Monthly Archives March 2018

In the course of our research for clients across many industries and fields, we come across emerging technologies, new materials, new chemistries, growing markets, changing regulatory landscapes, innovative business models, and much more. Every other Friday, we deliver five interesting things we came across during the preceding weeks. And no filler.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

In Just 4 Hours, Google’s AI Mastered All the Chess Knowledge in History

In a new paper, Google researchers detail how their latest AI evolution, AlphaZero, developed “superhuman performance” in chess, taking just four hours to learn the rules (with no strategic programming) before obliterating the world champion chess program, Stockfish. “We now know who our new overlord is,” said chess researcher David Kramaley, the CEO of chess science website Chessable, “It will no doubt revolutionize the game, but think about how this could be applied outside chess. This algorithm could run cities, continents, universes.”
[SCIENCE ALERT]

STRATEGY

Grow by Creating Markets, Versus Killing Competitors

This short summary of “Blue Ocean Shift,” W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne’s update to “Blue Ocean,” describes a systematic, five-step approach to creating new markets rather than fighting to the death with your existing competitors. In our experience, the approach works, but even innovative companies struggle with Step 2: building an objective view of the strategic landscape. Their deep connection to existing markets, low risk tolerance, focus on short-term revenue pressure from investors, and rapid executive turn-over, are all factors conspiring against their ability to take the long-term view of their future necessary to build new markets from scratch. [ALLEYWATCH]

BLOCKCHAIN

In Search of Blockchain’s Killer-Apps

“Blockchain has yet to cross the chasm from technology enthusiasts and visionaries to the wider marketplace that’s more interested in business value and applications”. Though most commonly associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, blockchain has been getting a lot of breathless publicity for its potential to transform almost any application [we doubt it: blockchain has a massive scaling problem ]. The author speculates that two killer-app categories will benefit most from blockchain: 1. applications involving complex transactions and multiple institutions, and 2. internet security applications for identity management and data sharing. [WALL STREET JOURNAL]

CHEMISTRY | ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Retrosynthesis: Here It Comes

Chematica—the MilliporeSigma-owned retrosynthesis software—was put to a DARPA-funded test: could the software produce a better synthesis path for eight molecules of commercial interest? The results: software 8, chemists 0. For seven of the eight targets, Chematica substantially improved synthesis routes (shorter routes, fewer chromatography steps, higher yields, more reproducible) and came from several directions (completely different synthetic approaches, different starting materials, etc.). For the eighth, it did even better, improving the synthesis but also breaking the patented route to the compound. [SCIENCE TRANSLATIONAL MEDICINE]

ENERGY | PULP and PAPER

Newly Discovered Cellulose Could Have Applications From Energy to Medicine

A modified version of cellulose polymer was noticed in the extracellular matrix structure of e.coli . The newly identified version of cellulose does not form crystals and is readily soluble in water, making it a more suitable precursor for ethanol production. Because of its function as an extracellular matrix component, this cellulose polymer nurtures infectious bacteria, leading to a follow-on set of experiments inhibiting production of the cellulose in mice. Next stage research will involve introducing the modified cellulose genes into plants for scaled up production. [STANFORD]

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In the course of our research for clients across many industries and fields, we come across emerging technologies, new materials, new chemistries, growing markets, changing regulatory landscapes, innovative business models, and much more. Every other Friday, we deliver five interesting things we came across during the preceding weeks. And no filler.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Nokia and Vodafone Will Bring 4G to the Moon

With upcoming, non-governmental space missions delivering two new rovers to the lunar surface, Nokia and Vodafone are partnering to create a 4G base-station on the moon. The Vodafone station will use Nokia hardware to communicate more seamlessly with the rovers as well as stream high-def video back to Earth. [ENGADGET]

BATTERY CHEMISTRY

Investment in Lithium-ion Technologies May Crowd Out Future Innovation

This article highlights how the growth of lithium-ion-based battery infrastructure is creating technological lock-in: in spite of known thermal hazards and the impracticality of lithium-ion for powering airplanes and large trucks, chemistries beyond lithium-ion are facing higher barriers to entry and, thus, less commercial interest. The article suggests policymakers need to respond to lithium-ion lock-in by promoting research and development in high energy density alternatives, like aluminium-air or lithium-sulfur. [BROOKINGS INSTITUTION]

POLYMERS | SUSTAINABILITY

Lego Bricks to Be Made from Plants

Implementing a sustainability roadmap developed in 2015, the Danish manufacturer began production of Lego blocks from bio-based polyethylene. Beginning with the plant-like tree and leaf Lego pieces, the move from ABS to more sustainable materials will start small but looks to provide a different meaning and a sustainable future for “block polymers.” [CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS]

COMPUTING | BIOMEDICAL DEVICES

Biocomputer and Memory Built Inside Living Bacteria

Reporting on two separate feats in bioengineering, this article recaps original research in which the DNA of e.coli was manipulated to store data and, indirectly, perform basic logic functions. Researchers at Harvard archived a 36×26 pixel GIF in the e.coli DNA and then were able to retrieve the GIF with 90% efficiency and obviously recognizable form. Separately but concurrently at Harvard, a synthetic strand of DNA introduced to e.coli directed the cell to produce a RNA-based “computer” capable of basic logic and programming. [IEEE SPECTRUM]

INNOVATION | CORPORATE STRATEGY

The Five New Forces In Innovation Strategy

The article summarizes some key topics from the Drucker Forum 2017 with a focus on the five new forces outlined by Lean Start-Up pioneer Steve Blank. In addition to discussing the five forces, the article notes the importance of avoiding “innovation theater” by maintaining a healthy innovation pipeline with measured results. [FORBES]

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