The first time it happened, I assumed it was a Millennial thing. Our younger neighbors had come over with their kids and a projector for backyard movie night—Clueless, I think, or maybe The Goonies.
“Oh,” I said as the opening scene began, “you left the subtitles on.”
“Oh,” the husband said, “we always leave the subtitles on.”
Now, I don’t like to think of myself as a snob—snobs never do—but in that moment, I felt something gurgling up my windpipe that can only be described as snobbery, a need to express my aesthetic horror at the needless gashing of all those scenes. All that came out, though, was: Why? They don’t like missing any of the dialogue, he said, and sometimes it’s hard to hear, or someone is trying to sleep, or they’re only half paying attention, and the subtitles are right there waiting to be flipped on, so … why not?
Because now I’m reading TV, not watching it. Because now, instead of focusing my attention on the performances, the costumes, the cinematography, the painstakingly mixed sound, and how it all works together to tell a story and transport me into an alternate world, my eyes keep getting yanked downward to read words I can already hear. My soul can’t bear the notion of someone watching The Sopranos for the first time and, as Tony wades into the pool, looking down to the bottom of the screen to read [ducks quack]. Subtitles serve an important purpose for people with hearing or cognitive impairments, or for translation from a foreign language. They’re not for fluent English speakers watching something in fluent English.
This monologue was all internal, though, because I’m in my mid-40s and don’t want to sound like an old man shouting at a cloud. We left the subtitles on that night, and I noticed that even though I knew every word of Clueless (or maybe it was The Goonies), I was still reading along. For the life of me I couldn’t understand how this didn’t drive everyone else crazy too. I said nothing, though. Millennials! What’ll they think of next?
Then, a couple of months later, over New Year’s Eve, my wife and I were about to start watching Don’t Look Up with another couple, Ken Leung and Nancy Bulalacao, when Nancy asked if we minded her turning on the subtitles. Ken is a cast member on the HBO series Industry, and Nancy works in New York theater production, and they’re both a bit older than us—squarely Gen X. They watch almost everything now with the subtitles on, she told us, even Ken’s own show, which is full of rapid-fire financial jargon coming at you in about a dozen languages and a riot of accents. She said it almost like a confession, as if bracing for judgment. But I was too stunned to judge.
Both of them have spent their entire adult lives working in movies, television, theater—the visual arts, where voice and imagery are sacrosanct tools of communication with the audience. Surely a screen actor like Ken would be aghast at the notion of so many people choosing to miss so much of the detail and nuance that he builds into his performances?
Nah. Following the story is the most important thing, he told me recently when I asked him about it for this article, and if you’re getting knocked out of the story because you can’t follow the dialogue, then by all means turn on the subtitles. It’s fine. You have his permission.
I grew alarmed by the way subtitles seem to be creeping into our homes—an addictive substance like TikTok, which, by the way, deserves some blame for this shift, conditioning multiple generations to watch content with text plastered all over it. A war is raging in living rooms and bedrooms across America—a Great Subtitle War. On one side: the bombastic visual effects of post–Game of Thrones mega-budget TV. On the other side: hearing the words. On one side: people like me, the purists and refuseniks. On the other: our friends and spouses, people who just want to follow the plot. The widespread use of subtitles felt, to me, like a lurch backward toward the silent-film era. But I didn’t want to be too doctrinaire. Maybe some exceptions could be made.
Then one night a few weeks ago, I walked into the bedroom to find my wife watching Abbott Elementary with the subtitles on. I’d lost her too.
Just three years ago, the South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho took the stage at the Golden Globes to accept the Best Foreign Language Film award for Parasite and made a heartfelt speech urging us all to watch more stuff with subtitles.
“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles,” he said, “you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
A month later, Parasite won the Oscar for Best Picture. About a month after that, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, and much of the world went into quarantine. Cooped-up
were primed for a little experimental viewing; demand for Asian-language content spiked in the U.S. in the months after Parasite became available for streaming, according to data from Parrot Analytics, an entertainment-analytics company. It spiked again, a Parrot spokesman told me, after the September 2021 premiere of Squid Game, another South Korean export, which probably did more than any other single work of culture to bring down Bong’s one-inch wall. The words at the bottom of the screen don’t appear to have distracted anyone from all that arterial spray.
Now subtitles are everywhere, and in fact, they may already be our default mode. According to Preston Smalley, Roku’s vice president of viewer product, a 2022 internal survey revealed that 58 percent of subscribers use subtitles: 36 percent of them switch the subtitles on because of a diagnosed hearing impairment; 32 percent do it out of force of habit. (The remaining third cite a stew of situational issues, such as kids sleeping nearby, other people in the room, and poor audio quality.) Many of the people using subtitles, in other words, do not need them.
And as it turns out, it is a Millennial thing, or at least Millennials are leading the way. A full two-thirds of Roku’s Millennial customers use subtitles, more than any other generation, including seniors, though Smalley attributes that in part to technical hurdles, which is a polite way of saying that older users don’t always know how to turn them on.
Watching a Korean-language film such as Parasite with subtitles, of course, isn’t the same as leaving them on for Abbott Elementary. One experience requires them for most English speakers, the other super does not. But they’re also exactly the same thing. You’re still reading words at the bottom of the screen, it’s the same eye movement, the same mental-conditioning process—so what’s the difference if the actual language being spoken is English or Korean or some distant alien tongue from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Subtitles, in other words, are a door that swings both ways. They can usher you into a rich new cultural experience, only to flick you in the ear during the experience itself.
Once the subtitles are on the screen, my friend Ken said, you feel, subconsciously, that “there’s somebody else in the room. There’s a third person, and they’re telling you what’s being said—they’re being very quiet, they’re minding their own business, but they’re here.” And of course that affects the experience. Imagine, he said during our Zoom call, “if our conversation right now was being subtitled live.”
I get it; not everything is art. Most things we watch don’t require or deserve such reverence. You don’t need spotless mise-en-scène to get the full experience of Is It Cake? But what if it’s The Sopranos? My wife and I recently watched Dead Ringers, which was so visually clever and twisted and sumptuous that I can only imagine how great it would’ve been without subtitles. If you ask me, there’s no defense for anything that requires us to take our eyes off Rachel Weisz, let alone two Rachel Weiszes.
Set aside the qualitative debate over whether this cultural shift is better or worse—let’s at least agree that it’s different. Ken says he appreciates the way subtitles help him and his wife follow along, but he also now finds himself doing something he calls “lazy listening”: “You begin to rely on the subtitles,” he said, “and then without them, you’re suddenly like, I never had an issue hearing things before. How come I do now?”
The writer-director Hannah Fidell—whose Hulu series, A Teacher, starring Kate Mara as a predatory high-school teacher, was based on her 2013 indie film on the same subject—is likewise worried that subtitles are changing viewers’ habits. I assumed that a filmmaker would feel most violated on behalf of their camera shots, but Fidell was, if anything, more aghast at the trouncing of her sound mix. Subtitles make you literal-minded, she says, and oftentimes, the scripted words transcribed on the screen say one thing while the actor’s performance of them says another. I asked Fidell how she would feel if a friend turned on the subtitles while watching the pilot episode of A Teacher.
She went quiet for a moment. “I would be so pissed,” she said.
Game of Thrones, which premiered in 2011 and ended in 2019, shifted the home-viewing paradigm in any number of ways, but it was also the tipping point in this struggle between the audio and the visual. Game of Thrones, Andrew Miano, a longtime film producer, told me, is when we all started turning up the volume to hear the dialogue. Miano made The Farewell, starring Awkwafina, about three-quarters of which is in Mandarin with English subtitles. His issue isn’t with subtitles; it’s with the swelling ranks of always-on-ers, a group that now includes his wife. “It drives me crazy,” he said.
House of the Dragon—last summer’s Game of Thrones prequel—is what broke me. How was anyone supposed to follow that show without subtitles? House Targaryen. House Velaryon. Rhaenys. Rhaena. Rhaenyra. The Sea Snake. The Crabfeeder. Now three years have passed. Now 10 years have passed. Now a different actor is playing Rhaenyra, but the same actor is playing Rhaenys. Dragons shrieking and throwing flames over all of it. What the hell is going on here?
I still didn’t turn subtitles on, though, until halfway through the season, when the cast reshuffled after the second time jump and my options were either (a) turn on the subtitles or (b) pause and rewatch every scene multiple times, requiring an average of three viewing hours per episode. Besides, all of the shots on that show are too dark anyway.
The good news, according to Onnalee Blank, the four-time Emmy Award–winning sound mixer on Game of Thrones, is that it’s not your fault that you can’t hear well enough to follow this stuff. It’s not your TV’s fault either, or your speakers—your sound system might be lousy, but that’s not why you can’t hear the dialogue. “It has everything to do with the streaming services and how they’re choosing to air these shows,” Blank told me.
Specifically, it has everything to do with LKFS, which stands for “Loudness, K-weighted, relative to full scale” and which, for the sake of simplicity, is a unit for measuring loudness. Traditionally it’s been anchored to the dialogue. For years, going back to the golden age of broadcast television and into the pay-cable era, audio engineers had to deliver sound levels within an industry-standard LKFS, or their work would get kicked back to them. That all changed when streaming companies seized control of the industry, a period of time that rather neatly matches Game of Thrones’ run on HBO. According to Blank, Game of Thrones sounded fantastic for years, and she’s got the Emmys to prove it. Then, in 2018, just prior to the show’s final season, AT&T bought HBO’s parent company and overlaid its own uniform loudness spec, which was flatter and simpler to scale across a large library of content. But it was also, crucially, un-anchored to the dialogue.
“So instead of this algorithm analyzing the loudness of the dialogue coming out of people’s mouths,” Blank explained to me, “it analyzes the whole show as loudness. So if you have a loud music cue, that’s gonna be your loud point. And then, when the dialogue comes, you can’t hear it.” Blank remembers noticing the difference from the moment AT&T took the reins at Time Warner; overnight, she said, HBO’s sound went from best-in-class to worst. During the last season of Game of Thrones, she said, “we had to beg [AT&T] to keep our old spec every single time we delivered an episode.” (Because AT&T spun off HBO’s parent company in 2022, a spokesperson for AT&T said they weren’t able to comment on the matter.)
Netflix still uses a dialogue-anchor spec, she said, which is why shows on Netflix sound (to her) noticeably crisper and clearer: “If you watch a Netflix show now and then immediately you turn on an HBO show, you’re gonna have to raise your volume.” Amazon Prime Video’s spec, meanwhile, “is pretty gnarly.” But what really galls her about Amazon is its new “dialogue boost” function, which viewers can select to “increase the volume of dialogue relative to background music and effects.” In other words, she said, it purports to fix a problem of Amazon’s own creation. Instead, she suggested, “why don’t you just air it the way we mixed it?”
The silver lining of tech companies trying to fix problems of their own creation is that, every so often, they stumble onto an ingenious solution. Roku offers a replay feature in which the subtitles show up when you press the 20-second rewind button. It saved Miano’s marriage, and it might save yours. Roku also offers an “automatic speech clarity” feature, though Roku is more akin to an operating system for your television than a streaming platform—it’s just the middle man, sonically speaking—so the option is more of a bandage than a cure. Home-theater providers such as Sonos, meanwhile, offer their own dialogue-boost capabilities, in case you want to pay a second tech company to fix what the first one broke.
Or you can just turn on the subtitles. In any version of our streaming future, subtitles will be the simplest, most cost-effective solution, so maybe what the snobs among us should hope for is that the creators themselves will seize back some creative license over exactly how those words look on the screen. Brett Pawlak, the director of photography for Disney+’s new television series American Born Chinese, told me that although he doesn’t compose shots to leave room for words at the bottom of the screen, the rising ubiquity of subtitles reminds him of the creative hurdle presented about a decade ago, when some directors started incorporating characters’ text messages. The visual challenge, in other words, requires a visual solution.
The appearance of the subtitles on your screen also varies widely by platform—the streamers control that dial too—and some of them put more effort into the task than others. But their default typefaces are all clunky and robotic and bear no connection to the content. If they can beam Severance into our homes and invent dialogue-boost features, surely they can figure out how to let us pick our own typeface, or shrink the font size, or move the words to a different spot on the screen. You know who’d really benefit from that? Deaf people! Non-English speakers. Anyone who finds that subtitles make them feel included in the culture, rather than shut out of it. And maybe the ubiquity of words at the bottom of the screen will inspire filmmakers and showrunners to craft their own subtitles as a viewing option—you can watch this Jordan Peele art-house horror series with Hulu’s charmless sans serif or with Peele’s signature typeset.
Or, to echo Blank, you could just air it the way she mixed it. Her home still frowns on unnecessary subtitles, but that might change as streamer platforms continue to wreak havoc with her sound mixes. “The world is getting louder,” she said. And if subtitles offer us a way to turn down the volume a little bit, maybe that’s not so terrible. She knows a losing battle when she hears one.
- Illinois environmentalists push for state action to protect wetlands after Supreme Court ruling rolls back federal rules
Welcome to Up for Debate. Each week, Conor Friedersdorf rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Replies have been edited for length and clarity.
Last week, I asked readers to make nominations to a hall of fame for song lyrics. Trusting that you’re all aware of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Carole King, and others of similar renown, I’m highlighting the responses most likely to turn you on to artists or songs you don’t know.
For younger readers, that might be the (admittedly quite famous) 20th-century songwriter Irving Berlin, nominated by Karen:
How about “Before the fiddlers have fled / before they ask us to pay the bill, and while we still have the chance / let’s face the music and dance.” Or this one: “And the cares that hung around me for a week / seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak / when we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.”
Jaleelah chooses the governor of California’s “more talented distant cousin.” She writes:
I would 100% pick a lyric written by Joanna Newsom. Her work is magical. She uses precise language to paint the clearest, most beautiful, most unique imagery I have ever encountered.
One of Newsom’s strengths is illustrating changes in her settings rather than simply hopping between discrete points in time and space. In “Emily,” Newsom sets the scene with the lyrics: “There is a rusty light on the pines tonight / Sun pouring wine, lord, or marrow / into the bones of the birches, and the spires of the churches / jutting out from the shadows.” The dynamic nature of her sunset—one that not only colours the town, but infuses it with the substances of life—helps the song feel warm and real.
“Only Skin” depicts bombs reshaping the heavens in a bad dream: “Sky was a bread roll, soaking in a milk-bowl / And when the bread broke / Fell in bricks of wet smoke / My sleeping heart woke, and my waking heart spoke.” I don’t only see the bombs: I taste and feel them.The texture she gives to her scenery is incredible.
While she is a master of complex and heavy language, some of her best lyrics are simple and striking. “I regret / how I said to you, ‘honey, just open your heart,’ / when I’ve got trouble even opening a honey jar” captures a moment of inspiring empathy. This declaration shows a self-awareness and maturity that many fine lyricists lack.
