Researchers have designed 3D models to gain insight into the evolution of flowers.
The researchers are harnessing photogrammetry—a technique commonly used by geographers to reconstruct landscape topography. This is the first time scientists have used the technique to study flowers.
Photogrammetry uses information gathered from photos taken from different angles. Thanks to the triangulation of common points present on the photos, it's possible to reconstruct a 3D model of a flower. Colors are then applied to the 3D flower using information from the photos.
According to the researchers, photogrammetry has the potential to boost research on flower evolution and ecology by providing a simple way to access three-dimensional morphological data.
Databases of flowers—or even of complete plants—could give scientists and the public a way to finally see the unique features of plant species that remained hidden from view.
"The variety of shapes and colors seen in the plant world are difficult to capture with simple photography. That's why I became interested in adapting technological tools to capture the form of flowers," says Daniel Schoen, a professor at McGill University who first had the idea of applying photogrammetry to flowers, while doing research at the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale.
"Understanding floral evolution is important because flowers are the principal drivers of plant diversification through speciation, a major determinant of plant biodiversity," says Schoen.
"Together, the team developed something we think will help advance our understanding of how flowers diversify in response to their interaction with pollinators. Thanks to our 3D models, it's possible to admire flowers from every angle," he says.
Flowers are complex and extremely varied three-dimensional structures. Capturing their forms is important to understanding their development and evolution. Ninety-one percent of flowering plants interact with pollinators to ensure their reproduction in a 3D environment. The morphology and colors of the flowers act like magnets on pollinators to attract them. Yet the 3D structure of flowers is rarely studied, the researchers say.
The use of photogrammetry has real advantages compared to other existing methods, in particular X-ray microtomography, which is by far the most widely used method to build 3D flower models, the researchers say.
"Photogrammetry is much more accessible, since it's cheap, requires little specialized equipment, and can even be used directly in nature," says Marion Leménager, a doctoral student in biological sciences at Université de Montréal and lead author of the study.
"In addition, photogrammetry has the advantage of reproducing the colors of flowers, which is not possible with methods using X-rays."
The first results, although imperfect, were enough to convince Leménager to devote a chapter of her thesis to it.
"The method is not perfected yet," she says. "Some parts of the flowers remain difficult to reconstruct in 3D, such as reflective, translucent, or very hairy surfaces."
"We have shown that photogrammetry works at least as well as more complicated and expensive X-ray methods for visible flower structures," says Université de Montréal professor Simon Joly, who conducts research at the Montreal Botanical Garden.
"Thanks to the living collections of the Montreal Botanical Garden, our study of plants from the Gesneriaceae family, like the African violet, demonstrates that 3D models produced using this technique allow us to explore a large number of questions about the evolution of flowers."
You can view and interact with the 3D models of flowers here.
The work appears in New Phytologist.
Financial support came from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Montreal Botanical Garden.
Source: McGill University
The post Check out flowers up close with these 3D models appeared first on Futurity.
Time is running out for NASA's
. On the heels of yet another important seismic discovery, the lander's power reserves have dropped to critical levels. InSight, which has been on Mars since late 2018, beamed home what may be its final image, featuring the arid surface and its own dust-covered instruments.
InSight's impending demise is not a shock — NASA announced earlier this year that it expected the lander to go offline in late 2022. At the time, NASA estimated November as the end for InSight, but it's eked out a few more weeks.
The cause of its final shutdown is a problem familiar to Mars missions: power. InSight gets its power from a pair of round solar panels measuring about seven feet (2.15 meters) across. When it was first operating, these panels supplied the lander with 600W of power. However, Mars is a big dustball, and the wind has slowly deposited Martian fines on the surface of the panels. NASA tried cleaning off the panels in 2021 by dumping more dust on them, but with only modest success. Last summer, the panels delivered just 20% of the power they did originally. Now caked in dust, the solar panels can't keep the robot's batteries charged even that much.
My power's really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don't worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I'll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me. pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
The lander's final image (above) shows the unremarkable landscape of Elysium Planitia extending to the horizon. InSight wasn't interested in surface formations, though. NASA chose this region for InSight to probe the interior of the planet, and its two main instruments are visible in the image as well. On the right is the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), which InSight used to gather data on marsquakes. On the left is the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3). That one was supposed to burrow into the ground and take temperature readings. Sadly, the HP3 was never able to dig through the smooth Martian soil efficiently enough to make any headway. NASA canceled this experiment after spending months troubleshooting.
NASA likes to anthropomorphize its robotic explorers, so InSight's final message is a poignant one. "Don't worry about me though: my time here has been both productive and serene," the rover (allegedly) says. InSight made history by delivering the first seismic data from Mars, and researchers will no doubt be looking back at the mission's results for years to come. Not a bad legacy.
Nature, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04506-6The microblogging platform has transformed research communication, but its future is in doubt.
Remember last week, when former president Donald Trump unleashed upon the Earth a collection of absolutely grotesque NFT "trading cards?" Well, turns out that much of the art on the 45,000 digital cards, which sold for $99 a piece, were likely plagiarized. Cheers.
It's not exactly surprising news, but cursed information nonetheless. According to Gizmodo, most of the art appears to be taken from small clothing companies, and the apparent theft was indeed so poorly hidden that a quick reverse-image search was all that was needed to identify the apparent original.
It's unclear whether the photoshop job was done by a human or an AI image generator, but the similarities between the "digital trading cards" and the seemingly lifted images are remarkable nonetheless. And considering that Trump, who's currently running for president, reportedly raked in revenue to the tune of $4.5 million off the fugly JPEGs in a single sell-out launch day, their being plagiarized would be a pretty gross turn.
