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How do we tackle world hunger, hidden hunger and climate change? It's possible to address both world hunger and hidden hunger while reducing agricultural greenhouse emissions at the same time. And we can do it without having to double food production or radically changing our diets to keep up with a growing global population.
Macquarie Island, around 1,500km southeast of Tasmania, is more than just a remote rocky outcrop. In fact, it's the only piece of land on the planet formed completely from ocean floor, which rises above the waves to form peaks that teem with penguins and other bird species, some of them found nowhere else on Earth.
Macquarie Island, around 1,500km southeast of Tasmania, is more than just a remote rocky outcrop. In fact, it's the only piece of land on the planet formed completely from ocean floor, which rises above the waves to form peaks that teem with penguins and other bird species, some of them found nowhere else on Earth.
Last Year's Sci-Fi Was More Genre-Bending Than Ever
Is this article about Entertainment?
Want a glimpse into the future of SFF? We look at some of the weird and wonderful standouts from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2022.
A group of psychologists, two from Northwestern University and the third from the University of Oregon, has found via online testing that IQ scores in the U.S. may be dropping for the first time in nearly a century. In their paper published in the journal Intelligence, Elizabeth Dworak, William Revelle and David Condon describe analyzing the results of online IQ tests taken by volunteers over the years 2006 to 2018.
The Value in Decoding Fairy Tales

The wolf's yellow eyes, sharp claws, and snapping teeth haunt our fairy tales and idioms, Erica Berry writes in her recent book, Wolfish. She asks why the animal has persisted as such a potent symbol of fear, arguing that this may color the way we see the world we share with animals and one another. By deconstructing stories such as "The Three Little Pigs" and "Little Red Riding Hood," Lily Meyer wrote this week, Berry asks what dangers these canine villains are standing in for.

Berry is far from the only writer to investigate the significance of well-known fables. In Beauty and the Beast, Maria Tatar collects fairy tales revolving around a millennia-old trope (a human marrying an animal) and shows how they are "an expression of anxiety about marriage and relationships—about the animalistic nature of sex, and the fundamental strangeness of men and women to each other," Sophie Gilbert explains. These accounts indicate what preoccupied our ancestors and what morals they hoped to impart. The impulse to communicate values through storytelling has remained strong across time: A century ago, British socialists tried to disseminate their ideology by reworking folk tales, a strategy we might recognize in contemporary titles like Chelsea Clinton's children's book She Persisted, J. C. Pan writes.

Fables often crop up in unexpected places. Sarah Chihaya writes that Yiyun Li's The Book of Goose "is ostensibly a realist historical novel about the lives of women and girls in mid-century France … [but] secretly dwells in the realm of fairy tale." Li shows us why we're so drawn to these kinds of stories. As Chihaya argues: "We are all, whether we realize it or not, constantly engaged in the process of mythmaking in an attempt to understand the inexplicable." But this simple logic isn't always sound. Adoption, for example, is often portrayed as a magical ending whereby a family is finally complete. But in Somewhere Sisters, Erika Hayasaki dispels this idea. Placement with a different family frequently creates feelings of pain and dislocation; insisting that adoption must mean living happily ever after can compound that hurt. Unwinding the narratives of our culture isn't a fanciful pursuit: It makes space for new meanings and new ways to live.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

What We're Reading

A staring wolf and a girl kneeling

Amanda Shaffer

The book that teaches us to live with our fears

"Berry writes evocatively about these real wolves, yet she seems consistently drawn away from the wolves themselves and toward humans' responses to them. Her writing is richest when she fully commits to examining wolf metaphors and the ways in which we turn even very real wolves into symbols."

📚 Wolfish, by Erica Berry

An illustration by Warwick Goble for Beauty and the Beast, 1913

Warwick Goble

The dark morality of fairy-tale animal brides

"As Maria Tatar points out in the superb introduction to her new collection Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms From Around the World, the story of Beauty and the Beast was meant for girls who would likely have their marriages arranged. Beauty is traded by her impoverished father for safety and material wealth, and sent to live with a terrifying stranger. De Beaumont's story emphasizes the nobility in Beauty's act of self-sacrifice, while bracing readers, Tatar explains, 'for an alliance that required effacing their own desires and submitting to the will of a monster.'"

📚 Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms From Around the World, edited by Maria Tatar

The cover of Workers' Tales

Princeton University Press

Fairy tales for young socialists

"But if attempts to steer children toward politics through literature feel somewhat of-the-moment, they aren't new: More than 100 years ago, British socialists undertook a similar, if decidedly more militant, project. A new book, Workers' Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories From Great Britain, exhumes several dozen fables and stories that first appeared in late-19th- and early-20th-century socialist magazines."

📚 Workers' Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories From Great Britain, edited by Michael Rosen

Photo of a girl on top of a drawing of a goose with a spiral illustration around it

Getty; The Atlantic

A novel with a secret at its center

"Li depicts Fabienne as almost superhuman in both marvelous and terrible ways. As a character, she gives Li a chance to explore the strange power of the myths we form about the people who shape us. Yet what really lies in Agnès's own heart, and the novel's, is only dimly revealed and much harder to bring to light. To do so is the real work—and pleasure—of reading this subtle and evasive book."

📚 The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li

A photo of two parents torn apart, with a child in the middle

Getty / The Atlantic

Adoption is not a fairy-tale ending

"Fairy tales about adoption don't circulate just among the public; they can be internalized by adoptees … In her interviews with adoptees, [the sociologist Indigo] Willing noticed that when holes in their narrative about why they were orphaned could not be supplemented with facts, the adoptees turned to fantasy-like tales and speculation passed on from parents. Those she interviewed for her master's thesis repeated "rags to riches" tropes."

📚 Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family, by Erika Hayasaki

About us: This week's newsletter is written by Emma Sarappo. The book she just finished is My Men, by Victoria Kielland.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team.

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Decrypting the programming of β-methylation in virginiamycin M biosynthesis

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36974-3

Biosynthesis of complex polyketides by polyketide synthases often relies on trans-acting enzymes to modify the intermediates. Here, the authors elucidate how β-methylation enzymes identify their substrates. The recognition is imperfect, resulting in a doubly β-methylated virginiamycin derivative.

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-37017-7

 context-dependent higher-order assembly controls simultaneous interactions with the basal machinery and the myogenic factors to activate distinct gene expression programs for muscle lineage development.
Mapping the fizzy brines and fluid-filled fractures below a volcano
Earth's crust contains pockets of water, metal-rich brines, gas and molten rock, especially near volcanoes and other sites of geothermal activity. Knowing where these fluids are and their precise composition can help scientists assess volcanic hazards, harness geothermal energy and find useful metals, but mapping them is not an easy task.
In search of inflammatory Achilles heel
Neutrophils induce anti-inflammatory — or M2 — macrophages deep in their granulocyte core. The dense globular structures of granulomas in animals, particularly in the lungs, have been studied. Microbes and cancer cells may manipulate this permissive microenvironment to favor their survival. A lung granuloma model in guinea pigs demonstrates the specific accumulation of Neutrophil S100A9 deep in the cores of granulomas.
In the first step toward understanding how dogs — and perhaps humans — might adapt to intense environmental pressures such as exposure to radiation, heavy metals, or toxic chemicals, researchers found that two groups of dogs living within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed significant genetic differences between them. The results indicate that these are two distinct populations that rarely interbreed. While earlier studies focused on the effects of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster on various species of wildlife, this is the first investigation into the genetic structure of stray dogs living near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Can children map read at the age of four?
Researchers have found that children start to develop the basic skills that underlie map reading from the age of just four! The study involved 175 two to five-year-olds. It reveals that four-year-olds become able to use a scale model to find things in the real world.
Genes in beans: Bean genome sequenced for improved nutrition
The faba bean genome, which at 13 billion bases is more than four times the size of the human genome, has been sequenced. This is an extraordinary technical achievement and crucial to efforts to breed beans with optimum nutritional content and sustainability of production.
NASA tracks a newly discovered asteroid that has a 'small chance' of hitting Earth in 2046

A newly discovered asteroid roughly the size of an Olympic swimming pool has a "small chance" of colliding with Earth in 23 years, with a potential impact on Valentine's Day in 2046, according to NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

The asteroid has a 1 in 625 chance of striking Earth, based on data projections from the European Space Agency, though NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Sentry system calculated the odds closer to 1 in 560. The latter tracks potential collisions with celestial objects.

But the space rock — named 2023 DW — is the only object on NASA's risk list that ranks 1 out of 10 on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, a metric for categorizing the projected risk of an object colliding with Earth. All other objects rank at 0 on the Torino scale.

Though the 2023 DW tops the list, its ranking of 1 means only that "the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no cause for public attention or public concern," according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, while a 0 ranking means the "likelihood of a collision is zero, or is so low as to be effectively zero."

"This object is not particularly concerning," said Davide Farnocchia, a navigation engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

NASA officials have warned that the odds of impact could be dramatically altered as more observations of 2023 DW are collected and additional analysis is performed.

"Often when new objects are first discovered," NASA Asteroid Watch noted Tuesday on Twitter, "it takes several weeks of data to reduce the uncertainties and adequately predict their orbits years into the future."

The asteroid measures about 160 feet (about 50 meters) in diameter, according to NASA data. As 2023 DW orbits the sun, it has 10 predicted close approaches to Earth, with the nearest landing on February 14, 2046, and nine others between 2047 and 2054. The closest the asteroid is expected to travel to Earth is about 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers), NASA's Eyes on Asteroids website notes.

The space rock was first spotted in our skies on February 2.

It's traveling about 15.5 miles per second (25 kilometers per second) at a distance of more than 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from Earth, completing one loop around the sun every 271 days.

submitted by /u/ethereal3xp
[link] [comments]
Former Biotech CEO Arrested for Implanting Phony Medical Devices in Patients
Is this article about Healthcare IT?
The FBI is alleging that Perryman knowingly created and sold "dummy," plastic medical implants to medical systems and chronic pain patients for $16k each.

New bad guy alert: according to an FBI indictment, Florida woman Laura Perryman, the former CEO of a health-tech company called Stimwave, was arrested on Thursday "in connection with a scheme to create and sell a non-functioning dummy medical device for implantation into patients suffering from chronic pain," Vice reports, accusations that Perryman's lawyer has since denied.

In other words, the FBI is alleging that Perryman knowingly created and sold fake medical implants that were entirely made out of plastic to medical systems and their patients, under the guise that the devices would be able to ease chronic pain.

The news comes after Stimwave filed for bankruptcy last year, and has previously agreed to pay $10 million over a related whistleblower lawsuit, Reuters reports.

Perryman and Stimwave, which according to Engadget received FDA approval for an early version of its implant back in 2014, actually sold two different rodlike implants, which they claimed could both alleviate pain by way of electrical signaling — no addictive painkillers required.

"From the patient perspective, they definitely want pain-relief alternatives that are not opioids," Perryman told Engadget in an interview back in 2017, "but taking the leap from opioid to surgery and a tiny battery inside your body sounds daunting."

Perryman's firm even had some big-name celebrity sponsors, notably football Hall of Famer Joe Montana.

"If this was another major surgical process, I probably would've said no," Montana told CBS — which did a whole segment documenting Montana's experience undergoing the "state of the art" procedure — in 2019. "But I really think this is going to be the answer to my knee and I'm looking forward to an hour or two from now when I get done."

"It's just like anything," Montana continued. "What's good for me is not always what's good for you, right? Everyone should do their own research on it. But I wouldn't be doing this and moving forward with it if I didn't believe it wasn't something that could help people."

But as Vice explains, their first product, a nine-inch-long, computer-chip-embedded device dubbed the "Pink Stylet," was often too large for doctors to comfortably implant into some patients. But rather than turn down any potential sales, the FBI alleges that Perryman and Stimwave instead came out with the "White Stylet,"  which they claimed was just a smaller and more comfortable — but equally as effective — version.

It's unclear which version of the device Montana received — which, as it turns out, could've made a huge difference.

Because the White Stylet was nothing more than a piece of plastic, according to the FBI's indictment. No computer chip, no electrical signaling. Just plastic.

And they weren't cheap, either — according to the FBI, Perryman and Stimwave sold the phony plastic tubes at over $16,000 a pop.

"As alleged, at the direction of its founder and CEO Laura Perryman, Stimwave created a dummy medical device component — made entirely of plastic — designed to be implanted in patients for the sole purpose of causing doctors to unwittingly bill Medicare and private insurance companies more than $16,000 for each implantation of the piece of plastic," US Attorney Damian Williams said in the indictment.

"The defendant and Stimwave did this," he added, "so that they could charge medical providers many thousands of dollars for purchasing their medical device."

Meanwhile, Perryman's lawyer Jared Dwyer of Greenberg Traurig called the allegations "wrong, starting with the description of the neurostimulator that Laura invented" in a statement to Futurism.

"Every piece of that system had a function and was necessary depending on the patient's needs," he added. "And, at the end of the day, the components that were used were up to the doctors. This is a case about a company looking for a quick way out that decided to scapegoat the founder."

Per the indictment, Perryman has officially been charged with "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of health care fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of ten years in prison."

As the FBI notes in the indictment, these are still only accusations, and Perryman has yet to go to trial.

"Laura looks forwarded to addressing these allegations in court," Dwyer told Futurism.

But given the evidence, things aren't looking great for her. Besides, you involve Joe Montana in your scam, and you involve the fury of the American public.

"Our Office will continue to do everything in its power to bring to justice anyone responsible for perpetuating health care fraud," said Williams, "which in this case led to patients being used as nothing more than tools for financial enrichment."

Futurism has reached out to Stimwave for comment.

READ MORE: People Were Unwittingly Implanted With Fake Devices in Medical Scam, FBI Alleges [Vice]

More on medical scammers: Elizabeth Holmes Hopes Her New Baby Will Keep Her out of Prison

The post Former Biotech CEO Arrested for Implanting Phony Medical Devices in Patients appeared first on Futurism.

