Inverse Daily

This Atari-trained A.I. could be the future of drug development

And you thought your old video-game consoles were just good for nostalgia...

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In today's lead story, the future of autonomous robotics could be locked in an old-school video game system. But today also marks a watershed moment in history for the intersection of tech and the music industry.

In 2001, Apple's iTunes took the music world by storm. As iPods sprung up and CDs faded away, Apple became a major player in the music industry. Other kinds of audio files could be played on iPods, but the songs sold on iTunes were clearly the easiest and most reliable way to get music from your computer on to the iPod.

When Louie Sulcer bought the iTunes version of Johnny Cash's “Guess Things Happen That Way,” he made a record himself: It was the 10 billionth song sold on iTunes, a feat which Apple announced on this day in 2010. Sulcer got a phone call from Steve Jobs and a $10,000 iTunes gift card for his 'achievement.'

Apple's iTunes seemed unstoppable at the time, but things change. In 2019, Apple killed off iTunes to get into streaming. Who knows what will take its place ten years from now?

Our question of the week is about a video game series Inverse holds dear. We're celebrating the 35th anniversary of Zelda. Which Zelda game is your favorite? Vote in our poll via our Google form.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for February 25, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Travel guide — A virtual tour of Mars now — and its possible future

NASA’s Perseverance rover is the latest in a line of missions to explore the Red Planet. After less than a week on Mars, it has already sent images and the first audio recordings back to Earth. But while satellite mapping and on-the-ground exploration has brought Earth’s neighbor into sharper focus than ever, questions over the possibility of ancient life and future habitability remain.

Efforts by NASA and private companies could make the face of Mars very different in the next few decades — even if their plans look more like science fiction today.

What they're saying: “Whether or not Mars was ever a living planet, it’s essential to understand how rocky planets like ours form and evolve. Why did our own planet remain hospitable as Mars became a desolate wasteland?” — Ken Williford, deputy project scientist for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL

Perseverance is changing how we understand Mars

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Bulking up — Super-strong mechanical muscles bring us closer to autonomous robots

Sure, they may not be able to experience love, or feel wonder while staring at a beautiful sunset, but some robots have more luck than others. Especially when it comes to working out.

Unlike human gym-goers, robots could soon grow their muscles in labs. Recently, scientists developed a new kind of robotic muscle capable of powering itself for an extended period of time past its initial charge.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics, roboticists tested a new artificial muscle design that uses electrostatic bellows to lift objects up to 70 times its weight. Unlike older, clunkier designs, the researchers suggest this muscle would be cheap to build and easy to scale. It could also be bundled together to create a robot with even greater strength.

What they're saying: “This is of course very important for untethered/battery-powered robots such as active robotic prosthesis or wearable robots, robots for search and rescue operations.” — Marco Fontana, the study's lead author and an associate professor of mechanical engineering at TeCIP Institute, to Inverse.

Robotic muscles are a situation

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A thousand words — Mars and beyond: Understand the world through 8 science images

The past seven days were jam-packed with scientific inquiry and discovery. There are the jaw-dropping images of Perseverance landing on Mars, of course. But there are also several other visual stories that might have slipped your attention.

There were Covid-19 vaccinations in a region that has lagged dangerously behind. Astronomers published a map of supermassive black holes. An endangered species saw a new ray of hope. Revisit the week that was with some astonishing images which could have only been captured in 2021.

What they're saying: “This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally — when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks.” — Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA Administrator.

The pictures that defined an astonishing week

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Coming soon ...

WandaVision is perhaps the first smash hit of 2021. It's got humor. It's got music. And it's got an intriguing web of mystery with deep roots in the magical depths of the Marvel universe. We've been keeping you up-to-date on the latest in theories, leaks, and Easter eggs in the town of Westview for the entire run of the series.

When the latest installment airs (details here), make sure to check out Inverse for the latest on what Wanda, Vision, Monica, Agatha, and the rest of the gang are up to and what it could mean for the MCU as a whole.

Evolving story — New study suggests human ancestors swung from branches like chimps

The image of Tarzan or a wild human swinging from tree to tree may seem like a Hollywood fever dream from either Disney, Brendan Frasier, or Johnny Weissmuller, depending on your age. (Or even Alexander Skarsgård if you remember that one movie from 2016.) It certainly feels like it is straight out of fantasy.

But research published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances suggests the last common ancestor of hominids — a category of primates that includes chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and humans — was able to suspend from tree branches.

What they're saying: “Our findings support the view that humans and chimpanzees evolved from an ancestor that had similarities to modern apes in their locomotor adaptation.” —Thomas C. Prang, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, to Inverse.

Maybe Edgar Rice Burroughs was on to something

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Checkpoint — The secret to super smart A.I. may be hidden inside an Atari cartridge

At this point, it's okay to admit that A.I. is pretty smart. There are the algorithms in your phone, the victories at games like Chess, Go, and even the game show Jeopardy!

But there's one place that scientists are exploring, a frontier straight out of the 1980s: a backlog of Atari platformers.

When it comes to navigating complex environments, video games are a perfect playground for testing out new-and-improved algorithmic approaches. In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a team of researchers tested a family of algorithms they call Go-Explore on notoriously tricky Atari games, including Montezuma’s Revenge and Pitfall.

The researchers report Go-Explore not only performed with "super-human" ability but also bested existing algorithms that had also attempted to defeat these games.

What they're saying: “[T]he mean performance of Go-Explore is both superhuman and surpasses the state of the art in all 11 games.” — Adrien Ecoffet, research scientist at OpenAI, and co-authors

These video games are no joke, and neither is A.I.

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And if you're looking for more, check out our recommendation for the best Stephen King sci-fi movie on Amazon Prime.

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