Innovation Wrap: AI, Oxygen’s Impact On Cognitive Function, Disney Veteran Joins Virgin Galactic

By Thomas Rice | More Articles by Thomas Rice

Here’s your weekly wrap of technology, innovation, and finance news.

? Artificial Intelligence

This week we saw the first example uses of GPT-3, the latest natural language machine learning model from OpenAI, and the results are impressive! Several people were given access to the company’s API, which allows you to provide a text input and get a natural language answer in response.

For example, here someone has fed the model a question addressed to Richard Dawkins, and GPT-3 has generated an email response that sounds like Richard Dawkins could have written it.


Other examples include GPT-3 being used to summarise complex text, to write blog postsspeculative fictionbusiness memos, and code, and one person used it to create a functional search engine that responds to arbitrary queries.

It’s impressive, but it’s also important to understand its limitations. At its core, GPT-3 is an extremely sophisticated text predictor that has effectively ingested all the text available on the internet. While the responses are realistic, the model has no understanding of the words it produces, and therefore its realistic prose shouldn’t be mistaken for reasoning or intelligence. It also means it’s still prone to making silly mistakes that people would pick up on.

? Finance

Personal Plug: The Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, which I run, was featured in last week’s AFR article How top fundies beat the virus as the third-best performing global fund in Australia over the previous 12 months.


Chinese fintech giant Ant Group, which owns Alipay, plans to go public via a dual-listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The company last raised money in mid-2018 at a $150 billion valuation.

Ant’s listing would draw more global investors to Hong Kong, and make mainland Chinese companies an even larger part of the city’s $5 trillion stock market. Many U.S. money managers already hold Hong Kong-listed stocks, and some retail brokers also let individual investors in the U.S. trade shares on the city’s bourse.

Google has become the latest investor in India’s Jio Platforms, investing $4.5 billion for a 7.7% stake. The investment comes three months after Facebook invested $5.7 billion in the company.

Many analysts and executives consider India one of the last great untapped digital markets. While expansion in most big markets has slowed, India will be adding around 171 million new wireless internet subscribers in the next five years, according to estimates from GSMA Intelligence. That is twice the number expected to be added in China and the U.S. combined.

WeWork’s Chairman Marcelo Claure expects the company to see positive cash flow and profits in 2021, a year ahead of schedule.

“Everybody thought WeWork was mission impossible. [That we had] zero chance. And now, a year from now, you are going to see WeWork to basically be a profitable venture with an incredible diversity of assets,” Claure was quoted by the FT as saying.

?️ Space

Virgin Galactic has appointed the Head of Disney’s International Parks, Michael Colglazier, as their next CEO. The 30-year Disney veteran joins just as Virgin Galactic is about to start commercial operations which shifts the focus from technology R&D to running and growing what is essentially a consumer entertainment experience (suborbital space flights). The current CEO, George Whitesides, will take on a newly created role of Chief Space Officer, which will allow him to focus on the company’s future technology developments.

The change at the top is telling. Evolving its technology to enable hypersonic travel between cities on Earth is a key part of the company’s long-term business case. Departing CEO and former NASA man George Whitesides will still pursue that vision under the new title of chief space officer, but putting Mr. Colglazier at the helm shows that Virgin is sensibly more focused for now on creating the best theme-park thrill experience.

The United Arab Emirates is planning to send an orbiter called Hope to Mars.

Hope will blast off from Tanegashima, Japan, aboard a Japanese rocket, and if all goes well it will arrive at Mars in February 2021. This will make the United Arab Emirates just the fifth spacefaring power to reach the planet, after the US, Soviet Union, European Union and India.

? Renewables

Joe Biden has announced a plan to spend $2 trillion over four years to significantly escalate the use of clean energy.

Campaign officials said they expected to achieve the goal by encouraging the installation of “millions of new solar panels and tens of thousands of wind turbines,” but also keeping in place existing nuclear energy plants. The plan also will call for investing in carbon capture and storage technology for natural gas.