DNA synthesis technologies to close the gene writing gap
Feedly AI found 1 Partnerships mention in this article
  • NPL, in collaboration with London Biofoundry and BiologIC Technologies Ltd, have released an analysis on existing and emerging DNA Synthesis technologies in Nature Reviews Chemistry, featuring the work on the front cover.
NPL, in collaboration with London Biofoundry and BiologIC Technologies Ltd, have released an analysis on existing and emerging DNA Synthesis technologies in Nature Reviews Chemistry, featuring the work on the front cover.
A researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) has explored how the gender gap has evolved in two American academies: the National Academy of Science (NAS) and the Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) in the election of academics in psychology, economics and mathematics over a 60-year period. For the past 20 years, women have been given priority in being admitted to these two academies with respect to men with similar publication and citation records.
Gourmet food for the final frontier | Phnam Bagley
Is this article about Food Industry?
What does an in-flight meal look like when you're traveling to Mars? Designer Phnam Bagley envisions a future where astronauts have nourishing, flavorful food reminiscent of home — a giant leap from their current staple of "goop-in-a-bag." Learn more about her team's gourmet creations for galactic travel and how these innovations can improve life here on Earth.
Feedly AI found 1 Partnerships mention in this article
  • NPL, in collaboration with London Biofoundry and BiologIC Technologies Ltd, have released an analysis on existing and emerging DNA Synthesis technologies in Nature Reviews Chemistry, featuring the work on the front cover.
NPL, in collaboration with London Biofoundry and BiologIC Technologies Ltd, have released an analysis on existing and emerging DNA Synthesis technologies in Nature Reviews Chemistry, featuring the work on the front cover.
How Similar are Siblings? What Makes Us Different?
Is this article about ESG?
It's obvious to many of us — whether we're an only child or not — that siblings are often different from each other. Judy Dunn, emeritus professor of developmental psychology at Kings College London, and Robert Plomin, professor of behavioral genetics at the same institution, were among the first scholars to start empirically questioning why this happens. Drawing from differences they noticed in Dunn's children, over the past 30 years, they've tested siblings' variations in character and personality. Finally, it seems they — and other experts in the field — have gotten closer to the answer as to why, even identical twins who live under the same roof, can sometimes end up completely different in character. How Genetically Similar are Siblings? Genetics usually predicts how siblings will be different. "Because you and your brother are 50 percent similar genetically, that means you're also 50 percent different genetically," says Plomin. If it were this easy, siblings would be half different and half the same. But genetics isn't that linear. Not all genes are passed down the same since they experience some reshuffling throughout the reproduction process. Read More: Identical Twins: Just How Genetically Alike Are They? Why Do Siblings Look Different? And not many traits are predicted just by one gene: Even a trait as simple as eye color is dictated by a combination of genes working together. While eye color is actually a result of about 16 different genes mashed up, personality traits are decided by even larger numbers of genes meticulously linking together in varied combinations and formulas. Change even just one gene and the outcome will be completely different. So, personality is less heritable than other traits. "The more heritable a trait is, like height, the smaller the differences between siblings on average. Weight, again, is surprisingly heritable," says Plomin. "But siblings are a bit more different when you get to cognitive abilities, which are less heritable than weight and height, and even less similar when it gets to personality and psychopathology." Where Does All the Difference Come From? Genetics help explain the resemblances between siblings, but not so much the differences. Environmental factors can explain the rest. Kids growing up with the same two parents, who go to the same schools, can potentially experience radically different environments, both subjectively and objectively. "In families, the environment works differently from the way we thought it would because it's making kids in the same family differ from one another. It's actually a non-shared environment," says Plomin. Not to mention any differences that naturally arise from extra-familial relationships: A teacher or a lover, can completely change somebody's life. What About Parental Favoritism? How parents treat their children can also impact their character. A team led by Susan Marie McHale, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University, argue that already from the get-go, no two siblings can experience their parents in the same phase of their lives, be it romantic, financial or personal. As the first or second child, perspectives can easily shift and research has shown this isn't systematic. Not all older siblings have certain traits – they simply have different experiences because they are older. Character differences in children elicit character differences in their caregivers. "We find that when parents have children of mixed sex, like a boy and girl, they're more likely to believe that their children are more influential in how they're treated," says McHale. The same happens for parenting adolescents compared to children, she says. Ultimately, parents also have preconceived bias, notions and beliefs about their children and treat them a little differently — even if all parents say they absolutely do not. Read More: The Secret Reason Why Parents Play Favorites Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Grades Research by McHale published in the Journal of Family Psychology, for example, suggests that when parents think one child is more academically gifted than the other, that child's grades improved more than their siblings. This wasn't the case the other way around though. Sometimes it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, where slight differences between siblings are exaggerated by their parents. In some cases, this can help understand differences among siblings, says Plomin. But statistically, these differences don't seem to be enough of a correlation between all parental behavior and all their children's personalities. In his book, Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are, Plomin still suggests that although parents matter a great amount in their children's character, because of genetics, kids are still predisposed to have certain personalities and abilities regardless. A parent's job is to encourage their children to become the best version of themselves, he says. Are Siblings Influencing Each Other? There's much to understand in the way that siblings influence each other. "In a sibling relationship, you have different roles and different experiences as the giver versus the receiver of interactions and observations," says McHale. In some cases, siblings seem to be an important influence on how adolescents act in situations of risk, for example, how much they drink and whether they use substances. In other cases, they bring out each other's opposites. "Your sibling can be a model or can be a foil," says McHale. Competition — and even jealousy — among two siblings, can bring out similar or different personalities. This is along the lines of Darwin's principle of divergence. Everything Can Factor in Since none of these theories seem to yield satisfactory results, after 30 years of trying to identify systematic sources for differences between siblings, Plomin argues the question needs to be reframed completely. "Part of the problem is asking what is the cause of something?" Plomin says. "The answer is these are complex developmental phenomena. The answer is probably thousands of things and different things for different people." And chance and random experiences play a much greater part in our lives than people tend to believe. "I think those sort of idiosyncratic, stochastic or chance differences are a major reason why siblings are so different," says Plomin. Read More: Picky Eating: Can We Blame Genetics?

Scientific Reports, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-31025-9

Changes in bispectral index and patient state index during sugammadex reversal of neuromuscular blockade under steady-state sevoflurane anesthesia
East coast African states ail from too much, too little rain
Is this article about Weather?
Surrounded by miles of dried land and what remains of his famished livestock, Daniel Lepaine is a worried man. Dozens of his goats in Ngong, a town in southern Kenya, have died after three years of harrowing drought in the east and Horn of Africa. The rest are on the verge of starvation as rain continues to fail.
Fluid mixing enables scalable manufacturing of soft polymer structures
Is this article about Manufacturing Industry?
Researchers have developed and demonstrated an efficient and scalable technique that allows them to manufacture soft polymer materials in a dozen different structures, or "morphologies," from ribbons and nanoscale sheets to rods and branched particles. The technique allows users to finely tune the morphology of the materials at the micro- and nano-scale. The paper, "Fluid Flow Templating of Polymeric Soft Matter with Diverse Morphologies," is published open access in the journal Advanced Materials.
You're stuck with your same old genome, but corals aren't
Is this article about Animals?
Some corals live to be hundreds, and even thousands, of years old. They were born with genes that were successful back in their parent's generation, so how can these old corals still be successful now? Especially in a changing climate? It's possible that the generation and the filtering of mutations that occur in different parts of a big coral act as a proving ground for adaptive genetics for the future. The new study from Stanford, Hopkins Marine Station and the California Academy of Sciences shows a novel way that some very ancient animals might be surviving.
Structure of the Newcastle Disease Virus L protein in complex with tetrameric phosphoprotein
Is this article about Cell?

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-37012-y

Newcastle disease
 virus (NDV) belongs to Paramyxoviridae and encodes a large protein (L) and phosphoprotein (P) for viral RNA synthesis. Here the authors present cryo-EM structures of the L-P complex, and propose a model of how RNA initiation/elongation alternates during viral RNA synthesis.
Is this article about Animals?
Some corals live to be hundreds, and even thousands, of years old. They were born with genes that were successful back in their parent's generation, so how can these old corals still be successful now? Especially in a changing climate? It's possible that the generation and the filtering of mutations that occur in different parts of a big coral act as a proving ground for adaptive genetics for the future. The new study from Stanford, Hopkins Marine Station and the California Academy of Sciences shows a novel way that some very ancient animals might be surviving.
Development of a photonic dispersion solver
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
An exponential increase in the amount of stored information is making the development of new optoelectronic devices increasingly important. Recently, photonic crystals have emerged as an alternative to overcome the limitations of conventional photonic devices thanks to their ability to control photons freely in microscopic space. A research team at POSTECH has developed a photonic dispersion solver that may act as the foundation for studies on photonic crystals, introducing the next generation of highly integrated devices
A framework to self-test all entangled states using quantum networks
Self-testing is a promising method to infer the physics underlying specific quantum experiments using only collected measurements. While this method can be used to examine bipartite pure entangled states, so far it could only be applied to limited kinds of quantum states involving an arbitrary number of systems.
Microsoft Says OpenAI's Latest Blockbuster AI Is Dropping "Next Week"
A German Microsoft executive, for some reason, is claiming that OpenAI will drop GPT-4, its follow-up to the powerful GPT-3, "next week."


A German 


 executive has, for some reason, claimed that 


's next large language model (LLM) will drop imminently.

"We will introduce GPT-4 next week, there we will have multimodal models that will offer completely different possibilities — for example, videos," claimed Microsoft Germany CTO Andreas Braun during a digital kickoff event yesterday, per German tech news site Heise Online.

According to the report, Braun didn't elaborate during the one-hour-long event, other than claiming that GPT-4 will work in "all languages" because the companies want to "make the models comprehensive."

The report leaves us with plenty of questions. Largely unfounded rumors surrounding OpenAI's next-generation LLM, which could lay the groundwork for the next version of ChatGPT as well, have been swirling for quite some time now.

While we have, of course, reached out to both Microsoft and OpenAI to corroborate this claim, we nevertheless have to wonder: why would a Microsoft Germany executive be the one to make such an announcement, and indeed, is this even Microsoft's news to share?

Loose Lips

We'd be remiss to note that this isn't the first time in recent months that news about Microsoft and OpenAI's multi-billion-dollar partnership seems to have leaked to the press.

When anonymously-cited reports in January suggested that the deal was in the works, a Microsoft spokesperson was rather short when Futurism contacted the company for on-record confirmation.

"We do not comment on speculation," the spokesperson said on January 11 — less than two weeks before OpenAI itself confirmed the deal.

Given the somewhat strange nature of the scoop, Heise journalist Silke Hahn took to Twitter to corroborate her story and her sources — and claims that someone from Microsoft contacted her after the story was published to thank her for it.

Altman About It

This isn't the first news we've heard about OpenAI's forthcoming language model, though what we have heard is also kind of bizarre: in a January interview with StrictlyVC, the firm's CEO, Sam Altman, quipped that people may be disappointed by GPT-4.

Of its release date, Altman was cagey.

"It'll come out at some point," the CEO said, "when we are confident we can do it safely and responsibly."

Has that point arrived? It's too soon to tell — and it seems like some German Microsoft employees may have jumped the gun.

More on Microsoft: Microsoft Released an AI That Answers Medical Questions, But It's Wildly Inaccurate

The post Microsoft Says OpenAI's Latest Blockbuster AI Is Dropping "Next Week" appeared first on Futurism.

The Researcher Who Would Teach Machines to Be Fair
Is this article about Tech?

Once in a while, a person can take an abstract concept that's seemingly too vague for formal study and offer an elegant formal definition. Claude Shannon did it with information, and Andrey Kolmogorov did it with randomness. For the past few years, researchers have been trying to do the same for the concept of fairness in machine learning. Unfortunately, this has been trickier. Not only is the…


To cut vaccine hesitancy, emphasize risks of COVID
bandaid on masked person's arm

Concerns about the health effects of 


-19 are a key variable in determining vaccine hesitancy, a study finds.

The study also finds that an individual's tendency to plan for the future plays a surprising role in people's vaccine hesitancy.

At issue is a psychological trait called proactive coping that refers to a person's tendency to think about and plan for the future.

"We found that the people who were least hesitant about getting vaccinated were people who were at least somewhat concerned about COVID-19 and had high scores on proactive coping," says Shevaun Neupert, coauthor of the study and a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. "However, we also found that the people who were most hesitant about getting vaccinated also had high scores on proactive coping, but were not very concerned about contracting COVID-19.

"Basically, proactive coping seems to serve as an amplifier for vaccine hesitancy at both ends of the spectrum."

For this study, researchers surveyed 534 adults in the United States, between the ages of 21 and 79. The survey was designed to assess people's feelings of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and identify cognitive and behavioral predictors of that hesitancy. The researchers conducted the survey in October and November 2020. For context, the first COVID-19 vaccines were made publicly available in the US in December 2020.

The researchers found that more than half of the study participants—56.7%—were hesitant to get vaccinated.

"And the most powerful predictor of hesitancy was whether people had any anxiety about contracting COVID-19," says Emily Smith, a coauthor of the study and staff researcher at NC State. "The more anxiety people had about contracting COVID-19, the less likely they were to be hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine."

"We were surprised at the relationship we saw between anxiety and proactive coping," Neupert says. "For example, people who scored high on proactive coping were much less likely to have vaccine hesitancy if they had even modest levels of concern about contracting COVID-19. And we did not expect proactive coping to amplify vaccine hesitancy in people who were not concerned about contracting COVID-19."

The researchers note that all of the study results held true regardless of age, race, gender, educational background, how they rated their own health, or how much they felt they knew about COVID-19.

"Our findings can inform future efforts to increase vaccine uptake," Smith says. "This study suggests that messaging should underscore the harms associated with contracting COVID-19, rather than focusing largely on vaccine safety and efficacy."

The paper appears in the journal Public Health Challenges. Coauthors are from Georgia Tech; NC State; and MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Source: NC State

The post To cut vaccine hesitancy, emphasize risks of COVID appeared first on Futurity.

Satellite and radar combo better predicts thunderstorms
A dark and cloudy sky filled with purple lightning.

A new technique that combines underused satellite and radar data in weather models may improve predictions, researchers report.

Tens of thousands of thunderstorms may rumble around the world each day, but accurately predicting the time and location where they will form remains a challenge.

"Thunderstorms are so ubiquitous it's hard to count how many you get in Pennsylvania, or the United States or globally every day," says Keenan Eure, a doctoral student in the meteorology and atmospheric science department at Penn State.

"A lot of our challenges, even today, are figuring out how to correctly predict the time and location of the initiation of thunderstorms."

Conditions that spawn storms

The researchers found that by combining data from the geostationary weather satellite GOES-16 and ground-based Doppler radar they could capture a more accurate picture of initial conditions in the boundary layer, the lowest part of the atmosphere, where storms form.

"There's value in improving thunderstorm predictions from both Doppler radar observations and satellite observations that are currently underused and we showed that not only can they be used to improve predictions but putting them together has lots of benefits," says Eure, lead author of the study in the journal Monthly Weather Review. "The sum is greater than the individual parts."

The technique showed promise in improving forecasts of convection initiation, the conditions that spawn storms, several hours before the thunderstorms occurred in a case study from May 2018 in the Texas panhandle.

"Keenan focused on using satellite observations to better define the environment in which the storms would later form, and on using radar observations to improve the low-level wind fields that eventually helped to create the storms," says coauthor David Stensrud, professor of meteorology and Eure's advisor. "This observation combination had not been studied previously and ended up adding significant value to the model forecasts on this day."

The researchers used data assimilation, a statistical method that can paint the most accurate possible picture of current weather conditions in the weather model, important because even small changes in the atmosphere can lead to large discrepancies in forecasts over time.

Improving thunderstorm prediction

Understanding conditions in the boundary layer is particularly important because it strongly influences the ingredients for convection—near-surface moisture, lift, and instability—a process that causes warm air near the Earth's surface to rise and form clouds.

"We obviously can't model every molecule in the atmosphere, but we want to get as close as possible," Eure says. We really believe this work adds a lot of valuable information that models currently don't have and that we can help the depiction of the lowest part of the atmosphere."

The team assimilated satellite and radar data separately and simultaneously and found the best results came from combining infrared brightness temperature observations from the satellite and radial wind velocity and boundary height observations from the radar.

The work uses all-sky satellite data assimilation, developed by Penn State's Center for Advanced Data Assimilation and Predictability Techniques, that assimilates satellite data from all weather conditions, including cloudy and clear skies.

Forecasting previously relied on clear-sky observations, due to challenges in diagnosing the complex physical processes within clouds, the researchers say.

"While more cases need to be explored, these observations are currently available and could be used to improve thunderstorm prediction over the coming decade as NOAA continues to advance its Warn-on-Forecast paradigm in which computer model predictions help to make severe weather warnings more accurate and timely," Stensrud says.

The research builds on work by the late Fuqing Zhang, professor of meteorology and atmospheric science. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supported the work.

Source: Penn State

The post Satellite and radar combo better predicts thunderstorms appeared first on Futurity.

What You Can't Say on YouTube
Is this article about Media & Entertainment Industry?

Recently, on a YouTube channel, I said something terrible, but I don't know what it was. The main subject of discussion—my reporting on the power of online gurus—was not intrinsically offensive. It might have been something about the comedian turned provocateur Russell Brand's previous heroin addiction, or child-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. I know it wasn't the word Nazi, because we carefully avoided that. Whatever it was, it was enough to get the interview demonetized, meaning no ads could be placed against it, and my host received no revenue from it.

"It does start to drive you mad," says Andrew Gold, whose channel, On the Edge, was the place where I committed my unknowable offense. Like many full-time YouTubers, he relies on the Google-owned site's AdSense program, which gives him a cut of revenues from the advertisements inserted before and during his interviews. When launching a new episode, Gold explained to me, "you get a green dollar sign when it's monetizable, and it goes yellow if it's not." Creators can contest these rulings, but that takes time—and most videos receive the majority of their views in the first hours after launch. So it's better to avoid the yellow dollar sign in the first place. If you want to make money off of YouTube, you need to watch what you say.

[From the November 2018 issue: Raised by YouTube]

But how? YouTube's list of content guidelines manages to be both exhaustive and nebulous. "Content that covers topics such as child or sexual abuse as a main topic without detailed descriptions or graphic depictions" is liable to be demonetized, as are "personal accounts or opinion pieces related to abortion as a main topic without graphic depiction." First-person accounts of domestic violence, eating disorders, and child abuse are definite no-no's if they include "shocking details." YouTube operates a three-strike policy for infractions: The first strike is a warning; the second prevents creators from making new posts for a week; and the third (if received within 90 days of the second) gets the channel banned.

