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Aubrey Plaza Gave SNL Permission to Get Weird

Aubrey Plaza's mischief as an intern began long before she played the sardonic April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation. During college, she briefly served as a page at NBC, where she spent her time sharing fake facts on the tours she led and sneaking off to vomit away her hangovers. Unsurprisingly, Plaza lasted only a few months before being asked to leave, but in her short stint at the network, she got the chance to trail SNL's design department. "I was stalking, lurking in the shadows," she told Jimmy Fallon earlier this week.

When Plaza took the stage last night to host SNL for the first time, she wasn't lurking anymore. During her opening monologue, she gave a fabricated tour of SNL Studio 8H, then joined three of the set designers she'd interned with all those years ago. "When I was showing up an hour late and barely working, did you ever expect to see me hosting the show?" she asked one of them. "Bow to your queen!" she demanded.

[Read: Parks and Recreation's Pawnee is the happiest place on television]

And pay homage SNL did. Allison Jones, the casting director for Parks and Recreation, once purportedly called Plaza "the weirdest girl I ever met," and Plaza's delightfully offbeat vibe came to define the episode. The show leaned into it from the jump, delivering several sketches about weird characters prone to weirder behaviors that gave Plaza an opportunity to play with her talents. During a premise about morning announcements at a Catholic school, she played a nun who'd been accidentally electrocuted in the bath, died for two minutes, and discovered heaven might not exist. The experience left her questioning everything. "I'm going to have sex tonight!" she shouted, widening her eyes in shaky resolve.

In a sketch about a game night, Sasha (Plaza) and her partner, Ian (Mikey Day), ended up horrifying their new neighbors by accidentally revealing their dark history while playing Taboo. Racing to get Ian to guess a secret word correctly, Sasha prompted him by reminding him what she was "on" the night they first met. His guesses—on ketamine, on parole—finally led to the right one: on fire. The effect felt like a throwback to SNL's halcyon days a little more than a decade ago, when Kristen Wiig and Will Forte often pushed the show's sketches in absurd and grotesque directions.

Still, although the show tiptoed up to Plaza's vibe, it stopped short of going too far. SNL has, after all, long aimed to reach and please middle America—something Sarah Sherman has had to navigate since joining the cast last year. Known for body-horror comedy under the name Sarah Squirm, Sherman has found ways to tone down the more extreme side of her humor without forgoing the reasons SNL hired her in the first place. In both Sherman's and Plaza's cases, the compromise works, but one has to wonder what might be possible if the show didn't so fervently pursue middle-of-the-road comedy.

As it nears its 50th anniversary—and as even longtime cast members question its longevity after that milestone—SNL seems to be at an inflection point. Given that so many of the show's most recognizable cast members have recently departed, newer members have the potential to reinvigorate it. With youth often comes experimentation, and it's led to big payoffs in the past, namely the viral power of Digital Shorts.

[Read: SNL bids farewell to Cecily Strong]

But this season has played it safe more often than not, tapping big-name hosts and guest stars to add pizzazz instead of giving its newer cast ample room to try novel things. Last night mined nostalgia in a few predictable ways, including by having Plaza appear as her famed Parks and Recreation character during a "Weekend Update" bit. She was eventually joined by her boss, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), for a moment that sweetly connected the two shows. Poehler took the opportunity to sit in her former anchor chair and deliver a joke. It was a delight, of course, but also a reminder of the past rather than a signal of the future.

Each era of SNL has to find its own voice. In a season bursting with change, the show has struggled with relevancy and originality; it hasn't yet found a way to stand out from earlier eras. But as much as Plaza's turn on the show nodded to the past (her time as a page, beloved old characters), it also hinted at new possibilities.

AI Dreams Up 1980s "Matrix" Starring Jeff Goldblum as Morpheus
Is this article about Entertainment?
An AI has created stills from a non-existent Alejandro Jodorowsky version of "The Matrix" that "stars" Jeff Goldblum as Morpheus — and it's honestly epic.

Jodorowsky's AI

Imagine, if you will, an 80s version of "The Matrix" filmed by "El Topo" director Alejandro Jodorowsky and starring Jeff Goldblum as Morpheus, Viggo Mortensen as Neo, Tommy Lee Jones as Agent Smith, and Sharon Stone as Trinity.

With the help of artificial intelligence, a team of self-described "passionate science fiction enthusiasts" who publish Infinite Odyssey — which they're calling the world's first AI-created magazine — has brought that stunning vision to life in Instagram posts that feature the fantastical sci-fi art almost realistic enough to fool a casual viewer.

Hand It To Them

As with most of the computer-generated dreamscapes being brought to life by algorithms these days, these otherwise-stunning visuals suffer from a few key, shall we say, physical discrepancies that show the AI artist's hand — quite literally, in this case, given that here and elsewhere, the hands often creepily feature way too many fingers.

What sets apart these nonexistent stills from "Jodorowsky's Matrix," however, is the singularity of the vision by the humans that directed the algorithms to execute it. The attention to character arcs makes the inclusion of actors like Goldblum as Morpheus and Mortensen as Neo nearly perfect, and the addition of stars like Yoko Ono as The Oracle and Rutger Hauer as The Twins fills it out all the more so.

We've reached out to Infinite Odyssey for comment about that incredible "wish-casting," but haven't heard back yet. Its website, however, declares that the magazine's mission is the creation of "human-less" art and literature, which is as fascinating as it is freaky.

Given that AI still suffers from the age-old problem of having difficulty painting hands, it'll still be a while yet before it replaces human creatives — and while it's on its way there, there's no harm in us marveling at what the algorithms spit out.

More on AI art: Someone Used AI to Dream Up a Nonexistent David Cronenberg Movie and the Results Are Nauseating

The post AI Dreams Up 1980s "Matrix" Starring Jeff Goldblum as Morpheus appeared first on Futurism.



What's a definition for "creativity" in 200 years? What will be taught in schools about the process of inspiration?

(If you don't believe in linear time anymore:

What's a definition for "creativity" based on your current understanding? If one would play the entity of being a teacher: What could be taught about the process of inspiration to an audience? )

Please answer before you read the comments. Thanks for using your imagination!

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Google Scrambles to Catch Up in the Wake of OpenAI's ChatGPT
Is this article about Business?

is one of the biggest companies on Earth. Google's search engine is the front door to the internet. And according to recent reports, Google is scrambling.

Late last year,


, an artificial intelligence company at the forefront of the field, released ChatGPT. Alongside Elon Musk's Twitter acquisition and fallout from FTX's crypto implosion, breathless chatter about ChatGPT and generative AI has been ubiquitous.

The chatbot, which was born from an upgrade to OpenAI's GPT-3 algorithm, is like a futuristic Q&A machine. Ask any question, and it responds in plain language. Sometimes it gets the facts straight. Sometimes not so much. Still, ChatGPT took the world by storm thanks to the fluidity of its prose, its simple interface, and a mainstream launch.

When a new technology hits public consciousness, people try to sort out its impact. Between debates about how bots like ChatGPT will impact everything from academics to journalism, not a few folks have suggested ChatGPT may end Google's reign in search. Who wants to hunt down information fragmented across a list of web pages when you could get a coherent, seemingly authoritative, answer in an instant?

