138. AI-Voiced Audiobooks, Protein Created Out of Thin Air, Supersonic Shock Absorbing Gel


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Death of the narrator? Apple unveils suite of AI-voiced audiobooks | The Guardian (01:14)

  • Apple has quietly launched a catalog of books narrated by artificial intelligence in a move that may mark the beginning of the end for human narrators.
  • The audiobook market has exploded in recent year
    • Sales last year jumped 25%, bringing in more than $1.5bn
    • Insiders believe the global market could be worth more than $35bn by 2030.
  • In recent months, Apple approached independent publishers as potential partners, but not all agreed to participate.
    • Publishers involved in the project were required to sign non-disclosure agreements
  • This comes directly from Apple’s site on digital narration:
    • “Apple Books digital narration brings together advanced speech synthesis technology with important work by teams of linguists, quality control specialists, and audio engineers to produce high-quality audiobooks from an ebook file.”
  • More information that is of interest on their site:
    • Distribution solely via Apple Books and to public/academic libraries
    • Publisher/author retains audiobook rights, and there are no restrictions on producing and distributing other versions of the audiobook
  • Some don’t see the point of AI narration, and that audiobooks are not all about rapidly producing the content, take Carly Watters statement for instance:
    • “Companies see the audiobooks market and that there’s money to be made. They want to make content. But that’s all it is. It’s not what customers want to listen to. There’s so much value in the narration and the storytelling.”
  • Producing an audiobook with a human voice can take weeks and can cost publishers thousands of dollars.
    • The draw of AI promises to significantly cut the costs.
  • Apple’s launch into AI audiobooks is rather interesting especially with the battle going on with Spotify in the recent months.
    • Spotify announced plans to bring 300,000 audiobook titles to customers, and has clashed with Apple over app store policies after its own app was rejected three times.

First "virovore" discovered: An organism that eats viruses | New Atlas (11:21)

  • Researcher John DeLong at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln wanted to find out if there were any microbes which actively ate viruses.
    • Could a microbe exist on a diet of viruses?
    • They do contain stuff like nucleic acids, a lot of nitrogen and phosphorous
    • Virus exclusive diet termed “virovory.”
  • DeLong and his team collected samples of pond water, isolated different microbes, and then added large amounts of chlorovirus, a freshwater inhabitant that infects green algae.
    • The team tracked the population size of the viruses and the other microbes
  • And sure enough, one particular microbe seemed to be snacking on the viruses – a ciliate known as Halteria.
    • Ciliates are single-celled organisms that, at some stage in their life cycle, possess cilia, short hairlike organelles used for locomotion and food gathering.
    • Halteria populations grew by about 15 times within two days, while chlorovirus levels dropped 100-fold.
  • These viruses play an important part in shaping freshwater environments in the way that they recycle carbon and other nutrients and this recycling can prevent the energy from reaching other, larger forms of life.
    • If something is consuming these viruses then that means those nutrients get passed up the food chain instead of being recycled
  • The researchers plan to go back to the pond to see if virovory is occurring in the wild, not just a lab setting.

This startup makes high-tech protein from thin air by using solar energy | Interesting Engineering (15:21)

  • A Finnish food tech company, Solar Foods, has created an alternative protein - made of microbes cultured with electricity and air.
    • Now in 2023, they plan to build its first commercial-scale factory near Helsinki, Finland, that can make food directly from carbon dioxide
  • Alternative protein = Solein, tested in a pilot factory for two years.
    • It resembles yellow powder that can be added to food.
  • Pasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods, told New Scientist that the factory will be able to produce 100 tons per year, which will suffice for four or five million meals.
  • Recently, Business Finland approved a €34 million grant funding to Solar Foods, making it the largest public grant funding for cellular agriculture in the world.
  • Vainikka told Food Matters Live:
    • “We are here to replace animal-based nutrition, that’s the big mission I would say, for all plant-based and similar companies … The problem in the food system is, broadly speaking, [using] animals and industrialized animal keeping. Like it or not, it’s a fact. Growing and harvesting that kind of nourishment with significantly fewer resources [and without animals] is what we’re doing."
  • Created by first selecting a soil sample that is examined for “best-quality organisms”.
    • The suitable microbes are then placed in a bioreactor where gas fermentation occurs.
    • It feeds on dissolved hydrogen, and carbon dioxide is split from water by electricity during the process.
    • Provided with mineral nutrients that permit it to make amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and vitamins.

Effects of formerly incurable liver disease may be reversed with drug | Jpost (22:56)

  • A drug may have been found to combat the effects of Alagille syndrome, which has been considered to be an incurable liver disease.
  • Alagille syndrome is a genetic syndrome that can affect the liver and other parts of the body.
    • The liver problems result from having fewer small bile ducts than normal in the liver.
    • Leading to bile building-up inside the liver, which in turn causes liver scarring and damage.
    • Affects more than 4,000 babies that are born every year.
  • A drug known as NoRA1 activates the Notch pathway that helps orchestrate fundamental biological processes.
    • In the liver, the Notch pathway plays a role in the development and maintenance of the liver during embryonic development and in the adult liver.
    • Dysregulation of the Notch pathway has been implicated in the development of liver cancer and other liver diseases.
  • Animals with mutations in the same gene affected in Alagille see the NoRA1 drug increasing the Notch signaling and triggering duct cells to regenerate in the liver.
    • Important because it could reverse liver damage.

This New Shock-Absorbing Gel Can Withstand Supersonic Impacts | Smithsonian Magazine (26:33)

  • Current problems with Body Armor:
    • Doesn’t absorb a projectile’s kinetic energy
    • Bulky
    • One time use once struck with a projectile
  • Researchers at the University of Kent in England may have developed a promising new solution to these problems.
    • Using a protein called talin, scientists have created a material that can absorb the impact of projectiles—even those flying faster than the speed of sound.
    • Acts a natural shock absorber
  • Talin molecules contain structures that, when put under tension, unfold and stretch out. Once the tension is released, they fold back up again.
    • Can do this shock-absorbing maneuver over and over without harming the cell.
  • Testing the effectiveness:
    • Scientists placed the gel on an aluminum plate and fired tiny basalt (type of rock) particles and larger bits of aluminum at it.
    • Small projectiles traveled at speeds of more than 3,350 miles per hour (3x the speed of a handgun bullet)
    • It absorbed the projectile's shockwave, successfully protected the plate, and captured the particles without destroying them.
  • Paper co-author Jennifer Hiscock stating:
    • “Our material perfectly caught and ‘cuddled’ with the projectile … keeping it beautifully preserved.”
  • Plenty of expected uses and unexpected:
    • Stop a bullet without destroying it
    • Capturing space debris—without destroying it.
  • Maybe one day reap the shock-absorbing benefits of talin in their running shoes, vehicle bumpers and cell phone cases.

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