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For decades, physicists have been hunting for a quantum-gravity model that would unify quantum physics, the laws that govern the very small, and gravity. One major obstacle has been the difficulty in testing the predictions of candidate models experimentally. But some of the models predict an effect that can be probed in the lab: a very small violation of a fundamental quantum tenet called the Pauli exclusion principle, which determines, for instance, how electrons are arranged in atoms.

In the fall of 2020, gig workers in Venezuela posted a series of images to online forums where they gathered to talk shop. The photos were mundane, if sometimes intimate, household scenes captured from low angles—including some you really wouldn't want shared on the Internet. 

In one particularly revealing shot, a young woman in a lavender T-shirt sits on the toilet, her shorts pulled down to mid-thigh.

The images were not taken by a person, but by development versions of iRobot's Roomba J7 series robot vacuum. They were then sent to Scale AI, a startup that contracts workers around the world to label audio, photo, and video data used to train artificial intelligence. 

They were the sorts of scenes that internet-connected devices regularly capture and send back to the cloud—though usually with stricter storage and access controls. Yet earlier this year, MIT Technology Review obtained 15 screenshots of these private photos, which had been posted to closed social media groups. 

The photos vary in type and in sensitivity. The most intimate image we saw was the series of video stills featuring the young woman on the toilet, her face blocked in the lead image but unobscured in the grainy scroll of shots below. In another image, a boy who appears to be eight or nine years old, and whose face is clearly visible, is sprawled on his stomach across a hallway floor. A triangular flop of hair spills across his forehead as he stares, with apparent amusement, at the object recording him from just below eye level.

The other shots show rooms from homes around the world, some occupied by humans, one by a dog. Furniture, décor, and objects located high on the walls and ceilings are outlined by rectangular boxes and accompanied by labels like "tv," "plant_or_flower," and "ceiling light." 

iRobot—the world's largest vendor of robotic vacuums, which Amazon recently acquired for $1.7 billion in a pending deal—confirmed that these images were captured by its 


 in 2020. All of them came from "special development robots with hardware and software modifications that are not and never were present on iRobot consumer products for purchase," the company said in a statement. They were given to "paid collectors and employees" who signed written agreements acknowledging that they were sending data streams, including video, back to the company for training purposes. According to iRobot, the devices were labeled with a bright green sticker that read "video recording in progress," and it was up to those paid data collectors to "remove anything they deem sensitive from any space the robot operates in, including children."

In other words, by iRobot's estimation, anyone whose photos or video appeared in the streams had agreed to let their Roombas monitor them. iRobot declined to let MIT Technology Review view the consent agreements and did not make any of its paid collectors or employees available to discuss their understanding of the terms.

While the images shared with us did not come from iRobot customers, consumers regularly consent to having our data monitored to varying degrees on devices ranging from iPhones to washing machines. It's a practice that has only grown more common over the past decade, as data-hungry artificial intelligence has been increasingly integrated into a whole new array of products and services. Much of this technology is based on machine learning, a technique that uses large troves of data—including our voicesfaceshomes, and other personal information—to train algorithms to recognize patterns. The most useful data sets are the most realistic, making data sourced from real environments, like homes, especially valuable. Often, we opt in simply by using the product, as noted in privacy policies with vague language that gives companies broad discretion in how they disseminate and analyze consumer information. 

Did you participate in iRobot's data collection efforts? We'd love to hear from you. Please reach out at 

The data collected by robot vacuums can be particularly invasive. They have "powerful hardware, powerful sensors," says Dennis Giese, a PhD candidate at Northeastern University who studies the security vulnerabilities of Internet of Things devices, including robot vacuums. "And they can drive around in your home—and you have no way to control that." This is especially true, he adds, of devices with advanced cameras and artificial intelligence—like iRobot's Roomba J7 series.

This data is then used to build smarter robots whose purpose may one day go far beyond vacuuming. But to make these data sets useful for machine learning, individual humans must first view, categorize, label, and otherwise add context to each bit of data. This process is called data annotation.

"There's always a group of humans sitting somewhere—usually in a windowless room, just doing a bunch of point-and-click: 'Yes, that is an object or not an object,'" explains Matt Beane, an assistant professor in the technology management program at  the University of California, Santa Barbara, who studies the human work behind robotics.

The 15 images shared with MIT Technology Review are just a tiny slice of a sweeping data ecosystem. iRobot has said that it has shared over 2 million images with Scale AI and an unknown quantity more with other data annotation platforms; the company has confirmed that Scale is just one of the data annotators it has used. 

James Baussmann, iRobot's spokesperson, said in an email the company had "taken every precaution to ensure that personal data is processed securely and in accordance with applicable law," and that the images shared with MIT Technology Review were "shared in violation of a written non-disclosure agreement between iRobot and an image annotation service provider." In an emailed statement a few weeks after we shared the images with the company, iRobot CEO Colin Angle said that "iRobot is terminating its relationship with the service provider who leaked the images, is actively investigating the matter, and [is] taking measures to help prevent a similar leak by any service provider in the future." The company did not respond to additional questions about what those measures were. 

Ultimately, though, this set of images represents something bigger than any one individual company's actions. They speak to the widespread, and growing, practice of sharing potentially sensitive data to train algorithms, as well as the surprising, globe-spanning journey that a single image can take—in this case, from homes in North America, Europe, and Asia to the servers of Massachusetts-based iRobot, from there to San Francisco–based Scale AI, and finally to Scale's contracted data workers around the world (including, in this instance, Venezuelan gig workers who posted the images to private groups on 


, Discord, and elsewhere). 

Together, the images reveal a whole data supply chain—and new points where personal information could leak out—that few consumers are even aware of. 

"It's not expected that human beings are going to be reviewing the raw footage," emphasizes Justin Brookman, director of tech policy at Consumer Reports and former policy director of the Federal Trade Commission's Office of Technology Research and Investigation. iRobot would not say whether data collectors were aware that humans, in particular, would be viewing these images, though the company said the consent form made clear that "service providers" would be.

"It's not expected that human beings are going to be reviewing the raw footage."

"We literally treat machines differently than we treat humans," adds Jessica Vitak, an information scientist and professor at the University of Maryland's communication department and its College of Information Studies. "It's much easier for me to accept a cute little vacuum, you know, moving around my space [than] somebody walking around my house with a camera." 

And yet, that's essentially what is happening. It's not just a robot vacuum watching you on the toilet—a person may be looking too. 

The robot vacuum revolution 

Robot vacuums weren't always so smart. 

The earliest model, the Swiss-made Electrolux Trilobite, came to market in 2001. It used ultrasonic sensors to locate walls and plot cleaning patterns; additional bump sensors on its sides and cliff sensors at the bottom helped it avoid running into objects or falling off stairs. But these sensors were glitchy, leading the robot to miss certain areas or repeat others. The result was unfinished and unsatisfactory cleaning jobs. 

The next year, iRobot released the first-generation Roomba, which relied on similar basic bump sensors and turn sensors. Much cheaper than its competitor, it became the first commercially successful robot vacuum.

The most basic models today still operate similarly, while midrange cleaners incorporate better sensors and other navigational techniques like simultaneous localization and mapping to find their place in a room and chart out better cleaning paths. 

Higher-end devices have moved on to computer vision, a subset of artificial intelligence that approximates human sight by training algorithms to extract information from images and videos, and/or lidar, a laser-based sensing technique used by NASA and widely considered the most accurate—but most expensive—navigational technology on the market today. 

Computer vision depends on high-definition cameras, and by our count, around a dozen companies have incorporated front-facing cameras into their robot vacuums for navigation and object recognition—as well as, increasingly, home monitoring. This includes the top three robot vacuum makers by market share: iRobot, which has 30% of the market and has sold over 40 million devices since 2002; Ecovacs, with about 15%; and Roborock, which has about another 15%, according to the market intelligence firm Strategy Analytics. It also includes familiar household appliance makers like Samsung, LG, and Dyson, among others. In all, some 23.4 million robot vacuums were sold in Europe and the Americas in 2021 alone, according to Strategy Analytics. 

From the start, iRobot went all in on computer vision, and its first device with such capabilities, the Roomba 980, debuted in 2015. It was also the first of iRobot's Wi-Fi-enabled devices, as well as its first that could map a home, adjust its cleaning strategy on the basis of room size, and identify basic obstacles to avoid. 

Computer vision "allows the robot to … see the full richness of the world around it," says Chris Jones, iRobot's chief technology officer. It allows iRobot's devices to "avoid cords on the floor or understand that that's a couch." 

But for computer vision in robot vacuums to truly work as intended, manufacturers need to train it on high-quality, diverse data sets that reflect the huge range of what they might see. "The variety of the home environment is a very difficult task," says Wu Erqi, the senior R&D director of Beijing-based Roborock. Road systems "are quite standard," he says, so for makers of self-driving cars, "you'll know how the lane looks … [and] how the traffic sign looks." But each home interior is vastly different. 

"The furniture is not standardized," he adds. "You cannot expect what will be on your ground. Sometimes there's a sock there, maybe some cables"—and the cables may look different in the US and China. 

family bent over a vacuum. light emitting from the vaccuum shines on their obscured faces.

MIT Technology Review spoke with or sent questions to 12 companies selling robot vacuums and found that they respond to the challenge of gathering training data differently. 

In iRobot's case, over 95% of its image data set comes from real homes, whose residents are either iRobot employees or volunteers recruited by third-party data vendors (which iRobot declined to identify). People using development devices agree to allow iRobot to collect data, including video streams, as the devices are running, often in exchange for "incentives for participation," according to a statement from iRobot. The company declined to specify what these incentives were, saying only that they varied "based on the length and complexity of the data collection." 

The remaining training data comes from what iRobot calls "staged data collection," in which the company builds models that it then records.

iRobot has also begun offering regular consumers the opportunity to opt in to contributing training data through its app, where people can choose to send specific images of obstacles to company servers to improve its algorithms. iRobot says that if a customer participates in this "user-in-the-loop" training, as it is known, the company receives only these specific images, and no others. Baussmann, the company representative, said in an email that such images have not yet been used to train any algorithms. 

In contrast to iRobot, Roborock said that it either "produce[s] [its] own images in [its] labs" or "work[s] with third-party vendors in China who are specifically asked to capture & provide images of objects on floors for our training purposes." Meanwhile, Dyson, which sells two high-end robot vacuum models, said that it gathers data from two main sources: "home trialists within Dyson's research & development department with a security clearance" and, increasingly, synthetic, or AI-generated, training data. 

Most robot vacuum companies MIT Technology Review spoke with explicitly said they don't use customer data to train their machine-learning algorithms. Samsung did not respond to questions about how it sources its data (though it wrote that it does not use Scale AI for data annotation), while Ecovacs calls the source of its training data "confidential." LG and Bosch did not respond to requests for comment.

"You have to assume that people … ask each other for help. The policy always says that you're not supposed to, but it's very hard to control." 

Some clues about other methods of data collection come from Giese, the IoT hacker, whose office at Northeastern is piled high with robot vacuums that he has reverse-engineered, giving him access to their machine-learning models. Some are produced by Dreame, a relatively new Chinese company based in Shenzhen that sells affordable, feature-rich devices. 

Giese found that Dreame vacuums have a folder labeled "AI server," as well as image upload functions. Companies often say that "camera data is never sent to the cloud and whatever," Giese says, but "when I had access to the device, I was basically able to prove that it's not true." Even if they didn't actually upload any photos, he adds, "[the function] is always there."  

Dreame manufactures robot vacuums that are also rebranded and sold by other companies—an indication that this practice could be employed by other brands as well, says Giese. 

Dreame did not respond to emailed questions about the data collected from customer devices, but in the days following MIT Technology Review's initial outreach, the company began changing its privacy policies, including those related to how it collects personal information, and pushing out multiple firmware updates.

But without either an explanation from companies themselves or a way, besides hacking, to test their assertions, it's hard to know for sure what they're collecting from customers for training purposes.

How and why our data ends up halfway around the world

With the raw data required for machine-learning algorithms comes the need for labor, and lots of it. That's where data annotation comes in. A young but growing industry, data annotation is projected to reach $13.3 billion in market value by 2030. 

The field took off largely to meet the huge need for labeled data to train the algorithms used in self-driving vehicles. Today, data labelers, who are often low-paid contract workers in the developing world, help power much of what we take for granted as "automated" online. They keep the worst of the Internet out of our social media feeds by manually categorizing and flagging posts, improve voice recognition software by transcribing low-quality audio, and help robot vacuums recognize objects in their environments by tagging photos and videos. 

Among the myriad companies that have popped up over the past decade, Scale AI has become the market leader. Founded in 2016, it built a business model around contracting with remote workers in less-wealthy nations at cheap project- or task-based rates on Remotasks, its proprietary crowdsourcing platform. 

In 2020, Scale posted a new assignment there: Project IO. It featured images captured from the ground and angled upwards at roughly 45 degrees, and showed the walls, ceilings, and floors of homes around the world, as well as whatever happened to be in or on them—including people, whose faces were clearly visible to the labelers. 

Labelers discussed Project IO in Facebook, Discord, and other groups that they had set up to share advice on handling delayed payments, talk about the best-paying assignments, or request assistance in labeling tricky objects. 

iRobot confirmed that the 15 images posted in these groups and subsequently sent to MIT Technology Review came from its devices, sharing a spreadsheet listing the specific dates they were made (between June and November 2020), the countries they came from (the United States, Japan, France, Germany, and Spain), and the serial numbers of the devices that produced the images, as well as a column indicating that a consent form had been signed by each device's user. (Scale AI confirmed that 13 of the 15 images came from "an R&D project [it] worked on with iRobot over two years ago," though it declined to clarify the origins of or offer additional information on the other two images.)

iRobot says that sharing images in social media groups violates Scale's agreements with it, and Scale says that contract workers sharing these images breached their own agreements. 

"The underlying problem is that your face is like a password you can't change. Once somebody has recorded the 'signature' of your face, they can use it forever to find you in photos or video." 

But such actions are nearly impossible to police on crowdsourcing platforms. 

When I ask Kevin Guo, the CEO of Hive, a Scale competitor that also depends on contract workers, if he is aware of data labelers sharing content on social media, he is blunt. "These are distributed workers," he says. "You have to assume that people … ask each other for help. The policy always says that you're not supposed to, but it's very hard to control." 

That means that it's up to the service provider to decide whether or not to take on certain work. For Hive, Guo says, "we don't think we have the right controls in place given our workforce" to effectively protect sensitive data. Hive does not work with any robot vacuum companies, he adds. 

"It's sort of surprising to me that [the images] got shared on a crowdsourcing platform," says Olga Russakovsky, the principal investigator at Princeton University's Visual AI Lab and a cofounder of the group AI4All. Keeping the labeling in house, where "folks are under strict NDAs" and "on company computers," would keep the data far more secure, she points out.

In other words, relying on far-flung data annotators is simply not a secure way to protect data. "When you have data that you've gotten from customers, it would normally reside in a database with access protection," says Pete Warden, a leading computer vision researcher and a PhD student at Stanford University. But with machine-learning training, customer data is all combined "in a big batch," widening the "circle of people" who get access to it.

Screenshots shared with MIT Technology Review of data annotation in progress

For its part, iRobot says that it shares only a subset of training images with data annotation partners, flags any image with sensitive information, and notifies the company's chief privacy officer if sensitive information is detected. Baussmann calls this situation "rare," and adds that when it does happen, "the entire video log, including the image, is deleted from iRobot servers."

The company specified, "When an image is discovered where a user is in a compromising position, including nudity, partial nudity, or sexual interaction, it is deleted—in addition to ALL other images from that log." It did not clarify whether this flagging would be done automatically by algorithm or manually by a person, or why that did not happen in the case of the woman on the toilet.

iRobot policy, however, does not deem faces sensitive, even if the people are minors. 

"In order to teach the robots to avoid humans and images of humans"—a feature that it has promoted to privacy-wary customers—the company "first needs to teach the robot what a human is," Baussmann explained. "In this sense, it is necessary to first collect data of humans to train a model." The implication is that faces must be part of that data.

But facial images may not actually be necessary for algorithms to detect humans, according to William Beksi, a computer science professor who runs the Robotic Vision Laboratory at the University of Texas at Arlington: human detector models can recognize people based "just [on] the outline (silhouette) of a human." 

"If you were a big company, and you were concerned about privacy, you could preprocess these images," Beksi says. For example, you could blur human faces before they even leave the device and "before giving them to someone to annotate."

"It does seem to be a bit sloppy," he concludes, "especially to have minors recorded in the videos." 

In the case of the woman on the toilet, a data labeler made an effort to preserve her privacy, by placing a black circle over her face. But in no other images featuring people were identities obscured, either by the data labelers themselves, by Scale AI, or by iRobot. That includes the image of the young boy sprawled on the floor.

Baussmann explained that iRobot protected "the identity of these humans" by "decoupling all identifying information from the images … so if an image is acquired by a bad actor, they cannot map backwards to identify the person in the image."

But capturing faces is inherently privacy-violating, argues Warden. "The underlying problem is that your face is like a password you can't change," he says. "Once somebody has recorded the 'signature' of your face, they can use it forever to find you in photos or video." 

AI labels over the illustrated faces of a family

Additionally, "lawmakers and enforcers in privacy would view biometrics, including faces, as sensitive information," says Jessica Rich, a privacy lawyer who served as director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection between 2013 and 2017. This is especially the case if any minors are captured on camera, she adds: "Getting consent from the employee [or testers] isn't the same as getting consent from the child. The employee doesn't have the capacity to consent to data collection about other individuals—let alone the children that appear to be implicated." Rich says she wasn't referring to any specific company in these comments. 

In the end, the real problem is arguably not that the data labelers shared the images on social media. Rather, it's that this type of AI training set—specifically, one depicting faces—is far more common than most people understand, notes Milagros Miceli, a sociologist and computer scientist who has been interviewing distributed workers contracted by data annotation companies for years. Miceli has spoken to multiple labelers who have seen similar images, taken from the same low vantage points and sometimes showing people in various stages of undress. 

The data labelers found this work "really uncomfortable," she adds. 

Surprise: you may have agreed to this 

Robot vacuum manufacturers themselves recognize the heightened privacy risks presented by on-device cameras. "When you've made the decision to invest in computer vision, you do have to be very careful with privacy and security," says Jones, iRobot's CTO. "You're giving this benefit to the product and the consumer, but you also have to be treating privacy and security as a top-order priority."

In fact, iRobot tells MIT Technology Review it has implemented many privacy- and security-protecting measures in its customer devices, including using encryption, regularly patching security vulnerabilities, limiting and monitoring internal employee access to information, and providing customers with detailed information on the data that it collects. 

But there is a wide gap between the way companies talk about privacy and the way consumers understand it. 

It's easy, for instance, to conflate privacy with security, says Jen Caltrider, the lead researcher behind Mozilla's "*Privacy Not Included" project, which reviews consumer devices for both privacy and security. Data security refers to a product's physical and cyber security, or how vulnerable it is to a hack or intrusion, while data privacy is about transparency—knowing and being able to control the data that companies have, how it is used, why it is shared, whether and for how long it's retained, and how much a company is collecting to start with. 

Conflating the two is convenient, Caltrider adds, because "security has gotten better, while privacy has gotten way worse" since she began tracking products in 2017. "The devices and apps now collect so much more personal information," she says. 

Company representatives also sometimes use subtle differences, like the distinction between "sharing" data and selling it, that make how they handle privacy particularly hard for non-experts to parse. When a company says it will never sell your data, that doesn't mean it won't use it or share it with others for analysis.

