WTF Fun Fact 13623 – DIRFA

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), have created DIRFA (DIverse yet Realistic Facial Animations), a groundbreaking program.

Imagine having just a photo and an audio clip, and voila – you get a 3D video with realistic facial expressions and head movements that match the spoken words! This advancement in artificial intelligence is not just fascinating; it’s a giant stride in digital communication.

DIRFA is unique because it can handle various facial poses and express emotions more accurately than ever before. The secret behind DIRFA’s magic? It’s been trained on a massive database – over one million clips from more than 6,000 people. This extensive training enables DIRFA to perfectly sync speech cues with matching facial movements.

The Widespread Impact of DIRFA

DIRFA’s potential is vast and varied. In healthcare, it could revolutionize how virtual assistants interact, making them more engaging and helpful. It’s also a beacon of hope for individuals with speech or facial impairments, helping them communicate more effectively through digital avatars.

Associate Professor Lu Shijian, the leading mind behind DIRFA, believes this technology will significantly impact multimedia communication. Videos created using DIRFA, with their realistic lip-syncing and expressive faces, are a leap forward in technology, combining advanced AI and machine learning techniques.

Dr. Wu Rongliang, another key player in DIRFA’s development, points out the complexity of speech variations and how they’re interpreted. With DIRFA, the nuances in speech, including emotional undertones and individual speech traits, are captured with unparalleled accuracy.

The Science Behind DIRFA’s Realism

Creating realistic animations from audio is no small feat. The NTU team faced the challenge of matching numerous potential facial expressions to audio signals. DIRFA, with its sophisticated AI model, captures these intricate relationships. Trained on a comprehensive database, DIRFA skillfully maps facial animations based on the audio it receives.

Assoc Prof Lu explains how DIRFA’s modeling allows for transforming audio into an array of lifelike facial animations, producing authentic and expressive talking faces. This level of detail is what sets DIRFA apart.

Future Enhancements

The NTU team is now focusing on making DIRFA more versatile. They plan to integrate a wider array of facial expressions and voice clips to enhance its accuracy and expression range. Their goal is to develop an even more user-friendly and adaptable tool to use across various industries.

DIRFA represents a significant leap in how we can interact with and through technology. It’s not just a tool; it’s a bridge to a world where digital communication is as real and expressive as face-to-face conversations. As technology continues to evolve, DIRFA stands as a pioneering example of the incredible potential of AI in enhancing our digital experiences.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Realistic talking faces created from only an audio clip and a person’s photo” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13622 – 3D Printed Robotic Hand

A significant leap in 3D printing has emerged from ETH Zurich and a U.S. startup. They’ve created a robotic hand that mimics human bones, ligaments, and tendons. Unlike traditional methods, this innovation uses slow-curing polymers. These materials offer improved elasticity and durability.

Led by Thomas Buchner and Robert Katzschmann, the project utilized thiolene polymers. These materials quickly return to their original form after bending. Hence, they are perfect for simulating a robotic hand’s elastic components. This choice represents a shift from fast-curing plastics, expanding the possibilities in robotics.

Soft Robotics for a Robotic Hand

Soft robotics, illustrated by this 3D-printed hand, brings several advantages. These robots are safer around humans and more capable of handling delicate items. Such advancements pave the way for new applications in medicine and manufacturing.

The project introduced a novel 3D laser scanning technique. It accurately detects surface irregularities layer by layer. This method is essential for using slow-curing polymers effectively in 3D printing.

ETH Zurich researchers collaborated with Inkbit, an MIT spin-off, for this venture. They are now exploring more complex structures and applications. Meanwhile, Inkbit plans to commercialize this new printing technology.

This breakthrough is more than a technical achievement. It marks a shift in robotic engineering, blending advanced materials with innovative printing techniques. Such developments could lead to safer, more efficient, and adaptable robotic systems.

Educational and Practical Benefits

The success in printing a lifelike robotic hand has implications for both education and industry. It bridges the gap between theory and practice, potentially revolutionizing robotics in various settings.

