Artificial intelligence has a dirty secret that we're not talking nearly enough about.
It's that Silicon Valley AI firms are relying on cheap labor overseas, and tasking them with the grueling labor required to make them actually work — and more often than not, their wages and working conditions are poor, the Washington Post reports.
Millions of people in the Philippines are being tasked with labeling images, allowing AI algorithms to make sense of the world. Sometimes they're asked to make sense of chunks of text to make sure AI chatbots like OpenAI's ChatGPT don't end up spurting out nonsense.
But many of these workers are being exploited and severely underpaid — a worrying and often overlooked aspect of the ongoing AI arms race, as debates have focused instead on grabbier issues of potential bias or the possibility of AI going rogue.
According to the report, San Francisco-based startup Scale AI employs at least 10,000 people in the Philippines on a platform called Remotasks. However, according to data and interviews obtained by the WP, the company has often failed to pay them on time (a Scale AI spokesperson told WaPo that "delays or interruptions to payments are exceedingly rare.")
A number of Remotasks freelancers told the newspaper that they were stiffed on payments or never received the money they were initially promised. One 26-year-old worker spent three days on a project, hoping to get $50. He only got $12.
Filipino AI ethicist Dominic Ligot called these new workplaces, which house workers labeling footage or text for AI companies like Scale AI, "digital sweatshops."
Workers also don't have any effective avenues to complain and can simply be "deactivated" if they were to raise their voices.
And it's not just the Philippines. Scale AI is also employing freelancers or "taskers" in Venezuela and India, triggering a "race to the bottom," as the owner of an outsourcing firm told the WP.
In short, while AI has triggered a billion-dollar arms race in
, those who are actually doing the brunt of the work are often going unnoticed, underpaid, or ignored altogether — a wrinkle in the ongoing AI ethics debate that should give anybody pause.
More on AI ethics: The Pope Just Released a Guide to Artificial Intelligence
The post AI's Dirty Secret: Poor People in the Developing World Are Doing Most of the Work appeared first on Futurism.
That was fast.
The Columbus Dispatch, a newspaper serving the Columbus, Ohio area, has suspended its AI efforts after its AI-powered sports writing bot was caught churning out horrible, robotic articles about local sports, Axios reports.
The Dispatch — which is notably owned by
Today publisher Gannett — only started publishing the AI-generated sports pieces on August 18, using the bot to drum up quick-hit stories about the winners and losers in regional high school football and soccer matches. And though the paper's ethics disclosure states that all AI-spun content featured in its reporting "must be verified for accuracy and factuality before being used in reporting," we'd be surprised if a single human eye was laid on these articles before publishing.
Why? Because each formulaic article is riddled with laughably vague statements — one August 18 article about a football game, for example, described the event as a "close encounter of the athletic kind" — and repetitive phrasing about hibernating second halves and which team drew first blood. One article even failed to populate properly, with the text instead featuring a bracketed glimpse at how its opening sentence was supposed to read.
"The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday," reads the butchered intro. Yikes.
Short and Sweet
The Dispatch's AI efforts were powered by LedeAI, a startup claiming to use generative AI to offer "lightning-fast" and "easy to read" sports content. (The firm also goes so far as to declare that its datasets are the "deepest and most scalable in the world," which feels a bit like slapping an Amazon-purchased World's Best Coffee sticker onto any old cafe window.)
Another bite of this riveting, well-informed journalism:
"The Steubenville Big Red defeated the Cambridge Bobcats 10-0 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday," reads one August 19th article. "A suffocating defense helped Steubenville handle Cambridge 10-0 in Ohio boys soccer on Aug. 19."
That's it. That's the whole post.
Second Quarter Hibernation
Gannett has unsurprisingly put a temporary kibosh on the project, telling Axios that "this local AI sports effort is being paused."
The publisher is "continually evaluating vendors," a spokesperson for the publisher added, "as we refine processes to ensure all the news and information we provide meets the highest journalistic standards."
Speaking of journalistic standards? It's worth noting, as Axios did, that this is the first football season played since Gannett shut down ThisWeek Community News, an award-winning newspaper collection that documented local area sports. But in the words of Dispatch's AI itself, may the AI effort enjoy its "hibernation."
More on AI and journalism: "AI Will Never Replace Journalism," Says Magazine CEO Replacing Journalists with AI
The post USA Today Owner Pauses AI Articles After Butchering Sports Coverage appeared first on Futurism.
If inventors ever arrive at a viable prototype, a smart contact lens could allow us to get turn-based directions, see notifications, or parse other easily presentable data without the help of an external device like bulkier smart glasses.
But powering these tiny contact lenses has proven extremely difficult. Though display tech has shrunk to an incredible degree, batteries have lagged — presenting a serious issue for smart contact lenses, which have generally required an impractical wire leading to an external power source.
"This research began with a simple question: could contact lens batteries be recharged with our tears?" said Lee Seok Woo, lead author of a new paper published in the journal Nano Energy, and associate professor at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, in a statement.
Sight for Sore Eyes
The new battery "relies on just glucose and water to generate electricity, both of which are safe to humans and would be less harmful to the environment when disposed, compared to conventional batteries," Woo added.
