Bull Session

Why Mars?

May 4, 2017          

Episode Summary

On The Digital Life this week we look at the mission to Mars. For over 40 years, NASA has sent spacecraft and rovers to study the red planet. Now, the space agency is developing the capabilities required to send astronauts, planned for the 2030s. So, why should humanity go to Mars? Luminaries from Buzz Aldrin to Elon Musk have cited a variety of reasons, which include: exploring our universe, searching for life beyond Earth, and even expanding the human presence in the solar system.

NASA has outlined three stages in its plan: Earth Reliant, Proving Ground, and Earth Independent. The first stage has already begun with the International Space Station, which has served as a proving ground for technologies and a way of advancing understanding of how the human body is effected by an extended time in space. However, in mid-April of this year, NASA announced that it will likely delay the second stage — human spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit — due to budget and software validation concerns. Join us as we discuss the mission to Mars.

Resources:
NASA’s Journey to Mars
NASA’s ‘Journey to Mars’ missions face delays due to budget challenges
Buzz Aldrin: Mission to Mars
Elon Musk Unveils Mars Colony Master Plan

Bull Session

3D Printing and The New Product Lifecycle

April 27, 2017          

Episode Summary

On The Digital Life this week we look at how additive fabrication / 3D printing is increasingly being used for production applications in manufacturing. We may be on the verge of a new kind of product lifecycle, as we imagine a future with greater digital / physical integration,
where we can print more products locally than we ship from a warehouse far away, where we can create new things that can’t be manufactured in a traditional way, and where everything can be customized.

According to the Financial Times, 60% of the $6.1B of additive manufacturing product and services is now related to production applications. This includes industries including aerospace, healthcare, consumer goods and others, for products ranging from sneakers to dental retainers to jet engines. For example, the McLaren Racing team is using 3D printers from Stratasys to create and modify parts on its Formula 1 race car. Reducing the time it takes to replace parts is a key competitive advantage since Formula 1 race cars need to be constantly maintained.

Of course, additive fabrication is still limited by the speed of 3D printing and the types of materials you can use for various applications. But, as quality and speed improve, there may come a time soon where this new product lifecycle is truly possible, if not probable.

Resources:
A Formula 1 team is 3D printing race car parts

Bull Session

Storytelling and AI

April 20, 2017          

Episode Summary

On The Digital Life this week we explore storytelling, creativity, and artificial intelligence. Our cultural evolution is reflected in our ability to communicate through stories, creating shared experiences and meaning. Recent research from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide used an AI to classify the emotional arcs for 1,327 stories from Project Gutenberg’s fiction collection, identifying six types of narratives. Could these reverse-engineered storytelling components be used to build automated software tools for authors, or even to train machines to generate original works? Online streaming service Netflix already uses data generated from users’ movie and television preferences to help choose its next shows. What might happen when computers not only pick the shows, but also write the scripts for them?

Resources:
The Six Main Arcs in Storytelling, as Identified by an A.I.
The strange world of computer-generated novels
A Japanese AI program just wrote a short novel, and it almost won a literary prize

Bull Session

Hacking Infrastructure

April 13, 2017          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss our vulnerable infrastructure, in light of the recent hacking attack on the Dallas emergency sirens. Our real world infrastructure — from power plants to airports to dams — is increasingly subject to both online and offline security breaches, which represents a significant problem in a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) is just beginning to take hold.

While the Dallas hack was accomplished via a radio or telephone signal — not an online breach — it nonetheless provides a prime example of how such attacks disrupt municipal emergency response. Over 4,000 calls flooded the city’s 911 system, forcing real emergencies to wait. Unfortunately, the spectrum of these attacks runs from malicious prank to terrorism and it’s hard to know what kind of attack is happening as it occurs.

Potential outcomes, including the difficulties brought on by service disruptions for electricity, water, transportation, etc., not to mention increased skepticism of emergency systems, could potentially be life threatening. What are the solutions for such hacks on critical infrastructure? And how should we view these types of events and react to them in a resilient fashion in the future?

Resources:
Hacking Attack Woke Up Dallas With Emergency Sirens, Officials Say
Sirens in Dallas, Texas Maybe Civil Defense Tests? Hackers?
Culprit broadcast signal that triggered Dallas’ emergency sirens Friday night
Someone hacked every tornado siren in Dallas. It was loud.

Bull Session

Privacy Overturned

April 6, 2017          

Episode Summary

On this episode of The Digital Life, in light of Congress overturning online privacy rules created by the FCC, we discuss the potential consequences of corporations tracking people’s online activities and selling their data. Last week, House Republicans overturned privacy rules — slated to go into effect later this year — that required broadband providers to receive consumers’ permission before collecting data on their online activities. Because consumers often don’t have many options for high-speed internet providers, and because ISPs can monitor nearly everything about consumers’ digital lives — from the sites they visit to the applications they use — these rules were seen as a privacy backstop, giving people the power to prevent companies from profiting from their personal information.

Resources:
Congress Moves to Overturn Obama-Era Online Privacy Rules