Welcome to Technology Tuesday! Every week The Job Shop Blog will bring you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.
This week: Seattle becomes the first city to ban plastic straws, Boeing has a plan for a supersonic jet, new discoveries show one of Saturn’s moons has everything it needs to support life, five AI algorithms team up to beat humans at a complex game, and AI forecasters can save lives with accurate predictions.
SEATTLE BANS PLASTIC STRAWS IN AN EFFORT TO REDUCE WASTE
STRAWLESS IN SEATTLE. On Sunday, Seattle became the first major city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws and utensils. The ban is part of a 2008 ordinance that banned any one-time-use food-service items that aren’t recyclable or compostable. The city made an exception for straws and utensils, since alternatives to plastic were hard to come by at the time.
That exemption ended on June 30. Businesses that don’t comply with the ban can now face a $250 fine.
BOEING’S HYPERSONIC FLIGHT JET COULD CUT FLIGHT TIMES BY 85%
THERE’S FAST, AND THERE’S HYPERSONIC. On Tuesday, Boeing unveiled its first concept design for a hypersonic passenger jet during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference in Atlanta. The vehicle could theoretically travel at Mach Five, or five times the speed of sound (6,174 kmh/3,836 mph). At that speed, a flight between New York and Tokyo that currently takes 14 hours would drop to just a couple of hours, according to a Popular Mechanics report.
IT’S (NOT) ALL IN THE DESIGN. So how is Boeing’s design going to be able to reach these speeds? As Boeing’s Senior Technical Fellow of Hypersonics Kevin Bowcutt told Popular Mechanics, the craft uses a specific type of engine known as a ramjet, a staple of many hypersonic vehicle designs. He also explained how the hypersonic jet’s sharp front-end design would produce minimal drag while its split tail would help to stabilize and steer the vehicle.
SATURN’S MOON ENCELADUS HAS EVERYTHING NEEDED TO SUPPORT LIFE
On Wednesday, scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) published a paper in Nature outlining their discovery of complex organic molecules on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 53 moons.
These large, carbon-rich molecules emanate from the ocean beneath the moon’s icy surface, escaping as plumes through warm cracks. This emergence of complex organic molecules from a liquid ocean makes Enceladus the only body besides Earth to boast all the basic requirements for life as we know it, said co-author Christopher Glein in a news release.
FIVE AI ALGORITHMS WORKED TOGETHER TO BEAT HUMANS AT A COMPLEX STRATEGY GAME
HEADING FOR THE BIG LEAGUES. On Monday, non-profit AI research company OpenAI published a blog post about OpenAI Five, a group of five neural networks designed to work as a team while playing the real-time computer strategy game called Dota 2. According to the post, OpenAI Five can now beat a team of five human amateur players at the game, albeit with specific restrictions placed on gameplay. In August, it will attempt to beat a team of professional Dota 2 players at The International (TI), an annual Dota 2 tournament hosted by the game’s developer, Valve Corporation.
TEAM ALGORITHM. In Dota 2, two teams of five players battle to destroy the other team’s “Ancient,” a structure at the center of their base. Each player controls a different character, known as a “hero.” These heroes have their own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and a team’s ability to cooperate is key to its success. The developers assigned each OpenAI Five algorithm a specific hero, placing restrictions on the characters to account for areas of the game they hadn’t integrated.
AI TO THE RESCUE. When a storm is approaching, responders need as much detail as possible. Predictions of the timing, intensity, and range of the storm could make the differences between citizen lives saved and lives lost.
Luckily, AI is here to make those predictions much more accurate.
On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal published an article highlighting the various ways cities across North America use artificial intelligence (AI) to predict and respond to natural disasters. According to the article, these systems make it easier for emergency response personnel to help the people most in need post-disaster.