The ability to print intricate robotic structures in a single process opens doors to futuristic applications. Robots could become more common in households and industries, enhancing efficiency and convenience.

This milestone in robotic engineering demonstrates the power of innovation and collaboration. As we enter a new chapter in robotics, the possibilities for applying this technology are vast and exciting.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Printed robots with bones, ligaments, and tendons” — Science Daily

WTF Fun Fact 13595 – Gender in Human-Robot Interaction

In the world of hospitality, there’s a growing preference when it comes to gender in human-robot interaction.

When guests interact with robots at hotels, they tend to feel more at ease with female robots. This trend is stronger when these robots possess human-like features, reveals a study from Washington State University.

Gender Stereotypes Extend to Robots

Soobin Seo, the mind behind the research and an assistant professor at WSU’s Carson Business College, sheds light on the reasons for this phenomenon. “People generally find solace when cared for by females, a result of prevalent gender stereotypes associated with service roles,” she explains. “This stereotype doesn’t stop at human interactions; it extends to hotel robot interactions too. And when these robots resemble humans closely, the preference is even more evident.”

Before the onset of the global pandemic, the hotel industry grappled with keeping its staff. Some hoteliers found a solution in automation and robots, employing them in various roles. They’re not just tucked away in the back, handling chores like dishwashing or cleaning. Robots today, in some establishments, welcome guests or even handle their luggage.

The upscale Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas, for instance, employs female humanized robots named “Pepper.” On the other side of the spectrum, China’s fully automated FlyZoo hotel chain offers an exclusive robot and AI-powered experience to its guests.

Study Highlights Distinct Preferences for Human-Robot Interaction

To delve deeper into this preference, participants in Seo’s study visualized interactions with AI service robots during their hotel stay. Four distinct scenarios were crafted for this experiment:

  1. A male service robot, “Alex,” equipped with a face and a body resembling a human.
  2. “Sara,” a robot identical to Alex but female.
  3. Two other robot descriptions, gendered differently but portrayed as more mechanical with interactive screens replacing faces.

Feedback from participants was quite revealing. Those who imagined interactions with female robots, especially the human-like ones, found their experience more pleasant. In contrast, the male robot scenarios didn’t evoke a similarly positive response.

Future Considerations in AI and Hospitality

But it’s not just about gender preferences. The implications of substituting human hotel staff with AI robots span broader issues. Seo highlights a crucial consideration: “When a robot errs or malfunctions, like misplacing luggage or botching a reservation, guests will likely seek human intervention.”

Moreover, Seo and her team at WSU are currently probing another dimension: the robot’s personality. Do guests prefer robots that are chatty and outgoing, or those that are more reserved?

For AI robot developers and hotel employers, these findings are invaluable. Seo predicts an uptick in robot usage in hotels and restaurants, emphasizing the importance of understanding psychological dynamics in such interactions. “The intricacies we see in human-to-human interactions might very well shape the future of human-to-robot interactions,” she concludes.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “People prefer interacting with female robots in hotels, study finds” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13593 – Autonomous Product Adoption

In a world filled with smart technology, consumers face an intriguing quandary when it comes to autonomous product adoption.

While autonomous products like robot vacuums promise convenience, do they inadvertently rob us of a deeper sense of fulfillment? Research from the University of St. Gallen and Columbia Business School sheds light on how the perceived ‘meaning of manual labor’ may be a key determinant in consumers’ reluctance to adopt such products.

The Emotional Value of Manual Tasks

Amidst the convenience revolution, we’ve noticed a stark juxtaposition: The more consumers are relieved of mundane tasks, the more they yearn for the satisfaction these tasks once provided. There’s no doubt that chores like cleaning or mowing lawns can be cumbersome. Yet, these manual tasks inject a sense of purpose into our daily lives. Emanuel de Bellis elaborates, “It’s evident that the allure of manual labor leads many consumers to shy away from autonomous gadgets. These individuals are more skeptical of such products and often overemphasize their potential drawbacks.”

