After what has started to feel like a boundless eternity of wearing masks, bathing in hand sanitizer, and dodging people in the grocery store, many of us have been left thinking: what would a COVID-19 vaccine look like?
Different approaches to the challenge have looked at targeting the so-called “spike proteins” that cover the virus and help it invade human cells.
Whole virus, DNA, and RNA vaccine platforms have been explored using a range of techniques, all in the hopes of creating immunity and changing the unpredictable trajectory of the novel virus.
Recently, a team of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) took a new approach to getting us closer to a solution: a combinatorial machine learning system that selects peptides (short strings of amino acids) that are predicted to provide high population coverage for a vaccine.
The design system, called “OptiVax,” introduces methods for designing new peptide vaccines, evaluating existing vaccines, and augmenting existing vaccine designs. In this system, peptides are scored through machine learning by their ability to be displayed to elicit an immune response, and are then selected to maximize population coverage of who could benefit from the vaccine.
“We evaluated a common vaccine design based on the spike protein for COVID-19 that is currently in multiple clinical trials,” says Ge Liu and Brandon Carter, CSAIL PhD students and lead authors on a new paper about OptiVax. “Based on our analysis, we developed an augmentation to improve its population coverage by adding peptides. If this works in animal models, the design could move to human clinical trials.”
In building out their system, the team first adjusted their predictive models and used multiple models to design a vaccine.
Taking into consideration the vast differences in our individual DNA, the researchers paid close attention to the genetic makeup of different populations, to maximize the likelihood that people with uncommon genes would still be covered by the vaccine.
Armed with this, they created OptiVax. OptiVax works by identifying all possible peptide fragments from a set of viral or tumor proteins that would be good candidates for a vaccine.
Then, peptides are scored for selection on multiple criteria, including their observed mutation rate across nearly 5,000 geographically sampled genomes. Because these peptide fragments stem from the virus, administering them in a vaccine can lead to immunity.
OptiVax then designs a vaccine from these candidates to maximize population coverage in different geographical regions, and from the number of peptides displayed per individual to improve the chances the person will become immune.
The team then used “EvalVax,” a complementary system they designed that predicts coverage for vaccines, to evaluate 29 different vaccine designs by others. They found that many of them were not predicted to provide high population coverage.
“One of the challenges here was assembling good data on how people differ in their genetic makeup, in key genes that control the response to a vaccine or viral infection,” says MIT professor David Gifford. “And then, we had to solve a difficult optimization problem to design a vaccine with good population coverage.”
Once animal testing of their vaccine design is done, the team says they can then evaluate if a clinical trial is warranted. This, they note, will also depend upon the efficacy of the first set of vaccines already being clinically tested. One of the wild cards of COVID-19 is the inability to predict how different individuals will respond — from minor symptoms to fatal cases.
With that in mind, the researchers are working with a team at the National Institute of Health (NIH) to see if their methods can be used for risk prediction using data from COVID-19 patients. The team notes that their framework could be used to design vaccines for a wide range of infectious diseases, and hope to apply it to other viral infections in the future.
A Human-Computer Duet System for Music Performance
Despite the popularity of virtual musicians, most of them cannot play together with human musicians following their tempo or create their own behaviors without the aid of human characters. The authors of a recent paper created a virtual violinist having these characteristics.
It can track music and adapt to the human pianist’s tempo varying with time and with performance, making the two voices harmonized. The virtual musician’s body movements are generated directly from the music. The motion generator is trained on a music video dataset of violin performance and a pose sequence synchronized with live performance is generated.
These features mean that the human musician can practice, rehearse, and perform music with the virtual musician like with a real human, by following the music content. The proposed system has successfully performed in a ticket-selling concert, where a movement from Beethoven’s Spring Sonata was played.
Virtual musicians have become a remarkable phenomenon in the contemporary multimedia arts. However, most of the virtual musicians nowadays have not been endowed with abilities to create their own behaviors, or to perform music with human musicians. In this paper, we firstly create a virtual violinist, who can collaborate with a human pianist to perform chamber music automatically without any intervention. The system incorporates the techniques from various fields, including real-time music tracking, pose estimation, and body movement generation. In our system, the virtual musician’s behavior is generated based on the given music audio alone, and such a system results in a low-cost, efficient and scalable way to produce human and virtual musicians’ co-performance. The proposed system has been validated in public concerts. Objective quality assessment approaches and possible ways to systematically improve the system are also discussed.