The novel, which is thinner than a single millimeter, is constructed using biocompatible materials and features a glucose-based coating, which can react with sodium and chloride ions to generate electricity and power a circuit.
These two elements are also conveniently found in tears, which means the battery could be topped up using the natural resources of the human body.
In an experiment involving a simulated eye, the battery produced a current of 45 microamperes at a maximum output of 201 microwatts — enough to power a smart contact lens, the researchers said.
In short, it's an elegant solution that could circumvent the need for bulky wireless charging.
"Although wireless power transmission and supercapacitors supply high power, their integration presents a significant challenge due to the limited amount of space in the lens," said coauthor Li Zongkang, a PhD student at NTU, in the statement. "By combining the battery and biofuel cell into a single component, the battery can charge itself without the need for additional space for wired or wireless components."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tech is still far from entering the mainstream. For one, the tiny battery can only be charged and discharged 200 times.
However, the team is already working with contact lens companies to eventually bring the technology to market.
More on smart contact lenses: Startup Shows Off Working AR Contact Lens You Can Actually Wear
The post Scientists Devise Way to Power Smart Contact Lens With Human Tears appeared first on Futurism.
Last week, India became only the fourth country to ever land on the Moon, with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) proudly announcing its Vikram lander had safely touched down near the Moon's south pole.
It was a treacherous journey from lunar orbit, which many other countries haven't survived — like Russia, whose Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the surface just a week prior.
Yet the lander and its much smaller rover companion Pragyaan, which rolled down a ramp to the surface below shortly after touchdown, are still in a hazardous off-world environment. In fact, the six-wheeled rover recently encountered an obstacle in the form of a ten-foot crater that seemingly threatened to swallow it whole.
Fortunately, ground control spotted the danger before it was too late.
"On August 27, 2023, the Rover came across a 4-meter diameter crater positioned 3 meters ahead of its location," ISRO wrote in a tweet. "The Rover was commanded to retrace the path. It's now safely heading on a new path."
On August 27, 2023, the Rover came across a 4-meter diameter crater positioned 3 meters ahead of its location.
The Rover was commanded to retrace the path.
— ISRO (@isro) August 28, 2023
The update also featured two glorious black-and-white images, one showing the deep and shadowed chasm that seemingly blocks the angled rays of the Sun. A second image shows Pragyaan's rover tracks.
Other than having India join the exclusive club of countries that have landed on the Moon — which also includes the US, the Soviet Union, and China — the country's ongoing Chandrayaan-3 mission also represents the first successful landing near the lunar south pole.
That's particularly exciting, as scientists suspect the region to be rich in water ice, which could make it a key site for future efforts to establish a long term presence on the lunar surface.
In short, let's hope the scientists at the ISRO keep their eyes peeled. Having Pragyaan tumble into a crater could make for a premature end to a groundbreaking mission.
More on the mission: Amazing Footage Shows Indian Rover Ramping Down to the Lunar Surface
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.
Last week I asked readers, “If you could pose one earnest question to any of the Republican candidates, what would it be?”
Replies have been edited for length and clarity.
Glen posed one of the most popular questions: “Who was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election?”
JoAnn asked, “Would you still support Donald Trump for president if the January 6 crowd had hung or harmed Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi?”
Greg offered an amusing variation: “If, as Trump and many of his allies claim, he won in 2020, wouldn’t this mean that he had won the presidency twice and therefore could not run again?”
One question I would want to ask the Republican candidates not named Trump is, “How would your administration govern differently from a Trump administration?” That the question even needs to be asked speaks to a failure on the part of these candidates, who shouldn’t need prodding to distinguish themselves from the former president and his governing style. After all, if anyone can beat Trump in the Republican primary, it surely won’t be an empty suit. The question I ask above is distinct from all those questions that would ask for a candidate’s reactive attitudes toward all things Trump, which are backward-looking and demand little more from the candidates than their poll-tested praise or condemnation. What have the candidates learned from the Trump presidency (warts and all)? How do each of them intend to build upon whatever they take to be its successes while avoiding its failures, which have to include losing the presidency after a single term? What will they do differently and why?
Matters of character were a recurring theme.
Katherine asked, “How do you personally define integrity, and how do you think you’ve represented it in both your private and political career?”
Joseph wrote, “You have articulated various ideological, philosophical, and moral principles in your campaign. Are there any good things that your principles prevent you from doing? Are there any policy goals that you believe are good but refuse to implement based on your principles?”
Cynthia asked, “Why do so many evangelicals embrace a man who in no way, shape, or form embodies anything remotely Christian?”
Clifford wondered, “Do you believe that Trump should be returned to the White House despite his obvious criminality? If yes, how does that square with your party’s law-and-order mantra?”
Paul focused on the economy:
Economic globalization has created many winners and many losers. For Americans who’ve found themselves left behind by these economic shifts, what specific, realistic policies or programs will you sponsor to help these Americans to develop the skills and abilities to participate and succeed more fully in the 21st-century workforce? I’m not interested in the blame game but rather in concrete, specific actions you will take that will be helpful.
So did Eric, who wrote, “Despite low unemployment, economic pessimism remains high, stemming from real wages failing to keep up with costs, particularly for the low-income. What would you do to fix that?”