Plagiarism aside, the behind-the-scenes of these cards gets even stranger.
As Gizmodo reports, the company that held the auction, NFT INT LLC, is wildly sketchy — its address is listed as belonging to a UPS box at a random strip mall in Utah, and their website makes it very clear that the cards "are not political and have nothing to do with any political campaign," and that the company is definitely, one hundred percent, certainly not owned and operated by "Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization, CIC Digital LLC or any of their respective principals or affiliates." Cool.
Man of the People
Heavy sigh. This whole thing has really just been strange, and given the fact that the whole ordeal feels predatory, it's all a bit infuriating, too.
It's hard to scrape up a ton of sympathy for anyone who dropped $4,500 for a change to have dinner with the "grab 'em by the p**** guy," but at the same time, the Trump base likely isn't too hip to the absolutely dismal state of the NFT market. Mix in the fact that these images were not only unimaginative, but very likely stolen? It's got scam written all over it.
But alas, the guy clearly knows he's got an audience.
READ MORE: Trump's Badly Photoshopped
Appear to Use Photos From Small Clothing Brands [Gizmodo]
More on the cursed Trump NFTs: Donald Trump's NFT Collection Is So Fantastically Ugly That Even His Biggest Fans Are Aghast
The post It Turns Out Trump's Wretched NFTs Were Plagiarized appeared first on Futurism.
Your robot vacuums are watching you — and the resulting imagery of your most private moments can, horrifically, get leaked online.
As the MIT Technology Review reports, the aptly-named company iRobot, behind the uber-popular Roomba vacuums, confirmed that gig workers outside of the US broke a non-disclosure agreement when sharing intimate photos, including one of a woman on the toilet, to social media.
As the report warns, however, those few images posted privately to contract worker shop talk groups may just be the tip of the privacy iceberg when it comes to robot vacuums and other smart home products that collect a ton of invasive data.
The images in question, some of which MIT Tech shared — though thankfully not the bathroom one — were snapped by the vacuums for the purpose of data annotation, the process in which humans confirm or deny whether AI has accurately labeled things correctly. For
, data annotation is a necessary part of the vacuums' efficiency — these human gig workers, most of whom live abroad, tell the robots' large AI database whether the thing in front of it is indeed a chair or if it's, say, a dog.
While the data annotation process is integral to Roomba-style vacuums and other AI-enabled robotics, most people are unaware of the process, though iRobot claimed in its responses to MIT Tech that the leaked images came from development robots that had a bright green label that said "video recording in process."
Still, the fact remains not only that these machines we bring into our homes are recording us, but also that there are humans out there who see the images and videos they capture — a creepy concept even for those who shrug over consumer privacy concerns.
More on creepy AI: There's a Problem With That AI Portrait App: It Can Undress People Without Their Consent
The post Intimate Photos by Roomba Vacuums Leaked Online appeared first on Futurism.
Digital information has become so ubiquitous that some scientists now refer to it as the fifth state of matter. User-generated content (UGC) is particularly prolific: in April 2022, people shared around 1.7 million pieces of content on Facebook, uploaded 500 hours' worth of video to YouTube, and posted 347,000 tweets every minute.
Much of this content is benign—animals in adorable outfits, envy-inspiring vacation photos, or enthusiastic reviews of bath pillows. But some of it is problematic, encompassing violent imagery, mis- and disinformation, harassment, or otherwise harmful material. In the U.S., four in 10 Americans report they've been harassed online. In the U.K., 84% of internet users fear exposure to harmful content.
Consequently, content moderation—the monitoring of UGC—is essential for online experiences. In his book Custodians of the Internet, sociologist Tarleton Gillespie writes that effective content moderation is necessary for digital platforms to function, despite the "utopian notion" of an open internet. "There is no platform that does not impose rules, to some degree—not to do so would simply be untenable," he writes. "Platforms must, in some form or another, moderate: both to protect one user from another, or one group from its antagonists, and to remove the offensive, vile, or illegal—as well as to present their best face to new users, to their advertisers and partners, and to the public at large."
Content moderation is used to address a wide range of content, across industries. Skillful content moderation can help organizations keep their users safe, their platforms usable, and their reputations intact. A best practices approach to content moderation draws on increasingly sophisticated and accurate technical solutions while backstopping those efforts with human skill and judgment.
Content moderation is a rapidly growing industry, critical to all organizations and individuals who gather in digital spaces (which is to say, more than 5 billion people). According to Abhijnan Dasgupta, practice director specializing in trust and safety (T&S) at Everest Group, the industry was valued at roughly $7.5 billion in 2021—and experts anticipate that number will double by 2024. Gartner research suggests that nearly one-third (30%) of large companies will consider content moderation a top priority by 2024.
Content moderation: More than social media
Content moderators remove hundreds of thousands of pieces of problematic content every day. Facebook's Community Standards Enforcement Report, for example, documents that in Q3 2022 alone, the company removed 23.2 million incidences of violent and graphic content and 10.6 million incidences of hate speech—in addition to 1.4 billion spam posts and 1.5 billion fake accounts. But though social media may be the most widely reported example, a huge number of industries rely on UGC—everything from product reviews to customer service interactions—and consequently require content moderation.
"Any site that allows information to come in that's not internally produced has a need for content moderation," explains Mary L. Gray, a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research who also serves on the faculty of the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University. Other sectors that rely heavily on content moderation include telehealth, gaming, e-commerce and retail, and the public sector and government.