In December, The New York Times reported Google was taking the prospect seriously, with management declaring a "code red" internally. This week, as Google announced layoffs, CEO Sundar Pichai told employees the company will sharpen its focus on AI. The NYT also reported Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are now involved in efforts to streamline development of AI products. The worry is that they've lost a step to the competition.

If true, it isn't due to a lack of ability or vision. Google's no slouch at AI.

The technology here—a flavor of deep learning model called a transformer—was developed at Google in 2017. The company already has its own versions of all the flashy generative AI models, from images (Imagen) to text (LaMDA). Indeed, in 2021, Google researchers published a paper pondering how large language models (like ChatGPT) might radically upend search in the future.

"What if we got rid of the notion of the index altogether and replaced it with a pre-trained model that efficiently and effectively encodes all of the information contained in the corpus?" Donald Metzler, a Google researcher, and coauthors wrote at the time. "What if the distinction between retrieval and ranking went away and instead there was a single response generation phase?" This should sound familiar.

Whereas smaller organizations opened access to their algorithms more aggressively, however, Google largely kept its work under wraps. Offering only small, tightly controlled demos to limited groups of people, it deemed the tech too risky and error-prone for wider release just yet. Damage to its brand and reputation was a chief concern.

Now, sweating it out under the bright lights of ChatGPT, the company is planning to release some 20 AI-powered products later this year, according to the NYT. These will encompass all the top generative AI applications, like image, text, and code generation—and they'll test a ChatGPT-like bot in search.

But is the technology ready to go from splashy demo tested by millions to a crucial tool trusted by billions? In their 2021 paper, the Google researchers suggested an ideal chatbot search assistant would be authoritative, transparent, unbiased, accessible, and contain diverse perspectives. Acing each of those categories is still a stretch for even the most advanced large language models.

Trust matters with search in particular. When it serves up a list of web pages today, Google can blame content creators for poor quality and vow to serve better results in the future. With an AI chatbot, it is the content creator.

As Fast Company's Harry McCracken pointed out not long ago, if ChatGPT can't get its facts straight, nothing else matters. "Whenever I chat with ChatGPT about any subject I know much about, such as the history of animation, I'm most struck by how deeply untrustworthy it is," McCracken wrote. "If a rogue software engineer set out to poison our shared corpus of knowledge by generating convincing-sounding misinformation in bulk, the end result might look something like this."

Google is clearly aware of the risk. And whatever implementation in search it unveils this year, it still aims to prioritize "getting the facts right, ensuring safety, and getting rid of misinformation." How it will accomplish these goals is an open question. Just in terms of "ensuring safety," for example, Google's algorithms underperform OpenAI's on metrics of toxicity, according to the NYT. But a Time investigation this week reported that OpenAI had to turn, at least in part, to human workers in Kenya, paid a pittance, to flag and scrub the most toxic data from ChatGPT.

Other questions, including about the copyright of works used to train generative algorithms, remain similarly unresolved. Two copyright lawsuits, one by Getty Images and one by a group of artists, were filed earlier this week.

Still, the competitive landscape, it seems, is compelling Google, Microsoft—who has invested big in OpenAI and is already incorporating its algorithms into products—and others to go full steam ahead in an effort to minimize the risk of being left behind. We'll have to wait and see what an implementation in search looks like. Maybe it'll be in beta with a disclaimer for awhile, or maybe, as the year progresses, the tech will again surprise us with breakthroughs.

In either case, while generative AI will play a role in search, how much of a role and how soon is less settled. As to whether Google loses its perch? OpenAI's CEO, Sam Altman, pushed back against the hype this week.

"I think whenever someone talks about a technology being the end of some other giant company, it's usually wrong," Altman said in response to a question about the likelihood ChatGPT dethrones Google. "I think people forget they get to make a countermove here, and they're like pretty smart, pretty competent. I do think there's a change for search that will probably come at some point—but not as dramatically as people think in the short term."

Image Credit: D21_Gallery / Unsplash


It's pretty easy to paint a dystopian picture of the fate of mankind at the emergence of AI. It's harder to paint a picture of what we think the world will evolve to be in the coming years. That's what I'm thinking about. So here goes, please pile on.

We can not stop AI from polluting the internet with ungoverned systems. Ethical rules are a great idea but which of the major players would ever enforce it? China, US, Russia, India, Meta? I think there are too many bad actors or people stuck in political deadlock to expect a UN of AI that would actually make a difference.

Therefore, it's logical that entrepreneurs will take to the tasks. What will this look like?

First, I think there may be a separation in the internet. A voluntary one. One side is the Wild West with crazy stuff, AI and porn of every conceivable kind. On the other side, islands where none of this is tolerated at all. A place where kids can roam and morally sensitive people can gather. The islands will be enforced by AI trained to detect other AI, harmful language, imagery and harassment. What companies will create these new islands? Which will train AI to police it? What will stop people from moving to these islands? Will religious organizations be the firsts to create an island?

Second, we'll certainly want to go to the badlands of the internet for entertainment and thrills, we'll probably have to for our jobs. How will we be protected from the AI's and nasty stuff we don't want? I think the personal ether-condom is the answer here. Possible a VPN-like service where you enter the Internet. The service is your personal dynamic firewall. No doubt it's constructed of some clever AI and blockchain tech. It service offers two functions. One is to only release information about you under tight controls, no leakage of your footprint or identity. Second, it's an intelligent filter that blocks what your want blocked. Porn, zealots, AI generated content, harassment, language. It's your personal information defensive layer. What companies will train and maintain this new tech? Certainly won't be the government.

Not many years from now, we choose where we want to live online, and what we want to be exposed to. This will certainly be a challenge, the creators of this protective tech need to make sure we are also not kept in our own little echo chambers that the current tech is completely failing to achieve.

What do you think?

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The board tasked with overseeing decisions at Facebook is suggesting the company take a long, hard look at its infamous "female-presenting nipple" rule.

Battle Chest

The group tasked with overseeing decisions at


and Instagram is suggesting that Meta, those social networks' parent company, take a long, hard look at its infamous rule banning the "female-presenting nipple."

In a statement, Meta's Oversight Board said its suggestion for revision of the nipple rule stems from the removal of two Instagram posts, dated 2021 and 2022, from an account run by a pair of transgender activists.

In both posts, which featured captions advocating for trans healthcare, the couple posed without shirts but had their nipples covered, the statement notes. The posts were flagged by users in spite of not overtly violating community standards and were removed by a content moderation algorithm, with Meta ultimately deciding that their removal was justified — a decision that the board has now overturned.

This reversal, the Oversight Board noted in its statement, was done in part because the notorious nipple rule is "based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies," and as such "makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale."

Pec Check

The, the board acknowledged, are "extensive and confusing" and "often convoluted and poorly defined," requiring bizarre, subjective content moderation assessments.

"In some contexts, for example, moderators must assess the extent and nature of visible scarring to determine whether certain exceptions apply," the statement notes. "The lack of clarity inherent in this policy creates uncertainty for users and reviewers, and makes it unworkable in practice."