DC asked, “What brings you the most joy in life?”
Many of you evinced concern about how to live together despite our differences.
Our unique U.S. Constitution was the result of productive debate and compromise conducted under uncomfortably hot and sticky conditions that could have led to short tempers and bickering instead of a democracy. In the now temperature-controlled chambers of government, what procedures and strategies will you promise to use to prioritize compromise for the good of the country instead of nonproductive and/or clearly biased party politics?
Karen wrote, “American democracy requires negotiation and compromise to work. Can you give something to the opposition in order to get things done, even if it angers your base?”
Gregg asked, “What will you do to unify all people in the U.S.A., not just your party?”
Bob wondered, “As president, what would you do to address the divisive hatred within America and restore civility?”
Francis wrote, “Name three pieces of legislation you would introduce, define, explain, and promote for congressional approval that would benefit ALL U.S. citizens?”
In our very divided country, what tactics would you implement to bring the far right and the far left closer together so our country thrives and is more respectful to our differences in beliefs?
Milton asked, “Do you think the election of Trump has brought this country together or divided it further?”
Vickie had a question for Ron DeSantis: “I live in Florida and I would like DeSantis to explain the definition of ‘woke’ and his plans to fight it.”
Why do you think the U.S.-Mexico border should be closed but you don’t criticize those who illegally employ illegal immigrants? What legal consequences do you recommend?
Douglas asked about women’s health care:
Idaho has banned abortions. As a result, OB/GYN physicians have left, leaving no maternity or postnatal care for women and babies in the region. What will your administration do to ensure women’s medical health and safety in states where abortion is banned or severely limited and medical doctors are leaving?
Steve asked about the environment:
The Republican response to the climate crisis is at best a “wait and see” approach, and at worst, denial of the seriousness of the problem, if not contempt for the scientific consensus of how dire the situation is. What is the scientific basis for their refutation of the severity of climate change, or is it nothing more than wishful thinking, delusional belief, and apathy?
Daniel asked, “How hot will the planet have to get before we do something about global warming?”
Peter asked, “How much money have you taken from fossil-fuel companies in the last 10 years?”
Recent years have seen an increase in extreme weather conditions, including hottest-ever days and months. If $200 billion had to be spent to try to minimize the damages of these events moving forward, how would you utilize it to best protect us?
There was a time when the Republican Party did not want government to intrude into people’s private lives. That seems to have changed. Why?
Liz has a question for Nikki Haley: “What have you learned about the world’s politics, friendships, and dangers from your years as ambassador to the UN that might not be available to other candidates?”
Mr. Ramaswamy, given your reticence to assist Ukraine in its struggle against Russia, are there any European countries that you think would deserve our military aid should Russia prevail over Ukrainian forces and move on into other former Soviet Bloc nations?
Randall asked, “Suppose you don’t win this election, and then you decide to do something else instead that is really admirable. What would that be?”
Scott wanted to know about priorities. “
faces numerous challenges,” he wrote. “If you had to rank them, what would be your top three?”
G. asked, “What limit, if any, do you believe there should be on gifts to members of the Supreme Court?”
Parrish asked, “What is your plan for addressing the high number of immigrants at our southern borders?”
Mark wrote, “In relation to aid to Ukraine, what is the cost of freedom versus the value of freedom?”
Judy asked, “What books have you read and what have you learned about the world and history?”
Jessica wondered, “Do you think of truth as grounded in objective, physical reality or as grounded in the instrumental and spiritual needs of people?”
Linda asked, “If you support Trump and he’s polled much higher than anyone running, why wouldn’t you drop out of the race so he could win?”
JM wrote, “If you could change one provision in the U.S. Constitution, what would it be, and why?”
And Jaleelah wrote:
I obviously wouldn’t ask a question that any reporter has already posed … Questions for which most candidates have canned responses prepared are also off the table … I would really like to ask two questions. I believe that testing candidates’ commitments to consistency and equality is the only task I am uniquely suited for. If that’s allowed, I would pose this set to each candidate individually:
“Do you support Americans’ right to defend their homes with force in the event that an invader attempts to destroy or steal their property?”
“Do you support Palestinians’ right to defend their homes with force in the event that an invader attempts to destroy or steal their property?”
American politicians often dance around the fact that they believe Palestinian people are entitled to fewer rights than others. I would like to hear Republican candidates either upend my assumptions about them or confirm my suspicions to my face.
A former chemistry professor at the University of
in Huntsville admitted to reusing data in grant applications to the National Institutes of Health while claiming that it came from different experiments, according to
Office of Research Integrity.
Surangi (Suranji) Jayawardena, who joined the UAH faculty in 2017 following a postdoc at MIT, “engaged in research misconduct by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly falsifying and/or fabricating data in twelve (12) figure panels” in four grant applications in 2018 and 2019, the ORI said. All of the applications were administratively withdrawn by the agency, one in 2019 and three in 2021.
Jayawardena studied ways to rapidly diagnose tuberculosis, and to deliver drugs to treat various bacteria. She does not appear to have had any papers retracted.
She agreed to have any federally funded work supervised for four years by a “committee of 2-3 senior faculty members at the institution who are familiar with [her] field of research, but not including [her] supervisor or collaborators.”