But if I had to choose just one entry for the lyrical hall of fame, I’d pick a lyric from the last verse of “En Gallop” that displays humility on a meta level: “Never get so attached to a poem / you forget truth that lacks lyricism.” That is timeless and wise.
Whether Joanna Newsom is your top pick or not, she is one of the most talented lyricists of the century. Yet instead of selling morals to her devoted audience, she reminds them that she does not hold a monopoly on truth. Other talented and charismatic individuals would do well to follow her lead.
Music is about building on what came before you. Newsom is surely indebted to Texas Gladden and Ernest Hemingway, just as Bob Dylan (who should also be in this fictional hall of fame) is indebted to Woody Guthrie and Big Brown. I don’t think Joanna Newsom should be excluded from the conversation just because she wrote in the 2000s and ’10s instead of the 1950s and ’60s. There have been many great lyricists before her, but her talent has earned her a place in their league.
Melanie focuses on the decade when she came of age and argues that, although very successful, perhaps the best lyricist of the 1990s—the band Counting Crows and, by extension, its frontman and principal songwriter, Adam Duritz—got somewhat overlooked in favor of the era’s “darker” bands, such as Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails.”
The lyrical skill of Counting Crows is stunning, especially when coupled with their knack for writing songs with a heavy pop or country feel, which leave listeners unprepared for the sheer darkness and pessimism contained within the lyrics. Shards of unutterable emotional truth, like “even the best years leave a lot to be desired, and then they pass you by” or “and the one thing you won’t say is / ‘everyone knows possibility days are impossible’ / it just feels wrong, so wrong / still you’re gone, long gone,” create a sort of whiplash. You have just heard some of the worst things your mind spews at you being sung by someone else’s voice, in an accessible, pop-ish song. That is truly Counting Crows’ magic—a magic very easily overlooked, but life-changing to the observant.
As for a single Counting Crows song for a Lyrics Hall of Fame, I think I would vote for “You Can’t Count on Me,” the single from their 2008 album, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings. In 237 words, it tells the story of a protagonist falling in love and knowing that he can’t be an adequate partner due to his own issues (mental illness is implied); the partner falling in love and not grasping the sagacity of the advice; the relationship ending; the protagonist’s former partner being hurt and the protagonist feeling good about that hurt, because as ill-fated as he knew the relationship was, it still had meaning and its loss represents real pain.
That’s a lot of story and a lot of detail and a lot of emotion in a 282-word song that you can hear at the supermarket, with brilliance that can totally be overlooked if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics.
James explores the work of a punk-rock band from San Pedro, California:
Poetry is dependent on the natural cadence of human speech, while song lyrics rarely are. Songs provide distinct structures that can lead us to derive meanings and feelings from words we wouldn’t necessarily get from the printed page.
That being said, I would probably choose something by Minutemen, perhaps the song “Spillage.” I believe the band’s bassist, Mike Watt, wrote this set of lyrics, and he is the member whose lyrics tend to be more self-reflective, existential, and abstract. It’s a bit strange to see his lyrics in print and remember they are sung/shouted within the context of a punk song. “Spillage” is, I think, the most natural synthesis between the band’s leftist politics (largely manifested in the lyrics of the singer and guitarist, D. Boon) and Watt’s more personal concerns. Being 14 lines, it is actually one of the group’s lengthier sets of lyrics, as few of their songs ever pass even the two-minute mark.
A clear and dusty day in June
My stoned mind just spilled that line
Describing, what’s it like, describing?
Believing that the sum is yes
Looking around at all my comrades
My police state mind just spilled that line
I want to give names to our bonds
I need names to play the game
But what makes my heart run?
Why the thunder in my thighs?
The idea of my life
Seems like a symbol
Here we have concerns with freedom of imagination and whether it is possible without language; allusions to authoritarianism and communism ( whose dichotomy is not as cut-and-dried as one might expect from a leftist group, but nor are they entirely conflated); and how language can be a weapon of the state while also being essential to organization. All of this culminates with a yearning for something beyond being merely a representation of life, whether contemplation (and thus organization, possibly of both the linguistic and social variety) can lead to interpreting one’s existence as something essentially meaningful and real. I don’t think many lyricists can so succinctly offer queries like these, nor as poetically, especially outside the realm of a traditional “songwriter” tradition.
Stephen nominates “City of New Orleans” and the song’s writer:
It was written and first released by Steve Goodman in 1971. Arlo Guthrie’s version is best known, and Willie Nelson’s release earned Goodman a Grammy for Best Country Song in 1985. It was awarded posthumously because Steve Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, at age 36.
The lyrics of “City of New Orleans” hauntingly describe the impending demise of the golden era of train travel inthe United States
. And more.
Goodman was a proud product of Chicago. He embraced all the grit, self-awareness, humor, and hidden strength that comes from growing up in the “City of Big Shoulders.” He starts with mundane, local details: Illinois Central, Monday morning, and pulling out from Kankakee. Then the train takes us on a ghostly ride from the top of the map to the bottom. We know something sad is happening, because we are passing “trains that have no names” and the “graveyards of the rusted automobiles.” Then we realize what’s going on before the train does. We all fade into a “bad dream,” but “the steel rail still ain’t heard the news.” Then it becomes clear: “This train got the disappearing railroad blues.”
This song, through its lyrics and its soft accepting tone, foretells the end of the train era, the rusting of the once prosperous Midwest, and, if we listen carefully, we may even get a warning of the early death of this great songwriter.
Luciano writes, “For me, the best lyrics take mundane, depressing, even harrowing situations and turn them into art. Often, this is done by songwriters considered outside of the mainstream of their genre.”
My nomination would be the magisterial 1969 opus “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” by Kris Kristofferson.
Kristofferson’s story is as [uncharacteristic] as it gets for a country star: Born to a military family, he was a college graduate as a student he wrote several essays for The Atlantic), Rhodes Scholar, and military officer about to be an instructor at West Point when the country-music bug bit him. “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” is in many ways reflective of his out-of-the-box upbringing (in country terms). The song revolves around a Sunday morning spent nursing a hangover—hence the “comin’ down.” The opening lines give a sense of how he sees the situation:
Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad
So I had one more for dessert
It reads almost like a poem out of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, or even one by a 19th-century Romantic poet, like William Wordsworth—and it’s just about the hair of the dog to take the edge off. The lyrics take the listener through not only the pain of the hangover, but the regrets of returning to the world in the state he is in:
Then I crossed the empty street
And caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken
And it took me back to somethin’
That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way
The imagery just goes on and on. You feel you’re walking with him (or stumbling, as he does) out to the light of Sunday morning wondering what the hell happened the night before. My favorite verse is near the end, when, after he details the everyday happenings of the sober folks around him, he hears church bells in the distance:
Then I headed back for home
And somewhere far away a lonesome bell was ringin’
And it echoed through the canyons
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday
Those “disappearing dreams of yesterday” just tear my heart out. It’s a verse that could be Merriam-Webster’s definition of regret. And who could forget that chorus, which summarizes the melancholy and confusion of the morning after so vividly:
On the Sunday morning sidewalks
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned
’Cause there’s something in a Sunday
Makes a body feel alone
There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’
Half as lonesome as the sound
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down
This song was recorded by so many artists; famously, Kristofferson was reluctant to record it himself. The poetry of the lyrics often make you forget that it’s even a song to begin with. For me, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” is one of the greatest lyric achievements in not only country music, but American music.
Matt nominates Iron & Wine’s song “The Trapeze Swinger”:
The song is a long ballad in a soothing, steady rhythm that captures so many facets of nostalgic reminiscing of first love. While there’s not a refrain or chorus, the phrase we’ll hear multiple times is “Please remember me.” The haunting delivery of Sam Beam’s soft voice always sets this song apart, and I find myself listening to all nine minutes. That haunting permeates the song with notes of religious imagery. In nostalgia, we look back on the past in a much kinder way, and each verse of this song paints over and over a deepening varnish on that love and the twinge of pain that stays with us.
Errol seizes the opportunity “to try to bring attention to someone who I would argue is one of the greatest lyricists of all time: Warren Zevon.” He writes:
There are a great many songs by him that I could highlight, but for the purpose of lyrics only as a nomination, I would pick “Tenderness on the Block.” I love songs that are stories, and this one tells a sweet tale of a father watching his little girl grow up to become an independent, free-thinking adult. The lyrics calm his worries of letting her out into the world, emphasizing that she’ll be okay and that she’s “streetwise to the lies and the jive talk.” I find it to be one of his more whimsical songs, as he was mostly a satirist and had many demons throughout his life. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” is a quintessential rock-and-roll-star biography, although he was far from the rock-and-roll-star stature.
Honorable mentions for him would be “Splendid Isolation,” “Mr. Bad Example,” “Desperados Under the Eaves,” and “Life’ll Kill Ya.” Anyone who is a fan of folk, rock, and dark humor should seek this artist out.
Hip-hop was definitely underrepresented in your responses. If you’re looking for an accessible introduction to the best of that genre, I highly recommend the Dissect podcast, especially the seasons dedicated to Kendrick Lamar and Ye (formerly Kayne West), as well as Jay-Z’s book Decoded. See you later this week.
Harvesting wild local produce in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park may not seem like the best idea. And yet, on a foraging tour of the lively public park last month, a straw-hatted forager named “Wildman” Steve Brill and his teenage daughter, Violet, led roughly 40 of us amateurs into the grassy areas beyond the park’s paved footpaths for a four-hour tromp. Among plastic wrappers and bottle caps we found edible roots, fragrant herbs, and sturdy greens, all ripe for experimentation in the adventurous cook’s kitchen.
At least in theory. There was food here, for sure, but hardly of the practical variety. We recovered fallen pods from the Kentucky coffeetree, whose seeds can be used to brew a caffeine-free alternative to a morning cup. That is, if one is willing to harvest enough of them, wash them of green toxic goo, and roast them for hours—though even then, it won’t really be coffee. I stuffed a few pods in a canvas bag alongside sassafras root, once used to make root beer the old-fashioned way, and a handful of lettuce-flavored violet leaves that could, in the right quantities, constitute a small salad. Two weeks later, I’m still wondering what, if anything, I’ll actually make with these odd new ingredients.
What I didn’t anticipate were all the medicinal plants. Just a few minutes into the tour, we came across enough wild analgesics and anti-inflammatories to insure a casual hike. Here among the cigarette butts was broadleaf plantain, an easy-to-miss herb (unrelated to the bananalike fruit) known for calming mosquito bites. Over near the urinating puppy was jewelweed, which soothes poison-ivy and stinging-nettle rashes. Twigs snapped from a black birch tree exuded wintergreen oil, also known as methyl salicylate, a relative of aspirin that powers pain-killing ointments such as Bengay and Icy Hot.
Interest in foraging for food has taken off in recent years, owing in part to the gourmet-ification of eating locally and in part to its popularity on social media, where influencers make chips out of stinging nettles and add fir needles to granitas. Foraged ramps and morel mushrooms have become so well known that they now appear on restaurant menus and in high-end grocery stores. But the foraging boom has largely left behind what has historically been a big draw of scrounging for plants—finding treatments for minor ailments. To be clear, medicinal plants aren’t likely to save the casual forager’s life, and they lack the robust clinical data that back up pharmaceuticals. But even some scientists believe they can be handy in a pinch. In a way, being able to find a jewelweed stem is more useful than identifying a handful of leaves that can substitute for lettuce.
That has definitely been the case for Marla Emery, a scientific adviser to the Norwegian Institute for Natural Research and a former research geographer for
Forest Service who studies community foraging. Several years ago, when huge, oozing blisters formed on her legs after a run-in with poison ivy on a hunting trip, Emery visited an herbalist in Scotland who applied lobelia, an herb with pale-violet flowers, and slippery elm, a tree with mucilaginous properties, to her calf. Soon, she felt a tingling sensation—“as if someone had poured seltzer over the area”—and within an hour the blisters had healed, Emery told me.
Both plants, traditionally used to treat skin conditions, “are supportive of health and have medicinal value,” she said, and they’re especially useful because “you’re highly unlikely to poison yourself” with them. Such anecdotes illustrating the profound utility of medicinal plants are common among botanist types. “If you get a cut and put [broadleaf] plantain on it, you can see it close up,” Alex McAlvay, an ethnobotanist at the New York Botanical Garden, told me. At least for some species, he said, “the proof is in the pudding.”
Though foraging has long been a medicinal practice, and so many modern drugs are derived from plants, in the West, medicinal flora has largely been relegated to “traditional” or “folk remedy” status. Still, their use lives on in many communities, including immigrant groups that “come with medicinal-plant uses from their homelands and seek to continue them,” Emery said. People in Chinese, Russian, and certain Latin communities in the U.S. commonly forage dandelion, a weed with diuretic properties, to support kidney and urinary-tract health, she added.
Along the concrete footpaths of Prospect Park, the Brills pointed out stands of burdock; its roots, in addition to being a tasty potato dupe, are used in some cultures to detoxify the body. Pineapple weed, found in baseball diamonds and sidewalk cracks, can calm an upset stomach, Steve told me later. Scientific data for such claims are scant, much like they are for other foraged plants, and using the plants for health inevitably raises questions about scientific credibility. Many medicinal plants that a casual forager will encounter in the wild will not have been studied through rigorous clinical trials in the same way that any prescription drug has been. Whether people ultimately embrace foraging for medicinal plants depends on how they believe “we make evidence and truth,” McAlvay said. “A lot of people are like, ‘If there’s no clinical research, it’s not legit.’ Other people are like, ‘My grandma did it; it’s legit.’” Nothing beats clinical research, though clearly some plants share valuable properties with certain drugs. Lamb’s quarters, a dupe for spinach, is so packed with vitamin C that it was traditionally used to prevent scurvy; stinging nettle, traditionally used for urination issues, may have similar effects as finasteride, a prostate medication.
Naturally, the experts I spoke with unanimously recommended using foraged medicinal plants only for minor ailments. Just as foraging for food comes with some risks—what looks like a delicious mushroom can make you sick—the same is true of medicinal foraging. Take established, reputable classes and use books and apps to correctly identify plants, many of which have dangerous look-alikes; the edible angelica plant, for example, is easily confused with poisonous water hemlock, of Socrates-killing notoriety. Learning about dosage is important too. A benign plant can become poisonous if too large a dose is used, warned Emery. When working with medicinal plants, she said, “you’ve got to know what you’re doing, and that doesn’t lend itself to the casual TikTok post.” Beginner foragers should stick to “gentle but definitely powerful, easy-to-identify herbs,” such as dandelion and violet, said McAlvay.
As the Brills instructed, when I got home I submerged a foraged jewelweed stem in witch hazel to make a soothing skin tincture. Days later, when I dabbed some onto a patch of sunburn on my arm, I felt, or maybe imagined, a wave of relief. Whatever the case, my delight was real. When I had asked both tour-goers and experts why foraged medical plants mattered in a world where drugs that accomplish the same things could be easily bought at a pharmacy, some said it was “empowering” or “satisfying,” but the description that resonated with me most came from McAlvay, who called it “magic”: the power to wield nature, in nature, in order to heal.