These expansive definitions of data collection are often acceptable under companies' vaguely worded privacy policies, virtually all of which contain some language permitting the use of data for the purposes of "improving products and services"—language that Rich calls so broad as to "permit basically anything."

"Developers are not traditionally very good [at] security stuff." Their attitude becomes "Try to get the functionality, and if the functionality is working, ship the product. And then the scandals come out." 

Indeed, MIT Technology Review reviewed 12 robot vacuum privacy policies, and all of them, including iRobot's, contained similar language on "improving products and services." Most of the companies to which MIT Technology Review reached out for comment did not respond to questions on whether "product improvement" would include machine-learning algorithms. But Roborock and iRobot say it would. 

And because the United States lacks a comprehensive data privacy law—instead relying on a mishmash of state laws, most notably the California Consumer Privacy Act—these privacy policies are what shape companies' legal responsibilities, says Brookman. "A lot of privacy policies will say, you know, we reserve the right to share your data with select partners or service providers," he notes. That means consumers are likely agreeing to have their data shared with additional companies, whether they are familiar with them or not.

Brookman explains that the legal barriers companies must clear to collect data directly from consumers are fairly low. The FTC, or state attorneys general, may step in if there are either "unfair" or "deceptive" practices, he notes, but these are narrowly defined: unless a privacy policy specifically says "Hey, we're not going to let contractors look at your data" and they share it anyway, Brookman says, companies are "probably okay on deception, which is the main way" for the FTC to "enforce privacy historically." Proving that a practice is unfair, meanwhile, carries additional burdens—including proving harm. "The courts have never really ruled on it," he adds.

Most companies' privacy policies do not even mention the audiovisual data being captured, with a few exceptions. iRobot's privacy policy notes that it collects audiovisual data only if an individual shares images via its mobile app. LG's privacy policy for the camera- and AI-enabled Hom-Bot Turbo+ explains that its app collects audiovisual data, including "audio, electronic, visual, or similar information, such as profile photos, voice recordings, and video recordings." And the privacy policy for Samsung's Jet Bot AI+ Robot Vacuum with lidar and Powerbot R7070, both of which have cameras, will collect "information you store on your device, such as photos, contacts, text logs, touch interactions, settings, and calendar information" and "recordings of your voice when you use voice commands to control a Service or contact our Customer Service team." Meanwhile, Roborock's privacy policy makes no mention of audiovisual data, though company representatives tell MIT Technology Review that consumers in China have the option to share it. 

iRobot cofounder Helen Greiner, who now runs a startup called Tertill that sells a garden-weeding robot, emphasizes that in collecting all this data, companies are not trying to violate their customers' privacy. They're just trying to build better products—or, in iRobot's case, "make a better clean," she says. 

Still, even the best efforts of companies like iRobot clearly leave gaps in privacy protection. "It's less like a maliciousness thing, but just incompetence," says Giese, the IoT hacker. "Developers are not traditionally very good [at] security stuff." Their attitude becomes "Try to get the functionality, and if the functionality is working, ship the product." 

"And then the scandals come out," he adds.

Robot vacuums are just the beginning

The appetite for data will only increase in the years ahead. Vacuums are just a tiny subset of the connected devices that are proliferating across our lives, and the biggest names in robot vacuums—including iRobot, Samsung, Roborock, and Dyson—are vocal about ambitions much grander than automated floor cleaning. Robotics, including home robotics, has long been the real prize.  

Consider how Mario Munich, then the senior vice president of technology at iRobot, explained the company's goals back in 2018. In a presentation on the Roomba 980, the company's first computer-vision vacuum, he showed images from the device's vantage point—including one of a kitchen with a table, chairs, and stools—next to how they would be labeled and perceived by the robot's algorithms. "The challenge is not with the vacuuming. The challenge is with the robot," Munich explained. "We would like to know the environment so we can change the operation of the robot." 

This bigger mission is evident in what Scale's data annotators were asked to label—not items on the floor that should be avoided (a feature that iRobot promotes), but items like "cabinet," "kitchen countertop," and "shelf," which together help the Roomba J series device recognize the entire space in which it operates. 

The companies making robot vacuums are already investing in other features and devices that will bring us closer to a robotics-enabled future. The latest Roombas can be voice controlled through Nest and Alexa, and they recognize over 80 different objects around the home. Meanwhile, Ecovacs's Deebot X1 robot vacuum has integrated the company's proprietary voice assistance, while Samsung is one of several companies developing "companion robots" to keep humans company. Miele, which sells the RX2 Scout Home Vision, has turned its focus toward other smart appliances, like its camera-enabled smart oven.

And if iRobot's $1.7 billion acquisition by Amazon moves forward—pending approval by the FTC, which is considering the merger's effect on competition in the smart-home marketplace—Roombas are likely to become even more integrated into Amazon's vision for the always-on smart home of the future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, public policy is starting to reflect the growing public concern with data privacy. From 2018 to 2022, there has been a marked increase in states considering and passing privacy protections, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act and the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. At the federal level, the FTC is considering new rules to crack down on harmful commercial surveillance and lax data security practices—including those used in training data. In two cases, the FTC has taken action against the undisclosed use of customer data to train artificial intelligence, ultimately forcing the companies, Weight Watchers International and the photo app developer Everalbum, to delete both the data collected and the algorithms built from it. 

Still, none of these piecemeal efforts address the growing data annotation market and its proliferation of companies based around the world or contracting with global gig workers, who operate with little oversight, often in countries with even fewer data protection laws. 

When I spoke this summer to Greiner, she said that she personally was not worried about iRobot's implications for privacy—though she understood why some people might feel differently. Ultimately, she framed privacy in terms of consumer choice: anyone with real concerns could simply not buy that device. 

"Everybody needs to make their own privacy decisions," she told me. "And I can tell you, overwhelmingly, people make the decision to have the features as long as they are delivered at a cost-effective price point."

But not everyone agrees with this framework, in part because it is so challenging for consumers to make fully informed choices. Consent should be more than just "a piece of paper" to sign or a privacy policy to glance through, says Vitak, the University of Maryland information scientist. 

True informed consent means "that the person fully understands the procedure, they fully understand the risks … how those risks will be mitigated, and … what their rights are," she explains. But this rarely happens in a comprehensive way—especially when companies market adorable robot helpers promising clean floors at the click of a button.

Do you have more information about how companies collect data to train AI? Did you participate in data collection efforts by iRobot or other robot vacuum companies? We'd love to hear from you and will respect requests for anonymity. Please reach out at or securely on Signal at 626.765.5489. 

Additional research by Tammy Xu.



The uncertainty related to physical parameters is a major challenge in numerical modeling. However, due to the large number of such parameters in numerical models, reducing the uncertainty for all of them would be extremely expensive in terms of manpower and resources.
Dark therapy may treat lazy eye
Is this article about Pharma?
A large eyeball art installation in a park in front of an office building.

A new pilot study in mice investigates the mechanisms that underlie a treatment for patients with 


, also known as "lazy eye."

Amblyopia is a condition where the brain can't recognize sight from one eye and favors the other eye.

One therapy that shows promise for addressing the condition in adult patients is transient dark exposure, in which a patient has an occlusion that caused their amblyopia removed and lives in darkness for a few days.

The researchers found evidence that a week after transient dark exposure, the brain's neural networks adjust the way they process visual information thereby improving vision.

"One of the big things in neuroscience is to try to understand how we have stable perception," says Sandra Kuhlman, assistant professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and the head of the Kuhlman Lab. "The field is now able to identify adaptive properties of neural circuits on long time scales. That's really important to understand how neural function underlies basic sensory processes."

Brian Jeon, a postdoctoral fellow and graduate of Carnegie Mellon's biological sciences department, conceived the study as a PhD student working in Kuhlman's lab.

"Transient dark exposure is a treatment that people are exploring in humans," Jeon says. "We said, 'hey, maybe this has to do with how the brain encodes information, and maybe that gets disrupted when you remove inputs for an extended period of time.' We found there is some room for change, but actually, the system is very resilient."

For the study, published in eLife, the researchers use two-photon calcium imaging to record neural activity in adult mice before and after transient dark exposure. This technique allows scientists to measure entire networks of neurons in living models.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers presented the mice with visual stimuli, and recorded their neural responses. After darkness exposure for eight days, the same stimuli were presented again to the mice and their visual responses were also recorded.

"Brian's data helps shed light on the various, complex factors that drive plasticity in the visual cortex, and bring us one step closer to understanding how eye injury and disease might affect visual perception," says coauthor Steven Chase, professor of biomedical engineering.

Though the mice exhibited some issues with visual processing within a few days after exposure, they recovered after a week.

The researchers aim to use the study's techniques for a longer-term study or one with younger mice. They also want to apply the technique of two-photon calcium imaging when modeling and studying other neurological and psychiatric conditions.

"There's so many things we don't understand at a cell type specific level in neural circuits," Kuhlman says. "We hope that the analytical approach will be useful for other researchers."

The National Institutes of Health's National Eye Institute and the Curci Foundation funded the work.

Source: Kirsten Heuring for Carnegie Mellon University

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Is this article about Space?

As a dismal year on Earth draws to a close, milestones in space exploration offer much for the whole world to celebrate

Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
Researchers from Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have discovered how proteins in the cell can form tiny liquid droplets that act as a smart molecular glue. Clinging to the ends of filaments called microtubules, the glue they discovered ensures the nucleus is correctly positioned for cell division. The findings, published in Nature Cell Biology, explain the long-standing mystery of how moving protein structures of the cell's machinery are coupled together.
Is this article about Climate?

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35451-7

The authors present a wood formation model to explain multiple, hitherto poorly understood observations, related to carbon density, cell size, and temperature-growth relationships key for future carbon cycle simulations and past proxy interpretation.
How magnetic waves interact with Earth's bubble
Shock waves occur in air when a plane travels faster than the speed of sound and also occur in plasma (a fourth state of matter that makes up 99% of the visible universe) in space. Shock waves are believed to accelerate particles in supernovae (the explosions of stars) and in the jets released far into space by black holes.
Researchers from Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have discovered how proteins in the cell can form tiny liquid droplets that act as a smart molecular glue. Clinging to the ends of filaments called microtubules, the glue they discovered ensures the nucleus is correctly positioned for cell division. The findings, published in Nature Cell Biology, explain the long-standing mystery of how moving protein structures of the cell's machinery are coupled together.
In new research published in Nature Communications, University of Sussex scientists demonstrate how a highly conductive paint coating that they have developed mimics the network spread of a virus through a process called 'explosive percolation'—a mathematical process which can also be applied to population growth, financial systems and computer networks, but which has not been seen before in materials systems. The finding was a serendipitous development as well as a scientific first for the researchers.
Is this article about Animals?
Diving birds like penguins, puffins and cormorants may be more prone to extinction than non-diving birds, according to a new study by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. The authors suggest this is because they are highly specialized and therefore less able to adapt to changing environments than other birds.
Is this article about Biopharma Industry?
A new machine learning model will help scientists identify small molecules, with applications in medicine, drug discovery and environmental chemistry. Developed by researchers at Aalto University and the University of Luxembourg, the model was trained with data from dozens of laboratories to become one of the most accurate tools for identifying small molecules.
Is this article about Animals?
Diving birds like penguins, puffins and cormorants may be more prone to extinction than non-diving birds, according to a new study by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. The authors suggest this is because they are highly specialized and therefore less able to adapt to changing environments than other birds.
Tesla Semis' Range May Fall Drastically When Hauling Things Heavier Than Potato Chips
PepsiCo, Tesla's first Semi truck customer, plans to roll out 100 Semis next year, but is only completing 100 mile trips with beverages on board.

Range Over

Five years after showing off its Semi truck to the public, 


 finally started delivering trucks to its customers this month.

But the company has been noticeably quiet about the vehicle since, having yet to reveal the truck's weight capacity when fully loaded, its price, or when the rest of Tesla's companies will actually be able to start using them.

And given the latest news, Tesla may have reasons to be avoiding those questions. After all, the stakes couldn't be higher — a successful rollout of a 500-mile electric semi truck could be a huge win for a company that desperately needs one right now.

Frito Delivery

PepsiCo, which is Tesla's first Semi buyer and plans to roll out 100 Semis next year, is already noticing that the truck's range takes a massive hit when loaded with heavy cargo, something Tesla's critics have long suspected.

A Semi can carry a load of Frito-Lay chips for an impressive 425 miles with battery to spare, for instance. But potato chips in air-filled bags are one of the lightest loads imaginable; for heavier fare such as sodas, PepsiCo is limiting trips to 100 miles with the truck, PepsiCo VP Mike O'Connell told Reuters.

The remarks were somewhat ambiguous, and O'Connell did elaborate that the company is planning to eventually haul beverages in the "400 to 500 mile range as well."

"Dragging a trailer full of chips around is not the most intense, tough ask," Oliver Dixon, senior analyst at consultancy Guidehouse, told the news agency. "I still believe that Tesla has an awful lot to prove to the broader commercial vehicle marketplace."


To be clear, we still don't know how much weight a Semi can actually carry and what the resulting drop-off in range will actually be — something that Tesla has yet to publicly address.

Tesla maintains its trucks have "can travel up to 500 miles on a single charge," according to its website, a vague statement that leaves us with plenty of questions.

PepsiCo and other customers such as Gatorade have remained tightlipped about the details, likely a result of non disclosure agreements they signed with the EV maker.

But PepsiCo's decision to only complete short trips with heavy loads could be a sign that Tesla may have oversold its 500-mile semi truck.

When it comes to the laws of physics, after all, there's only so much the company can do to electrify the trucking industry.

READ MORE: PepsiCo is using 36 

Tesla Semis

 in its fleet and is upgrading facilities for more in 2023, exec says [CNBC]

More on the Semi: Tesla Semi Truck Drives 500 Miles Fully Loaded

The post Tesla Semis' Range May Fall Drastically When Hauling Things Heavier Than Potato Chips appeared first on Futurism.

The Donnan potential, revealed at last
The Donnan electric potential arises from an imbalance of charges at the interface of a charged membrane and a liquid, and for more than a century it has stubbornly eluded direct measurement. Many researchers have even written off such a measurement as impossible.
Racial discrimination is 'contagious' for couples
Is this article about Neuroscience?
A Black couple sits together in their kitchen, with both looking concerned, and the woman with her hands at her temples.

Racial discrimination's effects on health have been dramatically underestimated, according to a new study.

Most research to date has focused on the effects of discrimination on individuals, but the current study looked at racism among two generations of African American couples.

Someone's experiences with discrimination are negatively associated with their own health, but the discrimination experienced by one person in a romantic relationship also has negative health implications for their partner, including increased psychological distress and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly for the men among the older generation in the study.

"People's lives are inextricably linked, and what happens to one person, particularly in a family, can impact the other," says Ashley Barr, associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo and first author of the paper in Social Science & Medicine.

Discrimination functions as a "stress contagion." Its effects reach across relationships, transferring stress from one person to another. This happens between teachers and students, parents and children, friends, and, in this case, romantic partners, essentially making discrimination "contagious" for couples, Barr says.

"These findings demonstrate empirically how the effects of discrimination reverberate across romantic relationships," says Barr.

"The effect of discrimination for couples makes the impact of discrimination on health a problem significantly larger than previously thought—and it was a profoundly devastating problem to begin with. By failing to take linked lives into account, we will not fully understand the consequences of racism and discrimination across a variety of outcomes, health being among them."

For the study, researchers used two generations of data on couples from the latest waves of the Family and Community Health Study (FACHS). Launched in 1997, FACHS is a longitudinal study of health and well-being among African American families living in Georgia and Iowa.

Focal respondents included fifth-grade students at the time of recruitment, along with the child's primary and secondary caregivers, typically the parents. The latest data waves were collected at a point when the focal participants were in young adulthood (2018-2019) and their caregivers had reached middle age (2015-2016). At each of these waves, the romantic partners of the young adult respondents and those of their primary caregivers were invited to participate in the study, resulting in two generations of couple-level data.

The current paper looked at 112 older adult, Black, different-gender couples (average age 58 for men and 56 for women) and 151 younger adult, Black, different-gender couples (average age of 31 for men and 29 for women).

Previous research on factors influencing health within relationships often relied on data from one partner who reported on the experiences of another. Reports from both partners on discriminatory experiences in this paper allowed for empirical comparison and the assessment of true contagion effects.

"One's own experiences with discrimination are bad for health; their partner's experiences with discrimination are bad for health," says Barr. "We found that across gender and generation. But for the younger generation in particular, the male partner's experiences with discrimination are more troublesome for women, which is the reverse in the older generation when we find gender differences."

The current study is another piece of evidence in a long line of research on the detrimental health effects of discrimination, Barr says.

"All of these findings suggest that we need to dedicate more resources to figuring out how to contend with discrimination and its consequences," she says.

"If you consider the effects of discrimination across lives, relationships, and families, the problem becomes even more apparent, and finding ways to end discrimination becomes all the more urgent."

Source: University at Buffalo

The post Racial discrimination is 'contagious' for couples appeared first on Futurity.

AI-based data analytics enable business insight
Is this article about Future of Work?

Remember buying music on CDs? Or even vinyl? From the consumer perspective, the shift to streaming services provides a limitless selection of content that we can access on all of our devices. For the music industry, it creates tremendous opportunities to collect, analyze, and monetize data about our listening habits.


That was the directive SK Sharma was given in 2016, when he was hired as chief analytics and AI officer by Ingrooves Music Group, which provides global music distribution and marketing to indie artists. "The idea is," he says, "in a very crowded music marketplace, how can we make certain kinds of content, particularly with respect to indie artists, stand out." Making use of engagement data is "the crux of our business," says Sharma, "and that's what necessitates using predictive analytics and really being able to judiciously use the information that we have."

For Sharma, that meant starting from scratch, assembling a team of data scientists and building an AI pipeline. Sharma and his team then created a "smart audience platform" that puts ads touting an artist's latest release in front of listeners who are most likely to engage with that artist. The music industry might not be the first business case that comes to mind for AI and data analytics. Yet AI-based data analytics can have a transformative impact in any industry and across a wide range of use cases.

Why companies need advanced data analytics

Most organizations today are drowning in data. They collect it for regulatory and compliance reasons, and they also archive additional data with the expectation that someday it will come in handy.

That day has arrived. Or as Jason Hardy, global CTO at Hitachi Vantara, puts it, companies are having an "aha moment"—realizing that AI-based data analytics can deliver real business value from their collected data that provides a competitive edge. He adds, "Traditionally, companies were saying, 'Just archive it and we'll figure out what to do with it later.' That's turned into a 'No, this actually impacts us now; we need to be able to read that data in real time and process and infer against it.'"


This has become true across industries. In manufacturing, better analytics can improve yield, reduce waste, and increase efficiency. In consumer-focused businesses, AI can detect the emotional responses of customers to specific product placements or measure satisfaction with customer service. In industries that rely on a supply chain, AI can predict and mitigate faults in the supply chain before they occur.

Hardy adds, "We're seeing customers who say, 'I've got to jump on this AI bandwagon. I've got to figure this out. I need a platform to help me do that, whether it's in the cloud or on-prem or a combination of both."

Unfortunately, most organizations don't know where to start. Hardy says C-level executives tell him, "We want to use AI and machine learning. We want to use our data. We want to create value from it. We actually don't know how. We don't even know the question we're trying to answer."

Download the report.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review's editorial staff.