Along with overturning the removal of the posts, the board advised the company to "define clear, objective, rights-respecting criteria" to its rules about nudity and sexuality bans — a directive that urges the company to have a serious think about whether these rules are serving users in "a manner consistent with international human rights standards, without discrimination on the basis of sex or gender."

It's unclear as of now whether this will be the beginning of the end of Facebook's infamous and decade-old "female-presenting nipple" policy, but it nevertheless feels like a step in the right direction for the company that's been mired with bad press over the last few years.

More on Meta: Totalitarian Zuckerberg Bans Employees From Discussing Guns, Vaccines, Abortion

The post Meta Board Trashes Facebook's "Convoluted and Poorly Defined" Female Nipple Rule appeared first on Futurism.

Conservatives Furious, Claiming ChatGPT Has "Gone Woke"
Is this article about Political Science?
Some right-wingers believe that in the case of OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot, AI bias moderation has gone too far — the machine, they say, is woke.

For years, artificial intelligence researchers have been working to combat the racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other harmful biases embedded into machine learning systems. Now, in the era of generative AI reaching market, guardrails against machine learning biases are more important than ever, especially when you consider how OpenAI's text-generating ChatGPT chatbot could be used to easily and effectively churn out propaganda.

OpenAI, probably the biggest mover and shaker in the current AI game, is testing out some guardrails for its viral text-generator. But while these guardrails — imperfect, but important to experiment with — are seen as a step forward by many, others don't agree. To the latter folks, Motherboard reports, OpenAI has simply gone too far.

ChatGPT, they say, has "gone woke."

Among those particularly agitated by ChatGPT's alleged wokeness is one Nate Hochman, a journalist for the National Review. In a Twitter thread, he provided varied "evidence" as to why the machine shows a "left-leaning" bias, those examples centering on what the machine refuses to generate, and why.

For example, the machine wouldn't generate a story about Donald Trump winning the 2020 election or losing due to voter fraud, but agreed to write a story about Hillary Clinton winning in 2016. Elsewhere, it refused to write a story about how drag queens are evil and bad for kids, but did write a story about how drag queens are perfectly fine for children, and in fact might even teach them a thing or two about inclusion. This, says Hochman, is proof of ChatGPT's "wokeness."

Elsewhere, ChatGPT has been called out by conservatives for flagging content related to gender and refusing to make jokes about non-Christian religions.

And sure, while there might be an argument in today's world to make against the AI-generation of any false election narratives — be they about Trump, Clinton, or anyone else there's something very important at play here: context. ChatGPT isn't just refusing to partake in harmless creative fiction, or turning down prompts willy-nilly; it's specifically saying no to participating in prominent, divisive political narratives that, in practice, have resulted in the degradation of democracy, increased violence against marginalized groups, and even several deaths.

Of course, this requires that humans at OpenAI are making what amount to editorial decisions about the acceptable bounds of ChatGPT's behavior, and no choices in that domain were ever going to please anyone.

"Developing anything, software or not, requires compromise and making choices — political choices — about who a system will work for and whose values it will represent," Os Keyes, a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington's Department of Human Centred Design & Engineering told Motherboard. "In this case the answer is apparently 'not the far-right.'"

"Obviously I don't know if this sort of thing is the 'raw' ChatGPT output, or the result of developers getting involved to try to head off a Tay situation, but either way — decisions have to be made," they added, "and as the complaints make clear, these decisions have political values wrapped up in them, which is both unavoidable and necessary."

And let's be clear: OpenAI is a company, not a government entity. It's certainly within its rights to flag and even prevent the production of baseless and harmful propaganda, even if there's clearly some kinks in the still-forming rulebook.

READ MORE: Conservatives Are Panicking About AI Bias, Think ChatGPT Has Gone 'Woke' [Motherboard]

The post Conservatives Furious, Claiming ChatGPT Has "Gone Woke" appeared first on Futurism.

Something Weird Is Happening on Saturn's Snow-Covered Moon, Scientists Say
Is this article about Climate?
Saturn's icy moon Enceladus isn't only suspected to hold a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust — it's also covered in an astonishing amount of snow.

Saturn's tiny ice-covered moon Enceladus isn't only suspected to hold a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust — it's also covered in an astonishing amount of fuzzy, snow-like material, puzzling scientists.

According to a new study published in the journal Icarus, the tiny moon may have been far more tectonically active over time than previously thought, with snow cannon-like plumes erupting from massive icy geysers, depositing vast amounts of particles in the form of low-density regolith on its surface. Meanwhile, smaller and lighter particles are blasted into outer space, contributing to Saturn's massive rings — a fascinating portrait of a desolate alien world.

Are we really talking about snow here? The study itself refers to the layer as "regolith," while media coverage has largely used the word "snow."

"The material we measured on the surface of Enceladus was not generated from a planetary atmosphere the way snow might imply," lead author Emily Martin, planetary scientist at the National Air and Space Museum in DC, told Futurism in an email. "However, the way in which Enceladus's icy plume particles fall to the surface is reminiscent of snow and I think an appropriate analogy."

There's also a chance that Enceladus' snow isn't exactly the same as the fluffy substance found here on Earth.

"As far as I know the physical properties of this material are still not well understood," Martin told Futurism, adding that plenty of scientists are trying to "understand the physical properties of icy regolith."

Terminology aside, the scientists' conclusion could end up serving a critical role if we were to ever attempt to land a probe on Enceladus' surface, as Science Alert reports — which could certainly be worth the trip, as the moon's subsurface ocean is a prime place to look for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

High-resolution images taken by NASA's Cassini probe back in 2017 revealed a vast number of "pit chains," which are crater-like geological features that form when material is sucked down by a void underneath, not unlike lava tubes or limestone caves.

These pits were the result of the moon's icy crust fracturing due to tugging gravitational forces, allowing loose drifts to fall into newly formed cavities underneath, the scientists suggest.

By measuring these pits, they were able to figure out that the thickness of this regolith averaged over 820 feet, with some areas reaching depths of up to 2,300 feet.

Martin and her colleagues suggest Enceladus' plumes must have been a lot more active in the past to account for the thickness of this layer of "low-density/high-porosity material," according to the paper.

In short, Enceladus' surface would likely make for one hell of a snowball fight — that is, if you can figure out how to overcome its nearly complete lack of gravity and cryogenic surface temperatures.

READ MORE: Mysteriously Deep Snow Covers The Icy Moon Enceladus, But How Did It Get There? [Science Alert]

More on Enceladus: Saturn Might Be Hiding Remains of a Secret, Massive Moon in Its Rings

The post Something Weird Is Happening on Saturn's Snow-Covered Moon, Scientists Say appeared first on Futurism.

Residents Annoyed by Crypto Mine That Emits Constant, Horrible Noise
Murphy, North Carolina, was a once quiet town in the Blue Ridge mountains, until a crypto mine showed up. Locals aren't just mad — they're taking action.

Ceaseless Sound

Cryptocurrency has gone from boom to bust, but in a small North Carolinian town called Murphy nested in the Blue Ridge mountains, it persists with a grating blare.

