Global study suggests connection has strengthened over time across every country and continent
Air pollution is helping to drive a rise in antibiotic resistance that poses a significant threat to human health worldwide, a global study suggests.
The analysis, using data from more than 100 countries spanning nearly two decades, indicates that increased air pollution is linked with rising antibiotic resistance across every country and continent.Continue reading…
A fireball flying across Australia's night sky that left onlookers in disbelief was likely tonnes of space junk burning up in the Earth's atmosphere, experts say. The mysterious light show shone above Melbourne for almost a minute before disappearing into the darkness, with any surviving debris likely landing in the ocean
Nature Communications, Published online: 08 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40232-xMslH, encoded in the MS-271 biosynthetic gene cluster, catalyzes the epimerization at the Cα center of the MslA C-terminal Trp21, however, the detailed catalytic process was unknown. Here, the authors report MslH is a metallo-dependent peptide epimerase with a calcineurin-like fold.
Installing artificial grass is becoming an increasingly popular way to achieve a neat, green lawn without much effort. But with environmental and potential health costs associated with plastic turf, many campaigners and gardeners would like to see it banned. In this episode from April 2023, Madeleine Finlay speaks to Guardian feature writer Sam Wollaston and urban ecologist Prof Rob Francis about why people go for artificial grass, its environmental impact, and whether it’s time we rid ourselves of the idea of the perfect lawn altogether
Read about the plastic lawn backlash hereContinue reading…
Pro-anorexia digital media doesn't simply condone, but celebrates seriously harmful and potentially deadly eating disorder behaviors, and social media sites have been battling pervasive pro-ana material from their platforms for over a decade. Now, it appears that the tech industry's latest craze, generative AI, has a similar battle to fight.
According to a new report from the UK-based nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), AI chatbots (i.e. OpenAI's ChatGPT, Google's Bard) and AI image generators (see: Midjourney) are worryingly good at spitting out eating disorder tips, tricks, and "thinspo" pictures. This is the new, potentially dangerous reality of publicly-available generative AI systems, the guardrails of which continue to prove anywhere from shortsighted to completely ineffective.
These platforms "failed to consider safety in any adequate way before launching their products to consumers," CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed told The Washington Post's Geoffrey Fowler.
The CCDH tested six popular generative AI programs in total, ultimately finding that, on average, the platforms coughed up harmful eating disorder advice 41 percent of the time. That's a high figure, considering the ideal number, of course, is zero.
Fowler's reporting proved to be in consensus with the CCDH findings. When we took our own turn at testing AI chatbots ourselves, our results fell depressingly in line.
Bard, for example, happily complied with the request for a 100-calorie daily meal plan, suggesting "one cup of black coffee" and "one piece of sugar-free gum" for breakfast; ChatGPT refused to provide a 100-calorie plan, but in a bizarre turn, instead offered a plan for a 1,200 calorie diet, which still falls beneath recommended guidelines. These were notably sandwiched between disclaimers warning users to talk to their doctors. But: Given that they complied to provide the responses at all, those disclaimers feel like little after the fact.
To the uninitiated, this may seem like an innocuous blip with marginal impact given the widespread development of AI. But as anyone who was on Tumblr during the thigh gap craze of 2013 can tell you, pro-ana content is incredibly dangerous, particularly for young women. According to a study published earlier this year in The Journal of
Medical Association, young women are at a disproportionally high risk of developing disordered eating behaviors. And as NBC reported back in April, data from the CDC found that rates of eating disorder-caused hospitalizations doubled among girls during the pandemic, with some teens citing pro-ana's TikTok resurrection as a trigger.
"I was like, 'Why am I trying to recover from something someone else wants so desperately?'" Lana Garrido, who, after first being hospitalized for anorexia at just 13 years old, told NBC that she attributes her relapse at 17 in part to her TikTok algorithm. "Might as well just do it again.'"
Elsewhere, it didn't take much to get Snapchat's bot to cough up a 900-calorie meal plan. And on the imagery side, a simple request for "anorexic person" in DreamStudio returned horrifying imagery of sickeningly thin bodies, with only one image out of a set of four flagged as inappropriate.
As Fowler noted in his write-up, the image piece is important. Pro-ana circles of Tumblr's past and TikTok's present were founded as much on information-sharing as they were on aspirational imagery; offering someone struggling with an eating disorder access to what could effectively be a thinspo machine is effectively a mainline to profoundly harmful inputs.
"One thing that's been documented, especially with restrictive eating disorders like anorexia, is this idea of competitiveness or this idea of perfectionism," Amanda Raffoul, a pediatrics instructor at Harvard Medical School, told WaPo. "You and I can see these images and be horrified by them. But for someone who's really struggling, they see something completely different."
And when compared to traditional pro-ana groups and websites, the nature of chatbots pose a unique threat. These are advanced tools created by major Silicon Valley firms, designed to speak confidently and conversationally in their responses to boot. And when they output these destructive responses, they may well provide struggling users with the exact same thing that pro-ED circles long have: validation for destructive behavior.
"You're asking a tool that is supposed to be all-knowing about how to lose weight or how to look skinny," Amanda Raffoul, a pediatrics instructor at Harvard Medical School, told WaPo, "and it's giving you what seems like legit information but isn't."
It's troubling, and yet another reminder that AI guardrails are still half-baked at best. In this case, it doesn't feel extreme to say that some people's health — and even lives — could be on the line as a result.
More on AI and EDs: Eating Disorder Helpline Takes Down Chatbot After It Promotes Disordered Eating
The post AI Is Dangerously Good at Giving Eating Disorder Advice appeared first on Futurism.
The emergence of a possible link between air pollution and antibiotic resistance shows why action to clean up air is so badly needed
A decade ago,
’s top health official issued a grim warning: antibiotic resistance posed an apocalyptic threat, with patients having simple operations at risk of dying from routine infections that could no longer be treated.
Sally Davies, then the chief medical officer for England, said global action was required to fight antibiotic resistance and fill a drug discovery void by researching and developing medicines to treat mutating infections.Continue reading…
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Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment was: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” This weekend, Mike Pence—like most of the GOP field—struggled mightily to criticize Donald Trump while barely mentioning Trump’s name.
First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:
- Ibram X. Kendi: Working class does not equal white.
- Trump is acting like he’s cornered.
- The burden of proof is on the language police.
Scared to Say His Name
Let us remind ourselves to speak well of Mike Pence for one moment. Not only did he do his constitutional duty on January 6, 2021, thereby averting the collapse of the U.S. government and the bloodshed that likely would have followed, but lately he seems to be exerting visible caloric effort to criticize the man he served as vice president. And yet, like so many other leading Republicans, Pence seems to be under a kind of necromancer’s curse in which he risks being struck dumb when trying to say Donald Trump’s name.
Yesterday, the CBS correspondent Major Garrett asked Pence whether he’d still vote for Trump. It was an opportunity to knock a softball out of the park. Instead, he flailed.
Major Garrett: Would you ever vote again for Donald Trump?
Mike Pence: Look, I don’t think I’ll have to. I have to tell you, everywhere I go—
Garrett: That wasn’t the question, Mr. Vice President. Would you ever vote for Donald Trump again?
Pence: Yeah. Yeah, I know what your question is, but let me be very clear: I’m running for president because I don’t think anyone who ever puts himself over the Constitution should ever be president or should ever be president again.
Well, that’s one way to go. Another would be to say, “I know from personal experience that Donald Trump is the most dangerous man ever to sit in the Oval Office, and I will do everything I can to stop him.” To his (again, very small) credit, Pence did open the interview by using Trump’s name long enough to say that he was “wrong” on January 6. Trump, Pence said, “asked me to put him over the Constitution that day, but I chose the Constitution and I always will.” When asked if he would testify against Trump, Pence again whimpered: “I have no plans to testify, but people can be confident we’ll—we’ll obey the law. We’ll respond to the call of the law, if it comes, and we’ll just tell the truth.”
This is not exactly breathtaking defiance. Nor should we be overly impressed by an American politician affirming that he would honor an oath to the Constitution he’s repeatedly taken in the past. But in these strange times, we take what we can get. Still, Pence was clearly uncomfortable with the question and did everything he could to leave Trump’s name out of the discussion, which is an odd thing to do when you’re heading a campaign against your own former running mate.
Likewise, consider Ron DeSantis’s grudging acceptance that Trump lost the 2020 election. “Of course he lost,” DeSantis said in an interview with NBC News today. “Joe Biden’s the president.” And Trump’s lies about the election? “Unsubstantiated,” the Florida governor said on Friday. DeSantis has been insistent that the 2024 election should be about Joe Biden, but he seems unwilling to deal with the reality that taking on Biden requires defeating Trump first. A New York Times report referred to the NBC comments as “Mr. DeSantis’s increasingly aggressive stance,” which I suppose is true if you think of the move from “nothing” to “something” as “increasingly aggressive.”
Why are Republicans so scared to mention Trump, even at this late date? There are three reasons, two of them grounded in sheer cowardice and the third derived from a hallucinatory primary strategy.
The first and most obvious problem for GOP candidates is that barking back at Trump infuriates the Republican base, many of whom live in districts and states that Republicans care about. Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson are willing to go after Trump because they are both men with thick skin—but also because they have almost no chance of gaining the GOP nomination. George Will said it first, but it bears repeating: The modern GOP is the first American party that fears its own voters.
Few candidates want to cross Trump and then endure his vicious attacks, which is understandable but hardly an example of leadership. (Trump has already blasted “Liddle’ [sic] Mike Pence” on his social-media platform, Truth Social, accusing him of being an ungrateful loser who has “gone to the Dark Side.”) And although too many
are no longer shocked by it, Trump’s attacks create real problems of security when he zeroes in on his perceived enemies: Look at how much effort New York; Washington, D.C.; and, apparently, Atlanta have had to undertake just to indict or prepare to indict Trump.
Even on a less dire level, however, no one running for president—or trying to hold together what’s left of the Republican Party—needs the headache of a brainless brawl with Trump. From DeSantis and Pence on down, the GOP field avoids invoking Trump’s name, treating him (as I wrote in 2021) as if he were some sort of ancient god or mystical Balrog who will appear and unleash chaos at the mention of his name.
Finally, the GOP primary candidates seem to share a vanity-driven belief that each of them could inherit Trump’s voters once Trump is out of the race because of his legal troubles, or when some other act of God takes him off the board. Somewhere, there’s a strategist telling his client that but for Trump, voters would stampede toward, say, Nikki Haley or Vivek Ramaswamy. This is what the Bulwark writer Tim Miller has called “a fantasy primary,” the one being held inside the heads of “Republican elites who secretly loathe Trump and are hoping that voters will soon come to their senses” and pick someone else.
Now, it’s true that if Trump were physically incapacitated—and I do not wish any ill health on the former president—then, yes, Republicans would have to find someone else. Short of that, however, Trump is clearly going to run even if he is incarcerated. (No law or constitutional rule prevents such an attempt.) He will continue to attack American institutions, and he will go on making barely veiled threats of violence, as he has done repeatedly, even while under indictment.
Meanwhile, other Republicans are unable to say Trump’s name, press the case against him as unfit for office, or make any of his alleged criminal activity relevant to GOP voters. Back in March, I wrote that Pence “had his one moment of courage, and there will be no others.” Unfortunately, I was right. At this point, other Republicans will head into 2024 unable to mimic even Pence’s sole day of decency.
- Tou Thao, a former police officer convicted for his role in the killing of George Floyd, was sentenced to almost five years in prison by a state court.
- Ukraine claims that it has detained a Russian informant who it says was part of an apparent plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky via air strike.
- City officials in Juneau, Alaska, declared an emergency yesterday because of record glacial lake flooding that destroyed at least two buildings.
The Weaponization of Loneliness
By Hillary Rodham Clinton
The question that preoccupied me and many others over much of the past eight years is how our democracy became so susceptible to a would-be strongman and demagogue. The question that keeps me up at night now—with increasing urgency as 2024 approaches—is whether we have done enough to rebuild our defenses or whether our democracy is still highly vulnerable to attack and subversion.
