Scientists claim to have developed the world’s first vaccine using AI.

A groundbreaking flu vaccine developed using AI technologies has gone on trial in the United States.   

Scientists at Flinders University in Australia have worked to create a “turbo-charged” vaccine; one with an added component which kickstarts the human nervous system into generating more antibodies against the flu virus than the standard vaccination.

Nikolai Petrovsky is the leading researcher on the project.  He says that as far as he knows, this is a pioneering venture.  He believes this is the world’s first AI flu vaccine that has progressed to human trials.

AI has both accelerated and streamlined the vaccine development process.  The normal process of creating a vaccine is lengthy. As a rule, large companies such as GSK will employ thousands of people to screen millions of compounds over long periods of time.  It is also incredibly cost heavy. It can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to come up with just one lead.  

In direct contrast, using the latest AI technologies, Professor Petrovsky and his team have spent just two years developing this new vaccine.

The researchers’ tech is a computer programme called Sam which was schooled in recognising those vaccines that worked against the flu and those that did not.  They then extended their project to develop a second programme; one to create trillions of imaginary compounds. Incredibly, from this myriad of possibilities it was able to create a shortlist of what it considered to be the ten most effective targets.

As a result, rather than screening millions of compounds the team were able to focus their efforts on just a handful.  Instead of years, the team was able to synthesise them in just a few weeks, following which they could test them on human blood.

Of his work, Petrovsky says; 

“drug design has been considered such a difficult thing to do…it was thought to be beyond the capability of current AI…”.  He went on to remark that in 20 years AI would be “routinely used” in drug development. 

It is estimated that this particular vaccine could be available in just three short years should it pass through all the final hurdles, thus significantly speeding up the drug development process. Indeed, in about the same time frame that previous development strategies have taken to just screen all potential compounds, Prof Petrovsky and his team could have formulated an AI centric programme that will have completed the entire 360 development life cycle.

E.Ventures raises $400 million for early-stage US and European StartUps

E.Ventures has raised a huge $400 million for the development of early stage startups across the US and Europe.  

In this 6th generation of funds, $225 million has been earmarked for a San Francisco-based fund and another $175 million for a Berlin-based fund.

With a focus on category-creating consumer, SaaS, and fintech companies with global aspirations, the company plans to invest $1.5 million to $10 million into tech startups.

Christian Leybold is E.Ventures EU managing partner.  He comments;

“With the recent success of European IPOs such as FarFetch and Spotify, Europe-based companies with global reach have never been better positioned”.  As such, they are prime investment opportunities.  

Thus far, E.Ventures have made some 200 high profile and lucrative investments.  Among their beneficiaries are some notable household names; the aforementioned Farfetch and Groupon for example.

Founded in 1999, E.Ventures has enjoyed a 20-year journey.  In this time, they have seen the venture landscape change rapidly.  In response to these fluctuations, the firm has created what it calls a human-plus-machine approach.  This tactic has been designed to invest in, and arm founders with applicable knowledge and actionable data-driven insights.

Investment in European tech and digital companies is on the rise, and in turn, these companies look set to dominate the landscape in the coming years.  Europe is challenging the US and Asian markets, with its tech ecosystem growing at a faster rate than that of the US.

Just a few short weeks ago in Our Week in Digital, we reported it is likely that a European tech company will top the the valuation listing for the first time by 2021.  Swedish music app, Spotify and Dutch payment systems company Adyen have been identified as front runners in the race.   While they may have some way to go before they reach the heady heights of the “trillion dollar club” it is certainly an exciting time to be growing business as part of the European tech community.

US Congress asks Facebook to pause development of Libra.

Facebook has been asked to pause the development of its crypto-currency, Libra.

The US Congress has requested the social media giants halt their work until lawmakers have had time to investigate the ramifications of the company’s actions.

In a letter penned by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Democratic head of the house committee on financial services, Facebook has been ordered to “immediately cease implementation plans”. 