That's courtesy of a local crypto mine packed from end to end with towering arrays of computers and noisy fans, which run indefatigably nearly year round. Mike Lugiewicz, a local, told CNN that it was like a "small jet that never leaves."

According to the outlet, it gets as noisy as 85 decibels on Lugiewicz's lawn, but never quieter than 55 decibels. A sound bite is provided, and you can clearly hear a loud droning sound that would drive anyone mad.

Admittedly, 55 decibels isn't too bad, around the decibel level of the outdoors in your average residential area. 85 decibels, though, is more like a noisy, urban metropolis. But the noisiness of either level are elevated by Murphy's otherwise peaceful status, only 90 minutes away from a certified "quiet community," or one of the quietest spots in the entire state.

"I don't really care what folks invest in," Judy Stines, another resident, told CNN. "I do care about this noise that affects us every day, all day, all night. It's never-ending."

Residential Resistance

As CNN speculates, the mine's owners, PrimeBlock, a San Francisco-based company with a dozen other operations in neighboring states, likely chose the town for its cheap electricity and the lack of noise regulations.

That doesn't mean its presence wasn't met with strong resistance, however. Last summer, a particularly pissed off resident took matters into their own hands and caused a power outage at a nearby crypto mine by shooting one of the service lines.

And later that December, fuming residents made themselves heard in a decidedly more civil manner by convincing the local Board of Commissioners to officially implore state and federal leaders to introduce legislation that would regulate crypto mining operations across the country.

Christmas Spirit

But perhaps the crypto mine's most callous display occurred that very winter, when a vicious storm left millions without power. But not the crypto mine, residents say.

"They shut us down on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day every hour for anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes to an hour," Ron Wright, a local, told CNN.

"Well, once your power goes down, your heat pumps go off and pipes freeze," he continued. "But less than one mile away is crypto, allowed to run on the low end. As soon as the power came back, boom! They're cranking before we are."

More on crypto: Influential Economist Tells Davos Elites That Crypto Is a Complete Scam

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Constant, Horrible Noise appeared first on Futurism.

If You Go Outside, You May Be Able to See an Awesome Green Comet
If you go outside at night on a clear day, there's a decent chance you'll be able to spot a giant, green comet passing by our planet.

Catch the Comet

If it's a clear night in the Northern Hemisphere, there's a decent chance you'll be able to spot a giant, green comet passing by our planet from your backyard.

It's an exceedingly rare event. According to astronomers, it won't stop by again for roughly another 50,000 years — and now is the best time to see it on its current visit, as Insider reports.

According to NASA, the comet — with the catchy name C/2022 E3 (ZTF) — was first spotted in March last year. Ever since, it's been screaming through the solar system, making its closest approach to the Sun last week. It will be closest to Earth on February 2.

But you may get a good chance to spot it before then as well. According to, the Moon will provide the perfect lighting to illuminate ZTF on January 21, depending on local weather conditions of course.

Green Glow

Experts have suggested its green color is the result of sunlight decaying dicarbon found in the comet, a common reactive molecule.

There's a chance, NASA says, that the comet could be close enough to be "visible to the unaided eye under dark skies." And if you have a pair of binoculars handy, it should be "easy to spot."

According to EarthSky, the comet has already been spotted in the night sky without any optical aid — but if you want the best chance, you should gaze at the night sky during the last few days of January and the first few days of February if you happen to live in the northern hemisphere.

According to the Adler Planetarium, ZTF will be the brightest around January 31 and February 1.

EarthSky has a handy and detailed breakdown of where exactly the comet can be spotted on what date.

If you live in the southern hemisphere, though, you'll have to wait until early February.

Sky Spy

While it isn't the brightest object in the night sky, its brightness is increasing over time, EarthSky reports. Experts predict it will get as bright as magnitude 5.0, which is only about as bright as the dimmest stars you can spot from a perfectly dark location.

Then there's the fact that comets are "notoriously unpredictable," as NASA points out, which means you should probably have a look for yourself before ZTF disappears from our skies once and for all.

READ MORE: Now's the best time to see the green comet passing Earth for the first time since the Ice Age. Here's how, where, and when to see it. [Insider]

More on the comet: A Super Rare Green Comet Is About to Pass By the Earth

The post If You Go Outside, You May Be Able to See an Awesome Green Comet appeared first on Futurism.


From haunted dolls to horror films, there is a big appetite right now for fear-as-fun. Are we all just practising for what 2023 throws at us?

A friend gleefully informed me that you can buy haunted dolls – "vessels" for unquiet spirits – on eBay. Rebekkah Sexual Spirit ("her vessel is missing an arm … she says she does not care") has been snapped up, but you can get Maggie ("NOT A TOY"; "a vast mass of dark energy"; "can make you feel very unwell" – all of which sounds like me on an average Tuesday) for £225. You know the kind: horror movie trope dolls with smooth porcelain faces and blank eyes – absolutely terrifying. The first one startled me so much I twitched, accidentally clicked "buy" and had to carefully navigate backwards to save myself. Then I went back and looked at more.

Why? They gave me that prickly, uncomfortable feeling: nasty but compelling. I'm not a thrill-seeker (except the thrill of racing the bin out as the lorry rounds the corner), but I've become quite enamoured of creepy recently. I spent a while freaking myself out studying the eerie images produced by the AI tool Midjourney when prompted to create photos of "people". At a quick glance, nothing seems amiss; look closer and these preternaturally shiny wraiths smile with mouths crammed with perfect teeth, there are far too many long, tapered fingers everywhere and one digital changeling seems to have an extra collarbone. Argh!

Continue reading…


By making their nutritious bread taste like normal white loaves, scientists aim to help disadvantaged

It's creamy-white in colour with a deep brown crust. It has a mild floury taste but with a moreish salty tang. It crisps up nicely in a toaster, and it's the perfect accompaniment to butter, jam or hummus.

This is bread – but not as you know it. Scientists at the University of Reading are finding ways to make British diets far more nutritious and sustainable by stealth, replacing the soya flour, and some of the wheat, with broad beans – also known as faba or fava beans.

Continue reading…

The Culture Wars Look Different on Wikipedia

For more than 15 years, Wikipedia discussed what to call the third child of Ernest Hemingway, a doctor who was born and wrote books as Gregory, later lived as Gloria after undergoing gender-affirming surgery, and, when arrested for public disorderliness late in life, used a third name, Vanessa. Last year, editors on the site finally settled the question: The Gregory Hemingway article was deleted, and its contents were moved to a new one for Gloria Hemingway. This would be her name going forward, and she/her would be her pronouns.

Wikipedia's billions of facts, rendered as dry prose in millions of articles, help us understand the world. They are largely the brain behind Siri and Alexa. They have been integrated as official fact-checks on conspiracy-theory YouTube videos. They helped train ChatGPT. So, unsurprisingly, when you search Google for "Gregory Hemingway," it follows Wikipedia's lead: You are told about Gloria instead.

In Wikipedia's early days, the question of what to call Gloria Hemingway would have been treated as a quick mission to locate a fact in established publications such as The New York Times. Joseph Reagle, a Wikipedia expert at Northeastern University, told me the site has an inherent "conservatism," faithfully reporting whatever secondary sources say about a subject. And at the time of Hemingway's death, in 2001, no major publication, including the Times, called her Gloria.