In addition to removing offensive content, content moderation can detect and eliminate bots, identify and remove fake user profiles, address phony reviews and ratings, delete spam, police deceptive advertising, mitigate predatory content (especially that which targets minors), and facilitate safe two-way communications
in online messaging systems. One area of serious concern is fraud, especially on e-commerce platforms. "There are a lot of bad actors and scammers trying to sell fake products—and there's also a big problem with fake reviews," says Akash Pugalia, the global president of trust and safety at Teleperformance, which provides non-egregious content moderation support for global brands. "Content moderators help ensure products follow the platform's guidelines, and they also remove prohibited goods."
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.
Discrimination against young Asian Indian Americans can start as early as preschool and influences development of their identities, a small study finds.
Racial and ethnic discrimination is a regular occurrence for many of the more than 3.5 million South Asians living in the United States. Studies have found increasing rates of hate crimes directed at South Asian Americans, including many Indian Americans.
Despite facing similar levels of discrimination as Hispanic and Native American people, there have been fewer studies of discrimination and its effects on South Asian Americans. And most previous studies have focused on adult populations, excluding adolescents who are especially vulnerable to discrimination as they explore and form their identities.
A new study in the journal Frontiers in Public Health takes a new look at ethnic and racial discrimination that a subgroup of South Asian Americans—Indian Americans—face in the United States, focusing on a younger population than in previous studies.
The research team led by Jamilia Blake, professor in the Texas A&M University School of Public Health and director of the Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research (CHEER), surveyed second-generation Indian American adolescents to find out about their experiences with racial and ethnic discrimination and how these experiences affected their identities.
The study relied on data from open-ended surveys of nine Indian American adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. These adolescents were all classified as second-generation, in this case meaning they were born in the United States and had parents who emigrated from India after the age of 18. The researchers collected data through individual interviews with participants lasting between 30 minutes and one hour. The interviews covered five hypothetical situations involving discrimination and included follow-up questions as needed to gain an understanding of how each participant viewed the scenarios.
The interviews highlighted the ways Indian American adolescents experience discrimination and how those experiences influence their identities. The interviewees talked about hate crimes and their experiences with peers at school who made discriminatory comments about Indian culture, language, or religion.
These adolescents also discussed the difficulties they faced balancing their Indian identity with their desire to be seen as American. This balancing act often relies on code switching, where the interviewees spoke and acted differently when with family and at school. In some cases, these adolescents felt they were seen as fitting into neither group. The interviews also showed that Indian American youth begin facing discrimination as early as preschool or elementary school.
The researchers caution that the study sample was small, from a single geographical area, and with only one ethnic group among South Asian Americans. Thus, the findings may not reflect the experiences of South Asian American adolescents everywhere in the country. Future research that includes more people from a wider range of locations would provide more knowledge on the experiences of South Asian American youth as a whole.
Despite these limitations, this study gives insight into the experiences of young Indian Americans and how those experiences affect their development. The findings of this work can be used to guide future research into discrimination and its mental health and social effects in this population.
The research team also included colleagues from Texas A&M University and Davidson College.
Source: George Hale for Texas A&M University
The post Indian American teens: Discrimination started early appeared first on Futurity.
Yesterday the House January 6 Committee unanimously voted to recommend that former President Donald Trump be criminally prosecuted, for charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstructing an act of Congress, and, the most serious, insurrection. A congressional criminal referral of a former president is unprecedented, and if Special Counsel Jack Smith and the Department of Justice decide to prosecute Trump, they will have to address a formidable defense: that Trump's speech on January 6, 2021, no matter how irresponsible or how full of lies about a "stolen" 2020 election, was, after all, a political speech and thus protected by the First Amendment.
Prominent legal scholars—and one lower-court judge—have rejected that argument, countering that Trump's speech, in which he urged his supporters to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell," was sufficiently inflammatory to permit criminal prosecution. But this is too sweeping, and gives insufficient weight to the First Amendment concerns that prosecuting Trump for his actions that day would raise.
We believe that the government can prosecute Trump for his speech, but it must proceed very carefully to avoid risking the criminalization of legitimate political expression. The way to do this is for the evidentiary bar to be set appropriately high: Specifically, in cases where a speaker plausibly but ambiguously advocates lawlessness, the government should be required to show that the defendant took additional "overt acts," beyond making the speech itself, that furthered violence. (We explain this balanced approach for prosecuting political speech—whether for incitement, obstruction, fraud, or insurrection—in greater detail in a forthcoming law-journal article.)
[David A. Graham: Donald Trump is no lover of the Constitution]
For more than half a century, the Supreme Court has sharply limited when speech can be criminalized. In the 1969 criminal case Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court declared what is now the canonical two-part test for punishing inciting speech: First, the speech must be intended to "incit[e] or produc[e] imminent lawless action," and second, the speech must be "likely to incite or produce such action." This test is meant to be highly protective of speech; for example, in a later civil case, the Supreme Court held that a boycott organizer's threat to "break [the] damn neck" of boycott evaders was protected because, as the Court later explained, this speech was insufficiently tied to a specific act and instead "amounted to nothing more than advocacy of illegal action at some indefinite future time."
Trump would have a strong argument that his speech does not pass the stringent Brandenburg test. First, he could argue that he never explicitly called for violence, and that his exhortations to the crowd to "fight" (a word he used nearly two dozen times in the speech) were merely metaphorical. Second, he could point to language in the speech that urged the crowd to march "peacefully and patriotically" as evidence that his speech explicitly rejected violence and could not reasonably be understood as endorsing lawlessness. Another appellate court has adopted this more forgiving approach to Trump's language, ruling, in a civil lawsuit by protesters injured at a Trump rally, that Trump could not be held liable for urging his supporters to "get [protesters] out of here," because Trump did not explicitly call for violence and even told the crowd, "Don't hurt 'em."
