We keep an eye on the latest technology developments so you don’t have to. Here are some of the things we’ve spotted recently that are changing our world for the better - or at least, helping us raise a smile in challenging times.

A new Russian robot

We tend to associate humanoid robots with gimmicky appearances in Tokyo nightclubs or scary BostonDynamics videos, but a synthetic clerical worker is now answering questions and issuing certificates in a government office in Perm, Siberia. While the robot would not be mistaken for a biological person, ‘she’ is capable of more than 600 facial expressions and has one direct advantage over her human rivals: she is directly connected to a printer, a scanner and document database. Its manufacturer, Promobot, say they have used AI to analyze the features of thousands of Russian women and create a composite of their appearance. \ https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-technology-robot/humanoid-clerk-helps-to-cut-red-tape-in-russia-idUSKCN24F0OP

Google’s hieroglyphics translator

Bored with emojis and looking for a fresh twist? Google now translates more than just spoken languages: the launch of its hieroglyphics translator, Fabricius, means that you can now turn your text- or emoji-based messages into the script of the ancient Egyptians. The tool was developed in collaboration with Egyptologists and works by analysing historical records and definitions of the language. Google hopes it can build up a more extensive database as people add to the system, which is available to academics as a professional desktop tool and to amateurs via the Culture Lab (https://artsexperiments.withgoogle.com/fabricius/en).\ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-53420320

Improving skin cancer detection with AI

The recent mind-blowing stories about the capabilities of boundary-pushing artificial intelligence project GPT-3 have prompted new debate about which jobs are likely to be outsourced to AIs in the future. However, one doctor in Vienna sees AI very much as a collaborator rather than a competitor. We think of AIs learning from humans, but dermatologist Harald Kittler decided to turn this idea on his head. He was intrigued by the ability of one image-processing algorithm to detect skin cancer more accurately than even the most skilled doctors, so he set about finding out exactly how the algorithm worked and what it was looking for and asked his students to emulate its methods. His experiment proved that his students could identify one particular lesion with a third more accuracy armed with this new knowledge. “Most people think of AI as acting in a different world that cannot be understood by humans,” Kittler says. “Our little experiment shows AI could widen our point of view and help us to make new connections.” \ https://www.wired.com/story/algorithm-doesnt-replace-doctors-makes-them-better/

Apple set to storm the AR market - in 2023

The mass adoption of AR/mixed reality has been held back by the limitations of either viewing AR objects on your phone or having to wear a clunky headset. Most people recall the hype around Google Glass, but the reality did not quite live up to expectations, and their aesthetics made them rather more of an object of mockery than desire. All that is set to change with rumours that the lenses for Apple’s AR glasses are at an advanced state of production. The lenses are said to be barely thicker than those of normal glasses, and are apparently already being produced at the Chengdu Foxconn plant in China. Few would bet against Apple being the first tech giant to launch a truly desirable mass-market AR wearable, but we will probably have to wait a couple of years before they hit the shelves.\ https://9to5mac.com/2020/07/10/apple-ar-lenses-trial-production-slightly-thicker-than-normal-glasses/amp/

The Wizard of Oz - in DNA

DNA can store vast quantities of information about what the attributes that make us human - or a cat, or a fly or a bacterium. This means that other information can be stored as well, and while the idea of DNA storage is not new - researchers previously encoded a gif into e-Coli bacteria DNA, but this time a whole novel has been encoded into DNA (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in case you are interested). “Those pieces [of DNA] could be stored in some pretty rough conditions for thousands to even millions of years, much like we’ve seen with sequenced dinosaur DNA,” said Stephen Jones, a researcher who collaborated on the project. DNA storage costs a fraction of traditional hard disk storage and could be used, for example, for long-term storage of bank records. \ https://www.digitaltrends.com/news/wizard-of-oz-dna-coding/

The Fringe goes digital

The Covid-19 cancellation of the Edinburgh Festival fringe leaves a huge hole in the UK’s cultural calendar this year, but fans of the weird and wonderful happenings at the world’s largest arts event need not despair: you can participate from your armchair this year, with a range of digital events planned by the many independent venues that would normally be physically hosting performances.\ https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/jul/13/edinburgh-festival-fringe-sets-stage-summer-online-shows