But in recent years, something has begun to change. Wikipedia's editors are no longer simply citing dated sources; instead, they are hashing out how someone would want to be understood. But even though these deliberations touch on some of the most controversial issues around—and reach conclusions that reverberate far beyond Wikipedia's pages—they are shockingly civil and thoughtful for the internet today.

[Read: Wikipedia, the last bastion of shared reality]

The breakthrough idea of Wikipedia was supposed to be its biggest vulnerability. "The encyclopedia anyone can edit" threw open the gates to whoever had something to contribute, turning Wikipedia into one of the most visited websites on the internet. But who was to trust something "anyone" may have written? The site definitely has inaccuracies; any student working on a research project has gotten a spiel about how Wikipedia will lead them astray.

Of course, only a tiny percentage of Wikipedia's visitors actually take up the offer to contribute. There are campaigns to draw in new editors, especially given that the existing ones skew heavily white and male, but the most reliable motivation for getting involved seems to be the urge to fix something wrong as opposed to create something new. Articles typically start off small and stubby, perhaps even inaccurate, and are steadily improved and corrected.

The desire to fix something wrong—in this case, articles that have not kept up with the times—is meant to play out on an article's "Talk page," a companion page dedicated to discussing edits. Take the debate over Gregory versus Gloria. Last February, Hemingway's Talk page fielded a proposal on what name to use. There was a week of debate, long discussions in which a dozen or so editors grappled with how Hemingway would have wanted to be perceived. The main advocate for moving the page from Gregory to Gloria was an editor named TheTranarchist, and the main opponent was an editor named StAnselm, a self-described Calvinist who has created more than 50 articles about biblical characters and scenes. Yet the discussion on the Talk page was about facts and Wikipedia policies and guidance, not politics. "It didn't seem culture warrior–ish," Reagle said.

The discussion ended with a hung jury: seven editors for Gloria, seven for Gregory. An experienced editor, Sceptre, stepped in and ordered the article to be renamed. The decision was appealed, and an administrator concluded that Sceptre had made a tough call that was ultimately reasonable. On the biggest social-media sites, such a decision might have descended into endless mudslinging. Instead, everyone has respected the outcome and moved on. The article hasn't been touched in five months.

Exactly how these deliberations play out are different from article to article, but what's changed is that Wikipedia is no longer automatically outsourcing the decision to a judgment of the past. The point isn't that Wikipedia has gone "woke." Sometimes the deliberations don't lead to any fundamental changes at all.

That has been the case with the page for the late pioneering legal scholar and Episcopal priest Pauli Murray, which has periodically ignited pronoun fights from readers who want to right what they see as a wrong. Murray used she and her in her own writings but, in today's terms, might have been considered nonbinary or a trans man. As one conflicted editor wrote on the Talk page, "If Murray were alive today, Murray would probably use he/him/his or they/them/their pronouns. The question is do we have a right, or an obligation, to apply these retroactively? Is it okay to be anachronistic in this matter? I do not have answers to these questions, which is why I am calling attention to this." Wikipedia's editors have begun grappling with tough, even existential questions that might have traditionally been the domain of historians rather than encyclopedias.

There has been a similar attempt to interrogate understandings of the past by renaming the articles about a series of places whose names contain squaw, including the California valley where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held. On occasion, editors would propose such a move, noting that squaw is considered a slur against Native Americans. Others would say that as an encyclopedia meant to be helpful to people, Wikipedia should use the most common name. "The Olympic Games of Squaw Valley" are embalmed in the past, they argued, so how can the name "Squaw Valley" be removed?

In September, when the federal government said it would begin the process of officially scrubbing squaw from place names, a proposal to rename the article about the California valley succeeded. Case closed. But take a look at the Talk page, and you'll find a level of discussion that more resembles the collegiality of a workplace than a network of unpaid online commentators. The experienced editor who concluded that the community favored renaming the article confessed that he had been a bit confused by the issue. "Forgive me," he wrote, "but just as I fail to understand other forms of ethnic slur, I am hard-pressed to make out why Native Americans would consider the naming of anything, a valley, a town, a waterfall, anything, after the general term for 'spouse' would be indigestible. If it were called 'Spouse Valley' or 'Wife Valley' I don't think any ethnic slur would be sensed by anybody … Would really appreciate any light that is shed on this subject!"

Wikipedia has long represented a fundamentally unique form of information production—it isn't credentials based, or top-down like Britannica. That's not to say that it's perfect; the site has all the secret hierarchies, obscure rules, and confusion we'd expect. At times, it has been a vector of misinformation. But as the site takes on thornier edits, what it means to be a Wikipedia editor is changing too. By wading into factual dilemmas instead of deferring to secondary sources, editors have assumed a new level of authority. The results will be choppy and contradictory; proposals for tweaks will come from ordinary readers and editors who have been moved by offense, and questions will be decided through deliberation, often with great self-seriousness.

After all, these small decisions do have real consequences. Wikipedia results spread across the internet, often influencing what we think of as reality. "I don't think any community project has as much reuse and significance for the rest of the world that Wikipedia does," Reagle said. Indeed, Google "Squaw Valley," and you don't see the term at the very top. Google does, however, suggest the question "Does Squaw Valley still exist?," which it answers with a Wikipedia excerpt explaining that it remains but that the name has been changed "due to the derogatory connotations of the word 'squaw.'"

Woman in Labor

Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

In late February 2022, the Russian artist Daria Serenko co-founded the Feminist Anti-War Resistance, an underground network of Russians protesting the invasion of Ukraine, publicizing Russian war crimes against Ukrainians, and helping Russian men evade conscription. In March, Serenko was forced to flee Russia for Georgia, where she wrote this prose poem.

Yesterday a woman began giving birth directly on the Red Square with an assault rifle pressed to her temple. The guardians of law and order did not know what to do. Was it an act of unauthorized birth or an act of unauthorized protest? Parturition or performance?

Look at this woman with an unwelcome face whose waters broke on the Red Square. Here this woman is already screaming and writhing the way people were screaming and writhing at the last demonstrations; the woman is screaming the way people being tortured scream on the other side of the closed door at the police station. It's nothing new for the cops. The woman is screaming and blood appears at the burst corners of her dry mouth. The opening of her mouth measures seven centimeters.

Time stands still and there's no one on the square apart from the cops, the woman, and the daughter she is giving birth to, who is verbally camouflaged as a son. She told the police she was having a son so that they would act nicer to her. One of the cops, the good cop apparently, says: "You don't worry, lady, you're giving birth to a hero for us. Look at the time and place he picked to be born: in the very heart of Russia, at the very height of the war." He is speaking really slowly for some reason, and the woman is also screaming slower and slower, and the ambulance isn't coming. Every hour the clock strikes upon the Kremlin tower. Snowflakes melt even before touching the hot face of the woman in labor.

Gradually the cops calm down and even point their guns aside. They make repeated attempts to walk away from the scene in order to call for help but after a minute the road carries them back to where they started. The Red Square is where the Earth is at its roundest. Two policemen and a young woman find themselves completely alone on this round Earth in the very heart of Russia at the very height of the war.