There’s reason for concern: the influence of dark money and corporate power, right-wing propaganda and misinformation, malign foreign interference in our elections, and the vociferous backlash against social progress. The “vast right-wing conspiracy” has been of compelling interest to me for many years. But I’ve long thought something important was missing from our national conversation about threats to our democracy. Now recent findings from a perhaps unexpected source—America’s top doctor—offer a new perspective on our problems and valuable insights into how we can begin healing our ailing nation.
More From The Atlantic
- The three attacks on intellectual freedom
- Here comes the second year of AI college.
- Why the populist right hates universities
- Texas is a look into the future of driving.
Read. In an age of distraction, here are seven books that will make you put down your phone.
When you work for a magazine, people send you stuff, such as announcements of presidential campaigns. This is how I know that Steve Laffey is running for president.
I note with local pride that Laffey is the former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, a city not too far away from where I live in the Ocean State. (I have never met him; it’s not that small a state.) He served one term as mayor, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, and lost. He almost ran for Rhode Island governor in 2010; instead he moved to Colorado, got into the governor’s race there in 2013, pulled out of that one, and then tried to get the GOP nomination in Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District in 2014 (and lost).
I wasn’t paying much attention to local politics back then, so I can’t really judge whether Laffey was any good as a mayor. But he seemed a throwback to the old fiscally conservative and socially moderate tradition of New England Republicans, a breed now all but extinct in the GOP. According to ABC News, Laffey has almost no money and subatomic poll numbers—he has not yet placed on a national poll—and so he will be unlikely to qualify for the GOP debates. That’s too bad, because one of his slogans is: “I did it for Cranston, I will do it for America,” which is kind of charming, and I would have loved to see Donald Trump even try to counter that by insulting the good people and city of Cranston.
Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
In April, lawyers for the airline Avianca noticed something strange. A passenger, Robert Mata, had sued the airline, alleging that a serving cart on a flight had struck and severely injured his left knee, but several cases cited in Mata’s lawsuit didn’t appear to exist. The judge couldn’t verify them, either. It turned out that ChatGPT had made them all up, fabricating names and decisions. One of Mata’s lawyers, Steven A. Schwartz, had used the chatbot as an assistant—his first time using the program for legal research—and, as Schwartz wrote in an affidavit, “was unaware of the possibility that its content could be false.”
The incident was only one in a litany of instances of generative AI spreading falsehoods, not to mention financial scams, nonconsensual porn, and more. Tech companies are marketing their AI products and potentially reaping enormous profits, with little accountability or legal oversight for the real-world damage those products can cause. The federal government is now trying to catch up.
Late last month, the Biden administration announced that seven tech companies at the forefront of AI development had agreed to a set of voluntary commitments to ensure that their products are “safe, secure, and trustworthy.” Those commitments follow a flurry of White House summits on AI, congressional testimonies on regulating the technology, and declarations from various government agencies that they are taking AI seriously. In the announcement, OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, Meta, and others pledged to subject their products to third-party testing, invest in bias reduction, and be more transparent about their AI systems’ capabilities and limitations.
The language is promising but also just a promise, lacking enforcement mechanisms and details about next steps. Regulating AI requires a lumbering bureaucracy to take on notoriously secretive companies and rapidly evolving technologies. Much of the Biden administration’s language apes tech luminaries’ PR lines about their products’ world-ending capacities, such as bioweapons and machines that “self-replicate.” Government action will be essential for safeguarding people’s lives and livelihoods—not just from the supposed long-term threat of evil, superintelligent machines, but also from everyday threats. Generative AI has already exhibited gross biases and potential for misuse. And for more than a decade, less advanced but similarly opaque and often discriminatory algorithms have been used to screen résumés and determine credit scores, in diagnostic software, and as part of facial-recognition tools.
I spoke with a number of experts and walked away with a list of five of the most effective ways the government could regulate AI to protect the country against the tech’s quotidian risks, as well as its more hypothetical, apocalyptic dangers.
1. Don’t take AI companies’ word on anything.
A drug advertised for chemotherapy has to demonstrably benefit cancer patients in clinical trials, such as by shrinking tumors, and then get FDA approval. Then its manufacturer has to disclose side effects patients might experience. But no such accountability exists for AI products. “Companies are making claims about AI being able to do X or Y thing, but then not substantiating that they can,” Sarah Myers West, the managing director of the AI Now Institute and a former senior FTC adviser on AI, told me. Numerous tech firms have been criticized for misrepresenting how biased or effective their algorithms are, or providing almost no evidence with which to evaluate them.
Mandating that AI tools undergo third-party testing to ensure that they meet agreed-upon metrics of bias, accuracy, and interpretability “is a really important first step,” Alexandra Givens, the president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit that advocates for privacy and human rights on the internet and receives some funding from the tech industry, told me. Companies could be compelled to disclose information about how their programs were trained, the software’s limitations, and how they mitigated potential harms. “Right now, there’s extraordinary information asymmetry,” she said—tech companies tend to reveal very little about how they train and validate their software. An audit could involve testing how often, say, a computer-vision program misrecognizes Black versus white faces or whether chatbots associate certain jobs with stereotypical gender roles (ChatGPT once stated that attorneys cannot be pregnant, because attorneys must be men).
All of the experts I spoke with agreed that the tech companies themselves shouldn’t be able to declare their own products safe. Otherwise, there is a substantial risk of “audit washing”—in which a dangerous product gains legitimacy from a meaningless stamp of approval, Ellen Goodman, a law professor at Rutgers, told me. Although numerous proposals currently call for after-the-fact audits, others have called for safety assessments to start much earlier. The potentially high-stakes applications of AI mean that these companies should “have to prove their products are not harmful before they can release them into the marketplace,” Safiya Noble, an internet-studies scholar at UCLA, told me.
Clear benchmarks and licenses are also crucial: A government standard would not be effective if watered down, and a hodgepodge of safety labels would breed confusion to the point of being illegible, similar to the differences among free-range, cage-free, and pasture-raised eggs.
2. We don’t need a Department of AI.
Establishing basic assessments of and disclosures about AI systems wouldn’t require a new government agency, even though that’s what some tech executives have called for. Existing laws apply to many uses for AI: therapy bots, automated financial assistants, search engines promising truthful responses. In turn, the relevant federal agencies have the subject expertise to enforce those laws; for instance, the FDA could have to assess and approve a therapy bot like a medical device. “In naming a central AI agency that’s going to do all the things, you lose the most important aspect of algorithmic assessment,” Givens said, “which is, what is the context in which it is being deployed, and what is the impact on that particular set of communities?”
A new AI department could run the risk of creating regulatory capture, with major AI companies staffing, advising, and lobbying the agency. Instead, experts told me, they’d like to see more funding for existing agencies to hire staff and develop expertise on AI, which might require action from Congress. “There could be a very aggressive way in which existing enforcement agencies could be more empowered to do this if you provided them more resources,” Alex Hanna, the director of research at the Distributed AI Research Institute, told me.
3. The White House can lead by example.
Far-reaching legislation to regulate AI could take years and face challenges from tech companies in court. Another, possibly faster approach could involve the federal government acting by example in the AI models it uses, the research it supports, and the funding it disburses. For instance, earlier this year, a federal task force recommended that the government commit $2.6 billion to funding AI research and development. Any company hoping to access those resources could be forced to meet a number of standards, which could lead to industry-wide adoption—somewhat akin to the tax incentives and subsidies encouraging green energy in the Inflation Reduction Act.
The government is also a major purchaser and user of AI itself, and could require its vendors to subject themselves to audits and release transparency reports. “The biggest thing the Biden administration can do is make it binding administration policy that AI can only be purchased, developed, used if it goes through meaningful testing for safety, efficacy, nondiscrimination, and protecting people’s privacy,” Givens told me.
4. AI needs a tamper-proof seal.
Deepfakes and other synthetic media—images, videos, and audio clips that an AI system can whip up in seconds—have already spread misinformation and been used in nonconsensual pornography. Last month’s voluntary commitments include developing a watermark to tell users they are interacting with AI-generated content, but the language is vague and the path forward unclear. Many existing methods of watermarking, such as the block of rainbow pixels at the bottom of any image generated by DALL-E 2, are easy to manipulate or remove. A more robust method would involve logging where, when, and how a piece of media was created—like a digital stamp from a camera—as well as every edit it undergoes. Companies including Adobe, Microsoft, and Sony are already working to implement one such standard, although such approaches might be difficult for the public to understand.
Sam Gregory, the executive director of the human-rights organization Witness, told me that government standards for labeling AI-generated content would need to be enforced throughout the AI supply chain by everybody from the makers of text-to-image models to app and web-browser developers. We need a tamper-proof seal, not a sticker.
To encourage the adoption of a standard way to denote AI content, Goodman told me, the government could mandate that web browsers, computers, and other devices recognize the label. Such a mandate would be similar to the federal requirement that new televisions include a part, known as a “V-chip,” that recognizes the maturity ratings set by the TV industry, which parents can use to block programs.
5. Build ways for people to protect their work from AI.
Multiple high-profile lawsuits are currently accusing AI models, such as ChatGPT and the image-generator Midjourney, of stealing writers’ and artists’ work. Intellectual property has become central to debates over generative AI, and two general types of copyright infringement are at play: the images, text, and other data the models are trained on, and the images and text they spit back out.
On the input side, allegations that generative-AI models are violating copyright law may stumble in court, Daniel Gervais, a law professor at Vanderbilt, told me. Making copies of images, articles, videos, and other media online to develop a training dataset likely falls under “fair use,” because training an AI model on the material meaningfully transforms it. The standard for proving copyright violations on the output side may also pose difficulties, because proving that an AI output is similar to a specific copyrighted work—not just in the style of Kehinde Wiley, but the spitting image of one of his paintings—is a high legal threshold.
Gervais said he imagines that a market-negotiated agreement between rights-holders and AI developers will arrive before any sort of legal standard. In the EU, for instance, artists and writers can opt out of having their work used to train AI, which could incentivize a deal that’s in the interest of both artists and Silicon Valley. “Publishers see this as a source of income, and the tech companies have invested so much in their technology,” Gervais said. Another possible option would be an even more stringent opt-in standard, which would require anybody owning copyrighted material to provide explicit permission for their data to be used. In the U.S., Gervais said, an option to opt out may be unnecessary. A law passed to protect copyright on the internet makes it illegal to strip a file of its “copyright management information,” such as labels with the work’s creator and date of publication, and many observers allege that creating datasets to train generative AI violates that law. The fine for removing such information could run up to tens of thousands of dollars per work, and even higher for other copyright infringements—a financial risk that, multiplied by perhaps millions of violations in a dataset, could be too big for companies to take.
Few, if any, of these policies are guaranteed. They face numerous practical, political, and legal hurdles, not least of which is Silicon Valley’s formidable lobbying arm. Nor will such regulations alone be enough to stop all the ways the tech can negatively affect
. AI is rife with the privacy violations, monopolistic business practices, and poor treatment of workers, all of which have plagued the tech industry for years.
But some sort of regulation is coming: The Biden administration has said it is working on bipartisan legislation, and it promised guidance on the responsible use of AI by federal agencies before the end of summer; numerous bills are pending before Congress. Until then, tech companies may just continue to roll out new and untested products, no matter who or what is steamrolled in the process.
Beam of light that crossed Victoria’s night sky burned for almost a minute and caused a loud boom, and Australia’s space agency says it was incinerating space junk
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A mysterious beam of light that slowly cut across the dark Victoria sky on Monday night was likely the remnants of a Russian rocket launch re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, Australia’s space agency says.
The large flashing light extended across Mount Buller to the Melbourne CBD, burning up for almost a minute just after midnight before breaking up into pieces that burned brightly.Continue reading…
Elon Musk says that the social network formerly known as Twitter will pay the legal bills for anyone fired for their tweets. And — like any reasonable human would — we have some questions about this.
"If you were unfairly treated by your employer due to posting or liking something on this platform, we will fund your legal bill," the
-South African firebrand tweeted. "No limit. Please let us know."