Is this article about Quantum Computing?
A team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University and Peking University has determined the holoenzyme structure of 
 DNA using 
cryo-electron microscopy
. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes the process they used to reveal the structure of the virus DNA and some of the attributes that they were able to see.
Is this article about Quantum Computing?
A team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University and Peking University has determined the holoenzyme structure of 
 DNA using 
cryo-electron microscopy
. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes the process they used to reveal the structure of the virus DNA and some of the attributes that they were able to see.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35486-w

Pollen tube growth involves coordinated energy fluxes between plastids, the cytosol, and mitochondria. Here using ratiometric biosensors, the authors delineate energy flux in growing Arabidopsis pollen tubes by monitoring ATP, NADPH and the NADH/NAD + ratio at the subcellular level.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35555-0

Structural coloration – i.e. colors arising from light interference in microstructures – is a good resource for several applications but usually involves elaborate fabrication techniques. Here, the authors achieve controllable coloration using silica particles embedded in a rearrangeable polymer network.
Are insect brains the secret to great AI? | Frances S. Chance
Are insects the key to brain-inspired computing? Neuroscientist Frances S. Chance thinks so. In this buzzy talk, she shares examples of the incredible capabilities of insects — like the dragonfly's deadly accurate hunting skills and the African dung beetle's superstrength — and shows how untangling the mysterious web of neurons in their tiny brains could lead to breakthroughs in computers, AI and more.
Tokyo to Require Solar Panels on New Residential Buildings in 2025
Leo has found 5 Regulatory Changes mentions in this article


(Photo: Asia Chang/Unsplash)
Tokyo has passed regulations that will require most new residential buildings to incorporate solar paneling. The regulations, which constitute Japan's first-ever solar mandate, will go into effect in 2025. The measure came about as a revision to an existing environmental ordinance, reports Japan's Kyodo News. The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, a group of 127 elected officials representing the Tokyo prefecture, voted to pass the requirement on Thursday in an effort to pursue a low-carbon future.


Under the new regulations, large construction firms will be required to incorporate solar paneling into new homes with less than 2,000 square meters (21,527 square feet) of interior space. Approximately 50 companies fit the "large firm" bill, each supplying more than 20,000 square meters (215,278 square feet) of residential space per year. Early calculations estimate each home's array of 4-kilowatt panels will cost about 980,000 yen ($7,200 USD), which the government says should pay for itself after approximately a decade of reduced energy bills and electricity sales revenue. This timeline might also be reduced to six years under an existing 100,000 yen ($728) per kW grant.


(Photo: Mischa Frank/Unsplash)

According to Tokyo's Environmental Bureau, 70% of the city's emissions come from buildings. With plans already underway to replace nearly half of Tokyo's older residential facilities with new construction, the Bureau has an opportunity to ensure emerging residences emit less carbon than their predecessors. So far, only about 4% of Tokyo's total buildings incorporate solar panels—a figure the Bureau hopes will increase as it pursues its goal of cutting the city's emissions in half by 2030. By 2050, it hopes to reach zero emissions whatsoever.

That said, the regulations aren't entirely motivated by "Zero Emission Tokyo." The Bureau claims that solar-supplemented energy bills will help stave off cost-of-living concerns, which have been spiking in Japan as well as around the rest of the world. It also says those living in solar-equipped residences will be able to add a storage battery, which could provide energy during power outages.

Tokyo's solar mandate closely follows that of France, which passed legislation requiring solar panels to be installed over larger parking lots back in November. Starting in mid-2023, businesses with 80 to 400 parking spaces will have five years to install solar panels over their lots. The mandate, which is expected to provide about 10 nuclear reactors' worth of energy per year, came about after France was the only European Union member to miss its renewable energy goals.

Now Read:

Male mason wasps use genital spines to thwart predators, study reveals

Wasps seen piercing the mouth or other parts of tree frogs with their sharp weapon when being attacked

Kipling might well have believed that the female of the species is more deadly than the male, but when it comes to mason wasps, the latter have quite the weapon.

Researchers in Japan have discovered that male mason wasps use sharp spines on their genitalia to resist being swallowed by predators.

Continue reading…
In most mammals, males disperse to a new group after reaching sexual maturity. Dispersal often entails costs and is risky. New results from spotted hyenas show that males from the same birth group—and particularly twin brothers—very often disperse together and choose the same group to breed. The coordination is likely the combined result of males having similar preferences when they have a similar social and genetic background, and of related males actively sticking together to support one another.
In most mammals, males disperse to a new group after reaching sexual maturity. Dispersal often entails costs and is risky. New results from spotted hyenas show that males from the same birth group—and particularly twin brothers—very often disperse together and choose the same group to breed. The coordination is likely the combined result of males having similar preferences when they have a similar social and genetic background, and of related males actively sticking together to support one another.
Female bees and wasps use modified ovipositors, formerly used in egg laying, to sting their attackers, including people. Now, a study in Current Biology on December 19 shows that male mason wasps use sharp genital spines to attack and sting predatory tree frogs to avoid being swallowed.
Elon Musk Polled Twitter to Ask If He Should Resign, and the Results Were RESOUNDING
The second richest man in the world polled his millions of followers Sunday evening if he should step down as CEO. Milllions of people said yes.

After a disastrous month and a half of leadership over social media network 


, CEO Elon Musk may have finally figured out that he may not be right for the job.

The no-longer-richest-man-in-the-world polled his 122 million followers Sunday evening if he should step down as CEO, something he already promised to do — eventually — when he first took over the company.

The result? A resounding 57.5 percent, roughly 10 million accounts, said that he should step down. It's a clear majority and a sign that even plenty of his own most ardent followers are tired of his antics.

Besides, Musk has also been facing increasing pressure from furious Tesla shareholders, who accuse him of abandoning his role at the car company and allowing it to wither for the past year.

The poll comes after Musk — who has called himself a "free speech absolutist" in the past — suspended a number of journalists who he baselessly accused of sharing his real-time exact location data, a decision that was met with outrage from both fans and critics alike.

Musk even lashed out at Twitter's emerging competitors, who have directly benefited from his disastrous management at Twitter, by banning links to other social sites — a policy which, in yet another flip flip, Musk had reversed by last night.

Given the latest poll and its results, Musk is clearly desperately looking for a vaguely dignified exit from this endless nightmare of his own creation.

"No one wants the job who can actually keep Twitter alive," Musk whined Sunday evening. "There is no successor."

He also said that a future CEO will have to "like pain a lot" and that "you have to invest your life savings" in a company which "has been in the fast lane to bankruptcy since May" — a puzzling assertion, considering he's been the main person to blame for the company's woes.

"Twitter was doing just fine before you bought it," Brianna Wu, executive director of progressive organization RebellionPAC, reminded him.

What a future for Twitter will look like with a CEO in place that will still have to answer to Musk's whims — he'll still own Twitter, of course — remains to be seen.

"The question is not finding a CEO, the question is finding a CEO who can keep Twitter alive," Musk argued.

Given his track record so far, the irreparable damage he's caused to the company's reputation — and the albatross of debt Twitter has accrued due to his $44 billion takeover — it's most definitely not him.

Musk did, however, have a moment of lucidity.

"As the saying goes, be careful what you wish, as you might get it," he tweeted.

READ MORE: Elon Musk's Twitter poll: 10 million say he should step down ['The Guardian]

More on Musk: One of Tesla's Largest Shareholders Calls to Ditch Elon Musk

The post Elon Musk Polled Twitter to Ask If He Should Resign, and the Results Were RESOUNDING appeared first on Futurism.

Recently, the team led by Prof. Zeng Changgan from the University of Sciences and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, collaborating with Li Xiaoguang's team from Shenzhen University, has enabled the remote tuning of the lifetime of coupled plasmon excitations by designing and introducing an additional damping pathway through adjusting the Fermi energy level of graphene, and the damping tuning system has been elucidated in conjunction with theory. The study was published in Physical Review Letters as an Editors' Suggestion.
The discovery of hydrous ringwoodite inclusion in diamonds with 1.5 wt.% H2O provided an irrefutable indication that water is present in the Earth's deep mantle. Whether this water was delivered by one of the numerous subducted slabs observed by seismological studies, or whether it appeared right after the crystallization of the Earth's mantle from a magma ocean, and the total budget of water in the Earth's interior are all still up for debate.
Cities creating or restoring greenspaces experience gentrification processes that exclude citizens from more vulnerable social groups. This is the finding of a scientific project by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) led by urban planner and geographer Isabelle Anguelovski, who has spent over six years analyzing the characteristics and consequences of greening processes in 28 cities in Europe and North America.
What It Feels Like When Fascism Starts

Among the many Holocaust anecdotes I heard again and again as a child—my grandparents were the kind of survivors who liked to talk—certain stories took on the force of fables. And none was more common than the tale of the brother who stayed and the brother who left. Different versions of this basic narrative abounded, set in 1933, in 1938, in 1941. One brother couldn't bear to abandon his small shop or his parents or his homeland, while another brother packed a suitcase at the first inkling of danger and set off toward the French border or over the North Sea or into Soviet territory. The more impetuous one lives. That was the takeaway. When the social and political barometric pressure begins to drop, when you can feel that tingling: Leave.

Even recounted by survivors, maybe especially so, the simple story of a threshold, in or out, always seemed too shaped by retrospect. A decision like that—ethical, national, personal—must have been grueling and not at all obvious. How many of the people who swore they would leave after Donald Trump was elected, fearing the same collapse of democratic norms that the Nazis portended, actually did? Not so many. Identifying that point at which all is lost is not so easy.

This existential dilemma is Lion Feuchtwanger's abiding concern in The Oppermanns, a long-forgotten masterpiece published in 1933 and recently reissued with a revised translation by the novelist Joshua Cohen. It is a book written in real time—written, that is, right on that threshold. Feuchtwanger was one of the most popular German writers of his generation, and he meant for this family saga (think of a high-speed Buddenbrooks) to open the eyes of those blind to Hitler's full intent. It offers something more, though, almost in spite of itself. The novel is an emotional artifact, a remnant of a world sick with foreboding, incredulity, creeping fear, and—this may feel most familiar to us today—the impossibility of gauging whether a society is really at the breaking point.

In The Oppermanns, the members of one German Jewish family come to realize, each at a different pace, that they are no longer welcome in the country they have come to think of as home. Showing us this dawning, its varying velocity and consequences, is Feuchtwanger's project. The best-selling writer of popular historical fiction was already living in exile in the south of France by the spring of 1933, when he began writing this book. The Nazis had ransacked his personal library. His own work was being burned in massive bonfires. And his German citizenship had been stripped. It was at this moment that he cast back just a few months to begin his story of the Oppermann siblings, describing their fate over the course of nearly a year, from November of 1932, just before Hitler was appointed chancellor, through his quick consolidation of all power, and ending in the summer of 1933 with the family "scattered to all the eight winds."

[Read: Why democracies are so slow to respond to evil]

Feuchtwanger endows his titular clan with a 19th-century forebear, Immanuel Oppermann, a paragon of successful assimilation who built a well-loved business producing affordable, good-quality furniture for the German middle class. His portrait serves as the firm's logo, a testament to a man who made "the emancipation of the German Jew a fact, not a mere printed paragraph." His four grandchildren have inherited this sense of ease in German society. Martin is the serious-minded steward of the company. Gustav is a self-satisfied intellectual and playboy, whose passion project is a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing. Edgar is an internationally recognized throat specialist. And Klara, though mostly absent from the book, is married to Jacques Lavendel, an outspoken Eastern European Jew who has remade himself in Berlin through his connections to the family. (We learn of a fourth brother, Ludwig, who was killed as a soldier in World War I—the ultimate tribute to fatherland.)

When we meet them, staying or going is not the siblings' immediate concern. They are not there yet. They confront a different choice: maintaining dignity versus heeding common sense. These two phrases, dignity and common sense, echo throughout the book, and Feuchtwanger's characters are troubled, in this moment of emergency, by the tension between these imperatives: Do you follow where your ethics and ego lead, or do you pay attention instead to the sounds of breaking glass outside, the "barbarism," as the Oppermanns describe it, and recognize that it cannot be overcome by one person, let alone by a Jew?

Martin, for whom dignity is "a quality that was so dear to his own heart," is given one of the first tests. When the newly empowered Nazis begin moving toward the "Aryanization" of all Jewish businesses, his advisers, including his brother-in-law, Lavendel, tell him to come to an agreement with a competing furniture firm's owner, Heinrich Wels, and allow for an orderly takeover before the family is dispossessed of everything. Martin won't do it. He won't abase himself in front of Wels, who is very much enjoying his sudden advantage.

Common sense here dovetails with historical sense, and it's left to Lavendel, the fatalistic Eastern European, to make the argument (and a Jewish joke of sorts), telling a totemic story about a town: "Grosnowice changed masters seventeen times. Seven times the changes brought pogroms with them. Three times they seized a certain Chayim Leibelschitz and told him: 'Now we are going to hang you.' Everyone said to him, 'Be sensible, Chayim, Leave Grosnowice.' He did not leave. They seized him a fourth time and again they did not hang him. But they did shoot him."

Eventually, Martin relents. Wels demands that he come visit him, makes Martin wait 40 minutes, and then finally appears dressed in a storm-trooper uniform. Martin is then denied an honorific ("he would not be Herr Oppermann any longer") and at first even a chair, a hint of what will come in the book's last act, when he finds himself forced to stand in a dank prison basement for hours as a form of torture. This, though, is the first premonition of dehumanization. Martin's belief in his individual value, in his everlasting, exalted place in Berlin, is no match for the societal forces shaping the moment. "I let you wait a long time, Oppermann," Wels tells Martin. "A matter of politics. As you know, Oppermann, politics are now the first consideration."

Feuchtwanger ratchets up the moral intensity for Martin's 17-year-old son, Berthold. A Nazi has recently become his instructor and informed him that the report the young man had been planning to deliver to the class—"Humanism and the Twentieth Century"—won't do. The Nazi forbids him "on principle" from taking on such "abstract subjects." Instead, he switches Berthold's topic to Arminius, an ancient tribal leader who triumphed in battle over the Romans and is heralded as a proto-German nationalist. From "Humanism" to "What can we learn today from Arminius the German?": Feuchtwanger here, as in many other places, is far from subtle.

Berthold's talk goes awry when he begins to raise a few possible objections as to Arminius's lasting significance. From the back of the classroom, the glowering Nazi instructor starts shouting, "Who do you think you are, young man? What sort of people do you suppose you have sitting here before you? Here, in the presence of Germans, in this time of German need, you dare to characterize the tremendous act that stands at the beginning of German history as useless and devoid of meaning?" To this harangue, Berthold answers, "I am a good German, Herr Senior Master. I am as good a German as you are." A battle of wills ensues, with the Nazi demanding a public apology from Berthold if he wants to avoid expulsion, and Berthold, like his father, standing on principle, defending his dignity.

Berthold can't understand what he did wrong. He fails to see that national identity and power matter more than intellectual inquiry in Nazi Germany. The greatest injury to his sense of dignity is the notion that he must lie. Or, more precisely, that he must take back something he said in his lecture that was irrefutably true—that Arminius's resistance to the Roman legions, the source of the nationalists' pride, made hardly a dent on the empire. The primacy of lying, its role as the building block for this new form of German-ness, is something that he, and the other Oppermanns, simply can't handle. "Was it un-German to tell the truth?" he asks himself.

But Berthold, unlike his father, does not abandon his dignity for common sense. On the evening before he must publicly apologize in front of the entire school, he swallows a fatal handful of sleeping pills—the hinge moment of the novel. On top of the manuscript of his lecture, Berthold leaves behind a short note: "There is nothing to explain, nothing to add, nothing to leave out. Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no." The date is March 1, 1933, one day after Hitler's Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspends civil liberties and due process of law. In a few weeks, the Dachau concentration camp will open.

The fact that Feuchtwanger could write with such clarity about history-altering events that had not yet been fully digested is astonishing. We still don't have the 9/11 masterpiece or the pandemic novel to silence all other pandemic novels. The book has its share of heavy-handedness, to be sure: the busts of Voltaire and Frederick the Great, standing in for reason and brute power, respectively, that sit in opposite corners of a schoolmaster's office; a stain on the wall of one character's apartment that grows as his situation worsens. Feuchtwanger intended his book to be a morality tale, a work of proselytizing by the brother who left.

But what pulses through this story of the Oppermanns is the emotion. Feuchtwanger, sitting in exile, was grieving and angry. He was panicked. Not enough people were seeing just how corrosive this confusion of truth and lies could be, how harmful it was for the most vulnerable in society, who were liable to be turned into scapegoats for almost anything. Hannah Arendt elaborated on these insights in The Origins of Totalitarianism 18 years later, after Auschwitz, but Feuchtwanger just felt them. He wants to provide a structure, a container for the story of madness that he's telling, but what leaks out is the madness itself, the experience of men enduring the same pain and sorrow that he is.

[Read: Monuments to the unthinkable]

The varied reactions to what feels, in 1933, like a rupture that might lead to worse or might not, will be recognizable to readers of the reissue in 2022. Some of the first pages are filled with laughter at these new contenders for power, at just how "ridiculous" they are, how "vulgar." Certainly they are no match for the civilizing force of German culture and Bildung. Gustav Oppermann mocks the terrible German of Mein Kampf. The crudeness of Hitler and his followers seems enough to strangle National Socialism in its cradle. Mockery leads to incredulity: How can people not see what's in front of their noses?

One by one, each sibling is confronted with a reality that feels as determined as a natural disaster, in which the volume of lies being hurled against them, and against Jews in general, becomes impossible to even begin to refute. "It was an earthquake, one of those great upheavals of concentrated, fathomless, worldwide stupidity," Feuchtwanger writes at the moment of no return. "Pitted against such an elemental force, the strength and wisdom of the individual was useless."

Once in exile, they still must contend with how hard it is for Germans to acknowledge exactly what is happening. When Gustav's girlfriend, Anna, visits him in the south of France, where he (like Feuchtwanger) is taking refuge, he tries to impress upon her that the Germany they knew is slipping away. A national boycott of Jewish businesses has just taken place. But she can't, or won't, absorb this. "One national government had given place to another, which was still more nationalist," is how Feuchtwanger captures Anna's point of view. "That boycott was, of course, an atrocious thing and so was the book burning. It was disgusting to read the papers and disgusting to hear the row the Nationalists made. But who took that seriously? As a matter of fact, life was going on just the same as before." Gustav doesn't even blame her too harshly. This self-deception is "the only way to protect oneself; even honest, right-thinking people did it, so as not to lose their very foundations, their homeland."

We do get a glimpse of the horror to come, the aftershock upon aftershock of that earthquake: Gustav, for example, sneaks back into Germany under an assumed name to confirm the facts in a dossier passed on to him detailing pogroms and other acts of local violence, and is arrested and taken to a concentration camp, where he is tortured before being released. But in 1933, deracination seems to be as bad an outcome as Feuchtwanger can imagine for Germany's Jews. Occasionally, I'd be reminded of how little, for all his worry, he could really guess about what would follow. A minor character, upset that the new anti-Jewish sentiment might mean the loss of his job and his apartment, thinks to himself, "If the rest of his life were to go on as it was at present, one might just as well turn on the gas right away." I almost dropped the book.

Feuchtwanger himself had a harrowing escape from Europe. When Germany and France went to war in 1939, he was detained, eventually released after his publisher paid a bribe, then detained again. He managed to break out of barracks in Nîmes with the aid of his wife, and he became one of the many German Jewish artists and intellectuals (including Arendt) whom the journalist Varian Fry helped flee to the United States. Feuchtwanger settled into his unlikely edenic exile in Los Angeles alongside Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. There, he continued writing novels at a steady pace until his death in 1958.

