Covid 19

Harvard scientists are using AI to search for alien technology

A group of researchers has unveiled a new venture that will use AI to search for alien technology.

The Galileo Project will use a network of telescopes and astronomical surveys to hunt for evidence of “extraterrestrial technological civilizations” (ETCs).

AI will play a key role in the program. The team plans to develop algorithms that scan data from telescopes for alien artifacts.

The group will also use existing and future astronomical surveys “to discover and monitor the properties of interstellar visitors to the solar system.” They say they’ve already received $1.75 million in funding from private donors.

The project is spearheaded by Harvard professor Avi Loeb, who raised eyebrows for suggesting that an object that passed through our solar system could be alien tech.

Dubbed ‘Oumuamua, the interstellar interloper was the first confirmed object from another star to visit our solar system.

‘Oumuamua’s unusual acceleration led Loeb to speculate that it was a “lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment.” Manyastronomy experts have dismissed the hypothesis.

Nonetheless, Loeb believes that ‘Oumuamua and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena are sufficiently anomalous to motivate further research into extraterrestrial tech:

Science should not reject potential extraterrestrial explanations because of social stigma or cultural preferences that are not conducive to the scientific method of unbiased, empirical inquiry We now must ‘dare to look through new telescopes,’ both literally and figuratively.

The mission to find ETCs may be a long shot, but the project could still generate new data on unusual interstellar objects.

Covid 19

Beware, Musk and Bezos — Porsche is joining the space race

Celebrity scumbags billionaires like Musk, Bezos, and Branson may feel they own space, but they have an unexpected rival: Porsche.

Yep, the car maker is investing in German rocket start-up Isar Aerospace in an attempt to ensure access to new space-based technologies, the Financial Times reports. 

The company is joining a group of new investors, HV Capital and Lombard Odier, by putting down $75 million, which brings the total Series B funding round to $165 million.

Isar’s vision

Despite its low profile, Isar aims to compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin by offering (relatively) inexpensive low-earth orbit satellite launch services.

This year, the company began manufacturing its Spectrum rocket, which relies heavily on automation and 3D printing to reduce production costs.

Spectrum is a two-stage launch vehicle, specifically designed for satellite constellation deployment.

Its payload capability can reach up to 1,000kg, and its multi-ignition second-stage engine can inject payloads directly into orbit. 

Porche is investing in space rocket company.
Credit: Isar Aerospace
An impression of Isar’s Spectrum rocket.

Can Isar rival SpaceX and Blue Origin?

I’d say it’s a long shot.

Isar was founded just three years ago and since then it’s raised the relatively low amount of $180 million in funding.

It’s also never sent a single satellite to space.

On the upside, in May, Isar became the first private European company to secure a contract from the European Space Agency (ESA), when it was awarded with $13 million by the German Government to launch two satellites into orbit. 

The company’s also planning to develop reusable rockets in the future, which would give it a huge advantage as this specific tech is still lagging.

Nevertheless, we need to wait for Spectrum’s launch later in 2022 before we can make safer conclusions.

Why would Porsche invest?

Here’s what Lutz Meschke, a Porsche executive, had to say:

We are convinced that cost-effective and flexible access to space will be a key enabler for innovations in traditional industries as well as for new and disruptive technologies and business models.

It goes without saying that the traditional industry that interests Porsche is the automotive sector.

As cars become more and more software-centric, successful space tech could also be brought from the stars to the earth.

Besides that, we all know that GPS systems are based on satellite data, which means that direct access to satellites could enhance the automaker’s navigation and even parking systems.

Personally, I doubt that Isar has a chance to seriously rival SpaceX and Blue Origin — at least for the next decade —but my guess is that this is only the beginning for brands’ investment into space.

Do EVs excite your electrons? Do ebikes get your wheels spinning? Do self-driving cars get you all charged up? 

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Covid 19

This jigsaw puzzle could earn you $1 million. No, seriously…it could

TLDR: If you think you’ve got what it takes, the 1 Million Dollar Puzzle could earn you…yep, $1 million.

You think you’re pretty smart. It’s ok. Just go ahead and admit it out loud. You think you’re at least a step or two ahead of just about everybody else around you. It’s alright. It’s cool. We’re not going to rat you out for your exaggerated sense of superiority. In fact, we’re going to play right into your elevated self-assurance.

Think you could finish a jigsaw puzzle worth $1 million? 

That got your attention, didn’t it?