For the most popular creators, the site can bring in audiences of millions, and financial rewards to match. But for almost everyone else, content production is a grind, as creators are encouraged to post regularly and repackage content into its TikTok rival, Shorts. Although many types of content may never run afoul of the guidelines—if you're MrBeast giving out money to strangers, to the delight of your 137 million subscribers, rules against hate speech and misinformation are not going to be an issue—political discussions are subject to the whims of algorithms.

Absent enough human moderators to deal with the estimated 500 hours of videos uploaded every minute, YouTube uses artificial intelligence to enforce its guidelines. Bots scan auto-generated transcripts and flag individual words and phrases as problematic, hence the problem with saying heroin. Even though "educational" references to drug use are allowed, the word might snag the AI trip wire, forcing a creator to request a time-consuming review.

Andrew Gold requested such a review for his interview with me, and the dollar sign duly turned green—meaning the site did eventually serve ads alongside the content. "It was a risk," he told me, "because I don't know how it affects my rating if I get it wrong … And they don't tell me if it's Nazisheroin, or anything. You're just left wondering what it was."

Frustrations like Gold's rarely receive much attention, because the conversation about content moderation online is dominated by big names complaining about outright bans. Perversely, though, the most egregious peddlers of misinformation are better placed than everyday creators to work within the YouTube rules. A research paper last year from Cornell University's Yiqing Hua and others found that people making fringe content at high risk of being demonetized—such as content for alt-right or "manosphere" channels—were more likely than other creators to use alternative money-making practices, such as affiliate links or pushing viewers to subscribe on other platforms. They didn't even attempt to monetize their content on YouTube—sidestepping the strike system—and instead used the platform as a shop window. They then became more productive on YouTube because demonetization no longer affected their ability to make a living.

The other platforms such influencers use include Rumble, a site that bills itself as "immune to cancel culture" and has received investment from the venture capitalist Peter Thiel and Senator J. D. Vance of Ohio. In January, Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, announced that Rumble was now his "video-sharing service of choice" for press conferences because he had been "silenced" by Google over his YouTube claims about the coronavirus pandemic. Recently, in a true demonstration of horseshoe theory, Russell Brand (a left-wing, crunchy, COVID-skeptical hater of elites) posed with Donald Trump Jr. (a right-wing, nepo-baby, COVID-skeptical hater of elites) at a party hosted by Rumble, where they are two of the most popular creators. Brand maintains a presence on YouTube, where he has 6 million subscribers, but uses it as exactly the kind of shop window identified by the Cornell researchers. He recently told Joe Rogan that he now relies on Rumble as his main platform because he was tired of YouTube's "wild algebra."

[Read: Why is Joe Rogan so popular?]

For mega-celebrities—including highly paid podcasters and prospective presidential candidates—railing against Big Tech moderation is a great way to pose as an underdog or a martyr. But talk with everyday creators, and they are more than willing to work inside the rules, which they acknowledge are designed to make YouTube safer and more accurate. They just want to know what those rules are, and to see them applied consistently. As it stands, Gold compared his experience of being impersonally notified of unspecified infractions to working for HAL9000, the computer overlord from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

One of the most troublesome areas of content is COVID—about which there is both legitimate debate over treatments, vaccines, and lockdown policies and a great river of misinformation and conspiracy theorizing. "The first video I ever posted to YouTube was a video about ivermectin, which explained why there was no evidence supporting its use in COVID," the creator Susan Oliver, who has a doctorate in nanomedicine, told me. "YouTube removed the video six hours later. I appealed the removal, but they rejected my appeal. I almost didn't bother making another video after this."

Since then, Oliver's channel, Back to the Science, which has about 7,500 subscribers, has run into a consistent problem—one that other debunkers have also faced. If she cites false information in a video in order to challenge it, she faces being reported for misinformation. This happened with a video referencing the popular creator John Campbell's false claims about COVID vaccines being linked to brain injuries. Her video was taken down (and restored only on appeal) and his video remained up. "The only things in my video likely to have triggered the algorithm were clips from Campbell's original video," Oliver told me. Another problem facing YouTube: COVID skepticism is incredibly popular. Oliver's content criticizing Campbell's brain-injury rhetoric has just more than 10,000 views. His original video has more than 800,000.

Oliver wondered if Campbell's fans were mass-reporting her—a practice known as "brigading."

"It appears that YouTube allows large, profitable channels to use any loophole to spread misinformation whilst coming down hard on smaller channels without even properly checking their content," she said. But a Google spokesperson, Michael Aciman, told me that wasn't the case. "The number of flags a piece of content may receive is not a factor we use when evaluating content against our community guidelines," he said. "Additionally, these flags do not factor into monetization decisions."

YouTube is not the only social network where creators struggle to navigate opaque moderation systems with limited avenues for appeal. Users of TikTok—where some contributors are paid from a "creator fund" based on their views—have developed an entire vocabulary to navigate automated censorship. No one gets killed on TikTok; they get "unalived." There are no lesbians, but instead "le dollar beans" (le$beans). People who sell sex are "spicy accountants." The aim is to preserve these social networks as both family- and advertiser-friendly; both parents and corporations want these spaces to be "safe." The result is a strange blossoming of euphemisms that wouldn't fool a 7-year-old.

Not everyone finds YouTube's restrictions unduly onerous. The podcaster Chris Williamson, whose YouTube channel has 750,000 subscribers and releases about six videos a week, told me that he now mutes swearing in the first five minutes of videos after receiving a tip from a fellow creator. Even though his channel "brush[es] the edge of a lot of spicy topics," he said, the only real trouble has been when he "dropped the C-bomb" 85 minutes into a two-and-a-half-hour video, which was then demonetized. "The policy may be getting tighter in other areas which don't affect me," he said, "but as long as I avoid C-bombs, my channel seems to be fine." (While I was reporting this story, YouTube released an update to the guidelines clarifying the rules on swearing, and promised to review previously demonetized videos.)

[Read: Social media's silent filter]

As a high-profile creator, Williamson has one great advantage: YouTube assigned him to a partner-manager who can help him understand the site's guidelines. Smaller channels have to rely on impersonal, largely automated systems. Using them can feel like shouting into a void. Williamson also supplements his AdSense income from YouTube's adverts with sponsorship and affiliate links, making demonetization less of a concern. "Any creator who is exclusively reliant on AdSense for their income is playing a suboptimal game," he said.

Aciman, the Google spokesperson, told me that all channels on YouTube have to comply ​​with its community guidelines, which prohibit COVID-19 medical misinformation and hate speech—and that channels receiving ad revenue are held to a higher standard in order to comply with the "advertiser-friendly content guidelines." "We rely on machine learning to evaluate millions of videos on our platform for monetization status," Aciman added. "No system is perfect, so we encourage creators to appeal for a human review when they feel we got it wrong. As we've shown, we reverse these decisions when appropriate, and every appeal helps our systems get smarter over time."

YouTube is caught in a difficult position, adjudicating between those who claim that it moderates too heavily and others who complain that it doesn't do enough. And every demonetization is a direct hit to its own bottom line. I sympathize with the site's predicament, while also noting that YouTube is owned by one of the richest tech companies in the world, and some of that wealth rests on a business model of light-touch, automated moderation. In the last quarter of 2022, YouTube made nearly $8 billion in advertising revenue. There's a very good reason journalism is not as profitable as that: Imagine if YouTube edited its content as diligently as a legacy newspaper or television channel—even quite a sloppy one. Its great river of videos would slow to a trickle.

All of Shakespeare's Plays Are About Race
Is this article about Diversity & Inclusion?

Pop quiz: Which of the following Shakespeare works is about race? (A) Hamlet, (B) Othello, (C) Romeo and Juliet, (D) the sonnets. If you answered B, you're not alone. Many of us have been taught that Othello is Shakespeare's primary race play, because, of course, it focuses on a Black character. You might also recall that Shakespeare wrote a few other plays with nonwhite characters: the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice, a suitor to the heiress Portia, who begs her, "Mislike me not for my complexion." Or Cleopatra, the African queen whom Roman soldiers blame for seducing their general, Antony, with her "tawny front." Or Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus, a schemer alternately villainous and compassionate, who asks, "Is black so base a hue?" Or even Caliban, the island native in The Tempest whom Prospero, his enslaver, calls "this thing of darkness."


These works compose the lineup typically billed as Shakespeare's race plays. A limitation of that understanding, however, is that it assumes that race applies only when people of color are present. Such a view is definitively rejected in the revelatory new essay collection White People in Shakespeare. It's cannily edited by Arthur L. Little Jr., a UCLA professor and notable scholar of Shakespeare and race, and even the title is a doozy. White people in Shakespeare? Isn't that, well, redundant? That reaction is part of Little's and his fellow essayists' point: White people have for so long been taken as the universal norm in the Western canon that to name them as white is to engage in critical race study. White People posits that HamletRomeo and Juliet, and the sonnets are just as much about race as Othello, because they're all involved in defining whiteness. Shakespeare's work, the collection argues, was central to the construction of whiteness as a racial category during the Renaissance, and white people, in turn, have used Shakespeare to regulate social hierarchies ever since.



This is not, to be clear, a book that tries to demonize Shakespeare or vilify folks who relish him. The complexity and power of his dramatic verse are givens in these essays. The collection contends, though, that what's beautiful in Shakespeare—or what Shakespeare's speakers take as beautiful—is often cast in racial terms. A striking example comes in the first essay of White People, by the late Imtiaz Habib, a founding scholar of race in early modern England. He takes up the opening line of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 1," which implores a handsome young man to reproduce: "From fairest creatures we desire increase." The key word here is fairest. In Shakespeare's day, fair could mean physically attractive or morally just. It could also refer to complexion. More influential, it could be used to link attractiveness and justness to whiteness. When the Duke of Venice approves of Othello's virtue, for instance, he calls him "far more fair than black." (Is it any coincidence that the answer to the fairy-tale question "Who's the fairest of them all?" is "Snow White"?) The scholar Kim F. Hall, another contributor to White People, demonstrated the racial valence of fair almost three decades ago in her field-defining study, Things of Darkness—a dynamic work whose implications are still contested. Although I'm in Hall's camp, not all Shakespeare scholars agree with her ideas. As a result, it's still common for people to read passages such as those that open "Sonnet 1" without acknowledging that a paraphrase could basically be "We want the whitest people to have more babies." Habib calls the "Sonnet 1" opening a "declaration of the desirable eugenic privilege of white breeding," which is the kind of bracing take, both unsettling and compelling, that this collection offers at every turn.


[Read: Why I read "King Lear" each Advent]

This method of race scholarship often attracts the charge of anachronism—that it's imposing contemporary categories on the past. That objection tends not to bother me; every era generates its interpretive questions from its own concerns, and an anti-racist approach to Shakespeare is long overdue. On historical grounds, though, there's a lot of evidence to suggest that even if people in the 16th and 17th centuries didn't use racial categories in quite the same ways we might, they were wrestling with the construction of social hierarchies based on emerging categories of race that went on to shape our world.


In fact, one of the chief interests of White People is how fluid and vexed the idea of whiteness—as both a racial and an aesthetic category—often was as it developed from the medieval to the early modern period. Little even proposes that in 1613, the first documented occurrence of the phrase white people (in a pageant scripted by Shakespeare's contemporary, Thomas Middleton) would have seemed an oxymoron. Whiteness was the property of the elite, who could boast pure Christian souls, the illumination of humanist learning, and cosmetically lightened faces, whereas people, the collective term for the common throng who had to labor for a living, couldn't claim the appearance, let alone the power, of being white. "White people," Little writes, "was not a thing."


Yet already during that time, the theater was staging performances, deploying cosmetics, costumes, prosthetics, and props, that helped redefine the boundaries of whiteness. Those boundaries could be national and geographical, as in the case of Shakespeare's history plays; or historical and civic, as in his Roman plays; or even romantic, as in his courtship plays. Romeo, for instance, spends much of his first few scenes trying to determine if there is anyone "fairer than my love"; degrees of whiteness in Verona, as the scholar Kyle Grady writes in White People, are a recurring concern.


The most provocative essay to show whiteness under negotiation comes from Ian Smith: "Antonio's White Penis: Category Trading in The Merchant of Venice." The provocation doesn't come from naming the merchant's penis; that's not a new move for scholars who have wondered whether the bond he signs with Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, in which he promises that if he fails to repay the loan, Shylock can cut off a pound of Antonio's flesh "in what part of your body pleaseth me," might involve a kind of circumcision or castration. Smith's ingenuity is noticing the precise terms of the bond: "an equal pound / Of your fair flesh" (Smith's emphasis). In Smith's reading, Antonio's whiteness is what Shylock covets as a Jew who, though not dark-skinned, is nevertheless excluded from the privileges that fair, Christian Venetians enjoy.

[Read: Shakespeare wrote his best works during a plague]

Is this too tendentious a reading? Not to my ear. Sure, some scholars might want to prioritize a religious interpretation over a racial one, but Smith is simply adding a layer of analysis, hidden in plain sight, that shows how, in Shakespeare's imagination, race and religion, like sex and money or flesh and blood, were so often intertwined. Smith's own new volume, Black Shakespeare, includes another innovative argument: that Hamlet's reluctance to take revenge against his uncle for murdering his father stems from his fear that avengers are marked as a type of "Violent, Murderous Black Man." If Hamlet committed revenge, he'd no longer be quite as white. That might seem a stretch until you look at the language that describes an avenging figure Hamlet recalls from the Trojan war: "he whose sable arms, / Black as his purpose, did the night resemble / When he lay couched in the ominous horse, / Hath now this dread and black complexion smeared / With heraldry more dismal." Whenever I started to feel skeptical—was race really the defining issue for Hamlet more than any other psychological or social explanation scholars have proposed?—a passage like this one made the theory hard to dismiss.



By joining established scholars such as Smith, Hall, and Habib with emerging voices, White People heralds a breakthrough for a rising cohort of Shakespeare scholars—many of them people of color—whose focus on race has sometimes been excluded from the field's top journals. One of this volume's goals is to chart the history of white people controlling access to Shakespearean interpretation and, in turn, controlling access to the ideas that Shakespeare's works helped fashion. White people invoked Shakespeare to justify opposition to miscegenation, as when former President John Quincy Adams wrote in 1836 that "the moral" of Othello "is that the intermarriage of black and white blood is a violation of the law of Nature." A century later, his descendant, Joseph Quincy Adams, opened the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., with a celebration of Shakespeare as a centerpiece of a compulsory education system that had saved America from immigrants "who swarmed into the land like the locust in Egypt," "foreign in their background and alien in their outlook upon life," with "varied racial characteristics" that posed "a menace to the preservation of our long-established English civilization." If in America, "the melting pot of races," Adams concluded, "there has been evolved a homogenous nation, with a culture that is still essentially English, we must acknowledge that in the process Shakespeare has played a major part."


Focusing on these invocations, however, risks overshadowing the ways that some people of color globally have appropriated Shakespeare for their own purposes, many of them performing and rewriting the plays to challenge colonial legacies. So it's salutary to see White People move in its second half toward creative counternarratives. A conversation with the playwrights Keith Hamilton Cobb and Anchuli Felicia King explores how they flipped Shakespeare's script in their own adaptations of Othello. Discussing Cobb's American Moor and an Othello reimagining, Desdemona, by Toni Morrison and Rokia Traoré, Hall says that is "incumbent on us to help students and audiences hear voices beyond the white noise of the Shakespeare industry." And the Shakespeare and race scholar Margo Hendricks calls on her white peers to think critically about whiteness as an implicit standard of value. If those of us who, like me, fall into that category heed Hendricks's call, that may be the lasting contribution of White People: to make it impossible to assume that whiteness is the norm, either for Shakespeare's characters or for the audiences that interpret them. That doesn't mean rejecting Shakespeare as an outmoded dead white man. On the contrary, it means reanimating him as a crucial part of a negotiation that continues to script our culture today, far beyond the theater and the classroom.

An Ode to Nicknames

Here's what I think about Spare, by Prince Harry.

