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BlackFly ‘flying car’ to hit the market in 2019 for the price of an SUV
Are we sure this isn't alien technology?
- A Larry Page-backed company has announced that its flying car will go on sale in 2019.
- It's called the BlackFly.
- Not quite the escape from traffic you had in mind, but it's a jaw-dropping start.
Hey, it's the future. We're supposed to have flying cars, right? Well, here's your flying car, sort of and again. It's slated to go on sale in 2019. It's called the BlackFly and the company manufacturing it, Opener, is backed at least partially by Alphabet's Larry Page, who's been rumored to have been tinkering with such craft for a while, working with a few partners. Alan Eustace, who's been on Big Think, is an Opener technical advisor.
BlackFly isn't really much of a car-car. It can only travel on roads when it's being carried by its pair of carts, so your seamless, cruise-down-from-the-sky-and-onto-the-road vehicle hasn't quite arrived yet. And you'll be driving BlackFly solo—it holds just one person of up to 6.5 feet in height and weighing in a 250 lbs. But still, wow.
BlackFly in the sky
Here's the official launch video. Imagine seeing this while out on a hike.
As you might expect, where the strikingly futuristic, all-electric BlackFly shines is in the air. It can take off and land vertically (VTOL), and travel at a speed of 62 mph. It has a range of about 25 miles before its onboard battery needs to be recharged much like an electric car. With a rounded bottom, it sort of rocks itself into position as it lands.
Both its speed and range are limited by U.S. FAA regulations. It can go faster and farther in Canada, for example. (More on the regs below.)
Is this thing safe? Is it any fun?
Being at the forefront of personal flight, BlackFly sports three fail-safe flight systems, including a glide mode in case the power fails. There's also an optional parachute for the cautious. And the craft has been tested rigorously, successfully transporting a full payload for 12,000 miles. The propulsion systems made it through 40,000 flight cycles, the equivalent of 25 trips around Earth.
Being so high-tech, operation of the BlackFly is purported to be pretty easy, with a simple user interface, an "intuitive joystick," "soft-landing assist," and even a "Return-to-Home" button. In any event, Opener will be requiring buyers of the BlackFly to have successfully completed the FAA's private-pilot written test first.
The company says BlackFly will be capable of autonomous flight somewhere down the, er, road.
The FAA considers the BlackFly an ultralight vehicle, which limits its usefulness for escaping traffic jams—it's only allowed to fly over non-congested areas.
More targeted regulations are unlikely to be formulated quickly enough for businesses like Opener and Uber—which expects to have flying taxis up in the air by 2023—or some members of Congress. So says the FAA's acting administrator Dan Elwell at the Uber Elevate summit. When a suggestion was made that flying cars could be allotted their own air space, Elwell, responded, "What you just described is where we don't want to go. You just described segregated airspace. My hope is that we don't have to do that." Still, he says a legal framework for flying-car operation is more a matter of when than if. FAA spokesman Les Dorr tells the Washington Examiner, "The FAA has anticipated these vehicles for some time and is working with industry to help them develop their ideas."
Opener's flying SUV
Opener hasn't yet published a price for the BlackFly, excerpt to say that "In full production, BlackFly will be the price of an SUV. We are vague about the exact price so as not to overpromise." It hasn't yet established a waiting list, so there's no preordering going on yet. There is a mailing list so you can keep up with development, including air show appearances where you can see BlackFly in person. The website also lists its social media accounts.
Why name it BlackFly? Opener says, "Black flies are insects with outstanding aerodynamic and VTOL capabilities. They have the same color as the black carbon fibers in our fuselage. They are disruptive." Well, yes. But they also bite.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
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A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.
- Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
- Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
- Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.
Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.
The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.
An odd find
Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock
Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.
"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."
Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.
The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."
Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.
"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."
Why understanding memory matters
Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock
"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.
If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."
Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock
Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.
Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."
Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia
At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.
Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.
In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.
Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."
He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.