When she left UAH is unclear. Neither UAH nor Jayawardena immediately responded to a request for comment from Retraction Watch.
Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at email@example.com.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-41344-6Author Correction: Effect of plant produced Anti-hIL-6 receptor antibody blockade on pSTAT3 expression in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells
Elon Musk most certainly has his fanboys — but it appears that he may have lost the gamers.
Musk was, as video from a tournament for the first person hero shooter Valorant shows, booed by a giant crowd of angry esports enthusiasts when he made a surprise appearance on their turf over the weekend.
As Insider notes, the owner of the social network formerly known as
and one of his kids were spotted attending the Valorant tournament at Los Angeles' KIA Forum, which seats more than 17,000 people. A livestream of the conference's proceedings cut to the pair sitting in the audience, which apparently irritated the crowd surrounding them so badly that they began loudly booing — a sound that was captured on the stream's audio even after whoever was operating it cut back to the gameplay.
"Where is that from?" one of the tournament's commentators is heard saying in the stream snippet. "That can't be from in here, surely."
It looks and sounds like the boos were indeed coming from inside the event, and people could be heard shouting "bring back Twitter" at the multi-hyphenate billionaire — and, of course, the jeers didn't end on the stream, either.
"Getting booed by Valorant players is like getting wedgies by the anime club in middle school," one X-formerly-Twitter user joked.
TV writer Mike Drucker quipped that Musk "desperately wants to be king of the nerds, but he keeps getting reminded he’s only king of the dorks." And perhaps the most brutal read came from Felix Biederman, one of the hosts of the popular Chapo Traphouse podcast.
The post Huge Crowd of Gamers Boos Elon Musk for Ruining Twitter appeared first on Futurism.
- Two federal laws, the Ocean Dumping Ban Act and the Medical Waste Tracking Act, would be passed and signed by President Ronald Reagan in the months to come.
The first tide of syringes washed ashore on Thursday, August 13, 1987. Hundreds of unmarked hypodermic needles spilled out of the surf that afternoon, accompanied by vials and prescription bottles, along a 50-mile stretch of New Jersey beaches during peak tourist season. By the next morning, New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, an environmentalist Republican with national ambitions, was aloft in a helicopter surveying the floating slick of medical waste and other garbage that now stretched from Manasquan to Atlantic City. Disembarking onto Island Beach State Park for a press conference, Kean vowed in front of a huddle of news cameras that New Jersey would join legal action to “sue in federal court to have the guilty party pay every penny of damage that this tide of garbage has caused.”
New Jersey officials pointed eastward, across the water, toward Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill, the 2,200-acre disposal site whose mounds of garbage by then ranked among the largest man-made structures in history. Perhaps an inbound barge filled with trash had spilled. Perhaps a Gotham crime syndicate was luring hospitals into an illicit dumping scheme. Federal officials, including Samuel Alito, then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, began preparing legal action. But New York City’s mayor, Ed Koch, said there wasn’t any proof that the needles had washed over from his jurisdiction. New York, the Koch administration insisted, was “not missing any garbage.”
The legal battle ended a few months later, with a cash settlement and a technological fix. New York agreed to deploy a $6 million “superboom” with a 15-foot curtain in the water near the Fresh Kills landfill, to prevent its waste from floating over to New Jersey. But the settlement only skimmed the surface of a deeper panic. Some of the beached syringes had visible residues of blood and other bodily fluids. A few tested positive for hepatitis—or for what was known then only as “the AIDS virus.” In October, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey welcomed his colleagues to a special Senate hearing in Atlantic City at which more syringes were on display, along with the evocative story of a 3-year old boy whose foot was punctured when he stepped on one, leading to weeks of shots to stave off possible infection.
From their first appearance in the U.S., the syringe tides were a ready-made tabloid sensation, and a shocking visualization of the perils of a throwaway society. In the years that followed, major efforts would be taken to reduce
’ solid-waste production and protect its shores. But the steel-and-plastic flotsam raised a more specific warning, too, about the increasing and deliberate wastefulness of the American health-care system. That concern went unheeded at the time. Nearly four decades later, its implications are harder to ignore. The long-term ecological costs of single-use medical devices can now be seen on a planetary scale.
The disposable syringe was a relatively new form of waste in the 1980s, and a new kind of environmental threat. Sure, a busted sewer main could put bacteria in your drinking water—but you could always boil your water just to be safe. Aerosolized dioxins from an incinerator might lead to pulmonary disease—but those with means could make sure they lived in a “nice” neighborhood that wasn’t anywhere near the exhaust plume. A hypodermic needle, however, is designed to violate the barriers that keep you separate from the outside world, regardless of income, race, and ethnicity. It is engineered to transgress, to deliver contents from the outside in. When the syringe tides struck, they brought the anxiety that the contents of another person’s body might spill over into and contaminate your own—or perhaps your child’s—through a sudden prick on a sunny day.
