictures without clothes when the input were selfies of an Asian woman. Quite the difference if you compare to the astronauts and warriors it produced when provided with selfies of white men.

ChatGPT: Optimizing Language Models for Dialogue, on OpenAI
List of Free and Paid AI Writing Generators, on Daily Writing Tips
The viral AI avatar app Lensa undressed me—without my consent, on the MIT Technology Review

Fusion, with a catch

This was probably the biggest news on science this week. The people at the National Ignition Facility announced that they had produced a controlled nuclear fusion reaction which generated more energy than the one required to sustain it. They used a laser to put ~2 MJ into the experiment, and got ~3,15 MJ back due to fusion-based neutron production, giving a net gain of about x1.5.

Then there is the catch, of course. That x1,5 gain is without considering the energy you need to power the lasers (around 300 MJ). If you account for that, the efficiency drops to x0,01. And this is what strikes me the most: the fanfare they generated for the announcement. Do not get me wrong, it is a super cool result, and a very important step in getting clean and cheap energy. However, they created huge expectations a couple days before the announcement, and they fabricated a press conference for an incremental advance that might be the future of fusion reactors (or not, as there are other approaches being explored at the same time by other research facilities). I cannot help but see a huge political and propagandist move here (you can take a look at the press conference below), as one of Biden’s main points during the campaign was renewable and clean energy. Oh, and they even managed to squeeze in some veiled threats regarding nuclear weapons to anyone listening out there…

National Ignition Facility demonstrates net fusion energy gain in world first, on PhysicsWorld
Breakthrough in nuclear fusion energy announced, on BBC
What fusion’s breakthrough means for clean energy, on the MIT Technology Review
We Have Ignition! Fusion Breakthrough Raises Hopes — and Questions, on Universe Today

Strike the Earth!

It is always lovely to see nice people succeed. For more than twenty years, Adams and Zack have been developing Dwarf Fortress, one of the most impressive video games ever made, and putting it online for free. On 2019, they announced a paid version on Steam as a way to fund their health care (good job USA). That version was published last week, and has sold more than 300.000 copies in less than 10 days, generating millions in revenue.

And now, I will wait with a smile on my face until they introduce boats in 2034.

After spending 20 years simulating reality, the Dwarf Fortress devs have to get used to a new one: being millionaires, on PC Gamer

Sideload this!

If you asked me about this a couple years ago, I would have said that we would never see Apple allowing sideloading via external app stores. But then we got the Epic vs Apple trial. And we are seeing how the European Union continues its quest on legislating novel technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the cyberspace. It seems that soon the EU will force companies to allow more options on their platforms, which is always a good thing. One can dream of the day we can just code little programs and run them on our phones without going through the worst of the twelve tasks of Astérix.

Apple Working on Sideloading for Europe, on Michael Tsai Blog
Apple to Allow Outside App Stores in Overhaul Spurred by EU Laws, on Bloomberg

Science images of 2022

Really cool selection with some of the most impressive shots on science this year. Corals, embryos, black holes, and starfishes are just some of the cool pictures on the list. An impressive view to finish the year, that’s for sure.

The best science images of 2022, on Nature

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!
Now listening: Dabu & Simon Swerwer | Strike The Earth!
Featured image: National Ignition Facility

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