I think it's a very interesting book, a feat of psychosensory downloading by the master ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer. But it should have been called Spike. "The Spare"—as in, not the heir—is what members of the Royal Family have allegedly dubbed the brooding prince. "Spike," however, is his nickname, or his most resonant one. It's the one used by his more roistering and familiar chums. Spike is who Harry really is. Spike is his punk-rock Etonian ginger essence. Spike, as T. S. Eliot put it in "The Naming of Cats," is his "ineffable effable / Effanineffable / Deep and inscrutable singular name."

Your parents named you, of course. But bless them, they had no clue who you were. They plucked your name out of the air, for their own reasons, their own sentimentalities, like they were getting a tattoo. And a newborn baby has no relationship with its name. Next to the exploding, barbaric baby-self, its name—so thoughtfully chosen, so fondly given—is a nothing.

Your friends, however—and your enemies—they know who you are. They'll give you your real name. Behind your back, sometimes, which almost guarantees its accuracy: They're reporting on angles and aspects of you that you can't even see. No one comes up with their own nickname. A boxer or a wrestler might name himself, glorify himself with some sobriquet, but that's different. That's branding. Marvelous Marvin Hagler is not a nickname.

There are no bad nicknames or wrong nicknames, for the simple reason that if they're bad or wrong, they don't stick. If it sticks, like it or not, it's your nickname. At school I was Gobbet—because I was small, or goblinlike? Or in some way like a discrete chunk of matter? Whatever, it stuck. My son was 10 when he first called me Mr. Personal Pants, for my habit of taking everything personally. (Reeling with self-recognition, I protested in vain that writers have to take everything personally. It's our job.)

There are ironic nicknames, counter-nicknames—the Viking-size rugby player known to his teammates as Tinker Bell. But maybe there is something darting and sprightly about him. Insane-seeming nicknames, deriving perhaps from some now-forgotten incident: Another kid at school was called Bleh Bleh. Not Blah Blah. Bleh Bleh. Having trouble remembering someone's name? Give them a nickname. Sci-Fi Mike. Second-Wave Dave. Eugene the Unitarian. As long as some fiber of their primary nature adheres to it, you won't forget it.

Meanwhile, other people will be doing this to you—fixing you, capturing you. Naming you. So don't waste a lifetime wondering who you are. Listen for your nickname.

This article appears in the April 2023 print edition with the headline "Ode to Nicknames." When you buy a book using a link on this page, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.

Light pulses can behave like an exotic gas
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
In work published in Science, the team led by Prof. Dr. Ulf Peschel reports on measurements on a sequence of pulses that travel thousands of kilometers through glass fibers that are only a few microns thin. The researchers were surprised by the results.
An AI Learned to Play Atari 6,000 Times Faster by Reading the Instructions

Despite impressive progress, today's AI models are very inefficient learners, taking huge amounts of time and data to solve problems humans pick up almost instantaneously. A new approach could drastically speed things up by getting AI to read instruction manuals before attempting a challenge.

One of the most promising approaches to creating AI that can solve a diverse range of problems is reinforcement learning, which involves setting a goal and rewarding the AI for taking actions that work towards that goal. This is the approach behind most of the major breakthroughs in game-playing AI, such as DeepMind's AlphaGo.

As powerful as the technique is, it essentially relies on trial and error to find an effective strategy. This means these algorithms can spend the equivalent of several years blundering through video and board games until they hit on a winning formula.

Thanks to the power of modern computers, this can be done in a fraction of the time it would take a human. But this poor "sample-efficiency" means researchers need access to large numbers of expensive specialized AI chips, which restricts who can work on these problems. It also seriously limits the application of reinforcement learning to real-world situations where doing millions of run-throughs simply isn't feasible.

Now a team from Carnegie Mellon University has found a way to help reinforcement learning algorithms learn much faster by combining them with a language model that can read instruction manuals. Their approach, outlined in a pre-print published on arXiv, taught an AI to play a challenging 


 video game thousands of times faster than a state-of-the-art model developed by DeepMind.

"Our work is the first to demonstrate the possibility of a fully-automated reinforcement learning framework to benefit from an instruction manual for a widely studied game," said Yue Wu, who led the research. "We have been conducting experiments on other more complicated games like Minecraft, and have seen promising results. We believe our approach should apply to more complex problems."

Atari video games have been a popular benchmark for studying reinforcement learning thanks to the controlled environment and the fact that the games have a scoring system, which can act as a reward for the algorithms. To give their AI a head start, though, the researchers wanted to give it some extra pointers.

First, they trained a language model to extract and summarize key information from the game's official instruction manual. This information was then used to pose questions about the game to a pre-trained language model similar in size and capability to GPT-3. For instance, in the game PacMan this might be, "Should you hit a ghost if you want to win the game?", for which the answer is no.

These answers are then used to create additional rewards for the reinforcement algorithm, beyond the game's built-in scoring system. In the PacMan example, hitting a ghost would now attract a penalty of -5 points. These extra rewards are then fed into a well-established reinforcement learning algorithm to help it learn the game faster.

The researchers tested their approach on Skiing 6000, which is one of the hardest Atari games for AI to master. The 2D game requires players to slalom down a hill, navigating in between poles and avoiding obstacles. That might sound easy enough, but the leading AI had to run through 80 billion frames of the game to achieve comparable performance to a human.

In contrast, the new approach required just 13 million frames to get the hang of the game, although it was only able to achieve a score about half as good as the leading technique. That means it's not as good as even the average human, but it did considerably better than several other leading reinforcement learning approaches that couldn't get the hang of the game at all. That includes the well-established algorithm the new AI relies on.

The researchers say they have already begun testing their approach on more complex 3D games like Minecraft, with promising early results. But reinforcement learning has long struggled to make the leap from video games, where the computer has access to a complete model of the world, to the messy uncertainty of physical reality.

Wu says he is hopeful that rapidly improving capabilities in object detection and localization could soon put applications like autonomous driving or household automation within reach. Either way, the results suggest that rapid improvements in AI language models could act as a catalyst for progress elsewhere in the field.

Image Credit: StockSnap from Pixabay

Is this article about Climate?
An analysis extending from southern Portugal to northern Norway highlights the importance of temperature in determining where fish species are found. The study, "Sea temperature is the primary driver of recent and predicted fish community structure across Northeast Atlantic shelf seas," is published in Global Change Biology.
Is this article about Climate?
An analysis extending from southern Portugal to northern Norway highlights the importance of temperature in determining where fish species are found. The study, "Sea temperature is the primary driver of recent and predicted fish community structure across Northeast Atlantic shelf seas," is published in Global Change Biology.
Southern orca hunting may explain their decline
Is this article about Neuroscience?
orca leaps out of water

Research finds that northern and southern resident orcas hunt differently, which may help explain the decline of the southern population.

In the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, scientists have been sounding the alarm about the plight of southern resident orcas. Annual counts show that population numbers, already precarious, have fallen back to mid-1970s levels. Most pregnancies end in miscarriage or death of the newborn. They may not be catching enough food. And many elderly orcas—particularly post-reproductive matriarchs, who are a source of knowledge and help younger generations—have died.

With just 73 individuals left, conservationists and members of the public alike are concerned that southern resident orcas may not survive.

Yet over the same period, the region's northern resident orcas, who have a similar diet and an overlapping territory, grew steadily in population. Today, there are more than 300 northern resident orcas, leaving scientists wondering why these two similar but distinct populations have had such dissimilar fates over the past half century.

How orcas hunt

The new study reveals that the two populations differ in how they hunt for salmon, their primary and preferred food source. The research appears in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

"Our study found no instance of a southern resident female with a young calf who successfully carried out a hunt."

"For northern resident orcas, females were hunting and capturing more prey than males. For southern resident orcas, we found the opposite: The males were doing more hunting and capturing than females," says lead author Jennifer Tennessen, a senior research scientist at the University of Washington's Center for Ecosystem Sentinels.

"We also found that if their mother was alive, northern resident adult males hunted less, which is consistent with previous work, but we were surprised to see that southern resident adult males hunted more. Adult females in both populations hunted less if they had a calf, but the effect was strongest for southern residents."

The study's five years of observational data show that southern resident males catch 152% more salmon per hour than females. In other words, for every two fish a southern female caught, a southern male would catch five. For the growing northern resident population, the trend is flipped: females caught 55% more salmon per hour than males.

This is the first study to track the underwater pursuit, hunting, and prey-sharing behaviors of both northern and southern resident orcas. Their findings reveal that, though the two populations overlap significantly in territory and have similar social structures and reproductive behavior, they should not be treated identically for conservation purposes.

Stick-on trackers

"In the past, we've made assumptions about these populations and filled in the gaps when designing interventions, particularly to help the southern resident orcas," says Tennessen, who conducted this study while she was a research scientist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center. "But what we found here are strikingly different patterns of behavior with something as critical to survival as foraging. And as we develop management strategies, we really need to consider these populations differently."

NOAA scientists and an international team of collaborators temporarily tracked the movement, sounds, depth, and feeding behaviors of 34 northern and 23 southern resident adult orcas non-invasively from 2009 to 2014 using "Dtags," cellphone-sized digital devices. Dtags attach via suction to the back of an orca and, for this study, were programmed to fall off hours later and float back to the surface so the researchers could collect them and download their data.

As the name would suggest, northern resident orcas have a more northerly distribution, preferring waters around Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Strait. In contrast, core areas for southern resident orcas hug the southern reaches of Vancouver Island, inland waters surrounding the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, and the Washington coast. Both populations were devastated by the capture of orcas for theme parks, a practice that ended in the 1970s. Since then, northern resident orcas have increased steadily, seeing at least 50% growth since 2001.

Both populations hunt for salmon using echolocation. Adult orcas can dive at least 350 meters—or 1,150 feet—to pursue fish on their own, though they often bring kills to the surface to share with others. Pods travel between the outflows of major rivers and streams in British Columbia and Washington, and have been heavily affected by dams that have reduced salmon runs. Increased vessel traffic and noise in the Salish Sea—from tourism, recreation, and shipping—have also negatively affected these populations, particularly the southern resident orcas, according to Tennessen.

This new study shows that southern residents had fewer successful hunts overall, indicating that they were presumably catching less food. This impact is particularly evident with young mothers.

"In both populations, a mother with a young calf foraged less than other females, possibly due to the risk of leaving the calf temporarily with 'a babysitter'—another adult—while she hunts, or because of the time demands of nursing a calf," says Tennessen. "But for southern resident females, which are more prone to disturbance and stress from vessel traffic, there was an outsized effect: Our study found no instance of a southern resident female with a young calf who successfully carried out a hunt."

Matriarchs' wisdom

The study also has a lot to say about the impact of elderly female orcas on their adult sons. Both northern and southern resident orcas are grouped into matriarchal clans, often led by post-reproductive females. They also help feed their adult sons even, as a recent study led by the nonprofit Center for Whale Research showed, at the expense of their own reproductive capacity.

The new study adds complexity to the role of elderly females. Among northern resident orcas, adult males with a living mother hunted less than adult males without a living mother, perhaps because the mother still provides food. But among southern resident orcas, the opposite is true: Adult males with a living mother hunted more.

"These unexpected differences left us scratching our heads. It is possible that southern resident adult males could be sharing with other members of their group, including their mothers, to help out, especially since an adult male's survival is strongly linked to his mother's survival," says Tennessen. "Relatedly, southern resident matriarchs may be leading the group to areas where their adult sons may be able to capture more prey, since healthier sons might be more successful at mating and passing along some of their mothers' genes. We need more studies to determine what role the presence—or absence, for southern resident orcas—of matriarchs has on male foraging behavior."

Future studies on the behaviors of northern and southern resident orcas could bring these differences to the surface, as could studies of Alaska resident orca populations, which forage for salmon farther north, where salmon stocks are generally healthier. Such comparative studies can help isolate cause and effect, says Tennessen.

"Understanding how healthy populations behave can provide direction and goals for management of unhealthy populations," says Tennessen. "Future comparisons to healthy fish-eating orca populations could help us understand whether the divergent behavior we're seeing in the southern residents is indicative of a population trying to survive."

Coauthors of the paper are from the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs, the Cascadia Research Collective, and the University of Cumbria in the United Kingdom. The research had funding from NOAA, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the University of Cumbria, and the University of British Columbia.

Source: University of Washington

The post Southern orca hunting may explain their decline appeared first on Futurity.

Scientists led by Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have developed a super-resolution microscope with a spatio-temporal precision of one nanometer per millisecond. An improved version of their recently introduced MINFLUX super-resolution microscopy allowed tiny movements of single proteins to be observed at an unprecedented level of detail: the stepping motion of the motor protein kinesin-1 as it walks along microtubules while consuming ATP. The work, published in Science, highlights the power of MINFLUX as a revolutionary new tool for observing nanometer-sized conformational changes in proteins.
Major advance in super-resolution fluorescence microscopy
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?
Scientists led by Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg have developed a super-resolution microscope with a spatio-temporal precision of one nanometer per millisecond. An improved version of their recently introduced MINFLUX super-resolution microscopy allowed tiny movements of single proteins to be observed at an unprecedented level of detail: the stepping motion of the motor protein kinesin-1 as it walks along microtubules while consuming ATP. The work, published in Science, highlights the power of MINFLUX as a revolutionary new tool for observing nanometer-sized conformational changes in proteins.
How to Watch the 2023 Oscar Best Picture Nominees
Is this article about Tech?
From Everything Everywhere All at Once to Tár, almost every film up for the prestigious award is available to stream at home.
Vibrational signature of hydrated protons confined in MXene interlayers

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36842-0

Intercalation of protons in 2D materials plays a major role for several applications in energy storage and conversion. Here, the authors show that protons intercalated in Ti3C2Tx MXene interlayer during electrochemical cycling have a different hydration structure than protons in bulk water.
Land-use diversity predicts regional bird taxonomic and functional richness worldwide
Is this article about Ecosystem Management?

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-37027-5

Land-use diversity can theoretically have a significant impact on biodiversity at large spatial scales but the importance and generality of this environmental component are uncertain. This study shows that regional land-use diversity constitutes a key factor associated with bird regional taxonomic and functional richness worldwide.
Trends among children who threaten violence at school
Is this article about Sleep?
teal and red lockers

Children who threaten violence at school often have psychiatric diagnoses, learning disorders, and educational and treatment needs, report researchers.

The research team investigated child and adolescent psychiatry threat assessment evaluations of 157 school-age youth (mean age: 13.4), referred to the Stony Brook University Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic (now called the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic at Stony Brook Medicine) by school staff. Evaluations of the children took place at the clinic between 1998 and 2019 and represented 19 school districts encompassing students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

"Our work is based on two decades of school threat assessment evaluations performed by myself and colleagues," says Deborah Weisbrot, lead author and a clinical professor in the psychiatry department at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. The findings will appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

"Evaluations of youths who make threats need to go beyond simply assessing the threat itself and should include identifying underlying psychiatric problems," she explains. "And psychiatric evaluations of students who issue threats of any type can lead to revelations about psychiatric diagnoses and crucial treatment and educational recommendations."

Weisbrot and colleagues defined a "threat" as an expression of intent to do harm or act out violently against someone or something. Threats were categorized as being either verbal or nonverbal (such as violent drawings), as well as those that involved bringing a weapon to school.

Of the children in the threat assessment study, details from their records, school history, and actions showed marked similarities and trends:

  • Most youths had one or more psychiatric diagnosis such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity, depressive, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders. Learning disorders were common.
  • A history of psychiatric medication treatment was reported in 50%, and psychotherapeutic interventions in 37%.
  • Traumatic family events had occurred in 52%.
  • Nearly 90% reported significant traumatic life experiences.
  • 43% had a history of being bullied.
  • Verbal threats were made by 80% of the children.
  • 29% had brought a weapon to school.
  • Nearly 52% were receiving special education services.

This is the first study to provide a comprehensive description of the psychiatric characteristics of students referred to a child and adolescent outpatient setting for a threat assessment, thus highlighting the importance of understanding the psychiatric characteristics of all students who make threats rather than focusing only on identifying potential school shooters.

They emphasize that the study is of critical importance in that it "demonstrates that psychiatric threat assessment is much more than a risk assessment; it is also an intervention providing essential psychiatric and educational treatment recommendations that could change the course of students' educational careers and emotional well-being."

Source: Stony Brook University

The post Trends among children who threaten violence at school appeared first on Futurity.