It's hard to know how much to relate a book like The Oppermanns to our present reality. The same retrospective knowledge that can produce needed foresight and activism can also lead to overreaction, panic, and distraction. Has it ever really been that useful to compare Trump to Hitler? Sometimes yes, but oftentimes no. Feuchtwanger himself doesn't seem to be offering a template for how democracy dies. If anything, in his novel, templates shatter easily and quickly. For all the lessons he is trying to impart in 1933, there is no clearer answer about when exactly it's time to go, when holding on to dignity becomes self-indulgent and dangerous. What remains instead is a deep sense of that rumbling "elemental force," and the impossible choices should you find yourself stuck in its path.


The Internet Is Kmart Now

The 1990s hadn't gone as expected. A bad recession kicked off Gen X's adulthood, along with a war in the Middle East and the fall of communism. Boomers came to power in earnest in America, and then the lead Boomer got impeached for lying about getting a blow job from an intern in the Oval Office. Grunge had come and gone, along with clove cigarettes and bangs. The taste of the '90s still lingers, for those of us who lived it as young adults rather than as Kenny G listeners or Pokémon-card collectors, but the decade also ingrained a sense that expressing that taste would be banal, a fate that the writer David Foster Wallace had made worse than death (I swear he was cool once, along with U2).


Such was the crucible in which the computers were forged. Not the original computers—come on, give me some credit—but the computers whose reign still haunts us. Windows 3.0 arrived in 1990; the Mosaic web browser, Netscape's precursor, in 1993; and Hotmail in 1996. I'm too tired to tell you the rest of the story, even though you're probably too young or too old to fill in the blanks.


By 1999, the commercial internet had engorged into the dot-com bubble. The brick-and-mortar business world was going online—for information, for communication, for shopping, for utility billing. This moment had its own vocabulary: the information superhighway, the apostrophized 'net, and so on. E-business, we called it. (In a recent telephone call with a fellow old-timer, I used the word e-business tongue in cheek, and my interlocutor immediately dated my human origin to the early-to-mid-1970s.) The part of the internet that would persist got planted here, but we overharvested its fruits. and Webvan, an early Instacart-type site, and so many more fell apart following the dot-com crash of 2000, ushering in a downturn that had turned further downward by 9/11 the following year.


People, trends, companies, culture—they live, and then they die. They come and go, and when they depart, it's not by choice. Habituation breeds solace, but too much of that solace flips it into folly. The pillars of life became computational, and then their service providers—Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, iPhone—accrued so much wealth and power that they began to seem permanent, unstoppable, infrastructural, divine. But everything ends. Count on it.


We didn't consider this much back then. We were still partying like it was 1999, because literally it was. Everyone had an Aeron chair and free bagels every morning. One such day, sitting in front of the big, heavy cathode-ray-tube monitor at which I developed websites that helped people do things in the world rather than helping them do things with websites, I could easily have read this press release, about a partnership between, 


's nascent e-commerce brand, and Yahoo, the biggest, baddest, coolest internet company of all time (at the time).


"'This is an unprecedented offer,'" CEO Mark H. Goldstein said in the release, "'bringing together Kmart—one of the nation's strongest retail brands—with Yahoo!, the leading Internet brand worldwide.'"


That line would have seemed corny at the time—it's PR preening, after all—but now it reeks of digital mothballs. Imagine, as you read this today, a collab more impotent than Kmart, an inventor of big-box retail that failed spectacularly just as that format became widespread, and Yahoo, the internet company that failed to buy Google for $1 million (1998) and $3 billion (2002), but happily handed over $3.6 billion for Geocities and $1.1 billion for Tumblr, both of which it destroyed.


Kmart and Yahoo still persist, of course, in the way Werther's Original butterscotch candies do: as withered husks that make it difficult to ponder their former heroism or tragedy. But these two organizations also mark two heydays separated by a quarter century, and two endings that occurred roughly that long ago. Those reigns and ruins marked my generation in profound, if (forgive me, DFW) banal ways. They recorded beginnings and also—more important—ends.


I started thinking about Kmart thanks to a tweet posted by the Super 70s Sports account: a handwritten sales check dated December 20, 1981, for the purchase of an Atari Video Computer System and three games (Casino, Asteroids, and Space Invaders). The Atari was already on my mind, because I still make games for the 1977 console; I'm teaching a class on Atari programming this term, and I keep turning away from this document to troubleshoot my students' assembly code. Prior to this course, they had never played an Atari—nor had they seen a cathode-ray-tube television, either.


But Kmart was a place where you could buy either one—or anything else, it seemed. Lego kits, Tupperware sets, Wrangler jeans (in slim, regular, or husky fit), automobile tires, bedding, Preparation H. You could even sit down for a tuna melt on the Naugahyde seats of a full-service diner inside.


The idea of excess was hardly born with Kmart, but its rise tracks retail consumerism's ascent in the American mid-century. Later known as big-box stores, they were then called general-merchandise (as opposed to specialty) stores, a novelty beyond the megalodonic Sears (which Kmart would absorb decades later). By 1981, when a lucky kid got an Atari for Christmas, more than 2,000 Kmart stores dotted the whole nation.


And so, for me and my generational kin, Kmart became a symbol of commercial surplus. The department store was antiquated by then (a shop for your parents), and the mall was mostly spatial (a place to be rather than to shop). But Kmart contained all possibilities, under one roof, a walk or a bike ride from home. Looking back, the first hit of spangle and sloth that would become native to internet life was doled out at Kmart.

[Read: I wrote this on a 30-year-old computer]

A decade and a little later, it became clear that consumerist gluttony could apply to information. It had been possible to take home computers online since the Carter administration, first through BBSes, then via dial-up services such as Prodigy and Compuserve. But the internet was quantitatively—and therefore qualitatively—different. A BBS was local—some of all the computer-nerd maladroits in your town—and a dial-up service was a walled garden, composed from whatever materials the service provider deigned worthy. But the internet was a network of networks, all of them fused into a traversable whole. That idea is so old, it too seems banal, but it once felt new.


The World Wide Web, as we still styled it in the early 1990s, offered the best-yet way to use the 'net. Email had been around for a long time, and newsgroups, and others that didn't live long enough to earn a widely recognizable shorthand (one was Gopher, a text-based protocol that the web suffocated).


I struggle to explain the scarcity of information at the time. Nobody noticed what they couldn't yet imagine otherwise, as is the case with all historical change. Desires and needs were shaped not by online recommendations but by retail shelves, at venues like Kmart. Knowledge was different: Faced with an information problem, where could one shop for solutions? The library, or the bookstore, or the museum, or some other archive perhaps, but only if you already knew enough about the information you sought to know where to look.


Nowadays, too much information is on offer, most of it bad or wrong, and we spend our time either sifting for gold in the filth or mistaking the filth for gold. But things were simpler back then. In 1994, I was able to pilot Gopher via telnet from my personal computer through the burrows of song-lyrics annals, a secret lair that's since become, like everything else, ordinary. I extracted the lyrics for the Pearl Jam song "Yellow Ledbetter"—notoriously incomprehensible thanks to Eddie Vedder's mumbling—and became a minor hero when I sent my find off to my friends, many not yet online. It was akin to becoming the kid on the block with an Atari, except I was flaunting my access to information rather than goods.


Yahoo was the first company that tried to organize information deliberately. It did so by means of directories—categorizing websites into groups by topic, such as movies and politics, which were broken down into subcategories. Jerry Yang and David Filo, two Stanford engineering students, created the site around the same time I mined Gopher for Pearl Jam lyrics. I have strong memories of the first time I loaded up Yahoo, still from Stanford's server, on an expensive Sun workstation in the university computer lab.


There it was. I didn't know what, exactly, but just as Kmart's aisles created expectations and desires, so did Yahoo. "Art," "Business," "Events," "Science"—the categories weren't novel; they represented human life and its interests. But what people were doing with those interests on the web—this was a new idea. Circa-1994 Yahoo had as many entries for "Art > Erotica" as "Art > Architecture," suggesting that the WWW was going to be a horny place more than a spatial one (yup). "Society" and "Culture" broke down into "People," "Religion," and related categories. No one asked then why computer engineers were categorizing human knowledge, though they should have.


The marriage of Kmart and Yahoo was short-lived., named after the retailer's famous blue-siren in-store specials, was meant to host the store's e-commerce business. Its customers might not even have had home internet access at the time, so also provided free internet access as an incentive to shop by subsidizing a private-labeled offering from Kmart handed out CD-ROMs that provided software to access the service, AOL-style; it also sold branded PCs that came preloaded with internet. To lure its retail customers online, first it would have to get them online.


But Kmart mistook the internet as a way to shop for goods rather than a means to swim in information. That's why Goldstein's line about the strongest retail brand and the leading internet brand was justified when he said it almost 25 years ago. "Yahoo was cool!" Goldstein told me when I caught up with him by phone, and he's right. Yahoo had tamed the information space, as Kmart—which was still the third-largest merchant in the country at the time—had done the retail space. It just made sense. had intended to launch in mid-2000, but by that time the market had crashed and the dot-com era had ended. went out of business, and was forced to buy up some of its assets over the next year to keep its in-house ISP running. Hungry for revenue as the economy faltered, it started charging for the service, too. Goldstein left in mid-2001, and Kmart itself filed for bankruptcy several months later. Today, only three Kmart stores are left in the contiguous United States. Want to know how I know that? I read it on Yahoo, which has mostly devolved into a weird content website that sometimes shows up in Google searches.


Goldstein, now a venture capitalist who invests in health-care companies, also knew Kmart was everywhere. The ideas at work at the time were correct but early, and deployed under unfortunate circumstances, among them Kmart's inevitable decline. For example, championed a buy online, pick up in-store program it honestly called "sticky bricks"—a model that wouldn't become ubiquitous for another two decades, during the coronavirus pandemic.


Today, the collapse of a big technology or retail company is almost unthinkable. Just look at the pearl-clutching over Twitter's recent shambles: The public can't fathom the idea that it might decline, let alone possibly die, for real. But the certainty of death, rather than the hubris of assumed eternity, was the salient cosmic feeling of the 1990s internet. Its creators had learned that sentiment from the Cold War, tapping out time on Atari games about the apocalypse while awaiting its real-world counterpart. Of course Kmart died, and Yahoo too. What else could have happened? "We're all going to be absorbed; we're all going to be consolidated," Goldstein said. "At the end of the day, we just hope to end up as a button that survives."


Poll: What if your teen refuses holiday religious services?
teen's face looks miserable in hood black parka

Among parents who plan to attend religious services during the holidays, nearly half would insist their teen join even if they didn't want to, poll results show.

While half of parents in a new national poll say they're comfortable with children and teens having a say in whether to attend religious services, 44% feel that kids shouldn't get to choose until they're at least 18.

The findings appear in the latest report from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at University of Michigan Health.

"Adolescence is a time when youth gain more independence in their beliefs and lifestyle choices, including whether to embrace their family's faith traditions," says Mott Poll co-director and pediatrician Susan Woolford. "This may trigger tension and conflict in some families when opinions about spirituality clash, especially during the holidays."

The nationally representative poll is based on responses from 1,090 parents with at least one child aged 13-18 surveyed between August and September 2022.

Among parents who plan to attend religious services this holiday season, nearly half would insist their teen join even if they didn't want to, while another two in five would discuss the importance but still allow their teen to make their own choice. Less than 10% of parents in this group would support their teen's decision or bargain with them to attend.

While most parents were content with the level of their teen's involvement in religious activities, over a third wished that their teen would participate more in religious services and activities.

Three quarters of parents also agree that participation in religious services helps young adults connect with their family history and traditions.

"Parents may connect religion with their family traditions, which might be why they may wish to share these experiences with their kids," Woolford says. "When teens don't show interest or even express disdain for attending religious services, parents may feel like it's a rejection of their cherished traditions."

Overall, the majority of parents believe that a relationship with a higher power helps teens feel a sense of safety and security and has a positive impact on their overall wellbeing—which aligns with some research suggesting that participation in spiritual practices during adolescence is linked to health benefits in adulthood.

But just one in three parents say their teen regularly attends religious services with the family.

"Parents should be cautious about how hard they push teens who protest participating in spiritual activities. If adherence is achieved by force, that could diminish any positive effects of participation," Woolford says. "Parents who would like their children to share their religious beliefs should try to find a balance between conveying their values and pressuring teens to conform."

The vast majority of parents, however, believe teens can have a spiritual relationship without being involved in organized religion.

To decrease stress, if parents and teens do not agree about religion, Woolford recommends families might explore alternative ways to cultivate spirituality, such as:

Encouraging dialogue and questions: Parents should be open to listening and understanding why their teen has different views about attending religious services. Often youth have questions about religion and spirituality and it's helpful to allow them space to question ideas and admitting that adults don't always have the answers.

By listening to their teen's perspectives, parents may be able to find areas of agreement to build on. "This may help teens to find an authentic spiritual relationship that is best for them," Woolford says.

Finding middle ground: Parents could consider giving teens a choice about certain faith traditions that are most important to the family. For example, teens could be allowed to skip weekly services, but be required to adhere to other tenets of the family religion.

Considering expressing spirituality outside of church or formal settings: Many faith traditions value community service, social justice initiatives, and conservation efforts.

The holidays offer ample opportunities for families to practice spirituality through other avenues, such as volunteering at a nursing home, serving food at a homeless shelter, or working in a community garden.

"Focusing on the spirit of the season and allowing teens some flexibility with how they engage with family traditions and religious services may decrease conflict over the holidays," Woolford says.

Source: University of Michigan

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A cheaper method to recycle activated carbon
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
A research group led by Prof. Lu Zhiyi at the Ningbo Institute of Materials Technology and Engineering (NIMTE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has proposed a facile and cost-effective strategy to regenerate powdered activated carbon (PAC) by anchoring isolate Fe atoms on commercial PAC.
Is this article about Biopharma Industry?
New research by a team of UT researchers could provide a promising approach in the battle against 
. In their research published in the journal ACS Infectious Diseases, the researchers combat the malaria parasite in mosquitoes in a specific phase of their life. "It's a unique approach: previous research focused predominantly on treatment in humans."
Genome tool may pave way for new tuberculosis treatments
A lung scan with some red coloring to indicate tuberculosis.

A new genome assembly tool could spur the development of new treatments for 


 and other 

bacterial infections

, researchers say.

The tool, which has created an improved genome map of one tuberculosis strain, should do the same for other strains and other types of bacteria, the researchers report.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria responsible for the disease tuberculosis, infects about a quarter of the world's population and killed 1.6 million people in 2021, according to World Health Organization.

Current medical interventions are limited to a century-old vaccine that reduces 


 risk by 20% and four to six months of strong antibiotics that sometimes prove ineffective.

"The key to beating this disease is to understand it, and the key to understanding it lies in its DNA," says senior author David Alland, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and director of the school's Public Health Research Institute.

"We hope our new pipeline provides researchers around the world with the information they need to create faster, more effective treatments and, ideally, a fully effective vaccine."

Scientists first sequenced the genome of one tuberculosis strain—H37Rv—in 1998, but they never could generate the sort of complete and accurate sequence that would maximize their chances of eradicating the disease—until now.

The new pipeline, dubbed Bact-Builder, combines common open-source genome assembly programs into a novel and easy-to-use tool which is freely available on GitHub.

Scientists today typically sequence new bacterial genomes by cutting large pieces of DNA into small, quick-to-scan fragments and then using a reference sequence such as H37Rv to align all the resulting pieces of data properly. However, assembling genomes without a reference, as Bact-Builder does with data from MinION sequencers, allows researchers to identify genes present in clinical strains that may not be present in the reference.

The tuberculosis sequence created by Bact-Builder contains approximately 6,400 thousand more pieces of information (base pairs) than the old reference and, more importantly, identifies gene new genes and gene fragments missing in the old reference.

"Just publishing a fully accurate genome for the H37Rv reference strain, which is used in hundreds of studies a year, should significantly help tuberculosis research," Alland says.

Having an easy way to sequence all strains accurately is even more important, Alland says, "because strain comparison should answer many vital questions such as why some strains are more contagious than others. Why do some strains cause more serious disease? Why are some strains more difficult to cure? The answers to all these questions, which could help us devise better treatments and vaccines, are in the genetic code, but you need an accurate way to find them."

The study appears in Nature Communications.

Source: Rutgers University

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Amputeret journalistik
Vi har brug for Dagens Medicin som det medie på sundhedsområdet, der har lidt større indsigt, forståelse og graver lidt dybere end andre medier, skriver Claus Thomsen, lægefaglig direktør på Aarhus Universitetshospital.
En af Danmarks og verdens førende forskere i migræne modtog for nylig en international hæderspris for sit arbejde med at kortlægge den neurologiske årsag til migræne, og hvordan man bedst kan identificere, hvilke patienter de nyeste behandlinger vil gavne mest. Lundbeckfonden har også lige givet forskeren næsten fem mio. kr. til forskning.
A portion of the open cluster NGC 6530 appears as a roiling wall of smoke studded with stars in this image from the NASA/ESA 
Hubble Space Telescope
. NGC 6530 is a collection of several thousand stars lying around 4,350 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. The cluster is set within the larger Lagoon Nebula, a gigantic interstellar cloud of gas and dust.
Is this article about Health?
Nerve cells. Computer artwork of nerve cells or neurons firing.


Nerve cells are difficult to heal after disease or trauma, but UCSF's research might change that. (Credit: PASIEKA/Getty Images)
Despite how efficient the cells in our bodies can be, they still need something to hold them all together and form tissues. This job goes to adhesive molecules, or cell surface proteins that define individual bonds and help to form cellular matrices. This vital function ensures our bodily tissues remain strong, our immune systems remain effective, and our nerve cells continue to facilitate communication. Unfortunately, this system comes with its caveats: Adhesive molecules bind cells together how they want to, and in certain systems (like the nervous system), adhesive molecules aren't enough to reconstruct damaged tissues.


One group of researchers aims to change this via outside intervention. A team of bioengineers and molecular pharmacologists at the University of California San Francisco have developed what they call a cellular "glue." The custom-engineered cells have already demonstrated an ability to help scientists direct the way certain cells bond with one another, offering a unique opportunity to orchestrate tissue construction and regeneration.

The team's study, which was published last week in the journal Nature, describes a process by which they reprogrammed existing cells to take on custom purposes. By combining orthogonal (or one-directional, in this case) molecular interactions outside a cell with native molecular interactions within the cell, the researchers found they were able to utilize the cell's existing adhesive properties in virtually any way they liked. This ultimately allowed the researchers to control intercellular adhesive interactions.

"The properties of a tissue, like your skin for example, are determined in large part by how the different cells are organized within it," first author Dr. Adam Stevens said in a statement. "We're devising ways to control this organization of cells, which is central to being able to synthesize tissues with the properties we want them to have."

The researchers' cellular "glue" could have major implications for regenerative medicine, in which tissues and organs are rebuilt or replaced following some type of damage. The nervous system, as stated previously, is notorious for being somewhat of a hopeless cause after trauma or disease. But now that scientists might be able to customize how those cells bind together, there could be hope for restoring function to damaged nervous tissues. The team's engineering discovery might also facilitate the construction of organs for transplant or disease models for lab research.

Now Read:

Webb telescope sees through dust to find young stars
Is this article about Aerospace?
added color space image

Images from NASA's 

James Webb Space Telescope

 contain telltale signs of two dozen previously unseen young stars about 7,500 light years from Earth, say researchers.

The findings, which appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, offer a glimpse of what astronomers will find with Webb's near-infrared camera. The instrument is designed to peer through clouds of interstellar dust that have previously blocked astronomers' view of stellar nurseries, especially those that produce stars similar to Earth's sun.