Xbox Series X, Series S India Pre-Order Time, Online Retailers Announced
India pre-orders for Xbox Series X and Series S will go live at 9am IST on Tuesday, September 22, Microsoft India has announced. Both Series X and Series S will be available on Amazon, Flipkart, and Reliance Digital’s online store. No offline stores have been announced. India is one of 37 countries where the new Xbox Series family will be up for pre-order on Tuesday, in addition to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe, Middle East, and Africa.
While the Xbox Series X and Series S pre-order date was announced alongside the prices — Rs. 49,990 for the Series X and Rs. 34,990 for the Series S — and launch date (November 10) last week, we didn’t have details on an exact pre-order time and where it would be available. Now we know. Gadgets 360 has also reached out to Microsoft India on details regarding special discounts (credit / debit card cashback offers) and financing options (no-cost EMIs), and we will update if we hear back.
For those outside India, here’s where you can pre-order the Xbox Series X and Series S. In the US, pre-orders go live Tuesday, September 22 at 8am PT / 11am ET on Microsoft Store, Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Newegg, and other participating retailers. Up north in Canada, pre-orders also go live at 8am PT / 11am ET on Microsoft Store, Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, EB Games, The Source, and other participating retailers.
Across the pond in the UK, Xbox Series X and Series S pre-orders will be available Tuesday 8am BST on Microsoft Store, GAME, Amazon, Dixons, Currys PC World, Argos, John Lewis, Smyths Toys, VERY, AO, Tesco, Simply Game, Shopto and other participating retailers. In mainland Europe, as well as the Middle East and Africa, you can pre-order online starting at 9am CEST on Microsoft Store, Amazon, MediaMarkt, GameStop, FNAC, Elkjøp/Elgiganten, and other participating retailers.
Down under all the way in Australia, Xbox Series X and Series S pre-orders kick off Tuesday, September 22 at 8am AEST on Microsoft Store, JB Hifi, EB Games, Telstra, Harvey Norman, and other participating retailers. And in nearby New Zealand, you can pre-order both new Xbox Series consoles starting 8am NZST on Microsoft Store, JB HiFi, EB Games, Spark, and other participating retailers.
In select markets, both Xbox Series X and Series S are available under a subscription programme, Xbox All Access, which bundles the consoles with the Xbox Game Pass membership.
Xbox Series S and Series X will launch in 37 countries — including India — on November 10, and 41 countries during “holiday 2020”.
Netflix engineer builds SnapCamera lens to bring a comic book vibe to video calls
Snapchat’s Lens Studio has built-in recognition for 5 hand gestures that means you don’t have to unmute to say hi or BRB.
If you need something to ease the frustration of conversations via video chat, consider a new Snap Camera lens. Cameron Hunter, a senior software engineer at Netflix, created Meeting Gestures. Instead of unmuting to say, “hi,” or “ok,” this lens communicates the information with a gesture instead.
When you raise your index finger, “Question” pops up on your video feed in a red comic-book word bubble. Hunter used the smile recognition in Snap Camera to display “ha, ha” bubbles. Moving outside the frame brings up “I’ll be right back” in a word bubble that fills the screen.
Snap Camera is simple to install and use. It works on Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Twitch. Once you’ve got Snap Camera installed, set your video conference camera to Snap Camera. You have to run Snap Camera and your web conferencing software at the same time.
Most lenses have a more user friendly name. On Tuesday, Hunter said he was working with SnapChat to resolve an issue with the name of the lens.
That link will bring up Hunter’s lens. The word bubbles will look backward to you but will read correctly for viewers.
Build your own lens
Hunter’s Twitter post sparked several ideas about additional gestures for the Snap Camera library, including sign language. Hunter tweeted that you can lock messages or images to tracked objects such as a hand or a head. Snap Lens Studio does not support the middle finger gesture. Twitter user Johnny Xmas suggested the Meeting Gestures lens would be helpful during a large-scale scrum.
Ryan Brown, content and creative lead at Twitter, built his own meeting friendly lens. When you hold up an open palm, a flash of fire pops up and a heart flashes up when you hold up an index finger.
Lens Studio has a guide that explains how to make a lens. You can create Face Lenses for front camera experiences and World Lenses for rear camera experiences.