Connect with us


Why Elon Musk will be remembered as an automotive pioneer | John Naughton

Voice Of EU



As I write, Tesla, the manufacturer of electric vehicles (EVs), has a market capitalisation of $1.051tn, which makes it the world’s sixth most valuable company by market cap. Tesla shares are trading at $1,047, which is 64% higher than at this time last year. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of the company, currently has a net worth estimated at $300bn, which makes him the richest person in the world.

Enormous wealth, like power, acts as an aphrodisiac that warps people’s perceptions of those who possess it: it’s as if they’re surrounded by a reality distortion field. Similar force fields have enveloped Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in their time and now it’s Musk’s turn. Because he’s uncommonly voluble on social media, especially on Twitter, where he has 65.7 million followers, his every utterance is assiduously parsed by besotted fans (all of whom call him “Elon”, as if he were a buddy of theirs). This gives him an influence way beyond that of any other corporate executive, influence that, on some occasions, even affects global financial markets through what the normally sober Financial Times calls the “Tesla-financial complex”. A closer examination of his Twitter feed, though, yields an impression of a really complex individual: a baffling combination of formidable intelligence and ungovernability – part visionary, part genius, part fruitcake and part exploiter of tax loopholes and public subsidies. And it raises the question: what (or where) is the real Elon Musk?

The answer, I suspect, lies in his mastery of the business of manufacturing complex products. One sees it, for example, in the way SpaceX, the aerospace company he set up to reduce the colossal costs of space travel, has become the first non-state organisation to: successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft; send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; manage the first vertical takeoff and vertical landing for an orbital rocket; and send astronauts to the International Space Station. Anyone who thinks this stuff is easy has never done it.

Compared to SpaceX, you’d have thought that the business of manufacturing electric cars would be child’s play, especially since, compared to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, they’re considerably simpler. (Basically, an EV is like a massive skateboard where the huge battery is the board.) Even so, when Tesla started making them in 2008, the world (not to mention Ford, General Motors, BMW, Mercedes, VW and Toyota) sniggered, which, oddly enough, reminded this columnist of the way Nokia and Motorola sniggered in 2007 at the idea of Apple making a mobile phone.

The story is the same in the case of the car. Tesla did eventually figure out how to make them – making bodyshells out of aluminium and then kitting them out with all the stuff that goes into a vehicle using a combination of robots and humans – and now its Model 3 is emerging as the bestselling new car in a number of markets.

But it turns out that, just as with Apple and the smartphone, mastering the art of conventional manufacturing was just the beginning. Some time ago, Musk seemed to have had an epiphany, perhaps triggered by a conversation with a grizzled veteran of car manufacturing named Sandy Munro, who allegedly likened the rear end of a Tesla shell during manufacture to a patchwork quilt. Why, Musk mused, couldn’t the entire bodyshell be die-cast in one piece from molten aluminium, just as reproduction toy cars are?

You can guess where this is heading. Tesla bought a number of colossal press-casting machines – inevitably christened “Giga Presses” – from Idra, the Italian company that makes them. And they are now deployed in some Tesla factories turning out the rear half of Model Y bodyshells as single pressure-moulded pieces. Suddenly, a task that required 70 different parts to be assembled by 300 robots is being done by a single giant machine. The obvious next step is to use the same process to make the complete bodyshell in one fell swoop.

This step – and the huge investment needed to implement it – suggests a new way of thinking about Musk: as the spiritual heir of Henry Ford. Since the early days of the car, there have only been three major paradigm shifts in the manufacturing process. The first was Ford’s introduction of a moving production line, memorably satirised in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, which could turn out a completed Model T in 90 minutes.

The second paradigm shift came from Toyota in the postwar years – the famous “lean” production method that involved minimising inventories and arranging supply chains for just-in-time delivery of components that arrived just before they were needed at the relevant stage in the manufacturing process. Although invented in Japan, and initially ignored by the US car industry, in the end every car has been made the Toyota way.

Lastly, the arrival of the Giga Press and the thinking behind it is what suggests that, in the end, Musk might be remembered not so much as the oddball who dreamed of colonising Mars (or possibly expired thereon), but as the guy who found a new way of making terrestrial vehicles. He will doubtless be frustrated by this thought, but – hey! – that’s a price the rest of us might be prepared to bear.

What I’ve been reading

Words of wisdom
How to Fix Social Media is a long, thoughtful and historically informed essay by Nicholas Carr in the New Atlantis.

Woolf at the door
The Work of Living Goes On: Rereading Mrs Dalloway During an Endless Pandemic is a lovely essay by Colin Dickey on the dystopian undercurrents in Virginia Woolf’s famous novel and its echoes in our attempts to “move on” from Covid.

