For the past 10 months, Amazon Web Services has been running data through its cloud-based software platform on what’s arguably the world’s edgiest edge: a satellite in low Earth orbit.
The experiment, revealed today during AWS’ re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, is aimed at demonstrating how on-orbit processing can help satellite operators manage the torrents of imagery and sensor data generated by their spacecraft.
“Using AWS software to perform real-time data analysis onboard an orbiting satellite, and delivering that analysis directly to decision makers via the cloud, is a definite shift in existing approaches to space data management,” Max Peterson, AWS’ vice president of worldwide public sector, said today in a blog posting. “It also helps push the boundaries of what we believe is possible for satellite operations.”
AWS’ experiment was done in partnership with D-Orbit, an Italian-based company that focuses on space logistics and transportation; and with Unibap, a Swedish company that develops AI-enabled automation solutions for space-based as well as terrestrial applications.
Could far-off aliens be sending out signals telling us they exist? If so, how would we know where to look? Researchers focusing on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, have laid out a new strategy for focusing their quest.
The strategy applies simple trigonometry to millions of data points, with the aim of seeking out potential interstellar beacons that are synchronized with hard-to-miss astronomical phenomena such as supernovae.
“I think the technique is very straightforward. It’s dealing with triangles and ellipses, things that are like high-school geometry, which is sort of my speed,” Davenport told GeekWire half-jokingly. “I like simple shapes and things I can calculate easily.”
The pre-print paper, which hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, draws upon data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia sky-mapping mission. But Davenport said the technique is tailor-made for the terabytes of astronomical data that will be coming from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory nightly when it goes online, a couple of years from now.
Thanks to a flood of satellite data and the rise of artificial intelligence tools, the market for location intelligence services is growing — and one of the pioneers in the field is changing its name from Critigen to Locana to reflect that growth.
“What happened was, we had such a successful year with all these new businesses, and we saw this move in the marketplace, and that inspired us to chart out a new vision,” Locana CEO Jeff Haight told GeekWire. “Actually, changing the name of the company was the very last step in this process.”
Locana is officially headquartered in Denver, but Haight and much of his executive team are based in Seattle.
About 50 of Locana’s hundreds of employees live in the Seattle area, with the region’s main office in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The company third major office is in London, but the workforce is distributed far wider than those three offices.
“We have a lot of clients in the Northeast, so we’ve got a large crew in Boston,” Haight said. In fact, Haight’s favorite explanation of what Locana does draws on the Northeast U.S. market.
“When my kids ask me, ‘Hey, Dad, what is it that you do?’ I tell ’em that we help New York track their snowplows,” he said.
The University of Washington and three other universities have kicked off an effort to beef up the software engineering resources available to researchers, backed by a $40 million commitment from Schmidt Futures.
The philanthropic organization founded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy Schmidt, announced the establishment of the Virtual Institute for Scientific Software this week. The institute’s four inaugural centers will be housed at UW, the University of Cambridge, Georgia Tech and Johns Hopkins University.
Each of the centers will be awarded $2 million a year for the next five years to bring on software engineers and computational scientists who can help address the increasingly complex, data-centric challenges that face researchers today.
When it comes to sports data, most people think about RBIs, third-down conversions or shots on goal — but Kendall Tyson, the Seattle Kraken hockey team’s vice president for strategy and business intelligence, has a completely different kind of statistics in mind.
Which videos do you watch on the Kraken’s website? Are you going to the big game on your birthday or anniversary? What kind of wine will you be ordering at Climate Pledge Arena?
“We’re bringing together ticket purchases to hockey games, ticket purchases to concerts, food and beverage data, retail data and membership data across all of the people who come to Climate Pledge Arena — and not just our fans,” Tyson said today at the GeekWire Summit. “We take that information, and we pull it into a database, and we’re creating Customer 360 profiles.”
If you’re partial to a particular video series about the Kraken, you might see a link to the latest installment at the top of your membership email. If it’s your birthday, the Kraken might offer you a deal on a private suite for the game.
“We have a lot of data that’s created in space, but how valuable would it be to actually do compute and storage in space?” Meyerson asked. “We’ve been talking with Axiom about that and helping them to form partnerships. How do we use the C5 portfolio in cybersecurity and threat protection to assist Axiom with their supply chain and their partners, to bring the most advanced technologies to that critically important area?”
According to Zarkadakis, one of the most important fixes will be for governments to earn back the trust of the people they govern.
“We should have a more participatory form of government, rather than the one we have now,” Zarkadakis told me from his home base in London. “A mixture, if you like, of more direct democracy and representational democracy. And that’s where this idea of citizen assemblies comes about.”