That’s the premise behind The 1 Million Dollar Puzzle by MSCHF. And yes, someone who puts together this 500-piece puzzle is really going to walk away with $1 million for their efforts.

But we’re going to warn you now…this puzzle isn’t just going to be a slam dunk. While a picture of the puzzle isn’t featured on the box, we’ll give you a headstart on that: it’s actually a QR code against a multi-colored background. While the puzzle itself only rates a 5 difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10, the odd black edges and non-descript rainbow underneath mean putting this whole thing together isn’t quite as simple as you might believe. 

Of course, you’re pretty smart. That means you’ll likely be able to crack this particular headscratcher and, with enough time, snap all those recycled cardboard, individually unique pieces into place. Once you’ve finished your glorious project, then it’s time to scoop up your generous reward.

Just aim your smartphone or tablet camera at the picture, and the code will unlock a special website where you can score your winnings. But as a smart guy or girl, we’ve got to warn you — the odds could be against you landing the $1 million grand prize.

The consolation is that every single person who finishes the puzzle will win something. Granted, it might only be a bright shiny new quarter, but hey, that’s a quarter more than you had when you started, right?

The money is great and all, but the fun of The 1 Million Dollar Puzzle by MSCHF is what you’re really after anyway. Isn’t it? Yeah? Do the puzzle and find out, a $64 value now on sale for over 50 percent off at just $30. Go make your money, big brain.

Prices are subject to change

Covid 19

Twitter is giving online shopping another go

Twitter is stepping back into the e-commerce business.

The company is testing an online shopping feature that businesses can use to sell their products through an in-app browser.

Up front: Twitter’s “Shop Module” lets companies showcase their products at the top of their profiles. Visitors who have the Shop Module enabled can then tap on items they’re interested in. This will open an in-app browser, where the customer can make a purchase without leaving Twitter.

The pilot will begin with a “handful of brands” in the US. In a blog post, Twitter said people in the US who use the platform in English on iOS devices will get to use the Shop Module:

With this pilot, we’ll get to explore how our engaged, responsive, and chatty audience reacts to products that are emotionally charged — like a new jersey from your favorite sports team — or that provide lasting impact — like a new skincare regimen. And, fundamentally, it’ll give us the chance to keep learning about which shopping experiences people prefer on Twitter.

Quick take: The Shop Module isn’t Twitter’s first experiment with e-commerce. The company previously tested a “Buy Now” button and product catalogs, but both features were eventually dropped.

In March of this year, Twitter revealed it was renewing its focus on online shopping. The site says the Shop Module is one of its first steps back into e-commerce.

The company joins the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram in moving further into e-commerce. If the new feature takes off, it could help Twitter get a piece of the online shopping pie.

Covid 19

Immortality or spaghetti? Why parking your spaceship inside a black hole is a huge gamble

Has this ever happened to you? You’re cavorting through deep space at near the speed of light without a care of the world when, suddenly, you realize you forgot to replace the toner cartridge in your office printer back on Earth before you left.

Rather than face your disappointed co-workers after such an unforgivable oversight, you decide it would be best if you just stopped time and waited for them all to die before you return to work.

So, like any space traveler hip to the works of Albert Einstein, you decide to park your spaceship at the perfect edge of a black hole.

What happens next?

Nothing good, that’s what. But it’s a lot of fun to talk about.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity tells us that an object placed perfectly at the edge of a black hole’s event horizon should be able to maintain a temporal dissonance.

In other words: a sufficiently strong gravitational pull such as that exhibited by a black hole should warp spacetime around it. If you were standing near the edge of a black hole and your buddy flew by in their spaceship, in the time it took for you to wave at them they’d have potentially aged by weeks, months, or even years.

And that’s because time is a vague concept used by physicists to explain the systemic changes which occur in our universe.

If we lived in total nothingness, nothing would ever happen, and there could be no concept of time. But, because things happen in the universe we live in, we use time to explain the observable differences between both similar and disparate events.

What’s awesome about things in the universe that have enough mass to have gravity is that they can actually change our experience of time.

If you’re on the Earth, time goes a tiny bit slower than if you’re inside a spaceship in deep space. And, because black holes are the most massive things we know of, time can theoretically come to a perfect stop once you’re close enough to a singularity‘s event horizon.

Stopping time? Seriously?