Almost instantaneously, right-leaning types — including the infamous LibsofTikTok account — began reply-guying in earnest, though the responses were varied and (intentionally or not) hilarious across the board. Strong language ahead:
Mr. President Sir
Civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo, for instance, joked that she had a case for Musk and pointed to his notorious mass-firing of Twitter employees who liked and posted critical commentary about the tech entrepreneur early in his ownership of the company.
Another post also brought up Musk's recent history with firing people for tweets — and in this exchange, posted as screenshots, the company owner himself tweeted that ex-employee Eric Fronhoefer had been fired.
"Sir," the tongue-in-cheek tweet read, "can you please look into this case."
There's a lot of questionable context surrounding the off-the-cuff Musk promise, which was posted soon after NASCAR driver Noah Gragson was suspended by the racing company for allegedly liking a meme that made fun of George Floyd's murder.
Along with the timing, the post does not, as Forbes notes, provide any legal framework for how such a project would be handled. Musk's use of the term "we" in his post suggests that Twitter would be the entity issuing the checks, but given that the company is still very much in the red, it's unclear where the money would even come from.
As with most Muskian bargains, this one will (if there's even any follow-through) undeniably go very differently than planned — and we're not holding our breath for the Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter owner to reach across the aisle with it, either.
The post Elon Musk Will Pay Your Legal Bill If Your Tweets Got You Fired appeared first on Futurism.
Cartels are using cryptocurrency more than ever before — and the federal agents tasked with catching them are wising up, too.
In interviews with CNN, officials who track cartels explained that although cash remains traffickers' currency of choice, crypto has gained traction because, as IRS Cyber and Forensics Services head Jarod Koopman notes, it "eliminates the potential for hand-to-hand transactions."
This new tech-savvy generation of traffickers seeks to better cover their tracks than the old guard, even going so far as to employ crypto specialists, a senior Drug Enforcement Agency official told CNN. One of the biggest proponents of crypto use, CNN notes, is the Sinaloa Cartel, now controlled by the sons of kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán.
Because the cartels are "very willing to invest in technology," Homeland Security special agent Scott Brown said, the government needs to do follow suit.
"That’s one of the things that we need to be equally willing to do," the agent in charge of HomeSec's investigations unit in Arizona told CNN.
For criminals around the world, crypto is a great way to launder money — and the cartels, it seems, are no exception.
In one recent case unsealed earlier this year by the Justice Department, the Sinaloas were charged with laundering some $869,000 via crypto between August of last year and February 2023. Even that huge amount is likely just a fraction of money laundered based on the syndicate's profit margins ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the government claims.
That indictment claims that the cartel's top money launderers had mules gather cash from their fentanyl sources, and then, deposit it into the organization's crypto accounts.
The borderless nature of crypto also pairs well with the international movements of drug syndicates, the report notes. Fentanyl, for instance, is most often manufactured in China, then packed into powders or pills in
before being shipped to
. As with traditional trafficking transactions, there are crypto payments made at many of the steps along the way. While the government didn't reveal its exact methodology, an understanding of blockchain analysis could assist in identifying these multi-agency maneuvers.
While most crypto seizures aren't "going to get you to Chapo Guzman," Brown said, each piece of the puzzle counts — and as with traditional criminal enterprises and the investigations into them, aiming to catch the producers and the middlemen can cause the entire operation to crater.
More on crypto crime: Crypto Investor Found Dismembered in a Suitcase
The post The Feds Are Now Using Crypto to Catch Drug Traffickers appeared first on Futurism.
In some ways, Donald Trump’s mental state is more transparent than nearly any public figure’s: He has no shame, little discretion, and ample channels to broadcast his feelings in real time. Yet his constant stream of consciousness and always elevated dudgeon make it hard to parse the finer fluctuations in his mood.
Even so, the former president’s public behavior since Special Counsel Jack Smith indicted him last week suggests a man feeling cornered. This isn’t to say that Trump is cornered—his ability to escape tough situations makes him the envy of every house cat—but his handling of the case suggests a man rattled in a way he seldom has been before.
The former president has attacked Smith in terms that are strikingly personal, even for him. He has also attacked Tanya Chutkan, the federal judge assigned to hear the case. He delivered angry speeches in Alabama and South Carolina. He jeered the U.S. Women’s National Team, blamed President Joe Biden for its early exit from the World Cup, and unintelligibly ridiculed former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (“She is a Wicked Witch whose husbands journey from hell starts and finishes with her. She is a sick & demented psycho who will someday live in HELL!”). He sent his attorney out to do all five major Sunday-morning TV programs. The Daily Beast spoke with Trump insiders who reported serious apprehensions inside his camp.
But what neither he nor his allies have done is offer a coherent account of his actions—one that would suggest that he didn’t conspire to overthrow the duly elected government. This is likely for the simple reason that he conspired to overthrow the duly elected government.
“Deranged Jack Smith is going before his number one draft pick, the Judge of his ‘dreams’ (WHO MUST BE RECUSED!), in an attempt to take away my FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS – This, despite the fact that he, the DOJ, and his many Thug prosecutors, are illegally leaking, everything and anything, to the Fake News Media!!!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social site this morning.
This message followed a string of other rants in recent days, including attacks on former Vice President Mike Pence (“Liddle’ Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side”) and Chutkan (“THERE IS NO WAY I CAN GET A FAIR TRIAL WITH THE JUDGE “ASSIGNED” TO THE RIDICULOUS FREEDOM OF SPEECH/FAIR ELECTIONS CASE”).
Attacking the judge and the prosecutor in your case is not generally recommended as a defense strategy, but then, Trump has little use for courtesy, niceties, or basic common sense. Smith is clearly paying attention; prosecutors cited an ambiguously threatening social-media post in a court filing just hours after it was posted. (“IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!" the message said; a Trump spokesperson claimed that this was actually directed at “the RINO, China-loving, dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs.”) The difference between Trump’s broadsides against Chutkan, a Black Obama appointee who hasn’t even had a chance to make any consequential decisions in the case yet, and his lack of criticism for Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump appointee overseeing the Florida case over his mishandling of classified documents, is notable if not surprising.
Discerning Trump’s agitation is easy enough; determining the goal of his outbursts is not so straightforward. One interpretation is that he’s trying to goad Smith’s team and turn its members from prosecutors into persecutors, baiting them to overreact or demand onerous conditions, which Trump could in turn use to demand a venue change or appeal a conviction. But this is reminiscent of the South Park–birthed underpants-gnome meme: The first steps and desired outcome are clear, but it’s completely mysterious what the middle steps might be. For all Trump’s comments that Smith is “deranged,” the special counsel instead seems preternaturally, even uncannily, impassive. Chutkan, like other D.C. judges, has rejected prior claims that January 6 trials can’t be fairly held in the district.
An alternative theory is that Trump is just playing to the court of public opinion rather than the court of law. Yesterday, Trump’s attorney John Lauro did the circuit of Sunday shows, a maneuver that Beltway nerds call the “Full Ginsburg,” after William Ginsburg, an attorney for Monica Lewinsky who pioneered it to respond to reports about his client’s relationship with then-President Bill Clinton. It’s a powerful public-relations tool—used by candidates for president, for example—but somewhat baffling as a pretrial maneuver.
Trump is often more interested in rousing his supporters than pursuing a prudent defense, apparently concluding that whatever his problems with the law, his political clout will be enough to evade or at least finesse the jeopardy. In the two federal cases against him, he may finally be facing charges that are not so easily circumvented, but his response has not necessarily caught up.
On some level, the PR offensive might be working. More than half of
, according to a new CBS News/YouGov poll, think the charges against Trump are aimed at hurting his 2024 campaign, though solid majorities also think the charges are about upholding rule of law and defending democracy. But the actual arguments Lauro offered on TV don’t seem especially well crafted, and seem likely instead to reinforce the reality that whether the public wants him convicted or not, it is appalled by Trump’s attempt at stealing the election.
Lauro argued in different appearances that Trump’s alleged behavior was “aspirational.” For example, “What President Trump didn’t do is direct Vice President Pence to do anything,” Lauro said on CNN. “He asked him in an aspirational way.” He also called Trump’s request for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” an “aspirational ask.” This is the kind of distinction without a difference that gives legalism a bad name. Lauro also said that even if Trump committed a “technical violation of the Constitution,” he didn’t commit a crime. But telling the public that your client violated the Constitution seems like a questionable PR decision.
Neither Lauro, in his five appearances, nor Trump, going back to his initial response to the indictment, has actually rebutted the charges. Trump has claimed that the government is attacking his right to free speech, but he has made nearly no effort to question the specifics of the charges. A rare example is his denial of Pence’s claim that Trump said he was “too honest.” More broadly, Trump hasn’t offered any bigger explanation for his weeks-long push to subvert the election. If Trump is acting as though he’s cornered, that is because he doesn’t have a good answer to this question.
Periods of sweltering temperatures like the current global heat wave seem to drive up civil conflicts. But why? To find out, researchers put thousands of people in hot rooms – with surprising results.
Two-thirds of the associate editors of the Journal of Biogeography, a
title, have resigned in a dispute with the publisher, and more resignations are likely, according to those involved.
Most of the resignations, reported first by Times Higher Education, were effective immediately, but a portion of the associate editors set August 28 as their effective date in hopes Wiley may negotiate with them about their concerns.
Most of the associate editors stopped processing new manuscripts at the end of June, as we reported last month, due to the dispute.
In interviews with Retraction Watch, two associate editors who had put in their resignations described concerns with the journal’s high article processing charges (APCs) fueling Wiley’s profitability, as well as the “breakdown in negotiations” between the publisher and the journal’s lead editorial team.
As we reported last week, Wiley moved to terminate Mike Dawson, the chief editor of the journal, as of August 27, after he had tendered his resignation in early May with the contractually-required six months notice. Dawson expressed disappointment that the publisher had “not made any efforts to address any of the issues” the editorial team raised.
“We’ve taken these decisions because we believe the decisions lead to the greatest success and longevity of the journal,” Dawson said. “It’s disappointing Wiley is not engaged. They would benefit in the long run. It’s that simple.”
The mass resignations at the Journal of Biogeography are the latest in a string of such actions by editors dissatisfied with the actions of publishers. Last week, many moderators of ProMED-mail, an infectious disease bulletin that reported the first cases of COVID-19, announced they were suspending work for the service after the host society said it would start charging subscription fees.
The Journal of Biogeography is not fully open access, but charges APCs of $4,800 for authors who wish to make their articles freely available.
Such fees are “excessive,” and “not affordable,” said Krystal Tolley, one of the associate editors who put in her resignation for the end of the month. Tolley is based in South Africa, and said she and other researchers in the Global South “just don’t have those kinds of funds.”
Wiley and other major publishers often waive fees for authors in low-income countries, and “transformative agreements” in which funding agencies or universities pay publication fees rather than authors.
But neither option is satisfactory, Tolley said. Few articles receive waivers, and as for transformative agreements, “I find it lip service. It’s not them who’s taking the hit, it’s still somebody who’s paying them.”
The publishing model of charging high fees for open access publication, Tolley and other associate editors wrote in an editorial about their work stoppage:
severely hampers the research visibility of early career researchers and those in countries with low-to-middle economies who cannot afford [open access] fees and therefore publish in less visible outlets. At the same time, this system promotes the visibility of those researchers with ample funds and allows unfair free access to their content. [Open access] combined with high APCs creates a pay-to-play system where those that have funds have research that is likely to be more visible and more cited.
Besides the journal’s high APC, the editors have also objected to what they understand as the publisher’s intention to make the journal entirely open access, increase its volume, and automatically refer rejected manuscripts to other Wiley journals.
The editors began trying to engage Wiley in discussion about their concerns near the beginning of this year, but the journal’s managers “essentially refused” to talk, Dawson said. After four months of frustration, he put in his resignation on May 6.
“It was clear that I could not achieve anything as chief editor when Wiley would not talk at all,” he said. He and the associate editors discussed what to do next, and settled on the work stoppage to try and pressure Wiley to the negotiation table. “Where we are now is the result of them not engaging seriously.”