When I got home from the tour and opened my bag of foraged goods, I found a black birch twig, still redolent of wintergreen. Coincidentally, that is the one smell I have craved throughout 38 weeks (and counting) of pregnancy, but moms-to-be are advised to avoid the medicinal ointments containing the oil. I sniffed the twig deeply, again and again, recalling that it might become useful in the months to come. When teething infants are given black birch twigs to chew, the gently analgesic qualities of the low-dose wintergreen oil helps soothe their pain, Brill had said. All of a sudden, their crying stops. What’s more magical than that?
Retired Navy commander and university professor Joe Dituri has spent close to 100 days confined in an underwater habitat almost 30 feet below the surface off the Florida coast.
Dituri, who broke the record for the longest time spent underwater on May 14 at 73 days, is still down there, and planning to stick around until he hits an even 100 days on Friday.
And the effects the added pressure is having on his physical body are really starting to show. For one, he noticed that he no longer bangs his head on an iron handle attached to the ceiling.
"I've already shrunk at least a half an inch [due to the pressure]," Dituri told FOX 13.
When asked if he's expecting to grow the height back again once he reemerges, Dituri gave a surprising answer.
"I don't know," he told the broadcaster. "No idea. That's why we're doing this."
The roughly 100-square-foot habitat was built in the early 1980s and was originally intended for tourists to spend a night underwater.
Dituri has been using the habitat to study how the added pressure some 30 feet underwater — almost twice that on the surface — is affecting his body.
According to his own measurements, Dituri claims his cholesterol is already down.
The researcher is also suggesting that since his body is producing stem cells, the telomeres at the end of his chromosomes are growing instead of shortening, a process that is usually associated with aging.
In other words, he thinks spending prolonged periods of time underwater could slow down aging, a controversial conclusion.
"I suspect, and I'll find out exactly how many, but I suspect it will add that many more to my life," Dituri told FOX 13.
It's worth noting that Dituri also runs the Undersea Oxygen Clinic, where patients are subjected to higher pressures inside hyperbaric chambers to simulate a deep sea environment, meaning he has a financial interest in promoting purported health benefits of the therapy.
Food and Drug Administration notes, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is already being used to treat health problems such as carbon monoxide poisoning and diabetic foot ulcers. Yet many claims surrounding the treatment remain unproven.
While experts have yet to analyze Dituri's findings, at the very least it's a fascinating glimpse into what living deep underwater does both physically and emotionally.
"The thing that I miss the most about being on the surface is literally the Sun," he said previously.
The post Florida Man Says He's Shrunk From Living Months Underwater appeared first on Futurism.
- Landmark Supreme Court decision in Nepal helps protect wildlife and ensure social justice
Finally, it's the robot we've all been waiting for.
Meet ANDI, a heat-sensitive "thermal manikin" that can sweat profusely when it's hot outside to cool itself down, just like a real human. ANDI will even breathe heavily when under temperature-related duress.
Despite its offputting appearance, the robot does serve a very real purpose. Global temperatures are rising, and heat-trapping, concrete-laden urban metropolises aren't exactly helping the issue.
Researchers at Arizona State University are utilizing a specially-made version of the clammy android as a way to measure the effects extreme temperatures can have on the human body.
"You don't want to run a lot of these [tests] with a real person," Konrad Rykaczewski, an ASU mechanical engineering professor and the project's principal investigator, told local newspaper the Arizona Republic. "It's unethical and would be dangerous."
What's considered "peak heat" today, Rykaczewski added, "might be the average day in 20 years."
Climate Change C-3PO
As the report notes, while similar manikins have already been used inside controlled heat labs, the ASU-owned bot is the first with an "internal cooling system" that allows it to be used and tested outside.
ANDI won't just be used to measure how bad human life and health might get due to extreme temperatures. Researchers are hoping to find new ways of heat mitigation with the manikin's help, too.
"Maybe you should have spent that extra 15 minutes in the shade," Rykaczewski told the Arizona Republic. "Maybe we should spray water on you for 20 minutes. Maybe it's a certain clothing."
"The idea is to look at anything that would help us," he added, "if we have to be outside or want to enjoy being outside."
The researchers also hope that ANDI — which even has internal "organs" modeled after its human counterparts — will provide some added insight into recorded heat-related deaths.
"There are situations we know of in the Valley where people are dying of heat and we still don't fully understand what happened," said co-investigator Jennifer Vanos, an associate professor of sustainability, in a university statement. "ANDI can help us figure that out."
You can catch ANDI wandering around the ASU campus with its friend MaRTy, a portable weather station. Climate change's C-3PO and R2-D2, if you will.
More on robots: Robot Pizza Startup Shuts Down after Cheese Kept Sliding Off
The post Scientists Finally Invented Robot That Can Sweat Heavily appeared first on Futurism.
Nature, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01824-1Analysis of nearly 300,000 people finds an association between the
- “Vision Pro feels familiar, yet it’s entirely new.” That’s how Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, introduced the company’s new computer goggles at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.
“Vision Pro feels familiar, yet it’s entirely new.” That’s how Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, introduced the company’s new computer goggles at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday. The Vision Pro headset, which resembles a glass scuba mask with a fabric head strap, seamlessly blends the real and digital worlds, Cook said. But the product’s name, which could just as easily describe a brand of contact-lens solution, hints at a challenge. Familiar yet entirely new, natural but augmented: If goggles really are the future of computing, they will have to overcome a bevy of conflicting sentiments.
As you might expect, Apple’s product is slick. The curved exterior looks 1980s-Bond-villain cool, and can light up to show the wearer’s eyes inside when someone is nearby. The pitch—that it’s a “wearable, spatial computer” with a “majestic viewing experience” in which “your surroundings become an infinite canvas”—is just as polished and seductive: Perhaps this headset represents the future.
Silent doubt infected Cook’s presentation, however. “We believe Apple Vision Pro is a revolutionary platform,” he declared, in an explicit appeal that may signal worry that it won’t be. He also said that the device “marks the beginning of a journey,” and then, again, that “this is just the beginning.” The beginning of a journey where, and why?
Apple didn’t even march out the $3,500 goggles until the second half of the presentation. Cook and his team began with more than an hour’s worth of hammering on incremental changes to their other product lines—Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch—as if to wear the viewers down, to make them feel exhausted with the nonrevolutionary gadgets of the recent past. But the headset demo also acted as a lens to focus on the status quo. Apple’s presentation made it clear enough that, even with your headset on, Safari, Microsoft Word, and other prerevolutionary software will persist. “Your entire world is a canvas for apps,” a Vision Pro product manager said of the begoggled life, apparently without intent to cause despair.
Some of the goggles’ apps looked remarkable but felt essentially familiar: Enlarge a movie so it appears to fill the room; give a slide presentation while seeing your audience’s faces floating in space; project your laptop display above the desk without a monitor. Other software lets you see a three-dimensional, exploded view of the human heart for education, collaborate on the design of an Alfa Romeo F1 race car, approve a plan for assembly-line logistics, spin decks as a DJ. If this is the revolutionary future, it sure feels a lot like the present, but with your face in a computer.
Apple’s headset is not the first product of this kind to hit the market, but its entry is significant. Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, Meta’s CTO and the head of its Reality Labs metaverse division, told me that VR is a “transformative” technology that will one day be ubiquitous.
of goggles has arrived. Meta, Microsoft, HTC, and other firms are pumping tens of billions of dollars into this area and rolling out new products at a steady pace. Yet the nature, let alone the purpose, of their vision is still maddeningly unclear.
Back in the ancient times of 2021, the “metaverse” was the hottest trend in tech. Nobody really knew what it was exactly, only that avatars would soon be interacting in 3-D space, and that they might or might not have legs. Mark Zuckerberg, a man best known for starting your uncle’s favorite website, jumped in with both legless feet, even changing Facebook’s name to Meta. A few months later, Disney, one of the world’s biggest media companies, built up its metaverse division, with a mission to explore what its then-CEO called the “next great storytelling frontier.” Microsoft, the software, gaming, and cloud-computing giant, secured a contract to sell “mixed reality” goggles to the U.S. Army that could be worth nearly $22 billion over a decade.
All of this raised eyebrows at the time. But then computers started generating eyebrows that raised themselves. By the end of 2022, generative artificial intelligence had sucked all the hype out of the room. ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, DALL-E 2, and other remarkable AI tools with silly names became hot, and piloting an avatar to virtual Taco Bell seemed even stupider than it did before. A metaverse backlash, already fully rooted, began to bloom. Microsoft’s military contract hit the skids, Disney laid off its entire metaverse team, and even Zuckerberg’s own employees seem not to have much time for the technology. The massive wealth involved in these decisions made the whole thing feel unprecedented, a boondoggle of a scale previously reserved for governments building fighter jets that can’t fly.
But backlash, too, can be inflated. It’s far too soon to say the hype has come to nought. Around 1980, Bill Gates imagined “a computer on every desk and in every home”—a preposterous idea at the time. When cellphones and then smartphones first appeared, they seemed like indulgent gadgets of the rich and self-important. Soon enough, everyone had one, or maybe several. Apple’s new goggles, or the ones that Facebook and Microsoft already sell, could one day make this unlikely leap from unthinkable to all we ever think about.
Admittedly, the early signs aren’t promising. By the end of 2011, nearly five years after the iPhone appeared, 1.2 billion smartphones had been sold. In the past five years, consumers bought fewer than 50 million sets of virtual-reality goggles, mostly for playing video games. But huge risks can lead to huge rewards. Google, IBM, and Microsoft plan to invest billions into quantum computing, a technology just as hard to understand as the metaverse, but in more of a boring, physics-nerdy way. As my colleague Glenn MacDonald, an economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told me when I asked him if all these tech companies had gone bananas, “It all depends on how you think about risk aversion.” If the metaverse eventually takes off, and goggling becomes as popular as Googling or Facebooking, then Cook, Zuckerberg, and other goggle optimists will have the last laugh.
During the Vision Pro announcement, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, showed up too, as a corporate partner on the product launch. “The thing that struck me the most,” he said, “is how it will allow us to create deeply personal experiences.” But technological life already feels like a deluge of personal experiences. Will the ones that take place in goggles really prove more personal than those created by an iPhone, a television, or a pencil?
For the moment, byzantine branding matters and insider jargon cloud the goggle future further. Meta touts its headsets’ immersive VR, referring to a technology that has been around for decades (and which has often been fictionalized, in cyberpunk stories, as an exit from the hellscape of real life). Other companies, including Apple, say they’re working in “augmented reality” (AR), which means superimposing computer images atop a view of the world—a heads-up display for your life. Still more are selling headsets for “extended reality” (XR), a name that seems to indicate nothing more than a desire to avoid choosing between AR and VR. And I suppose one should not forget “mixed reality” (MR), the term applied to Microsoft’s goggles (but which doesn’t seem that different from the others), or “spatial computing” (the term preferred by Apple during its presentation).
If you’re bored by all of these buzzwords, I don’t blame you. So let’s simplify: We’re talking about goggles with computers in them. Eyeglasses with smartphones in them. You’ve got a laptop; you’ve got a phone, maybe a tablet, perhaps a watch; maybe you’ve even got a drone. You’ll have goggles too, maybe.
But what will you do with them? If the answer amounts to playing video games (but inside goggles) or attending Zoom meetings (but inside goggles), or doing military exercises or industrial training or word processing (but inside goggles), then the whole thing does seem like flimflam. Apple’s pitch, as far as I can tell at this early stage, is more technically refined but still confounding: a very cool computer on your face. But still, to what end?
A couple of weeks ago, I asked Meta’s Boz to tell me, concretely, what this new kind of computing is really for. The answer? It’s for bowling. “Bowling is fucking weird,” Boz said. “We go bowling; we go golfing—why?” He concluded that we do these things as excuses to spend time together, and that “the metaverse will be serving a need like that for a lot of people.” In other words, people will don VR/AR/XR/MR headsets to hang out with their friends’ and colleagues’ avatars in virtual spaces. They’ll goggle so they can commune.
For the moment, most goggling experiences are solo, in part because so few people own their own headset. When I first got a Quest headset a couple of years ago, I tried watching movies (it was fine), visiting virtual tourist sites (eh), doing exercise (absolutely not), and playing games (some are good! Some are not). But I’ve found that Boz is right in saying that socializing in VR can feel like something new and different. One of the few headset apps I’ve really enjoyed is Walkabout Mini Golf. It’s, you know, virtual-reality mini golf. But when I play it with my son, who lives in a different city, the banter of the game takes priority over putting. We chat and move around a hole as shots progress, to look at a lie, get out of each other’s way, or just mill about in virtual space. Being there, and being people, is in the foreground; the game is just a way of hanging out.
This degree of presence isn’t always necessary, Boz told me, but sometimes it’s essential. “You know that ‘This is not a phone email’ feeling?” he said. And yes, I do: You start to write an important message to a friend or colleague and realize that tapped-out letters on a little smartphone screen simply don’t seem right for the activity. The same is true for hanging out. Email, telephone, and texts have their place, as does Zoom. Goggles provide another option, for when you want or need it.
Surely Boz was making reference to the political scientist Robert Putnam’s famous book Bowling Alone. Putnam argued that institutions such as churches, neighborhoods, and, yes, bowling leagues once provided social glue, but generational and technological change have pulled
apart and left us in a constant state of disconnection. Bowling Alone was published in 2000, a couple of years after Google was created and a few before the launch of Facebook. Social media offered a weak solution to the problem that the book identified. New technology certainly made people more social, in the sense that it put them in contact with a greater number of other people much more often, but it also had a way of amplifying loneliness and anxiety, and spawning new associations—such as anime fandoms and QAnon—that functioned less as reality than fantasy.
Now, perhaps, goggling could be the total cure. To bowl together, virtually, is to participate in a more intimate, prosocial life online—and one that tends to make the offline world ever less important. “With the exception of food,” Boz said hopefully, the metaverse may end up satisfying “all the reasons we leave our house.”
In another vision of the goggle age, headsets are for going places. The internet began with metaphors of travel: You visited a website by traveling the information superhighway. Geocities organized homepages into geographical neighborhoods: Hollywood, Wall Street, Rodeo Drive. You had to go online, explicitly coupling your computer, in your house, with the network of networks that composed the internet. Surfing was slow and laborious, and moving from one site to a different one really felt like a traversal.
But whatever distinctiveness there was among many places on the web during the 1990s would soon be flattened out. Eventually, everything online began to feel the same. You have a glass rectangle like everyone else’s, which holds a grid of apps, which hold different chats that all look the same. Now the internet is everywhere and no place in particular.
Maybe goggles can recover some of what the internet has lost. One might use them not to foster or exploit connections (as in the old—and failed—mission of social media) but to slow down and go somewhere rather than tapping and scrolling and posting into oblivion.