On the bright side…
Why Humans Aren’t the Worst (Despite, Well, Everything Happening in the World) is the title of an intriguing interview with the journalist and historian Rutger Bregman by Kara Swisher.

Source link


Exclusive or not, this is one Clubhouse I was happy to leave | John Naughton

Voice Of EU



In March 2020, a new app suddenly arrived on the block. It was called Clubhouse and described as a “social audio” app that enabled its users to have real-time conversations in virtual “rooms” that could accommodate groups large and small. For a time in that disrupted, locked-down spring, Clubhouse was what Michael Lewis used to call the “New New Thing”. “The moment we saw it,” burbled Andrew Chen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, “we were deeply excited. We believe Clubhouse will be a meaningful addition to the world, one that increases empathy and provides new ways for people to talk to each other (at a time when we need it more than ever).”

The app could not have come at a better time for social media, he continued. “It reinvents the category in all the right ways, from the content consumption experience to the way people engage each other, while giving power to its creators.” His firm put $12m of its (investors’) money behind Chen’s fantasies and followed up a year later with an investment that put a valuation of $1bn on Clubhouse, which would have made it one of the “unicorns” so prized by the Silicon Valley crowd.

This endorsement by an ostensibly serious venture capital firm undoubtedly helped to boost the hype about Clubhouse, but the main drivers – snobbery and elitism – had little to do with funding. In the beginning, for example, the app was only available for the iPhone (the BMW of the smartphone market) and membership was by invitation only. If you were lucky enough to be invited, then you could pass on an invitation to one friend. A generous colleague of mine extended hers to me and I went about signing up, until I discovered that the app unconditionally demanded access to all the contacts on my phone, whereupon I deleted it, as did my embarrassed colleague some time later.

Other invitees were more accommodating, though, and for a time Clubhouse grew like crazy. It had 600,000 registered users by December 2020 and 8.1m downloads by February 2021. In April 2021, Twitter approached it with a view to acquiring it for $4bn, but nothing came of that. And sometime after that the air began to leak out of the Clubhouse balloon. After months in which much of the chatter was about (and on) the platform, we somehow moved to a point where nobody talks about it any more. Yet Clubhouse still exists, has 10 million users and has raised more than $10m from investors. But now, in a move that smacks of desperation, it’s allowing its US users to share a link to a “live” room that enables non-members to listen in (but not to talk). And the web is alive with pieces trying to explain Clubhouse’s decline.

So what happened? A conjunction of lots of different things, probably. The most important was that vaccination programmes led to an easing of the Covid lockdowns. People who were no longer having to work from home were out and about again, talking to friends and colleagues in person. But other factors were at work too. For example, the decision to open the app to Android users in May 2021 somewhat dented the iPhone “exclusivity” that drove growth in 2020.

And, as always happens when user-generated content balloons online, abusive and unpleasant conversations proliferated. Many of the virtual rooms turned out not to be about discourse but celebrity-puffing or scamming.

As one critic put it: “So many rooms that advertise themselves as hosting big celebrities and names in the worlds of business and entertainment … turn out to be scammers … impersonating celebrities or giving a vague Ted Talk about entrepreneurship from random people who have never … set foot in the industry. Other rooms are often cover-ups for scam businesses.

“A big issue on the app were rooms that claimed to invite people with startup ideas to share with their peers and exchange advice and strategies. The rooms’ hosts would then buy the domain names these startups were looking for and sell them back to them at much higher prices to make a profit.” Clubhouse rooms became, wrote another critic, “like a late-night talkshow where celebrities come together and speak about their family, achievements, passions and plans”.

So how should we view the Clubhouse story? In the long view of history, the app might look like a shooting star, an object of brief wonder that briefly mesmerised a world afflicted with tech-induced attention-deficit disorder. A more prosaic, but possible more realistic, view is that it was just a tech solution looking for a social problem to “solve”. In other words, a typical product of Silicon Valley.

What I’ve been reading

On message
I Didn’t Want It to Be True, But the Medium Really Is the Message is an interesting New York Times op-ed by Ezra Klein.

Ministry of the environment
The late, great James Lovelock outlined the Gaia theory in the article I Speak for the Earth, which is republished on the Resurgence website.

Desperately seeking Susan
Seriously Susan is a terrifically inventive review by Melinda Harvey of Benjamin Moser’s biography of Susan Sontag on the Sydney Review of Books website.

Source link

Continue Reading


AI laser probe for prostate cancer enters clinical trials • The Register

Voice Of EU



AI software capable of mapping tumor tissue more accurately to help surgeons treat and shrink prostate cancer using a laser-powered needle will soon be tested in real patients during clinical trials.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that approximately 12.6 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. The risk for developing the disease rises over time for men over the age of 50. It’s one of the most curable forms of cancer, considering most cases are caught in the early stages due to regular screening tests.