Bloomberg Green profiled Proterra, a US startup that’s trying to lead the electric bus revolution in the US. China is currently leading the world in electric buses, with over 420,000 in 2019, compared to a mere 600 in the US.

? Health

An Israeli study suggests that pure oxygen treatment can improve cognitive function (see the paper).

One of the volunteers from his experiment, Avi Rabinovitch, 69, said that he “entered this study healthy, and left it a tiger,” adding that his memory and cognition have improved.

Efrati recruited 63 people aged 65-plus, took MRI scans and tested their cognitive abilities. He then gave some of them a 60-day course of treatment during which they spent 2-hour stints in a pressurized chamber five times a week, breathing pure oxygen for some of the time.

? Gaming

US video game spending hit a 10-year high in June.

Spending has been dramatically higher in 2020 than it was compared to last year, with sales through June up 19 percent year over year, and June sales specifically were up 26 percent compared to the same month in 2019. While NPD’s numbers don’t cite a specific reason for the boost in sales, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that a major contributing factor was the spike in video game playing caused by millions of people having a sudden boost in free time thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns.

Microsoft’s cloud gaming service, xCloud, will launch in September.

? Cybersecurity

Twitter was hacked last week and several high-profile accounts were compromised. One of the more interesting summaries I’ve read came from Jeremy Arnold, who summarised conflicting media narratives of the attack and highlighted what was missing from the media coverage. He followed up that post with a sequel today.

Something went very wrong yesterday. Well a few things really, which happened to involve some of the most important people alive. Yet the resulting journalism has mostly been curiously thin (and in two major cases fundamentally irreconcilable).

⚙️ Mobility

Some civilian aircraft now have the option of adding an auto-land capability by Garmin.

Until recently, total “auto-land” capabilities were unimaginable in virtually any civilian aircraft. Now private pilots are getting access to sophisticated automated safeguards, going beyond those used in many commercial aircraft. Proponents of the systems predict they could start reshaping jetliner cockpits within the next decade.

Propeller Aero has raised $26 million ahead of the launch of DirtMate, a new product that builds 3D maps of work sites in real-time. The product extends the company’s offerings beyond drone mapping technologies.

Founded in 2014 by Rory San Miguel and Francis Vierboom (who has since left the business), Propeller Aero’s drone mapping technology is used by some of the world’s biggest mining, quarry and construction companies to create 3D maps of their worksites. This allows for swift, safe measurement of things such as how much space is left in a landfill site, or the level of a new road.

⚛️ Quantum Technology

If you ever wanted to learn about Quantum Technology, Michael J. Biercuk wrote an article for national security professionals that tells you what to read and where to look to learn more, including an introductory video series produced by Q-CTRL, a company he founded and leads.

The level of true potential for quantum technology in national security and more broadly is profound and fully justifies major investments such as the U.S. National Quantum Initiative. However, this level of promise has inevitably led to hype in the popular media, company press releases, venture-capital newsletters, and (international) government program announcements. It is essential that in making an informed assessment you seek the truth beyond the hype.

⚡ Other Snippets

KFC in the US will soon expand its Beyond Fried Chicken offering to Southern California following successful trials in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte. KFC in Russia will soon start trialling cell-based chicken nuggets in partnership with 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a laboratory for biotechnological research founded by INVITRO, the largest private medical company in Russia.

Graphcore unveiled its new AI processor, the Colossus MK2.

Identity-as-a-service startup Auth0 raised $120 million at a post-money valuation of $1.92 billion.

new Lancet report suggests that every global region could see populations declines by the end of the century except for Africa, which could triple in the same period. The report predicts that by 2100, India will be the most populous country with 1.09 billion people, followed by Nigeria at 790 million people and China at 730 million people.

HSBC UK customers can now get a mortgage without leaving their home via Zoom. John Lewis also launched a personal shopping service via Zoom.

About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.

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