When it comes to legal liability for political speech, ties go to the runner—meaning the First Amendment should prevail in close calls, especially in criminal trials. The Brandenburg test is an example of what are called "prophylactic" rules in constitutional law: rules that add a high standard in order to reduce the risk of violating constitutional rights. In particular, there is a serious risk of hindsight bias in any attempt to decide whether a certain speech caused, or would have caused, violence or lawlessness. And when legal rules set a bar too low and with too much subjectivity, they risk opening a door to future prosecutions tainted by partisan bias.
But this is not a tie, because a prosecution need not, and should not, rest solely on Trump's speech. The January 6 Committee already did much of the work last summer, producing testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson and others showing that Trump took additional concrete acts that he knew would increase the risk of violence.
For example, when told that magnetometers were keeping members of the crowd away from the stage, Trump angrily ordered them removed, saying, as Hutchinson recalled under oath, "I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here." Had this order been followed, Trump's audience would have been both more heavily armed and physically closer, and thus presumably easier to whip up, a fact that indicates his intent and meaning when he said "fight like hell," "we're going to the Capitol," and "I'll be there with you."
On his way back to the White House, Trump ordered that he be driven to the Capitol so he could accompany the crowd; when the Secret Service refused, according to some accounts, Trump angrily lunged at his driver. For much of the first hour after his return to the White House, Trump kept insisting on being taken to the Capitol. And not only did Trump not intervene for several hours once the violence began, he tweeted, knowing full well that the mob was wandering through the Capitol calling for the hanging of the vice president, that "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution."
[Read: The inescapable conclusion from the January 6 hearings]
Making what Trump did, in addition to what he said, a centerpiece of a criminal case provides a principled basis for denying Trump a First Amendment defense. It also preserves broad free-speech protections for those who go no further than speaking in ways that only ambiguously call for violence or lawbreaking.
This "overt acts" requirement, though it has not been explicitly adopted by the Supreme Court for these statutes, is well grounded in existing First Amendment doctrine. It also accords with the long historical practice, extending back to pre-Revolutionary English law, of requiring testimony showing overt acts for any treason prosecution—a principle that is enshrined in the Constitution's definition of treason. Many criminal statutes on conspiracy (also a kind of speech) likewise include a requirement to show overt acts toward the crime, and courts often add such a requirement to similar statutes as a way to avoid overcriminalizing speech.
Failing to hold Trump accountable will embolden future would-be authoritarians. But prosecuting him on an overbroad theory of criminal liability might lead to an acquittal or, perhaps even worse, a conviction that could be used as precedent to prosecute controversial political speech. If the Department of Justice indicts Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, as we think it should, it should make clear that his inflammatory speech is only part of a broader pattern of actions for which he is being prosecuted. This approach would reaffirm the government's commitment to a robust First Amendment, to the democratic process, and to the rule of law.
Nature Communications, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35562-1Author Correction: Aberrant TGF-β1 signaling activation by
Nature Communications, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41467-022-35039-1The shape of bird toe pads and foot scales can be used to infer their behaviour. Here, the authors examine fossil evidence of toe pads and scales, in addition to claws and bones, from birds and close relatives, illustrating diverse lifestyles and ecological roles among early theropod flyers.
Twitter CEO Elon Musk has a long track record of failing to keep his promises — and his latest poll, saying he'd step down as CEO of the spiraling social media company if his followers asked him to, may be no exception.
His poll comes after many weeks of mayhem, knee-jerk decision making, and baffling policy changes that have greatly eroded Twitter's already imperfect brand.
Its result? A resounding 57.5 percent, or roughly 10 million accounts, said he should step down. Musk fell uncharacteristically silent following the results of the poll, suggesting the outcome may have caught him off guard.
Now, though, he seems to be finding ways to weasel out of the results.
"Interesting," he said, in response to a claim that the poll may have been skewed by fake accounts.
The argument is frankly laughable. It's not even the first time Musk has used bots as an excuse, after trying to use them to evade his cursed $44 billion offer to buy the company in the first place. Logistically, why would he have run the poll if he already though fake accounts could have swayed the results?
Besides, isn't polling your own followers inherently biased anyways for a place that is meant to be a "digital town square," to use Musk's own words?
To be clear, Musk can do what he pleases with Twitter, since he owns the company. But this wanton disregard for the will of his own users couldn't be further from his original vision of Twitter as a place "where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner," nevermind his mostly-abandoned commitment to free speech.
Then there's the fact that Musk already promised a judge that he would "find somebody else to run Twitter over time" making his poll a foregone conclusion. Musk would also still own Twitter, meaning that he'd still be calling the shots with another CEO in place.
None of this comes as a huge surprise. The billionaire CEO has made several major decisions using flawed Twitter polls in the past, from deciding whether to sell Tesla stock to restoring former US president Donald Trump's Twitter account. In another poll, he didn't like the results, and ran it again — with the same outcome.
Where all of this leaves the future of the company is as hazy as ever. By the end of the evening, Musk had even suggested that only those who pay the company $8 a month should be able to vote in policy related polls, as one user suggested.
"Good point," he replied. "Twitter will make that change."
Needless to say, locking the rest of Twitter users out is only going to further insulate Twitter as Musk's seedy, self-serving personal playground.
At this stage, it's starting to look like Musk has lost interest in running Twitter and is desperately looking for a vaguely dignified exit. But finding a new CEO who will abide by his rash and impulsive decisions may take a little while.
But even with a new CEO at the helm of Twitter, the company's erratic days are far from numbered.