Going somewhere online could, of course, serve many mundane purposes. AR and VR (and XR and MR) are already becoming useful in design, construction, safety training, medicine, and therapy. Goggle to meet with your contractor; goggle because your employer requires it for compliance training. Headsets may also be a way to visit and enjoy simple entertainments: Goggle to the music club or to the Super Bowl.
More high-minded aims and destinations have also been tried out. One of my most memorable goggle encounters, now a decade old, was a VR guillotine simulator. You put the goggles on, stuck your head in the stocks, and waited. Then black. A year later, the journalist Nonny de la Peña created Project Syria, a VR visit to Aleppo. By taking users to places where they would or could not really go, the technology offered empathy or awe via translocation.
John Vechey, a co-founder of Pluto VR and a former video-game executive, still believes in this idea. Working with the Indigenous-led nonprofit Se’Si’Le, he told me he is raising money to embody people in the plight of Lolita, an orca. The Miami Seaquarium plans to release the killer whale to the Pacific Northwest waters where she was captured more than 50 years ago. For Vechey, the importance of that ocean habitat cannot be communicated with words or even moving images. With goggles, though, he told me, “we can give people a sense of the vastness of the sea, and then put them in the aquarium that she’s been in since [being captured], like being in an eight-by-eight jail cell by comparison.” At the Apple presentation, Iger presented a similar future of immersive naturescapes created by Disney’s National Geographic division.
For goggling to become a superordinate category of technological life—and thereby, real life—we’d need lots of places to go. And yet, the potential power of these journeys might well be sapped by oversaturation. At some point, we could have countless goggle apps shoveled into platforms’ stores. When you’re wearing goggles all day long to do your work, take your calls, and then watch movies, I’m guessing you’ll feel a desperate urge to take them off. You’ll want to go anywhere, literally anywhere, that isn’t still inside of them.
Sure, I’d like to see my son for mini golf and take a swim with killer whales—but doing so wouldn’t have to mean the end of all conventional computers. Not everything needs to be a revolution to bear value. Goggles could just be for things you do sometimes and enjoy, like bowling with your friends. In theory, the new technology could end up being useful, modest, and low-key.
But if that’s the case, then how will goggles ever justify the tens of billions of dollars that have been bet on their universal adoption? Proponents of the goggle age are unperturbed by this conundrum. When pressed, they raise what I’d call the nerd’s objection. Every new, transformative device, they say, seems like a toy in the beginning, with narrow uses. Headsets are no different.
But goggles have been around for decades, in one form or another, and they’ve always seemed like toys. Even if that impression really were about to change, it is not clear what the goggles’ reinvention of computing would mean for contemporary life. The purpose of the goggle age is to make goggles second nature. Once that has been achieved, they may end up giving you less frequent, more meaningful encounters with people and places. Or they could make computing even more consuming, a constant feed to your eyeballs rather than a nearly constant glow in your palm. Or maybe they’ll just offer you a strange new way of doing the same old things.
The Mona Lisa is small. Less than three feet tall and about two feet wide, it hangs tiny in the biggest exhibition room at France’s Louvre Museum. And in the past two or so weeks, some vigilante AI artists have decided that it should be bigger—much bigger. They’re making that happen using a beta tool in Adobe Photoshop called “generative fill.” It launched late last month and allows users to fill in, augment, or expand an image using AI—think ChatGPT but for Photoshop. (It uses Adobe’s “Firefly” AI models, which are trained on its stock photography.) Amateur and professional editors alike can use a text prompt to, say, add clouds to a picture of a blue sky, or widen a photo of a beach to include additional, computer-rendered beach.
In a new, enlarged version of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait created with the tool, the painting’s subject takes up just a small part of the canvas. She is there, familiar as ever, except she’s surrounded by a brooding landscape. And that’s about it. The bottom half of her body is still missing. Another post takes Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bedroom and grows it into a bigger bedroom. Perhaps the most outrageous of the bunch builds on Piet Mondrian’s Composition With Red Blue and Yellow, surrounding the famously minimalist work with additional rectangles of varying sizes. Others used generative fill to widen classic album covers or film shots.
People got very angry about these expansions. They pointed out that the generated images miss an important point: Artists compose and constrain their works intentionally. Da Vinci painted a portrait not because he was incapable of painting a landscape, but because he chose to paint a portrait. The revised works, they complained, weren’t even good! If one were to go about expanding the Mona Lisa, one could at the very least have the decency to give her some legs.
But the AI Mona Lisa is the perfect metaphor for where we are with generative AI. We can quickly and easily do things that once took a lot of time and skill. Reimagining the Mona Lisa from a wider perspective has been possible ever since there was a Mona Lisa; it just would have required actual craftsmanship, paint, a canvas, and so on. Now a computer can do it for you in mere seconds. But why? Was there something wrong with the original Mona Lisa? Even if you’re using the tools in earnest, there’s a good chance their output will be derivative or dull, because generative AI is fundamentally about remixing rather than creating something entirely new.
Most of the use cases for generative AI being sold to us right now are like this. We are told that this AI will completely change the world as we know it—Bill Gates and other technologists are claiming that it is as revolutionary as the invention of the internet. “AI is the tech the world has always wanted,” OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tweeted last month. And then we are offered applications that fall well short of world-changing. Bing is integrating AI into its search functionality so that users can … well, what exactly? Find answers in a different way? Meanwhile people are already losing their job to chatbots.
AI enthusiasts will breathlessly tell you about how ChatGPT can draft work emails or render PowerPoint presentations in seconds. But to what end? People are right to wonder if we really need more emails, just like they’re right to wonder if we really need a bigger Mona Lisa. All of this computational firepower is being directed at uses that seem more like corporate gimmicks than anything substantive.
Which isn’t to say that applications of AI won’t someday be world-altering, or that we won’t be able to harness its power in ways that move us. It’s just that AI hype currently outpaces its abilities. Contrast the viral Mona Lisa tweet with the other big AI story last week: an open letter signed by hundreds of experts warning that, unchecked, artificial intelligence could pose an extinction-level threat on par with nuclear war. Together, these stories offer a perfect synopsis of the moment: AI is going to either kill us, or bore us with endless riffs on Edward Hopper.
If this story has a silver lining, it’s that a lot of people—millions, if you trust the analytics on Twitter—are looking at art. That’s a good thing, András Szántó, a museum consultant and the author of The Future of the Museum, told me, even if these people are only “superficially engaged” with the works. When’s the last time you remember people raging online about the compositions of Renaissance paintings? Szántó was cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of AI art as a new medium, while acknowledging the thorny legal and ethical questions it raises.
And the idea of expanding the frame isn’t necessarily a bad one. What the Twitter interpretations miss is a distinct point of view, of the kind that human artists embed in their works all the time. “It’s just the same painting, a little wider,” the Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Jerry Saltz told me. “I would love to see what’s in the wings of a Picasso, of a Mona Lisa, of a Michael Jackson album. That’s all interesting. But their answer to it isn’t.” I was reminded of Saltz’s critique of an AI-art installation at the Museum of Modern Art in February: “If AI is to create meaningful art,” he argued, “it will have to provide its own vision and vocabulary, its own sense of space, color, and form.”
In this particular instance, the computer just tramples on the artist’s perspective. “The AI appears to have missed the fact that in the original Mona Lisa, we clearly see a small column on a parapet on the left side of the painting,” Tina Ryan, a curator at the forthcoming Buffalo AKG Art Museum, wrote over email. That the subject is seated in a loggia, Ryan said, “might be symbolic of Leonardo’s fascination with the tension between man and nature.” The AI can deliver renderings of nature, but without any creative intent, they lack tension.
Before Photoshop’s update, the Mona Lisa was in the news last month for an entirely different reason. An Italian historian named Silvano Vinceti claims to have found the ruins of the bridge featured in the background of the painting, perhaps solving a long-running mystery. People curious as to what lurks beyond the canvas can now make a pilgrimage to the hills outside the small Tuscan town of Laterina, home to only 3,500 people. Or they could simply ask a generative-AI tool to render its best guess, close their eyes, and choose to inhabit the dreary landscape it dreams up.
In May 2019, I was invited to give a lecture at my old high school in Scarsdale, New York. Before the talk, I met with the principal and his top administrators. I heard that the school, like most high schools in America, was struggling with a large and recent increase in mental illness among its students. The primary diagnoses were depression and anxiety disorders, with increasing rates of self-harm; girls were particularly vulnerable. I was told that the mental-health problems were baked in when students arrived for ninth grade: Coming out of middle school, many students were already anxious and depressed. Many were also already addicted to their phone.
Ten months later, I was invited to give a talk at Scarsdale Middle School. There, too, I met with the principal and her top administrators, and I heard the same thing: Mental-health problems had recently gotten much worse. Even many of the students arriving for sixth grade, coming out of elementary school, were already anxious and depressed. And many, already, were addicted to their phone.
To the teachers and administrators I spoke with, this wasn’t merely a coincidence. They saw clear links between rising phone addiction and declining mental health, to say nothing of declining academic performance. A common theme in my conversations with them was: We all hate the phones. Keeping students off of their devices during class was a constant struggle. Getting students’ attention was harder because they seemed permanently distracted and congenitally distractible. Drama, conflict, bullying, and scandal played out continually during the school day on platforms to which the staff had no access. I asked why they couldn’t just ban phones during school hours. They said too many parents would be upset if they could not reach their children during the school day.
A lot has changed since 2019. The case for phone-free schools is much stronger now. As my research assistant, Zach Rausch, and I have documented at my Substack, After Babel, evidence of an international epidemic of mental illness, which started around 2012, has continued to accumulate. So, too, has evidence that it was caused in part by social media and the sudden move to smartphones in the early 2010s. Many parents now see the addiction and distraction these devices cause in their children; most of us have heard harrowing stories of self-harming behavior and suicide attempts among our friends’ children. Two weeks ago,
surgeon general issued an advisory warning that social media can carry “a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”
We now also have more precedents: many more examples of schools that have gone entirely phone-free during the school day. So the time is right for parents and educators to ask: Should we make the school day phone-free? Would that reduce rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm? Would it improve educational outcomes? I believe that the answer to all of these questions is yes.
What Phones Do to Kids in School
Think about how hard it is for you to stay on task and sustain a train of thought while working on your computer. Email, texts, and alerts of all kinds continually present you with opportunities to do something easier and more fun than what you’re doing now. If you are over age 25, you have a fully mature frontal cortex to help you resist temptation and maintain focus, and yet you probably still have difficulty doing so. Now imagine a phone in a child’s pocket, buzzing every few minutes with an invitation to do something other than pay attention. There’s no mature frontal cortex to help them stay on task.
Many studies have established that, despite schools’ rules against it, students check their phone a lot during class, and that they receive and send texts if they can get away with it. Their focus is often and easily derailed by interruptions from their device. One study from 2016 found that 97 percent of college students said they sometimes use their phone during class for noneducational purposes. Nearly 60 percent of students said that they spend more than 10 percent of class time on their phone, mostly texting. Many studies show that students who use their phone during class learn less and get lower grades.
You might be thinking that these findings are merely correlational; maybe the smarter students are just better able to resist temptation? Perhaps, but experiments using random assignment likewise show that using or just seeing a phone or receiving an alert causes students to underperform.
For example, consider this study, aptly titled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity.” The students involved in the study came into a lab and took tests that are commonly used to measure memory capacity and intelligence. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups, given the following instructions: (1) Put your phone on your desk, (2) leave it in your pocket or bag, or (3) leave it out in another room. None of these conditions involve active phone use––just the potential distraction of knowing your phone is there, with texts and social-media posts waiting. The results were clear: The closer the phone was to students’ awareness, the worse they performed on the tests. Even just having a phone in their pocket sapped students’ abilities.
The problem is not just transient distraction, though any distraction in the classroom will impede learning. Heavy phone or social-media use may also have a cumulative, enduring, and deleterious effect on adolescents’ abilities to focus and apply themselves. Nearly half of American teens say that they are online “almost constantly,” and such continuous administration of small pleasures can produce sustained changes in the brain’s reward system, including a reduction of dopamine receptors. This shifts users’ general mood toward irritability and anxiety when separated from their phones, and it reduces their ability to focus. That may be one reason why heavy phone users have lower GPAs. As the neuroscientists Jaan Aru and Dmitri Rozgonjuk recently argued: “Smartphone use can be disruptively habitual, with the main detrimental consequence being an inability to exert prolonged mental effort.”
But smartphones don’t just pull students away from schoolwork; they pull them away from one another too.
The psychologist Jean M. Twenge and I have found a global increase in loneliness at school beginning after 2012. Students around the world became less likely to agree with survey items such as “I feel like I belong at school” and more likely to agree with items such as “I feel lonely at school.” That’s roughly when teens went from mostly using flip phones to mostly using smartphones. It’s also when Instagram caught fire with girls and young women globally, following its acquisition by Facebook, introducing selfie culture and its poisonous levels of visual social comparison.
One way that phones have hurt our relationships is through “phubbing” (a contraction of phone snubbing), when a person breaks away from a conversation to look at their screen. Research shows that it interferes with the intimacy and perceived quality of social interactions. People who are more addicted to their phones are, unsurprisingly, the biggest phubbers, which may explain why people who are the heaviest users of phones or social media are also the most depressed and lonely. Once some students start phubbing others, then the others feel pressure to pull out their own phone, and in a flash, the culture of the entire school has changed.
If you have any doubt that phones in school stunt social connections, just talk to students about what happens at lunch time. My undergraduate students at NYU tell me that having real conversations is difficult, because most of their fellow students keep their phones on the table and frequently break away to check or respond to notifications. A 2018 study by the social psychologists Ryan Dwyer, Kostadin Kushlev, and Elizabeth Dunn tested my students’ intuition. They invited hundreds of college students and community members to share meals at a restaurant, with family or friends. They randomly assigned participants in each small group to either put their phones on the table or put them away. The results? “When phones were present (vs. absent), participants felt more distracted, which reduced how much they enjoyed spending time with their friends/family.”
I’ve been studying and writing about the effects of smartphones and social media on teens’ behavior, development, and mental health for six years now. To help organize the existing research on these topics, I’ve created a series of open-source Google documents, which I’ve curated with Rausch. We recently created a phone-free-schools collaborative review, cataloging the studies I’ve noted in this article and many more.
Consider the words of the MIT professor Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation: Because of our phones, she writes, “we are forever elsewhere.” If we want children to be present, learn well, make friends, and feel like they belong at school, we should keep smartphones and social media out of the school day for as long as possible.
What Does It Mean to Go Phone-Free?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2020, “cellphone bans were in place in 77% of U.S. schools.” But this high number seems to refer to a very low bar: It includes any school that tells students they should not use their phone while in class––unless the use is related to class. That’s not really a ban; it’s more of an unenforceable wish. Such a policy guarantees struggle between teachers and students, and it means that there are always kids looking at phones hidden in their laps or books, especially in the classes where the teacher has grown exhausted by the never-ending game of phone policing. As long as some kids are posting and texting during the school day, that raises the pressure on everyone else to check their phones during the school day. Nobody wants to be the last person to know the thing that everyone else is texting about.