Treatment for prostate cancer varies depending on the severity of the disease. Patients can undergo hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery to remove tissue. Avenda Health, a medical startup founded in 2017, is developing a new type of treatment that is less invasive. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an investigational device exemption (IDE) to the company’s invention this week, meaning it can now be used in a clinical study. 

Patients will need to have an MRI scan and a targeted fusion biopsy performed first. The data is processed by Avenda’s AI algorithms in its iQuest software to map where the cancerous cells are located within the prostate. Next, the computer vision-aided model will simulate where best to insert FocalPoint, a probe armed with a laser, to help surgeons treat the patient’s tumor. The heat from the laser gently heats the cancerous cells and kills them with goal of shrinking and removing the whole tumor.


MRI images where cancer is mapped using iQuest software before and after treatment. Image Credit: Avenda Health

“Historically, prostate cancer treatments of surgery or radiation impacts critical structures like the urethra and nerves which control sexual and urinary function,” Avenda’s CEO and co-founder Shyam Natarajan told The Register. “Our focal laser ablation system, FocalPoint, which is powered by our AI-driven cancer margin software, iQuest, specifically targets tumor tissue and avoids healthy tissue. This means patients no longer lose control over these functions that are so common with traditional treatments, so quality of life is significantly improved.”

The treatment is only effective for men diagnosed with intermediate risk of prostate cancer, a classification that describes tumors being confined within the prostate only. Patients are considered high risk in cases where the cancer has spread beyond the prostate. 

“This is one of the benefits of the iQuest software. Not only can it map the cancer, but it also provides decision support for the physician as they determine the best course of treatment for an individual patient. Not every patient is going to be eligible for focal therapy, and it is important for the physician to distinguish between good focal therapy candidates and not.  iQuest provides useful insights for that decision making process,”  Natarajan said.

Avenda received FDA clearance for its FocalPoint device in 2020. The IDE approval brings the company one step closer to bringing their product to market after clinical trial testing, Brittany Berry-Pusey, co-founder and COO of Avenda, said in a statement. 

“This clinical trial will play a key role in advancing our breakthrough technology to improve prostate cancer care. With no new FDA approvals for the treatment of localized prostate cancer in more than four decades, we look forward to working alongside our clinical sites to collect the data necessary to bring iQuest and FocalPoint to market and into the patient care environment.”

Natarajan told us the company was aiming to begin clinical trials in 2023. ®

Source link

Continue Reading


US offers $10m reward for info on five Conti ransomware members

Voice Of EU



Rewards for Justice shared a photo of someone it claims to be an associate of the ransomware gang and is offering a reward to identify him and four others.

The US Department of State is offering a $10m reward for any information on five malicious cyber actors who are believed to be high-ranking members of the Conti ransomware gang.

The US has been offering rewards for information on this ransomware gang since May, including a $5m reward for any intel that leads to the arrest of anyone conspiring or attempting to participate in a Conti attack.

Yesterday (11 August), the department’s Rewards for Justice programme shared an alleged photo of an associate of the ransomware gang. The department said on Twitter that it is “trying to put a name to the face” and believes the individual is the hacker known as “Target”.

Illustration showing an image of a man with four figures next to it. A reward offer for information on the Conti ransomware gang.

A request for information by the Rewards for Justice programme. Image: US Department of State/Rewards for Justice

Conti, also known as Wizard Spider, has been linked to a group believed to be based near St Petersburg, Russia. The US has labelled it a “Russian government-linked ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group”.

The group’s malware is believed to be responsible for more than 1,000 ransomware operations targeting critical infrastructure around the world, from law enforcement agencies to emergency medical services and dispatch centres.

In May 2021, the Conti group was behind the HSE ransomware incident that saw more than 80pc of the IT infrastructure of healthcare services across Ireland impacted. It was said to be the most serious cyberattack ever to hit the State’s critical infrastructure.

The US Department of State previously said the Conti ransomware variant is the “costliest strain of ransomware” ever documented. The FBI estimates that, as of January 2022, there had been more than 1,000 victims of attacks associated with Conti ransomware, with victim payouts exceeding $150m.

When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the Conti group declared its allegiance to the Russian government. Shortly after, a Ukrainian researcher took the cybersecurity world by storm after publishing more than 60,000 internal messages of the ransomware gang.

Raj Samani, chief scientist at cybersecurity firm Rapid7, said the latest reward offer is just “the tip of the iceberg as enforcement agencies make “considerable strides” through public-private collaboration to hold cybercriminals to account.

“Announcing a reward and revealing the details of Conti members sends a message to would-be criminals that cybercrime is anything but risk-free,” said Samani.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Source link

Continue Reading


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates 
directly on your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!