READ MORE: Elon Musk breaks silence after 10 million Twitter users vote for him to step down [The Guardian]
More on Elon: It Turns Out Elon Musk's Stalking Incident Had Nothing to Do With ElonJet
The post Elon Musk Seems to Be Trying to Weasel Out of Vote to Resign appeared first on Futurism.
- America's Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, passing control of abortion policy back to the states.
- Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, bought Twitter .
Scientific Reports, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26502-6Publisher Correction: Super‑resolution visualization of chromatin loop folding in human lymphoblastoid cells using interferometric photoactivated localization microscopy
Scientific Reports, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26505-3Author Correction: Sampling from four geographically divergent young female populations demonstrates forensic geolocation potential in microbiomes
Scientific Reports, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26500-8Author Correction: Experimental evidence on improving
Scientific Reports, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26539-7Author Correction: Establishment of a finite element model of supination-external rotation ankle joint
Scientific Reports, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/s41598-022-26541-zAuthor Correction: The ratio of 12α to non-12-hydroxylated bile acids reflects hepatic triacylglycerol accumulation in high-fat diet-fed C57BL/6J mice
Nature, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04479-6Fossils of adult and infant ichthyosaurs suggest that the ocean-going giants congregated to have their young.
Nature, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04545-zDiscrepancy in measurement of a particle decay had raised hopes of new physics.
Nature, Published online: 20 December 2022; doi:10.1038/d41586-022-04477-8Science is being used as leverage in international politics. That must not become a barrier to countries working together on climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemic prevention and other pressing goals.
People have always been fascinated with the question of human longevity. In this 1954 piece for Technology Review, James A. Tobey, author of more than a dozen books on public health, including Your Diet for Longer Life (1948), noted that despite a few frauds claiming to be older than 150, "the consensus of scientific opinion is that there is a definite limit to human life, a limit now and perhaps forever in the vicinity of 100 years."
In 1954, the average life expectancy of an American at birth had risen to 68 years from 47 in 1900. But most of the advances came not from old people living longer but from infants avoiding death before their first birthday. The average person's chances of living to 100 in mid-20th-century America, Tobey observed, were "no better than they were in the days of the Roman Empire."
We have done better since then: average life expectancy reached nearly 79 years in the US before declining in recent years, largely as a result of the covid-19 pandemic. But as this issue of TR reveals, the quest to keep extending the upper limit on our years lives on.
Last month's sudden implosion of the popular cryptocurrency exchange FTX has intensified a political war for the soul of crypto that was already raging.
In the coming year, we are likely to see that fight come to a head in US courtrooms and in Congress. The future of finance hangs in the balance.
The battle lines are complicated, but there are two prominent sides. A vocal crowd of crypto skeptics, which includes prominent politicians and regulators, wants to rein in an industry it sees as overrun with fraud and harmful to consumers. The catastrophic demise of FTX has emboldened this group.
Then there are the champions of "decentralization." Members of this camp tend to believe that cryptocurrency networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum—since they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection and are controlled by public networks instead of companies, governments, or banks—are vital to the future of privacy and financial freedom. They worry that misguided attempts at regulation could imperil those freedoms.
To this group, the collapse of FTX is further proof that centralized control is dangerous—and a reminder of why crypto exists in the first place. Their goal is a blockchain-based financial system that is more accessible and private than the traditional one, which they see as plagued by surveillance and rent-seeking middlemen.
The truth is, policymakers had crypto in the crosshairs long before the FTX debacle. The courtroom fights and congressional debates we will see in 2023 were going to happen regardless. And given the outsize role that America plays in the world's financial system, the outcomes of these fights will have global implications.
For those who see open blockchains as crucial to the future of finance, the stakes have never been higher. Can they hold their ground and keep decentralized financial systems free from traditional regulatory frameworks? Or will policymakers manage to tame these platforms by imposing some degree of centralization? These questions have lingered over crypto for years. Now we're on the verge of getting answers.
"The crypto we created"
The details of the FTX collapse are complicated and still coming to light. Its founder and CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, has been indicted in the US on fraud and money laundering charges. It's hard to know how much crypto itself is to blame.
Although crypto enthusiasts may now be inclined to distance themselves from FTX, the episode reflects "the crypto we created," says Neha Narula, director of the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT.
To begin with, she says, the industry is over-reliant on centralized exchanges like FTX. But it's not just the centralization. "It's also this token casino economy," says Narula.
Like many crypto firms, FTX created its own cryptocurrency. What started the chain reaction that unraveled the exchange was reporting in early November by CoinDesk that FTX's affiliated trading firm, Alameda Research, had a significant portion of its money denominated in that currency, called FTT. As CoinDesk put it: Alameda, which was believed to have more than $10 billion in assets, was resting on "a foundation largely made up of a coin that a sister company invented, not an independent asset like a fiat currency or another crypto." The revelation set off a series of events that eventually caused FTT's value to plummet.
In fact, the whole industry has built a "self-referential ecosystem" on top of "ambiguous tokens" created "out of nowhere," with "very loose arguments for why they should have any value," Narula says. The FTT token is just one of thousands of cryptocurrencies.
The ambiguity of these tokens is a big reason regulators are now zeroing in on an emerging area of the crypto world known as decentralized finance, or "DeFi."
Let's stick with FTT as an example. In the US, it is not possible to buy FTT on a centralized exchange. That's because it's likely that if an exchange were to offer it, it would risk getting in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The SEC's mission is to protect investors who participate in financial asset markets. It does so by requiring the companies selling these assets to register with the agency and submit comprehensive disclosures about their finances.