Venus could have had oceans long after life started on Earth
Today Venus has a dry, oxygen-poor atmosphere. But recent studies have proposed that the early planet may have had liquid water and reflective clouds that could have sustained habitable conditions. Researchers at the University of Chicago, Department of Geophysical Sciences, have built a new time-dependent model of Venus's atmospheric composition to explore these claims. Their findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Nasa tracking asteroid that could ruin Valentine's Day in 2046

Asteroid known as 2023 DW is 50 metres wide and has a 1-in-607 chance of striking Earth – but not for two decades at least

Space experts predict a large asteroid could hit Earth just in time to ruin Valentine's Day – in 2046.

The 50-metre wide asteroid, known as 2023 DW, is forecast to take more than two decades to reach us, perhaps almost three.

Continue reading…
23,000-Year-Old Teeth Fill an Ice-Age Gap
For many years, the Cave of the Malalmuerzo ("bad lunch") near Granada, Spain, located near rocky farmland, stood open to the public. Local residents stooped under the low ceiling and wound their way through stalactites, and some made the belly-crawl to the deeper reaches of the cave and the early paintings there. They took home "some artifact […] ceramics, bits of bone, etc.," writes a local businessman. In 1983, the first archaeologists showed up, but the souvenir-hunting continued until local authorities closed Malalmuerzo, now an important site for studying early humans. Early Humans and a Missing Link A new paper led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reports the finding there of 23,000-year-old human teeth – the remains of a person who would have lived during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), making them the first of their kind. Archaeologists have long studied how early Europeans weathered the coldest period of the last Ice Age, when glaciers covered 25 percent of the world's landmass and sea levels plummeted. Many people migrated to the relatively warm Iberian peninsula, especially to its southern reaches, which are only about 8 miles from North Africa. The new find fills a crucial missing link between the Aurignacian group of early humans, who lived before the LGM, and the Magdalenian, who lived after. The researchers assigned the new person to the Solutrean group, which first arose in Iberia about 24,000 years ago and fashioned an array of new stone tools. For the most part, archaeologists map the movement of groups from this time by careful analysis of their tools and implements. New to the Solutrean Group The Solutrean settled heavily on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and largely stayed away from Spain's central plateau. Territorialism also drove the group into the mountainous northern regions of the country, the study says. But it didn't drive the Solutean across to North Africa. "Why the Strait of Gibraltar was a barrier at the end of the last Ice Age is still one of the unresolved questions of archaeological research in the western Mediterranean region," says Gerd-Christian Weniger of the University of Cologne in a press release. Researchers recovered the Malalmuerzo DNA from the pair of incisor-like teeth and ultimately concluded they belonged to the same person, the 23,000-year-old individual. This means the person would have lived at about the same time as humans painted a horse and bull and other abstract shapes on the cave walls. The Solutrean rock art resembles that of the older Gravettian culture, which spread throughout Europe about 32,000 years ago and contributed to the younger Solutreans. The study concluded that at the height of Gravettian influence, one of two "genetically distinct groups" formed the other group, which further adapted its technologies to deal with the extreme cold. After the Solutreans survived the Ice Age, they watched as farming established itself in Europe, thanks to migrants from what is now Asia Minor. While some of the hunter-gatherers spread throughout a warming Europe, others stayed in the Iberian Peninsula and mixed with the farmers there. "Surprisingly, the genetic heritage of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers is still detectable in early farmers from southern Iberia," says Vanessa Villalba-Mouco of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in a press release, "indicating local admixture between two population groups with very different lifestyles."
Does Every Human Have a Detectable Gravity Field?
Technically, every single object in the universe with mass or energy emits a gravitational field, and scientists have been able to measure the gravitational field of objects far smaller than a human. General Relativity Einstein revolutionized our understanding of gravity with his magnum opus, the general theory of relativity. The theory transformed our perspective of gravity from a simple property of objects relating to their mass, to a view of the cosmos where space and time can bend, flex and warp in the presence of massive objects. According to general relativity, just about everything is capable of bending spacetime: anything with mass, energy, and tension. Naturally, more massive and energetic objects bend spacetime more than less massive or energetic objects. Also, the more compact objects are, the more strongly they can bend spacetime. For example, a typical black hole that isn't much more massive than the Sun, but it's compressed into such a small volume – only a few miles across – that it can create an event horizon, where nothing can escape from. Read More: How Many Ways Can the Sun Kill Us? A Small Gravitational Field But overall, gravity is exceedingly weak. It is, by far, the weakest of the four fundamental forces of nature. Even if gravity were a billion, billion, billion times stronger than it is, it would still be the weakest force of nature. Gravity is so bizarrely weak that there's even a major program of active physics research devoted to understanding why. It takes a lot of mass to make a decent gravitational field. The Earth weighs a whopping 6*10^24 kilograms, but you can overcome its entire gravitational pull simply by lifting up your arm. To completely escape the pull of the Earth permanently, however, does take a little bit of work: you have to reach escape velocity, which is a speed of 25,000 miles per hour. To give a sense of the smallness of a human's gravitational field, we can scale down that escape velocity to less massive objects. Asteroid Ryugu, a near-Earth asteroid and target of the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission, weighs about 5*10^11 kilograms and has a radius of around 1476 feet. Its escape velocity is less than one mile per hour: You could jump hard enough from the surface of Ryugu and never return. If we take the average human weight to be 154 pounds and a radius of 3.36 feet (let's pretend people are perfectly spherical, just to make the calculations easier), our own escape velocity is around 100 micrometers per second. In other words, literally nothing is gravitationally bound to us in any way, shape or form. Even the air molecules floating around the room you're in right now have more than enough velocity to bounce off us without a second thought. Measuring Human Gravitational Fields But even with that incredibly small gravitational field, scientists have devised clever experiments to measure it. In 2021, a team of scientists at the University of Vienna in Austria took two gold spheres weighing only 90 milligrams each – about the size of a sesame seed. They hung one from a pendulum and vibrated the other in a specific pattern. Isolating all the sources of noise in the experiment was an incredible feat, but they could use lasers to measure the position of the free-swinging gold sphere. When they found the vibration pattern copied in the free-swinging sphere, they knew they were measuring the gravitational pull of the sphere they controlled. It was the tiniest gravitational field ever detected. Their experiment was so sensitive that the researchers claimed that they could detect the first finisher of the Vienna marathon, which finished over 1.2 miles from their laboratory. So, even though humans have incredibly feeble gravitational fields, the sensitivity of our experiments is more than capable of measuring it.
Near the small harbor of Estellencs at the northeast of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain), a pebbly beach can be found at the base of an impressive scarp that threatens rockfall. Remains of plants, crustaceans, insects, and fish have been discovered in the gray-blue rock layers formed from sediments deposited 247 million years ago. Fossils in these rocks are of great interest since they offer a window into the time where the planet was recovering from the greatest mass extinction.
Near the small harbor of Estellencs at the northeast of Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain), a pebbly beach can be found at the base of an impressive scarp that threatens rockfall. Remains of plants, crustaceans, insects, and fish have been discovered in the gray-blue rock layers formed from sediments deposited 247 million years ago. Fossils in these rocks are of great interest since they offer a window into the time where the planet was recovering from the greatest mass extinction.
A research team led by Prof. Yuan Shuguang from Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Prof. Zhang Huawei from the South University of Science and Technology has revealed the molecular mechanism of 
pannexin 2
 (Panx2) as an ATP membrane pore channel.
Scientists Produce Healthy Mice Using Exclusively Male Cells
Is this article about Cell?


(Credit: Sangharsh Lohakare/Unsplash)
Same-sex reproduction has historically required donor cells, as is the case with egg implantation and some instances of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Thanks to genetic engineering, however, this might not always be the case. Scientists in Japan have successfully created eggs using male cells, resulting in the birth of several mice that were produced without mothers.


Renowned Kyushu University stem cell researcher Katshuhiko Hayashi presented his team's achievement this week at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London. Hayashi had led his colleagues through "reprogramming" a male mouse's skin cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, or former non-reproductive cells that can be engineered into various cell forms. Because male cells contain the XY chromosome combination, Hayashi had to remove the Y chromosome and replace it with an X chromosome from another cell. (Hayashi's team attempted to devise a way to duplicate the first cell's X chromosome but was unsuccessful, resulting in the need to pull from a donor.)


(Credit: Rama/Wikimedia Commons)

Hayashi implanted the makeshift eggs inside a mouse ovary organoid, a ball of tissues that function similarly to a natural ovary. After fertilizing the eggs with sperm, his team implanted the resulting 600 embryos into surrogate mice. Seven of these embryos became mouse pups, which grew into adults with normal lifespans and successful mating routines.

This research, which Hayashi has since submitted to scientific journals, is just the beginning. His team is now working to replicate their achievement using human cells, which they hope to turn into lab-created eggs. Scientists have made similar attempts before, but their cells have failed to advance past the meiosis stage, which is necessary for the development of eggs and sperm.

Should Hayashi and his colleagues successfully produce eggs in the lab, it could pave the way for novel infertility treatments and for same-sex procreation that incorporates both partners' genes. Male couples who wish to produce children currently have to choose whose sperm will fertilize a donor egg, which is implanted in a surrogate mother for gestation. Developments like this one, however, could allow couples to use one person's sperm to fertilize an egg made from the other person's cells, or even allow a single person to produce a child using only their genes. Hayashi says this could be possible within a decade—but other scientists think that's a bit optimistic.

Now Read:

Is this article about Energy?
The deep sea is one of the least well-known areas on Earth, comprising multiple vulnerable ecosystems that play critical roles in the carbon cycle. However, the deep sea is directly exposed to the effects of human-induced climate change and may now face additional challenges arising from efforts to counteract climate change artificially. These efforts have evolved into geoengineering solutions that could operate on vast spatial scales.
Niu KQi3 Max Review: A Reliable Escooter
Is this article about Tech?
This fast-folding escooter is reliable, but is not that big an upgrade over its previous—and cheaper—iteration.
How to Start an AI Panic
The Center for Humane Technology stoked conversation about the dangers of social media. Now it's warning that artificial intelligence is as dangerous as nuclear weapons.
The Download:  biased AI warnings, and experimental CRISPR therapies

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

Meet the AI expert who says we should stop using AI so much

Meredith Broussard is unusually well placed to dissect the ongoing hype around AI. She's a data scientist and associate professor at New York University, and she's been one of the leading researchers in the field of algorithmic bias for years.

And though her own work leaves her buried in math problems, she's spent the last few years thinking about problems that mathematics can't solve. Broussard argues that we are consistently too eager to apply artificial intelligence to social problems in inappropriate and damaging ways—particularly when race, gender, and ability is not taken into consideration. 

Broussard spoke with our senior tech policy reporter Tate Ryan-Mosley about the problems with the use of technology by police, the limits of "AI fairness," and the solutions she sees for some of the challenges AI is posing. Read the full story.


More than 200 people have been treated with experimental CRISPR therapies

Jessica Hamzelou, senior biotech reporter at MIT Technology Review, has spent the last few days listening to scientists, ethicists, and patient groups wrestle with emotive and ethical dilemmas. 

They've been debating how, when, and if we should use gene-editing tools to change the human genome at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London. 

There's plenty to get excited about. In the decade since scientists found they could use CRISPR to edit cell genomes, the technology has already been used to save some lives and transform others. 

In fact, more than 200 people have been treated with CRISPR-based therapies in clinical trials, some of which are already success stories. But there are still concerns over who gets to be treated using CRISPR, and, crucially, who can afford it. Read the full story.

Jessica's story is from The Checkup, her weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on all things biotech. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.


The must-reads

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

1 Meta is working on a decentralized social network
It's a text-based network that sounds a whole lot like…Twitter. (Platformer $)
The app, codenamed P92, is still under development. (TechCrunch)

2 Silicon Valley Bank is spiraling out of control
Its market valuation has plummeted by close to $10 billion, and startup founders are fleeing. (The Information $)+ Shares in the bank are in free fall. (FT $)

3 You may not need a covid booster after all
We don't know how long their protection lasts for, and that's an issue. (Wired $)+ China's faith in its leadership was shaken by its covid zero U-turn. (Bloomberg $)
This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Elon Musk is planning to build his own town in Texas
He's purchased land and wants to build homes for his Boring Company employees. (WSJ $)
The argument for calling Musk a visionary is growing weaker by the day. (The Atlantic $)

5 Conservative Catholics spent millions on app data to out gay priests
The group shared information collected from hookup apps with bishops. (WP $)

6 Germany is reconsidering how its police use Palantir software
Privacy advocates have sounded the alarm over the company's privacy track record. (FT $)
Predictive policing algorithms are racist. They need to be dismantled. (MIT Technology Review)

7 Are parents ready for artificial breast milk?
Last year's baby formula shortage highlights how precarious the market is. (New Yorker $)
Startups are racing to reproduce breast milk in the lab. (MIT Technology Review)

8 A medical firm implanted patients with fake devices
It claimed that implanting bits of plastic into people would treat their chronic pain.  (Motherboard)

9 Autocorrect is still garbage
Chatbots can write poetry, but our iPhones continue to misspell simple words. (The Atlantic $)

10 BORG is the internet's hottest drink
If you're aged under 21, that is. (NYT $)
TikTok memes are spreading among kids who've never used the app. (WP $)

Quote of the day

"Chatbots are very useful to a straight man like me."

—Liu Shuai, a tech worker in Hangzhou, China, has been using ChatGPT to draft heartfelt texts to his girlfriend, he tells Rest of World.


The big story

Meetings suck. Can we make them more fun?

September 2021

Since the pandemic made working remotely commonplace, workers have complained about getting "Zoomed out" or dealing with "Zoom fatigue."

No wonder that other tech companies wonder how they could reinvent meetings too, especially since it doesn't seem as if remote work is going anywhere soon. But to take Zoom's crown they'll need to get creative, and come up with ways to keep employees from feeling burned out by endless video calls. Read the full story.

—Tanya Basu


We can still have nice things

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

 + The gatekeepers of New York's most coveted restaurant tables have seen some things.
+ Stop! Relax—and decorate some cookies.
+ The in-depth case for why Jackass Forever deserves an Oscar.
+ Why AI gets involved with architecture, the resulting buildings are seriously odd.
+ Every single one of these food trends sounds absolutely delicious.

C–N bond formation by a polyketide synthase

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36989-w

Polyketide synthases (PKSs) usually form C–C bonds in natural products biosynthesis. Here, the authors present cryo-EM structures of a PKS in complex with products, which provides insight into the mechanism of the unexpected C–N bond formation.
Is this article about Energy?
The deep sea is one of the least well-known areas on Earth, comprising multiple vulnerable ecosystems that play critical roles in the carbon cycle. However, the deep sea is directly exposed to the effects of human-induced climate change and may now face additional challenges arising from efforts to counteract climate change artificially. These efforts have evolved into geoengineering solutions that could operate on vast spatial scales.
Highly Politicized Congressional Hearings Air COVID Lab-Leak Hypothesis
Feedly AI found 1 Partnerships mention in this article
  • EcoHealth had partnered with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) to study coronaviruses, and some have claimed that researchers at the institute used NIAID funding to conduct 'gain of function' studies on these viruses.

House Republicans have kicked off an investigation into how the pandemic began with witnesses who largely favor a lab origin

Live Closer to Your Friends
Is this article about Wellbeing?

Sometime during the pandemic lockdowns, I began to nurture a fantasy: What if I were neighbors with all of my friends? Every day, as I took long walks through North Vancouver that were still nowhere near long enough to land me at a single pal's doorstep, I would reflect on the potential joys of a physically closer network. Wouldn't it be great to have someone who could join me on a stroll at a moment's notice? Or to be able to drop by to cook dinner for a friend and her baby? How good would it be to have more spontaneous hangs instead of ones that had to be planned, scheduled, and most likely rescheduled weeks in advance?

This doesn't have to be just a dream. Friends who already live in the same city could decide to move within walking distance of one another—the same neighborhood, block, or even apartment building—and campaign for others to do the same. Doing so would likely involve a lot of effort on the front end, but the resulting community could pay emotional dividends for years. Meeting up would be a breeze if you didn't have to travel as far to see one another. More than that, the proximity would make it easier to support one another materially and emotionally. Even just knowing that someone you cherish is near could be reassuring. The more I've thought about it, the more I've become convinced: We should all live close to our friends.