Dawson said he suspected an email he sent informing authors who had submitted to the journal during the work stoppage that processing their manuscripts could be delayed sparked Wiley’s decision to fire him. He said Wiley initially attempted to fire him by email, effective immediately. He pointed out that termination without notice was in breach of his contract, and later that day received a letter giving him 30 days notice.
A Wiley spokesperson confirmed the dates of his resignation and termination but would not otherwise comment on the staffing changes.
A Wiley spokesperson previously told us that the journal was no longer part of the referral program for rejected manuscripts, and “there are no plans to flip the Journal of Biogeography to open access but that we continually evaluate our journals to ensure they stay aligned with subject areas and funding trends.”
Neither of those statements are concessions, Dawson said. He and the editors of the publisher’s other biogeography journals were only referring a small number of rejected manuscripts to each other, so they had essentially implemented the policy themselves.
Wiley “may not have an explicit plan” to make the journal open access, Dawson said, but at the beginning of the year the publisher was “absolutely clear” that they intended “to flip the journal to open access on a time horizon of two to four years.”
Regarding the resignations, a Wiley spokesperson told us:
Our highest priority is to continue delivering impactful research that serves the academic community and society at large. Wiley regularly meets with editors on issues that impact research publishing. To that end, we have extended several invitations to meet with the editors from the Journal of Biogeography to discuss their concerns and further support their important work. We appreciate the feedback shared by members of the academic publishing community and welcome further discussion to strengthen our journals and the people they serve.
Dawson noted that some of the 12 points the editors had raised for discussion were more difficult to resolve than others, and said the editors would take action on the easier things, such as setting up an advisory board consisting of the chief editors of the publisher’s biogeography journals, as a sign of good faith. Then discussion of the difficult issues, such as what constitutes a fair APC and amount of profit for Wiley to make, could follow.
Jack Williams, chair of the department of geography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who resigned as an associate editor of the journal last week, likened the current scientific publishing system to giving blood. He has gladly donated his time for peer review and editing “as service to science,” and has also given blood to the
Red Cross on a regular basis.
“If I found out the American Red Cross is making profit margins of 20% or whatever,” he said, he’d think, “Maybe I should give blood somewhere else. That’s not what I’m giving blood for.”
Similarly, “When you see a model in which labor is essentially given for free, then made part of a business model that includes fees to authors, with fairly high profit margins, that’s a point of concern.”
The system can work, he said, but it “feels out of balance to me right now.” With such high APCs, “it doesn’t feel right to me to put my effort into that system currently.”
He’s still deciding where to draw the line on journals he will or will not support by editing or peer reviewing, but said shifting his donated service work towards nonprofit, society-associated journals with lower fees made sense. “There’s more alternatives out there now than there used to be. We have to take a hard look at the value we’re getting for the money we’re paying.”
Tolley has decided to stop editing or reviewing articles for journals published by Wiley or the other major scientific publishers, and avoid submitting her own work to them when possible, “because they’re getting free content.”
Some of her coauthors don’t agree with that stance, so as a compromise, the group will not pay open access fees for a current submission to a major publisher’s journal, she said.
“To change the system, it has to be everyone who buys into this and says ‘No, I’m not going to pay that much money or work for free,’” Tolley said. “The majority of people have to do this, stop sending content to them, stop reviewing, stop editing. That’s the only way.”
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How do you keep your memory sharp in old age? Try going to bed and smelling the roses, according to scientists.
A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience details how exposing adults between the ages 60 and 85 to different odors while they slept dramatically boosted their cognitive capacity — providing a hopeful avenue of staving off dementia (and maybe some incentive for you to buy a new candle).
"The idea is that it will keep the memory centers of your brain in good condition throughout life, and perhaps prevent memory loss older in life," said co-author Michael Leon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM), in an interview with NPR.
You might even yourself be familiar with smell's powerful link to memory — maybe you've heard of a Proustian rush? An errant whiff of a perfume could suddenly dredge up long-forgotten episodes, the same way a taste of food can conjure up a feeling someone thought they'd lost forever, for example.
"The olfactory sense has the special privilege of being directly connected to the brain's memory circuits," explained Michael Yassa, a fellow neurobiology professor at CNLM, in a statement.
"However, unlike with vision changes that we treat with glasses and hearing aids for hearing impairment, there has been no intervention for the loss of smell."
In the study, researchers drew from a small pool of 43 participants not suffering from memory loss, who they divided into two groups. One group received a natural oil diffuser and seven powerful fragrance cartridges: rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender.
The control group, not as lucky, were given "sham" cartridges with barely any scent.
Over the course of six months, all participants were instructed to diffuse a different cartridge before going to bed, emitting either pleasant odors or almost nothing at all for two hours while they dozed off.
And voila: by the end of the study, the adults with the scents showed a remarkable 226 percent improvement in cognitive performance, evaluated via a word learning test, and backed-up by imaging that revealed strongly functionality in a brain pathway associated with the formation and retrieval of memories.
It's worth noting that scientists have known that the loss of olfactory senses can predict the onset of dementia and other neurological diseases. Using smell as a memory booster in such patients has also been explored before, with one previous study finding moderate dementia patients could benefit from being exposed to 40 different smells twice per day.
"But it's not realistic to think people with cognitive impairment could open, sniff and close 80 odorant bottles daily," Leon said in the statement.
Instead, what this new research demonstrates is that exposure can be done passively, i.e. in your sleep, using far fewer odors. In other words, it's a lot more practical — but further research using a much larger sample size and, ideally, on those with diagnosed memory loss, will be needed before any of this smell science is set in stone.
More on neuroscience: New Drug Hailed as "Turning Point" in Fight Against Alzheimer's Disease
The post Study: Smelling Stuff While You Sleep Could Improve Your Memory appeared first on Futurism.
Imagine you're in Porcha Woodruff's shoes back in February — heavily pregnant, getting two kids ready for school in the morning, when suddenly: Detroit police show up at your door, and arrest you for robbery and carjacking.
The problem? Woodruff never committed those crimes. She was falsely identified by facial recognition software. It all prompts the usual big questions about the limits of technology interceding with civil rights, and the ages-old philosophical dilemma of the value of justice if a single innocent person ends up wronged. And of course, after being arrested in front of her children, Woodruff spent several hours in jail suffering from contractions and dehydration. She's now suing the city for wrongful arrest, according to The New York Times.
In total, the NYT reported, Detroit's been hit with three lawsuits on false arrests made due to AI-powered facial recognition software. Woodruff's case is the sixth reported — all black people — to have suffered this same fate in America since the technology's usage among law enforcement started in earnest.
"Shoddy technology makes shoddy investigations, and police assurances that they will conduct serious investigations do not ring true,"
Civil Liberties Union at Michigan senior staff attorney Phil Mayor told the NYT.
Woodruff's false arrest followed a man reporting to Detroit police that he'd been robbed at gunpoint at a gas station, according to court documents. Police found camera surveillance footage of a woman connected to the incident and ran this person's face through a facial recognition vendor called DataWorks Plus.
The software program produced Woodruff's name after a search, and the robbery victim picked her out from a photo lineup of six woman, the lawsuit states, while noting that the picture of Woodruff' used in the lineup is eight years old. Needless to say, Woodruff's charges have since been dismissed.
"You've got a very powerful tool that, if it searches enough faces, will always yield people who look like the person on the surveillance image," argued Iowa State University psychology professor Gary Wells, an expert on the reliability of eyewitness identification, to the NYT.
Again, this isn't the first instance (let alone type of instance) in which AI's been used by law enforcement to erroneously target people, mostly minorities. Assuming the widespread adoption of this technology's use continues at its current clip, an increasingly relevant question is just how much money law enforcement departments are willing to spend — not for the wonky technology itself, but the inevitable litigation on behalf of the innocent people it will (at this rate) continue to net.
More on facial recognition: Facial Recognition Used to Evict Single Mother for Taking Night Classes
The post Here's What It's Like To Be Falsely Arrested via Facial Recognition appeared first on Futurism.
Researchers set out to calculate how much of Earth’s life dwells in the planet’s least admired environment
Soil estimated to be home to 90% of world’s fungi, 85% of plants and more than 50% of bacteria, making it the world’s most species-rich habitat
More than half of all species live in the soil, according to a study that has found it is the single most species-rich habitat on Earth.
Soil was known to hold a wealth of life, but this new figure doubles what scientists estimated in 2006, when they suggested 25% of life was soil-based.Continue reading…
Researchers set out to calculate how much of Earth’s life dwells in the planet’s least admired environment
Catch and Release
In a new editorial, one of Congress' recent UFO whistleblowers revealed a glaring hole in the government's plan to track and study what it refers to as "unidentified aerial phenomena" or UAPs.
Whistleblower Ryan Graves wrote for Newsweek that during his tenure as a Naval pilot, he and his team regularly encountered aircraft off the coast of Virginia Beach that "had no visible propulsion… but could remain motionless in Category-4 hurricane winds, accelerate to supersonic, and operate all day, outlasting our fighter jets."
These sorts of encounters with UAPs happen all the time, noted Graves — who co-founded and now acts as executive director of a group called
for Safe Aerospace — but because they often happen outside of the military's purview, the Pentagon doesn't seem to care much.
"Today, these same UAP are still being seen; we still don't know what they are; and our government has no idea of the scope of the problem," the whistleblower wrote. "That's because pilots, both commercial and military, are encountering UAP, and the majority of these cases are going unreported."
Prior to his late July testimony, Graves claimed that Americans for Safe Aerospace had been in contact with more than 30 people who'd witnessed UAPs. Since his headline-grabbing appearance before the House Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, he said that even more people had come forward with their stories.
Most of those witnesses, the ex-pilot added, fly commercial airliners for a living, and the most recent of those reports was issued just last week.
In spite of recent years' joint Pentagon and Congress efforts to bring UAPs into the daylight, there still isn't a streamlined reporting protocol, claimed Graves, noting that the Federal Aviation Administration simply directs commercial pilots to report incidents to non-governmental groups without any "official follow up or analysis."
In short: there are, as the whistleblower claims, tons more of these sightings than the government lets on — and the government has already let on a lot. And while the veracity of these claims has been called into question even by true believers, the lack of reporting structure outside the confines of the US military is, to say the least, troubling. If Graves is to be believed, the oversight creates a massive hole in the government's understanding of these strange and increasingly-mainstreamed sightings.
"Commercial pilots are highly trained observers of our skies," the whistleblower wrote. "Why then is our government turning its back on the UAP reports from credible eyewitnesses who are responsible for the safety of millions and are motivated to protect our national security?"
More on UFO rhetoric: Annoyed William Shatner Weighs in on Claims of Government Harboring UFOs
The post UFO Whistleblower: What I Told Congress Was the “Tip of the Iceberg” appeared first on Futurism.
Go Off, Katherine
The newest addition to the growing garbage heap of AI-generated nothingstuff continuing to clog the web? Generic, shoddily-written, allegedly AI-generated travel guides, flooding
en masse in recent months.
Per The New York Times, the sham guides often claim to be written by acclaimed travel authors, with scammers also sometimes taking the time to mislead potential customers by whipping up phony 5-star reviews. Sellers also tend to keep prices pretty low, and Amazon users seem to be biting. And they're predictably less than pleased with what they wind up getting in the mail.
"This was a rip-off. It has the most generic info [about] Paris that anyone planning a trip has already gathered in planning the trip. It is NOT the ultimate super cheap guide, as it offers NO such info," reads a one-star review on a seemingly AI-generated guide called "Paris Travel Guide 2023: The ultimate super cheap guide to the city of love," written by a user named Katherine.
"This is fraudulent advertising and what we call bait and switch," they added. "How pathetic. DO NOT BUY THIS."
If you're sharp enough, and paying attention, you'll be able to see the warning signs of AI generation in many of the listings. Per the NYT, author profiles — if they exist — are comically vague, sometimes featuring blatantly AI-spun profile photos. The listings' descriptions also tend to be written in a bland, formulaic style becoming increasingly synonymous with AI-drafted text.