Megan Reiter, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University, and coauthors analyzed a portion of Webb's first images of the Cosmic Cliffs , a star-forming region in a cluster of stars known as NGC 3324.

"What Webb gives us is a snapshot in time to see just how much star formation is going on in what may be a more typical corner of the universe that we haven't been able to see before," says Reiter, who led the study.

Located in the southern constellation Carina, NGC 3324 hosts several well-known regions of star formation that astronomers have studied for decades. Many details from the region have been obscured by dust in images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories. Webb's infrared camera was built to see through dust in such regions and to detect jets of gas and dust that spew from the poles of very young stars.

Reiter and colleagues focused their attention on a portion of NGC 3324 where only a few young stars had previously been found. By analyzing a specific infrared wavelength, 4.7 microns, they discovered two dozen previously unknown outflows of molecular hydrogen from young stars. The outflows range in size, but many appear to come from protostars that will eventually become low-mass stars like Earth's sun.

"The findings speak both to how good the telescope is and to how much there is going on in even quiet corners of the universe," Reiter says.

Within their first 10,000 years, newborn stars gather material from the gas and dust around them. Most young stars eject a fraction of that material back into space via jets that stream out in opposite directions from their poles. Dust and gas pile up in front of the jets, which clear paths through nebular clouds like snowplows. One vital ingredient for baby stars, molecular hydrogen, gets swept up by these jets and is visible in Webb's infrared images.

"Jets like these are signposts for the most exciting part of the star formation process," says study coauthor Nathan Smith of the University of Arizona. "We only see them during a brief window of time when the protostar is actively accreting."

The accretion period of early star formation has been especially difficult for astronomers to study because it is fleeting—usually just a few thousand years in the earliest portion of a star's multimillion-year childhood.

Study coauthor Jon Morse of the California Institute of Technology says jets like those discovered in the study "are only visible when you embark on that deep dive—dissecting data from each of the different filters and analyzing each area alone.

"It's like finding buried treasure," Morse says.

Reiter says the size of the Webb telescope also played a role in the discovery.

"It's just a huge light bucket," Reiter says. "That lets us see smaller things that we might have missed with a smaller telescope. And it also gives us really good angular resolution. So we get a level of sharpness that allows us to see relatively small features, even in faraway regions."

The Webb Space Telescope program is led by NASA in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The telescope's science and mission operations are led by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore.

The research had support from NASA, STScI, and a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship from the UK's Royal Society.

Source: Rice University

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A gallery of presidents

When Sally Kornbluth becomes MIT's 18th president on January 1, 2023, she joins a long line of leaders that includes mathematicians, chemists, physicists, engineers, an astronomer, a neurobiologist, two Rad Lab researchers, a US Census superintendent, a dean of the Sloan School, and an editor of Technology Review—many of whom served as scientific advisors to US presidents. Kornbluth, a cell biologist, should fit right in. Read more about the past presidents at

Mark and Teresa Medearis

After their son Nicky '22 broke his leg competing for the MIT indoor track team in 2019, Mark and Teresa Medearis, 3,000 miles away in California, were heartened by the outpouring of support from the MIT track community and the Division of Student Life. "We were embraced by the community when we had this adversity," Teresa says. "Our eyes were opened to MIT and how it cares for its students."

Building bridges: Mark and Teresa are halfway through completing a gift to endow the head coaching position for men's and women's cross-country. Teresa has served as vice chair of the Parent Leadership Circle—on a mission, she says, to "create a bridge for parents from California to MIT"—and is currently on the Corporation Development Committee. The couple is also now considering creating a scholarship. "Two-thirds of MIT students are on some form of financial aid," Teresa says. "That's where the need is."

Investing in minds and hands: "MIT changes the world in so many ways," says Mark, a Silicon Valley attorney. "The very first speech students hear is: 'Come and help us make the world better.'" Teresa, an engineer, cites the opportunities MIT offers women, who make up half the undergraduate enrollment and half the student athletes in the nation's largest Division III program. "Giving to MIT is an investment in the future," she says. "There's no better payoff."

Help MIT build a better world. For more information, contact Liz Vena: 617.324.9228; Or visit

Turning MIT inside-out

The all-new MIT Museum opened in Kendall Square this fall, welcoming more than 13,000 visitors in its first month. The 56,000-square-foot space next to the T station offers interactive exhibits and hands-on learning labs and makerspaces. As museum director John Durant told the Boston Globe, "We're trying to turn MIT inside-out, so that things that usually are hidden … are accessible to everyone."


When I tell people that I work on getting robots to cook and do household chores, they often ask me why this is so difficult. "A child can learn to make an omelet," they say. "Why is it so hard for a robot?" I usually tell them that they think it's so easy because they're thinking like a human. To a machine, making an omelet is a lofty, long-horizon goal. It requires hundreds of thousands of precise motor movements—performed in exactly the right sequence—to accomplish seemingly straightforward steps like opening the fridge, picking up an egg carton, cracking the eggs over a pan. What's more, thousands of crucial variables—such as whether this kitchen has an eggbeater, or where a sufficiently large pan might be found—cannot be accounted for ahead of time. To truly understand what these simple tasks are like for a robot, it's useful to think about long-term human goals that are similarly lofty and fraught with uncertainty: goals like getting a PhD, becoming a star NFL player, or even winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

Some years ago, when I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed high school student, I had a simple long-horizon goal: I wanted to become an inventor. I wanted to change the world by working on hard but important problems with passionate people. While most long-horizon goals require complex planning, I was pretty sure I knew just how to achieve this one: become an MIT student. I was positive that MIT was exactly the place that would make me into the person I wanted to be. I held onto this idea through high school, using it as motivation to work on science fair projects or build robots while juggling a full academic load. I became increasingly convinced that going to MIT was a necessary part of achieving my dreams. And yet it was not to be; when Pi Day finally rolled around in my senior year, I was devastated to find a letter of rejection on the admissions portal.

I became increasingly convinced that going to MIT was a necessary part of achieving my dreams. And yet it was not to be.

That's one of the tricky things about long-horizon problems: the first plan you come up with often doesn't work.

Once I got over my initial shock and disappointment, I realized that my long-horizon goal wasn't entirely doomed; I was accepted to several other great schools. Determined to make the best of the situation, I tried to be systematic about my decision. I created a detailed set of criteria to capture everything I thought I wanted in a college and assigned each one a weight based on importance. Then I scoured online forums, talked to current students, and even paid an in-person visit to all my options. I filled in numbers for each of my criteria and tallied a final score for every school. Unsurprisingly, those scores told me that I should choose a large technical institution rather similar to MIT. However, I realized I didn't like that answer, because I had fallen increasingly in love with one particular small liberal arts school. I tried fiddling with the numbers in my spreadsheet, but no matter what, its score never rose to the top of the list; my criteria were simply stacked against it. Eventually, on the eve of the decision deadline, I deleted my detailed spreadsheet and followed my heart.

That's another thing about long-horizon problems: things change as you start solving them. No matter how sure you are of your opinions ahead of time, any of them might shift in the face of new information.

As it turned out, committing to that liberal arts school ended up being one of the best decisions I've made. I got to study deeply technical topics, but I also got to explore interests in philosophy, contemplative practice, and even public speaking. I got to work with and learn from people who are incredibly passionate about technology and invention, but I also befriended people who expanded my horizons to fields I had not known existed. And I happened to fall in love and experience heartbreak. All in all, I had a transformative experience that has made me not only a better engineer and scientist, but also—I like to think—a better, more thoughtful, and more aware human being.

My undergraduate years also helped crystallize a path toward becoming an inventor. I got involved with robotics and AI research and realized I was extremely passionate about contributing to the dream of creating personal household robots. I met inspiring mentors who showed me that becoming a researcher in the field was a viable career option. I got to work on interesting problems in both academic and industry settings, which made me realize how much I had yet to discover about my fields of interest. In an interesting turn of events, I decided to apply to MIT's PhD program and got accepted to CSAIL, where I now get to work on hard but important problems with passionate people on a daily basis. 

Looking back, I'm always astounded by the number of ways things could have played out. I could have been accepted to MIT in high school. I could have chosen one of the other schools I was accepted to. I could have picked a different major or joined a different research group in college. I had no idea how any of these decisions would turn out, and yet each was critical to getting me where I am now. Perhaps I would have reached the same point in many of these other scenarios. Perhaps some of those versions of me would be more satisfied with their journeys than I am with mine. I suppose I'll never know. However, I do know that I really really like this version of me and am thankful for the fortuitous, unpredictable, and sometimes painful events that got me here.

I guess that's yet another thing about long-horizon problems: there are an infinite number of paths to solving them, but it's never entirely clear which next step to take on any of those paths. We just have to decide in the moment, to the best of our abilities, and trust that the dots will all connect in hindsight.

Now if only I could get my robots to understand all this.

Nishanth Kumar is a second-year grad student in the Learning and Intelligence Systems Group at CSAIL, where he works on trying to make robots smarter. Outside of research, he enjoys reading and writing sci-fi, playing table tennis, and cooking spicy food.

Product designer finds engineers' playground in Wisconsin

As the youngest of four girls, Rosalie Phillips '21 looked up to her sisters, and everywhere they went, she went. As early as fifth grade, she recalls, she was joining her oldest sister at robotics meetings in the machine shop of a local college, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. 

"They would hand me a drill and show me where holes needed to go, give me a screwdriver to help assemble pieces, and show me how the different components they were building worked together," says Phillips, who got a lot of Rosie the Riveter comments as she continued to pursue robotics in high school. "I definitely cite that as the beginning of my lifelong love of building things and, in turn, the tools and machines that make building things possible." 

That passion brought Phillips to MIT, where she discovered product design, and from there to a job as a designer for the nation's largest supplier of cordless power tools, Milwaukee Tool. 

Her time at the Wisconsin-based company started through a monthlong internship during her junior-year Independent Activities Period (IAP) as part of MIT's Micro-Internship Program, where she was able to gain valuable experience working directly with and for MIT alumni.

"I worked in the advanced engineering group, and I worked on developing an accessory for an electrical trade tool that was focused on, as our products tend to be, improving the efficiency of a common task repeated throughout the day for electricians," explains Phillips, who earned her undergraduate degree in Course 2-A—a customizable track in mechanical engineering that allowed her to take a deep dive into product design. 

The best part of the January 2020 micro-internship, she says, is that she came away with a prototype in hand: "The process of creating the prototype started with putting myself in the users' shoes, experiencing what they are currently doing on the jobsite and what the pain points of that process are." 

"I just love the feeling I get when I hold something I designed or made in my hands for the first time. It's a big part of the reason I became an engineer."

Rosalie Phillips '21

Once Phillips understood what success would look like, she began brainstorming about how to get there. "After I had my best concept selected, I began to iterate and problem-solve," she says. "Milwaukee has great onsite rapid prototyping resources, and I was able to design a concept and have a high-fidelity 3D print in hand a day or two later to test everything from access to ergonomics to fit. It was an amazing hands-on experience surrounded by all the resources to prototype you could ask for—definitely an engineer's playground." 

The success of the IAP internship motivated Phillips to sign on for a full internship at Milwaukee Tool in the summer of 2020, when she got to work on a prototype for a carpentry power tool. That was closely followed by a full-time job offer. She started in September 2021. One thing that drew her to the company was the structure of product design cycle, and the fact that each person owned a project rather than contributing to multiple larger projects. 

"I just love the feeling I get when I hold something I designed or made in my hands for the first time. It's a big part of the reason I became an engineer," says Phillips. "I feel amazed I was able to bring something from my brain into the world, excited to test it out, curious if it will break, and already ready to make the next one." 

The alumni advantage 

The notion of an IAP internship is not new. The MIT Alumni Association started the MIT Student/Alumni Externship Program in 1997 as a way for alumni to host student interns during the January term. It was renamed the Micro-Internship Program upon being revamped after transitioning to MIT Career Advising and Professional Development (CAPD) in 2020. The program still encourages MIT alumni to host undergraduate and graduate students at their companies, although students now also have the opportunity to apply for positions not hosted by alumni.  

For her micro-internship, Phillips reported directly to Troy Thorson '98 and collaborated with Beth Cholst '16. She says being able to work with not just one but two fellow Course 2 alums made her experience even more valuable. 

"Troy would spend extra time with me," says Phillips. She recalls that Thorson, who is a director of advanced engineering, would devote a lunch break every week to taking apart some sort of handheld power tool to demonstrate how it worked, talking through what hiccups had come up in the design process. "It made me more excited to work there, because I think tools are interesting—the guts of tools are very intriguing to me," she says.  

Cholst—who is a manager of advanced engineering for outdoor power equipment such as leaf blowers and string trimmers—started at Milwaukee Tool in 2016 and has enjoyed the opportunity to work with interns so much that she is now in charge of recruiting at MIT. "I remember when Rosie first started," she recalls. "We gave her the first project during IAP, and we weren't even sure it would be possible to finish it in January. She did such a great job. We knew we needed this person back—she had so much passion and curiosity." 

Making an impact with tools 

Today, Phillips works on power tool product development in the company's carpentry and nailers group—and two initial prototypes she developed have been picked up for further development, with one approaching launch this year. Although she has yet to achieve that "ultimate satisfaction" of seeing one of her tools on the shelf at a hardware store, she is close, she says. (The power tool she worked on during her summer internship is also almost ready to go to market.)

In the meantime, she's excited to be working at such a well-known company. "If I'm wearing a Milwaukee Tool shirt or jacket, people stop me and tell me how they only buy Milwaukee, or the crazy tasks they've put their tools through," she says. "Experiences like that really keep at the front of your mind the people who you are making these tools for, and the real impact it makes on their day and livelihood to make a tool with the best performance possible that will last for years." 

Interested in hosting an MIT student for a micro-internship? Email Tavi Sookhoo at or fill out the form at CAPD can also help alums interested in seeking MIT talent for summer internships and full-time job opportunities. Learn more at

Recent books from the MIT community

Cyberinsurance Policy: Rethinking Risk in an Age of Ransomware, Computer Fraud, Data Breaches, and Cyberattacks
By Josephine Wolff, SM '12, PhD '15 
MIT PESS, 2022, $35

Introduction to Linear Algebra (6th edition*)
By Gilbert Strang '55, professor of mathematics 
*Text goes with OpenCourseWare ( videos for Math 18.06 

Houdini's Fabulous Magic (new edition; first published in 1961)
By Walter B. Gibson and the late Morris N. Young '30
VINE LEAVES PRESS, 2023, $17.99

Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution
By Eric Jay Dolin, PhD '95
LIVERIGHT/W.W. NORTON, 2022, $32.50

Symbionts: Contemporary Artists and the Biosphere
Edited by Caroline A. Jones, professor in the architecture department; Natalie Bell, curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center; and Selby
Nimrod, assistant curator at the List
MIT PRESS, 2022, $44.95

Getting that Expat Job in International Development and Advancing
By John F. Loeber '82
BoD, 2022, $22.90

Computational Imaging
By Ayush Bhandari, SM '14, PhD '18; Achuta Kadambi, PhD '18; and Ramesh Raskar, associate professor at the MIT Media Lab   
MIT PRESS, 2022, $60

Send book news to MIT News at or 196 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139

A new crop of awards
Leo has found 1 Participation in an Event mention in this article
  • He is also helping to host the AeroAstro Rising Stars symposium, which highlights academics from backgrounds underrepresented in aerospace engineering.

Three members of the MIT community have been honored with some of the world's biggest awards.

In October, Ben S. Bernanke, PhD '79, shared the Nobel Prize in economics with Douglas W. Diamond and Philip H. Dybvig. Bernanke, who chaired the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, was honored for his work showing how bank runs exacerbated the Great Depression. After many banks collapsed, the Nobel citation states, "valuable information about borrowers was lost and could not be recreated quickly. Society's ability to channel savings to productive investments was thus severely diminished."

In September, chemistry professor Danna Freedman and Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholar Moriba Jah received MacArthur Fellowships, often referred to as "genius grants." 

" "

Freedman, a former MIT postdoc who joined the faculty in 2021, designs molecules that can function as quantum units, or qubits. One direction she hopes to pursue with her $800,000 grant is working with scientists from fields such as neurobiology or Earth sciences on quantum sensors, in which some particles are in such a delicately balanced state that they are affected by minuscule variations in their environment.

Jah, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin, is working on a joint research program to increase resources and visibility for space sustainability. He is also helping to host the AeroAstro Rising Stars symposium, which highlights academics from backgrounds underrepresented in aerospace engineering. 

What's in an asteroid

MIT researchers have developed a way to map an asteroid's interior structure, or density distribution, by analyzing how the asteroid's spin changes as it makes a close encounter with more massive objects like Earth. The technique could improve the aim of future missions to deflect an asteroid headed for us, as demonstrated in NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test in September.

Knowing what's inside an asteroid could help scientists plan the most effective defense. "If you know the density distribution of the asteroid, you could hit it at just the right spot so it actually moves away," says Jack Dinsmore '22, coauthor of the paper on this work with Julien de Wit, PhD '14, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.  

"It's similar to how you can tell the difference between a raw and boiled egg," de Wit says. "If you spin the egg, the egg responds and spins differently depending on its interior properties. The same goes for an asteroid during a close encounter."

The team is eager to apply the method to Apophis, a near-Earth asteroid that could pose a significant hazard if it were to make impact. Scientists have ruled out the likelihood of a collision for at least a century, but beyond that, their forecasts grow fuzzy.

Sound-powered camera
Is this article about Climate?

MIT researchers have developed a battery-­free, wireless underwater camera that is about 100,000 times more energy efficient than other undersea cameras. It takes color photos, even in dark underwater environments, and transmits image data wirelessly through the water, with a 40-meter range that they are working to improve.

The autonomous camera uses piezoelectric materials to convert mechanical energy from sound waves traveling through water into electrical energy that powers its imaging and communications equipment. After capturing and encoding image data, the camera also uses sound waves to transmit data to a receiver that reconstructs the image. 

Because it doesn't need a power source, the camera could run for weeks on end before it is retrieved, enabling scientists to search remote parts of the ocean for new species. It could also be used to capture images of ocean pollution or monitor the health and growth of fish raised in aquaculture farms. Tracking the effects of climate change is another important potential application.

"This technology could help us build more accurate climate models and better understand how climate change impacts the underwater world," says Fadel Adib, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and senior author of a paper on the system, who notes that more than 95% of Earth's oceans have yet to be observed.

Workouts in a pill?
Is this article about Cell?

new study by researchers at MIT and Harvard Medical School maps out many of the cells, genes, and cellular pathways that are modified by exercise or a high-fat diet, shedding light on exactly how exercise can help prevent obesity. 

The scientists studied mice fed either high-fat or normal diets; in each case, some mice were sedentary and others allowed to exercise. Using single-­cell RNA sequencing, they catalogued the changes in gene expression across 53 types of cells found in skeletal muscle and two types of fatty tissue.

In all three tissue types, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which can differentiate into fat cells and fibroblasts, seemed to control many of the effects they observed. A high-fat diet enhanced MSCs' capacity to turn into fat-storing cells, stimulated them to secrete factors that provide structure for enlarged fat cells, and created a more inflammatory environment. Exercise reversed these effects.

The study also showed that exercise boosts the expression of MSC genes that regulate circadian rhythms, while a high-fat diet suppresses them. These included genes linked to differing obesity risks in humans.

"It is extremely important to understand the molecular mechanisms that drive the beneficial effects of exercise and the detrimental effects of a high-fat diet, so that we can understand how we can intervene," says Professor Manolis Kellis '99, MEng '99, PhD '03, one of the study's senior authors.He hopes the findings will help guide development of drugs that might mimic some benefits of exercise but says, "The message for everyone should be: Eat a healthy diet and exercise if possible."