Think of time like the needle on a record player. When you play a record at the right speed, it should sound the way it’s supposed to – it rotates in “normal” time. But if you put your thumb on the record as it’s spinning and press down with just enough force, you can cause the platter to slow down and distort the audio. It’ll sound as though time itself has slowed down.

And, with sufficient pressure, you can stop the album from spinning altogether. That’s pretty much how the theory of general relativity works.

A black hole should be able to warp spacetime sufficiently that someone standing in the perfect spot would experience time in a way exclusive from the rest of the universe.

In a way, this would make you immortal. But you’d never know it. Unfortunately for you and your crew, you’d all live relatively normal lives and eventually die of old age. A minute would feel like a minute, a year would feel like a year, and so on and so forth.

However, the entire universe outside of the black hole might experience thousands or millions of years in the time it takes you and your crew to grow old and die.

So, it’s slightly plausible to think you could time things just right. With sufficiently advanced quantum computers and spacetime plotting systems (the latter is something I just made up) it’s theoretically possible that we could punch in some numbers, navigate to the perfect spot at the edge of a black hole, and wait out our co-workers lifespans before zipping back to the Earth in what would feel like just a few hours to us.

But the whole spaghettification issue might pose a problem.

Spaghetti is… delicious?

Only if you eat it. Becoming spaghetti is almost certainly not yummy.

At some point between the outside of a black hole and the area of space surrounding it that’s affected by its gravity, an object starts to feel the pull of the black hole.

This is a kind of gravity we’re not use to dealing with. When you jump up in the air and fall back down here on Earth, that’s gravity pulling on your mass. But when you dial that up to black hole levels, gravity starts pulling on your individual atoms.

Eventually, any matter that gets close enough to a black hole’s event horizon will begin to stretch and distort until it looks like a flat, elongated piece of pasta. That means the individual cells in your body and the teeny, tiny things those cells are made of end up looking like wet space noodles. 

So there you have it. Parking your spaceship at the perfect edge of a black hole’s gravitational pull will either make you ‘technically immortal‘ without actually bestowing any of the health benefits of immortality (such as not ever dying) or it’ll turn you into cosmic spaghetti. 

Covid 19

Here’s why thousands of Activision-Blizzard employees are planning to strike

The strike is on. Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier today reported that Activision-Blizzard employees are planning a work stoppage for Wednesday, 28 July, in protest of the company’s response to a recent lawsuit.

On 22 July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed suit against the Santa Monica-based company.

The department investigated the company and determined it fostered a “frat boy” culture, paid women less, hired women less, and worked to keep its leadership exclusively white and male.

Per the affidavit:

Defendants have also fostered a pervasive “frat boy” workplace culture continues to thrive. In the office, women are subjected “cube crawls” in which male employees drink copious amount of alcohol as they “crawl” their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behavior towards female employees.

Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees, engage in banter about their sexual encounters, talk openly about female bodies, and joke about rape.

The affidavit specifically mentions one female employee who took her own life during a business trip “with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him on the trip.”

So, here’s the thing

There’s a lot of blood in the water right now. Once tomorrow’s strike kicks off it’ll be difficult for anyone to control the narrative. And that makes right now the best time to explain what’s actually happening.

First off, the employees aren’t just staging a protest over the fact that the harassment occurred. If everyone who worked for a company with a shitty, misogynistic work culture striked everyday, the world would come to a screeching halt.

No, per the employee letter that’s now been signed by nearly a quarter of all Activision-Blizzard employees, they’re striking over the company’s response to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges more than just sexual harassment. It also contains salary details for the top male and female executives and describes the average pay for all employees. And these figures clearly demonstrate that Activision-Blizzard intentionally pays women less than men.

Unless the state of California has incorrect salary information (which would likely indicate the company’s not been honest with its tax disclosures), it’s apparent that the state’s report contains at least a modicum of evidence to support its allegations against the company.

The employees planning to strike are angry because the company responded to the lawsuit by claiming it was frivolous, unfounded, and full of misinformation.

Basically, the company is denying what thousands of employees and a panel of state investigators claim to be true.

If the allegations are true, the people who work for the company would be justified in believing it owes it to them to address the allegations directly and engage in good-faith efforts to fix the problems. 

Unfortunately for everyone, lawyers and public relations teams aren’t as interested in doing what’s morally right as they are in practicing effective damage control.

Activision-Blizzard posted over $8 billion in profits last year. All it has to do in order to move past this little kerfuffle is wait a few weeks and pay a team of crack lawyers to deny, defend, and delay until the lawsuit either goes away or results in a paltry fine.