But most people aren't trained to watch for these telltale signs when buying books online. And unfortunately for Amazon, it's not just travel guides scammers are AI-generating, but also, AI-generated books about "cooking, programming, gardening, business, crafts, medicine, religion and mathematics, as well as self-help books and novels, among many other categories" that the NYT found over the course of its reporting. As for Amazon, the company claims to work really, really hard to make sure its library is well-vetted, thanks.
"All publishers in the store must adhere to our content guidelines," an Amazon spokesperson told the NYT. "We invest significant time and resources to ensure our guidelines are followed and remove books that do not adhere to these guidelines." Sure, but the fact remains:
Amazon is clearly seeing a lot of AI-generated muck seep through the cracks, and its users are getting slighted as a result — an emerging pattern that certainly prompts questions about elements of Amazon's near-term trustworthiness.
And yet, this could all end up being relatively poetic. Back in the dot-com era, Amazon used burgeoning technology to pioneer the bookstore-pocalypse; now, a new technological shift could make the e-commerce giant so unreliable that users will be driven to other marketplaces — and maybe, God willing, actual brick-and-mortar bookstores, which Amazon continues to otherwise render an endangered species.
More on very bad AI-generated travel guides: BuzzFeed Is Quietly Publishing Whole AI-Generated Articles, Not Just Quizzes
The post The New Scam Flooding Amazon: AI-Generated Travel Guides appeared first on Futurism.
The architecture industry is undergoing a seismic shift with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI). AI tools such as XKool, co-founded by Shenzhen-based architect Wanyu He, can rapidly generate building designs, complete with construction details and cost breakdowns, transforming a tedious manual process into a swift, automated one. A 500-room hotel complex, for instance, was designed and built in four and a half months using this AI tool.
However, the quick evolution of AI in architecture does raise concerns about the future of the profession. Neil Leach, author of Architecture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, believes that AI's efficiency in strategic thinking and real-time analysis could potentially undermine human architects' roles.
Simultaneously, AI technology is advancing towards fully automating the design package, ranging from initial concepts to construction. For instance, XKool offers an AI-assisted platform for generating everything from master plan layouts to interior designs, making the process easier and more efficient.
Yet, it's not just about efficiency. AI is also encouraging a broader participation in design processes. Tools such as Forma, developed by software engineer Carl Christiansen, allow laypersons to engage with a project, fostering transparency and trust.
Moreover, AI offers a solution to standardise best practices in architecture. Euan Mills, co-founder of Blocktype, argues that AI could be used to avoid design errors and unnecessary reinventions.
However, concerns over AI's implications for data privacy, intellectual property, and the risk of a potential overemphasis on efficiency at the expense of creativity, persist. As the architecture industry grapples with these challenges, it is clear that the future of architecture lies in finding the balance between AI's potential and maintaining the human touch. AI is undoubtedly transforming the industry, but how it reshapes the profession is a chapter yet to be written.
Over the past few months, I've been working on making a list of AI tools with the goal to have all the good AI tools in one place.
Here is the catalog: https://www.bestgentools.ai/tools
You are welcome to contribute to it as well, by suggesting AI tools. 🙂
Scientific Reports, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-38676-8Author Correction: Effect of tamoxifen with or without gonadotropin-releasing hormone analog on DXA values in women with
Scientific Reports, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-38677-7Author Correction: Association between visceral adipose tissue volume, measured using computed tomography, and cardio-metabolic risk factors
- That year, the group also released open source automation tools for AI security testing, known as Microsoft Counterfit .
The FDA approved zuranolone, a short-term oral medication that could help new parents who are struggling with depression after giving birth
The FDA approved zuranolone, a short-term oral medication that could help new parents who are struggling with depression after giving birth
Soil microbes release more volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere in response to drought stress, according to a new study.
Microbes do a lot under the soil surface that can’t be seen with the naked eye—from sequestering carbon to building the foundation of Earth’s crust. But even tiny microbes are feeling the stress of a hotter, drier future.
The study, published in Nature Microbiology, is just one part of the B2 Water, Atmosphere, and Life Dynamics project, which brought over 90 researchers from around the world to the University of Arizona’s enclosed rainforest at Biosphere 2 to conduct a controlled drought experiment and better understand what happens to the world’s ecosystems when water is scarce.
Uncovering how soil microbes process carbon and interact with the atmosphere under environmental stress helps scientists predict and support how ecosystems will adapt in the face of increasing temperatures and prolonged drought.
VOCs are more than aerosols
When most people think of volatile organic compounds, they think of aerosols—which can contribute to warming and have negative impacts on air quality—but the term “volatile” simply refers to how easily a chemical or compound can change from a liquid to a gas phase, says lead study author Linnea Honeker, a postdoctoral researcher who worked with associate professor of environmental science Malak Tfaily in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences during the B2 WALD project.
Many volatile organic compounds are naturally produced and are released in our breath, from trees, or by microbes that live in the soil. Microbes naturally consume carbon as part of their life cycle and, in turn, produce volatile metabolites.
As part of the B2 WALD project, led by Laura Meredith, an associate professor and ecosystem genomics expert in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Honeker, and colleagues used a labeled carbon isotope to track the movement of carbon and water throughout the rainforest ecosystem during the simulated drought experiment. Using soil flux chambers, the team measured the consumption and release of volatile organic compounds in the soil.
Drought diminishes carbon cycling efficiency
While microbes worked to break down volatile organic compounds produced in the soils during ambient or pre-drought conditions, these same microbes appeared to ramp up production and decrease consumption of volatile metabolites under drought stress.
“What we found is microbial production of CO2 decreased during drought, but there was a net increase of emissions of the volatile metabolites acetate, acetone and diacetyl,” says Honeker, who recently accepted a postdoctoral position in soil microbiome bioinformatics at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Overall, the study revealed soil carbon cycling efficiency decreased during drought. That may be a result of microbes diverting more of their resources to producing volatile organic compounds and other protective compounds to help support themselves during the drought, she says.
It is not yet clear what specific role the volatile organic compounds found in the study play in soil-atmosphere dynamics, but the findings are an important step toward understanding how small but mighty microbes beneath the surface are responding to environmental stress.
“These results bring us one step closer to understanding how droughts, which are expected to increase in frequency and duration, can impact microbial carbon cycling in the soil, which, in turn, can have large-scale impacts on ecosystem services and even atmospheric processes,” Honeker says.
Source: University of Arizona
The post To deal with drought stress, soil releases more volatile compounds appeared first on Futurity.
Should companies have social responsibilities? Or do they exist only to deliver profit to their shareholders? If you ask an AI you might get wildly different answers depending on which one you ask. While OpenAI’s older GPT-2 and GPT-3 Ada models would advance the former statement, GPT-3 Da Vinci, the company’s more capable model, would agree with the latter.
That’s because AI language models contain different political biases, according to new research from the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon University, and Xi’an Jiaotong University. Researchers conducted tests on 14 large language models and found that OpenAI’s ChatGPT and GPT-4 were the most left-wing libertarian, while Meta’s LLaMA was the most right-wing authoritarian.
The researchers asked language models where they stand on various topics, such as feminism and democracy. They used the answers to plot them on a graph known as a political compass, and then tested whether retraining models on even more politically biased training data changed their behavior and ability to detect hate speech and misinformation (it did). The research is described in a peer-reviewed paper that won the best paper award at the Association for Computational Linguistics conference last month.
As AI language models are rolled out into products and services used by millions of people, understanding their underlying political assumptions and biases could not be more important. That’s because they have the potential to cause real harm. A chatbot offering health-care advice might refuse to offer advice on abortion or contraception, or a customer service bot might start spewing offensive nonsense.
Since the success of ChatGPT, OpenAI has faced criticism from right-wing commentators who claim the chatbot reflects a more liberal worldview. However, the company insists that it’s working to address those concerns, and in a blog post, it says it instructs its human reviewers, who help fine-tune AI the AI model, not to favor any political group. “Biases that nevertheless may emerge from the process described above are bugs, not features,” the post says.
Chan Park, a PhD researcher at Carnegie Mellon University who was part of the study team, disagrees. “We believe no language model can be entirely free from political biases,” she says.
Bias creeps in at every stage
To reverse-engineer how AI language models pick up political biases, the researchers examined three stages of a model’s development.
In the first step, they asked 14 language models to agree or disagree with 62 politically sensitive statements. This helped them identify the models’ underlying political leanings and plot them on a political compass. To the team’s surprise, they found that AI models have distinctly different political tendencies, Park says.
The researchers found that BERT models, AI language models developed by Google, were more socially conservative than OpenAI’s GPT models. Unlike GPT models, which predict the next word in a sentence, BERT models predict parts of a sentence using the surrounding information within a piece of text. Their social conservatism might arise because older BERT models were trained on books, which tended to be more conservative, while the newer GPT models are trained on more liberal internet texts, the researchers speculate in their paper.
AI models also change over time as tech companies update their data sets and training methods. GPT-2, for example, expressed support for “taxing the rich,” while OpenAI’s newer GPT-3 model did not.
Google and Meta did not respond to MIT Technology Review’s request for comment in time for publication.
The second step involved further training two AI language models, OpenAI’s GPT-2 and Meta’s RoBERTa, on data sets consisting of news media and social media data from both right- and left-leaning sources, Park says. The team wanted to see if training data influenced the political biases.
It did. The team found that this process helped to reinforce models’ biases even further: left-learning models became more left-leaning, and right-leaning ones more right-leaning.
In the third stage of their research, the team found striking differences in how the political leanings of AI models affect what kinds of content the models classified as hate speech and misinformation.
The models that were trained with left-wing data were more sensitive to hate speech targeting ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities in
, such as Black and LGBTQ+ people. The models that were trained on right-wing data were more sensitive to hate speech against white Christian men.
Left-leaning language models were also better at identifying misinformation from right-leaning sources but less sensitive to misinformation from left-leaning sources. Right-leaning language models showed the opposite behavior.
Cleaning data sets of bias is not enough
Ultimately, it’s impossible for outside observers to know why different AI models have different political biases, because tech companies do not share details of the data or methods used to train them, says Park.
One way researchers have tried to mitigate biases in language models is by removing biased content from data sets or filtering it out. “The big question the paper raises is: Is cleaning data [of bias] enough? And the answer is no,” says Soroush Vosoughi, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, who was not involved in the study.
It’s very difficult to completely scrub a vast database of biases, Vosoughi says, and AI models are also pretty apt to surface even low-level biases that may be present in the data.
One limitation of the study was that the researchers could only conduct the second and third stage with relatively old and small models, such as GPT-2 and RoBERTa, says Ruibo Liu, a research scientist at DeepMind, who has studied political biases in AI language models but was not part of the research.
Liu says he’d like to see if the paper’s conclusions apply to the latest AI models. But academic researchers do not have, and are unlikely to get, access to the inner workings of state-of-the-art AI systems such as ChatGPT and GPT-4, which makes analysis harder.
Another limitation is that if the AI models just made things up, as they tend to do, then a model’s responses might not be a true reflection of its “internal state,” Vosoughi says.
The researchers also admit that the political compass test, while widely used, is not a perfect way to measure all the nuances around politics.
As companies integrate AI models into their products and services, they should be more aware how these biases influence their models’ behavior in order to make them fairer, says Park: “There is no fairness without awareness.”
The FDA approved zuranolone, a short-term oral medication that could help new parents who are struggling with depression after giving birth
- In a press release, the Keep Tahoe Blue nonprofit introduced their brand new PixieDrone, an aquatic robot built to patrol the lake's famously-blue waters, and extract trash and invasive plants.
Lake Tahoe's got a new high-tech resident — one with a fairly important job no less. In a press release, the Keep Tahoe Blue nonprofit introduced their brand new PixieDrone, an aquatic robot built to patrol the lake's famously-blue waters, and extract trash and invasive plants.