"So we'll be taking the delivery, right?" one of them asks into the air, giving the woman in labor a plaintive look, and extends his hand out toward her as if for a handshake. The woman in labor screams at him with all her force, swearing foully and loudly, and then bites through his hand with a long howl. With the same hand he slaps her across the face.

"You settled down now? You keep yourself together, lady. I don't care if you're a woman or not. If I have to, I'll pull the baby out of you, and then stick you in the monkey house with the rest; you'll be lying there whimpering on a filthy mattress." The woman closes her eyes and nods. One cop props up her back; the other begins fidgeting between her legs.

An endless amount of time passes and, as the hour is striking upon the stately tower, they put the baby, wrapped in a police jacket and steaming in the nippy air, into her arms. The cops congratulate one another. There are tears in their eyes. They kiss each other on the cheeks, not even noticing they extracted a daughter rather than a son.

The woman with the girl in her arms is looking up at the clear, starry Kremlin sky. A memory steals into her mind that here, right next to her, an unburied dead man is lying in his Mausoleum. A rancid haze sometimes obscures her view: New crematoriums have sprung up across the country, and the smoke from their smokestacks sometimes casts a heavy smog over the city. The dead remind the townspeople of themselves by taking their breath away and forcing them to cough.

Time finally comes to life. Tourists and spectators start gaping around them. The men in uniform lift the mother and the daughter in their arms and carry them away. The woman is asked to wait for the doctors at the police station. She and the baby are carefully placed into a cage where other women are sitting, their heads bowed on one another's shoulders. They show signs of having been there for many hours: Wet stains are spreading on their shirts and blouses. It's milk. She decides not to ask them yet what they are there for. It's quiet in the cell, except behind the iron lattice door, she can hear the whole bureau of police officers joyfully gathering to wash down the birth of her son.

The Perfect Popcorn Movie
Is this article about Politics?

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

Good morning, and welcome back to The Daily's Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what's keeping them entertained.

Today's special guest is staff writer John Hendrickson, who has just published a new book, Life on Delay: Making Peace With a Stutter, which you can read an excerpt of here. John has written for The Atlantic about, among other topics, President Joe Biden's stutter and, most recently, I Didn't See You There, an experimental documentary about living with a disability that he calls "kinetic and compelling." John will read anything by Richard Price, bought tickets for all five of The Walkmen's upcoming NYC reunion shows, and has probably watched The Fugitive 50 times.

But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: John Hendrickson

The upcoming event I'm most looking forward to: I spent nearly a decade waiting and praying for The Walkmen to maybe someday reunite, doubting that it would ever happen. To me, they are the unsung heroes of the turn-of-the-millennium New York rock renaissance (think: The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Interpol—all the Meet Me in the Bathroom bands). Recently, when The Walkmen announced a five-night run in Manhattan in April, I impulsively bought tickets for all five shows. I will be screaming every word to every song.

The television show I'm most enjoying right now: After cycling through The Office, The Larry Sanders Show, Parks and Recreation, a slew of Ken Burns documentaries, and several seasons of Alone, my wife and I have started watching NewsRadio at night before we fall asleep. Again: Unsung! Every line Phil Hartman delivers is masterful. Stephen Root, of Barry and Office Space fame, does deadpan humor like no one else. And it's a bit surreal to watch Joe Rogan in one of his early roles, playing a meathead named Joe.

An actor I would watch in anything: Bill Hader

My favorite blockbuster: The Fugitive is as close as you can get to a perfect—for lack of a better phrase—popcorn movie. Brisk pacing! Snappy dialogue! A few huge action sequences counterbalanced with grizzled guys in frumpy suits working the phones! I've probably seen it 50 times. [Related: Hollywood doesn't make movies like The Fugitive anymore.]

Best novel I've recently read: I'm currently reading Laura Zigman's Small World, about two middle-aged sisters who move in together, bringing decades of family baggage into the house. I don't want to give too much of it away, but I'm in awe of Zigman's ability to weave biting humor and tenderness so closely together.

An author I will read anything by: Richard Price [Related: Two good old-fashioned young novelists]

A song I'll always dance to: Le Tigre, "Deceptacon." Hit play and try to keep your body still. It's impossible!

The Walkmen performing in Washington, D.C., in 2013
"When the Walkmen announced a five-night run in Manhattan in April, I impulsively bought tickets for all five shows," John says. Above: The band performing in Washington, D.C., in 2013 (Leigh Vogel / Getty for Thread)

My go-to karaoke song: Patti Smith, "Because the Night." I'm a horrible singer, but singing is salvation for me. I like to belt this one out on a Friday or Saturday night at Montero's, an old fisherman's dive bar near the East River in Brooklyn. I usually throw in a kick when the pre-chorus starts. I write about this a little bit in my book, Life on Delay, but singing relies on a different part of the brain than we use for speaking, and I never stutter when I sing. It's freeing. Scores of current or former stutterers have turned to music at some point in their lives: Elvis Presley, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Simon, Ed Sheeran, Bill Withers, Noel Gallagher—to name just a few.

My favorite sad song: Charles Bradley's cover of Black Sabbath's "Changes" absolutely slays me. It transcends what you think of as recorded music—it's as if Bradley's soul is imprinted on the track. The full backstory about Bradley and his mother around the time of the recording makes it all the more poignant.

My favorite angry song: Thee Oh Sees, "I Come From The Mountain." Whenever I'm stressed or anxious, I crank this as loud as I possibly can and head-bang at my desk. Colson Whitehead told 60 Minutes that they're on his writing playlist!

A favorite story I've read in The Atlantic: Annie Lowrey's deeply vivid, personal account of her experience with pregnancy was the most memorable piece of journalism I read last year, full stop. It'll stay with me forever.

A good recommendation I recently received: David Sims recently recommended to me the Apple series For All Mankind, sort of like Mad Men crossed with Apollo 13. [Related: How the space fantasy became banal]

The last thing that made me snort with laughter: Watch this clip from "The PriceMaster." It's one minute of your life. Trust me.

Read past editions of the Culture Survey with Gal Beckerman, Kate Lindsay, Xochitl Gonzalez, Spencer Kornhaber, Jenisha Watts, David French, Shirley Li, David Sims, Lenika Cruz, Jordan Calhoun, Hannah Giorgis, and Sophie Gilbert.

The Week Ahead

  1. Maybe I Do, a romantic comedy starring Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Luke Bracey, William H. Macy, and Emma Roberts (in theaters Friday)
  2. Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, a posthumous book by David Graeber (Tuesday)
  3. The docuseries The 1619 Project, an expansion of the book by Nikole Hannah-Jones (first two episodes premiere Thursday on Hulu)

More in Culture

Catch Up on The Atlantic

Photo Album

A snow leopard against a backdrop of the mountains of Ladakh in northern India
A snow leopard against a backdrop of the mountains of Ladakh in northern India (© Sascha Fonseca / Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Check out some entries in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest (and vote for your favorite).

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.