When the syringe tides struck again in the summer of 1988—like a terrible blockbuster sequel—the consequent media event spread fear even more effectively than the original. New York City’s “superboom” had failed and shorefalls of used syringes were now spreading north and south, devastating coastlines from Massachusetts to North Carolina, with regular beach closings all summer. Newspaper coverage called to mind the tagline for Jaws 2: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water …”
The disposable syringe became an object of terror, a mechanical viper hidden in the sand. In the late 1980s, AIDS was still understood to be a universal death sentence, and one tied directly to the bodies and bodily fluids of other people, especially other kinds of people: homosexuals, heroin users, Haitian immigrants, hemophiliacs—the infamous “4-H Club” of at-risk populations. Syringes could now be understood as vessels for their germs, and a man-made vector for increased transmission.
If at first officials thought the seaside syringes had originated through the negligence of hospitals and clinics, now they wondered if the tides could be blamed on junkies, whose used, discarded needles had been flushed out into the ocean via the sewer system. When 39 syringes washed up on the beaches of Monmouth County in the first week of June, the Asbury Park Press described the glass vials that appeared alongside them as “the kind associated with ‘crack’ drug use.” After New York City closed down two beaches in the lead-up to a 99-degree weekend that July, local health officials said they’d come to understand that beached syringes were to be expected, given prevailing social conditions in the city. As The New York Times put it, “The repeated discoveries of waste had made them realize that needles were becoming as common on beaches as jellyfish and cracked seashells.” Perhaps the syringe tides were just another threat that we would need to learn to live with, like nuclear war. “We now understand that needles on the beach are part of the ecology of New York, just as crack vials in Washington Square,” New York City’s health commissioner told the Times.
The CDC tried in vain to reassure the American public that this new normal wasn’t all that bad, because medical waste is no more infectious than residential consumer waste. Representatives from the American Hospital Association had already testified at the Senate hearing in Atlantic City the year before that the risk of contracting AIDS from the rising tides of medical waste was overblown. And the chief of environmental protection at the National Institutes of Health had agreed: “Although the washing up of syringes on New Jersey beaches by barge accident is deplorable,” he told the lawmakers, “a sea voyage would be a fairly hostile environment for most human pathogens to survive.” From early in the crisis, then, these experts had agreed that widespread fear of beach-syringe-borne viruses was ultimately more dangerous than the syringes themselves.
They’d also pointed out that the disposable syringe was best understood as a tool to stop the spread of infectious diseases, especially among health-care workers and intravenous-drug users. Several first responders to the AIDS and hepatitis epidemics had been infected with these fatal conditions via needle sticks throughout the early ’80s, leading to a call for safer, disposable technologies. Meanwhile a cadre of harm-reduction activists was switching from a strategy of helping intravenous-drug users disinfect their needles with bleach to one of maintaining a supply chain of fresh needles and syringes. The supply chain was evolving to meet these goals. Syringes were no longer made of glass but of plastic, and steel needles that previously were sharpened between uses were now designed to end up in a landfill or an incinerator.
The new system didn’t just equate hygiene and safety with disposability; it promised new modes of efficiency as well. Hospital managers favored single-use medical devices because they were cheaper and easier to manage than the skilled employees who were needed to sterilize reusable equipment. Shifting the architecture of the health-care sector toward disposable technologies entailed other, longer-term costs, but they weren’t visible. At least, not yet.
Not all objects thrown away remain thrown away. In the syringe tides, thousands of them were now returning. More than 2,000 pieces of medical waste landed on New York beaches in July 1988 alone. By the end of the tides’ second summer, they were even showing up in the Midwest, dotting the shores of the Great Lakes. After hundreds of used needles washed up on the coast of Lake Erie in August, Cleveland hosted a follow-up to the original Atlantic City Senate hearing.
As Representative Dennis Eckart of Ohio welcomed colleagues from Washington, D.C., to his home district, he complained that junkies in the city were “rummaging through Dumpsters trying to find hypodermics,” and, by implication, that their reused needles were the ones that ended up littering the shores. “As long as a needle and a syringe is recyclable, it becomes a tool for self-destruction,” he said. In other words, the problem was that the disposable syringe wasn’t disposable enough. The EPA chief J. Winston Porter agreed that the health-care industry’s move toward a system where everything is thrown away had probably helped safeguard patients and providers while creating new dangers elsewhere: first for the intravenous-drug users who recycled those supposedly single-use syringes, and then for anyone else who might come across one after it had washed up on a beach. The disposable syringe had transformed from a public-health innovation into a public-health crisis.
Lawmakers now asked how the crisis could be reversed. Two federal laws, the Ocean Dumping Ban Act and the Medical Waste Tracking Act, would be passed and signed by President Ronald Reagan in the months to come. The first sought to eliminate our use of the ocean as landfill. As the U.S. changed its approach to dumping into bodies that drained into the ocean, so did the rest of the world, with a substantial effect in reduced shorefalls of trash. It was, quite literally, a watershed moment. The second reconceptualized medical waste as a particular kind of refuse that carried a particular set of hazards. New monitoring systems, implemented first in New York and New Jersey and then copied elsewhere, followed and documented medical waste from its creation to the place of its eventual disposal.
By singling out “medical waste” as a special category of refuse, the Medical Waste Tracking Act also had the effect of making medical waste a more expensive form of garbage. The cost that hospitals would now pay for “red-bag trash” was more than 10 times that of regular sanitary disposal, even though less than 20 percent of medical waste from hospitals was understood to be pathogenic. “These changes,” the New York Daily News reported, “could mean a boom for the medical-waste-disposal industry.”