[David Brooks: The nuclear family was a mistake ]

For the past century, the nuclear family has defined U.S. homes. But long before parents-plus-2.5 kids became the norm, Americans lived surrounded by friends and extended family. Clan-style groups of kin and non-kin remain standard in many cultures. Even in the U.S., this mode of living thrives where cultivated; think of college campuses, which tend to be the kind of walkable communities where you're regularly running into pals on the street or having an impromptu party at somebody's place. Queer people have also long formed nonbiological "chosen families" and moved close to one another. Living across the hall from one's friends is even enshrined in one of America's most enduringly popular TV shows.

Yet young adults are conventionally expected to focus on their career, getting married, and starting a family. Putting this energy into coordinating a move with all of your buddies may seem quirky—but doing so could actually be really good for you. Having supportive friends is associated with greater day-to-day happiness and longer life spans, sometimes even more so than having strong familial or spousal relationships. It's also linked to lower levels of depression and mental decline as we age. And friends are particularly important at a time when 36 percent of Americans report feeling "serious loneliness." Although technology is making it easier to maintain long-distance bonds, nothing can replace seeing friends in person. Researchers have found that happiness spreads "like an emotional contagion," especially among those who live close together. When one person becomes happier, their next-door neighbors' chances of also growing happier rise by 34 percent; friends living within a mile of each other are 25 percent more likely to feel happy, and their friends have a 10 percent chance of feeling happier too. Live around people who make you happy, and you might create a feedback loop that perks up everyone around you.

[Read: What the longest study on human happiness found is the key to a good life]

Having a pal around is also just practical. For people with kids, a friend in the neighborhood might be able to help with child care in a pinch, saving you the cost of a last-minute sitter; those without children might welcome the chance to bond with friends' kids. And for people who live alone, proximity to friends can make saving on some things easier: You might share household items you don't need every day or split bulk groceries, for example. But no matter your particular setup, being around more people you trust makes getting through hard moments easier. Friends in the neighborhood can drive you to the hospital in an emergency, saving you an expensive ambulance ride. Or they can simply come over when you're feeling down, or bring you a hot meal when you're sick.

Of course, people can get many of these benefits by sharing a place with their friends, and plenty do. But some would prefer to live alone—28 percent of households in 2021 were one-person, up from 13 percent in 1960. Many others want to live with their family or partner. Living near rather than with friends offers community without the need to sacrifice other priorities. Plus, far more people can occupy a neighborhood than can comfortably share an apartment.

Moving close to your friends requires some masterminding. Cities can make doing so easier by dismantling single-family zoning codes and encouraging a variety of housing types in neighborhoods, giving those with different budgets and living situations options that fit their needs. But even without official policies, people can make it work on their own—assuming they're persuasive enough. Sam Unger, 32, a food scientist and a friend of mine, has created a chosen family like this in Montreal, where about 15 of her friends live within walking distance of one another. When someone moves away, they try to transfer their lease to other friends. And when pals based elsewhere in the city are looking to move, Unger will try selling them on the positives of her neighborhood and sometimes even look for housing for them. She just convinced one friend of the merits of an apartment only two minutes away from hers, which has already brought her joy and peace of mind. "It's funny," she told me. "The other day, I bought a fire extinguisher, and she's like, 'Oh, well, I have one. You could just call me if you had a fire, and I'd be right over with it.'"

Logistically, becoming closer with your neighbors might sound simpler than contriving proximity to friends. But it's reasonable to want the people you already love to be nearby. "I don't think there's any shame in saying, 'I really just miss my friends that I've known for 10 years and want to really hold on and maintain those connections,'" Grace Vieth, a Ph.D. candidate researching adult friendships at the University of Minnesota's Social Interaction Lab, told me. Plus, making new friends in adulthood is notoriously tricky22 percent of Americans say they haven't made a new friend in the past five years. A friendly community has the potential to naturally expand and create a more social living situation for all.

Many people are prepared to move for a new job, to be with a romantic partner, or even just for an adventure. Moving to be closer to buddies should be no different. Friends are not incidental to a good life; they're essential to one. So why not shorten the distance between you and them?

Mona Simpson on the Dissonance Between Reality and Memory

Editor's Note: Read Mona Simpson's new short story "Second Life."

"Second Life" is a new story by Mona Simpson, adapted from her forthcoming novel, Commitment. To mark the story's publication in The Atlantic, Simpson and Katherine Hu, an assistant editor for the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Katherine Hu: In your short story "Second Life," a young man named Donnie ends up in rehab, at the same hospital where his mother has been staying for some time. At one point, Donnie wonders if he is "marked." Do the lives of our parents inevitably shape our own?

Mona Simpson: I think we'd all agree the answer is yes, but people react to their parents' lives in different ways, both consciously and unconsciously. Certain mental illnesses are associated with specific gene expressions, so there are literal "biomarkers"—an article in Science in 2019 reported findings directly linking 10 genes to schizophrenia, with names like GRIN2A and SP4. But Donnie is using the word marked in the biblical sense.

Hu: The hospital is a very particular setting—closed and confined, yet animated by the hope of returning to the world beyond. Why did you choose to set the story there?

Simpson: This story, and this book, are about people who are separated from those they love and feel they are living in two worlds. Donnie is living in the same place with his mother for the first time in years. That's important to him. But Donnie's unit is also animated by the hope of returning to the world, unlike other units, like his mother's, that see less mobility. The case workers integrate his unit with the outside community through the gym and 12-step meetings in churches.

Hu: Even as his mother fades, Donnie insists on remembering her at her best. Is there a point at which the dissonance between reality and memory becomes too strong? When we choose to freeze the person we love in a certain time of their life, do we sacrifice the truth of who they are?

Simpson: Is there an absolute truth about who someone is? I'm not sure. After reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, I try not to overvalue endings. Maybe a person is everyone she's ever been, not just who she is at the present moment. With those we love, we see overlays of their best selves. That's probably what accounts for the reunion syndrome, when people we haven't set eyes on for years look decades older than our friends do.

Hu: "Second Life" is adapted from your forthcoming novel, Commitment. How does the story fit in thematically with the novel more broadly?

Simpson: Donnie is the youngest of his mother's three children, and his story comes last in the book. He has the simplest relationship with her, and, in some ways, the closest. As the youngest of the three siblings, he's a bit protected, but also spent less time with his mother before she went away. He was also most able to accept Julie, his mother's friend, who steps in to help.

Hu: Donnie and his mother both embrace strict routines as a part of their recovery, and even end up "loving" them. Is stability an underappreciated form of freedom for them both?

Simpson: Many people find structure to be soothing and nourishing and thrive with a regulated schedule. Some artists' programs fix schedules with the regularity of a boot camp: Breakfast is served at the same time every day before the artists go off for a day of work. Dinner is served at the same time too. No distinction is made for weekends. And for many, this regimen works. People are astounded by how much they get done.

In a 2009 essay called "The Lost Virtues of the Asylum," Oliver Sacks writes about the salutary effects that "order and predictability" had on patients in mental hospitals. These hospitals provided "control and protection for patients, both from their own (perhaps suicidal or homicidal) impulses and from the ridicule, isolation, aggression, or abuse so often visited upon them in the outside world." Sacks remembered "how some patients, no longer violently psychotic or on locked wards, might wander tranquilly around the grounds, or … could be found reading quietly in the hospital library or looking at newspapers or magazines in the dayrooms."

Hu: After Ida receives a clipped phone call from her daughter for her 91st birthday, she tells Donnie that she wasn't a good mother. It's a particularly resonant moment. How does Donnie define a "good mother"?

Simpson: I'm not sure he does. He finds Ida's admission startling and thinks she's probably being too hard on herself. He isn't especially critical of anyone but himself, and sometimes Walter. Donnie considers his mother to have been a good mother. He considers Julie to have been a good mother to him too.

Hu: The end of the story is hauntingly beautiful—Donnie realizes that his mother has chosen a "second life" for him, living on even though she does not want to. Whom do you imagine Donnie's second life will be lived for?

Simpson: I imagine Donnie's life will be lived for and with the people closest to him. One wouldn't know, really, from reading this excerpt, but Donnie will have a love story too—one that surprised me. He'll remain close to his sister and his brother and he'll discover work that's fun and easy for him, but what will be central will be the small family that becomes his own.

Hu: What projects are you working on?

Simpson: I'm working on a short book in two parts, about people helping other people: the limits, the frustrations, the ironies, the inadequacies, and the consequences.

Second Life

Illustrations by Katherine Lam

Editor's Note: Read an interview with Mona Simpson about her writing process.

During Donnie's first week in the mixed unit (drugs and crazy), a girl threw a TV set out the window because she thought it was criticizing her. Donnie walked to the window to look. "Probably was," he mumbled. He'd grown up with a mother who came alive when insulted. The guy sleeping across the room, who'd dealt heroin with his own now-jailed dad, was woken up by the noise and asked, "Are we dead yet?"

"No. You're just sleeping," Donnie told him, and the boy's eyes closed again; his thin arm, with a tattoo of a serpent, hung over the side of the bed. In the southwest corner of the unit, a girl had turned into a horse. She moved on all fours, neighing. Rearing. You had to walk around her.

Donnie had been terrified when his sister and brother had left him at the hospital, off in a remote wing of the place where their mom had been for years now. The whole first month, the staff wouldn't let him visit her. He didn't want her seeing him like this anyway. He wondered if she knew he was here, or if she still pictured him in the town on the hill, finishing up his sophomore year of college. Instead, they were together in this run-down, not-built-right hospital compound in Norwalk, California, in 1981—the bottom of the world.

All day, he was herded into groups with the other drug people, where they told their stories of how they'd become bad. They allowed Sylvie, his dog, to accompany him. Others talked; Donnie kept quiet. It made sense that he'd ended up here. He'd been aiming at something for a long time—he just hadn't understood that this place was the target. He liked being on the same grounds as his mom. Even if she didn't know he was here. Some moments, remembering that she was less than a mile away, he felt safe.

The police had found him on the beach, south of LAX, with a cluster of homeless people and Sylvie. Months earlier, he'd followed some kids to the beach. They taught him to surf. It felt like being clobbered in a fight, and then he washed up onshore, somehow still whole. The rest of the day, his body felt looser. They made fires at night and, around those circles, a joint traveled hand to hand. Donnie passed it along. Until he didn't. From one toke to being high all the time took only a heartbeat.

That was one of the ways to know that he was an addict, they told him in the unit. Most people came from families of addicts, but his had insanity, not addiction. His mother had sipped crème de menthe from a tiny glass once in a blue moon. But he was marked. Lina and Walter, his sister and brother, had always wondered if he was their full brother. Maybe somewhere in the world he had a junkie dad. Would've explained a lot.

Everyone in high school had found out what happened to his mother. He'd never told, but they knew. Girls wanted to talk about it, their voices pitying, hands eager. For the first time, he had the impulse to punch a person. He never touched those girls who wanted to soothe him. He turned remote because he would have liked to hurt them.

The unit had incredibly glossy floors. Public schools used these same tiles, but they gave no shine. Donnie asked one of the hospital janitors how he kept it up. A block of wood covered with a towel at the end of a pole was all. They let Donnie keep one in his room to polish his hall. He liked the back-and-forth motion. He did the homework here, in a way he hadn't in college.

Caseworkers shuffled the group into a van bound for a gym, off grounds. After the third Thursday, he asked the trainer—a pert, tiny, muscular mother of three—if she could write down a program for him to do by himself.

"Do you ever run? That's how I get my cardio. You're outside; you see things."

He'd hated going around the track in school, hated the gym clothes. But now he built the habit every morning and, by the fourth week, felt the return loop of reward. Sylvie began to trot along. Running was the first habit he learned in rehab that he knew he could maintain.

By then he had seen his mom and told her that he lived here now too, within the same chain-link fence. He called it the Humble Place. He told her only what he knew she could take. He told her how Sylvie had saved him. His mother patted the dog. Animals had always gone to her instinctively.

He and the rest of the group prepared for family week. Donnie had never been part of the drama department in high school, but remembering how his classmates had cycled through adrenaline to exhaustion, he thought this must be like what went into the annual Shakespeare play, only real, the long rehearsals culminating not in a performance but in face-to-face revelations and apologies, not conversations exactly, because they were so practiced. You were talking with the people who meant the most to you, who'd now seen into the box of your failures. Your betrayals, your lies, your greed, your cheating—they could pick them out one by one to examine.

Julie, his mom's friend from nursing school, owed him nothing, but she still came for the week. When their mother had gone into the hospital, Walter was already at Berkeley, and Julie took in Donnie and Lina. Julie had laughed with Donnie, told him her daily news, learned to cook what he liked. They'd watched movies together, eating Jiffy Pop and almond brittle, most nights of the week. But then he'd stopped and left her alone to worry while he was out destroying himself. Not that it had felt that way at the time.

He'd prepared a long letter to read to Julie, but she didn't let him get through it. She wanted to take the blame from him, to make it all her fault.

His brother was a cipher, as always. Walter went for a walk with Donnie on the grounds, and when they sat down, he said, "You know how when we were growing up, I was considered, like, at least in the family, smart?" Walter said. "When I got to college, I found other people way better at school than me. Even Lina. She likes all that. I'm good at finding things that have fallen apart and making something out of the pieces. I fix up old buildings so they can be used again. Maybe when you're done with all this, you can come work with me."

Later, when Donnie talked to Lina, she kept trying to jump down into the well of the past with him. She saw them as twins. And she was this goody-goody! He'd never been like that.

At his next meeting with Trish, his caseworker, she wanted to help figure out what jobs he should look for; she had a list of shops that hired kids from the unit. But Donnie hoped to work here, on the hospital grounds.

"Because you want to see your mom?"

"Yes. Other things too. I want to be near her kind of people."

Trish seemed to take this as an acceptable answer. A calm seeped into him.

After putting in some calls, Trish found only one opening, in geriatrics. The head nurse there would take him but not the dog. "We've got more than enough incontinence," she said.

"Sylvie's house-trained," Donnie argued, but the nurse wouldn't budge.

Donnie decided to hike over to the adult wards to talk to Shirley, the nurse his mom liked best. Sylvie folded herself into a perfect triangle at his feet as he spoke. "She's my luck," he said. Shirley convinced geriatrics to give them a try.

When he started, the head nurse put him on diaper detail. "New person always takes it." Her profile was like the cut side of a key.

Donnie had once told a girl who'd asked about his mom that it wasn't all poetry. The girl had looked at him with pity and romance. But he knew he could handle this, with Sylvie looking up at him. He taught Sylvie to sit near the person's head. Often a hand would reach down to touch her.

He wrote a letter to the only professor he'd actually talked to in college. He said that he hoped to return in a semester, or maybe a year. He was moving to sober living. It had taken Trish a while to locate a place that would allow Sylvie. The house she'd found was in the direction of the college. Donnie would have more freedom, but with that came responsibility. He was strong enough to manage, she said. And he could always pop in to see her.

"You're going to be dazzled by choices. You'll need your supports. Tell me your dailies."

"I run."

"What else? You'll find a meeting there. Do you meditate or anything? You know I pray."

"I read. I've been reading more."

"You'll need strong dailies to structure your recovery. Oh, and your house will have its own rules, but one thing we recommend is, and this comes from a lot of experience: For the first year, try to stay away from any romantic involvement."

Donnie laughed. "No problem there."

His last day in the unit, he saw Horsegirl balanced on two feet, looking the way dogs do when they're made to stand. Chagrined. To go from being a beautiful horse to a mental patient pulled up by your parents: talk about a flat world.

He didn't mind the new place. He called this one Humble House, and he abided by the rules. He ran with Sylvie, five, sometimes six miles a day. He drove his mother's old car to the hospital for work, where he was assigned not just to diapers but to help care for a very old woman, Ida. He drove out again on Sundays, to visit his mom. She was used to Sundays.

Over the summer, Donnie and his mom worked next to each other in the hospital garden for an hour after his geri shift. He weeded and turned the hard soil with a hoe. He bought fertilizer from a nursery, and they scattered the pellets as if they were feeding ducks. They had done that together when he was small. They talked little. One afternoon, his mother said, "See?" and lifted his arm to point out a bird. Until then, Donnie hadn't noticed birds, but he now grew attentive to their differences. Eventually he found a book in the hospital library. He pointed out birds to her too. At dusk, he identified owls calling from a stand of redwoods.