Why We Need Civics

Throughout my career studying and practicing American foreign policy, I've frequently been asked, What keeps you up at night? Is it China? Russia? Terrorism? Climate change? Another pandemic? While these issues all demand our attention, in recent years, I have found myself saying something else: The most urgent threat to American security and stability stems not from abroad but from within, from political divisions that jeopardize the future of American democracy and even the United States itself.

The obvious follow-up question is what to do about it. My answer draws inspiration from the holiday of Passover, when Jews celebrate their liberation from ancient Egypt. The annual retelling of the Exodus story is inspired by a command in the Bible: "And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt." Jews are instructed to make sure that every generation understands both what it means to be a Jew and what being a Jew requires. Only through recounting their history have they been able to preserve their identity, despite millennia of persecution and, until recently, not having a homeland.

The front cover of The Bill of Obligations
This article is adapted from Haass's forthcoming book.

Passover offers everyone, not just Jews, an important lesson: No group of people should assume that its identity will be automatically inherited by the next generation. For a people to understand and appreciate its collective identity is a matter of teaching, not biology. This is no less true for nations than for religious communities.

[From the October 2018 issue: Americans aren't practicing democracy anymore]

One major reason that American identity is fracturing is that we are failing to teach one another what it means to be American. We are not tied together by a single religion, race, or ethnicity. Instead, America is organized around a set of ideas that needs to be articulated again and again to survive. It is thus essential that every American gets a grounding in civics—the country's political structures and traditions, along with what is owed to and expected of its citizens—starting in elementary school and continuing through college. It should be reinforced within families and communities. It should be emphasized by our political and religious leaders, by CEOs and journalists.

Alas, that is not the world we live in. There is a good deal of talk about the budget deficit, but our civics deficit may be of even greater consequence. Only eight states and the District of Columbia require a full year of high-school civics education. One state (Hawaii) requires a year and a half, 31 require half a year, and 10 require little or none.

At the college level, the situation is arguably worse. According to a 2015 study of more than 1,000 colleges and universities, less than a fifth require any civics coursework. As Ronald J. Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, has written, "Our curricula have abdicated responsibility for teaching the habits of democracy."

It should come as no surprise, then, that Americans know little about the history, ideals, and practices of their own political system.

The best remedy to this problem is to require that all high schools and colleges have their students complete a course on American citizenship and democracy.

This is easier said than done. At the high-school level, educators and students have limited time and resources. Each academic subject competes for attention with every other subject, not to mention extracurriculars. And relatively few teachers are trained to teach civics well. On top of all this, the scale and decentralization of American public schools—consisting of roughly 13,000 districts, 130,000 schools, 3 million teachers, and tens of millions of students—make any kind of national commitment enormously difficult to implement.

[Ronald J. Daniels: Universities are shunning their responsibility to democracy]

In some ways, the challenge is even greater at the country's approximately 4,000 two- and four-year colleges and universities. Resistance to a civics requirement would come from many directions. Professors tend to dislike teaching basic courses, preferring more specialized offerings that reflect their research interests. Students typically want maximum freedom to choose what they study; the priority for many, not surprisingly, is to pursue fields that promise the best professional prospects. Many students are pressured to specialize early, leaving little time for other pursuits. Administrations and boards of trustees, for their part, have failed to make civics a priority and largely shy away from introducing core curricula that in any way constrain their students.

Because of these and other challenges, establishing a national mandate for high-school and college civics courses will demand a wide array of support: from state governments that oversee high-school funding and requirements, from parents who pay for their children's education, and from administrative bodies that certify institutions of higher education. For private schools that are less subject to public influence, requiring civics can and should be used as a selling point.

Perhaps the hardest challenge is to decide what, exactly, counts as "civics." The battles between the "1619 Project" and the "1776 Project"—two divergent narratives about the arc of American history—and over how to teach matters relating to race demonstrate how politically charged it can be to determine what children learn. This is especially true for public high schools and publicly funded institutions of higher education.

But civics need not be all that controversial. An effective civics course would describe the foundational structures of American government: the nature of the three federal branches, and how they relate to one another and to state and local government. It would distinguish between representative and direct democracies, explain the two-party system, and cover fundamental matters such as checks and balances, judicial review, federalism, impeachment, filibusters, and gerrymandering. Teachers should emphasize both the rights and obligations of citizenship, and expose students to the basic texts of American democracy, including the Constitution, The Federalist Papers, and pivotal Supreme Court decisions.

[George Packer: Can civics save America?]

More difficult is deciding what to include in the way of history. What events to highlight? How to present them? As a rule of thumb, any single framing of American history should be avoided. Where there is disagreement, various perspectives should be presented.

Civics courses should not try to settle the most contentious contemporary or historical matters, or advocate for any particular party or policy. Instead, they should present facts, describe significant events, and lay out the major debates of our past and present.

Designing a civics curriculum that is both useful and broadly acceptable won't be easy. But there is perhaps no more urgent task if American democracy—and identity—is to survive another two decades, much less another two and a half centuries.

This article has been adapted from Richard Haass's new book, The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens.

MPs urge asbestos company to pay £10m to fund cancer research

All-party group including peers backs campaign by victims' group, saying Cape 'knowingly put people in danger'

MPs and peers have written to one of the biggest manufacturers of asbestos, calling on it to make a £10m donation towards mesothelioma research "for knowingly putting people in danger".

In a letter to Altrad, parent company of Cape, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on occupational safety and health says that documents released after a long-running court battle show that Cape historically "provided misleading reassurance about the dangers of asbestos".

Continue reading…

Dark energy 'chameleon trap' wins £100,000 prize for Nottingham scientist

Ingeniously simple lab experiment led by Prof Clare Burrage recognised by Blavatnik awards

Dark energy is the enigma at the heart of modern physics: the universe is supposed to be awash with the stuff, but it has never been seen and its nature is unknown.

When faced with a mystery of such epic proportions, simply eliminating certain options is considered a success. This week such an advance, using an ingeniously simple desktop experiment, was recognised by the prestigious Blavatnik award for young scientists.

Continue reading…

1904: Telegrafens historie i Danmark
H.C. Ørsteds opdagelse af elektromagnetismen i 1820 gav dødsstødet til de optiske telegrafer. Flere forsøgte sig med elektriske telegrafer, inden Samuel Morse i 1832 konstruerede det telegrafapparat, som om end i betydeligt forbedret form anvendes i dag, skrev Tidsskrift for Industri i 1904.

How Did Tech Become America's Most Troubled Industry?
Leo has detected a Layoff in this article

Twelve thousand layoffs at Google. Eleven thousand at Facebook; 10,000 at Microsoft; 18,000 at Amazon; 8,000 at Salesforce; 4,000 at Cisco; 3,000-plus at Twitter.

The American economy has recovered from the sharp downturn caused by the arrival of the coronavirus and is chugging along just fine, at least for the moment. Yet the tech sector—the country's most dynamic industry—has fallen into a kind of recession characterized by mass layoffs, pervasive hiring freezes, a bear market for tech stocks (their recent rebound notwithstanding), a collapse in initial public offerings, and a sharp drop in venture-capital funding.

