AI: Google co-founder Sergey Brin warns the current boom in artificial intelligence has created a “technology renaissance” that contains many potential threats — In the company’s annual Founders’ Letter, the Alphabet president struck a note of caution. “The new spring in artificial intelligence is the most significant development in computing in my lifetime,” writes Brin. “Every month, there are stunning new applications and transformative new techniques.” But, he adds, “such powerful tools also bring with them new questions and responsibilities.” [Meanwhile I have been writing of Sergei Brin’s – and Google’s – dark side for well over a decade.]
Companies throughout China are using brainwave sensors to train workers and screen for mental fitness — More than a dozen factories are requiring workers to wear devices that use artificial intelligence to monitor their emotions. While officials say this saves money, the implications for workers are deeply troubling.
Data: and you thought Cambridge Analytica was bad …. how about Thiel’s Palantir getting the same data? British lawmakers grilled Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer last week, asking him questions about the social media company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which roughly 87 million Facebook users had their data pilfered through a personality quiz app. When one of the members of Parliament asked about Palantir having “improper access” to user data, Schroepfer confirmed the company was looking into concerns about Palantir, billionaire Peter Thiel’s highly secretive surveillance and data-analytics company that has worked with the CIA, NSA and FBI [and New Zealand’s National government spent undisclosed sums on Palantir while giving Thiel NZ citizenship … that’s right, people].
In the United States, US Immigration is getting a large amount of information from police data-mining.
Researchers have found mysterious Russia-linked malware that hijacks anti-theft software Lojack — Security researchers are warning that malware with suspected links to Russian cyber-espionage group and alleged Democratic National Committee hackers Fancy Bear is turning up in installations of Lojack, an anti-computer theft program used by many corporations to guard their assets.
Climate: London invaded by climate-change poisonous caterpillars — UK forestry officials are warning that oak processionary moth caterpillars have been sighted emerging from eggs in and near the city since mid-April. Each of the beastie’s 62,000 hairs contain the protein thaumetopoein, which can cause allergic reactions up to “skin and eye irritation, difficulty breathing and even anaphylactic shock.” The insects originate in southern Europe, but have had a presence in southern England since 2005. [Presumably, England didn’t used to be warm enough for them to thrive.]
Not-so-fresh Swiss waters — Emerging evidence toxins are also problematic in freshwater, which may even be the source. It didn’t take long for the Geneva team to find that many samples of Swiss ‘fresh’ water contained hazardous and toxic elements including cadmium, mercury and lead, in some cases in very high concentrations.
Arabian Sea’s dead zone is even bigger — A surprising new survey shows, the Arabian Sea features an oxygen-starved aquarium over twice the size of Tasmania – and it’s still growing.
North America’s zombie deer — Scientists’ worst fears over a so-called “zombie deer” prion disease currently spreading across the US and Canada are unlikely to come to pass, suggests a long-term study published this week in the Journal of Virology.
The fatal ailment, known as chronic wasting disease (CWD) and caused by a mysterious kind of protein called a prion, doesn’t seem capable of crossing the species barrier and spreading to humans – at least according to this experiment. But other research has found otherwise ,,,
Humans: Gates thinks millions could die in a flu pandemic. Bill Gates thinks there is a new flu epidemic lurking just around the corner and we are woefully unprepared for it. The billionaire philanthropist warned today that there is a “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes”. [Millions have died in flu pandemics before.]
The rate of autism diagnoses is continuing to increase. Researchers from 11 US states enrolled in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network were brought together and asked to analyse the medical and school records of more than 300,000 children who were 8-years-old in 2014. They estimated that about one in every 59 children had autism, a 15% increase from the one in every 64 rate reported two years earlier.
Japanese researchers find people with Type O blood survive injuries less — Looking at blood type alone, they found that 28% of people with blood type O died despite medical intervention, compared to 11% of people with any other blood type. [Ouch.]
DNA service can’t even differentiate between humans and dogs — An investigation into home DNA testing kits by NBC Chicago found that at least one DNA testing company could not distinguish between the two.
Nikola is suing Tesla — In November last year Tesla revealed the Tesla Semi, a fully-electric truck that will have a range up to 800km and be able to haul a forty-tonne trailer. It looks and sounds quite impressive, but the Nikola Motor Company (a zero-emissions truck startup) wasn’t so enthusiastic.
In fact, the company believes that the Tesla Semi is infringing upon several of its design patents, so it’s suing for $US2 billion.
Nuclear: Human bone from Hiroshima reveals atomic bomb exposure — A technique originally intended for dating archaeological artefacts has been used to estimate the amount of radiation produced by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. It marks the first time a bone fragment from a victim of the explosion has been used successfully for such an analysis. The researchers measured a dose of 9.46 grays (Gy), which is very, very high. Even at half that dose of exposure, at around 5 Gy, a person who had their entire body exposed would be killed.
Underground nuclear test that did not stay underground — At 7:30am on December 18, 1970, the Baneberry test began at the Nevada Test Site. A nuclear bomb had been lowered into a hole a little more than seven feet in diameter. More than 900 feet underground, the bomb – relatively small for a nuclear bomb – was detonated.
But things went wrong. About 300 feet from the hole where the bomb had been planted, a fissure opened in the ground and a cloud of radioactive dust and vapor began pouring skyward. It would rise 8000 feet into the atmosphere; the fallout would spread over Nevada and into California and other neighbouring states.
But hey, on the good side, there’s always That Perfect Meal. And here’s a fact you really ought to know already: the Food Foundation, an independent think-tank tackling the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system, corroborates that you can’t go wrong with seasonal vegetables. [Phew!]
In more good news, maybe Earth’s poles won’t flip …
Another excerpt from my forthcoming book: “Say you wake up one morning, and 40% of people no longer exist. That’s the honeymoon vision of apocalypse, as ridiculous as that phrase sounds … because it is ridiculous. People don’t just evaporate under almost any imaginable scenario. The immediate problem will always be dealing with the dead. There are 56 houses in my street. If there are three people in each, averaged out, that’s 168 people. At 40% mortality, that’s 67 bodies to cope with straight away.
Of course, even that’s far too neat. There’s almost no known event from our experience that simply kills 40% of any given population in a very short time frame. Deaths would begin, and the process would take time, and there would be distress, panic, hopelessness, fear, loathing … But bear with me.”