If the syringe tides came to symbolize, for the public, the horrors of runaway waste, the health-care sector would learn a very different lesson. Media coverage of syringe tides led everyday consumers to question their wasteful habits: to reduce, reuse, recycle. But hospital managers came to understand that their wasteful habits should be formalized, if not spruced up. By 1991, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and colleagues declared that the epidemics of AIDS and hepatitis, and epidemics to come, necessitated better single-use health-care technologies. “The development and widespread production of a syringe truly designed for one-shot use could break chains of infection dependent on syringe reuse,” they wrote in a joint statement. “It is possible to make disposable syringes truly disposable.”
Here lies the paradox of the syringe tides: The solution to the crisis of medical waste would lead to the creation of more medical waste.
Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shore, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller, cola wars, I can’t take it anymore
Sandwiched between AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz, and the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the syringe tides were one of 11 admittedly arbitrary selections that Billy Joel used to commemorate the 1980s in his triple-platinum chronicle of the Boomer era, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” At the time the song emerged, in September 1989, the tides had just receded. Only a handful of syringes had been found on the New York and New Jersey shores in the preceding summer, with barely a beach closing. By the following year, the syringe tides seemed a thing of the past.
Looking back at a few decades’ remove, however, a more subtle point was missed. The media spectacles of 1987–88 helped build political pressure for addressing the buildup of solid waste in general, but they had the opposite effect on medical waste. In effect, they served to valorize and naturalize the increasing production of medical trash, and to separate it out from all other garbage in a special category that, by design, could never be reduced, reused, or recycled. We have lived quietly with the consequences ever since, accepting health care as a sector of the economy that is necessarily wasteful for our own good.
The paradox of disposable medical technology as both a solution to and a cause of the threat of contagion became visible again in the supply-chain crises of the coronavirus pandemic. Countries around the world struggled first to obtain, and then dispose of, thousands of tons of masks, gowns, and other forms of personal protective protective equipment, as well as plastic test kits and vaccine syringes. Recognizing with alarm that nearly one of every three health-care facilities around the globe lacked the capacity to handle waste under normal circumstances—let alone the added mountains of disposable devices needed to contain the pandemic—the World Health Organization official Maria Neira declared, “COVID-19 has forced the world to reckon with the gaps and neglected aspects of the waste stream and how we produce, use and discard of our health care resources, from cradle to grave.”
By 2020, the health costs of climate change, which Neira’s division of Environment, Climate Change, and Health could enumerate all too easily, were compounded by the climate impacts of a disproportionately wasteful health-care system. If the global health-care industry were treated as a single country, it would have the fifth-largest carbon footprint in the world. Biomedical industries and health-care complexes are among the leading contributors to nondegradable plastics in landfills, incinerators, and oceans—especially the microplastics now seemingly found in every living thing. The uncritical embrace of single-use medical devices in the global health-care sector has become, in all meanings of the word, unsustainable.
Now, in these heady times, syringe-strewn beaches are making headlines once again. In early 2020, as the coronavirus was just emerging, dozens of syringes and bloody medical plastics were discovered on a beach in Dakar, Senegal—discarded there because a nearby hospital’s incinerator had broken down. In July 2021, beaches in Monmouth County were very briefly closed after large numbers of home-use disposable syringes washed up to the sand, on the same shores where the first syringe tide made landfall in the 1980s. A similar event had occurred just a few years earlier, in the summer of 2018.
As we are only now realizing, those New York City health officials who long ago likened hypodermic needles to jellyfish and cracked seashells in the ecology of the late-20th-century seashore may well have been correct. It will take even more work today to ensure that syringe tides do not remain our new normal.
Since Omicron swept across the globe in 2021, the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 has moved at a slower and more predictable pace. New variants of interest have come and gone, but none have matched Omicron’s 30-odd mutations or its ferocious growth. Then, about two weeks ago, a variant descended from BA.2 popped up with 34 mutations in its spike protein—a leap in viral evolution that sure looked a lot like Omicron. The question became: Could it also spread as quickly and as widely as Omicron?
This new variant, dubbed BA.2.86, has now been detected in at least 15 cases across six countries, including Israel, Denmark, South Africa, and the United States. This is a trickle of new cases, not a flood, which is somewhat reassuring. But with COVID surveillance no longer a priority, the world’s labs are also sequencing about 1 percent of what they were two years ago, says Thomas Peacock, a virologist at the Pirbright Institute. The less surveillance scientists are doing, the more places a variant could spread out of sight, and the longer it will take to understand BA.2.86’s potential.
Peacock told me that he will be closely tracking the data from Denmark in the next week or two. The country still has relatively robust SARS-CoV-2 sequencing, and because it has already detected BA.2.86, we can now watch the numbers rise—or not—in real time. Until the future of BA.2.86 becomes clear, three scenarios are still possible.
The worst but also least likely scenario is another Omicron-like surge around the world. BA.2.86 just doesn’t seem to be growing as explosively. “If it had been very fast, we probably would have known by now,” Peacock said, noting that, in contrast, Omicron’s rapid growth took just three or four days to become obvious.