At the heart of the issue lies a balancing act. Autonomous products do eliminate certain tasks, making life ostensibly easier. But they also pave the way for consumers to indulge in other meaningful pursuits. As Gita Venkataramani Johar points out, “Brands should emphasize alternative sources of meaning. By doing so, they can counteract the negative sentiment consumers have towards products that replace manual tasks.”

Many brands are already harnessing this strategy. iRobot’s Roomba, for instance, promises users over 100 hours of saved cleaning time annually. Others, like German appliance brand Vorwerk, suggest that their products, such as the Thermomix cooking machine, free up time for family and other treasured moments.

Decoding the Manual Labor Mentality

Central to the study’s findings is the introduction of a new concept: the perceived meaning of manual labor (MML). Nicola Poletti highlights the significance of this measure, “Those with a high MML are often resistant to autonomous products, regardless of how core the task is to their identity.”

Interestingly, measuring MML doesn’t necessitate complex questionnaires. Observational methods can be equally effective. For instance, a person’s preference for manual dishwashing or activities like painting can indicate a higher MML. In the era of social media, brands can also gauge a consumer’s MML based on their interests and likes related to manual labor-centric activities.

Once this segmentation is clear, it becomes easier for marketers to tailor their strategies and communication.

The Future of Autonomous Product Adoption

For companies aiming to break the barriers of MML, the way forward is clear. Emphasizing the meaningful moments and experiences autonomous products can unlock is crucial. By repositioning these products not just as convenience providers but as enablers of cherished experiences, brands can overcome the manual labor barrier and resonate more deeply with their audience.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Autonomous products like robot vacuums make our lives easier. But do they deprive us of meaningful experiences?” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 13589 – A Voice Test for Diabetes

If you’re scared of needles, you might be interested to know that researchers are investigating a possible voice test for diabetes.

That’s right. A brief recording of your voice could indicate whether or not you have diabetes.

A Voice Test for Diabetes?

A program designed to use no more than 10 seconds of speech has proven capable of identifying the presence of diabetes with remarkable accuracy.

In an experiment conducted by Klick Labs, 267 individuals recorded a short phrase on their smartphones six times a day over a span of two weeks. This group had recently undergone testing for Type 2 diabetes. The aim? To discern any acoustic differences between the voices of those who tested positive and those who didn’t.

By analyzing the participants’ voice prints in conjunction with data like age, sex, height, and weight, an AI model made astonishing predictions. The accuracy rate stood at 86% for men and an even higher 89% for women.

Unraveling the Science Behind Voice Analysis

The question arises: Why does diabetes influence one’s voice? The synthesis of our voice is a multifaceted process that integrates the respiratory system, nervous system, and the larynx. Factors that impact any of these systems can, in turn, alter the voice. While such changes might escape the human ear, computers, with their advanced analytical capacities, can detect them with precision.

Among the vocal attributes studied, pitch and its variation proved to be the most predictive of diabetes. Interestingly, some vocal attributes only enhanced prediction accuracy for one gender. For instance, “perturbation jitter” was a key factor for women, whereas “amplitude perturbation quotient shimmer” was significant for men.

It’s worth noting that prolonged elevated blood sugar can impair peripheral nerves and muscle fibers, leading to voice disorders. Moreover, even temporary elevations in blood glucose can potentially influence vocal cord elasticity, though this theory still awaits validation. Furthermore, emotional factors, such as anxiety and depression—both of which can be associated with diabetes—may further modulate voice characteristics.

Beyond Conventional Diabetes Testing

Jaycee Kaufman, the leading author of the study, emphasized the transformative potential of their findings: “Voice technology can potentially revolutionize the way the medical community screens for diabetes. Traditional detection methods can be cumbersome, both in terms of time and cost. This technology could eliminate these challenges altogether.”

Considering the global surge in diabetes cases, and the complications arising from late diagnoses, the introduction of a non-invasive, rapid testing tool can be a game-changer. The International Diabetes Federation has highlighted that nearly 50% of adults with diabetes remain unaware of their condition. Predictably, this unawareness is most pronounced in nations where healthcare infrastructure is stretched thin. The economic implications are staggering, with undiagnosed diabetes projected to cost an exorbitant $2.1 trillion annually by 2030.

