How Microsoft helped make the first AI whisky

Intelligens whisky

Mackmyra’s Intelligens is billed as the first whisky created using AI. (Microsoft / Mackmyra Photo)

Computer scientists have tried using artificial intelligence to write poetry and compose music, with mixed results. But have they tried using it to make whisky?

We now know that they have, although drinkers in the U.S. will have to wait to judge how the AI experiment turned out.

Mackmyra, a Swedish whisky distillery, turned to Microsoft and a Finnish technology consulting firm called Fourkind to create novel whisky recipes for master blender Angela D’Orazio.

Jarno Kartela, principal machine learning partner at Fourkind, said in a Microsoft feature about the project that his company went with the cloud-based Azure platform and Machine Learning Studio “for its massive infrastructure … and its ease of deployment.”

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Open Lunar Foundation unveils moon village plan

Moon base

As shown in this artist’s conception, the European Space Agency is already laying plans for a “Moon Village” on the lunar surface, complete with 3-D-printed habitats. (ESA / RegoLight / Liquifer Systems Group)

After spending five years in semi-stealth mode, a San Francisco venture called the Open Lunar Foundation is talking about its plan to create a settlement on the moon at a cost in the range of $5 billion.

“At $5B, it’s not only achievable within current NASA budgets, it offers the tantalizing possibility that a single passionate individual could fund the entire program as their legacy!” Silicon Valley venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson said today in a tweet.

Details about the campaign came to light in a Bloomberg News report, which said Jurvetson provided the nonprofit foundation’s initial funding. Open Lunar currently has a “war chest” of about $5 million, with aspirations of raising more funding for hardware as well as policy initiatives, Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance reported.

The idea of having a nonprofit group lead the charge for a moon settlement, as opposed to a government program, may sound a bit airy-fairy — particularly since it’s not coming directly from the likes of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk or Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, founder of the Blue Origin space venture.

But this is not just any run-of-the-mill nonprofit group.

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Black hole portrait wins Breakthrough Prize

Black hole

This image from the Event Horizon Telescope shows the supermassive black hole in the elliptical galaxy M87, surrounded by superheated material. (EHT Collaboration)

What’s $3 million divided by 347? That’s the math problem to be solved by the physicists on the Event Horizon Telescope team, who won one of the top awards in the Breakthrough Prize program for snapping the first picture showing the dark maw of a supermassive black hole.

Now in its eighth year, the “Oscars of Science” honor achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics. Past winners have included the late British physicist Stephen Hawking and the teams behind the Large Hadron Collider (for discovering the Higgs Boson), the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (a.k.a. LIGO) and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (for producing a map of the Big Bang’s afterglow).

The lineup of backers is almost as well known as the lineup of laureates: It’s the brainchild of Israeli-Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, with Google co-founder Sergei Brin, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Ma Huateng and Anne Wojcicki also serving as sponsors.

Each Breakthrough Prize carries a $3 million award, to be shared by the recipients. That calls for some arithmetic when you’re talking about the more than 1,000 scientists behind LIGO’s award-winning detection of a black hole merger.

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OneWeb targets Arctic for satellite network kickoff

OneWeb satellite

An artist’s conception shows one of OneWeb’s satellites in orbit. (OneWeb Satellites Illustration)

OneWeb says it’ll start delivering broadband internet service to the Arctic via satellite in 2020, turning the “Last Frontier” into a new frontier for data beamed from orbit.

The London-based company provided fresh details about its market rollout today, saying that it will deliver fiber-like connectivity amounting to 375 gigabits per second of data transmission capacity above the 60th parallel north by the end of next year.

That area takes in most of Alaska as well as Canada’s Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, plus parts of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador. It also encompasses Greenland, Iceland and parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. (The Arctic Circle is a little higher up, at about 66.5 degrees north.)

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AI system finally passes 8th-grade science test

Aristo AI program

The Aristo AI software has matched an eighth-grader’s ability to pass a science test. (AI2 Illustration)

Five years after the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen challenged researchers to come up with an artificial intelligence program smart enough to pass an eighth-grade science test, that feat has been declared accomplished — by the hometown team.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, announced today that its Aristo software scored better than 90% on a multiple-choice test geared for eighth graders, and better than 80% on a test for high school seniors.

There are caveats, of course: The exam, which was based on New York Regents aptitude tests, excluded questions that depended on interpreting pictures or diagrams. Those questions would have required visual interpretation skills that aren’t yet programmed into Aristo. Questions requiring a direct answer (that is, essay questions) were also left out. And for what it’s worth, Aristo would have been useless outside the areas of science in which it was trained.

Nevertheless, the exercise illustrated how far AI has come just since 2016, when all of the programs competing in the $80,000 Allen AI Science Challenge flunked.

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White House lists space among R&D priorities

Peregrine lander

By 2021, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander should be ready to go to the lunar surface. Space exploration and commercialization are listed as priorities for federally backed R&D. (Astrobotic Illustration)

Congress hasn’t yet approved a federal budget for the fiscal year that starts next month, but the White House is already setting an agenda for research and development in 2021.

Hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nuclear energy research and missions to the moon are among the priorities listed in a memo sent out to federal agencies last week by White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier and acting budget director Russell Vought.

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SpaceX reports a ‘bug’ after satellite close call

Satellite paths

A computer-generated diagram shows the projected orbital paths of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite and the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite. (ESA Graphic via Twitter)

The European Space Agency says it performed a collision avoidance maneuver over the Labor Day weekend to head off a potential crash between its Aeolus wind-measuring satellite and one of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband data satellites.

In a series of tweets, ESA said the Sept. 2 event marked the first such maneuver taken to avoid an active satellite in what’s expected to become a “mega constellation” of thousands of satellites — and it warned that such maneuvers posed a grave challenge for future orbital traffic management.

“As the number of satellites in orbit increases … today’s ‘manual’ collision avoidance process will become impossible,” ESA tweeted.

The space agency said the maneuver was executed successfully about half an orbit before the close encounter.

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