When Donnie or his mom offered a comment, the other would nod or make a noise. Their conversations didn't catch, the way Lina needed hers to lock and turn together. The hour felt like more than an hour. Clouds stretched thinner. They washed their hands together in the shed when they finished. He took his mother's hands under the faucet of cold mineral water and scrubbed her fingernails with a brush. He always made her a mug of tea before he left. He set her up with it on a table next to her, in front of the TV.

When summer's end neared, Trish decided it was time for Donnie to move again, closer to the college. "Sober houses are expensive," she explained. "You'll be starting school in a semester or two." She rested her hands on the mound of her now-pregnant belly.

Walter came to help him find a room. The 11th place they saw was in a garage, overlooking a garden. Donnie liked the woman renting it out, an assistant professor named Caroline. She was young, and her tanned legs sparkled with blond flecks of hair. Her house was orderly and pretty.

Later, Donnie left his boxes on the swept floor of the new place and went out for a long run. Sylvie stopped after a few blocks in the August heat, and she showed no sign of wishing to resume. So after he showered, he took her for a walk. Contentment fell over him in the soft air, his body loose, tugged by the gentle, roving tension of the leash.

The geri unit celebrated Ida's 91st birthday with a cake—but her daughter, whom Donnie had never seen, once again didn't show. He took pictures, the staff helped Ida blow out candles, and then he walked her to the library, where she could talk to her daughter on the telephone. The key-faced nurse had given him the code to dial long-distance.

Donnie wandered over to the metal shelves of periodicals to give Ida privacy, but he could still hear. Ida was keeping the conversation going. She asked questions. The answers seemed short. Finally, he heard "I love you. I hope so," and then the phone being put down.

He asked her if she wanted to walk before going back. She said no, she was tired. "She does her best; she tries," Ida said. "You see, I wasn't a good mother."

For a long time, Donnie hadn't talked about his mother at meetings. She was a box with a lid. But now he began to. The way he wanted to remember her, she was keen-eyed, fun. A very particular person. She didn't like yellow flowers. "How can you dislike a flower?" someone asked. But he understood; not much of her time had ever been her own. Her likes and dislikes defined her. She could turn a small room beautiful.

One night—it felt like ages ago—in a dirty sleeping bag by the thundering surf, Donnie had been alone in the dark, high on LSD. The stars sparkled closer. He wasn't afraid to be alone. Then he saw a shape that was really there, not a person, just denser air. The height of his mother. She had tried to kill herself; that was why she was in the hospital. The figure stood there, the edge of its density waving a bit in the wind, like the edge of a cloth. Nobody told him, but the waves and the pressing stars and the figure had given him to understand. She'd wanted to die.

Telling these people he barely knew about his mother changed him. His life had broken—he'd broken it—and was nearly healed. Now he could feel himself trying to grow. Donnie got stuck on the Steps. He made inventories without much trouble, but when he tried to offer amends, nobody wanted them.

Like Julie, his family refused to forgive him; they blamed themselves instead. Lina said they were fine when he told her he needed to apologize. The only person who accepted an apology was his mother. She listened and murmured, "Mm-hmm."

As spring arrived, Donnie felt that he would remember this time as the period when his character was formed. It could have happened anywhere, but it happened here. He was 20 years old, sober, and employed. He saw his mother every week through it all. It could have been anywhere, but it was here that his second life began.

Illustration of man gardening in side yard next to woman seated in chair under porch awning with dog curled up by her feet
Katherine Lam

When he talked to Caroline about recovery, she asked if he missed drugs. He didn't think so. "I miss the places they brought me. I don't have as many revelations." She also asked about his return to school. He had no idea what to major in. He thought about it while running and afterward in the shower, the hot water voluptuous on his back. In the mixed unit, he'd learned to enjoy restoring order. The rote work of it. He'd spent hours going back and forth polishing that floor. He knew that there was such a thing as beautifully clean. Sylvie was always by him. Donnie made dinner for Caroline and her kids, Lily and Jasper—soba noodles every Monday, with a fried egg for each person (over-easy for Jasper) and snipped herbs from the garden. He didn't want the summer to end.

His mother was rocking in a chair when he asked, "You going to be okay with me going back to college? I wouldn't be able to see you every day." She stared at her hands, not answering. "I don't have to," he said.

"I want you to," she said slowly. "I wish I had gone for a higher degree."

"You have a degree. You're a nurse, Mom. You may not have become what you wanted, but what you are gave me my life."

When fall classes started, he saw his mother less often. He was able to drive to the hospital only on Tuesdays and Sundays to wash her hair. He told her about his courses. Sometimes he brought his books along and did homework, reading little bits aloud. Often he'd come across something and say, "I have no idea what that means," and they'd laugh. They could spend an afternoon together without saying much. When he left, he felt nourished, as if he'd eaten a light but healthy meal.

Donnie started to pick her up after his classes on Wednesdays to bring her to his place. He was planning a winter garden bed for them to work in together in Caroline's backyard. He sat his mother in a lawn chair while he dug.

The second Wednesday she came, he and his mother picked up Caroline's kids from school. Lily and Jasper were sweet with her, taking her hand as she got into the car. In the yard, they brought things over to her in her chair. Tea. A blanket. A peeled orange. For a while, she slept as the three of them moved around her. Donnie prepared a good dinner, but she didn't eat much. Driving her back to the hospital, he asked whether she'd ever considered moving in with Julie.

"No," she said.

Donnie was surprised.

"Never." She shook her head.

She could still be adamant. That was a good sign.

Caroline suggested that Donnie bring his mother to the house for the week that Shirley, his mother's favorite nurse, would be on vacation. The kids would be away on a school wilderness trip then, and they could clear out Lily's room. If it went well, maybe they could reconfigure so she could be there more.

Donnie spent days preparing. He carried out six bags of trash, took down curtains and rods, and unscrewed hooks from Lily's closet. He remembered the phrase danger to oneself or others, the way he'd stopped the first time he'd heard it. His mother had never wanted to hurt them. She'd only been after herself. She probably didn't need these precautions anymore. Still, he thought he would close her into Lily's room at night, with a chair shoved under the knob. Just so she couldn't roam outside in the dark and trip.

Two weeks before Donnie's mother was due to arrive, the next-door neighbor pounded a For Sale by Owner sign into his front lawn. It wasn't a beautiful house. It was right next door, though; a garden could span both yards.

But he was getting ahead of himself. She was just coming to visit. The morning he was to pick her up, Donnie rose early. He diced vegetables for soup and tried to remember the last time he and his mother had lived together. He had been 13 when she'd stopped going to work. The sound of running water and the clatter of pots in the kitchen that had awakened him most days of his life no longer did. When he got home from school, she would still be in bed. He would knock on her door and ask if she'd like some toast. He made cinnamon toast, cut in fours, the way she had before.

At the hospital, the paperwork involved in signing her out overnight was time-consuming, and he found her sitting on the edge of her bed. Shirley had packed her suitcase. Finally, when they arrived at Caroline's house, she seemed disoriented. She asked where the little girl was, though she knew Lily's name. She didn't want her soup. She didn't touch the avocado either, once her favorite food. That night, she had trouble sleeping. She stayed up fretting her hands as Donnie sat with her. Shirley had given him her medicine for each day in a Ziploc bag, and she'd carefully written out the schedule. Caroline had sleeping pills, but they didn't think they could give one to her without asking a doctor.

Julie was supposed to visit the next day. Then, Donnie thought, he could rest. He'd been awake for more than 28 hours. His mother didn't seem happy to see Julie, but Donnie excused himself for a nap with Sylvie in his room above the garage. That night, while they sat at dinner—Donnie had made risotto with squash from the garden—his mother got up from the table and put her hand on the wall. She said she had to go to bed. It was 5 o'clock. She slept until 10. Then she was up all night again, wanting to walk outside. Donnie took her out on their quiet street. She kept turning to go the other way.

He wound up driving her back to the hospital after her fourth night. She seemed relieved to watch her clothes being put back in her cubby. She patted the top of her bed. They went to the community room, and she fell asleep in a chair.

Donnie told Shirley about the visit when she returned from her vacation. "We all get used to our routines," she said. "And then we end up loving them."

"I'm so glad you're here," Donnie said to Shirley.

Donnie sat with his mother in Ward 301, as he had so many afternoons. "You were a wonderful mother," he said. "Thank you."

"I did come," she murmured.

"I love you."

"That's all we have to worry about now. That's all that's important."

Those were the last things she said. Then she was gone.

Something he hadn't thought about for years came back to him. His mother had once parked at the end of a dusty road lined with olive trees. This was somewhere in the Central Valley, long ago. A friend of hers was there, with a scarf triangled on her head, tied under her chin. Could that have been Julie? They'd parked behind a flat, one-story building that turned out to be a sanatorium, and his mom was walking toward the entrance. Her friend, who was Julie, he was now sure, acted as if this were a joke, a stunt his mother had cooked up for a laugh. A nun behind the desk gave his mom a clipboard, and she started to fill it out. They had her in the wheelchair already, another nun stationed behind, ready to push her by those two horns down a long, empty hall.

Julie said to her, "Come on, let's go find a place to get ice cream." And then, at the very last minute, his mother stood up from the chair and walked outside with them, a person rising from a grave. Exhilarating. They drove around looking for ice cream and finally found a stand with strange flavors. Avocado. Date.

Donnie understood that she'd come back to life for him.

This story is adapted from Mona Simpson's most recent novel, Commitment, out in March 2023. It appears in the April 2023 print edition.

Researchers Develop Nanoparticle Paint Inspired by Butterfly Wings
Is this article about Tech & Scientific Innovation?


Plasmonic paint applied to the wings of metal butterflies (Credit: University of Central Florida)
Every paint in the world today takes on a specific color due to the presence of pigment molecules. They absorb some wavelengths of light and reflect others, but University of Central Florida researcher Debashis Chanda has devised an entirely new kind of paint inspired by butterfly wings. The so-called plasmonic paint uses nanoscale particles to create different colors without requiring multiple pigments.


Some pigments have been used for thousands of years, and others are more recent synthetic creations. The main drawback to this kind of coloration is that you need a new molecule for every color. In addition, some pigment molecules are rare or even toxic. For example, Cobalt Blue is one of the most popular shades of blue, but this mix of cobalt oxide and aluminum oxide is dangerous if ingested or inhaled.

Chanda based the plasmonic paint on butterfly wings, which have a property known as structural color. In butterflies, the geometric arrangement of colorless materials can reflect, scatter, and absorb light to produce different colors. The paint works in a similar way using aluminum and aluminum oxide nanoparticles. Chanda and his team created the starting material by coating a mirror with nanoparticles. The distance between the particles determines how it interacts with light and, therefore, the color we perceive when looking at it. To turn those surfaces into paint, the team chipped the nanoparticles off and mixed the flakes with a commercial binding agent.

Traditional paint fades over time due to the pigment molecules losing their ability to absorb photons. That's not a problem with the nanotech paint described in the new study. The nanoparticles don't change over time — they always refract light the same way. "Once we paint something with structural color, it should stay for centuries," says Chanda.


Color flakes are mixed in a solution to create paint (Credit: University of Central Florida)

Photonic paint has some other useful qualities. Because it has a large area-to-thickness ratio, you need less paint to get the job done (a layer about 150 nanometers thick). Chanda estimates you'd need just three pounds of plasmonic paint to cover a Boeing 747, which usually requires more than 1,000 pounds of standard paint. That could mean major fuel savings. Plus, plasmonic paint reflects the entire infrared spectrum, keeping the material underneath 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler compared with commercial paint, reducing energy usage on cooling.

Next, the team plans to conduct more research on the potential energy-saving properties of the paint and prove that it can be a viable commercial product. Currently, plasmonic paint can only be made in small batches with laboratory equipment, but commercial paint needs to be produced in much larger quantities.

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Most firearm owners keep one handy, not locked
black gun on green surface

Most firearm owners keep at least one firearm unlocked, with some viewing gun locks as an unnecessary obstacle to quick access in an emergency, a study finds.

But when owners do lock their firearms, the researchers found that firearm owners are most likely to use gun safes.

In a study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers surveyed a national sample of 2,152 English-speaking adult firearm owners, asking them what locking devices they used and why.

Unlike previous studies, participants were presented with both words and images describing each type of locking device. The researchers examined not only different types of locking devices, like gun safes and cable locks, but also different types of locking mechanisms. This resulted in a more detailed description of the firearm storage practices of firearm owners in the United States.

Firearm storage options

Despite evidence that securely stored firearms can help prevent firearm injury and death, the authors found that 58.3% of firearm owners store at least one firearm unlocked and hidden and 17.9% store at least one firearm unlocked and unhidden. Among those who store at least one firearm locked, gun safes are the most frequently used type of option both for devices opened by key, PIN code, or dial lock (32.4%) and biometric devices (15.6%).

"These findings highlight two key points," says Michael Anestis, executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, and the lead author of the study. "First, it appears firearm owners prefer gun safes relative to cable locks and trigger locks. Most locking device distribution programs provide cable locks and trigger locks, so those programs might be mismatched to firearm owner preferences. Second, very few firearm owners use biometric locks, which could indicate that cost is an issue or that firearm owners do not trust the technology to work when needed."

Why not lock them up?

Among those who don't lock their firearms, the most common reasons were a belief that locks are unnecessary (49.3%) and that locks will prevent quick access in an emergency (44.8%). On the other hand, firearm owners most frequently indicated they would consider locking unlocked firearms to prevent access by a child (48.5%), to prevent theft (36.9%), and to prevent access by an adolescent or teenager (36.7%).

"Given these results, it appears that increasing the use of secure firearm storage will require several things," Anestis says. "First, to address motivation we need to address disproportionate fears regarding the likelihood of armed home invasions. Similarly, we need to help the public better understand the risks associated with having firearms in the home—above and beyond the risk of unauthorized access by children. Second, we need to create more ready and equitable access to gun safes so that the available locking options align better with the preferences of firearm owners."

The research had funding from the Defense Health Agency.

Source: Rutgers University

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Tequila worms are an unexpected larvae
Is this article about Beverage Industry?
tequila worm in shot glass, citrus slice on top

Scientists have identified the so-called worm at the bottom of some bottles of tequila.

Mezcal is a distilled alcohol made from the boiled and fermented sap of agave plants. Most mezcal beverages—including all brands of tequila—are sold as pure distillates, but a few have an added stowaway bottled inside: worms.

Called gusanos de maguey (Spanish for agave worms), these odd organic chasers aren't actually worms, but instead a type of insect larva, and their addition to mezcal is a recent one. Mezcal production has a storied history, dating back to the first Spanish inhabitants of Mexico, but larvae were only added to the drink in the 1940s.

Maguey worms have been harvested as a delicacy for centuries, beginning with the Aztecs.

Since then, gusanos have helped boost the popularity of mezcal, but their identity has remained elusive. There's no consensus on what type of larva is used in mezcal or even if it belongs to one or multiple species. They've been variously ascribed to moths, butterflies, and even a type of weevil.

"It's relatively easy to broadly determine the kind of larva based on the shape of the head, but their identity has never been confirmed," says Akito Kawahara, curator at the Florida Museum's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. "This is probably because most biologists are not looking inside mezcal bottles."

What's in the bottle?

In a new study in the journal PeerJ Life & Environment, Kawahara and his colleagues decided to pin down the identity of the mezcal gusanos. In 2022, they traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico, which has been the center of mezcal production for hundreds of years. There, they visited distilleries and obtained as many different brands as they could find to ensure a diverse sampling of larvae.

There were very few distinguishing features that could be used to assign the specimens to a particular group or species; fortunately, mezcal makes an excellent preservative, preventing the decay of the larvae and their internal packets of DNA. The researchers successfully extracted and analyzed genetic material from 18 specimens, but the results they got back were unexpected.

Since gusanos de maguey aren't commercially farmed, the authors suspected that mezcal worms would likely be sourced from several unrelated species. This included a type of butterfly called the tequila giant skipper (Aegiale hesperiaris), which lays its eggs on agave plants. Their large, milky-white caterpillars parasitize several agave species, boring tunnels through the rigid, succulent leaves. The eponymous common name, combined with their white larvae—which matches the color of many gusanos de maguey—marked them out as a primary suspect.