Other countries are ahead of the U.S. on phone policy. France banned the use of mobile phones on school grounds through grade nine in 2018 (though the law allows students to keep their phone in their bag or pocket, so students still use their phone stealthily). In New South Wales, Australia, the use of mobile phones has been banned in elementary schools and will soon be banned in high schools, although schools can decide how to implement the bans.
Some schools in the U.S. have now taken similarly uncompromising stances on phones. For example, the author Mark Oppenheimer wrote earlier this year in The Atlantic about St. Andrew’s, a small boarding school in Delaware that allows students to use their phones only when in their dorm rooms, not when anywhere else on campus—a move that some students initially resisted but now has widespread student support.
More American schools—arguably all schools—should make themselves into genuinely phone-free zones. How would that look in practice? I think it’s helpful to think of phone restrictions on a scale from 1 to 5, as follows:
Level 1: Students can take their phone out during class, but only to use it for class purposes.
Level 2: Students can hold on to their phone but are not supposed to take it out of their pocket or backpack at all during class time.
Level 3: Phone caddies in classrooms: Students put their phone into a wall pocket or storage unit at the start of each class, and then pick it up at the end of that class.
These three levels seem to be the ones most commonly employed by American schools today. I believe that the first two are nearly useless. Many students do not have the impulse control to stop themselves from checking their phone during class time if the phone is within reach. One teacher at Scarsdale High School told me that even when a ban on using phones during class is enforced, some students will say that they need to use the bathroom in order to check their phone.
Phone caddies are a little better for learning, because they get the phone out of the student’s pocket, but their effect on school social life may be worse: A likely result of the practice is that all times between classes will be dominated by kids looking down silently at their phones, getting the fix they were denied for 50 minutes during class. When they do talk with friends, they’ll give those friends only a fraction of their full attention.
So let’s move on:
Level 4: Lockable pouches (such as those made by Yondr). Students are required to put their phone into their own personal pouch when they arrive at school, which is then locked with a magnetic pin (like the anti-theft tags used in clothing stores). Students keep the pouch with them but cannot unlock it until the end of the school day, when they are given access to a magnetic unlocking device.
Level 5: Phone lockers. Students lock their phone into a secure unit with many small compartments when they arrive at school. They keep their key and get access to the phone lockers again only when they leave school.
Both of these practices put any student seen using a phone during the school day in clear violation of policy. They are the only two policies I know of that can create phone-free schools. They are the policies most likely to produce substantial educational, social, and mental-health benefits, because they are the only approaches that give students six or seven hours a day of time away from their phone.
Lockable pouches are low-cost and easy to implement. However, I have heard from some students that their classmates (aided by YouTube videos) find ways to open their pouches and use their phones whenever they think no adult is watching. (A Yondr employee told me that the company is working to improve its pouch lock, and also said that schools should do regular pouch checks, which would reveal the damage from the most common methods of illicit unlocking.)
Phone lockers may be more complicated to put in place, logistically—especially at large schools. But they are the most reliable way to separate students from their phone for the duration of the school day and would therefore deliver the greatest benefits.
A school that goes phone-free would still have to figure out what to do about laptops, tablets, and computers in the classroom. Students would surely use any internet-connected device to send and receive texts, and to reach their social-media accounts. Last year, I banned all screens––even laptops for taking notes—from all of my undergraduate and MBA classes, and at the end of each semester, students strongly agreed that this improved the class for them. But even absent a laptop ban, these larger devices are more easily managed and are not as likely as smartphones to disrupt social interactions outside of class.
Those who oppose phone bans raise a number of objections. Smartphones can be useful teaching tools, for instance, and may make it easier for some teachers to create engaging lesson plans. That’s true, but any increase in engagement during a lesson may be offset by students getting distracted during the same lesson. When we add in the costs to all other teachers and the loss of social connection between classes, it’s hard to see how the marginal benefit of a phone-based lesson outweighs the costs of a phone-focused student body.
A more common argument comes from parents, many of whom are afraid that something might go wrong at school and want to ensure that they can reach their children at all times. These fears are understandable but are also part of the cause of Gen Z’s mental-health problems. In his book Paranoid Parenting, the sociologist Frank Furedi describes how a new style of protective parenting swept through British and American society in the 1990s, in response to the perception that risks to children were rising. When parents believe that everything is risky and they can’t trust other adults to protect their children, they take a more defensive approach to parenting. They try to protect their children from all risks, even when that deprives their children of valuable experiences of independence.
But today’s parents, who grew up during a period when crime rates were much higher than they are now, generally have fond memories of walking or biking to school with other kids, or just having time away from parental supervision to hang out with friends. I believe that children and teens would benefit developmentally if they were to go six or seven hours each day out of contact with their parents.
What about school shootings? I’m the father of two high-school students, and of course I would want to connect with my children in such a nightmare scenario. But would a school where every student has a smartphone be safer than one in which only the adults have smartphones? Ken Trump, the president of National School Safety and Security Services, warns that using a cellphone during an emergency can increase safety risks. “During a lockdown, students should be listening to the adults in the school who are giving life-saving instructions,” Trump explains. “Phones can distract from that. Silence can also be key, so you also don’t want that phone noise attracting attention.” In addition, it seems to me that 300 parents rushing to the school in 300 cars would probably make things more difficult for first responders.
As the teen-mental-health crisis rolls on and rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm continue to rise, we are not helpless. It would be great if social-media platforms enforced their own minimum age of 13 to open accounts, but all signs indicate that they won’t unless compelled by Congress. It would be great if Congress would compel them, and in fact several bills are being considered right now toward that end. It would be better still if the minimum age for using social media were raised to at least 16. The solutions to this crisis are wide-ranging, and some may need to involve the federal government.
But parents, teachers, and school administrators can take meaningful action too, right now. Although it’s outside the scope of this essay, parents who have not yet given their children a smartphone can resolve to provide only dumb phones until high school, and they can coordinate with the parents of their children’s friends, making that choice easier for all families involved. Schools that are using the lower levels of phone restriction can resolve to move up to lockable pouches or phone lockers, and many schools could implement these changes by September. My hope as a researcher is that a farsighted governor or school-district superintendent will implement these changes experimentally, by randomly assigning some middle schools to implement them as soon as possible and other schools to do so a year later. That way we could gain high-quality experimental evidence as to whether phone-free schools really confer the benefits that I have described.
“It helped me a lot,” one student at San Mateo High School in California told NBC News after her school started using lockable pouches. “Before, I would usually just like curl over in the side of my desk, and, like, check my phone and text everyone. But now there’s no other thing for us to look at or do except for talk to our teacher or pay attention.”
All children deserve schools that will help them learn, cultivate deep friendships, and develop into mentally healthy young adults. All children deserve phone-free schools.
This essay is adapted from Jonathan Haidt’s Substack, After Babel.
Whistleblower former intelligence official says government posseses ‘intact and partially intact’ craft of non-human origin
has been urged to disclose evidence of UFOs after a whistleblower former intelligence official said the government has possession of “intact and partially intact” alien vehicles.
The former intelligence official David Grusch, who led analysis of unexplained anomalous phenomena (UAP) within a US Department of Defense agency, has alleged that the US has craft of non-human origin.Continue reading…
Mount Everest may be the highest peak on Earth, but the BBC reports that there are staggeringly tall mountains deep inside our planet's interior that dwarf the tallest ranges on the surface — and scientists are puzzling over the origin of these geological marvels.
These gigantic buried mountain ranges, called ultra-low velocity zones (ULVZ), are located in the core-mantle boundary inside Earth, around 1,800 miles deep. Some can be "4.5 times the height of Everest" or more than 24 miles in height, researchers told the BBC, and completely hidden until they were revealed by seismic data from earthquakes and even atomic explosions.
"We found evidence for ULVZs kind of everywhere," University of Alabama geologist Samantha Hansen told the BBC, adding that "if it's big enough, we can see it."
Scientists have speculated that these structures may be remnants of ancient oceanic crusts that were pushed deep into the Earth's interior, or parts of the mantle that have been superheated by the planet's searingly hot core.
Adding to the grandeur, when you find these interior mountains you will also likely find another mysterious deep-Earth structure, large low-shear-velocity provinces or "blobs," as scientists often call them. The BBC reports that these mountain ranges and blobs could offer valuable new clues into the shifting and jostling of tectonic plates as they move from the Earth's crust into the deep mantle.
Round the World
A team of scientists led by Hansen has been studying these ULVZs via seismology stations in Antarctica. The southernmost continent is an interesting place to study these hidden monster mountains, because they're far from any blobs or tectonic plates that have shifted or fallen.
But because of their existence in Antarctica, Hansen says these gigantic peaks may be found all around the planet, contradicting the idea that these high underground peaks were once ancient ocean floors.
"Seismic investigations, such as ours, provide the highest resolution imaging of the interior structure of our planet," Hansen said earlier this year, "and we are finding that this structure is vastly more complicated than once thought."
The post Gigantic Mountains Inside Earth Mystify Scientists appeared first on Futurism.
of the Eye
On Monday, Apple made a huge splash by revealing its long-awaited Vision Pro mixed-reality headset.
The headset, which will retail for an eye-watering $3,499, still impressed observers with a sleek design and inteferace, as well as high degree of audiovisual fidelity and — maybe most importantly — a vision for augmented reality that goes beyond Facebook's much-lampooned metaverse.
It's radically new ground for Apple, which has waited for years to enter a market that has already failed to get much of the mainstream on board, even with headsets that cost only a small fraction of what Apple will be charging.
Still, there are aspects that feel buzzy and fresh. Even unlocking the device — the equivalent of Face ID on your iPhone — is a sizable step forward for the tech giant. During the setup process, the headset can register your eyes via a feature called Optic ID by scanning your irises. Sure it's a little creepy from a privacy standpoint, but it just feels so refreshingly sci-fi.
As The Verge points out, it's the company's third biometric authentication system, expanding on Touch ID, a fingerprint-scanning tech, and the aforementioned Face ID, which scans your entire face with infrared light.
Apple has also historically limited sensitive biometric data to a carved-out space on its device's storage. The Vision Pro will be no different, and will store iris data on a Secure Enclave partition.
But whether the tech giant's new eye-scanning tech will be more secure than previous attempts remains to be seen. Samsung introduced an iris scanner in its S8 smartphone back in 2017 — which was promptly fooled by hackers using an IR image and a contact lens.
Given Apple's track record, however, the company likely didn't skimp on data security or privacy.
The concerns could extend beyond mere data security, though. Experts have warned that Meta-formerly-Facebook, for instance, could be harvesting facial recognition data with its Quest line of virtual reality headsets to glean a person's interests or emotional state.
In the end, like everything else involving the high-stakes headset, we'll probably just have to see it in action.
More on the headset: Apple's Bizarre Headset Has Front-Facing Screen Showing User's Eyes
The post Apple's New AR Headset Scans Your Eyeballs to Unlock appeared first on Futurism.
Three studies add weight to growing evidence that physical activity can help patients who have the disease
Walking for 30 minutes a day and practising yoga can help reduce fatigue in
patients and cut the risk of the disease spreading, coming back or resulting in death, research suggests.
Globally, more than 18 million people develop cancer every year. It is well known that being inactive raises your risk of various forms of the disease.Continue reading…
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-39070-8Here the authors propose for the first time the concept of supervised-evolving learning (SEL) and a corresponding SEL-driven adaptive focusing (SELAF) system. This metasurface can adaptively realize focusing at any specified position for waves incident from any direction. This work demonstrates unprecedented potential for tasks involving real-time, fast and complex electromagnetic wave manipulation.
Ever dreamed of sending a raunchy, expletive, or otherwise inappropriate missive into outer space? If the answer's yes, it's your lucky day.
NASA's sending a spacecraft to Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, and they're crowdsourcing names to carve into a tiny chip aboard the craft, in an effort dubbed "Message in a Bottle." We're calling it "please write some name Bart Simpson would use to prank-call Moe, maybe something you'd scrawl onto a dive bar bathroom wall at roughly 3am, because few things say more about humanity than that."
"Join the mission and have your name engraved on NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft as it travels 1.8 billion miles to explore Europa, an ocean world that may support life," reads the NASA invitation. "Sign your name today to the… Message in a Bottle."
Oh, rest assured, NASA… we intend to.
The Europa Mission
For what it's worth, the Europa mission is extremely cool. Though extraterrestrial life could be thriving in conditions that life on Earth never could never withstand, right now humanity's best bet for finding organisms beyond Earth is in seeking out conditions similar to our own.
Europa, which boasts subterranean saltwater oceans, might just fit the bill.
"Because we know Earth has the right conditions for life, humans can then sharply narrow down the search for extraterrestrial life by searching only in places that have the conditions that Earth life requires: a source of energy, the presence of certain chemical compounds, and temperatures that allow liquid water to exist," reads NASA's mission overview. "Jupiter's icy moon Europa seems to be just such a place."
It's not a life-detection mission, per se — NASA doesn't necessarily think it's going to uncover some version of a European Atlantis — but scientists are hoping that clues gathered by the mission's Clipper spacecraft, which is to perform several close fly-bys of the Jupiterian satellite, will pave the way for life-detecting missions down the line.
The mission is slated for October 2024, and in the meantime, maybe take some time to put your name into NASA's Message in a Bottle portal. And definitely make sure it's appropriate. Okay, kids?
The post If You Want to Make NASA Carve Something Rude Into a Spacecraft Headed to Jupiter, Now’s Your Chance appeared first on Futurism.
- A research collaboration between Cornell and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems has found an efficient way to expand the collective behavior of swarming microrobots: Mixing different sizes of the micron-scale 'bots enables them to self-organize into diverse patterns that can be manipulated when a magnetic field is applied.
Nature, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01857-6Even stringent emission limits will not preserve the end-of-summer ice on Arctic seas.
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38937-0Intense laser interaction with matter creates plasma which can act as a nonlinear optical medium. Here the authors demonstrate plasma as a refractive optics for relativistic intensity radiation, evident by the acceleration of multiple electron beams from a single laser pulse passing through the plasma.
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38871-1Incorporating cyanoalkyl moieties into amino acids and peptides is of interest for potential imaging and therapeutic purposes. Here, the authors developed a Cu-catalyzed asymmetric cyanoalkylation of glycine derivatives for the synthesis of α-cyanoalkylate amino acids and peptide modification.
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38511-8A dominant influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases on Arctic sea ice area is detectable in all months. By scaling climate models’ sea ice response to best match observed trends, an ice-free Arctic in September is projected under all scenarios.
The most comprehensive census yet of the hippos in Colombia that are descended from several imported by drug-cartel leader Pablo Escobar reveals that there could be twice as many of the invasive animals as previous estimates indicated
Researchers calculated that high-emitting countries, including the U.S., should pay $192 trillion in compensation to low-emitting nations
Scientific Reports, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-36353-4Author Correction: The change in metabolic activity of a large benthic foraminifera as a function of light supply
Before we get into this one, let's just say that we're deeply skeptical.
