AI-Yi-Yi Part the Infinity: Missing DABUS

Imaging having read this headline just 10 years ago. From The Verge: “AI computers can’t patent their own inventions — yet.” Back in April 2020, the US Patent and Trademark Office decided that only “natural persons” could be considered the inventor of a patent. So if AI invents something, it gets no credit. Which brings up the perhaps disturbing question: has AI invented something? Actually, yes. AI researcher Steven Thaler invented an AI system called DABUS which apparently then itself invented “a flashing light and a new type of food container.”

ABC News Australia takes up the story:

Short for "device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience", DABUS is essentially a computer system that's been programmed to invent on its own.

Getting technical, it is a "swarm" of disconnected neutral nets that continuously generate "thought processes" and "memories" which over time independently generate new and inventive outputs.

In 2019, two patent applications naming DABUS as the inventor were filed in more than a dozen countries and the European Union.

The first invention is a design of a container based on "fractal geometry" that is claimed to be the ideal shape for being stacked together and handled by robotic arms.

The second application is for a "device and method for attracting enhanced attention", which is a light that flickers rhythmically in a specific pattern mimicking human neural activity.

First South Africa and then Australia ruled that DABUS could be identified as the inventor of these systems, with Australia's Federal Court finding that “the inventor can be non-human.” The US Patent Office, however, threw Thaler under DABUS (or maybe it was the other way around) by ruling that: an inventor must be an “individual,” based on previous legal decisions that specify that “individuals” have to be “people” (and not, for example, companies, or perhaps monkeys). And since:

  1. Inventors have to be people.
  2. AI systems are not people.
  3. Therefore, the inventor is Socrates.

Or something like that….

But things could change. Back to The Verge:

As to the bigger question, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema had this to say:

“[T]here may come a time when artificial intelligence reaches a level of sophistication such that it might satisfy accepted meanings of inventorship. But that time has not yet arrived, and, if it does, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law.”

Let’s hope by that point Congress can reach a level of sophistication such that it might satisfy accepted meanings of inventorship.

Survey Says

A Lamp Unto My Feet

Do you have too many water jugs and not enough lamps? It could be said that striking the right balance of water jugs and lamps is what makes for a perfect life (well, surely someone must say it). Anyway, if this struggle for you is real, check out Lebanon-based design firm Post Industrial Crafts’ “5D printing” method that turns five-gallon water jugs into tripod lamps. Via Core77:

“Using our 5D printing process, the Tripod Lamps are entirely made with local recycled polycarbonate, processed by our large-scale robot arm Hayete, (meaning ‘My Life’ in Arabic). The robot arm moves our large industrial screw extruder in space, laying a line of molten local recycled plastic along a parametrically set path. Once the molten recycled plastic is deposited in space, it immediately starts self-setting as its temperature decreases.

“For easy recycling, the four mono-block, mono-material pieces, are assembled with only two large screws. For an extensive range of use, the lamps are easily transportable by their ergonomic handle. The lamps are colored using our home-brewed mix of pigments to give them a range of finishes, be it shimmering, translucent, completely transparent to even opaque. These lamps are designed as versatile companions to create a fine-tuned ambiance at home.”

Print Prevails

The Roads More Traveled

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! Graphene can help improve infrastructure by being used to create “digital smart roads.” Says Cambridge Network:

The vision is to deliver roads made out of smart materials that can measure and monitor their own performance over time. The researchers will use graphene infused concrete coatings to enable self-sensing on both the road surface and the median barrier, informing the road’s Digital Twin through robotic monitoring. These self-sensing and self-healing materials, along with a wide range of measured data, will inform the data-science enabled digital processes, resulting in making better design, construction, maintenance, and operation predictions. This will make roads considerably less expensive, more reliable, and safer, allowing highways agencies and councils to identify when repair work is needed.


Bagging to Differ

In the past, being referred to as “looking like a bag lady” was not exactly a compliment—or at least it never used to be. Kailey Schmitt may redefine the term, as she has just made a full length dress made entirely out of plastic Target shopping bags.

Says Boing Boing:

She says she wanted a mostly white dress with red accents but I imagine riding Target coattails gave her a nice boost in viewership. Get that logo out there and do a photo-shoot in front of and inside a Target with her plastic gown. Target would likely be quite happy for the extra pub themselves. This video shows her whole months-long process using 170 plastic bags and delightful result.

You could say she’s got a target on her back.

Shh…Don’t Tell Anyone

Band on the Run

Consider the rubber band. It’s an eminently useful object for binding sheafs of paper (beyond a certain thickness) together, amongst many other uses. And anyone who has ever had braces knows that shooting those tiny rubber bands out of one’s mouth across classrooms was a highly coveted skill. And yet, it’s such a simple design, even if it’s not uncommon to go rooting through old boxes of documents and finding that the rubber has disintegrated. Still, there is nothing inherently wrong with the fundamental design, so who would think of redesigning it?

Well, via Core77, a company called Modulor has developed Alco Rubber Sealing Rings, sort of a Rubber Band 2.0.