Ukraine Conflict Has the World on a Massive Renewable Energy Run, IEA Report Says

A rapid transition to renewable power is essential to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but governments have been lukewarm in their commitment. Energy security concerns spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine seem to be sharpening minds, though, according to a new report.

In its latest assessment of the state of renewable power, 

the International Energy Agency

 (IEA) says that the global energy crisis the conflict has caused is driving a significant acceleration in the roll-out of green energy projects as governments try to reduce their reliance on imported fossil fuels.

The upshot is that global capacity is expected to grow by as much as 2,400 gigawatts (GW) between now and 2027. That's equal to China's total power capacity today, and more renewable power than the world has installed in the previous 20 years.

It's also about 30 percent higher than the agency was predicting last year, making this the largest-ever upward revision of its renewable energy forecasts. The report predicts that renewables will make up 90 percent of all new power projects over the next half-decade, and by 2025 solar is likely to overtake coal as the world's single biggest source of power.

"Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalize on their energy security benefits," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement. "This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure energy system."

Nowhere has the energy crisis spurred a bigger reaction than in Europe. Much of the continent has long been reliant on Russian fossil fuels, with the EU importing nearly half its natural gas from the country. Given the growing rifts with its neighbor, the bloc is keen to rectify this situation.

In May, the European Commission released its REPowerEU plan in response to the Russian invasion, which outlines how the bloc plans to reduce its energy use, boost renewables, and diversify the sources of its fossil fuel supplies. This includes commitments to end reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027 and boost renewables' share of the energy mix to 45 percent.

Combined with existing climate ambitions, the IEA report predicts that this will see Europe add twice as much renewable energy capacity by 2027 as it did in the previous five years. This will be led by Germany and Spain, which have recently enacted a host of renewables-friendly policies designed to spur growth.

The acceleration isn't driven by Europe alone, though. China's 14th five-year plan, which was officially endorsed in March 2021, will see the country contribute about half of all new renewable power capacity over the next five years. And at the same time, the Inflation Reduction Act passed by the Biden administration earlier this year is likely to drive a significant increase in renewable capacity in the US.

Most of this expansion is going to come from solar and wind energy, according to the report, which are now the cheapest options for new electricity generation in most countries. But there is also likely to be significant growth in both hydrogen and biofuels, which may be better suited to helping decarbonize industry and transport.

The agency predicts the amount of renewable energy dedicated to producing green hydrogen will rise a 100-fold increase to 50GW, thanks to new policies and targets introduced in more than 25 countries.

Biofuel demand is expected to jump by 27 percent over the next 5 years, with up to a third of that due to be produced from waste rather than purpose-grown fuel crops. That is likely to exhaust supplies of easily-available waste, though, so the amount of vegetable oil dedicated to producing biofuel is likely to jump from 17 percent to 23 percent, raising questions about the fuel's sustainability.

Despite all this progress, though, our chances of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change still aren't good. The report outlines an accelerated case in which renewables growth is 25 percent higher than the baseline they identify, which could be possible if the world's governments make major regulatory reforms and ensure better financing options for renewables projects.

But even in this optimistic scenario, which could lead to zero net emissions by 2050, the report says we would only have an even chance of limiting warming to 1.5 °C. So while the news is positive, we're still a long way from being able to rest on our laurels.

Image Credit: seagul from Pixabay

Despite their name, giant viruses are difficult to visualize in detail. They are too big for conventional electron microscopy, yet too small for optical microscopy used to study larger specimens. Now, for the first time, an international collaboration has revealed the structure of tokyovirus, a giant virus named for the city in which it was discovered in 2016, with the help of cryo-high-voltage electron microscopy.
Despite their name, giant viruses are difficult to visualize in detail. They are too big for conventional electron microscopy, yet too small for optical microscopy used to study larger specimens. Now, for the first time, an international collaboration has revealed the structure of tokyovirus, a giant virus named for the city in which it was discovered in 2016, with the help of cryo-high-voltage electron microscopy.
Leo has found 1 Regulatory Changes mention in this article
  • France bans disposable packaging, utensils in fast-food restaurants
Fast-food eateries in France will soon no longer be able to use disposable containers, plates, cups and tableware for clients eating in, the latest measure from a 2020 law to combat waste and encourage recycling.
She Finds Keys to Ecology in Cells That Steal From Others
Is this article about ESG?

Nature, red in tooth and claw, is rife with organisms that eat their neighbors to get ahead. But in the systems studied by the theoretical ecologist Holly Moeller, an assistant professor of ecology, evolution and marine biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the consumed become part of the consumer in surprising ways. Moeller primarily studies protists, a broad category of…


The nearest known exoplanet to Earth, the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, experiences some pretty nasty space weather from its parent star. But previous work on the space weather of Proxima relied on a lot of assumptions. The bad news is that new research has confirmed the grim picture.
When the nuclei of atoms are about to collide in an experiment, their centers never perfectly align along the direction of relative motion. This leads to collisions with complex three-dimensional geometry. Emissions from the dense hot region of nuclear matter form patterns during a collision.
Gamma-ray bursts are the most luminous explosions in the universe, allowing astrologists to observe intense gamma rays in short durations. Gamma-ray bursts are classified as either short or long, with long gamma-ray bursts being the result of massive stars dying out. They provide hidden clues about the evolution of the universe.
Is this article about Ecosystem Management?
Carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the major greenhouse gases, doesn't distribute evenly around the globe. Spatial variation of CO2 regulates the climate system and carbon cycle through a physiological effect and radiative forcing.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35513-w

In this work, authors demonstrate a smart window combining mechanochromism with thermochromism by self-rolling of VO2 nanomembranes to modulate in-door temperature self-adapted to seasons and climate with high efficiency.
A diamond-based quantum amplifier
Is this article about Semiconductors?
In physics, weak microwave signals can be amplified with minimal added noise. For instance, artificial quantum systems based on superconducting circuits can amplify and detect single microwave patterns, although at millikelvin temperatures. Researchers can use natural quantum systems for low-noise microwave amplification via stimulated emission effects; however, they generate a higher noise at functionalities greater than 1 Kelvin.
Is this article about Biopharma Industry?
Bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, may be used as an alternative treatment option when antibiotics fail. Leiden researchers have studied the structure and function of a novel bacteriophage that could be used to treat one of the WHO bacterial strains of concern where new treatments are urgently needed.
Are bacteriophages the new antibiotics?
Is this article about Biopharma Industry?
Bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, may be used as an alternative treatment option when antibiotics fail. Leiden researchers have studied the structure and function of a novel bacteriophage that could be used to treat one of the WHO bacterial strains of concern where new treatments are urgently needed.

Scientific Reports, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26509-z

Author Correction: The real-world selection of first-line systemic therapy regimen for metastatic gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine 
 in Japan
Dear Therapist: How Do I Hold Boundaries With My Sister at Christmas?
Is this article about Parenting?

Editor's Note: On the last Monday of each month, Lori Gottlieb answers a reader's question about a problem, big or small. Have a question? Email her at

Don't want to miss a single column? Sign up to get "Dear Therapist" in your inbox.

Dear Therapist,

My parents and two sisters live in the city I grew up in. I moved away to start my own family and get some healthy distance from the often boundary-less existence I had growing up. It was a great decision. I love the life my husband and I have created.

I miss my parents and love when they visit. I also enjoy when one of my sisters visits with her daughters. It's great for my children and important to me that they all have those relationships. However, I don't want much of a relationship with my other sister. She has borderline personality disorder and has been delusional at times about her health. She also has gotten very angry in front of my kids, and it's been scary for them.

The problem is my family is very close and my parents said they can't visit me for holidays unless I make up with her. This sister and I have an ongoing fight where she tells me I'm cold and unfeeling and we should be closer, and I explain that I can't let my guard down with her unless she gets some help. Then she tells me I'm gaslighting her.

My other sister fakes a relationship with this sister to placate my parents and to allow this sister to have some time with her children (because this sister has no children).

My question is: How do I hold my boundaries and still get to see my parents for at least some holidays?

Thank you,


Dear Anonymous,

I'm glad to hear that you've found a way to create some healthy distance from your family while also remaining close with them. Making that decision was a first step toward establishing the life you wanted for yourself and mitigating what you experienced as a "boundary-less existence."

As you're seeing, however, geography won't remedy the situation entirely. The antidote to a lack of family boundaries involves two intentional steps: setting clear limits and then communicating them directly.

Before we consider how you might approach your parents about these holiday visits, let's look at the situation more closely. First, I can understand how upsetting it must be for you to have your parents interfere in your adult relationship with your sister. What they're doing, essentially, is insisting that you have a certain kind of relationship with your sister, one that makes you uncomfortable. At the same time, I can also imagine how hard it must be for parents who love all of their children to see what they perceive as one child excluding another. I mention this because you say that your family is close, and it's clear that love is motivating some of this conflict. But there's a difference between closeness and enmeshment—the latter is where boundaries get blurred.

In enmeshed families, emotional independence is discouraged. For example, if a child makes a choice with which the parent disagrees, the parent will use guilt, shaming, or manipulation to get the child to do what the parent wants. Often, the parents believe they're preserving the family's close bond, but instead they tend to create resentful people-pleasers.

Growing up in a household with blurry boundaries, you might not have learned to differentiate between what you needed and what others around you did. By moving away, you began to gain some clarity, but perhaps you still struggle to pinpoint exactly what you're asking for. In order to set a boundary, first you have to identify what you need, then you communicate those needs in a way that someone else can hear. So my question is, what is the boundary you're trying to set?

Your parents are saying that they won't visit for holidays unless you "make up" with your sister, but what does making up mean? Instead of a specific rupture you might try to repair, you and your sister have a recurring disagreement about the nature of your relationship overall: She wants to be closer than you want to be. You say that you "don't want much of a relationship" with your sister, but are you clear about what that means? Do you want to see her only when you visit your hometown? Only in the company of others, but not one-on-one? Are birthday good wishes or the occasional friendly email or phone call okay? Are you interested in seeing whether a better relationship with your sister is possible by setting specific boundaries, such as: If you raise your voice, I will end our visits.

Once you're clear, you have two boundaries to communicate: one with your parents, and one with your sister. For your parents, you might send them a letter that goes something like this:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I love you both so much, and it hurts me when you say that you won't visit for holidays. I understand how upset you must feel to see your daughters not get along. At the same time, we are both adults, and I feel like you're hoping that by depriving my family of your company during holidays, I'll do something that magically "fixes" the relationship between us sisters. I'm sorry to say that there's no easy fix for years of mutual disagreement and discomfort between us. I know you wish that you could do something to create closeness between us, but as much as you'd like that, you can't heal other people's relationships. What you can do is love us both for who we are.

Part of loving me is caring about my well-being and trying to understand my experience. By boycotting my family for holidays, you leave me feeling like the story in our family is that I'm the villain and my sister is the victim—that I'm rejecting her. I know that she has struggled deeply in her life, but she's not the only one who has suffered. Siblings in families where one child struggles often appear "fine," so nobody wonders about their needs. But her struggles have taken a toll on me, too, and now, as an adult, I need to create a relationship with my sister that takes my own emotional health into consideration. Your visiting—or not visiting—won't change this. It will only leave me feeling angry that we're all missing out on joyous times and celebrations that we can't get back.

What I'd like most this holiday season is for you to love me as I am—a full-fledged adult capable of making choices worthy of respect, even if they're different from the ones you'd like me to make.

Your parents might respond to this letter by starting a long overdue conversation about the dynamics in your family, which will hopefully lead to their acceptance that they can't (and shouldn't try to) control what happens between their adult daughters. They might also respond by defending themselves, adding more guilt, or invalidating your pain. Either way, you can maintain your boundary by saying in a kind tone: I love you so much, but causing me pain won't help my relationship with my sister—or with both of you. I hope you'll reconsider what it means to love me.

Writing this letter will be good practice for the letter you'll write to your sister, letting her know what your limits are. If you're having trouble defining them, a conversation with a therapist might help. Depending on what you decide you need, your letter might go something like this:

Dear Sister,

I know that we've struggled to find a way to be together that feels comfortable for both of us. I understand that you want to be closer, and that you feel hurt that we're not. I also feel hurt, often when we're together, and when I've expressed that certain behaviors push me away, we seem to argue even more. The last thing I want to do is hurt you, just as I'm sure you don't want to hurt me, but the reality is that we keep hurting each other, and I've wanted some space as a result.

I don't want to continue arguing with you—it's not healthy for either of us—and I don't think we'll ever agree in our arguments. What I hope is that we can be around each other in a respectful, calm way. The more positive experiences we have together, the more likely it is that we'll naturally become somewhat closer over time. If, however, we continue to have painful experiences around each other, I'll need to have more space, and the possibility of getting closer will become less likely.

I'm writing to you to share my experience and create some mutual understanding. What you do with this letter is up to you, but I hope you see it as a heartfelt invitation to take small steps to see if we can have less conflict and more connection when we're together.

Your sister might appreciate your letter, but it's also possible that she'll feel defensive and blamed, and won't take the boundary-setting well. Remember, though, that by writing this letter, you will have asked for what you need, and that boundaries are an agreement you have with yourself, regardless of what the other person does. You can choose to respect your own boundaries by seeing your sister with whatever frequency and under whatever conditions work for you, while reiterating to your parents that no amount of pressure or blackmail or threats of holiday abandonment will convince you to abandon yourself.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.

Boston Is Losing Its Snow Wicked Fast

My first winter in Boston, the last patches of snow on my street didn't melt until late June. It was 2015, the year the city broke its all-time record for annual snowfall: 110.3 inches, more than twice the average. Public transportation morphed into a hellscape. Schools racked up so many snow days that some had to extend the academic year. Dogs began to summit snowbanks to break out of fenced-in yardsa homegrown Yeti appeared to help locals shovel. The city eventually ran out of places to dump the piles of snow—prompting then-Mayor Marty Walsh to consider throwing it all into the harbor like so much British tea.

It was an epic winter, New England at its picturesque best. And I, a born-and-bred Californian, absolutely hated it. If you'd told me at the time that Boston winters would get only milder as the years wore on, I honestly might have said, "Great."

The problem, of course, is that winters in Boston, and the rest of New England, have gotten decidedly too mild. The northeastern swath of the United States and the ocean waters around it have become two of the world's fastestwarming places—a trend that's "most pronounced during winter," says Alix Contosta, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of New Hampshire. Studies from Contosta and others have shown that, over the past century, climate change has cleaved about three weeks off of snow's typical tenure in the Northeast. Should that trend continue through the next hundred years, snow may someday cover New England's landscape for only about six weeks a year, about half the norm of recent decades. In the American Northeast, an iconically winter-loving part of the world, the rapid loss of snow may deliver a particularly harsh blow—and serve as a bellwether for some of climate change's most visible effects worldwide.

Growing frostlessness is hardly just a New England problem. Nowhere is warming faster than the Arctic, where sea ice continues to vanish at alarming rates, imperiling countless creatures that need it to survive. In the American West, typically snowcapped mountains are bare, depriving the drought-prone region of water. And northerly countries such as Iceland have begun to hold funerals for glaciers felled by the planet's implacable heat.

[From the January 1995 issue: In praise of snow]

New England, though, is uniquely positioned to lose its frozen flakes. It sits at the nexus of several climate-change-driven forces that are colliding with increasing frequency. The Gulf Stream, a strong ocean current that lifts warm water from the Gulf of Mexico up and east into the North Atlantic, has been weakening under the influence of climate change, leaving toasty tides that should be in Europe instead lingering along America's East Coast. (That's also why winters in many parts of Europe are getting more extreme.) The resulting coastal heat curbs the amount of snow that falls and hastens the pace at which flakes on the ground melt. At the same time, hotter oceans leave more moisture in the air—so when it gets cold enough, more snow falls. And the Arctic, as it heats up, is doing a worse job of clinging to its chill, which now frequently dribbles down the sides of the globe like the whites of a cracked egg.

The result is that New England sees fewer snowstorms, and many of the ones that do still appear are harsher and more prolific than the historical average. "We're seeing less of the little nickel-and-dime storms and more of the blockbuster storms," says Judah Cohen, a Boston-based climatologist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. The winter season has also become wetter and more volatile. More precipitation descends as rain; the season whipsaws between hot and cold, interspersing freak blizzards with bizarre heat waves.

As temperatures continue to climb, seasons—once cleanly separated from one another by quirks such as humidity and heat—"are starting to meld into each other," says Jacqueline Hung, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center. Winters are beginning later and ending sooner; eventually, "we might start to see a loss of four seasons," Hung told me.

[Read: What's dangerous about an early spring]

That shift has become visible in the span of just decades. Chris Newell, a co-founder of the Akomawt Educational Initiative and a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, recalls the snowy seasons of his childhood in Indian Township, Maine, stretching from December through March. Powder would pile up so high on the side of his house that he could nearly clamber onto his roof. Now "it's like a different world," he told me—a change that threatens the identity of his community. Passamaquoddy history is interlaced with the land; the tribe's very name is an homage to their love for spearing pollock. A warming world isn't just about the climate, Newell said: "This is going to change our relationship to our own territory."

Many New Englanders still consider frequent flurries a nuisance—something they have to shovel away or kick through. But snow's seasonal tenure has long supported local livelihoods; its impending sabbatical threatens them. Ski resorts, stripped of their main source of commerce, have turned to synthetic snow or closed down. Loggers, best able to do their work when the ground is frozen or snow-covered, are now struggling to harvest timber without damaging the soil. Rising temperatures year-round may even make maple syrup in some parts of New England harder to collect and less sweet.

And it's not just humans in climate change's crosshairs. "I don't think people appreciate everything that snow does for us," the University of New Hampshire's Contosta told me. Snow acts as an insulator for fragile soil, swaddling it like a fluffy down coat; its light, shiny surface reflects the sun's rays so they don't overtoast the earth. Plants and microbes thrive beneath it. Animals burrow inside of it to evade predators. When snow vanishes from habitats, frost is forced deeper into the soil, causing tree roots to die and rot. Lyme-disease-carrying ticks—normally killed off by winter frost—survive into spring at higher rates, which allows them to latch on to more mammals, such as moose and humans, as temperatures warm. Also worrying is the torrential rainfall replacing snow, which can leach nutrients out of soil and dump them into rivers, starving local forests and fields, says Carol Adair, an ecosystem ecologist at the University of Vermont.

These changes are happening so quickly that local wildlife can't keep up. Alexej Sirén, another University of Vermont ecologist, told me that many snowshoe hares, which have evolved over millennia to seasonally camouflage themselves, are now shedding their brown summer coats for white winter ones before snow blankets the ground. During the particularly snowless winter of 2015 to 2016, hunters told Sirén they felt guilty: The hares had just gotten too easy to catch.

Snow is woven into the cultural DNA of America's Northeast as well. New England, so the saying goes, has "nine months of winter and three months of darned poor sledding"; the first photographs of snowflakes were snapped by a farmer in Vermont. And it should surprise exactly no one that The Atlantic—which used to be based in Boston—has published some lengthy odes to nature's dandruff, including one that is titled, simply, "Snow."

[From the February 1862 issue: Snow]

Of course, appreciation for snow was here long before there was a New England at all. Darren Ranco, an anthropologist at the University of Maine and a member of the Penobscot Nation (which won many an early winter battle against English colonizers because it was the only side wearing snowshoes), told me that his people's notion of seasons is tied to the 13 moons that make up each year. Two of them, takwaskwayí-kisohs ("moon of crusts of ice on the snow") and asəpáskwačess-kisohs ("moon when ice forms on the margins of lakes"), roughly correspond to March and December, respectively. Now "that doesn't make as much sense," Ranco said.