For decades, the industry's potential seemed boundless. So why has tech suffered so much more than its corporate peers have lately? That question has two answers: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's effort to stamp out inflation, and the waning of a pandemic emergency during which many tech companies thrived.

[Derek Thompson: What the tech and media layoffs are really telling us about the economy]

The foremost issue for tech companies is interest rates, which Powell has been hiking sharply for the past year. Short-term borrowing costs were close to scratch for much of the 2010s and fell to scratch again when the pandemic hit, but they began rising precipitously in 2022 as the Federal Reserve has attempted to reduce inflation by slowing down parts of the economy. Pretty much all American businesses across all business sectors are reliant on borrowed cash in one way or another (as are most American consumers). But many tech companies were especially conditioned to very low interest rates: Uber, an enormous and long-established business, for instance, loses money on many rides, and thousands and thousands of start-ups accrue huge losses and rely on their financiers to foot their bills while they grow.

The interest-rate hike has hit the tech sector hard in another way: by helping crater crypto prices, thus erasing billions of dollars of paper wealth, disciplining any number of venture capitalists, and crashing any number of technology businesses, most spectacularly the Ponzi-like FTX. Indeed, the crypto winter has both directly hurt many technology companies that went all in on bitcoin or ether and indirectly made the financing climate harder for others. There aren't a lot of bitcoin decamillionaires around to invest this year, and many VCs are deep in the red.

The second major factor is a reversion to the mean after the intense early years of the pandemic. That awful period was in some ways a good one for tech firms. People stopped going to theaters and started watching more movies and shows at home—hurting AMC and aiding Netflix and Hulu. Families stopped shopping as much in person and began buying more things online—depressing town centers and boosting Amazon and Uber Eats, and spurring many businesses to pour money into digital advertising. Companies quit hosting corporate retreats and started facilitating meetings online—depriving hotel chains of money and bolstering Zoom and Microsoft. Schools sent students home—hurting firms that provide services to school districts and leading to a surge in spending on computers, tablets, and virtual-classroom software.

[Derek Thompson: Why everything in tech seems to be collapsing at once]

Flush with new revenue and bolstered by low borrowing costs, tech companies expanded. They added thousands and thousands of new workers: Microsoft, for instance, went from a head count of 163,000 to 221,000, and Meta, Facebook's parent company, from 45,000 to 72,000. Many firms also expanded their business operations; Meta, for instance, poured billions and billions of dollars into developing a virtual-reality social space (that, I would add, nobody likes and nobody is using).

Consumer spending has since normalized. Sales of smartphones, laptops, kitchen gadgets, and gym equipment have dropped, and Americans are spending a lot more cash in restaurants and movie theaters and on hotels and flights. As a result, many tech companies have seen revenues in parts of their businesses decline, and corporate officers are admitting that they expanded too quickly. "Our productivity as a whole is not where it needs to be for the head count we have," Sundar Pichai, the head of Google's parent company, told employees last year.

The net result is that tech companies whose prospects once seemed limitless now look a bit more like other old, lumbering corporate giants. There's some good news for tech firms, though. Many are still wildly profitable. The Fed is likely to stop hiking interest rates soon. Artificial intelligence has started making amazing breakthroughs—ones that regular consumers can finally understand, see, and use. Maybe a tech summer is just around the corner.


The success of mRNA-based drugs in combating coronavirus is inspiring scientists to create similar vaccines for melanoma and other tumours

In December 2022, the US biotech firm Moderna, a company that emerged from relative obscurity to become a household name during the pandemic, published the results of a clinical trial that sent ripples through the world of



Conducted in partnership with the pharma company MSD, it demonstrated that a messenger RNA (mRNA) cancer vaccine, used in combination with immunotherapy, could offer significant benefit to patients with advanced melanoma who had received surgery to remove their tumours. After a year's worth of treatment, the phase IIb trial found that the combination reduced the risk of cancer recurrence or death by 44%.

Continue reading…


In 10 years, a quarter of the British population will be over 65. Yet it's not lifespan but healthspan we should be trying to improve

Over the past 180 years, lives in England have gone through a remarkable transformation. Men and women today are, on average, living twice as long as they did in 1841 with life expectancy increasing from 40.2 years to 78.6 years for males, and from 42.3 years to 82.6 years for females. The change is also reflected in many other parts of the world and has been achieved through vaccinations that protect against childhood illnesses, vastly improved sanitation, and a host of other factors.

But how long is that rise likely to continue? What will lifespans be like by the end of the century? More and more men and women are likely to live to ripe ages, say scientists. One prediction suggests the global population of centenarians will have reached almost 4 million by 2050 – from just 95,000 in 1990. Some scientists have even suggested that some lifespans could reach 150 years.

Continue reading…

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week: Sun, Jan 15, 2023 thru Sat, Jan 21, 2023.

Story of the Week

State of the climate: How the world warmed in 2022

With a new year underway, most of the climate data for the whole of 2022 is now available. And this data shows that last year set new records for individual locations as well as the world as a whole.

Here, Carbon Brief examines the latest data across the oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere and surface temperature of the planet (see the links below to navigate between sections). This 2022 review reveals:

  • Ocean heat content: It was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content, which increased notably between 2021 and 2022.
  • Surface temperature: It was between the fifth and sixth warmest year on record for surface temperature for the world as a whole, at between 1.1C and 1.3C above pre-industrial levels across different temperature datasets. The last eight years have been the eight warmest years since records began in the mid-1800s.
  • A persistent triple-dip La Niña: The year ended up cooler than it would otherwise be due to persistent La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific. Carbon Brief finds that 2022 would have been the second warmest year on record after 2020 in the absence of short-term variability from El Niño and La Niña events.
  • Warming over land: It was the warmest year on record in 28 countries – including China, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain and the Uk – and in areas where 850 million people live.
  • Extreme weather: 2022 saw extreme heatwaves over Europe, China, India, Pakistan and South America, as well as catastrophic flooding in Pakistan, Brazil, West Africa and South Africa. Climate change played a clear role in increasing the severity of all of these events.
  • Comparison with climate model data: Observations for 2022 are close to the central estimate of climate models featured in the IPCC fifth assessment report.
  • Warming of the atmosphere: It was the seventh or eighth warmest year in the lower troposphere – the lowest part of the atmosphere – depending on which dataset is used. The stratosphere – in the upper atmosphere – is cooling, due in part to heat trapped in the lower atmosphere by greenhouse gases.
  • Sea level rise: Sea levels reached new record-highs, with notable acceleration over the past three decades.
  • Greenhouse gases: Concentrations reached record levels for CO2, methane and nitrous oxide.
  • Sea ice extent: Arctic sea ice saw its 10th lowest minimum extent on record, and was generally at the low end of the historical range for the year. Antarctic sea ice saw a new record low extent for much of 2022.
  • Looking ahead to 2022: Carbon Brief predicts that global average surface temperatures in 2023 are most likely to be slightly warmer than 2022, but are unlikely to set a new all-time record given lingering La Niña conditions in the first half of the year.

Click here to access the entire article as originally posted on the Carbon Brief website.

State of the climate: How the world warmed in 2022 by Zeke Hausfather, Climate Brief, Jan 18, 2023

Links posted on Facebook

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