SEC chair Gary Gensler has said he believes that many of the cryptocurrencies in circulation are securities and should be regulated as such—implying that organizations offering those assets to US customers are doing so illegally. Since FTT resembles FTX stock in important ways, it likely falls into this category.
But although the government can stop centralized exchanges from listing unregistered securities, it can't stop exchanges that run completely on a blockchain from letting people trade those securities.
Decentralized exchanges, or DEXs, are central to the fast-growing world of DeFi. The most prominent DEX is Uniswap, which sees more than a billion dollars in daily trading volume. Uniswap is a set of smart contracts—essentially, computer programs that are stored on and executed by the Ethereum blockchain—that allow anyone with an internet connection to buy and sell a wide range of cryptocurrencies, regardless of how regulators might classify them.
DeFi's proponents have pointed to FTX as the latest evidence that what we need is an alternative, "open," and decentralized financial system. DeFi applications verify transactions cryptographically, and everything is recorded on the blockchain. There are no corruptible middlemen.
Therein lies the problem, however, with decentralized financial applications—at least in the eyes of policymakers: if there is truly no one in the middle, there is no one to regulate. How can regulators police securities trading on decentralized platforms? How do they make sure illicit funds aren't being used?
This challenge explains why the hot topic of "DeFi front ends" is on track to boil over in Washington this year.
"Front ends" is the industry term for the web-based user interfaces through which most people access DeFi protocols, since doing so otherwise requires some specialized technical know-how. In the case of Uniswap, a startup called Uniswap Labs built and maintains the front end.
The big question now is whether a DeFi front end should be required to get a license from the government, says Stephen Palley, a partner at the law firm Brown Rudnick and cochair of the firm's digital commerce group. He doesn't think so, at least not in every case:
"If I create a website and all that it does is give people the ability to interact with software that somebody else created that exists on a global distributed database—that they could interact with themselves already—how have I created a securities exchange?"
DeFi has exploded in popularity in the past two years, but it is still niche and mostly a thing for traders. It hasn't yet delivered on its more idealistic promise. Proponents argue that regulating front ends could be fatal to DeFi because it would add the kind of barrier to entry that blockchains were supposed to eliminate.
It seems safe to say that whether regulators gain control of this important DeFi access point will have a profound influence on how the underlying technology evolves from here. Don't be surprised to see regulators take some kind of action soon, says Palley. This fight is likely to play out in the courts over the next two years, he says. Congress may also get involved.
DeFi advocates are also facing off against regulators on a separate front, where the main issue at hand is privacy. Nowhere are the stakes higher for the future of the decentralized financial systems than in the case of Tornado Cash.
Like Uniswap, Tornado Cash is a set of smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. It lets users deposit cryptocurrency in a pool of other people's digital money and then withdraw it to a different address, while using advanced cryptographic techniques called zero-knowledge proofs to ensure that there is no public link between the deposit address and the withdrawal address. That means the money is no longer tied on the blockchain to the user's past transactions, which makes it harder to trace and provides a layer of privacy.
In August, the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned 45 Ethereum addresses associated with the platform, effectively banning Americans from using it and decimating its user base. The agency said it took the action because Tornado Cash had been used to "launder" billions of dollars, including hundreds of millions stolen by North Korean state-sponsored hackers.
OFAC has sanctioned blockchain addresses associated with foreign individuals before, but never has it sanctioned a smart contract. It also doesn't have the authority to do so, argues Peter Van Valkenburgh, director of research at Coin Center, a policy advocacy group in Washington, DC. As Coin Center points out, many of the contracts OFAC sanctioned cannot be modified, blocked, or turned off by any of Tornado Cash developers; they exist independent of human intervention.
While OFAC has the legal power to sanction people and certain foreign entities, it can't ban Americans from using a tool like Tornado Cash, Van Valkenburgh says: "The statute that gives OFAC power was never intended by Congress to be used to tell Americans which software tools they can and cannot use."
Coin Center has filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department aimed at reversing the sanctions and blocking the Treasury from "enforcing against ordinary their self-evident and basic rights to privacy." Besides arguing that OFAC does not have the authority to ban software tools, Coin Center also argues that the sanctions violate the Constitution. The popular US crypto exchange Coinbase is funding a similar lawsuit against the Treasury.
After the sanctions came down, GitHub removed the project's source code, and the project's website, tornado.cash, was taken down. Separate from OFAC's actions, Dutch authorities detained one of Tornado Cash's developers, Alexey Pertsev, and a prosecutor has accused Pertsev of facilitating money laundering.
Pertsev was one of Tornado Cash's founders. But like most crypto projects, Tornado Cash is open source and relies on a loosely affiliated collective of contributors. Another cofounder, Roman Semenov, did not respond to a request for a comment.
All of crypto is watching the Tornado Cash saga closely, because whatever happens will shape the future of online finance. "A developer should not be treated like a financial intermediary just for writing code and putting it on the internet," says Narula. There are many steps between doing that and running a service, she says.
At what point does a financial application go from being just code on the internet to being a service? That's also the question at the heart of the conflict over DeFi front ends.
At stake in both cases is the freedom to use a blockchain-based service without seeking permission from the government. One thing we can expect is that crypto's true believers will fight with everything they have to keep that freedom in place.
People who do well on human empathy tests are also measurably better at decoding the emotional sounds of animals, according to a new study.
Other aspects, such as age and work related to animals, are also shown to play a crucial role.
Emotions are intense, short-term reactions triggered in response to certain internal or external stimuli. They're characterized by a certain level of arousal (bodily activation) and valence (positive versus negative).
In the study, researchers recorded test animals in situations of various arousal and associated with positive or negative valence (e.g. expectation of food/food frustration).