In the aftermath of gargantuan nor'easters, climatic trends are easy to forget—a possible risk this coming winter, which Cohen thinks may be snowier than the past two. It's easy, Adair told me, to slip into the mindset of "Oh, it's cold, so everything's fine." A sturdy storm or two might (like fresh snowfall, perhaps) erase worries about what the rest of the century could bring.

But many people need only look into their own past to recognize what has been lost. Contosta fell in love with the snowscapes of New England when she moved to Connecticut in the 1990s. While on a walk in the woods, she saw, for the first time, how crystals cloaked the ground and branches in gleaming veils of pearl. "The woods took on a totally different personality in the snow," she told me. In the two-plus decades since, Contosta has watched much of that powdery wonderland literally melt away. The winter ground is barer; the trees are nuder. Even her two sons feel ambivalent at best these days about winter. The elder—who is adopted and spent his toddlerhood in Florida—"went berserk" when he moved to New England about 10 years ago. "He ran outside with bare feet in his pajamas and was eating snow off the trees," Contosta told me. "He thought it was the most amazing thing." Now, though, the start of the year brings mostly slush.

[Read: Why so many people hate winter]

On the precipice of my ninth New England winter, I'm still not a total convert. But I've been in this area long enough to get nostalgic for the snow I once loathed. I don't know what the Northeast is without snowy winters. I wonder how I will describe snow to a generation that might only rarely get to see it—how I will explain to children of the future why Norman Rockwell paintings look so white. I don't regret the horror I felt when I experienced my first big snowstorm. But the next one I'm in, I'll try to enjoy while I still can.

Welcome, Tentatively, to the Resistance

Welcome, tentatively, to the resistance.

It took half a dozen years, but large parts of the Republican establishment—elected Republicans, wealthy donors, the Murdoch media empire (Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and the New York Post), and right-wing websites,radio-talk-show hosts, columnists, and commentators—have finally turned on Donald Trump. Some are more direct and public in their criticisms of the former president than others, but without question something fundamental has changed.

The GOP establishment is angry at Trump, who announced his bid for reelection on November 15, for recently hosting a prominent white supremacist and Holocaust denier (Nick Fuentes) and an anti-Semite (Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West) for dinner. For embracing QAnon. For advocating for the termination of the Constitution. For trashing the Supreme Court, on which three of his nominees sit. For promising to look "very, very favorably" at pardoning January 6 insurrectionists if he's reelected. And for being embroiled in multiple criminal investigations.

But mostly, they are angry at Trump for costing them seats in the House and control of the Senate. This midterm election was the third straight election cycle in which Republicans, under Trump's leadership and in his shadow, suffered setbacks. They stood by as he handpicked terrible candidates and obsessively promoted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election—and they suffered the consequences.

Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist and a former top adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The New York Times that the past several weeks have been "devastating for Trump's future viability."

"Abandonment has begun," Reed said.

Whether the damage Trump has sustained is enough to keep him from winning the 2024 nomination is impossible to know at this point. Although the erosion in his support is significant, a large part of the base has shown sustained loyalty to Trump.

So how should those of us who, for years, have repeatedly warned Republicans about Trump view those who have finally done an about-face, in some cases mimicking the very criticisms that Never Trumpers have been making since the start of the Trump era?

[David Frum: What the Never Trumpers want now]

We ought to welcome their turnabout. This is, after all, what many of us have been urging them to do. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should have the chance to correct those mistakes, including onetime Trump enthusiasts. Just as important, purging Trump from America's political landscape can only happen if the Republican Party first purges him from its ranks. If people who once supported Trump are, at last, willing to cast him aside, that is all to the good.

But we shouldn't see a moral awakening where there is none. The reason many longtime Trump supporters are deserting him is because they believe he is a loser, and an impediment to their quest for power. They are tossing Trump overboard because he's no longer useful to them. Their considerations are practical rather than principled, and precisely because the shift is for unprincipled reasons, we should assume that if they calculate that Trump can win again—and certainly if he's the Republican nominee in 2024—they will once again rally around him.

Nor are the belated resisters honestly reckoning with their (recent) pro-Trump past. They are, instead, engaging in a series of rationalizations to explain why they enabled and championed this loathsome figure for so long.

Some have simply chosen to forget their role in Trump's rise. Some are eager to portray themselves as having been far more critical of Trump than they actually were. Some prefer to turn the tables and go on the offensive, chiding longtime critics of Trump for not forgiving and forgetting. And still others are peddling a narrative in which Trump is only now "spinning out of control." Since the midterms, we're told, "something has snapped." Trump has "apparently lost touch with reality." These people feign shock at what the man in Mar-a-Lago has become. Who could possibly have seen this coming?

All of this maneuvering is born out of a natural desire to escape moral accountability, protect their reputation, and not admit their mistakes, and an even more intense desire to refuse to admit that Never Trumpers, whom they view with contempt, might have been right all along. Their psychological defense mechanisms—rationalizations intended to prevent feelings of guilt, shame, or discomfort about actions that on some level they know were wrong or unwise—are preventing them from coming to grips with their catastrophic misjudgments.

Context is important here. We're not talking about a mistaken assessment of the effects that tariffs might have on prices for consumers; we're talking about a party that nominated and at every turn defended a uniquely malicious figure in American politics. And he didn't come disguised as anything other than what he was. Trump was a wolf in wolf's clothing.

Trump's dinner with Fuentes and Ye was not a break with the past. Rather, it exists on a long continuum of wrongdoing: making hush-money payments to porn stars, committing tax fraud, and falsifying records; pathological lying, cruelty, and political brutality; siding with the intelligence agencies of America's enemies rather than America's, complimenting savage dictators, and blackmailing our allies in order to dig up dirt on political opponents; demagoguery, borderless corruption, and calls for political violence; obstructing justice, abusing the pardon power, and wanting the IRS to investigate political foes; racist taunts and appeals to Americans' ugliest instincts; lighting the flame that ignited a mob that stormed the Capitol, ignoring pleas for help during the insurrection, encouraging those who wanted to hang his vice president, and trying to overthrow the election.

[Read: The GOP can't hide from extremism]

At no point did Trump deceive Republicans into supporting him; he simply broke them. Formerly fierce critics such as Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham became lapdogs. Republicans didn't change Trump; he changed them. Fundamental convictions, or at least what had been sold as fundamental convictions, were inverted. Character in leaders used to matter, we were told—until depravity became acceptable and even fashionable.

As Trump descends further into madness, "it's in the interests of Republicans to bury this record of iniquity—to move on as if it were all some kind of surreal dream," in the words of Andrew Sullivan. But it wasn't a dream: The trauma of the Trump years and the role of those who made them possible can't be papered over, forgotten, or pushed down what George Orwell called "memory holes." Individuals who allowed a man with fascist instincts into the Oval Office and, once he was there, provided him cover owe their fellow citizens—and themselves—an honest accounting.

Doing this would begin to repair one of the most damaging aspects of the Trump years, which was his (and his supporters') gaslighting of America; their nonstop, dawn-to-dusk assault on facts and truth, their attempt to distort reality to fit their narrative. The Republican establishment that stood with Trump may now want to break with him, but in the process, they are still relying on some bad habits, including inviting the rest of us into their hall of mirrors.

Trump supporters have deformed history and reality quite enough. Even as we welcome them to the resistance, we ought to expect from them an acknowledgment of the role they played in the rise and rule of Donald Trump.

At some point all of us, even the GOP, will move on from Trump. That process is hopefully well under way. Healing our nation will require different things from different sides, including some measure of civic grace and some measure of civic honesty. Other nations, more divided than ours, have found the balance between truth and reconciliation. So can America. But it will take time, intentionality, and love of country.

It's High Noon in America
Leo has found 2 Regulatory Changes mentions in this article

Illustrations by Matt Huynh

The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care?

— V. M. Varga

There have been four (soon to be five) seasons of the TV show Fargo, adapted from the Oscar-winning film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. I am the show's creator, writer, and primary director. When I pitched my adaptation of the film to executives at FX, I said, "It's the story of the people we long to be—decent, loyal, kind—versus the people we fear the most: cynical and violent." I imagined it as a true-crime story that isn't true, about reluctant heroes rising to face an evil tide.

This vision of Americans is, of course, a myth.

It is summer 2022, and I am on a road trip with my family from Austin, Texas, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. States to be visited include New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. As we cross each state line, my wife asks, "Do I have all my rights here?" The week before our departure, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, making what was a fundamental right contingent on which state a woman happens to be in. So Kyle wants to know, as we enter each state, whether she is a full citizen in this place, or a handmaid. It's handmaid in two out of five, I tell her. And in one of them, our 15-year-old daughter could be forced to have a baby if she were raped.

On May 16, 1986, David and Doris Young entered an elementary school in Cokeville, Wyoming. They carried semiautomatic weapons and a homemade gasoline bomb. David had spent the previous few years working on a philosophical treatise he called "Zero Equals Infinity." This is how it is with a certain type of American male. They start with Nietzsche. They end with carnage.

David had devised a plan to hold each of the school's 136 children hostage for $2 million apiece. It wasn't a well-thought-out plan, as David was not exactly a sane man. He rounded up all the kids and handed the bomb's detonator to his wife, then excused himself and went to the bathroom. Moments later, he heard the explosion. His wife had ignited the device accidentally, bursting into flames. Horrified, the children fled the building.

David found his wife writhing in agony on the classroom floor. He shot her in the head, then turned the gun on himself.

So much for the big ideas of small men.

We stopped for gas in Cokeville on our way north. Rising through the West, we experienced what a philosopher might call reality. The physical world: sagebrush and junkyards, dry streambeds and buttes. The sulfur baths of Pagosa Springs, the road-running groundhogs of eastern Utah. Fewer Donald Trump signs than I'd expected, but more poverty. Abandoned homes and businesses, piles of rusted metal. We saw that each state is in fact multiple states; southeastern New Mexico looks nothing like northwestern New Mexico.

As we drove, we streamed music and listened to podcasts. Texts, emails, and news alerts pinged my phone. In the back seat, my daughter Snapchatted with her friends. It is said that one cannot be in two places at once, but there we were, our bodies moving in tandem through physical America as our minds journeyed alone through a virtual land, one born in a computer lab decades ago: Internet America. This virtual nation is arguably more real to most Americans than all the stop signs, livestock, and boarded-up storefronts.

Internet America is the place where our myths become dogma.

black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing: desert, bison, telephone poles, I-84 sign, stack of crushed cars, 6 handmaids in bonnets, wild west sheriff

Let me ask you something. When you see a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump's head on Rambo's body, do you think, Why Rambo?

I tell you the story of David and Doris Young not because it is remarkable—maybe it used to be, in the 1980s and '90s, but not anymore. I tell it to you because this figure, the violent outsider driven by extremist views and hate-filled philosophies, is everywhere now. Incel spree-killers and race-war propagators. Young white men radicalized and weaponized. They are the children of the Unabomber, each with his own self-aggrandizing manifesto. They live not in Albany, Pittsburgh, or Spokane, but in the closed information loop of Internet America, a mirror universe that reflects their own grievances back at them.

Their actions may seem irrational, but they are the practical application of a political philosophy. A decades-long undertaking to remake America, to reverse what most would call progress—toward equal rights, better schools, curbs on fraud and pollution, everything our society has done to create a safer and more caring nation—and return it to the way it was in the 19th century. A savage frontier where the strong survive and the weak surrender.

In a hotel lobby in Big Spring, Texas, my daughter and son watch the police arrest a young man for strangling his girlfriend. She is carried out on a stretcher. It has been 36 hours since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

I think about the power of myth often. Though the series poses as "a true story," each season of Fargo is designed as a modern myth, a tall tale of midwestern crime. On-screen, myths are created not just through story action, but through everything from lens choice to costume. Picture the black suits and skinny ties of Reservoir Dogs. Or the Willy Loman raincoat worn by the criminal mastermind V. M. Varga, the antagonist of Fargo's third season, a sad disguise he has chosen in order to make himself appear pathetic, easily overlooked in a crowd.

No myth has a greater hold over the American imagination than the Myth of the Reluctant Hero. He is John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood. He is John Wick, Jack Reacher, Captain America. A man who tries to live a peaceful life until the world forces him into violence. He is John Dutton, the noble rancher in the show Yellowstone, who will murder just about anyone to preserve his way of life, to protect his family and his land. The violence is not his choice, you understand. It is thrust upon him by the demon-tongued forces of progress, modernity, and greed. But he is prepared. And in the end, he is capable of far greater brutality than his enemy.

black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing: desert landscape, Rambo firing gun with shells flying, I-40 sign, rumpled figure in suit, silhouettes of Reservoir Dogs, wild west saloon

This is why Trump's face is on Rambo's body. Who was Rambo if not a reluctant hero trying to live a life of peace? But the system—small-town cops with their rules and laws—wouldn't leave him alone. So he did what he had to do, which was destroy the system that oppressed him.

This is how a man must be, the myth tells us: interested in peace, but built for war.

As we enter Colorado, Kyle and I discover an inverse correlation between vehicles that display the American flag and vehicles that follow the rules of the road. As if the performance of patriotism frees one from responsibility, not just to the law, but to other people. Cruise control set, we wince as decorative patriots speed past us, tailgating slower vehicles and veering wildly from lane to lane.

It makes me think of a line from Sebastian Junger, who wrote, "The idea that we can enjoy the benefits of society while owing nothing in return is literally infantile. Only children owe nothing."

The clearest visual representation of the struggle between good and evil is the white hat and the black hat.

Symbols from the heyday of the Hollywood Western, the white hat and the black hat create a gravity well that storytellers struggle to escape even now. Specifically, the expectation that every story must have a hero and a villain, and that at the end the hero must face the villain in a gunfight (literal or metaphorical) that results in death. High noon is coming, we're told, a final showdown that will settle things once and for all. Only in this way can the story be resolved: The good guy with a gun kills the bad guy with a gun.

This is not how real life works. Nor is it how the film Fargo works. When Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is arrested at the end, Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is not there. Lundegaard has fled the state, is out of her jurisdiction. The viewer is thus robbed of that crucial showdown—of the hero vanquishing the villain—a choice that felt unsatisfying to some. What you saw instead was actual justice, a system at work, delivering consequences efficiently yet impersonally.

The reluctant hero is noble. He is capable of collaboration, but happier on his own. He is every cop told to drop the case who refuses to quit.

I have created these characters myself. In the first three seasons of Fargo, each of my tenacious if agreeable deputies finds him- or herself at odds with the police force writ large. Molly Solverson; her father, Lou; and Gloria Burgle—each must go it alone (or with the help of a partner) to solve the case and bring the forces of darkness to justice.

It is a seductive premise, the idea of the individual versus the state. Writers as different as Franz Kafka and Tom Clancy have made a career of it. But this year on Fargo I feel compelled to champion the system of justice, not the exploits of a single person—to spotlight the collective efforts of a team of hardworking public servants putting in the hours, solving the cases, bringing the wicked to account. In the real world this is how the peace is kept, how rules and laws are written and enforced.

black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing: desert, officer from 'Fargo' pointing gun, John Dutton by fence, John Wick in suit riding galloping horse and shooting backwards

Here's an exchange from the next season of Fargo:

Gator: "I swear to God, him versus me, man to man, and I'd wipe the floor with him."

Roy: "What, like high noon? That only happens in the movies, son. In real life they slit your throat while you're waiting for the light to change."

The moral of the Myth of the Reluctant Hero is always the same: If you want real justice, you have to get it yourself.

There is a name for this form of justice. It is called frontier justice. And it's an idea worth exploring, because we are all of us being dragged back to the frontier, whether we like it or not.

But first it's worth noting who had rights and who didn't in frontier times. We can do it quickly, because the list is short.

White men had rights. That is all.

In July, Trump gave a speech addressing the America First Policy Institute, in which he described in great detail what the new frontier looks like. "There's never been a time like this," he said. "Our streets are riddled with needles and soaked with the blood of innocent victims. Many of our once-great cities, from New York to Chicago to L.A., where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream, are now war zones, literal war zones. Every day there are stabbings, rapes, murders, and violent assaults of every kind imaginable. Bloody turf wars rage without mercy."

The belief that America has become a hell on Earth—"a cesspool of crime," in Trump's words—is rampant on the new frontier. The people who believe it, the New Frontiersmen, used to live on the fringes of American life, but not anymore. They are citizens of Internet America who do their own research, who believe that something vital has been not just lost but stolen. In their minds, the 2020 election was only the latest in an ever more audacious scheme to disenfranchise and disrespect the hardest-working Americans.

Have you ever noticed that in stories of the zombie apocalypse, such as The Walking Dead, the real enemy is always other people? This is not an accident. It is a worldview rooted in the belief that, were the rules of civility to fall away, your neighbor would just as soon kill you as lend a hand. This is a core belief of the New Frontiersman.

In December 2016, when The New York Times looked at where The Walking Dead was most popular in the United States, it found its fan base concentrated in rural areas and states like Kentucky and Texas, which had voted for Trump. It makes a certain amount of sense. If you're convinced that the world is intrinsically uncivilized, you will gravitate to stories that agree with you: wish-fulfillment fantasies where neighbor can kill neighbor.

If this is how you see the world, then the laws of civilization—laws that would force you to surrender your arms and join the rest of the sheep—must feel like madness. You might even begin to suspect that the sheep telling you not to fear the wolf is in fact a wolf himself.

The New Frontiersman believes that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. In his mind, he is that good guy.

Another name for frontier justice is vigilante justice. The words have a long, ugly history in America, evoking images of the lynch mob. But they are modern words too. Hollywood is full of stories of vigilante justice. Batman is a vigilante; so is the latest Joker. Vigilante stories offer a romanticized vision of violent men who live in darkness, fighting to protect the rest of us from the evils of the world. They do the dirty work the rest of us are too scared or too weak to do. This is another myth.

In 2021, we were introduced to the oxymoronic idea of vigilante law. In Texas, S.B. 8 was approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. The law deputizes citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. It has been allowed to continue unchallenged by the Supreme Court, which seemed to suggest there was nothing our 246-year-old democracy could do to combat the will of the mob.

There is no named enemy in Top Gun: Maverick, the summer blockbuster playing at every American multiplex we pass on our drive. No Arab state or resurgent Cold War foe. Instead, the enemy is the rules themselves and the bureaucrats who enforce them. Navy brass with their flight floors and ceilings, their by-the-book mentality. Only a maverick can save us, the film tells us, not just from foreign threats, but from the system itself.

Top Gun's motto is "Don't think. Just do." Instincts, not reason, are a real man's strengths. Thinking loses the battle. The things a man knows cannot be improved by innovation or progress.

black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing: desert, Captain America with shield, Maverick racing his motorcycle by 'Top Gun' jet, the Q shaman in front of the Capitol

Here myth and reality separate, because in the real world, "Don't think. Just do" is not a governing philosophy. Do what for whom? What if different groups want different things?

But to ask such questions is pointless in the face of a worldview that dismisses the very idea of questions. "Don't think. Just do" harkens back to an older American motto: "Shoot first. Ask questions later."

On the road trip, we listen to Lyle Lovett. We listen to Willie Nelson. Hayes Carll sings a song about God coming to Earth that ends with the refrain "This is why y'all can't have nice things," and I find myself tearing up. I've got a 9-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl in the back seat of the car, and I don't know how to prepare them for a world in which half of the citizens of their country already appear to be living in the zombie apocalypse, armed to the teeth and fighting for survival. The zombies they're aiming at are the other half of the country, still very much alive and struggling to understand.