Voice technology, as an alternative to blood sample-based tests, presents a promising avenue for early detection and intervention.

A Healthier Future Using A Voice Test for Diabetes

Buoyed by the success of their study, Klick Labs is planning a larger-scale project. They aim not only to refine the accuracy of their model but also to expand its scope. Their vision extends beyond diabetes detection, as they explore its applicability to conditions like prediabetes and hypertension.

Yan Fossat, co-author of the study, expressed enthusiasm for the innovation: “Voice technology has the potential to usher in a new era in healthcare, positioning itself as a vital digital screening tool that’s both accessible and economical.”

As the study gains traction and the technology evolves, the implications for global health are profound. With the power of voice technology, a world where early, easy, and efficient disease detection is the norm, may not be too far off.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “10 Seconds Of Recorded Speech Can Reveal If Someone Has Diabetes” — IFL Science

WTF Fun Fact 13578 – Presidential DNA in Space

What happens to a deceased person’s DNA in space? We don’t yet know, but one company is finding out.

In an unprecedented melding of history, space exploration, and pop culture, DNA samples of four iconic American Presidents are set to take an out-of-this-world journey. In a move that combines reverence for national leadership and a nod to entertainment legends, Texas-based space burial company, Celestis, is gearing up to launch an astonishing payload.

Sending Founding Fathers’ DNA in Space

Determined to make history, Celestis has chosen the DNA samples of four of the most recognized U.S. Presidents: George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. These samples will be part of Celestis’ deep space remembrance Enterprise Flight. This flight’s announcement fittingly occurred on Presidents’ Day, honoring some of the nation’s foremost leaders. The mission is groundbreaking, marking the first instance any U.S. president is symbolically dispatched to space.

Joining Trekkies on an Epic Journey

These presidential DNA samples are not traveling alone. Sharing their celestial voyage are the remains and DNA samples of some of the most beloved names from the “Star Trek” franchise. Among them are Nichelle Nichols, DeForest Kelley, and the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, along with his wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry.

The list doesn’t end there. James “Scotty” Doohan, renowned for his role as the “Star Trek” engineer, and Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects genius behind classics like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, will also join the journey.

Interestingly, the hair samples, which are the DNA sources for these presidents, are from the collection of Louis Mushro. A global celebrity in the realm of hair collection and appraisal, Mushro’s reputation is unparalleled. Before his demise in 2014, he ensured these samples were stored meticulously in a climate-controlled facility. They now embark on a mission of historic significance, thanks to an anonymous donor who gifted these samples to Celestis.

DNA in Space, Beyond the Earth-Moon System

According to Charles M. Chafer, Co-Founder & CEO of Celestis, Inc., their “Enterprise Flight is historic by any standard.” Celestis envisions an ambitious future: assisting human expansion throughout the solar system. By sending the DNA of such significant figures into space, they aim to pave the way for future human missions.

This Enterprise Flight will transcend the Earth-moon system, traveling between 93 to 186 million miles into deep space. It will carry over 200 flight capsules, each loaded with cremated ash remains, DNA, personal messages, and greetings from global clients.

The journey of these capsules isn’t just about remembrance. The Vulcan Centaur rocket, responsible for transporting these capsules, has a primary mission: aiding the Pittsburgh aerospace company Astrobotic. This assistance involves directing their Peregrine lunar lander toward the moon’s surface. Following this, the Vulcan Centaur’s upper stage will delve deeper into space. Its destination? An orbit around the sun, where it will establish humanity’s furthest outpost, the Enterprise Station.

Adding to the mission’s allure is its partnership with Amazon. The 2023 Enterprise Flight will carry two prototype satellites, set to be part of Amazon’s internet constellation, Project Kuiper. As space exploration moves forward, collaborations like these symbolize the fusion of commerce, innovation, and remembrance.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “DNA from 4 American presidents will launch to deep space” — Space.com

WTF Fun Fact 13574 – Katalin Karikó

Katalin Karikó’s journey to Nobel glory is one of resilience and steadfast dedication. A biochemist, Karikó had always been keen on exploring the therapeutic potentials of mRNA.