But there's no getting around the key claims of this story: an Air Force veteran and former member of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency named David Grusch has come forward, alleging in a series of interviews that
government has secretly recovered alien spacecraft — and even dead "pilots" inside them — for decades as part of a top-secret UFO retrieval program.
Let's pause for a moment to point out that this is all unbelievably far-fetched. Even supposing that the government could successfully keep such an explosive secret for such a long time, the broader premise just doesn't make much sense. If aliens had the incredibly advanced technology to visit Earth, presumably from another star system, wouldn't they have the tech for the ships to be piloted autonomously, rather than wasting untold decades in transit? And why would they fly these incredibly advanced vessels to Earth, only to crash them? Are they interstellar drunk drivers?
At the very least, though, the whole thing is a fascinating dustup with the potential for a glimpse into secretive parts of the government. Grusch filed a whistleblower complaint, The Debrief reports, stating that he already gave classified "proof" to Congress that the government has been excluding Grusch and the rest of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) Task Force from accessing its program about the retrieval of non-human craft.
Grusch told the Debrief that the retrieved objects are "of exotic origin (non-human intelligence, whether extraterrestrial or unknown origin) based on the vehicle morphologies and material science testing and the possession of unique atomic arrangements and radiological signatures."
He added that the recovered material "includes intact and partially intact vehicles," adding that "these are retrieving non-human origin technical vehicles, call it spacecraft if you will, non-human exotic origin vehicles that have either landed or crashed."
"We’re definitely not alone," Grusch later told NewsNation the evening after the Debrief story was published. "The data points, quite empirically that we’re not alone."
In short, it sounds like we're talking about a full-blown UFO conspiracy theory that not only suggests we've been visited by numerous aliens, but that the government has actively been trying to cover up the evidence for decades.
Adding to the drama, the Air Force veteran went as far as to claim that the government managed to recover dead aliens inside the crash-landed spacecraft.
"Well, naturally, when you recover something that’s either landed or crashed," he told NewsNation. "Sometimes you encounter dead pilots and believe it or not, as fantastical as that sounds, it’s true."
And why's he coming forward now? To prepare the public for an "unexpected, non-human intelligence contact scenario," he told the Debrief. Grusch also said that "this is a global phenomenon, and yet a global solution continues to elude us." (Skeptics, of course, will point out that if multiple governments are in on the supposed coverup, it seems even more implausible that they could have managed to suppress evidence for all these years.)
That said, there are reasons why it's hard to outright dismiss the story. For instance, Grusch's account was corroborated by Christopher Mellon, who served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and worked with Congress on UAP reports.
Mellon told the Debrief that a "number of well-placed current and former officials have shared detailed information with me regarding this alleged program, including insights into the history, governing documents and the location where a craft was allegedly abandoned and recovered."
According to the report, Grusch, who left the government earlier this year, "remains well-supported within intelligence circles, and numerous sources have vouched for his credibility."
Another detail that bolsters the Debrief's report is that it was authored by investigative journalists Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal. Neither are cranks; both authored a front-page New York Times article in 2017 that first uncovered a "shadowy" Defense Department UFO program that had been operating for years (of course, doubters could flip that data point around as well — for whatever reason, this latest story didn't end up in the NYT.)
That 2017 report was accompanied by several grainy black-and-white videos that show encounters between Navy fighter pilots and erratically-moving objects.
Since then, though, officials have come forward to throw cold water on circulating theories that suggest these crafts are able to defy the laws of physics.
Nonetheless, the Pentagon has actively worked on collecting data on unusual sightings and other UAPs, and the Navy has established new guidelines on how its pilots should report encounters with "unidentified aircraft." Even NASA administrator Bill Nelson has said that the space agency has begun investigating UFO sightings.
On a certain level, it's tantalizing to imagine that the US government has been covering up the existence of recovered alien spacecraft. Compared to the grim realities of climate change and AI-driven job loss, it feels like a peek at a fun, hopeful future in which we could reverse-engineer alien tech and explore the stars ourselves. What if we already made contact decades ago? What if we're not actually alone in the universe?
We remain extremely skeptical, but you have to admit that the concept is the stuff of golden age sci-fi — or at the very least, "The X-Files."
More on UFOs: Military Says the UFOs They Shot Down Aren't Aliens
The post We're Deeply Skeptical, But a Government Whistleblower Claims the US Has Recovered "Non-Human" Spacecraft appeared first on Futurism.
Hello everyone, I‘m a product manager for an AI application. Our product is an AI chatbot with personality and emotion, currently interacting with users mainly through text. We are discussing whether it is necessary to add voice interaction function to the product, and we have the following questions:
In what scenarios or situations will users choose to voice chat with AI applications? Is it when they are completely free and looking for companionship, or when they need immediate feedback?
Will the voice interaction function pose a higher usage threshold for users and reduce the product's user coverage? Text chat can already meet most needs, is voice function really necessary?
As a companion AI product, can voice interaction really enhance the user's emotional experience and interaction experience? How can it enhance the emotional connection between users and the product?
Regarding the privacy and security of AI applications, will the collection and processing of voice data make security issues more sensitive? This is also a factor we need to consider.
We‘d like to hear everyone's opinions and suggestions on the above questions. AI voice technology is becoming more and more mature, adding voice features seems necessary, but as a product, can it really meet the needs of users without causing other problems?
We look forward to in-depth discussions with you on this topic and explore the feasibility and opportunities of AI application voice interaction together.
Thank you all for your valuable advice!
The percentage of women in federal STEM jobs hasn’t changed since 2005, research finds.
They also quit those jobs at a disproportionately high rate.
“These positions are important, and we are not making a great deal of progress in bringing women into STEM jobs in any sort of equitable numbers,” says Edward Kellough, lead author of the study and a professor in the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. “The key takeaway of our study is that one way to help improve the representation of women in STEM jobs is to increase their presence amongst STEM supervisors in those organizations.”
The researchers isolated the effects of women STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) supervisors to determine the impact of having female supervisors.
The researchers analyzed employment at all 15 Cabinet-level departments in the federal government and two agencies with substantial STEM employment—NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency—from 2005 to 2018.
Additionally, the researchers separated the Air Force, Army, and Navy from the remainder of the Department of Defense to determine differences across branches of the military.
On average, fewer than one in four STEM jobs were held by women in the Air Force, Army, Navy, the departments of Energy and Transportation, and NASA. Women account for less than 30% of STEM jobs in the departments of Veterans Affairs, State, Interior, Homeland Security, Defense, and Commerce.
“You might expect that employment of women in federal STEM jobs would have gone up since 2005, but there’s been virtually no change,” Kellough says. “It’s increased only a fraction of 1 percentage point during that time, which is shocking.”
To measure support for diversity within each organization, the researchers relied on data from the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization that tracks employment, budget and workforce demographics across federal agencies. The nonprofit also measures support for diversity within the agencies, which the researchers included in their analysis.
In those agencies where more women are in supervisory roles and support for diversity is stronger, such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of the Treasury, the percentage of female STEM employees hovers around 42%.
Although more female bosses translated to more women in the workforce, the researchers found that having women in supervisory positions didn’t staunch the hemorrhaging of female STEM employees leaving their jobs.
The quit rate for women varied widely depending on the agency, the researchers find. For example, though women comprise only 37.9% of STEM employees in the EPA, they account for more than half of the agency’s employees who quit those jobs. At both the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, STEM employment and quit rates for women are almost exactly equal.
One possible contributing factor for the high quit rates is that many of the agencies employ women in their 20s. Younger employees are more likely to leave their jobs on average than older ones.
It’s also possible that women are not reaching what some experts call a numerical “critical mass” in many agencies, making it difficult for young women to find supportive role models, the researchers say.
“The underemployment of women in STEM jobs is an important issue that has been recognized as such for a very long time, but progress in dealing with the problem has been excruciatingly slow,” the researchers write. “Public managers seeking to increase the STEM employment of women in their agencies should strongly consider investing in developing and promoting women into supervisory roles.”
The study appears in the journal Public Personnel Management.
Source: University of Georgia
The post Percentage of women in federal STEM jobs has stalled appeared first on Futurity.
Last year, the team at Operation Catnip spent close to $1 million spaying and neutering more than 7,000 of the cats that prowl the streets and parks of Alachua County, Florida. It wasn’t even close to enough. Roughly 40,000 feral felines live in the community; to keep their numbers in check, curb disease transmission, and protect the county’s birds, the team probably would have needed to operate on approximately 10,000 more. “It’s an almost insurmountable number to reach by surgery,” Julie Levy, Operation Catnip’s founder and a shelter-medicine expert at the University of Florida, told me.
But surgery remains the only available option for permanent cat contraception, locking vets, techs, and volunteers into the days-long rigamarole of trapping, transporting, operating on, monitoring, and releasing the animals, one by one by one. Plus, the process can be grueling and risky for the cats, who must go under anesthesia and the knife. Having a quick and simple alternative “would be amazing, huge, transformative,” Levy told me. “We’re just craving the day we have something else.”
That day might be on its way soon. After years of tinkering, an
team of researchers has come up with a genetic treatment that, with one injection, can safely and sustainably halt ovulation in cats—a breakthrough that could replace onerous surgeries with the simple act of “going out into the community and giving an animal an injection, and then just letting them go,” says Valerie Benka, the director of programs at the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs. The therapy has only been examined in a series of small studies, and hasn’t yet entered clinical trials. And the scientists behind it can’t yet say how long, or how well, their invention might work. But if their early results pan out, this one-and-done injection could finally offer female cats safe, lifelong birth control without a single scalpel cut.
Alternatives to surgical sterilization for dogs and cats have been in the works since at least the 1970s, and for the most part, they’ve delivered mixed or disappointing results. Hormones that can be swallowed, injected, or implanted tend to be fussy or come with nasty side effects; vaccines that block ovulation and pregnancy in some livestock and wildlife have underperformed when adapted to pets. No single option has yet hit the perfect intersection of safe, effective, easy, and permanent—the necessary combination to truly displace surgery,
Meanwhile, the need for a decent alternative to surgical sterilization has only grown. An estimated 500 million free-roaming cats stalk the Earth, far overwhelming the world’s spotty supply of spay-and-neuter services. In some countries, wildlife managers have turned to culling; in many parts of the U.S., veterinary shortages, exacerbated by the pandemic, have left shelters “in crisis,” Levy told me, overcrowded to the point where they’re battling massive disease outbreaks and reluctantly raising euthanasia rates. Some adoption organizations, including PetSmart Charities, are now allowing some puppies and kittens to go to new homes without first being spayed or neutered—a change that is meant to move animals more quickly out of shelters, Levy told me, but also risks them not getting their surgeries before they reproduce.
The new injectable, developed by a team led by William Swanson and David Pépin, won’t arrive in time to address the current shortage. But of all the experimental methods in development for cats, “this is the first one that has gotten this far,” says Cheryl Asa, the director of research at the St. Louis Zoo. Unlike other contraceptives that rely on lab-made hormones, the new treatment tasks the cat’s body itself with manufacturing the birth control. Each shot delivers DNA to cat muscle cells, instructing them to pump out the feline version of anti-Müllerian hormone—a reproductive signal that mammals naturally produce—at levels high enough that they seem to block the ovaries from maturing and releasing eggs, Pépin, a reproductive biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told me. Because the contraceptive is the body’s own product, supply doesn’t run low.
So far, the researchers have released findings from two very small studies of the injection, which included just 12 lab-raised female cats, nine of which received the treatment. Their early results seem to suggest that the shot keeps cats from getting pregnant for at least a couple of years, according to Pépin, without any serious side effects. Three of the cats are now six years out from their injections, and still seem happy and healthy. Swanson, a wildlife veterinarian at the Cincinnati Zoo, would know: He adopted them. “I see them every day, and they’re doing fine,” he told me over the phone, just feet away from where the trio were sunbathing by a window.
Still, only a much-larger clinical trial will be able to prove that the team’s injection is safe and effective long-term. “The next question is, how long does it last?” says Pei-Chih Lee, a cat-reproduction biologist at the Smithsonian. Anti-Müllerian hormone is pretty understudied; it’s still unclear, for instance, exactly how it might alter cats’ other hormones, or even how long it takes for the contraceptive effect to kick in. For now, the team’s results have to be treated as “really preliminary,” says Daniela Chavez, a cat-reproduction biologist at Towson University.
Even if this particular injection does succeed, experts told me, it’s unlikely to render spaying totally obsolete, especially among pet cats. Unlike several other options being explored, the new shot seems to work only in females; it also might not keep cats from going into heat and filling alleyways with their yowls and sprays, or from developing the reproductive-health complications that surgical sterilization helps prevent. The main benefit of the treatment is about giving vets “more options,” Benka told me. Several other groups remain hard at work on other technologies that could further flesh out the pet-contraception toolkit—some of them trying the gene-therapy route, as Swanson and Pépin did, others attempting hormonal injections that can keep dogs and cats from reaching reproductive maturity.
All of that leaves Levy hopeful that shelter medicine will eventually put mass surgical sterilization in its rearview. Maybe, she told me, she’ll live to see the day when teams around the world can deliver contraception to cats with tech simple enough to carry around in a backpack; maybe, before she retires, she’ll describe surgical sterilization to the next generation of vets primarily in the past tense. “I want to be able to tell my students, ‘We used to cut animals open for fertility control!’” she told me. “And it will shock them, because there’s a better alternative”—one safer, easier, and more palatable for cat and human alike.
- For BNT111, an mRNA vaccine candidate for the treatment of advanced melanoma, we have received FDA fast track designation in the US.
The COVID pandemic put mRNA technology, long in development, to the test. Here’s a look at how it might fight
and when it might reach patients
- OneWhale has partnered with Hammerfest to build a 500-acre protected ocean reserve for Hvaldi and other whales currently living in captivity.
Hvaldi, a juvenile beluga whale likely used as a Russian spy, has become so accustomed to human interaction that he’s putting himself in danger and urgently needs our help
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-39005-3Author Correction: Towards critical white ice conditions in lakes under global warming
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-39006-2Author Correction: Tropical forests as drivers of lake carbon burial
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38885-9Predictive scheme for Ti alloys with equiaxed microstructures is often limited by the methods based on growth restriction factors, Q. Here, the authors present a predictive solution based on the freezing range of alloys for columnar to equiaxed transition during fusion-based additive manufacturing.
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-39033-zDesigning efficient selector devices remains a challenge. Here, the authors propose a CuAg alloy-based selector with excellent ON/OFF ratio and thermal stability. It can effectively suppress the sneak-path current in 1S1R arrays, making it suitable for storage class memory and neuromorphic computing applications.