Because, realistically, the next installment of Call of Duty will recoup those expenses in sales within the first 24 hours – if not during the pre-order phase. 

Arguably, the only people who can actually hold the company’s leaders accountable are its current employees.

And to that, we say godspeed.

Here’s the Activision Blizzard employee letter in its entirety:

To the Leaders of Activision Blizzard,

We, the undersigned, agree that the statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.

We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry. Categorizing the claims that have been made as “distorted, and in many cases false” creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization.

Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action — and the troubling official responses that followed — we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.

We call for official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to stand by her word to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees — as well as our community — have a safe place to speak out and come forward.

We stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community, who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind. We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change.

Covid 19

This free AR app helped me remember who my plants are

House plants provided us with a link to nature in lockdown. As someone who lives alone, they also became companions and confidantes. But I’ve neglected my leafy friends since my human ones emerged from self-isolation.

Now, a free app called Candide is helping me regain their trust, or at least remember who the hell they are.

The app’s Plant ID feature uses AR to identify plants at both the genus and species level. Just snap a photo of the mysterious vegetation or upload one from your phone. Next, tap identify. Models trained on a dataset of horticultural imagery then analyze the pic. If the system recognizes the plant, it provides more information on its origins and how to care for it.

Candide is one of several apps that identify flora. The tools are typically used to recognize plants you’ve spotted on your travels. But in my case, I needed it for advice on the ones I already have.

I tested it on several of my untended plants. The results were pretty impressive.

Plant ID uses AR to recognize plants.
IDENTIFIED: Magnus, my brawny kentia palm.

Plant ID swiftly identified my kentia palm and gave some useful tips on how not to kill it.

It also spotted my poor citrus tree, which was cruelly plucked from sunny climes and dumped into the depths of London’s winter. It’s been on its death bed for 18 months but I refuse to bury it. (I like the pot).

Candide's Plant ID provides information on plants you photograph.
You were too pure for this world.

The AR didn’t find a match for the flowers I snatched from the roadside last week after they were discarded by the florist. But it made some guesses and suggested asking other users of the app.

Candide's Plant ID doesn't work as well on flowers.
Plant ID suggests asking the community when it can’t identify your plant.

Overall, the app was accurate and the community aspect is attractive. Plant identification seems an effective use of AR, and I appreciate tech that helps cultivate nature rather than destroy it. It might even help my floral friends survive a second year of the pandemic.

Greetings Humanoids! Did you know we have a newsletter all about AI? You can subscribe to it right here.

Covid 19

Scientists detect water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s largest moon

Evidence of water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede has been discovered for the first time.

Astronomers used data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to detect vapor rising from Ganymede. The findings could offer new insights about the moon’s atmosphere.

Up front: Ganymede is the largest satellite in our solar system and three-quarters the size of Mars. Scientists have speculated that the vast oceans below its thick icy crust could host aquatic life. 

The researchers found evidence of water vapor in the moon’s atmosphere by reexamining Hubble data from the last two decades.

The team analyzed ultraviolet observations of Ganymede collected by two instruments: Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph in 2018 and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) between 1998 to 2010.

They found that there was hardly any atomic oxygen in the moon’s atmosphere.

They then discovered that at around noon near the equator, Ganymede’s temperature may become warm enough for the ice surface to release or sublimate small amounts of water molecules. These differences are directly correlated with where water would be expected in the moon’s atmosphere.

Quick take: The discovery doesn’t offer much evidence about Ganymede’s potential to host alien life. It will, however, deepen our understanding of the moon’s atmosphere.

NASA said the discovery will also benefit the JUICE mission to Jupiter. Scheduled for launch in 2022, which will search for insights about Ganymede as a planetary body — and potential habitat.

Covid 19

Review: The MaxPro is a full gym that fits in a backpack — with one important quirk

I like working out, but I don’t like the gym. Even before the pandemic made the idea of being stuck in a closed room with sweaty strangers particularly egregious, being stuck in a closed room with sweaty strangers was still not my jam. In an ideal world, I’d be happy with nothing more than a power rack, a bench, a barbell, and some plates. That’s all I really need.

But in a not-ideal small NYC apartment, finding a compact gym system that could actually provide a decent load and that didn’t need to be mounted on a wall has long been a struggle.

