INVESTING

Little Known Pairings

By Portfolio Team
17 May 2018

Science and technology are affecting human lives in ways that are so specialized that only a few, unless told, will ever notice.

There are few things in our everyday lives that remain untouched by advanced science and technology, and that can be a good thing. From food to apparel to commercial transactions and gadgets – to even the type of packaging they come in – technology has been helping manufacturers deliver increasingly better options to better informed – and more demanding – customers. 

For instance, technology now allows us to trace every ingredient in most of our food from source, something that mattered little or happened in the past. From non-GMO tomatoes to fair trade coffee and recycled food*, we are in a better place with scientific data. And with that capability, we can react both to health requirements and ethical considerations smartly and expediently.

Within industries, the direction of best practices is increasingly shaped by science and technology. And outside industries, consumers are receiving direct from source information that shape their consumption patterns or help them demand for fundamental changes from vendors.       

*Produce that fail to satisfy cosmetic requirements are routinely rejected despite their nutritional value; there are companies that turn them into wholesome ingredients without prejudice.

  • GENOMIC TESTING AND FOOD SUPPLY
  • NEUROMORPHIC CHIPS AND HEALTHCARE
  • CRYPTOGRAPHY AND PRIVACY
  • SCIENCE AND KIDS’ LIFE OUTCOMES

Genomic Testing and Food Supply

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Farmers are already doing lots of experimentation on their farms. What we're doing is helping them turn that art into a science. The soil microbiome provides us with so much information about what’s happening under our feet. With easy access to this information, farmers can determine the best choice of variety to put into the soil, determine optimal use of disease control agents, and the type and amount of fertilizer to use for their soil. Farmers are constantly tweaking and experimenting to improve their yield, and we're helping them get to those answers faster. With just one test, farmers can identify the cause of loss of yield from dozens of possible factors. 

Metagenomics grew to be one of the hottest fields in the last decade, as scientists started to recognize the diversity of micro-organisms that live among us, and their critical importance for human health, digestion, as well as crop health and yield. Nearly every large company in agriculture has sequenced microbes from soil and are looking into the micro biome.

However, every table spoon of soil contains a unique population of microbes, and every field has a unique micro biome. We have yet to understand this diversity and farmers have very little access to this technology.  

Our goal is to democratize genomic sequencing and make this technology available to every farmer, large or small. Information is power, and farmers have the right to know what's going on below their feet, and what they can do to protect their fields. This is a problem that we're solving with economics of scale and with big data analytics. We're bringing farmers around the world together to become scientists themselves. We're helping to advance science by building a community around this problem, because some problems are too hard for us to solve alone.

  • GENOMIC TESTING AND FOOD SUPPLY
  • NEUROMORPHIC CHIPS AND HEALTHCARE
  • CRYPTOGRAPHY AND PRIVACY
  • SCIENCE AND KIDS’ LIFE OUTCOMES

Neuromorphic Chips and Healthcare

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Recently, we have been working with the team in IIT Delhi to develop a system that helps in the early detection of cervical cancer, among other healthcare applications. We are also working with the team to leverage our technology to create facial, voice and visual recognition to create and enhance authentication applications, making it the perfect fit for IoT, robotics, telecommunications, among many others.

We have been in this sector for more than 20 years, developing and honing our technology to keep up with current applications. Our technology was such a breakthrough that Intel bought the license and created Curie using our neuromorphic technology. 

Our unique capability to detect anomalies and the fact that it does not rely on the Internet means that our technology has been in high demand in the security sector, not just in the defence sector, but also in any sector where authentication is key like banking, smart buildings, etc. 

The technology is still in a relatively nascent stage right now, and the possibilities, especially with our neuromorphic capabilities, are limitless. We have been working with developers of a wide range of applications but for the hardware-based sector, we are focusing on the integration of AI in smart buildings, smart infrastructure, security, medical and related applications, drones, IoT and robotics – anywhere that uses sensors to filter information to make business decision, securely and cost effectively.

We truly believe that non-stop learning, and pattern recognition offered by our technology can become practical and ubiquitous only if it can rely on components inspired by the human brain (which we call neuromorphic memories), merging storage and local processing per cell, with massively parallel interconnected cells operating at low power. 

Today, there are still very few businesses investing in developing AI-based solutions. If they want to stay competitive businesses need to start investing in tools and collaborate with organisations like us that can help them develop Proof of Concept (POC) solutions based on their customized needs. We are working to empower local companies to adopt AI faster and stay ahead of the competition. 

We see a greater focus for AI development in security, smart city, smart nation, and better life for its citizens and residents. 