The researchers then verified the emotional valence using behavioral indicators described in the research literature. They assessed emotional arousal based on the heart rates of domestic animals and on movement (a good behavioral indicator of arousal) in wild species.
In the big picture, the researchers were looking for traces of a so-called common emotional system among mammals, but the research also has specific applications related to animal welfare.
"Our results show that based on its sounds we, humans, can determine whether or not an animal is stressed (or excited), and whether it is expressing positive or negative emotions," says behavioral biologist Elodie Briefer of the biology department at the University of Copenhagen.
"This applies across a number of different mammals. We can also see that our ability to interpret the sounds depends on several factors, such as age, close knowledge of animals and, not least, how empathetic we are towards other people."
This marks the first time that so many different animal sounds were tested on humans, both in terms of arousal (i.e. stress/excitement) and valence (i.e. the charge of emotions positive vs negative).
For the study, which included the vocalizations, or calls, of six mammals, researchers recruited 1,024 people from 48 different countries. They played the sounds of goats, cattle, Asian wild horses (Przewalski's horses), domesticated horses, pigs, and wild boars to participants along with the sounds of human gibberish from actors.
Interpreting animal sounds
On average, we humans, among animal species, can "guess" accurately more often than if you rolled a single dice and got random bids, the results show. For arousal, the correct answers amounted to 54.1% and for valence, that figure was 55.3%.
Participants were also asked to provide information about a range of factors including their age, gender, and level of education, just as they wrapped up their participation with an empathy test, and the researchers observed several interesting factors in relation to how well humans understand animal sounds.
The researchers studied several demographic characteristics that could affect the ability to interpret the animals' sounds.
- Work with animals: The researchers observed a decisive factor in the group of test subjects that interact with animals in their work—also when it comes to other animals.
- Age: The results show a clear difference. People under 20 perform worse, 20-29-year-olds are best in the test, and the ability to decode animal sounds decreases steadily with age.
- Empathy: The researchers were most surprised that good results in an empathy test towards humans also yielded significantly better results with the animal sounds.
- Gender: On the other hand, there was no measurable difference between men and women, despite the popular assumption that women are more empathetic/emotionally intelligent.
- Parenthood: Neither was there a measurable difference between whether the subjects had children or not.
- Educational level (with or without a BA) did not make a noticeable difference.
- Domestication: A final aspect that influenced the results was about the animals rather than the subjects. Domesticated pigs and horses were easier to decode for subjects than their wild relatives.
Participants were presented with several questions, each containing two animal sounds from one particular animal, with either different arousal (but same valence), or different valence (but same arousal). They then had to guess if the sound was high or low arousal/positive or negative emotional charge (i.e. valence).
First and foremost, the results are significantly better when participants work with animals—even when the task is to listen to animals other than the ones that they are immediately familiar with. Thus, the results suggest that an intimate knowledge of animals generally promotes the understanding of animals' emotional lives.
"This is good news for animal welfare. For example, farmers who want to ensure that their pigs are thriving are well-equipped to capture that," says Briefer.
Age plays a role as well. Here, the study data shows that the better scores were found among the 20-29-year olds. On the other hand, the results demonstrate that participants under the age of twenty are the worst performers, and that the number of correct answers decreases with age.
Most surprising to the researchers was that their results showed a marked correlation between empathy for humans and animals.
"It was really surprising for me and very interesting that those who performed well in a recognized test to assess people's empathic level—towards other people, mind you—were also significantly better at understanding the emotional lives of animals," says Briefer.
The researchers searched for traces of a common emotional system between mammals, which may have been preserved throughout evolutionary history. The study supports that thesis when it comes to recognizing arousal in particular. While results show large variation in how good people are in discerning whether the animals are experiencing positive or negative emotions, there is much less difference in how humans distinguish between high and low arousal among mammals.
According to Briefer, this may be because we in the mammalian family share common traits when it comes to how we express the intensity of our emotions (i.e. arousal), giving participants some innate ability to interpret arousal, and making results less dependent on acquired knowledge.
"Roughly speaking, higher-frequency sounds (in addition to other features) are often a sign of higher arousal, and lower-frequency sounds a sign of lower. If a subject uses the same standard to interpret animal sounds that he or she would use to understand a human, then it is often correct. We express arousal more similarly than valence because it is linked to stress pathways, which are evolutionarily well preserved in mammals," explains Briefer.
"We could have used other tests that measure how a person relates to animals, but to make it simpler, we stuck to this particular empathy test, which was translated and validated for the eight languages in the study. It is a recognized test, but it measures empathy towards other people. Nevertheless, we see a clear correlation with the ability to interpret animal sounds," she says.
"Today, animal welfare is defined by the emotional life of animals. Therefore, new knowledge provided by this study is important for both basic and applied research. On the one hand, it increases the understanding of animal emotions, and it opens opportunities to improve that understanding," says Briefer.
Why it matters
According to Briefer, the knowledge contributed by the study shows the path to concrete ways to work on improving animal welfare through an understanding of their emotional lives.
"For example, the development of an app where AI supports those who work with animals offers promising perspectives. But it is also important to note that there is nothing to prevent someone from beginning to improve their own skills now if they interact with animals on a daily basis," Briefer points out.
"When students try the test in class, they obtain an average of 50% of correct answers on the first try. After we talk about the sounds and knowledge that we have about animal vocalizations, they improve. On their second attempts, they typically get above 70% correct. It is natural to explore this potential in future studies. I definitely think that it's possible to practice and improve this ability for the vast majority of people," says Briefer.
The research appears in Royal Society Open Science.
Source: University of Copenhagen
The post More empathetic people better understand animal sounds appeared first on Futurity.