She obtained her PhD from Hungary’s esteemed Szeged University in 1982 and secured a tenure-track professor position at the University of Pennsylvania in 1989. But her research into RNA faced numerous challenges.

Funding eluded her, and her experiments saw little success. The 1990s brought more trials. This included a cancer diagnosis, the choice to abandon her research or accept a demotion, and a pay cut. She chose the latter, demonstrating her unyielding commitment to mRNA’s potential.

Katalin Karikó”s Partnership with Weissman

1997 marked a turning point. Immunologist Drew Weissman joined the University of Pennsylvania and partnered with Karikó. His interest lay in developing an HIV vaccine. The goal was to prime immune responses with dendritic cells, known for training T cells against foreign antigens. Their collaboration led to the discovery that synthetic, unmodified mRNA provoked dendritic cells into activating inflammatory responses.

The duo’s realization that mammalian cell RNA was frequently chemically modified (while bacterial DNA and RNA often weren’t) changed the course of their research. Another significant insight was that toll-like receptors (TLRs) specifically detected DNA and RNA modifications to trigger inflammation. Their 2005 research paper unveiled that synthetic RNA activated several TLRs, causing inflammatory responses. But adding specific modifications to the synthetic mRNA’s bases curtailed these responses and even enhanced protein production.

mRNA Shaping Modern Vaccine Production

This groundbreaking work ushered in the era of mRNA therapeutics. It catalyzed the inception of Moderna and BioNTech, the companies that later formulated the lifesaving mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. A testament to Karikó and Weissman’s work is the modified base m1 Ψ, now integral to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine production.

Recognition Overlooked Despite the promise and subsequent success of her research, Karikó’s contributions remained largely overshadowed. The scientific community’s initial apathy was evident: post their 2005 revelation, Karikó revealed a lack of interest from peers and major biopharma companies. By 2013, this disregard culminated in her departure from the University of Pennsylvania. Yet, adversity wasn’t new to her. Rather than be deterred, she associated with BioNTech, ascending from hands-on benchwork to senior vice presidency. In 2021, she returned to academia, serving at Szeged University and as adjunct faculty at UPenn. Meanwhile, Weissman continued at UPenn, helming the Penn Institute for RNA Innovations.

Katalin Karikó and Nobel Acclaim

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded to Karikó and Weissman celebrates their persistent, pioneering work on mRNA technology. This research directly paved the way for the creation of the frontrunner COVID-19 vaccines. It’s a fitting tribute to Karikó, who faced professional setbacks and health challenges, yet never deviated from her belief in mRNA’s potential. For her, the Nobel isn’t just an award—it’s validation of decades of unwavering commitment.

The story of Katalin Karikó story serves as an inspiring lesson on perseverance. Her Nobel win, alongside Drew Weissman, underscores the importance of dedication to scientific exploration, even in the face of skepticism and adversity. Their work expanded our understanding of mRNA and provided the foundation for life-saving vaccines during a global pandemic.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “After being demoted and forced to retire, mRNA researcher wins Nobel” — Ars Technica

WTF Fun Fact 13572 – Reproduction in Space

SpaceBorn United, a Netherlands-based startup, is rocketing into the next frontier of space exploration: human reproduction in space.

While recent advancements have made space travel more tangible, the challenge of ensuring human reproduction in foreign environments remains largely unaddressed. Natural conception in space poses multiple risks. Factors such as space radiation and potential changes in embryonic development in microgravity environments call for an innovative approach.

IVF: The Compact Solution

To meet this challenge head-on, SpaceBorn United has pioneered the development of a miniaturized in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo incubator. This device, resembling a CD-ROM in size, uses advanced microfluidic technologies to condense the extensive apparatus required for IVF. The disc, beyond being programmable, spins to simulate the effects of Earth-like gravity, hosting distinct chambers for sperm fluids and female eggs, enabling a controlled conception process.