  • GENOMIC TESTING AND FOOD SUPPLY
  • NEUROMORPHIC CHIPS AND HEALTHCARE
  • CRYPTOGRAPHY AND PRIVACY
  • SCIENCE AND KIDS’ LIFE OUTCOMES

Cryptography and Privacy

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The whole concept of privacy has been changing very fast over the last decade. Today we are entering the new epoch when the privacy of the 20th  century is no longer possible. For simplicity, imagine that you keep all your personal data in a virtual ‘house’. For a long time, it was possible not to let anyone inside the house, keep the windows shut, and thus keep your data visible only to you.

Now, however, you have to assume that part of the house walls is made of glass. It does not mean all your data can be seen. It means you must know which wall parts are likely to be transparent, and how to store and manage your data in this house. You can’t avoid digital hygiene and education any more.

Meanwhile, the companies that have access to our data regularly experience data breaches. Sometimes they try to hide the unpleasant facts from their customers that learn about the problem only much later. Over the last ten years we’ve been witnessing dozens large-scale data breaches. In each of them between ten million and a few billion accounts were compromised. The data on these accounts was both important and sensitive, ranging from personal information (e.g., Equifax 2017, 143 million records) and credit card numbers (e.g., TJX 2006, 94 million credit card numbers) to accounts on the services like Adult Friend Finder (2016, 412 million records) or eBay (2014, 145 million user accounts exposed).

On the one hand, data breaches are inevitable and will be happening to some extent. I expect we’ll be hearing about serious data breaches often in the future. On top of it, let’s not forget that the majority of data breaches are relatively small and are not covered by the media.

On the other hand, we are far from having done everything we can to prevent the breaches. Despite the regulation getting tighter and companies getting more aware, we are just starting. Only 45 percent of the companies surveyed in 2016 believed their company has adequate resources to detect all breaches, and only 42 percent have tested their incident response plans. With advocates of personal officers’ responsibility for data breaches speaking louder and louder, this will likely change. More resources will be dedicated to data breach prevention.

The question is: what can we do today to minimize the effect of our data being exposed?

The short-term answer is: Be careful and double-check who and how you pass the data. We need to think about who we are giving our personal data to and why, and not agree on what is not clear to us. We need to read small font. We need to destroy the remainders with our data after the transaction happens. We all need to have minimum online literacy to understand the basic settings of the browsers, cloud storage, and the connected devices. No need to say we must update on time all software we use.

The long-term answer is about the new paradigm of data ownership. Distributed ledger technologies couples with strong cryptography might be an answer to the growing problem. Decentralized systems can be secure, verifiable, and allow people to control their data. There can be no central authority such as the federal government or centralized business intermediary. Instead citizens can provide their data for checking to the interested parties using a combination of a known public key and a generated private key. In fact, the data can be checked but at the same time never passed to any party other than the citizen.

  • GENOMIC TESTING AND FOOD SUPPLY
  • NEUROMORPHIC CHIPS AND HEALTHCARE
  • CRYPTOGRAPHY AND PRIVACY
  • SCIENCE AND KIDS’ LIFE OUTCOMES

Science and Kids’ Life Outcomes

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Historically, science has had an enormous impact on children’s life outcomes, from nutrition and medicine to education and productivity gains. Our particular modest goal is to look at the connection between children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and long-term outcomes such as health, happiness, income, and the other qualities of a good life. It turns out that these meta-learning factors have a surprisingly large impact on children’s life outcomes, and the big question that my research has been focused on is: Can we directly help parents and teachers to improve these cognitive and social-emotional qualities and causally improve these life outcomes? The scientific literature says it can be done. We seek to translate those findings to real lives.  

There are many, many influences on children’s development and life outcomes: genetics, culture, socioeconomic status, nutrition, parental role-modelling, friendship networks, and so much more. None of these influences define an entire person. What we are focused on in our work are those things that can be changed, often under the influence of parents, schools, and other role models. 

The kind of qualities that we research in children (and in adults in our research on workforce development) have always had large impacts on life outcomes. Typically, though, these qualities haven’t been easy to measure or to change across a broad population of people. Some of us are very fortunate to grow up in households with the socioeconomic foundation to help develop these qualities, but regardless of where we came from in life, these cognitive and social-emotional factors have always been meaningful. In those cases where we had the ability to intervene at an individual child level, we can see the impact on their long-term gains. The only thing that science and technology has allowed us to do today is to reach more children. 

In the Nature vs. Nurture debate, I stand in the same place as any other practicing scientist. We are each a messy and changible mix of nature and nurture. Our genes are clearly significant components of who we are, but there are also characteristics that are passed to us by our parents even controlling for genetic differences. Others are passed to us by our friends and our neighbors, and some by our schools and our life choices. It has never been, and never will be as simple as nature vs. nurture.