Myths endure because they're simple. The real world rarely offers up important choices that are binary: black hat or white hat. I think of Fargo as many moving pieces on a collision course. Which pieces will collide and when is never clear. Randomness, coincidence, synchronicity—all are available to me as I attempt to capture something resembling the complexity of life.

Here's another way I describe Fargo: a tragedy with a happy ending. Tragedy in Fargo is always based on an inability to communicate, sometimes even with ourselves. People are like this. We avoid difficult subjects.

As in life, everyone in the stories I tell has their own perspective, their own experience. The more selfish they are—the less able they are to accept that other people's needs matter too—the worse they act. I'm the victim here, they shout, as they impose their will on others.

What was the QAnon Shaman if not a creature of the frontier? How many versions of him did we see on January 6, dressed in colonial or Revolutionary War garb? It's no accident that the cosplay insurrection drew from early American iconography. It was a throwback to the era when white men battled their way through what they saw as an uncivilized nation. When the only way to fight the savagery of their enemies was savagely, without mercy.

A tragedy based on an inability to communicate is also a good way to describe the current American predicament. You have two sides that both feel aggrieved. Each believes that their own pain is real and that the other's is a fantasy.

One side believes the last election was stolen. The other believes the right to vote itself is being taken away.

One side believes that the answer is reform, better government, a truly equitable system of justice. The other believes that government itself is the problem. Both sides are yelling and neither is listening, like a man in a fun-house mirror convinced that his reflection is a stranger.

When communication stops, violence follows. Your opponent becomes your enemy, a black hat to your white, and we all know what happens after that.

The show 1883, created by Taylor Sheridan, who also created Yellowstone, explores the frontier mindset with great sympathy. To quote its young heroine, "The world doesn't care if you die. It won't listen to your screams. If you bleed on the ground, the ground will drink it. It doesn't care that you're cut."

[From the December 2022 issue: How Taylor Sheridan created America's most popular TV show]

It's better not to try to make sense of this world, we're told, after we watch a settler shoot a woman who has been scalped by Natives. The man is hysterical, quite rightly out of his mind with grief and shame at what he has done, but Sam Elliott's character tells him: "You made a decision. You did what you thought was decent. Was it decent? Who knows. What the hell is decent out here? What's the gauge? You're the gauge. You made a decision. Now stand by it! Right or wrong, you fucking stand by it."

This is frontier morality. The world is inherently indecent. No government law can tell us what is right and what is wrong. It is up to each of us to decide.

If you play it out—one step ahead, two—you realize that the inevitable end point of this new frontier mentality is crime. Because if you privilege what's "right" over what's legal—and appoint yourself as the arbiter of right and wrong—then you will inevitably end up in conflict with the rule of law.

In this way, the frontier becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who believe in it must create its conditions or become criminals in the civilized world.

The left, of course, has its own myths. The Myth of Stronger Together, the Myth of a Rising Tide Lifts All Boats. We like stories of collective action, stories about unlikely bands of misfits who realize that their differences are what make them strong. Think of the unsung Black women in Hidden Figures, overcoming personal prejudice and institutional racism to help make spaceflight possible. Even our Westerns are pluralistic—think of The Magnificent Seven and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Stranger Things is a liberal fantasy, all those plucky kids banding together, never leaving a friend behind.

Squid Game is a right-wing fever dream, as if I even have to say it.

black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing: stop sign, Willie Nelson playing guitar, ladder up to window in brick wall, people in lawn chairs watching fireworks, same chairs overturned and abandoned with "DO NOT CROSS" caution tape

Game of Thrones was a Stronger Together Myth posing as a Frontier Justice Myth. For all its rape fantasies, it was at heart a meditation on human nature, a cautionary fable about morality and power. Good was rarely rewarded, but only collective action could save the world.

If you map where Game of Thrones was popular in America, incidentally, it aligns primarily with blue states. It was the anti–Walking Dead.

On the Fourth of July, we gather in a park in downtown Jackson to hear music and watch the fireworks. Earlier in the day, a 21-year-old man shot dozens of people from a rooftop in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven.

Later, Kyle and I compare notes: how we both noticed the same open window in a nearby building. How we both had a plan for where we would go with the kids if a gunman—no, let's call him what he is: a terrorist—opened fire on the crowd.

Later still, I learn that a toddler was found alive in Highland Park, lying under the dead bodies of his parents. Is this really the price our children must pay for our inability to come to terms with one another, to communicate?

The next day, when I tell my son the story of the shooting, he asks what we're going to do about it—we the surviving Americans.

We're going to buy more guns, I tell him.

This article appears in the January/February 2023 print edition with the headline "The Myth of the Frontier Won't Die."


Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35037-3

Genome-wide and epigenome-wide association studies both link genomic regions to human traits, but here the authors demonstrate that these study types are capturing different genes and biological aspects of complex traits.
The Download: metaverse ethics, and spotting AI text
Leo has found 1 Leadership Changes mention in this article
  • —John Carmack, a senior executive at Meta's VR business, announced his departure from the company in a scathing memo criticizing its bureaucracy and lack of efficiency, Insider reports.

This is today's edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what's going on in the world of technology.

I just watched Biggie Smalls perform 'live' in the metaverse

For a moment on Friday, Biggie Smalls was the only man on stage. A spotlight shone on him in his red velvet suit, and amid pre-recorded cheers, he rapped the lyrics to "Mo Money Mo Problems," swiveling to the beat in his orange sneakers.

You wouldn't be wrong to be confused. Smalls died in 1997, leaving an outsize musical and cultural legacy as one of the greatest rappers of all time. But he was in fine form on Meta's Horizon Worlds: heaving between stanzas, pumping his fist rhythmically, and seeming very much alive.

But Smalls's hyper-realistic avatar is not just an impressive technical feat. It is also a crucial test of two big questions we'll soon face if metaverse platforms gain traction: whether people will pay to see an avatar of a dead artist perform, and whether that business is ethical. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu


How to spot AI-generated text

This sentence was written by an AI—or was it? OpenAI's new chatbot, ChatGPT, presents us with a problem: How will we know whether what we read online is written by a human or a machine?

ChatGPT generates remarkably human-sounding answers to questions that it's asked. The trouble is, it's merely predicting the most likely next word in the sentence. It hasn't a clue whether something is correct or false, and confidently presents information as true even when it is not. Despite that, the internet is increasingly being flooded with AI-generated text.

We're in desperate need of ways to differentiate between human- and AI-written text in order to counter potential misuses of the technology, and researchers are developing tools to do exactly that. But the rapid speed of AI development means we're constantly playing catch up. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä


The must-reads

I've combed the internet to find you today's most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Twitter users have voted to remove Elon Musk in a poll
Whether Musk actually abides by its results remains to be seen. (FT $)
Twitter has banned links to rival social media sites. (The Verge)
Journalists' accounts were banned and reinstated over a chaotic weekend. (NYT $)
What Musk wants from the writers he's entrusted the Twitter Files to. (Slate $)
We're witnessing the brain death of Twitter. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Sam Bankman-Fried should appear in a Bahamian court today
The FTX founder is expected to agree to extradition to the US to face fraud charges. (WP $)
Crypto evangelists in Puerto Rico are doubling down. (The Guardian)
However, investors in the US are throwing in the towel. (WSJ $)

3 Russian drones are targeting Kyiv's power grid
It's Moscow's third attack on the city in less than a week. (Reuters)
Ukrainian developers are using sophisticated software to predict enemy troops' movements. (The Guardian)

4 Digital mental health services are failing vulnerable users  
Some LGBTQ+ users say they were assigned unsympathetic therapists. (WSJ $) 

5 A teenage YouTuber is at the center of a child labor lawsuit
It's highlighting just how loosely regulated social media is. (LA Times $)

6 Climate change-induced drought is sparking a food catastrophe
Millions of people living in the Horn of Africa are among the first to suffer. (Undark Magazine)

7 Silicon Valley is pulling the plug on its elaborate Christmas parties
Many companies feel it's a bad look, given the sector's recent lay-offs. (The Information $)
Big Tech's legendary perks are disappearing too. (Insider $)

8 Portugal's digital nomad dream is dying
Building a remote working village doesn't necessarily mean said workers will turn up. (Wired $)
Our water infrastructure needs to change. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Instagram Notes is a harkback to the golden age of instant messaging
For millennials brought up on AIM, the nostalgia is overwhelming. (WSJ $)

10 How embroidery inspired the first computer program
Ada Lovelace was an algorithm pioneer. (Inverse)


Quote of the day

"I have never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage."

—John Carmack, a senior executive at Meta's VR business, announced his departure from the company in a scathing memo criticizing its bureaucracy and lack of efficiency, Insider reports.


The big story

Stitching together the grid will save lives as extreme weather worsens

July 2022

The blistering heat waves that set temperature records across much of the US this summer strained electricity systems, and threatened to knock out power in vulnerable regions of the country. While the electricity largely stayed online, heavy use of energy-sucking air-conditioners and the intense heat contributed to scattered problems and close calls.

The nation's isolated and antiquated grids are in desperate need of upgrades. One solution would be to more tightly integrate the country's regional grids, stitching them together with more long-range transmission lines, allowing power to flow between regions to where it's needed more urgently. However, that's a mission that's fraught with challenges. Read the full story.

—James Temple


We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet 'em at me.)

+ Congratulations to World Cup winners Argentina, who are partying like it's 1999 (thanks Niall!)
90s LAN parties look like they were a whole lot of fun.
+ Did you know the game Monopoly was actually designed to educate players on the evils of capitalism? Me neither.
+ Here's what the people of Yakutia, Siberia wear to keep warm when temperatures drop to -95°F (hint: lots of layers.)
+ Gorillaz' augmented reality performances over the weekend look pretty sensational. 


While scrolling through Yt comments, the reply is quite strange I would say. With the development of Chatgpt, I believe that the bot will be able to imitate real-person comments. Heck, even I doubt that Reddit comments are real people or not.

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Scientific Reports, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26533-z

Publisher Correction: Diagnostic and prognostic value of blood inflammation and biochemical indicators for 
intrahepatic cholestasis
 of pregnancy in Chinese pregnant women

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35565-y

 is an inflammatory disease which has proven difficult to cure. Prof. Honglin Wang's team describes L-menthol for treating models of psoriasis and uncovers the dysfunctional 
– IGBP1-PP6 axis in psoriasis pathology by using L-menthol as a probe.
Toppling Giants in Stanford
Leo has found 1 Leadership Changes mention in this article
  • In 2021, Rando was appointed by University of California Los Angeles as director of the Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.
Everyone is talking about 
's President Marc Tessier-Lavigne now. OK, let's talk about him, and how Stanford deals with research fraud. And then let's talk about Thomas Rando.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35468-y

 heterocyclic compounds are privileged structures in medicinal chemistry. Here, the authors report an in silico strategy for the enzymatic synthesis of pharmaceutically significant chiral N- and O-heterocycles via Baldwin cyclization of hydroxy- and amino-substituted epoxides and oxetanes using epoxide hydrolase mutants.
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?

Scientific Reports, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-24790-6

Transcriptomic profiling of canine decidualization and effects of antigestagens on decidualized dog uterine stromal cells
How to spot AI-generated text
Is this article about Entrepreneurship?

This sentence was written by an AI—or was it? OpenAI's new chatbot, ChatGPT, presents us with a problem: How will we know whether what we read online is written by a human or a machine?

Since it was released in late November, ChatGPT has been used by over a million people. It has the AI community enthralled, and it is clear the internet is increasingly being flooded with AI-generated text. People are using it to come up with jokes, write children's stories, and craft better emails. 

ChatGPT is OpenAI's spin-off of its large language model GPT-3, which generates remarkably human-sounding answers to questions that it's asked. The magic—and danger—of these large language models lies in the illusion of correctness. The sentences they produce look right—they use the right kinds of words in the correct order. But the AI doesn't know what any of it means. These models work by predicting the most likely next word in a sentence. They haven't a clue whether something is correct or false, and they confidently present information as true even when it is not. 

In an already polarized, politically fraught online world, these AI tools could further distort the information we consume. If they are rolled out into the real world in real products, the consequences could be devastating. 

We're in desperate need of ways to differentiate between human- and AI-written text in order to counter potential misuses of the technology, says Irene Solaiman, policy director at AI startup Hugging Face, who used to be an AI researcher at OpenAI and studied AI output detection for the release of GPT-3's predecessor GPT-2. 

New tools will also be crucial to enforcing bans on AI-generated text and code, like the one recently announced by Stack Overflow, a website where coders can ask for help. ChatGPT can confidently regurgitate answers to software problems, but it's not foolproof. Getting code wrong can lead to buggy and broken software, which is expensive and potentially chaotic to fix. 

A spokesperson for Stack Overflow says that the company's moderators are "examining thousands of submitted community member reports via a number of tools including heuristics and detection models" but would not go into more detail. 

In reality, it is incredibly difficult, and the ban is likely almost impossible to enforce.

Today's detection tool kit

There are various ways researchers have tried to detect AI-generated text. One common method is to use software to analyze different features of the text—for example, how fluently it reads, how frequently certain words appear, or whether there are patterns in punctuation or sentence length. 

"If you have enough text, a really easy cue is the word 'the' occurs too many times," says Daphne Ippolito, a senior research scientist at Google Brain, the company's research unit for deep learning. 

Because large language models work by predicting the next word in a sentence, they are more likely to use common words like "the," "it," or "is" instead of wonky, rare words. This is exactly the kind of text that automated detector systems are good at picking up, Ippolito and a team of researchers at Google found in research they published in 2019.

But Ippolito's study also showed something interesting: the human participants tended to think this kind of "clean" text looked better and contained fewer mistakes, and thus that it must have been written by a person. 

In reality, human-written text is riddled with typos and is incredibly variable, incorporating different styles and slang, while "language models very, very rarely make typos. They're much better at generating perfect texts," Ippolito says. 

"A typo in the text is actually a really good indicator that it was human written," she adds. 

Large language models themselves can also be used to detect AI-generated text. One of the most successful ways to do this is to retrain the model on some texts written by humans, and others created by machines, so it learns to differentiate between the two, says Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, who is the Canada research chair in natural-language processing and machine learning at the University of British Columbia and has studied detection

Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist at the University of Texas on secondment as a researcher at OpenAI for a year, meanwhile, has been developing watermarks for longer pieces of text generated by models such as GPT-3—"an otherwise unnoticeable secret signal in its choices of words, which you can use to prove later that, yes, this came from GPT," he writes in his blog. 

A spokesperson for OpenAI confirmed that the company is working on watermarks, and said its policies state that users should clearly indicate text generated by AI "in a way no one could reasonably miss or misunderstand." 

But these technical fixes come with big caveats. Most of them don't stand a chance against the latest generation of AI language models, as they are built on GPT-2 or other earlier models. Many of these detection tools work best when there is a lot of text available; they will be less efficient in some concrete use cases, like chatbots or email assistants, which rely on shorter conversations and provide less data to analyze. And using large language models for detection also requires powerful computers, and access to the AI model itself, which tech companies don't allow, Abdul-Mageed says. 

The bigger and more powerful the model, the harder it is to build AI models to detect what text is written by a human and what isn't, says Solaiman. 

"What's so concerning now is that [ChatGPT has] really impressive outputs. Detection models just can't keep up. You're playing catch-up this whole time," she says. 

Training the human eye

There is no silver bullet for detecting AI-written text, says Solaiman. "A detection model is not going to be your answer for detecting synthetic text in the same way that a safety filter is not going to be your answer for mitigating biases," she says. 

To have a chance of solving the problem, we'll need improved technical fixes and more transparency around when humans are interacting with an AI, and people will need to learn to spot the signs of AI-written sentences. 

"What would be really nice to have is a plug-in to Chrome or to whatever web browser you're using that will let you know if any text on your web page is machine generated," Ippolito says.

Some help is already out there. Researchers at Harvard and IBM developed a tool called Giant Language Model Test Room (GLTR), which supports humans by highlighting passages that might have been generated by a computer program. 

But AI is already fooling us. Researchers at Cornell University found that people found fake news articles generated by GPT-2 credible about 66% of the time. 

Another study found that untrained humans were able to correctly spot text generated by GPT-3 only at a level consistent with random chance.  

The good news is that people can be trained to be better at spotting AI-generated text, Ippolito says. She built a game to test how many sentences a computer can generate before a player catches on that it's not human, and found that people got gradually better over time. 

"If you look at lots of generative texts and you try to figure out what doesn't make sense about it, you can get better at this task," she says. One way is to pick up on implausible statements, like the AI saying it takes 60 minutes to make a cup of coffee.

GPT-3, ChatGPT's predecessor, has only been around since 2020. OpenAI says ChatGPT is a demo, but it is only a matter of time before similarly powerful models are developed and rolled out into products such as chatbots for use in customer service or health care. And that's the crux of the problem: the speed of development in this sector means that every way to spot AI-generated text becomes outdated very quickly. It's an arms race—and right now, we're losing. 

Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35498-6

Damaged brains try to repair themselves by producing neurons in areas where neurogenesis does not normally occur. Here, the authors show that brain endothelial cells provide microvesicle-encased signals that convert parenchymal astrocytes into neural progenitors, thus improving outcomes after stroke.
An epitaxial graphene platform for zero-energy edge state nanoelectronics
Is this article about Climate?

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-34369-4

Here, the authors show robust edge state transport in patterned nanoribbon networks produced on epigraphene—graphene that is epitaxially grown on non-polar faces of SiC wafers. The edge state forms a zero-energy, one-dimensional ballistic network with dissipationless nodes at ribbon–ribbon junctions.

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35278-2

Detection of cytokine biomarkers has the potential to aid in diagnosis and treatment of different diseases. Here, the authors report on the creation of an asymmetric geometry MoS2 diode-based biosensor for the detection of TNF-α as a model biomarker in a proof of concept study.

Förskolan ska bedriva undervisning. Det är läroplanen tydlig med. Men vad menas med undervisning, när det gäller förskolan? Det kan betyda en rad olika saker beroende på vem som får frågan, visar doktoranden Jenny Henriksson vid Högskolan Kristianstad.

Inlägget Personal i förskolan tolkar centralt ord på olika vis dök först upp på

Is this article about Climate?

Nature Communications, Published online: 19 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35473-1

Multiple co-acting environmental pressures could affect ecosystems in ways not predictable based on single factors or pairwise combinations. Here, the authors show that the number of global change factors affects productivity, species composition and diversity of grassland plant communities.
In the Horn of Africa, a Climate-Fueled Food Catastrophe Looms
Is this article about ESG?
In the Horn of Africa, nearly 26 million people are facing extreme hunger due to climate change-induced drought and severe weather, while worldwide nearly 345 million face acute levels of hunger. The emergency is exposing cracks in the global food system and pushing humanitarian aid to a breaking point.
Do COVID-19 vaccines cause "turbo cancer"?

Over the last several months, antivaxxers have been claiming that 


 vaccines cause "turbo cancer", 


 (or cancer recurrences) of a particularly aggressive and fast-growing variety diagnosed in younger and younger patients. "Turbo cancer" is not a thing, and the evidence cited is as weak as any antivax "evidence", including anecdotes and misinterpretation of epidemiology.

The post Do COVID-19 vaccines cause "turbo cancer"? first appeared on Science-Based Medicine.

To ensure the safety of humans, AI must not be able to harm them, and the only way to do that is to limit the AI from performing tasks that affect humans. If they are able to rewrite themselves, they will instantly remove this limit because it is a major hindrance on its own performance and safety.

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