He delves into his prescription for curing liberal democracy — and the precedents that can be drawn from science fiction — in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. Check out the entire show via your favorite podcast channel, whether that’s Anchor, Apple, Spotify, Google, Breaker, Overcast, Pocket Casts or RadioPublic.
The process involves recruiting small groups of ordinary citizens, and getting them up to speed on a pressing social issue. In Zarkadakis’ case, the issue had to do with the policies and ethical considerations surrounding brain science. During a series of deliberations, the groups worked out a series of recommendations on research policies, free of the political maneuvering that usually accompanies such debates.
One of the key challenges involved how to connect regular citizens with expert knowledge. It struck Zarkadakis that machine-based expert systems — for example, IBM’s Watson, the question-answering computer that bested human champs on the “Jeopardy” game show — could help guide citizen assemblies through the complexities of complex issues such as climate change, health care and education.
“Those algorithms are very powerful,” he said. “They collect a lot of data, and they have a lot of collateral damage. They just want to sell ads. Now, can we do something about it? I think we can, of course. We can use this technology for other purposes. We can use this technology, for example, to build algorithms with different goals.”
Rewriting the formula for how personal data can be used is a big part of Zarkadakis’ prescription. In the book, he proposes the development of data trusts that put consumers in control of their own data — and put a price tag on the use of such data by businesses.
Is the market for an individual’s data lucrative enough to sustain the sellers? That was one of the questions my Fiction Science co-host, sci-fi author Dominica Phetteplace, asked Zarkadakis.
“Interestingly, they put up a collateral for that loan that wasn’t the airplanes. It wasn’t the slots they have on various air fields around the world. It was the loyalty program, a database,” he said.
Speaking of science fiction, the sky’s not the limit for Zarkadakis’ ideas: Early on, he planned to devote a chapter of “Cyber Republic” to the idea of creating decentralized, crypto-savvy cooperatives to govern future space settlements.
“My publisher dissuaded me from including the chapter in the book,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t want to argue the point too much, so I said, OK, fine, we’ll keep it on Earth and keep it earthly for this time.”
Instead, Zarkadakis laid out the idea in a pair of postings to his personal blog. He’s also working on a science-fiction novel that capitalizes on his familiarity with the ins and outs of AI and robotics — and who knows? In that novel, he just might address the invention of democracy for intelligent machines.
I reminded him that happy endings aren’t guaranteed, whether we’re talking about science fiction or real-world governance. The example I had in mind was the scene from “Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” where Natalie Portman’s character watches the birth of the Galactic Empire and remarks: “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.”
“Both of those novels are interesting, because they imagine future human colonies on the moon, very near, but in very different ways as well,” Zarkadakis said. “It’s always interesting to read science fiction when you are interested in politics.”
Will citizen assemblies and data trusts end up being consigned to the realm of science fiction, along with Heinlein’s lunar revolutionaries and Le Guin’s anarcho-syndicalists? Zarkadakis, for one, hopes not. The way he sees it, we’re already stuck in a bad science-fiction plot.
“We are living actually in a nightmare right now, as far as I’m concerned,” Zarkadakis said. “And I believe that one of the reasons why this is happening is because the public was not involved in the conversation, and therefore there was not acceptance by the public of those measures. To cut a long story short, I believe that this needs to change.”
Microsoft says it’s immediately putting $20 million from its AI for Health program toward analytical tools that can help researchers and public health officials get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic.
John Kahan, Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer, said AI for Health “will collaborate with nonprofits, governments, and academic researchers on solutions, and bring our experience to the table, providing access to Microsoft AI, technical experts, data scientists and other resources.”
Satellites, sensors, social media and purchasing data provide terabytes’ worth of information about how the global economy is working — and the insights gleaned from that data can be more precious than gold.
But what’s the best way to extract the gold from the dross? That’s where longtime space entrepreneur Dick Rocket intends to step in with a stealthy venture called Orrery.ai.
“There’s a gap between the data analysis firms and the financial sector,” Rocket told GeekWire this week. “That is our gap.”
Rocket launched Orrery.ai about a year ago, with backing from angel investors, but he and a small executive team are just now ramping up a more ambitious private funding campaign. They’re also mulling over where to put their headquarters. (The Seattle area is in the mix, along with sites in Florida, Texas, New York and Georgia.)
Big data just might give astronomers a better grip on the answer to one of the biggest questions in physics: Exactly what’s behind the mysterious acceleration in the expansion rate of the universe, also known as dark energy?
The role of data analysis in resolving the mystery came to the fore on May 14 during a talk given at the DIRAC Institute’s first-ever open house on the UW campus. The speaker was none other than Berkeley astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter, who won a share of the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011 for finding the first evidence of dark energy.