Once again, it is the company’s size that is the cause for concern.   The letter says that “Because Facebook is already in the hands of over a quarter of the world’s population, it is imperative that Facebook and its partners immediately cease implementation plans until regulators and Congress have an opportunity to examine these issues and take action”.

Although Facebook has spearheaded the development of Libra, the actual development of the service will be handed over to the Libra Association based in Switzerland.  The association is run nominally by a consortium of Libra’s initial backers; among them are Visa, Lyft, Vodafone and Coinbase. Facebook is therefore just one name among many.   However, in practice, the social network retains a significant amount of control. Indeed, it pays the salaries of the body’s employees.

The moratorium may be brief, but during that time Congress will use the break to hold public hearings to investigate the risks and benefits of cryptocurrency based activities.  

The brevity of this period does not in any way reflect the importance the committee places on the investigation.  Zuckerberg, Sandberg and Libra’s chief executive, David Marcus should not expect an easy ride when the congressional committee reconvene on 17 July.

The letter makes the committee’s intentions and concerns abundantly clear.

“The scant information provided about the intent, roles, potential use, and security of the Libra …exposes the massive scale of the risks and the lack of clear regulatory protections …If products and services like these are left improperly regulated and without sufficient oversight, they could pose systemic risks that endanger US and global financial stability”.

It seems that Facebook’s former indiscretions are proving difficult to shake off.  In the past, Facebook have failed to keep user data safe and have suffered a very public fall from grace.  The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a prime example. Back in 2016, this political consulting firm was hired as part of the Trump election campaign.  They used more than 50 million Facebook users’ private data to directly influence voting behaviour. 

Cambridge startup creates chip that could make data operations 1000 times faster.

The performance gap between CPUs and memory chips is growing by about 50% per year.  With data demands skyrocketing, many leading figures in the computing technology field have suggested that memory and data handling need to be redesigned for the big data age. 

Step forward, Blueshift Memory. Blueshift has created a model for a computer memory chip that could make some data operations up to 1,000 times faster. The new design is just one development in computer memory emerging from different companies around the world.

Together, these developments could have significant implications for how computers handle large data sets.  Tasks such as drug discovery and development, DNA research and AI Design could be transformed.

Blueshift’s design can deliver data to the CPU much faster.  It reorganises the way in which a memory chip handles these operations.  As such, tasks could take minutes, or even seconds, rather than hours.  

The small team of computer engineers have extensive experience in high-performance computing and have built an FPGA card that emulates the chip’s effects.   Their early model has delivered impressive results. Simulations using this card suggest that the chip is able to make searches of the huge databases that are used to match fragments of DNA in scientific research, or in criminal investigations up to 100 times faster, for example. 

Furthermore, additional tests showed that the algorithms used in weather forecasting and climate change modelling could also run 100 times faster using the chip, while Google searches could be conducted as much as 1,000 times faster. These huge improvements are possible because the chip is structured to store data in readiness for this type of large scale operation.

Blueshift’s design could also make it much easier to program some data operations.  It would remove the need to include complex instructions about how to handle the vast quantities of data involved.

The company says that changing the way in which computer memory works could improve many data operations – not just big data or database searches.  They use artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles as an example. Here they highlight that driverless cars need to process huge quantities of data quickly to make decisions.  In a ‘smart city’ future in which objects and people are likely to be closely connected; fast real-time data processing on a large scale will be essential to manage traffic flows, utility supplies, and even evacuation procedures in times of danger.

To move their particular project forward, Blueshift is now seeking funding to create a full first iteration of their chip; a project which will cost considerably more than the prototype emulator.

Blueshift are not alone in this field.  Two of the seven finalists in the data category at this year’s Hello Tomorrow conference presented new approaches to address the challenge.  Blueshift were joined by US firm, Memcomputing in being rewarded for their work in this area.  

About the author: I aspire to help clients connect the dots by offering an extensive and honest experience. I am passionate about digital and in prior roles have assisted C level executives to overcome the challenges posed by a fast-moving, disruptive business environment – I believe that people and not solely technology is imperative in instilling forward-thinking, sustainable business development.

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