Stocking-filler tech stories

It’s the last SciTech Bulletin of 2016. So, before your fill yourself with pud, it’s time to check your portfolio against our carefully-chosen and expertly-wrapped news.

But first – an important FYI. At Exponential Investor, we often get asked “How do I invest in company X?” It’s really pretty simple – if you can’t find the stock listed, just contact the firm. If it isn’t traded on public markets, it’ll usually be able to tell you when its next fundraise will open.

#404 – Holocaust not found

Well this is awkward… Google is having a little trouble with its autocomplete function. This saves you typing your queries in full, by offering to complete searches for you. Unfortunately, the internet is full of weird people and strange stuff, so it tends to suggest some pretty dodgy questions. Searching for “Is the Holocaust…” turns up “Is the Holocaust fake”, as a suggestion. Due to a pretty dramatic ranking fail, this then turns up a whole bunch of denier sites. The end result of this is that there’s some pretty dangerous misinformation getting put out. It’s pretty impractical to try to manually censor every suspect search question or website – and Google is, understandably, not keen to play whack-a-mole with every example of the problem. This means that it has to sweat out the bad PR, while it looks for a solution. (Graun)

Largest wooden building in US

We’ve covered mass timber buildings in Exponential Investor before (colloquially known as plyscrapers). This emergent construction technique is currently being used on ever-bolder projects. America’s largest modern wood building, in Minnesota, has just been opened. It’s seven storeys high. That’s not huge, but for smaller cities and towns it’s already enough to replace conventional construction. This is a good-news technology – as wooden buildings are very climate friendly. Expect firms involved in this transformation to benefit from three great future trends: improving technological capabilities, falling costs, and public support. That looks like a perfect storm of an investment opportunity to me. (Build It With Wood)

“Colour” vision for cars

LiDAR is an important enabling technology for self-driving cars (it’s the spinning turret you can see on top). We’ve covered LiDAR before, so do check here for a fuller explanation. The technology works just like radar in an airport – but uses lasers instead of radio waves. The aim is to give extremely-precise measurements of distance. The problem with “normal” LiDAR is that it’s good at resolving position – but not speed or acceleration. Blackmore Sensors and Analytics’ technology works by changing the colour of the beam, so the reflected pulses contain this extra information. Crucially, this comes directly from the sensor and doesn’t require a whole bunch of processing from the car’s own computers. To be clear: the LiDAR doesn’t use this colour information to resolve object colours. In fact, the approach has much in common with a bat’s hearing – as they hunt insects using chirps and squeaks of varying pitch. The firm has just raised $3.5m – so it seems the promise of the sector, combined with Blackmore’s innovative technology, is winning round investors. (TechCrunch)

Limestone sunshade

Geoengineering could be one key way we deal with climate change, and it’s been an issue we’ve come back to several times in Exponential Investor. A recent breakthrough study suggests we could reduce global temperatures by spraying fine limestone dust into the stratosphere. The reason for using rock dust (rather than the oft-suggested sulphuric acid) is that limestone actually helps repair the ozone layer. You can’t invest in the technology – but do keep an eye out, because getting climate change under control will affect all portfolios. (PNAS)

Prostate cancer zap

Prostate cancer is no fun. Even though many tumours are operable, the damage done removing them almost always causes some sexual dysfunction. It is therefore welcome news that the condition has been successfully treated using drugs activated by lasers. This is one part of a new array of technologies, to ensure drugs can be activated only where they’re needed. Another interesting technique in this group is the trapping of drugs in ultrasound-controlled bubbles – as one reader asked us to mention. (The Lancet Oncology/The Conversation)

Turn on your turn on

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is certainly a bit of a mouthful. Colloquially, it’s helpful to think of it as a magnetic “brain zap”. In recent experiments, a variant called “theta burst stimulation” has been shown to control sexual arousal, when carefully aimed. That’s mighty good news – and if this approach proves safe and reliable, then loss of libido could be directly treated without drugs. Interestingly, it appears that the technique can be made to increase or decrease sex drive. This could unlock a future use case: treating sex criminals. (New Scientist/PLOS ONE)

Stupid Tech Major of the Week Award

When you’re Yahoo, I guess you get kind of numb to catastrophic data breaches. But this one is full-on Dr Evil – with one billion records hacked. Despite the epic scale of this epic fail, it took a full three years for the firm to identify and announce the breach. What’s more, it still hasn’t worked out how the heist was done. All Yahoo appears to know is that it was a state-sponsored actor (which, I’m assuming, means Russia – or perhaps China). This company is a massive lumbering trainwreck of legacy vileness. I’d be less likely to invest than I would be to eat my own eyeballs. But, if you’re interested in cybersecurity, I suspect that Frontier Tech Investor will have just the stock tips you’re looking for… (Yahoo/TechCrunch)

You can send all the feedback you like – but we’re off on our holipops now, and the robots are taking over:


Andrew Lockley
Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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