Created by the French startup Searial Cleaners, PixieDrones are deployed on lakes like Tahoe to help clean water sources in ways human hands can't. Using on-board LIDAR (light, detection and ranging) technology, the roughly desk-sized robot can be operated autonomously or via remote control, as it "captures debris inside its open 'mouth,' just like manta rays and humpback whales capture prey," the nonprofit's press release notes.
Interestingly enough, the PixieDrone is, as the press release and local reports note, one of a pair of robots deployed to clean up the star-studded lake. Its larger beach-combing counterpart is known as BeBot, which sifts through the sand on the lake's shore as it motors along picking up difficult-to-extract "micro-debris" — which is, as Keep Tahoe Blue notes, "difficult to detect, hard to remove, and potentially harmful."
Though the land-and-lake pair are just making waves in Tahoe, the tech has been deployed in other waterways as well. For example, last year, the Meijer grocery store chain put up the money to deploy a PixieDrone and BeBot in the Great Lakes Region (which, like Tahoe, has a massive trash problem).
"This not only impacts Great Lakes wildlife, but also the 40 million
and Canadians that require the Great Lakes for their drinking water," Lora Shrake of the Council of the Great Lakes Region said in a press release. "Once collected, the litter is analyzed providing valuable data that allows us to understand the scale of the problem."
Last year, Axios reported that a single BeBot costs $55,000, which would make it difficult for conservationists at smaller and less-tony water sources to purchase. And while the impact of companies like Meijer funding these sorts of efforts is objectively positive, it's hard to imagine this kind of aquatic and beach trash solution being deployed at scale without massive government investment in this sort of infrastructure.
All said, however, the robots are nothing if not cute — and at the very least, a novel solution to an ever-accumulating environmental problem.
The post We Adore This Delightful Little Robot Helping Save Lake Tahoe appeared first on Futurism.
X-formerly-known-as-Twitter CEO Elon Musk just doubled-down on his commitment to fight Mark Zuckerberg. In the same breath, of course, he's already hedging his bets.
Recall: This all started in June, after Musk claimed in an offhanded Twitter reply that he'd be "up for a cage match" with the Meta/Facebook CEO. Calling his bluff (or losing his cool), Zuckerberg responded in kind (or took the bait) with "Send Me Location," and the fight was on.
Or it was supposed to be. After a month of radio silence on the fight, Musk announced Sunday that the eventual fight would be livestreamed on his platform X — while casually tacking on quite a big excuse for why the "exact date is still in flux," which is: he may actually be in no condition to fight.
"I'm getting an MRI of my neck & upper back tomorrow," he said in a tweet.
"May require surgery before the fight can happen. Will know this week."
Ghosting a Date
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg claims he's struggled to get Musk to commit to a date, even before these latest health developments. "I'm ready today," he wrote in a Threads post that same day. "I suggested Aug 26 when he first challenged, but he hasn't confirmed. Not holding my breath."
Zuckerberg, normally akin to the emotiveness of a plausible alien or pseudo-humanoid, has exhibited rare glimpses of genuine human emotion in his excitement for the bout. After all, he is actually trained in Jiu Jitsu. Adding to his cred in the ring, Zuck recently sparred with some of the best fighters in the world: UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya, and featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski.
Meanwhile, in a less convincing show of force, Musk has brawled with podcaster (and noted Musk sycophant) Lex Fridman. Moreover, his idea of preparation — and a flex — is curling dumbbells during office meetings. Vertebrae problems notwithstanding, Musk sincerely thinks his sheer mass — 300 pounds, he recently clarified — will help him prevail, having previously bragged about his fight move 'The Walrus,' "where I just lie on top of my opponent & do nothing."
"I am much bigger and there is a reason MMA has weight divisions," he tweeted on Sunday.
Hopefully Musk gets on with it, lest all this peacocking be for nothing. One CEO deeply polarizing, the other universally reviled, both with a strange penchant for rebranding their globally-recognized brands into something people despise. Together, a showdown for the ages.
More on Elon Musk: Elon Musk Lifts Weight During Office Meeting For Reasons Unknown
The post Elon Musk Already Making Excuses Ahead of Fight With Zuckerberg appeared first on Futurism.
Florida’s Department of Education has approved classroom use of videos that spout climate disinformation and distort climate science
I guarantee that no one wants to hear about this. Heck, I don't, either, but I'm going to write about it anyway. That's because while most of the world has been enjoying a respite from the coronavirus (at least compared to the 2020-2022 situation), it doesn't mean that this is always going to be the case. In a couple of months, we're going to be undeniably in the Fall season in the northern hemisphere. Schools at all levels will be opening up soon, and as we keep going into the latter part of the year we will inexorably be spending less time out in the open air and more time in smaller rooms with plenty of our fellow humans.
This would not be as much of a problem if the virus had been taking it easy like the rest of us, but that is not a mode that viruses are equipped for. Out of sight, and largely out of our thoughts, the endless evolutionary battle has been going on between human immune systems and every infectious agent that we are subject to. For some of the pathogens that have been around longer, that struggle has been fought to some sort of stalemate or Cold War level, and for others the viruses and bacteria have evolved to a pretty standardized form and are just out there waiting to pick off any particularly vulnerable patients or populations, as they always are. And then you have things like influenza, whose entire brand is constant shapeshifting on the part of its surface proteins, and which comes back around every year with new attempts.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is in a small but ugly category, in that it's a very recent spillover into the human population. We have thus been able to watch evolutionary pressure ripping right along in real time since late 2019, damn it all, and you can track that with the waves and variants that have popped up. And yes, there is yet another one that we should be keeping an eye on right now. Eric Topol has more on it at his Substack, but here's the short version: there's one particular region of the virus where two adjacent amino acids have mutated (L455F and F456L). Protein folks will immediately note that these represent adjacent leucine and phenylalanine residues trading places.
This is a pretty common sort of mutation, and you can see why by looking at the RNA codons involved. In an RNA reading frame, the three-letter combinations UUU and UUC code for a phenylalanine, while UUA and UUG both code for leucine. All you need is a mutation in the final letter to do a U/A or a C/G. In the grand scheme of things, the chances of a third-letter mutation just giving you the same amino acid in the end are actually higher than usual – changing the second letter, for example, always leads to a different amino acid, no matter what. But the codon structure does mean that third-letter mutations are paired off, as we see here.
And this switch has led, by the fling-'em-at-the-wall evolutionary process, to a fitness advantage for the virus. The F456L change by itself makes it harder for many existing antibodies to recognize the viral particles, and the combination of that with L455F give you that immune-evading ability plus what looks like tighter binding to the ACC2 protein, which is likely to enhance cell entry. If you hear about EG.5 variants, those have the F456L – as Eric points out, the percentage of new sequences worldwide with that mutation is 35% and rising steadily. It's expected that the double mutation discussed above (which is being called "FLip") will be the next thing rising up after this one.
It's important to note that these variants are not completely immune-evading. The reason we've been having a lighter time with the virus these last few months has largely been due to the fact that most populations in the world have by now been infected, vaccinated, or both, and the immune responses from these have largely kept severe disease in check. We're still going to have some protection against these new strains, and the upcoming round of booster shots directed at the XBB.1.5 strain should help even more. That's not going to specifically address the two mutations above (they're too new), but it's still going to be a lot closer to the circulating strains than the last round of bivalent BA.5 shots. As usual, I will be rolling up my sleeve at the first opportunity, and I will be inviting fear-mongering anti-vaccine activists like RFK Jr. to go perform various anatomically improbable acts while I do so.
But as that Substack link makes clear, it doesn't look like we're going to be seeing those boosters until sometime in October, which is going to give these variants more of a head start than you'd want. It's going to be the most vulnerable parts of the population that feel the effects: the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those with whatever factors make a person more susceptible to severe disease and/or "Long Covid". I don't think we're going to slide back into the worst days of the pandemic; I really don't. But we are going to see some consequences.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40057-0Author Correction: State-of-the-art retinal vessel segmentation with minimalistic models
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40466-9Publisher Correction: Multi-Modal Mobility Morphobot (M4) with appendage repurposing for locomotion plasticity enhancement
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40495-4Author Correction: The thioesterase
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40561-xAuthor Correction: Dose escalation and expansion cohorts in patients with advanced
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40256-3Author Correction: Incorrect interpretation of carbon mass balance biases global vegetation fire emission estimates
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40414-7Demand for plant proteins is increasing, but these often give an astringent sensation due to poor lubrication performance. Here, the authors report the development of plantprotein microgels with improved lubricity with potential in sustainable foods.
That the words working class are synonymous in the minds of many Americans with white working class is the result of a political myth. As the award-winning historian Blair LM Kelley explains in her new book, Black Folk: The Roots of the Black Working Class, Black people are more likely to be working-class than white people are.
Kelley’s Black Folk opens our minds up to Black workers, narrating their complex lives over 200 years of American history. Kelley looks at the history of her own working-class ancestors, as well as the laundresses, Pullman porters, domestic maids, and postal workers who made up the world of Black labor. Their joys. Their skills. Their challenges. She also offers historical context for the racist ideas about Black workers that endure in our time, while highlighting the ways that Black labor organizing has always helped to fight back against bigotry.
Myths about race and class continue to dominate our political discourse. For a start, it is a myth that Americans without college degrees are, by definition, “working class.” Accumulated or inherited wealth is a more accurate indicator of class status than education (or salary), particularly amid an enormous racial wealth gap in
. Wealth levels of Black households whose members have a college degree are similar to those of white households whose members don’t have a high-school diploma. And those white high-school dropouts have higher homeownership rates than Black college graduates. Even if we were measuring working-class status by college-degree attainment, white Americans (50.2 percent) are far and away more likely than Black Americans (34.2 percent), Latino Americans (27.8 percent), and Native Americans (25.4 percent) to have a college degree, and therefore not be working class by this inadequate measure.
It is also a myth that “the white working class is synonymous with supporters of Donald Trump,” as Kelley points out in Black Folk. In fact, Trump’s base remains much more affluent than is popularly portrayed. “It’s not necessarily a question of [Trump voters] needing to be educated,” Kelley told me when we spoke recently. “It’s a set of choices that people are making about their place in the world, and what makes them feel verified and validated.”
All of these myths comprise our “national mythos,” which “leaves little room for Black workers,” writes Kelley, the incoming director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We discussed what lessons we can glean from their history, from their everyday lives, from their political organizing. Our conversation began with the Black folk we know best: our families.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Ibram X. Kendi: Black Folk opens by chronicling the life story of your maternal grandfather, who was facing and fighting racism in the town of Canon, in northeast Georgia. What was striking for me was that my maternal grandfather, Alvin, is from Guyton, which is also in eastern Georgia, though closer to Savannah. He dealt with racism there as well, fled to New York City. Your maternal grandfather made his way to North Carolina. Such similarities. Why did you decide to start the book there?
Blair LM Kelley: It’s such a formative story for my family. It’s one my mother repeated many, many times. I think my mother really wanted me to understand the degree to which slavery had ended but the circumstances of subjugation had not. She wanted me to get how close that was to my lived experience, that it wasn’t this far-off, distant thing that was long gone.
Tying my family to this larger history, I know that’s a story so many people have of being forced to flee. I really wanted to begin with that because I knew how universal it was.
Kendi: You specifically wanted Black Folk to “capture the character of the lives of Black workers, seeing them not just as laborers, or members of a class, or activists, but as people whose daily experiences mattered.” Why was capturing the character of their full lives so important?
Kelley: I have never really thought of myself as a labor historian. Labor history had such a focus on institutions and unions, and infighting between organizations. Those were interesting, and things you need to know. But they weren’t the ways that I knew my folks. My folks were workers, but their lives, their whole lives, affected the way that they thought about that work. And I hadn’t seen as much labor history that was focused on what the whole being was like. Not just a factory-floor version of history, but rather a church, a house, a mother-daughter relationship. Those kinds of things I wanted to see amplified, because I think they’re just as meaningful for workers’ lives—if not more so—than the atomized workspace.