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38832-8Traditional 2D cell culture platforms do not accurately reflect the physiology of human tumors. Here, authors combine bioprinting and high-speed live cell interferometry with machine learning to measure drug sensitivity at single-organoid resolution in a label-free manner.
Nature Communications, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-38512-7Immune checkpoint inhibitors are now routinely used in cancer therapy, however, the dosage and integration into conventional cancer therapy is determined via empirical experience rather than mechanistic rationale. Here authors establish an advanced single-molecule imaging method, by with which they are directly monitoring and evaluating the effect of immune checkpoint inhibitors on T cell signaling.
- OneWhale has partnered with Hammerfest to build a 500-acre protected ocean reserve for Hvaldi and other whales currently living in captivity.
Hvaldi, a juvenile beluga whale likely used as a Russian spy, has become so accustomed to human interaction that he’s putting himself in danger and urgently needs our help
Scientific Reports, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-36405-9In-plane gate graphene transistor with epitaxially grown molybdenum disulfide passivation layers
Nature, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01826-zA remarkable research ship’s voyages to understand marine biodiversity show how visionary thinking can boost understanding of the natural world — and help to better preserve it.
Nature, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01871-8Kathleen Folbigg, who was jailed in Australia in 2003 over the sudden deaths of her four young children has been pardoned and released in the wake of new scientific evidence.
Will creative workers be replaced by AI? Some say yes, while others argue the tech will just give them new tools to do their jobs. But in at least some cases, the evidence that AI is replacing specific workers already feels compelling.
In an anecdote published by the Washington Post, a San Francisco-based copywriter named Olivia Lipkin recounted how, on the Slack workplace messaging app, managers began assigning things to "Olivia/ChatGPT" — referring to her and the chatbot interchangeably — not long after the groundbreaking program became a household name.
Though she used to be her previous employer's only copywriter, Lipkin saw her assignment count grow smaller and smaller. By April of this year, she was let go without explanation — though she eventually saw on Slack that her managers had been discussing how it was cheaper to use ChatGPT than pay a writer.
"Whenever people brought up ChatGPT, I felt insecure and anxious that it would replace me," she told the paper. "Now I actually had proof that it was true, that those anxieties were warranted and now I was actually out of a job because of AI.”
It's Getting Worse
While Lipkin's story and others like it are indeed egregious, they're far from alone. Last week, the Challenger, Gray & Christmas job placement firm released a report estimating that nearly 4,000 had been eliminated by AI in the month of May alone.
Though some folks have begun training to become "prompt engineers," using tech like ChatGPT to bolster their careers, Lipkin is not among them.
Instead, as she told WaPo, the 25-year-old has replaced her content marketing side hustle with dog walking as a means to support herself as she pursues creative writing on her own time.
"I’m totally taking a break from the office world," Lipkin said. "People are looking for the cheapest solution, and that’s not a person — that’s a robot."
More on ChatGPT and work: ChatGPT's Dirty Secret: It's Powered by "Grunts" Making $15 Per Hour
The post Copywriter Fired After Bosses Started Calling Her "ChatGPT" appeared first on Futurism.
Perfectly wrapping spherical objects together seems trivial, but it’s a task that has stumped mathematicians for centuries
Is there any scientific evidence to date that consistent aerobic activity leads to an increase in cognitive performance in young adults? By cognitive performance I mean the ability to learn new information and skills faster. I have often read evidence to this effect in older adults whose cognitive abilities had declined.
Political ideology and user choice—not algorithmic curation—are the biggest drivers of engagement with partisan and unreliable news via
Search, a study finds.
The study addresses a long-standing concern that digital algorithms learn from user preferences and surface information that largely agrees with users’ attitudes and biases. However, search results shown to Democrats differ little in ideology from those shown to Republicans, the researchers find. The ideological differences emerge when people decide which search results to click, or which websites to visit on their own.
The results, published in the journal Nature, suggest the same is true about the proportion of low-quality content shown to users. The quantity doesn’t differ considerably among partisans, though some groups—particularly older participants who identify as “strong Republicans”—are more likely to engage with it.
Katherine Ognyanova, an associate professor of communication at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information and coauthor of the study, says Google’s algorithms do sometimes generate results that are polarizing and potentially dangerous.
“But what our findings suggest is that Google is surfacing this content evenly among users with different political views,” Ognyanova says. “To the extent that people are engaging with those websites, that’s based largely on personal political outlook.”
Despite the crucial role algorithms play in the news people consume, few studies have focused on web search—and even fewer have compared exposure (defined as the links users see in search results), follows (the links from search results people choose to visit), and engagement (all the websites that a user visits while browsing the web).
Part of the challenge has been measuring user activity. Tracking website visits requires access to people’s computers, and researchers have generally relied on more theoretical approaches to speculate how algorithms affect polarization or push people into “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers” of political extremes.
To address these knowledge gaps, researchers at Rutgers, Stanford, and Northeastern universities conducted a two-wave study, pairing survey results with empirical data collected from a custom-built browser extension to measure exposure and engagement to online content during the 2018 and 2020
Researchers recruited 1,021 participants to voluntarily install the browser extension for Chrome and Firefox. The software recorded the URLs of Google Search results, as well as Google and browser histories, giving researchers precise information on the content users were engaging with, and for how long.
Participants also completed a survey and self-reported their political identification on a seven-point scale that ranged from “strong Democrat” to “strong Republican.”
Results from both study waves showed that a participant’s political identification did little to influence the amount of partisan and unreliable news they were exposed to on Google Search. By contrast, there was a clear relationship between political identification and engagement with polarizing content.
Platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter are technological black boxes: Researchers know what information goes in and can measure what comes out, but the algorithms that curate results are proprietary and rarely receive public scrutiny. Because of this, many blame the technology of these platforms for creating echo chambers and filter bubbles by systematically exposing users to content that conforms to and reinforces personal beliefs.
Ognyanova says the findings paint a more nuanced picture of search behavior.
“This doesn’t let platforms like Google off the hook,” she says. “They’re still showing people information that’s partisan and unreliable. But our study underscores that it is content consumers who are in the driver’s seat.”
Source: Rutgers University
Perfectly wrapping spherical objects together seems trivial, but it’s a task that has stumped mathematicians for centuries
- A New Second Law
Heat death held a morbid fascination for Victorian-era physicists. It was an early example of how everyday physics connects to the grandest themes in cosmology. Drop ice cubes into a glass of water, and you create a situation that is out of equilibrium. The ice melts, the liquid chills, and the system reaches a common temperature. Although motion does not cease — water molecules continue to…
Meta-formerly-Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in the midst of a swole rebrand, has denied getting choked out to the point of unconsciousness during a fight with Apple… er, sorry, not Apple, just some dude at a Bay Area jiu-jitsu tournament.
"On May 6, Mr. Zuckerberg competed in his first Brazilian jujitsu event, in Woodside, CA, where he defeated an Uber engineer and won two medals, and lost consciousness," reads a June 2 New York Times report from which the knock-out rumor first arose. "José Lucas Costa da Silva, a veteran Brazilian jujitsu fighter who refereed one of Mr. Zuckerberg’s matches, said that he halted the bout after he heard Mr. Zuckerberg start to snore, a sign of someone who has passed out in a chokehold."
"This is something we are trained to know," Costa da Silva told the NYT, reportedly adding that Zuckerberg was a good sport and "enjoying the moment" regardless.
But that KO claim has proven to be controversial. After the story was published, Zucko, his jiu-jitsu coach, and the multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley behemoth that is Meta all went on the defensive, claiming that the meat-smoking Metalord never passed out — he was just grunting, thank you very much!
"After publishing our story, I heard from both Mark Zuckerberg and his Brazilian jujitsu coach," reporter Joe Bernstein, who wrote the NYT article, tweeted on Saturday, a day after the initial report ran. "They both insisted that Mr. Zuckerberg had *not* lost consciousness, and the coach said that the referee had mistaken his effortful grunting for snores."
"At no point during the competition was Mark knocked unconscious," Meta spokesperson Elana Widmann separately told The Daily Beast as rumors of the KO began to circulate. "That never happened."
Do you know anything about this incident, or Mark Zuckerberg's martial arts career more generally? Shoot us an email: email@example.com. We can keep you anonymous.
Distract and Run
As we simply must note: this was a particularly inopportune week for Zucko to have to refute this specific claim, given that Apple finally just unveiled its new, buzzy, and highly anticipated foray into the world of VR — a space into which Zuckerberg has poured eye-watering amounts of both time and money, with little commercial luck.
Apple's new — $3,500! — VR goggles will be directly competing with Meta's Quest headsets, and with his company locked in a very visible battle with another giant… well, again, just really bad timing on the jiu-jitsu rumor.
But, hey, if you hear through the grapevine that Zuckerberg's nervous about Apple, pay it no mind. It was probably just some effortful grunting.
More on Zuckerberg's hobbies: Watch Mark Zuckerberg Slam Opponent in Hand to Hand Combat
The post Mark Zuckerberg Denies Getting Choked Out in Jiu-Jitsu Fight appeared first on Futurism.
Everyone is raving about hallucinogens as the future of antidepressants.
And I mean fast: when carefully administered by a doctor, they can uplift mood in just one session, with the results lasting for months. Meanwhile, traditional antidepressants such as Prozac often take weeks to see any improvement—if they work at all.
But tripping all day is hardly a practical solution. Unlike Prozac, hallucinogens need to be carefully administered in a doctor’s office, under supervision, and in a comfortable setting for best therapeutic results. It’s a tough sale for busy individuals.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: psychedelics are still classified as Schedule I drugs at the federal level, meaning that similar to heroin, their possession and consumption is illegal.
What if we could strip the trip out of psychedelics, but leave their mood-boosting magic?
This week, a new study in Nature Neuroscience suggests it’s possible. Led by Dr. Eero Castrén, a long-time champion of psychedelic research for mental health, the Finnish team dug deep into the molecular machinery that either lifts mood or gives you a trippy head rush.
The results came as a surprise: similar to traditional antidepressants, psychedelics spurred new growth in both baby and mature neurons. But the mind-bending substances were 1,000 times more efficient than Prozac at grabbing onto a key molecular hub, TrkB. With just a single dose, the drugs elevated mood in mice under chronic stress and reduced a previously-established fear. However, when genetically stripped of a critical protein site, LSD lost its magic.
It’s still early days for re-configuring psychedelics as antidepressants. But the results “open an avenue for structure-based design” that can skirt unwanted hallucinations while developing fast and long-lasting antidepressants, the team said.
Meet the Players
Think of neurons as a fast-growing basil plant. It starts as a tiny sprout. With nutrition it blooms into a bushy wonder. Pruning the plant along the way helps its health and survival.
In neurons the main nutrient is BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It’s the all-star of rejuvenating the brain. In the hippocampus—a brain region critical for memory and mood— it helps nurture new neurons through life, cradling neural stem cell “seeds” into maturity. The protein is also essential for rewiring neural networks by pruning connections—a process called neuroplasticity. It’s a fundamental process in the brain that allows us to learn, adapt, and reason in an ever-changing world. Neuroplasticity is especially important for battling depression, as the condition often “locks” people into negative mindsets.
BDNF doesn’t act alone. It floats outside of neurons. Grabbing onto it is TrkB, a protein that usually lies low inside neurons until it’s time to rise to the top—literally. Once on the surface of neurons, it captures floating BDNF. The union then triggers a cascade of molecules that help the neuron branch and grow. Similar to roots on a growing basil plant, TrkB is key to letting brain cells absorb nutrients to promote growth.
Most conventional antidepressants, such as Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, and Prozac trigger this nurturing pathway. These medications, dubbed SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) enhance a chemical called serotonin by blocking its recycling to increase levels in the brain and boost mood.
The downside? Serotonin is also the trigger for hallucinations from psychedelics.
An Atomic Dissection
The new study focused on these two pathways: the nurturing TrkB and the classic serotonin.
Using a myriad of experiments, the team first confirmed that psychedelics grab onto TrkB in cells in petri dishes. Think of TrkB as floating pieces of paper—two need to be united to activate the growth-supporting BDNF. Surprisingly, compared to traditional antidepressants, LSD was able to glue together the paper pieces and stabilize TrkB so that it better captured BDNF. One protein site was critical. When mutated, LSD could no longer organize the TrkB duo.
A further deep dive found that LSD activated the molecular cascade to increase BDNF, in turn nurturing a bushier neuron than traditional antidepressants. Using fluorescent nano-spy chemicals that glow in the dark, the team could see under the microscope that psychedelics rapidly spurred the neuron into action. With a single dose, LSD moved TrkB into dendritic spines—mushroom-shaped bumps that help neurons connect with each other—a marker for neuroplasticity.
Inside the hippocampus—the hub for learning, memory, and a regulator for mood—the drug boosted the number of newborn neurons in mice with just a single shot after four weeks. Neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons, is a long-standing marker for antidepressant efficiency.
Here’s the crux: these neuroplasticity effects went away when the team genetically mutated TrkB. Going back to the paper analogy, it’s as if someone shredded one part of the paper so it can no longer catch onto the other.
In contrast, the high remained in mice without TrkB. Although we can’t ask a mouse whether it’s tripping, they do have a tell: multiple head jerks, as if they were head bobbing to the Grateful Dead. When the team gave them a shot that neutralizes serotonin, the mice came down.
Conclusion? LSD takes two highways in the brain: one, organized by BDNF and TrkB, boosts neural growth and neuroplasticity. The other unleashes serotonin, which helps reorganize neural networks but also triggers a trip.
New neural growth is great. But does it mean anything?
The team put LSD to the test, pitting mice with a critical TrkB mutation—therefore lacking the ability to absorb BDNF—against their non-genetically-engineered control peers in several challenges.
The first involved a kiddie pool and gauged chronic stress. Mice are natural swimmers. They just don’t like doing it too much. Like being constantly yelled at by a swimming coach, their mood eventually becomes low. With one shot of LSD, the control mice rallied and thrived in their swim tests even a week after the shot. In contrast, those with a mutated TrkB couldn’t bounce back, giving up easily.
In another test mimicking post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, a single dose of LSD helped dampen fear in control mice for a specific traumatic environment. The effects lasted for at least four weeks. Mice with a mutated TrkB didn’t fare as well, retaining their anxiety and stress when put back into the same environment throughout the trial.
To be clear, LSD isn’t a magical shot. Similar to other antidepressants that help battle PTSD, it’s all about set and setting. “LSD alone does not bring about fear extinction, as extinction training is required to produce a sustained decrease” in behaviors normally associated with fear in mice, said the authors. In other words, don’t try this at home.
LSD and other hallucinogens have a long battle ahead to shed their stigma and be accepted as an antidepressant. But they have a cheerleader: esketamine, one form of the club drug special K, was approved as an antidepressant in 2019. However, in 2022, the FDA released an alert informing health professionals that other ketamine formulations may put patients at risk, spurring scientists to seek out chemicals with a similar effect but not the high. Taking a page out of the playbook, in the same year a team screened 75 million chemical compounds related to LSD for their antidepressant activity without hallucinations.