The MaxPro fitness machine is one of the closest things I’ve found to a truly compact, all-in-one gym system. It’s basically like the cable machines you’d find in a gym, except the unit folds down small enough to fit in a backpack. It can handle just about any lift, especially with some optional accessories.

MaxPro Fitness Machine Gym

It’s so close to being the perfect portable gym, but it also has one very obvious limitation that means it won’t be for everyone, as well as a few other flaws potential buyers should be aware of. But as long as you can live with its limitations, it could be well worth the $749-$849 sticker shock. Though pricey, it could easily pay for itself if it ends up replacing a gym subscription, and its accessibility and flexibility might just bet the ticket to get you to actually, you know, work out.

Here’s how it works for most exercises:

  • You unfold the MaxPro and put the unit under your feet. Alternatively, attach it to the door or another sturdy vertical surface with the included mount, put it under the optional bench, or mount it on the optional wall rack.
  • You select your grips (the unit ships with a 3-part barbell, 2 handles, and two ankle/wrist straps).
  • You set the resistance dials to the appropriate level.
  • You lift.

That basically it. No fussing around with switching and layering a bunch of elastic bands if you want to lift heavy, or moving heavy plates or barbells before your next lift. Just step on the machine, set the dials, and start lifting. I the simplicity of the whole thing

The MaxPro claims to provide a little over 300 lbs of resistance (158 lbs per side), and though I wasn’t able to test that with precision, by my estimations based on my typical barbell lifts, that seems to be pretty accurate. Notably, that’s way more than you’d get out of most compact systems, and though some elastic bands can reach those levels of resistance, it usually requires stacking multiple bands and the type of workout you get is different altogether.

That was particularly important for me, as I come from a bit of a powerlifting background. Sure, I can’t hit my one-rep maxes for deadlift or squat with the MaxPro, or make much progress with very low reps, but for the typical 8-12 reps of your average gymgoer, the MaxPro should have the vast majority of users covered.

That brings me to the main limitation of the MaxPro itself: it only provides significant resistance during the concentric portion of the lift. In other words, if you do a biceps curl, it’ll provide resistance on the way up, but very little on the way down (about 5-10lbs). The MaxPro creates resistance via friction, only in one direction.

MaxPro Fitness Machine Gym (1 of 3)
What you get in the box with the MaxPro. It’s worth noting the box is nicely padded and has a handlebar, so it’s a neat way to carry around the whole thing if you don’t opt for the optional backpack.

How much of a “problem” that is is up for debate. Obviously, freeweights and cable machines provide resistance in both directions (thanks, gravity!), so the MaxPro can never fully replicate traditional methods of resistance. In terms of building muscle, some research suggests the eccentric portion of lifts leads to greater muscle growth, which may make you wary of using the MaxPro without some kind of supplementary exercise method.

But these differences are likely very small and can be mitigated with higher workout volume (more reps or more frequent workouts) in a concentric-only system, as you can theoretically recover more quickly by focusing on a concentric-biased workout.

Unsurprisingly, MaxPro touts the limitation as a positive. Per the company’s website, concentric-biased training has the following benefits:

  • It’s supposed to be safer because the weight cannot violently drop as with freeweights or elastic bands your (true, I’ve dropped weights on my foot before, it’s not fun).
  • Less muscle soreness and fatigue (also true, but if you train more frequently with the MaxPro, that partly evens out).
  • Easier to train ‘explosive’ movements like Olympic lifts (kind of, I guess).
  • Better at developing Type I muscle fiber growth and endurance qualities (not something I could really test).
  • Grows muscle fiber diameter versus length (I didn’t take a sample of my own muscles to test this).
  • Muscle growth happens closer to the joint (again not something I could test).

I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Personally, I have no doubt you can build muscle with the MaxPro; ultimately, what matters is that you can lift a higher resistance the next session, and plenty of lifters have had results with concentric-biased exercises long before the MaxPro existed. The MaxPro makes tacking progress a sinch as you can make small adjustments to its resistance dials; you just need to actually write things down to track your progress rather than choosing resistance on a whim.

MaxPro Gym Fitness Machine

But my experience is also that getting stronger in one domain doesn’t always fully translate to others; you get stronger at what you train. Ever wonder why the most muscular bodybuilders can’t usually lift as much as a powerlifter? It’s because they don’t train as heavy, but they can also probably pull out more reps.

I don’t like the idea of completely neglecting the eccentric portion of the lift, so I’d want to at least occasionally supplement the lifts with some eccentric motions. That said, I felt I found a good balance by supplementing ‘regular’ lifts with heavier, slow lifts that felt more like isometric exercise. Completely subjectively, that seemed to at least replicate the feeling of the eccentric portion of a lift a bit more.