"These rubber sealing rings with hooks are used to bundle strands of wire, rods or tubes. By virtue of their durability in low temperatures they are also suitable for fastening refrigerator bags. The little built-in grips make it easy to attach and remove them."

Words of Wisdom

Making a Spectacle…

Just what the world needs: Facebook-developed smart glasses. What could possibly go wrong? Via Gizmodo, for a while, Facebook has been developing a pair of “smart glasses” that ostensibly are designed to be used for AR and VR applications. However, the impending first generation of these specs, developed in partnership with Ray-Ban, were leaked and apparently AR/VR capabilities have yet to be integrated. So what do they do?

We’ve known that these glasses were coming since 2019. We also knew this pair wouldn’t have the advanced AR features you’d associate with the term “smart glasses.” The company blatantly told the Verge that the glasses wouldn’t have an AR display last year. In a recent earnings call, Zuckerberg also said the glasses would have Ray-Ban’s “iconic form factor” and would “let you do some pretty neat things.” He also commented that he was looking forward to “full augmented reality glasses in the future.” The main question is whether those “pretty neat things” include anything other than taking short videos.

Sounds horrifying.

Another question is how comfortable people will feel about wearing sunglasses made by Facebook with cameras built-in. The Portal gave people the heebie-jeebies. Back in 2014, a woman in San Francisco was also assaulted for wearing Google Glass at a bar. A big reason why that happened? People at the bar were reportedly upset at the possibility of being recorded. Combine those two things, and it’s easy to see why Facebook branding is largely absent from the glasses themselves.

UX from Hell

Last week, we highlighted “Websites from hell,” a collection of atrocious web design. This week, we link to a project that highlights how horrible the basic experiencing of the web has become. How I Experience the Web Today will in no way be unfamiliar to anyone who has tried to access content and had an unending stream of ads, cookie settings, newsletter signup forms, and heaven knows what else all vomited up at them.  

Stepping on the Punchline

Plant Talk

Many gardeners or houseplant owners believe that talking to plants helps them grow. But, wonders BBC Future, can they talk back?

Laura Beloff's plant seemed to be clicking. She had rigged its roots up to a contact microphone in order to detect faint, high-pitched clicks in the soil. With the help of software she had written for her computer, the frequency of the clicks had been lowered, making them audible to humans.

As she worked at her desk, the plant apparatus next to her happily chattered away. And that's when it happened. "This was the weirdest thing," says Beloff, an artist and associate professor at Aalto University in Finland. A visitor came into her room, at which point the plant's clicking stopped. When the visitor left, the clicking resumed. Later, more people arrived and, again, the clicking ceased. It only recommenced when the people departed. "I still don't know what to think about it," says Beloff.

It was as if the plant wanted a private audience with Beloff. As if it had been talking to her.


There has been much research and even more speculation over the years about plant communication, which mostly consists of chemical signals that can be shared with other flora in the vicinity. It has even been shown that some plants can respond to sounds. (Which is why we have always had issues with the old conundrum, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, other trees are there to hear it—not to mention loads of insects, birds, mammals, and so on. So, dumb question. We continue.)

Beloff first had the idea of listening to her plants' roots after reading about experiments by Monica Gagliano and other researchers. Over the last decade or so, Gagliano, at the University of Western Australia, has published a series of papers that suggest plants have an ability to communicate, learn and remember.

She has long argued that scientists should pay greater attention to the fact that plants can transmit and retrieve information acoustically. In a 2017 study, Gagliano and colleagues showed that plants appear to be able to sense the sound of water vibrating via their roots, which may help them to locate it underground.

Gagliano is confident that plants can communicate. "The evidence is clear," she says.

OK, that’s all fairly interesting. But then the acid kicked in.

Uncertainties as to what this means, exactly, remain. And Gagliano has also raised eyebrows with claims that, in non-experimental settings, she has heard plants speak to her using words.

She says that this experience is "outside the strictly scientific realm" and that a third-party observer would not be able to measure the sounds she heard with laboratory instruments. But she is quite certain that she has perceived plants speaking to her on multiple occasions.

Don’t even talk to her about what the toaster has been saying.

Rules of Engagement

Fowl Language

From talking plants to the only slightly less bizarre case of the first “talking duck” known to science. Gizmodo tells of “Ripper” (a duck named Ripper? OK…), a duck that, 30 years ago, was recorded repeating the phrase “You bloody fool.” (Now, the human brain is wired to perceive patterns in what may be random noise, so listen to the audio yourself and see if it’s just random duck vocalizations that sound more or less like “you bloody fool.”)

Anyway, Ripper was capable of other kinds of vocalizations, like making the sound of a slamming door, for some reason, and Ripper’s noises (as well as that of another duck that can mimic other species) are the subjects of a paper that was recently published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

The recordings of the bird are the first known example of any duck or goose species being able to mimic human speech.

“We do not know how exactly the sounds are being produced or whether the vocalization apparatus of this species are very different from other ducks,” ten Cate told Gizmodo in an email. While certain anatomical structures are necessary, “more important for the ability to imitate is the brain. There have to be areas that are capable of storing the sound and using it to model [the bird’s] own sounds,” he added.