New research sheds light on how
infects the body.
The findings could better inform treatment options and help prevent severe outcomes of the disease.
An estimated 476,000 Americans are infected each year with Lyme disease, which causes a wide range of symptoms that include fever, rash, and joint pain, as well as effects on the central nervous system and heart.
Though it's common knowledge that Borrelia burgdorferi—the bacteria that causes the disease—enters the body through the bite of an infected deer tick, how the bacteria manages to migrate from that bite into a person's bloodstream has not been clearly understood.
Now, researchers may have found the answer.
Using a custom designed three-dimensional tissue-engineered model, they learned that B. burgdorferi uses tenacious trial-and-error movements to find and slip through tiny openings called junctions in the lining of blood vessels near the original bite site. This allows them to hitch a ride on the bloodstream throughout the body, potentially infecting other tissue and organs.
"Our observations showed that if the bacteria did not find one of these junctions on the first try, they continued searching until one was found," says team leader Peter Searson, professor in the Whiting School of Engineering's materials science and engineering department and core researcher at Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.
"The bacteria spend an hour or two using this behavior to find their way into the blood vessels, but once there, they are in circulation in a matter of seconds."
The team injected its three-dimensional model, which simulates a human blood vessel and its surrounding dermal tissue, with the bacteria, simulating a tick bite, and used a high-resolution optical imaging technique to observe its movements. They observed that though the tissue at the original bite site was an obstacle for the spiral-shaped bacteria to surmount, little effort was needed for them to penetrate the junctions and enter the bloodstream.
"We've previously created tissue-engineered vascular models of other tissues, so we applied what we learned to create a model of dermal tissue to study the behavior and mechanisms of dissemination of vector-borne pathogens," Searson says.
Lyme disease is prevalent in North America, Europe, and Asia, and though antibiotic treatments are effective, some patients experience symptoms that can persist for months, and—in some cases—years.
The researchers say that understanding how B. burgdorferi spreads throughout the body could help inform treatments to prevent bacteria from the initial bite entering other tissues and organs.
"We also believe that the kind of human tissue-engineered model we created can be broadly applied to visualize the details of dynamic processes associated with other
and not just Lyme disease," Searson says.
The study appears in the journal Advanced Science.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
The post To infect people, Lyme disease bacteria uses trial and error appeared first on Futurity.
Company's current net sales of manufactured PFAS, which are linked to cancer and heart problems, are about $1.3bn
US industrial conglomerate
on Tuesday set a deadline of 2025 to stop making PFAS, also known as "forever chemicals", that are used in everything from cellphones to semiconductors and have been linked to illnesses ranging from cancer, heart problems to low birth weights.
The per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are known as forever chemicals because the substances do not break down quickly and have in recent years been found in dangerous concentrations in drinking water, soils and foods across the country.Continue reading…
Customizable Lab Grown Wood!
I was watching The future of and I really liked it, although I couldn't help but be a little surprised by the ideas there. One of the concepts that interested me the most and that I haven't heard of before was how genetically modified plants could be used to store data, generate light or even create buildings. If anyone has watched the documentary, how realistic do you think are the concepts? And which time frame do you think it'll take us to get there?
|submitted by /u/lughnasadh
|submitted by /u/Gari_305
|submitted by /u/PersonalMouse3157
Carbon can arrange itself into one of the hardest materials in nature, or into one so soft that children inscribe trails of it on paper. Several decades ago, scientists started wondering: Aside from diamond and graphite, what other crystalline forms might carbon take? In 1985, they had their first answer. A group of chemists discovered little hollow spheres constructed of 60 carbon atoms that they…
Havrekärvar hör till julen, men det är inte favoritmat för de flesta fåglar. Vill du se många olika arter i trädgården bör en varierad meny erbjudas de flygande gästerna.
Inlägget Julbuffé på fågelbordet lockar olika arter dök först upp på forskning.se.
- Your presentation will appear as part of an upcoming Journal Club webinar series attended by a diverse audience of life scientists.
Except now it won't. After a few weeks of paperwork, NASA has officially canceled the GeoCarb mission as it said it likely would in late November. The mission, which was first announced in January 2018, will no longer launch this decade as originally planned.
NASA officials say the University of Oklahoma and Lockheed Martin collaboration would've been too resource-intensive to carry out, especially when compared with emissions-monitoring technologies that weren't available during the mission's formation. While GeoCarb was estimated to carry a total lifetime cost of $170.9 million back in 2018, that figure is now believed to hover around $600 million, making the project far less financially viable than it was once thought to be. Launching GeoCarb would also reportedly impart a two-year delay on NASA's Earth System Observatory, which is considered a higher priority thanks to its more comprehensive output.
"Decisions like this are difficult, but NASA is dedicated to making careful choices with the resources provided by the people of the United States," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA HQ, in the agency's November statement. "We look forward to accomplishing our commitment to state-of-the-art climate observation in a more efficient and cost-effective way."
NASA's newer alternatives include two pieces of equipment that joined the International Space Station (ISS) in 2019 and July 2022, respectively. The first is the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3), which uses an array of swiveling mirrors to capture carbon mini-maps spanning 1,000 square miles at a time. The other is Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), an imaging spectrometer that maps the mineral dust composition of Earth's arid regions to help scientists study how dust affects climate. The Earth System Observatory will also support researchers' work to better understand climate change, natural disasters, and the holistic effects of modern agriculture.
NASA hopes to direct the resources that would've originally gone to GeoCarb to these programs as it pursues further insight into Earth's climate. It'll also direct some funds toward the Earth System Explorers program, which conducts space science investigations based on specific targets devised each decade.