The other caveat to note is that the MaxPro’s motion isn’t fully smooth out of the box; pulling on the cables feels kind of janky. MaxPro is very upfront about this in the included documentation, and it’s due to the friction mechanism again. It takes about a month of use for it to break in, after which it feels just a little less smooth than your typical cable machine at a gym, but I really wish MaxPro could find a way to break-in the mechanism before it arrives. It doesn’t make for the best first impression.

MaxPro Fitness Machine Gym

That’s a shame because the rest of the hardware feels solid. The base itself is made out of sturdy metal and feels like it’ll last. The cables are made out of a material called Dyneema that’s supposed to be 40% stronger than kevlar; I was worried about how thin they are, but they’ve shown no sign of wear over months of use, even though I often used the MaxPro near its resistance limits. That said MaxPro recommends replacing the cables after 1-2 years (about $45 for a pair).

Lastly, it’s 2021, so the unit is naturally available with Bluetooth and an app. This app is better than anticipated for a first-gen product. There are a variety of exercises with videos showing proper form, as well full workouts with coaches. I don’t really enjoy working out alongside videos as I’m good at planning my own workouts, so I just appreciate that the app can track your resistance, reps, and calories burned. There’s also a build-your-own workout mode that you can use to input sets and reps. There aren’t too many frills, but it gets the job done.

A few more miscellaneous notes:

  • The optional bench is pretty nice; I just wish you could use the MaxPro with a regular bench. You’d have to do some DIY work to make that happen.
  • I do appreciate the concentric-only aspect when doing the bench press. You don’t have to worry about a spotter when going to failure.
  • For certain exercises, you’ll have to use a little stopper on the cables to set an adequate range of motion.
  • The resistance can be slightly out of sync between the two sides of the unit, but this seems easy enough to calibrate. I did not have this problem with my own unit.
  • It’s 2021, so the unit comes with Bluetooth and there are a variety of workouts available in an app. These are fine, but I’m not the type of person that really enjoys lifting alongside a coach, virtual or real, but I appreciate the videos showing how to perform lifts with good form.
  • My review unit came in a nifty raw metal colorway, but it comes in orange too, if that’s your jam.
  • You won’t be able to set your feet much more than shoulders width apart, so a few exercise variations like a wide stance squat or sumo deadlift are not really feasible.
  • I wish the included bar was a simple knurled bar. I’m not a fan of padded bars as they accumulate stench, make grip worse at high resistance, and inevitably the padding starts to come off.
  • The markings on the MaxPro’s dials aren’t labeled as pounds or kilos; MaxPro has a conversion guide online, but this really only matters if you want to show off. Otherwise, just increase the dial as you get stronger and keep track of your progress. The universe doesn’t care what units you’re using.

Long story short: the MaxPro only provides concentric resistance and the mechanism feels a little janky for the first few weeks, but the company is upfront about these limitations, and for the most part, it delivers on everything it promises.

Of course, there are cheaper alternatives, and I know what some of you readers are thinking. You can find some dumbbells on craigslist for free and get a full-body workout at home too. Do calisthenics! Heck, I first started lifting years ago with some elastic bands I paid like 30 bucks for and cut down 60 pounds while putting on some muscle. And ultimately, my ideal gym system is still just a good ol’ power rack.

But that’s missing the point. With the MaxPro you’re paying for sheer versatility, both in the exercises you can do and where you’ll be able to do them.

The MaxPro is small enough to fit in a backpack but flexible enough to handle almost every kind of resistance movement, I can think of. For some, that’s worth the price of entry. No, it won’t replace free weights for advanced lifters, but for most people, I think it’s more than enough to replace a gym subscription.

It’s not a perfect system for everyone, but for those looking for an all-in-one workout system that can fit and go virtually anywhere — and as long as you can live with concentric-only workouts — the Max Pro is well worth your consideration.

Did you know we have a newsletter all about consumer tech? It’s called Plugged In – and you can subscribe to it right here.

Covid 19

Big tech tries to derail EU AI policy with ‘warnings’ from US think tank

EU policymakers recently proposed a sweeping set of regulations called the Artificial Intelligence Act (AIA). If made law, the AIA would offer European citizens the strictest, most comprehensive protections against predatory AI systems on the planet.