…“The researchers interpreted both vocalizations as angry displays, though there’s no indication that Ripper actually understood the meaning of his two vocalizations.”

Ripper would be perfect for talk radio.

Bearaking Bad


Do you spend a lot of time typing and wish it could be more musical? Well, check out JazzKeys, a website that improvises jazz piano as you type. Created by design firm Plan8, each keypress becomes a piano note which the software then strings together into something vaguely resembling a tune (or, indeed, like jazz). You can also create a link to your opus which you can then share. It would probably get annoying after a while, but imagine if Stephen King ever got a hold of this—it would be a new type of horror.

Mad Menu

Accept Cookies

Do you like Tiffany lamps? And have you ever looked at one and thought, “Man, I’d really like to eat that.” Well, if so, good news! Via Laughing Squid, British design historian Ella Hawkins baked a batch of cookies that almost perfectly reproduce vintage Tiffany lamps (or bits of them) from the early 20th century. Hawkins hand-painted each cookie with food coloring gels mixed with vodka (what? OK) and added small details using royal icing. Check out her recipe here.

Color Contrast

Plane People

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 (20 years?! How did that happen?) Anyway, Mental Floss has a nice story about the Newfoundland town of Gander which should ring a bell if you are familiar with the hit 2017 Broadway musical Come From Away.

Gander was (and still is) a very small town (population 10,000) but on 9/11/01, it had one asset: a massive airport. Because it had served as a staging point for U-boat hunting flights during World War II and was later a refueling stop for transatlantic flights back in the day before airplanes could make it entirely across the ocean, Gander International Airport was the perfect place to divert international flights heading to the US on the morning of 9/11, when US airspace was shut down. Ultimately 38 flights were diverted to Gander, with another 47 sent to Halifax in Nova Scotia.

The tricky bit was what to do with the 6,700+ passengers the Gander planes were all carrying. The town certainly didn’t have the hotel or restaurant capacity for such an increase in population.

Gander’s population may have been small, but the town was also immensely hospitable. To say the locals bent over backwards to accommodate their unexpected guests—dubbed the “plane people”—would be a gross understatement. When flyers stepped off their planes, Gander’s citizens met them with homemade bagged lunches. The town converted its schools and large buildings into temporary shelters, and when those lodgings filled up, citizens took strangers into their own homes. Medical personnel saw patients and filled prescriptions free of charge.

The story of the “plane people” and their Newfoundland hosts served as the basis for the Tony-nominated Come From Away (Christopher Ashley won a Tony for Best Director).

A touring production was supposed to make the rounds in 2020, but has been postponed to 2022.

A movie adaptation of the play was in the works, though it’s now paused indefinitely due to COVID-19 (the Canadian border closed right around the time production was slated to begin in Newfoundland). Instead, a professionally shot film of the stage production will premiere on Apple TV+ on September 10, 2021. It’s directed by Christopher Ashley, and will feature a medley of the musical’s original and current cast members.

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

September 6

1642: England's Parliament bans public stage-plays.

1928: American novelist and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) born.

1943: English singer-songwriter and bass player Roger Waters born.

September 7

1559: English-French printer and scholar Robert Estienne dies (b. 1503).

1911: French poet Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum.

1912: American engineer and businessman and co-founder of Hewlett-Packard David Packard born.

1927: The first fully electronic television system is achieved by Philo Farnsworth.

1978: English drummer (The Who) Keith Moon dies (b. 1946).

2003: American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon dies (b. 1947). Life’ll Kill Ya.

September 8

1504: Michelangelo’s David is unveiled in Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

1930: 3M begins marketing Scotch transparent tape. The idea seemed to stick.

1966: Star Trek premieres.

1971: In Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is inaugurated, with the opening feature being the premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass.

September 9

1839: John Herschel takes the first glass plate photograph.

1947: The first computer bug is found when a moth lodges in a relay of a Harvard Mark II computer at Harvard University.

2006: American businessman, founder of Ziff Davis William Bernard Ziff Jr. dies (b. 1930).

September 10

1846: Elias Howe is granted a patent for the sewing machine, setting the stage for digital textile printing more than 170 years later.

2008: The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, described as the biggest scientific experiment in history, is powered up in Geneva, Switzerland.

1839: American minister, publisher, and co-founder of Funk & Wagnalls Isaac K. Funk born. Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.

1941: American paleontologist, biologist, and author Stephen Jay Gould born. (Wonderful Life is one of the best science books ever written.)

September 11

1789: Alexander Hamilton is appointed the first United States Secretary of the Treasury.

1862: American short story writer O. Henry born ( William Sydney Porter).

1885: English novelist, poet, playwright, and critic D. H. Lawrence born.

1922: The Sun News-Pictorial is founded in Melbourne, Australia.

September 12

1940: Cave paintings are discovered in Lascaux, France.

1959: Bonanza premieres, the first regularly scheduled TV program presented in color. (And full color, not just Lorne Greene.)

1812: American engineer, businessman, and inventor of the rotary printing press Richard March Hoe born.

1891: American publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger born.

1892: Alfred A. Knopf, Sr., American publisher and founder of Alfred A. Knopf Inc., born.

1952: Canadian drummer Neil Peart born.