SpaceBorn’s initiative not only targets the mysteries of space reproduction but also aims to enhance IVF treatments on Earth. Conducting IVF in space’s varying gravity levels might yield insights, potentially refining IVF procedures on our home planet.

Regulatory and Ethical Hurdles

The path SpaceBorn United treads is strewn with challenges. International guidelines tightly regulate human embryo research. These standards, which limit the cultivation of human embryos to a mere 14 days, present a formidable obstacle for the company. Their planned ARTIS missions, set to embark into space in the forthcoming years, will initially involve mouse cells. Transitioning to human cells hinges on both successful results and regulatory approvals.

The Future of Space Reproduction

Despite the intricacies involved, SpaceBorn United’s ambition transcends mere conception in space. Should embryos gain the required approvals, they envision the subsequent stages of pregnancy and birth taking place on Earth, ensuring safety and optimal conditions.

The recent surge in the space tourism industry, backed by heavy investments, paints a future where common individuals, not just astronauts, venture into space or even other planets. Yet, amid these grand visions, the elemental aspect of long-term human survival and propagation in alien environments is often overlooked. SpaceBorn United’s mission accentuates this crucial element, reminding the world that space exploration is not solely about setting foot on new territories but ensuring life flourishes there.

As space exploration narratives continue to captivate global attention, initiatives like SpaceBorn United’s push the boundaries of what’s possible. Their work underscores the holistic challenges of becoming an interplanetary species, spotlighting the importance of life itself in the vastness of space.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “STARTUP PLANNING TO LAUNCH IVF AND EMBRYO INCUBATOR INTO SPACE” — Futurism

WTF Fun Fact 13536 – Digitizing Smell

In order to smell, our brains and noses have to work together, so the idea of digitizing smell seems pretty “out there.”

However, if you think about it, our noses are sensing molecules. Those molecules can be identified by a computer, and the smells the humans associated with them can be cataloged. It’s not quite teaching a computer to smell on its own, but maybe it’s best we don’t give them too many human abilities.

The Enigma of Olfaction

While we’ve successfully translated light into sight and sound into hearing, decoding the intricate world of smell remains a challenge.

Olfaction, compared to our other senses, is mysterious, diverse, and deeply rooted in both emotion and memory. Knowing this, can we teach machines to interpret this elusive sense?

Digitizing Smell

A collaboration between the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the startup Osmo aimed to bridge the gap between airborne chemicals and our brain’s odor perception. Their objective was not just to understand the science of smell better but to make a machine proficient enough to describe, in human terms, what various chemicals smell like.

Osmo, with roots in Google’s advanced research division, embarked on creating a machine-learning model. The foundation of this model was an industry dataset, which detailed the molecular structures and scent profiles of 5,000 known odorants.

The idea? Feed the model a molecule’s shape and get a descriptive prediction of its smell.

That might sound simple, but the team had to make sure they could ensure the model’s accuracy.

The Litmus Test: Man vs. Machine

To validate the machine’s “sense of smell,” a unique test was devised.

A group of 15 panelists, trained rigorously using specialized odor kits, was tasked with describing 400 unique odors. The model then predicted descriptions for the same set.

Astonishingly, the machine’s predictions often matched or even outperformed individual human assessments, showcasing its unprecedented accuracy.

Machines That Can ‘Smell’ vs. Digitizing Smell

Beyond its core training, the model displayed unexpected capabilities. It accurately predicted odor strength, a feature it wasn’t explicitly trained for, and identified distinct molecules with surprisingly similar scents. This accomplishment suggests we’re inching closer to a world where machines can reliably “smell.”

But for now, that’s overstating it. The team has made a major leap towards digitizing smell. But machines don’t have senses. They can only replicate the kind of information our brains produce when we smell things. Of course, they don’t have any sense of enjoyment (or repulsion) at certain smells.

In any case, the Monell and Osmo collaboration has significantly advanced our journey in understanding and replicating the sense of smell. As we move forward, this research could revolutionize industries from perfumery to food and beyond.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “A step closer to digitizing the sense of smell: Model describes odors better than human panelists” — Science Daily