The new study hints at ideas to further reboot psychedelic medicine. Before being criminalized in the 1960s, the National Institute of Health funded over 130 studies exploring psychedelics’ potential for mental health. With AI-powered large-scale drug screening and modern biochemical techniques, we’re already in a brave new world.
We can now design a new era of antidepressants that trigger TrkB “with fast and long-lasting antidepressant action, but potentially devoid of hallucinogenic-like activity,” said the team.
Nature, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01814-3Snippets from Nature’s past.
Nature, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-01876-3One of the world’s most advanced telescopes, located in Chile, uses the beams to make artificial stars.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-36328-5Author Correction: The expression pattern of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinases predicts prognosis and correlates with immune exhaustion in
Scientific Reports, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-36392-xAuthor Correction: Equivalent running leg lengths require prosthetic legs to be longer than biological legs during standing
Scientific Reports, Published online: 06 June 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35751-yAuthor Correction: Extracellular vesicles of trypomastigotes of Trypanosoma cruzi induce changes in ubiquitin-related processes, cell-signaling pathways and apoptosis
When I listen to the voice recording I made at the Irvine, California, headquarters of the video-game company Blizzard Entertainment this past January, I hear a noise that many gamers find blissful: the sound of utter mayhem. Playing a prerelease version of Diablo IV, the latest installment in a 26-year-old adventure series about battling the forces of hell, I faced swarms of demons that yowled and belched. My character, a sorcerer, shot them with lightning bolts, producing a jet-engine roar. I jabbed buttons arrhythmically—click … click … clickclickclick—while trying to stifle curses and whimpers. But the strangest sounds came from the two Diablo IV designers who sat alongside me. As I dueled with an angry sea witch, Joseph Piepiora, an associate game director, gently noted that I was low on healing potions. “But that’s okay,” he said, “because you’re conducting an interview while doing a boss fight. It’s okay.”
The kindness was appreciated if incongruous: The world of Diablo is violent and lonely, a classic example of the hard-core-gaming experience. Earlier editions are notorious for beckoning a certain kind of player—typically male—to hunker down alone in marathons of virtual hacking and slashing, immersed in a simplistic fantasy in which might makes right and women wear bikini-like armor. But Blizzard Entertainment is trying to show its sociable side these days. With tens of millions of monthly users of its products, the studio is one of the most important brands in gaming, an industry whose nearly $200 billion in annual revenues exceed those of the global box office and the recording industry combined. Blizzard is also a business under siege: an object lesson in how gaming’s old guard is facing new pressures.
In 2021, allegations in a lawsuit brought by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing against the studio’s parent company, Activision Blizzard, seemed to confirm the worst stereotypes of gaming as a realm of testosterone-fueled brutality and indulgence—and not just within the universe of the games themselves. According to the complaint, the company had become a “frat house” where female employees were underpaid, discriminated against, and groped; “women who were not ‘huge gamers’ or ‘core gamers’ and not into the party scene were excluded and treated as outsiders.” Activision Blizzard initially described the allegations as “distorted, and in many cases false,” a response that the company’s CEO soon after called “tone deaf.” The suit is still in litigation, but a number of company leaders have departed since it was filed, including developers originally tasked with steering Diablo IV, Blizzard’s most anticipated new title in years.
The company has pledged to hire more women, treat employees better, and make more inclusive products—all while being vetted for a $68.7 billion acquisition bid by Microsoft, a deal that regulators are scrutinizing, wary of the market power that the resulting megacorporation could wield.
“It’s taking time for us to grow up,” Rod Fergusson, Diablo’s general manager, told me. By “us” he meant the industry at large. No longer the niche activity it was when Blizzard was founded in 1991, gaming has become a mass pastime (two-thirds of
participate) and a diverse one (nearly half of gamers are women). New and so-called casual users, many playing on their phone, have driven the sector’s surging growth. But the mainstreaming has triggered purist pushback, tinged with machismo and aggression. In the mid-2010s, the “Gamergate” campaign saw hard-core players systematically harass “fake gamer girls” who dared to denounce, say, the “jiggle physics” commonly used in the animation of female characters across the medium. Multiplayer-chat channels remain, as ever, rife with bigotry and sneers at “newbies.” The allegations against Activision Blizzard, along with recent harassment scandals at a number of other prominent companies, suggest an intractable culture. Gaming’s association with antisocial, immature dudes is dying hard.
I visited Blizzard’s headquarters because, to tell the truth, I was once an antisocial teenage dude who spent a lot of time with Diablo II, the 2000 iteration of the franchise. Playing as an ax-wielding barbarian with bulging muscles, I slashed across screens full of monsters, striving to acquire power (by gaining experience points) and lucre (gold, gems, and gear dropped by vanquished foes). The franchise’s creators had wanted the time “from boot-up to kill” to be less than a minute, and for combat to reward players like slot machines reward gamblers. The resulting rhythm of pummeling and prospering—the game’s “core loop,” to use an industry term—was more validating than anything in my real life as a high schooler. I was so hooked that I eventually decided to quit the game cold turkey, fearing that my schoolwork and friendships would wither away if I didn’t.
Ostensibly, the industry has changed a lot since then. The first Diablo sequel in 11 years is being released by a scandal-chastened company touting a PR-savvy mission to “foster joy and belonging for everyone,” as Blizzard’s president, Mike Ybarra, put it to me. The goal is to appeal “to as many players as we could possibly think of, because we want this game to be inclusive,” another Diablo team member said. But as it turns out, Diablo’s hard-core-friendly hellscape hasn’t been reformed so much as made roomier. For Blizzard, is growing up really about finding new ways to grow its bottom line?
Blizzard has already helped shape and reshape the idea of what video games are and who plays them. By pairing vibrant, inviting aesthetics and fanaticism-inducing complexity, the early hits Warcraft (1994), Diablo (1997), and StarCraft (1998) created masses of devoted gamers in the first generation to come of age with PCs. But Blizzard’s most significant contribution to gaming may have been its 2004 smash, World of Warcraft, which instilled the idea that games could serve as virtual communities.
A “massively multiplayer online role-playing game,” World of Warcraft offered a sprawling environment populated by hundreds or thousands of other human-controlled heroes who were encouraged to quest together. Fostering an online civilization where one can feel like both a fearsome mage and an admired camp counselor, the game became an example of how to profitably fulfill the cravings of multiple constituencies: By 2009, it was the most popular paid title among women ages 25 to 54.
Smartphones and social media brought new users into gaming’s fold—many of them more interested in camaraderie and creative expression than combat. Across a range of tried-and-true genres, video-game designers took the Hollywood-blockbuster approach, creating games that catered to mixed audiences: male and female, old and young. Well-populated virtual playgrounds such as Epic Games’ Fortnite—in which scores of competitors trade bullets, banter, and funny dances, much to the derision of hard-core gamers—have contributed to the doubling of global gaming revenues since the mid-2010s.
This influx of new players brought with it new tensions. As Blizzard unsteadily adjusted to the marketplace it had helped create, the company started to face criticism from multiple directions. The streamlined gameplay and brighter-hued, somewhat-cute visual style of 2012’s Diablo III angered many veteran gamers by appearing to pander to newbies. Yet soon after that, to the dismay of some female fans, Chris Metzen, then a vice president at Blizzard, referred to a new World of Warcraft storyline as “a boys’ trip.” Elizabeth Harper, the editorial director of the fan site Blizzard Watch, told me she recalled having “a sinking feeling” about his remarks: “He’s up onstage saying, Yeah, this is a ‘no girls allowed’ club.” Eight years later, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s allegations against Activision Blizzard suggested that the club was alive and well.
In making inclusion central to its pitch for Diablo IV—“Hell welcomes all,” goes one marketing tagline—Blizzard has introduced some cosmetic changes. You can customize your barbarian avatar to appear nonbinary, if you so choose. The game’s lead villain, the ram-horned demon Lilith, might even be seen as a strong (if, alas, homicidal) female character. More notable, however, are the structural changes, which take their cues from World of Warcraft ’s capaciousness and encourage more varied, and social, styles of play.
Rather than move through a linear sequence of challenges, players roam a sprawling “open world,” tackling quests in whatever order they want, or ignoring them altogether. This format has its appeal for hard-core completists—after all, it multiplies the number of missions to master—but Ash Sweetring Vickey, a producer on the game’s dungeons team (which endows ghoul-infested caverns with the thrilling infinitude of a casino floor), pointed out that it’s also great for low-stress time killing. “If I wanted to go spend a hundred million hours just looking at wraiths in the wild, I could do that,” she told me.
For veterans, the most controversial development is who resides in this open world: throngs of gamers adventuring all at once. Many fans relished playing previous editions of Diablo solo, fulfilling the fantasy of being a lone savior overcoming immense odds. But in Diablo IV, some key areas are populated with the avatars of other players. In theory, you can ignore these avatars, but the game nudges you to engage with them by featuring a few gargantuan monsters who are nearly unbeatable on one’s own.
“We got pushback from people who heard about the shared world,” Fergusson, the general manager, said. “They were like, ‘I don’t want to see other players. I want to be alone. This is my journey.’ ” Last fall, the fan site Pure Diablo published an open letter to Blizzard, advising against so-called forced multiplayer. “Focus on making the game a … game!” one commenter wrote. Meaning: Keep it old-school; don’t turn it into a social network.
But the business rationale for mandatory online play could hardly be clearer, as the makers of World of Warcraft learned long ago and as recent juggernauts such as Fortnite have confirmed. (A social environment also entices players to pay for extra content, such as the “cosmetic upgrades” that will be available in Diablo IV—don’t you want to be the best-dressed sorcerer in the land?) Ybarra, Blizzard’s president, mentioned wanting to eventually reach 1 billion people with Blizzard’s games—which means that serving hard-core players alone is not the main quest.
Yet Blizzard isn’t ditching the old guard, and has crammed Diablo IV with elements they crave: endless options for combining weaponry and gear; beasts that get smarter and meaner as you progress; amped-up scariness and gore. (I nearly gagged while fighting through a dungeon encrusted with festering intestinal pustules.) Reconciling obsession-breeding depth and intensity with buffet-style breadth and access was, the developer Piepiora told me, the main design challenge: “trying to take the ideas of this massive, interconnected world and meaningfully tie them back to the core loop.” The hope, in other words, is to extend the game’s allure while strengthening the cycle that potentially turns newbies into addicts of the bashing and looting that was, and remains, Diablo’s essence.
The end product is a bit surprising for a company that aims to present itself as emerging from scandal and eager to foster joy, in Ybarra’s words. Diablo IV is bleaker, eerier, and perhaps even more mania-inducing than any earlier installment. In the hours I spent playing it, I fell under the same spell I did as a teen. My character traversed a nightmarish realm, strewn with the ruins of villages (Don’t forget to inspect the corpses of the villagers for gold, I told myself). When other players flitted by on the battlefield, they didn’t alter my trajectory or jolt me out of my hypnosis. I had no idea who my peers in demon-slaying were; they had customized their appearance and were embarking on bespoke adventures. What I did know was that they were doing exactly the same thing I was doing: click … click … clickclickclick.
This article appears in the July/August 2023 print edition with the headline “‘Hell Welcomes All.’”
Unseasonably warm and cold days can prolong the active period of moths and butterflies by nearly a month, according to a new study.
As Earth’s climate continues to warm due to the emission of greenhouse gases, extreme and anomalous weather events are becoming more common. But predicting and analyzing the effects of what is, by definition, an anomaly can be tricky.
Scientists say museum specimens can help. For the new study, the first of its kind, the researchers used natural history specimens. “The results are not at all what we expected,” says Robert Guralnick, curator of biodiversity informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study in Communications Biology.
Most studies view climate change and its consequences through a periscope of average temperature increases. As temperature goes up over time, the plants and animals in a particular region become active earlier in the spring, delay dormancy until later in the fall, and slowly shift their ranges to align with the climate in which they’re best suited to survive.
Erratic weather adds a layer of complexity to these patterns, with unknown consequences that erect an opaque screen ahead of scientists attempting to predict the future of global ecosystems.
“There had been hints in the scientific literature that weather anomalies can have cumulative effects on ecosystems, but there wasn’t anything that directly addressed this question at a broad scale,” Guralnick says.
This omission, he explains, was due primarily to a lack of sufficient data. While climate data has been reliably collected in many areas of the world for more than a century, records documenting the location and activity of organisms are harder to come by.
Natural history museums have been increasingly regarded as a potential solution. The oldest museums have accumulated specimens for hundreds of years, and recent efforts to digitize collections have made their contents widely available. But digital museum records come with their own unique pitfalls and drawbacks.
In 2022, coauthor Michael Belitz constructed a dataset of moths and butterflies from museum collections to chart a course for other researchers hoping to use similar data. The result was a comprehensive instruction manual for how to gather, organize and analyze information from natural history specimens.
With this robust resource at their disposal, Belitz and his colleagues wanted to see if they could detect a signal from aberrant weather patterns. Restricting their analyses to the eastern
, the authors used records for 139 moth and butterfly species collected from the 1940s through the 2010s.
Their results were unequivocal: Unusually warm and cold weather has significantly altered insect activity to a greater extent than the average increase in global temperature for the last several decades.
The location and timing of extreme weather events influenced how insects responded. In higher latitudes, warm days in winter meant moths and butterflies became active earlier in the spring. Unusually cold days kept insects at all latitudes active longer, and the combination of exceptionally high and low temperatures had the strongest effect.
“If you have a succession of abnormally cold and warm days, it limits the ability of insects to function at peak performance,” Guralnick says. “If cold doesn’t kill you, it slows you down, and it might force insects into a torpor. Insects can recover from the cold snaps pretty quickly and go on to have longer lifespans as a direct result of sudden temperature declines.”
Insects being active for longer periods of time might initially seem like a good thing. But rather than a counterweight to the negative repercussions of climate change, coauthor Lindsay Campbell—who studies mosquitos—points out that longer or altered insect lifespans may also mean more opportunities for pathogen transmission.
“There’s a correlation between El Niño and rift valley fever outbreaks in East Africa, and there are anecdotal observations that show unusually warm or hot and dry springs, followed by a heavy precipitation event, are also linked with increased outbreaks,” says Campbell, an assistant professor at the University of Florida.
Long-term ecosystem stability is also entirely dependent on the synchronized activity of its constituent parts, and plants may not respond to extreme weather in the same way as insects. If moths and butterflies take flight too early, they risk encountering plants that haven’t yet produced leaves or flowers, expending their energy in a vain search for food.
And with a constantly shifting baseline for what constitutes ‘extreme,’ it’s unclear if insects will be able to keep pace with the changes.
“As average temperature and climate variability increases, an organism’s resilience is going to drop precipitously,” Guralnick says. “The extreme events of today are going to become much more extreme in the future, and at some point, the capacity to buffer against these changes is going to reach its limit.”
Indirect support for the study came from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Source: University of Florida