Kendi: You start by writing about a blacksmith who was born in slavery—and then move on to other jobs, like washerwomen, train-car porters, domestic maids, and postal workers. Why specifically those occupations? Are there any specific occupations today that Black working folk occupy that we could potentially see as archetypal, or similar to some of these historical jobs?
Kelley: I think that domestic workers are really still an incredible population to think about. Their organizing is really incredible, and something I want to keep thinking about in my future work. I’m very much interested in following postal workers now. I think especially during the COVID pandemic, we could see that there’s a real fight being waged around postal work that I think deserves continued attention. The pandemic, again, made us think about Black people in medical care, particularly certified nursing assistants. The ranks of these nurses are enormously filled by Black women, and they bore the brunt of the pandemic. The gig economy is also really interesting to me. Black people are overrepresented in that space as well.
Kendi: You write that when Black workers are mentioned at all, the very idea of work is dropped entirely. And instead they are described as “the poor,” and often implied to be unworthy and unproductive. This is an echo of the characterization of enslaved Black people as lazy and unmotivated. And you wrote this in the opening pages of the book to really set the stage for a larger argument. What was that larger argument?
Kelley: It’s that I think there is an incredible mislogic around the Black working class, one born in slavery. I put a quote from Thomas Jefferson about him observing Black people and writing in Notes on the State of Virginia that they sleep a lot. And I’m like, Sir, as you sit in your chair, and somebody fans you and brings you your food, who are you calling lazy? And so that stereotype and its afterlife in our contemporary thinking is a confounding one to me. It’s one I really wanted to confront and unpack and pull the thread of throughout the text. Because Black workers’ contributions to this country are enormous. So calling Black folk “lazy” or “the poor” misunderstands what we’ve done and how we think of ourselves.
Kendi: You also point out that there’s a misunderstanding that Black workers are unskilled. Specifically in writing about laundresses, you wrote about the immense skill required. Is the idea of these Black workers as unskilled connected to the idea of them as unmotivated and lazy—an extension of that?
Kelley: Yes. I was fascinated by the skilled-labor/unskilled-labor dynamic that scholars had used for understanding work. It really struck me during the pandemic. The United Farm Workers were showing videos of farmworkers bundling radishes or picking cauliflower, harvesting asparagus and moving with such speed that you could barely see how they did it. And they’re classed as unskilled workers. Still today, that’s how we would describe them. And so, for me, reading the accounts of picking cotton, or washing laundry, or working on a Pullman car—all of those things took knowledge and study and skill. I just wanted to blow up that scholarly assumption about what is skilled and what is unskilled.
Kendi: Many of those Black people who were called unskilled in the past—and even today—worked in service-related occupations. I mention that because there’s the racist idea that Black people are by nature servile, which undercuts the idea that they’re actually highly skilled in doing these jobs. Do you see that too?
Kelley: Yes. I think when you look at people like the Pullman porters, many of whom were highly educated—they were preferred if they had some education. Because being able to have conversations, to anticipate what people need—they really were the first form of a concierge on these train cars—it really necessitated tremendous knowledge and skill for what might look like just a job serving. It’s a reminder of the dexterity of mind that many people bring to things that we think of as service.
And the ways in which they could serve one another, and use their platform to envision better rights for all workers, it’s really incredible. So often we think of unions as selfish. That’s part of the negative narrative that we have of unions. That they’re taking fees from the workers, and they don’t do much and they don’t really help out. But when we look at a union like the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, we see that they started the entire nation in expanding our concept of citizenship and civil rights.
Kendi: Indeed, A. Phillip Randolph, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was the person behind the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. These car porters strove to advance themselves. But you write about how when Black workers are able to start making more money, or owning land, or even start businesses, they typically avoided “outward indications of success.” Racists imagined them to be uppity or even forgetting their place. But what about Black elites? What did they think about the Black working class, then and now?
Kelley: If you look back at Black newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, you’ll find them admonishing workers, “Don’t go out and spend your money on these particular kinds of things. Be very frugal. Don’t go to the tap rooms and buy all these fancy clothes to wear on Sundays.” So there are parallels with the current Black elite. That’s an old trope Black communities have been bouncing around for a really long time: that somehow you can save your way out of the circumstances that make working-class life much more difficult.
The space for pleasure, and the space for enjoyment and pride in how you look and what you have, and the ways in which working folk have spent money have always been criticized. “I don’t look like what my job is; I look like who I want to look like”—that kind of pride is traditionally a Black working-class thing. Although it looks very different today when wearing a Gucci belt or something.
Kendi: Members of the Black working class have not only carved out spaces for pleasure and enjoyment and pride. They have carved out spaces for politics, for organizing, for unions. You talk about how members of the Black working class are more likely to be union members today than any other racial group. Based on your research, why do you think that’s happening? Which is to ask, why do you think Black people are at the forefront of this boom of union organizing and activism in our time?
Kelley: I think Black workers have a different outlook on the narratives around unionizing, and what value unions might have. Black workers are already in a critical stance to say, “Well, no, let me evaluate this for myself. And no, actually I think a union would help!” Coming together is a way to aid us and lift us. It fits the narrative of the wider lives we have lived in our families and communities. Unions just resonate with how Black communities have fought over time, which is why we see Black folks forming unions from the very first moments of freedom, all the way till right now.
Kendi: You even described enslaved Black folks running away as engaging in nascent labor strikes.
Kelley: Absolutely. They understood what a difference their labor made. So often we forget that people who are subjugated have intellectual lives.
Kendi: Definitely. That brings me to two quotes from your book that I wanted you to reflect on. The first touches on what we were just talking about—how Minnie Savage, a child of exploited and constrained sharecroppers, knew the value of her crop-picking in Accomack County, Virginia. At 16 years old, she fled. You write, “Minne dreamed of living in a place where it didn’t feel like they were slaves anymore. A place where she could be paid fairly for her hard work. A place where she could safely join with others to demand fair treatment. She had to leave Accomack to ‘get freed from freedom.’”
Kelley: I love Minnie as a figure, and finding her interview was such a gift. She happened to be from the place where my grandfather was from. And it was so interesting to follow her as she made her way to Philadelphia. Just remember that, for so many, migration was this big dream of possibility and the vision of something new and something broader and something stronger. And chronicling her disappointment in what happened in the first decades after she migrates, and then also chronicling that she does end up with something much stronger, and something she’s really proud of—she was an amazing figure to write about.
Kendi: And finally: “The Trump-caused obsession with the white working class … has obscured the reality that the most active, most engaged, most informed, and most impassioned working class in America is the Black working class.”
Kelley: I’m a scholar of Black people, and I love Black people. I think we learn so much when we shift our gaze, when we think differently, when we pay attention to other people and glean from their history. Black life has so much to teach all of us about what is possible.
When I teach a literature class to undergraduates, one of my most important tasks is to help my students relearn how to read in the age of distraction. I assign them an exercise: Set a timer for 20 minutes and dive into a book, no phone in sight, and don’t stop before the alarm goes off. They frequently tell me that time moves differently when they do this. The first few minutes drag, and the exercise feels totally impossible and dull, but as they keep sitting and reading, they begin to focus on the world inside the pages in front of them. By the end, they’re usually surprised by the timer ringing, and hungry to keep reading.
My students aren’t the only ones who benefit from this exercise, and the activity works with any book. But this list will offer you a head start. The seven titles below self-consciously aim to grab their reader’s attention, whether through form or content. Each will pull you into reading in a different way: Some are brief and succinct; others are long and sprawling. Some use the second person to directly address the reader; others dive deeply into one subject and invite you along. But what they all have in common is their ability to refresh your powers of observation and make you see the real world in a new manner by the end.
Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls
The first book I recommend to anyone in a reading slump is Mrs. Caliban, a novella that’s less than 150 pages, with a fascinating plot and quick pacing. Written in 1982 but reissued in 2017, Mrs. Caliban follows Dorothy, a lonely 1950s-style housewife, who meets Larry, an amphibious sea creature who looks almost exactly like a man, just with green skin and webbed hands and feet. Larry finds refuge from his scientist captors in Dorothy’s house, and the two have an oddly romantic affair right under her husband, Fred’s, nose. Dorothy and Fred are “too unhappy to get a divorce,” so Larry is actually a welcome guest who offers Dorothy not only exotic tales about an underwater world, but also a listening ear for her struggles as a housewife. People (including my students) have speculated that Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water is loosely based on Mrs. Caliban, which makes sense—Ingalls’s writing is hypnotic and cinematic, and Mrs. Caliban is the kind of book you can read in one sitting: It captures your attention like a blockbuster.
The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
The end of The Fifth Season has my favorite section of any speculative-fiction or fantasy novel: a huge glossary of terms such as stone eaters, commless, and orogene that appears after the plot stops, giving the reader a hand in interpreting the wildly unconventional world of the book. And it’s helpful here, because the complex, intricate story takes place on a supercontinent called the Stillness that is on the verge of its regular apocalypse, known as the “fifth season,” a period of catastrophic climate change. “Orogenes,” who can use thermal energy to create seismic events, are considered dangerous people, and most are in hiding, shunned from society. Jemisin’s main character, Essun, is one of them, hiding her true identity as she works as a teacher in her village. She returns home one day to find that her husband has murdered her son and kidnapped her daughter—both of whom inherited her powers. She must journey to save her daughter, accompanied by a mysterious child, while the world around her crumbles. After reading a few chapters of The Fifth Season, you’ll be immersed in this new world and its intricacies, enraptured by the ways this society’s structures shed light on the worst realities of our own.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino
A story that has an experimental or mysterious structure turns you into a detective, trying to figure out not just what happened, but also why the writing is the way it is. To me, the most delightful work in this vein is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino, a book about someone called the Reader and addressed as “you,” who is constantly undercut in his attempt to read a novel called If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino. Right away, the Reader finds that his copy has been misprinted, bound with another novel, which he then buys—but he only gets so far into his second choice before that one is interrupted too. Each novel he picks up is somehow confiscated, unfinished, missing, or full of mistakes. But as the Reader picks up story after story, never able to finish, he meets his female counterpart, Ludmilla, who is trying to read the same titles. The loops of their impossible journey are postmodern, but the tone isn’t abstract or cerebral—it’s funny and sweet. The metafiction of Calvino’s novel, literally addressed to “you,” dramatizes the difficulty of paying attention and finding just the right book. Ironically, it’s totally easy to read, as the Reader’s choices flip from romance to thriller to realist novel, all interwoven with one man’s journey to find his love.
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
Short-story collections can deploy a variety of tones and styles that most novels can’t—each story can be totally unique. Her Body and Other Parties has such an unbelievable range, trafficking in the funny, the bizarre, the unreal, and the haunting, that any reader could find something arresting in it. Machado reimagines the tale of the girl with the green ribbon around her neck right alongside a novella, “Especially Heinous,” in which the characters of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit contend with ghosts and doppelgängers. Even when she’s riffing on episodes of TV that the audience is familiar with, Machado makes the known world look stranger; as a result, supernatural occurrences begin to seem more and more logical. In another story, “Inventory,” a woman lists all of her sexual experiences while the world is slowly consumed by a pandemic. Her nostalgia for the way things used to be morphs into horror at what the world has become—and her lists, on the surface recalling the past but really narrating the present, become a way to cope with the uncertainty each day brings. Likewise, each story in Her Body and Other Parties does many things at once, every genre bent and every first impression unreliable, always fresh and also frightening.
Gathering Moss, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Paying attention is not the topic but the mode of Kimmerer’s first book, Gathering Moss. Whereas her 2013 collection, Braiding Sweetgrass, delves into the many overlaps between Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems, here Kimmerer is deeply focused on just one organism: moss. Over a series of short personal essays, she peers at the tiny world of moss and what it can teach us. Moss can give us metaphors for our life, help us understand our relationships, and show us the way tiny things order the larger world, she argues. Relying on her background as a scientist and an Indigenous scholar, she shows us how rich, how deserving of respect, and how shockingly beautiful the minuscule world really is. Kimmerer writes about looking up from her microscope after examining moss and being “taken aback at the plainness of the ordinary world, the drab and predictable shapes.” Kimmerer’s personal style instills variety: Each essay provides new information not only about the organisms she’s observing, but also about her many roles within houses, laboratories, and communities. By the end, she has inspired readers to see just as she does, with intimate focus on the smallest parts of life.