Scientists aren’t totally willing to go on record ruling out Omicron redux yet, if only because patchy viral surveillance means no one has a complete global picture. Back in 2021, South Africa noticed that Omicron was driving a big COVID wave, which allowed its scientists to warn the rest of the world. But if BA.2.86 is now causing a wave in a region that isn’t sequencing viruses or even testing very much, no one would know.
Even in this scenario, though, our collective immunity will be a buffer against the virus. BA.2.86 looks on paper to have Omicron-like abilities to cause reinfection, according to a preliminary analysis of its mutations by Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, in Washington, but he adds that there’s a big difference between 2021 and now. “At the time of the Omicron wave, there were still a lot of people out there that had never been either vaccinated or infected with SARS-CoV-2, and those people were sort of especially easy targets,” he told me. “Now the vast, vast majority of people in the world have either been infected or vaccinated with SARS-CoV-2—or are often both infected and vaccinated multiple times. So that means I think any variant is going to have a very hard time spreading as well as Omicron.”
A second and more likely possibility is that BA.2.86 ends up like the other post-Omicron variants: transmissible enough to edge out a previous variant, but not transmissible enough to cause a big new surge. Since the original Omicron variant, or BA.1, took over, the U.S. has successively cycled through BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.5, BQ.1, XBB.1.5—and if these jumbles of numbers and letters seem only faintly familiar, it’s because they never reached the same levels of notoriety as the original. Vaccine makers track them to keep COVID shots up to date, but the World Health Organization hasn’t deemed any worthy of a new Greek letter.
If BA.2.86 continues to circulate, though, it could pick up mutations that give it new advantages. In fact, XBB.1.5, which rose to dominance earlier this year, leveled up this way. When XBB.1.5’s predecessor was first identified in Singapore, Peacock said, it wasn’t a very successful variant: Its spike protein bound weakly to receptors in human cells. Then it acquired an additional mutation in its spike protein that compensated for the loss of binding, and it turned into the later-dominant XBB.1.5. Descendents of BA.2.86 could eventually become more transmissible than the variant looks right now.
A third scenario is that BA.2.86 just fizzles out and goes away. Scientists now believe that highly mutated variants such as BA.2.86 are probably products of chronic infections in immunocompromised patients. In these infections, the virus remains in the body for a long time, trying out new ways to evade the immune system. It might end up with mutations that make its spike protein less recognizable to antibodies, but those same mutations could also render the spike protein less functional and therefore the virus less good at transmitting from person to person.
“Variants like that have been identified over the last few years,” Bloom said. “Often there’s one sample found, and that’s it. Or multiple samples all found in the same place.” BA.2.86 is transmissible enough to be found multiple times in multiple places, but whether it can overtake existing variants is unclear. To do so, BA.2.86 needs to escape antibodies while also preserving its inherent transmissibility. Otherwise, Bloom said, cases might crop up here and there, but the variant never really takes off. In other words, the BA.2.86 situation basically stays where it is right now.
The next few weeks will reveal which of these futures we’re living in. If the number of BA.2.86 cases starts to go up, in a way that requires more attention, we’ll know soon. But each week that the variant’s spread does not jump dramatically, the less likely BA.2.86 is to end up a variant of actual concern.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-41385-xAuthor Correction: Evaluation of secondary sexual dimorphism of the dioecious Amaranthus palmeri under abiotic stress
Scientific Reports, Published online: 29 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-41310-2Author Correction: Artificial temperature-compensated biological clock using temperature-sensitive Belousov–Zhabotinsky gels
Off World First
Harvard's premier ET hunter says he's recovered the first known sample of an object from outside our solar system, y'all.
In a statement on his blog, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb said that he and his group, the Galileo Project, have completed their analysis of dozens of tiny "spherule" fragments from IM1, a meteorite that crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2014 and is believed to have originated from beyond our home star system.
Known for his provocative claim that 'Oumuamua, another interstellar object that flew past Earth in 2017, could be an alien craft, Loeb has made a name for himself by pairing outlandish-sounding claims about extraterrestrial tech with some serious scientific acumen, the latter of which led to the "interstellar expedition" to study what he believes may also have been a craft from an intelligent civilization outside our solar system.
The Galileo Project's journey to the waters outside of Papua New Guinea earlier this summer ultimately gathered more than 700 spherules, 57 of which it earmarked for more extensive analysis.
That study, Loeb writes, showed that five of the tiny marbles "originated as molten droplets from the surface of IM1 when it was exposed to the immense heat from the fireball generated by its friction on air" back in early 2014, when the object was first detected as it crashed to Earth.
What's more, those five pieces "showed a composition pattern of elements from outside the solar system" that were "never seen before," he says — a finding which, if it's corroborated by independent experts, could have significant historical implications.
Hook, Line, Sinker
Loeb and his team were able to acquire the spherules from IM1 using an instrument invented by the Galileo Project that they call the "interstellar hook," a sled-like contraption fitted with fine-tuned magnets that they dragged across the ocean floor to capture the tiny bits of meteor.
The device sifted out everything else from the bottom of the ocean and, using its powerful magnets, collected only those with high quantities of iron and other compounds believed to be part of meteors that originated outside of our solar system.