And big tech is terrified.

Up front: The Center for Data Innovation published a report on Sunday titled “How Much Will the AIA Cost Europe?

According to the organization’s research:

The AIA will cost the European economy €31 billion over the next five years and reduce AI investments by almost 20 percent. A European SME that deploys a high-risk AI system will incur compliance costs of up to €400,000 which would cause profits to decline by 40 percent.

You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Background: The AIA proposes vast, sweeping regulations. But it certainly isn’t Draconian or Luddite (in fact we think it might be too soft). It’s a complex proposal and there’s a lot more to it than we can get into in this article.

But, the Center for Data Innovation actually does a great job of explaining how it works. The AIA breaks AI products down into three categories. These include “prohibited,” “limited risk,” and “high risk.”

Per the Center’s report, the AIA requires high-risk AI to be:

  • Trained on datasets that are complete, representative, and free of errors
  • Implemented on traceable and auditable systems in a transparent manner
  • Subject to human oversight at all times
  • Robust, accurate, and secure

The document continues, “Operators of high-risk AI systems have to abide by numerous technical and compliance features before and after they take their AI tool to market.”

They must:

  • Build a quality management system
  • Maintain detailed technical documentation
  • Conduct an assessment to ensure the system conforms to the AIA
  • Register the system in an EU database
  • Monitor the system once it is on the market
  • Update the documentation and conformity assessment if substantial changes are made
  • Collaborate with market surveillance authorities

Every single one of those line items offers basic, common-sense protections for citizens. Which explains exactly why big tech is terrified.

Here’s another snippet from the study:

The EU’s regulatory environment continues to let down European entrepreneurs who want to undertake risky and innovative investments. It is no surprise that the venture capital market in Europe is significantly smaller than in the United States or Asia.

Quick take: This report uses fuzzy, cherry-picked math to come up with the assertion that passing the AIA will cost Europe tens of billions of dollars. It warns against “brain drain,” – that’s when all the smartest people leave their homeland so they can get rich abroad – and claims European innovation will die an expensive, painful death as US and Chinese corporations leave the EU behind.

To that, I say: Lol. Using the US or China as a bar for regulation is like using a UFC fight as an example of diplomatic negotiations.

The current state of AI policy in the US can only be described as absolutely ridiculous. There’s next to no regulation, the police are out of control, companies such as Facebook conduct psyops on the general public without reprisal, and Tesla is literally testing autonomous vehicle software in the general public with absolutely no oversight.

People regularly die in vehicle accidents because AI software lets them down, the police wrongfully arrest and shoot people because AI misidentifies them, and companies such as PredPol, Clearview AI, and Palantir are being paid billions in taxpayer dollars to strip away citizens’ Constitutional rights.

And China‘s even worse. The government controls every aspect of AI investment and encourages domestic technology companies to develop surveillance tech. The main difference between China‘s AI program and Silicon Valley‘s is that China isn’t using AI to strip away its citizen’s constitutional rights — they didn’t have any to begin with.

It’s hard to imagine why an organization like the Center for Data Innovation would take such a ridiculous viewpoint to the AIA.

Or is it?

It turns out the Center for Data Innovation is actually a leg organization for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Those both sound like really smart, fancy, nonpartisan, non-profit groups. In fact, the ITIF is one of the world’s leading technology think tanks.

So, of course, we can trust them right? Both groups have the word nonpartisan written in their respective websites’ “about” pages. That has to mean something right?

But, just for fun, let’s take a look at the ITIF’s board members shall we? Afterall, if we’re going to risk our privacy for profit, we should at least know who is pulling the strings.

Here’s just a few board members listed on the ITIF’s site:

  • Peter Cleveland, vice president of global government affairs at TSMC, the world’s largest contract semiconductor company
  • Frederick S. Humphries Jr., Corporate Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs for Microsoft
  • Shannon Kellogg, Director of Public Policy at Amazon
  • Jason Mahler, vice president, government affairs, Oracle Corporation
  • Vonya McCann, formerly Sprint’s Senior Vice President – Government Affairs, a position she held from August 2009 to April 2020, when Sprint was acquired by T-Mobile US
  • Sean E. Mickens, Manager US public policy, Facebook
  • Laurie Self, Vice President and Counsel of Government Affairs at Qualcomm Incorporated
  • Johanna Shelton, Director, Government Affairs & Public Policy, Google

Perhaps we should take their “warnings” with a Silicon Valley-sized grain of salt.