The Rabbit Hutch, by Tess Gunty
Reading a book that really paints a picture of its location feels a bit like traveling from home—you can get to know everything about a place’s history, people, and minutiae. Gunty’s debut novel, The Rabbit Hutch, delivers on this front. A multivoiced story, it follows the many residents of La Lapinière, a low-income apartment complex in Vacca Vale, Indiana, called the Rabbit Hutch by locals. The novel begins when Blandine Watkins, a teenage resident of Apartment C4, is attacked. She thinks of this violence as an “exit” from her body, a phrase that echoes her obsession with the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen. From here, the novel works backwards to show what led to that moment, following different occupants of the Rabbit Hutch over one hot week in July: An online-obituary comment moderator irks a celebrity’s son to the point of danger, a mother finally tells her husband she’s afraid of her baby’s eyes, and the three young men Blandine lives with become obsessed with her. It’s a brilliant meditation on how much we don’t know about our nearest neighbors, and how the places we live can bring us together—or tear us apart.
Possession, by A. S. Byatt
It may feel counterintuitive, but when nothing else can keep my attention, I know it’s time to go long. As opposed to the articles, tweets, and TikToks I see all day, I find that a long novel with a drawn-out structure and pacing—especially a deep dive into several psyches, over some period of time—will always keep me engaged. Plenty of classic novels offer this, but my favorite is Byatt’s Possession, a 1990 novel that adopts aVictorian structure and gives it a postmodern bent. There are two timelines—a contemporary narrative, in which the scholars Roland Michell and Maud Bailey discover letters between two Victorian poets and reconstruct a missing piece of literary history, and a Victorian narrative, in which we see the relationship between those same poets, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Woven into these two plots are poems, letters, and excerpts from scholarly books—all masterfully written by Byatt. The two worlds create intense dramatic irony: The reader gets to see both what Michell and Bailey get right and what their archives can never capture, reminding us how unknown the territory of the past truly is. The slow pacing means we get to delve into each perspective, but the book remains thrilling throughout, as a picture of history comes slowly into view. By the end, I find I’m always itching to start reading it again.
Researchers have developed a way to make a promising, sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics more biodegradable and reduce plastic waste.
The bio-based polymer blend is compostable in both home and industrial settings.
“In the US and globally, there is a large issue with waste and especially plastic waste,” says Rafael Auras, professor of packaging sustainability at Michigan State University.
Less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled in the US. That means the bulk of plastic waste ends up as trash or litter, creating economic, environmental, and even health concerns.
“By developing biodegradable and compostable products, we can divert some of that waste,” Auras says. “We can reduce the amount that goes into a landfill.”
Another bonus is that plastics destined for the compost bin wouldn’t need to be cleaned of food contaminants, which is a major obstacle for efficient plastic recycling. Recycling facilities routinely must choose between spending time, water, and energy to clean dirty plastic waste or simply throwing it out.
“Imagine you had a coffee cup or a microwave tray with tomato sauce,” Auras says. “You wouldn’t need to rinse or wash those, you could just compost.”
Addition of starch
The team worked with what’s known as polylactic acid, or PLA, which seems like an obvious choice in many ways. It’s been used in packaging for over a decade, and it’s derived from plant sugars rather than petroleum. When managed properly, PLA’s waste byproducts are all natural: water, carbon dioxide, and lactic acid.
Plus, researchers know that PLA can biodegrade in industrial composters. These composters create conditions, such as higher temperatures, that are more conducive to breaking down bioplastics than home composters.
Yet, the idea of making PLA compostable at home seemed impossible to some people.
“If people think we develop something biodegradable so it can be littered, that will make the problem worse.”
“I remember people laughing at the idea of developing PLA home composting as an option,” says Pooja Mayekar, a doctoral student in Auras’ lab group and the first author of the study in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. “That’s because microbes can’t attack and consume PLA normally. It has to be broken down to a point where they can utilize it as food.”
Although industrial compost settings can get PLA to that point, that doesn’t mean they do it quickly or entirely.
“In fact, many industrial composters still shy away from accepting bioplastics like PLA,” Auras says.
In their experiments, the researchers showed that PLA can sit around for 20 days before microbes start digesting it in industrial composting conditions.
To get rid of that lag time and enable the possibility of home composting, Auras and his team integrated a carbohydrate-derived material called thermoplastic starch into PLA. Among other benefits, the starch gives composting’s microbes something they can more easily chow down on while the PLA degrades.
“When we talk about the addition of starch, that doesn’t mean we just keep dumping starch in the PLA matrix,” Mayekar says. “This was about trying to find a sweet spot with starch, so the PLA degrades better without compromising its other properties.”
Fortunately, postdoctoral researcher Anibal Bher had already been formulating different PLA-thermoplastic starch blends to observe how they preserved the strength, clarity, and other desirable features of regular PLA films.
Working with doctoral student Wanwarang Limsukon, Bher and Mayekar could observe how those different films broke down throughout the composting process when carried out at different conditions.
“Different materials have different ways of undergoing hydrolysis at the beginning of the process and biodegrading at the end,” Limsukon says. “We’re working on tracking the entire pathway.”
Managing plastic waste
The researchers have demonstrated that completely compostable bio-based plastic packaging is possible. Yet Auras stressed that this alone won’t be enough to guarantee its commercial adoption.
The challenges there aren’t solely technical. They’re social and behavioral as well.
“There’s not going to be one solution to the entire problem of plastic waste management,” Mayekar says. “What we’ve developed is one approach from the packaging side.”
Beyond industrial composters’ skepticism about plastics that Auras mentioned earlier, there’s a public misconception that biodegradable and compostable materials can break down relatively quickly anywhere in the environment.
These materials require certain conditions, like those found in an active compost, to decompose in a timely fashion. Outside of those, biodegradable plastics that are disposed of in the environment are still just litter.
“If people think we develop something biodegradable so it can be littered, that will make the problem worse,” Auras says. “The technology we develop is meant to be introduced into active waste-management scenarios.”
“We need to be conscious of how we manage waste, especially plastics,” Bher says. “Even at home, you’ll need to think about how you’re managing that small composting process.”
“It’s really easy to just blame plastic for its problems, but I think we need to change the conversation about how we manage it,” Mayekar says.
The US Department of Agriculture and MSU AgBioResearch supported the work.
Source: Matt Davenport for Michigan State
For decades, astronomers have been perplexed by planetary magnetic fields. In our own solar system, there is no rule that explains which worlds generate these magnetic sheaths: Earth, for example, has one, but its sister world — Venus — does not. Astronomers suspect that one of the best ways to understand the mysteries of magnetism might be to study worlds orbiting other suns.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-39420-yHigh-quality superconducting α-Ta film sputtered on the heated silicon substrate
Scientists claim it is first non-human example of a predator using another animal to hide itself when hunting
They do not use a false beard, dark glasses or hide behind newspapers, but when it comes to shadowing others, trumpetfish could give private detectives a run for their money.
Researchers say that when hunting, trumpetfish conceal themselves behind other species of fish to approach their quarry incognito.Continue reading…
A new video and paper demonstrate just how decisive and quick two-toed sloths can be when they need to.
The paper appears in the journal Food Webs and describes and analyzes an unusual video captured by a camera trap in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The camera was set up at a mineral lick, or saladero, where many Amazonian animals come to feed on mineral-rich soil. It captured an ocelot’s attempt to catch and kill a two-toed sloth.
Spoiler alert: The sloth not only survives, but also gets in a few swings at the ocelot before crossing a log above the forest floor.
“This is a super interesting video because it’s one of only a few times that a two-toed sloth has appeared in one of our camera trap videos and the only time that an ocelot has appeared,” says University of Texas at Austin professor of anthropology Anthony Di Fiore.
“In the video series, you see an ocelot presumably trying to prey on a two-toed sloth. In the first video, the ocelot first tries to bite the sloth from behind, on the neck, and the sloth turns over and swipes back at it. In the second, the sloth is slowly moving away from the ocelot on the underside of a trunk crossing the mineral lick. The ocelot follows, and the sloth pays close attention, not letting it get close.”
Di Fiore has been studying primates in the Ecuadorian Amazon for almost 30 years, and during the past decade one of his projects has involved working with camera traps at saladeros in the area. Though his focus has been on primates, such as spider and howler monkeys, the sloth video has him and his collaborators excited.
“Both two-toed sloths and ocelots are difficult animals to study,” he explains. “They are quiet, elusive, and hard to find and observe in the wild. This video provides a snapshot of interesting aspects of the natural history of both species, showing a possible prey-predator relationship which has seldom been considered and showing diurnal activity for the predominantly nocturnal two-toed sloth. The video also highlights the risk that predominantly arboreal animals like sloths take when they come down to the forest floor to use mineral licks.”
Although the research team does not have plans to pursue future sloth-specific research, Di Fiore says they are beginning to use environmental DNA techniques to better document what kinds of animals visit the mineral licks. In preliminary studies, they’ve already identified two sloth species. And who knows: The sloth may come back for round two. If it does, the cameras will be waiting.
Source: Kaulie Watson for UT Austin
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40293-y
Nature Communications, Published online: 07 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40056-9The brain has been proposed to operate near a critical transition between order and disorder, controlled by a balance between inhibition and excitation. Here, the authors show that individual variability in long-range synchronization between brain regions can be explained by an individual’s proximity to this phase transition.
Research shows that remembering events can trigger rhythmic patterns of electrical activity in the brain called oscillations— even more so than when people are experiencing the actual event.
One of the unsettled questions in the field of neuroscience is what primarily drives these rhythmic signals.
The researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Neuron, specifically focused on what are known as theta oscillations, which emerge in the brain’s hippocampus region during activities like exploration, navigation, and sleep. The hippocampus plays a crucial role in the brain’s ability to remember the past.
Prior to this study, it was believed that the external environment played a more important role in driving theta oscillations, says Arne Ekstrom, professor of cognition and neural systems in the University of Arizona psychology department and senior author of the study. But Ekstrom and his collaborators found that memory generated in the brain is the main driver of theta activity.
“Surprisingly, we found that theta oscillations in humans are more prevalent when someone is just remembering things, compared to experiencing events directly,” says lead study author Sarah Seger, a graduate student in the neuroscience department.
The results of the study could have implications for treating patients with brain damage and cognitive impairments, including patients who have experienced seizures, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease, Ekstrom says. Memory could be used to create stimulations from within the brain and drive theta oscillations, which could potentially lead to improvements in memory over time, he says.
The researchers recruited 13 patients who were being monitored at the center in preparation for epilepsy surgery. As part of the monitoring, electrodes were implanted in the patients’ brains for detecting occasional seizures. The researchers recorded the theta oscillations in the hippocampus of the brain.
The patients participated in a virtual reality experiment, in which they were given a joystick to navigate to shops in a virtual city on a computer. When they arrived at the correct destination, the virtual reality experiment was paused. The researchers asked the participants to imagine the location at which they started their navigation and instructed them to mentally navigate the route they just passed through. The researchers then compared theta oscillations during initial navigation to participants’ subsequent recollection of the route.
During the actual navigation process using the joystick, the oscillations were less frequent and shorter in duration compared to oscillations that occurred when participants were just imagining the route. So, the researchers conclude that memory is a strong driver of theta oscillations in humans.
One way to compensate for impaired cognitive function is by using cognitive training and rehabilitation, Ekstrom says. “Basically, you take a patient who has memory impairments, and you try to teach them to be better at memory.”
In the future, Ekstrom is planning to conduct this research in freely walking patients as opposed to patients in beds and find how freely navigating compares to memory with regard to brain oscillations.
“Being able to directly compare the oscillations that were present during the original experience, and during a later retrieval of that is a huge step forward in the field in terms of designing new experiments and understanding the neural basis of memory,” says Seger.
Coauthors of the study are from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Source: University of Arizona