In April 2022, the
Space Command declassified a memo corroborating — after years of speculation on Loeb's part — the claim that IM1 did indeed originate from interstellar space based on the velocity at which it blazed through the sky in January 2014 before crash landing into the Pacific Ocean.
No word yet, though, on whether the spherules show signs of alien design.
"The fundamental question is whether any interstellar meteor might indicate a composition that is unambiguously artificial in origin?" he wrote earlier this year. "Better still, perhaps some technological components would survive the impact. My dream is to press some buttons on a functional piece of equipment that was manufactured outside of Earth."
More on meteors: Expert Says Rock That Hit Woman Was NOT a Meteorite
The post Alien Hunting Scientist Says He Found Something Extremely Interesting at the Bottom of the Ocean appeared first on Futurism.
Nature, Published online: 29 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02723-1The professional athlete and research technician explains why focus, collaboration and teamwork are important on and off the pitch.
In the tv show Foundation, humanity uses a race of advanced cyborgs called spacers for ftl. From what I understand they possess the ability to patch into a spaceship and navigate them through hyperspace. I didn’t think much about it until I heard science fiction writer Isaac Arthur casually mentioning it in one of his videos.
I did a little digging and there have been proposals in the past to modify humans so they can adapt to traveling and living in space.
That said do we really need cyborgs for ftl travel or is that just wishful thinking on the part of science fiction writers?
After avian influenza killed 21 endangered California Condors, government officials are testing a vaccine that could protect the massive scavengers from infection
After avian influenza killed 21 endangered California Condors, government officials are testing a vaccine that could protect the massive scavengers from infection
After avian influenza killed 21 endangered California Condors, government officials are testing a vaccine that could protect the massive scavengers from infection
- OpenAI has officially launched a new business-friendly version of its popular AI chatbot ChatGPT, in what seems like a clear attempt to woo companies into paying for features like "enterprise-grade security and privacy" and "unlimited higher-speed GPT-4 access."
has officially launched a new business-friendly version of its popular AI chatbot ChatGPT, in what seems like a clear attempt to woo companies into paying for features like "enterprise-grade security and privacy" and "unlimited higher-speed GPT-4 access."
The new product, ChatGPT Enterprise, which is entirely separate from the $20-a-month
, is an attempt to assuage fears over employees inadvertently giving up sensitive company data to the chatbot.
The timing of the company's announcement is interesting. The release comes amid reports that OpenAI is burning cash at an alarming rate as it struggles to monetize its flagship chatbot — so it doesn't exactly come as a surprise that it's trying to establish itself in the enterprise software space, where margins are typically wider compared to the consumer market.
And that's especially relevant as public interest in ChatGPT is reportedly waning right as OpenAI is starting to feel the pressure to develop a revenue model.
To get ahead of these fears, OpenAI is now promising that it won't "train on your business data or conversations" if the company subscribes to ChatGPT Enterprise.
That leaves a glaring question: what about companies that aren't subscribed? Are their company secrets vulnerable to ChatGPT's prying eyes?
Then there's OpenAI's eyewatering burn rate. The company is likely chewing through staggering sums to keep ChatGPT running, leading to questions surrounding the company's long-term financial viability. Will an enterprise-grade solution allow the company to rake in enough cash to keep its core product running?
OpenAI is hoping that a high-speed connection to the bot, among other features, will be convincing enough. ChatGPT Enterprise will give companies an unfettered front-of-the-line access to the chatty bot.
"ChatGPT Enterprise removes all usage caps, and performs up to two times faster," OpenAI promised in its announcement.
The Sam Altman-led company is also promising that "more features" are "in the works" that allow companies to tailor the software to their needs even further.
"We’re onboarding as many enterprises as we can over the next few weeks," the announcement reads.
ChatGPT isn't the only AI chatbot on the block, with Google's Bard and Anthropic's Claude 2 also competing in the ongoing AI arms race.
OpenAI has aimed its sights at enterprise customers to further position itself as the winner — but whether its sales pitch will end up resonating with enough of them remains to be seen.
More on ChatGPT: The Most Fearsome Hackers Just Went Ham on ChatGPT
The post OpenAI Pleads With Companies to Actually Pay for ChatGPT appeared first on Futurism.
After a live roundworm was found in the brain of an Australian woman, we take a look at other unusual cases
After a live roundworm was found in the brain of an Australian woman, we take a look at other unusual cases of parasites turning up unexpectedly and explore how worried we should be.Continue reading…
Abundant warm ocean waters caused Hurricane Idalia to rapidly intensify into a major hurricane before striking the Gulf Coast of Florida and bringing significant impacts
Abundant warm ocean waters caused Hurricane Idalia to rapidly intensify into a major hurricane before striking the Gulf Coast of Florida and bringing significant impacts
Nature Communications, Published online: 29 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40026-1The homogeneity of Aluminium-26 (Al-26) isotope distribution in the accreting solar nebula is debated. Here, the authors show that the age determination of meteorite Erg Chech 002, compared with other igneous meteorites, indicates that Al-26 was heterogeneously distributed in the early Solar System.
People want swift punishment and will even penalize perpetrators for delays outside their control