The Era of Biological Annihilation — From the common barn swallow to the exotic giraffe, thousands of animal species are in precipitous decline, a sign that an irreversible era of mass extinction is underway, new research finds. The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, calls the current decline in animal populations a “global epidemic” and part of the “ongoing sixth mass extinction” caused in large measure by human destruction of animal habitats. The previous five extinctions were caused by natural phenomena. Dr. Ceballos emphasized that he and his co-authors, Paul R. Ehrlich and Rodolfo Dirzo, both professors at Stanford University, are not alarmists, but are using scientific data to back up their assertions that significant population decline and possible mass extinction of species all over the world may be imminent, and that both have been underestimated by many other scientists.
The Black Death and the environment — From 1347 to 1351, a nightmare disease ravaged Europe, afflicting victims with putrid black boils, fevers, vomiting, and in short order, death. Daily life ground to a halt as the Black Death spread along medieval trade routes, claiming an estimated 20 million lives with ruthless efficiency. Now, a team of researchers is asserting that the plague had an unexpected impact: it cleared the air of a toxic pollutant for the first time in over a thousand years.
~ I am not quite sympathising with the cost/benefit of this.
Super accurate lip-synching could really fake the news well — Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a method that uses machine learning to study the facial movements of Obama and then render real-looking lip movement for any piece of audio. That means they can make videos of Obama saying pretty much anything they want, in whatever setting they want. The effect works especially well when they use random audio of Obama’s voice — say, an old recording of Obama as a law student — and make it look like Obama said these things yesterday.
~ One can only ask ‘why the hell did they develop this?’
But hey, don’t worry, as Google is funding rob-journalists — Robots will help a national news agency to create up to 30,000 local news stories a month, with the help of human journalists and funded by a Google grant. The Press Association has won a €706,000 ($800,779 or £621,000) grant to run a news service with computers writing localised news stories. The national news agency, which supplies copy to news outlets in the UK and Ireland, has teamed up with data-driven news start-up Urbs Media for the project, which aims to create “a stream of compelling local stories for hundreds of media outlets”… [Gah! And remember when robots were supposed to help us, not us help them?]
But it’s all OK, as just to level the playing field, Russia’s in that game too. And if Trump’s data team did help Russians, Facebook may have the answer. And the creator of Nest home automation products wakes up in cold sweats wondering what then hell he’s unleashed on the world.
The internet is full of arseholes — That’s right, a nationally-representative US study on online harassment released by Pew Research today confirms what most of us already know: The internet is absolutely chock full of abusive dickheads. [And here I was beginning to worry.] So 41% of adults said they have experienced harassment online, and 66% said they’ve seen it happen to others.
Free speech advocates suing Trump for banning Twitterers — President Trump’s irate and irrational tweets have already landed him in trouble, and will, no doubt, continue to be an issue as he pushes for approval of his controversial travel ban before the Supreme Court. Now, free speech advocates are suing Trump not just for what he’s saying on the platform, but for what he’s preventing his constituents from saying to him. Meanwhile, his son has clearly shown intent to get dirt on Clinton from Russian sources (and this story is still growing), and here’s a guide to Russia’s infrastructure hacking teams.
A new study has highlighted the widespread gender and racial harassment of women of colour working in astronomy and planetary science — This harassment is now at levels unseen by any other gender or racial group in the field.
40% say they feel unsafe in their workplace because of harassment targeted at their gender, and 28% feel unsafe because of harassment targeted at their race, and this 100% needs to change. And just in case you thought artificial intelligence might fix this, it appears artificial intelligence has race and gender biases too. MIT Technology Review reports that the initiative is the latest to illustrate general concern that the increasing reliance on algorithms to make decisions in the areas of hiring, criminal justice, and financial services will reinforce racial and gender biases. A computer program used by jurisdictions to help with paroling prisoners that ProPublica found would go easy on white offenders while being unduly harsh to black ones. [All this makes me so unglad to be human. Thanks, ‘progress’.]
But at least it’s getting warmer … oh, wait! A 2200 square-mile, trillion metric-ton section of the Larsen C ice shelf has ‘calved’ off, a team of researchers at Swansea University’s Project MIDAS has reported, citing imaging from NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite instrument. That’s the size of Delaware. Scientists have tracked the crack for more than a decade and they warned in June that the section was “hanging by a thread.” Its break, from Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf, changes the border shape of the peninsula forever even though the remaining ice shelf will continue to grow. And at least this calving won’t raise current sea levels. And the colder winters come from warming, weirdly. And the heatwaves ground planes.
And the Greenland ice sheet is vast, majestic, pristine….and peppered with bacteria that seem equipped to survive in industrial waste, according to a new study. Which really makes you question the whole the pristine bit, now, doesn’t it?
Contractor stuck in ATM passes terrible notes — A contractor (whose name has not been released) was fixing a lock in a room connected to a Bank of America ATM when, suddenly, he trapped himself in. Having left his phone in the car, he was unable to call for help. So, with an impending Castaway situation at hand, the man had to get creative — or else. One of the notes read. “I’m stuck in here and I don’t have my phone. Please call my boss…” Apparently, several customers thought the scribbled messages were pranks and ignored them until finally one patron got sufficiently spooked.
Human nature, huh? An umbrella-sharing startup in China lost nearly all its 300,000 umbrellas in a few weeks. Shenzhen-based Sharing E Umbrella was launched with a 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) investment with a concept similar to those that bike-sharing startups have used to (mostly) great success.
Finally, some good-ish news: research suggests people who drink coffee have a lower risk of dying from a host of causes, including heart disease, stroke and liver disease. “The connection, revealed in two large studies, was found to hold regardless of whether the coffee was caffeinated or not, with the higher among those who drank more cups of coffee a day,” reports The Guardian. [So, that coffee you drink to stay up and agonise about the end of the world might save your life. Yay.]