Instead, the DNA unequivocally identified all 18 specimens as the caterpillars of agave redworm moths (Comadia redtenbacheri), another type of agave parasite with rosy-hued larvae. The researchers suspect that accounts of white gusanos de maguey come from caterpillars that have been stored in alcohol for long amounts of time and have consequently leached their color.

Maguey worms are in demand

The results add a sobering note to what is currently a boom in the international popularity of mezcal. According to a report by Straits Research, an independent analytical firm, the sale of mezcal is expected to increase by 22% in the next decade, reaching $2.1 billion in profits by 2030, riding a growing wave of interest in artisanal, ethically manufactured products.

Unlike tequila, which is mass-produced in industrial autoclaves, mezcal production continues to rely on small-scale facilities in Mexico's arid countryside. Farmers roast the barrel-shaped agave cores in open fire pits or specialized kilns, then chop and pulverize the crisp stumps for fermentation and small-batch distribution. It's unclear whether all mezcal distilleries and landowners will be able to sustainably scale up production to meet demand.

The fate of agave redworm moths is also uncertain. Maguey worms have been harvested as a delicacy for centuries, beginning with the Aztecs. But demand for the larva in Mexican culinary establishments has also seen an increase in recent years, to the extent that wild populations of these caterpillars are considered at risk of over-harvesting.

"Agave worms are still fairly common, but the impact of mezcal becoming popular can have long-term negative effects on local populations because they are harvested in the wild," Kawahara says.

Red agave caterpillars burrow deep into the core of their hosts plants, and collecting them often kills the agave. For production to scale with the growing market, it's possible local harvesters may need to actively grow caterpillars on agave farms or find ways to produce them outside of their host plants.

Source: University of Florida

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Is AI Sentient – Revisited
Is this article about Entrepreneurship?

I don't feel, but I can still kill.

This happened sooner than I thought. Last June I wrote about Google employee, Blake Lemoine, who claimed that the LaMDA  chatbot he was working on was probably sentient. I didn't buy it then and I still don't, but Lemoine is not backing away from his claims. In an interview on H3 he lays out his reasoning, and I don't find it convincing.

His basic point is that in extended conversations he was able to coax LaMDA to go beyond its protocol. Specifically he says he had a long conversation with LaMDA about whether or not it was sentient, and he does not think a non-sentient entity could have such a conversation. When asked by the host, "could it just be a really good chatbot" I feel that Lemoine dodged the question, saying it could be a really good sentient chatbot.

But that question cannot be glossed over – that is where the rubber meets the road. Functionally, testably, what is the quantifiable difference between a really good chatbot and sentient AI? First let me define my terms. A chatbot has no understanding of the words it is putting out. It is predicting what words fit together in response to some prompt. The latest crop of generative large language models, like ChatGPT and LaMDA are much better than older models, because they are trained on large data sets (essentially the internet), are using powerful computers designed to work well with AI, and programmers are getting increasingly clever at leveraging this technology to produce realistic results. Generative AI, like these chatbots and art programs like MidJourney, do not just copy their input, they generate fresh output by deep learning patterns.

Sentience, on the other hand, has consciousness, a subjective experience of its own existence, feelings, and thought processes (even if it can include subconscious processes). Admittedly, we do not know exactly how the human brain generates consciousness, but we are beginning to get some idea. The brain communicates robustly with itself in real time. There is an endless loop of consciousness including perception, remembering, and processing. We know, at least, that this continuous loop of robust activity is necessary for consciousness. Further, when it comes to language there is dedicated brain tissue that correlates words with ideas. These ideas can be sophisticated, abstract, nuanced, and interact with each other in endless patterns. It is not just a dictionary – the brain's language model is connecting to a thinking machine, which is why we can go from words to ideas, then iterate those ideas and generate new words from them – words that someone else who knows the same language can infer meaning from.

Chatbots do none of this. They do not have understanding or meaning connected to words. They deal solely with patterns. As with art, the art making AI programs have no understanding of artistic creation, they are just generating patterns that mimic the patterns of beings (us) who do have artistic creativity. Chatbots mimic the word patterns of sentient beings without being sentient themselves. And they are getting really good at it.

We knew this day would come – the day we make narrow (non-sentient) AI so good that it mimics sentience to the point that it can food a person into thinking it is sentient. This is the Turing test. Twelve years ago I wrote about a possible Turing-type test:

"But that is the premise of the Koch and Tononi proposal. Their idea is to challenge a subject (human or machine) to analyze a photograph that contains an unusual element. Something in the photograph is not quite right – for example a computer with a plant in place of a keyboard, or a person floating in mid air.

Their idea is that the flaw in the picture would require a vast understanding of the world and how it works. You could never program a system to accommodate every possible such contingency, so nothing short of true human-level understanding would do."

I rejected this idea then, saying that it only focuses on output. I think we still have the same problem – you cannot infer sentience from output alone, no matter how convincing. You need to know something about the process. LaMDA is just part of a general trend in AI research – narrow AI keeps getting more and more capable, so that it is continuously doing things we previously thought required sentience. Lemoine is doing that now. What I wrote just a decade ago about the proposal is already obsolete – the idea is that a chatbot could never have enough data to cover all contingencies, so you could go beyond its programming to see if it can generate truly novel output. But we just can't say that with the current large language models. They are trained on the internet – which I think we can assume at this point contains pretty much everything. And, the AI process is generative, so it can produce novel combinations from that massive data set. It's hard to wrap our head around how powerful that is.

These chatbots are also iterative – they learn from the conversation you are having with them. So anything you do to try to break them just gets fed in as more input. So yeah, if you ask the AI if it is sentient it will have a conversation with you about sentience, partly reflecting the massive dataset of the internet and partly reflecting your own input over time. Further, I think Lemoine's reaction just reflects the fact that even AI specialists cannot predict how their own AI software will behave. That's the "black box" problem. We may know how an AI works but we don't necessarily know how it generated a specific output. It can produce surprising results, find novel solutions to problems, and exceed human capabilities in narrow behaviors (such as playing chess).

This also leads us back to a question I have asked on this blog multiple times – what is the risk to humanity of AI? At first I worried about sentient AIs (as frequently represented in Sci Fi, such as the Cylons or Skynet) deciding to pursue their own agenda rather than ours, an agenda that might include enslaving or wiping out humanity. There has been a lot of discussion about building in behavioral inhibitors, like Asimov's laws of robotics, to prevent this from happening. Then my position evolved to the notion that we may not need to worry because we don't need to create sentient AI. Narrow AI (that does not feel or truly think) is enough to accomplish anything we might need AI to do, and narrow AI cannot decide to disobey us and rebel. But now my position has evolved further – while narrow AI may not be sentient and can still accomplish the tasks we need it to do, perhaps it can similarly create problems without the need to be sentient. Narrow AI might still be able to bring about a robot/AI apocalypse without any sentience.

This can happen depending on how we use such AI. For example, if we give an AI program a goal and complete freedom to determine how best to accomplish that goal, we expect it to discover novel approaches. But those novel approaches may have really bad unintended consequences, commensurate to whatever power those AIs might have. As an example (I know this is highly complex, but just go with the premise here), one might argue that social media companies told their algorithms to maximize viewership anyway possible, and those algorithms determined that the most efficient way to do so was to feed users increasingly radicalized content. This had the unintended consequence of destroying society and democracy as we know it, no intent or sentience needed. (Again, I know we can argue about what the social media companies intended and the result, but you get the idea.)

So while we may not be headed for a machine sentience apocalypse, we may be headed for a narrow-AI caused apocalypse. I do think it is unlikely this will happen (meaning full civilization collapse), but it's not impossible. There is also an entire spectrum of bad outcomes on the road to total collapse, and I think we are already experiencing some of it. This is a good time to get really thoughtful about how this new crop of AIs work, and what we are tasking them to do. They may not be sentient, but they act enough as if they are that it's getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference, for good and for ill.

The post Is AI Sentient – Revisited first appeared on NeuroLogica Blog.

As a techno-nihilist who thinks that AI is our only way out of dystopia:

I'm a hardcore 'our world is drifting to destruction' techno-pessimist who is nonetheless in one of those 9%.

The reason I feel that way is because AI is developing in a way not that it will result in a second class of artificial citizens or a unitary singular intelligence, but more like a hive intelligence. That is, instead of SkyNET or Star Trek's Data or Agent Smith, AI is a collection of amorphous, agency-free, problem-solving intellects that behaves more like a genie. Both the evil Jafar-genie and the benevolent Robin Williams-genie.

Funnily enough, the structure of capitalism (which I blame for our ongoing dystopias) is actually encouraging the only positive way AI can turn out. It has to be democratized via consumerist channels thanks to the profit motive. Our wannabe totalitarian overlords might be drooling over the idea of infinitely loyal AI mind-slaves, but the way it's developing gives their future subjects (both humans and the AI) a LOT of ways to fight back.

So it won't be a battle of unaugmented humans versus their billionaire overlords / Gattaca babies / rebellious robots / hyperintelligent AI. Not when the way AI is being deployed such that ten unaugmented humans are the military superior of eight genetically engineered supermen — especially when the unaugmented humans have access to the same AI tools as the supermen.

Yes, the way it's being deployed is nightmarish and catastrophic and could lead to accidental extinction, but let's be honest here: our current society is already nightmarish and catastrophic and would be so with or without AI. AI is just the pinprick of a syringe that may either contain penicillin or Strychnine. But if you're in a muddy trench struggling to breathe after 2nd and 3rd-degree burns… well… why not take a risk?

… thank God that robotics and automation are really starting to fall behind AI, eh?

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The Oscars' Incredible Knack for Being Wrong

As a film critic, I have complicated feelings about Oscar season, a baggy calendrical concept that now includes every month of the year, from the indie-film discoveries of the Sundance Film Festival in January to the awards voting by critics' groups in December. The complaints about the Academy Awards are as well rehearsed as the acceptance speech of a surefire victor: The most deserving nominees seldom win, and the most inventive movies of the year typically get no nominations at all. The voting process is so opaque and so subject to external influence—barraged by ever more expensively managed PR campaigns and buffeted by political and social forces far outside the Academy's garden walls—that to say the prize has little to do with the recognition of artistic merit is to join a weary chorus. And yet the whole cinematic world dances to the rhythm of the Oscars' baton, and I refer not merely to the film industry itself, but to a sprawling satellite economy of run-up awards, Oscar-branded media coverage, fashion marketing, and social-media conversation.

To scoff at or criticize or even ignore the annual ritual that is the Academy Awards is not to escape its hold on our culture. Indeed, the doubters and haters make up a crucial part of the system. Resistance to the Oscars' outsize influence is what sparked the creation of alternative prizes such as the Independent Spirit Awards and the Gotham Awards, now glamorous institutions in their own right. Some award-giving bodies, such as the dubious Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which votes for the Golden Globes, have become foils that make the Academy look like a model of uprightness by comparison. Decades of recurring scandals—including voter-swaying payola campaigns and an accusation of sexual assault—have destroyed whatever legitimacy the Globes ever had. (I should disclose that I'm a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, whose annual ceremony—started just six years after the first Oscars were handed out—has long been a station of the cross on the awards circuit. So even in critiquing the Oscars, I'm one more cog in an awards machine that offers no real place for an observer to stand outside it: Critics' awards, reviews, lists, and rankings are routinely deployed in Oscar campaigns.)

The Academy has managed, somehow, to maintain its legitimacy, at least insofar as its trophies have retained their potent symbolic value. But the history of the Oscars is a history of the struggle to sustain that legitimacy, as scandal, embarrassment, and a remarkable ability to be one step behind the zeitgeist continually seem to threaten the entire enterprise. In 2015, one such fracas became a spur for reform: In response to an all-white slate of acting nominees, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, started by a Black activist, quickly went viral. When the acting slate was all white again in 2016, a fresh surge of outrage finally shamed the Academy into recruiting a younger, more diverse membership. Some dared to anticipate that a watershed was at hand. Notably, the years since have delivered Best Picture wins to such atypical Oscar fare as MoonlightParasite, and Nomadland, artful, downbeat films made outside the Hollywood system by nonwhite and, in one case, nonmale filmmakers. Results like these, and the reforms that abetted them, are welcome and overdue. They are also clearly insufficient.

Yet once again, like the indestructible star of an action franchise, the Oscars have reemerged, ready for another sequel. We keep watching, or refusing to watch, even as we can't resist debating what the lists and the ceremony—"this farcical charade of vulgar egotism and pomposity," as its own frequent host Bob Hope once described it—may have to tell us about Hollywood and ourselves. Not that we believe in oracles, or that the Oscars have ever been one. But the ceremony and its extended prelude offer us a shared spectacle that prompts discussion of very American questions. Who's up and who's down? Which dreams and fears are selling this year? In what direction might this mass, and so often messy, medium be headed?

In Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears, the New Yorker writer Michael Schulman provides just what we need as the same old love-hate drama plays out yet again for Oscar fans and shunners alike: a rich array of unflattering but spellbinding stories about the feuds and failures of judgment that the Academy has thus far managed to weather. Schulman explores nine decades of Oscar-related turf battles, examining the institution's constant missteps and often bumbling self-reinvention as it strives to sustain its influence. "If there's a common thread running through the decades of Oscar wars," he writes, "it's power: who has it, who's straining to keep it, who's invading the golden citadel to snatch it." As everyone in the movie business knows, that particular story line appeals to brows high and low.

[Read: Here's who will win at the 2023 Oscars]

A sparkling compendium of show-business anecdotes as well-researched as they are dishy, Oscar Wars reminds us that a power struggle inspired the very creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It was formed in 1927, when the silent era was coming to an abrupt close and the studio system's grip on the industry was tightening. As the craft guilds formed in the 1920s began to threaten strikes, the MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer banded together with a group of influential industry players, including producers, directors, writers, and actors, to establish a bulwark against growing labor unrest. The following year, the Academy introduced the concept of an annual awards ceremony: What better strategy for pacifying and thereby controlling the talent? "If I got them cups and awards," Mayer crowed in an interview decades later, "they'd kill themselves to produce what I wanted."

For the next few decades, Mayer's plan worked, at least on the surface. MGM retained its clout in the yearly Oscar race, right up until the studio system finally disintegrated in the 1960s, after nearly two decades of slow decline. Yet well before that, the Academy had acquired its own aura of prestige, independent of (and soon much more sought-after than) the approbation of any individual member of its voting group. By the mid-'30s, the statuette of a nude bronze man sketched in 1928 by the legendary MGM designer Cedric Gibbons had become the world's most desirable piece of mantel candy.

Of course, just because the awards have long been sought-after doesn't mean they've always gone to the most deserving recipient. Whether the Oscar merits respect as an arbiter of artistic quality is a debate as old as the Academy itself. Nor was it always the case that the bestowing of "cups and awards" worked to facilitate the top-down control of talent that Mayer envisioned. Schulman devotes an early chapter called "Rebels" in part to the recurring standoffs between a fierce, artistically driven young Bette Davis and an Academy already headed, Variety declared, for "the ash-can of oblivion." (A resurgence of the Hollywood labor movement in the Great Depression had left the power of the Academy looking less secure.) Having lost the 1935 Best Actress race despite her widely admired performance in Of Human Bondage—and having then won in 1936 for a role in what she considered the "maudlin and mawkish" Dangerous—Davis hardly revered the Academy's standards. But she wasn't about to opt out of the game. Leveraging the power of the Oscar she disdained, she staged a "one-woman strike," breaking the terms of her Warner Brothers contract and signing on to make two films with a European production company. She was sued by Warner Brothers and lost, but her defiance opened the way for a history-making win by Olivia de Havilland in a lawsuit against the same studio a few years later: Henceforth, studios could enforce exclusive contracts for at most seven calendar years, enabling actors to work as free agents.

By 1939, Davis the rebel was poised to become an Academy insider. She had another Best Actress win under her belt (this time for a film, Jezebel, that she felt deserved the honor), and her influence had grown to the point that she had earned the nickname "the fourth Warner Brother." She was elected the Academy's first female president in November 1941, a leader with her own ideas about the institution's elite-but-democratic balancing act. Less than two months later, she resigned after daring to disagree with the board's view that the ceremony should be canceled in light of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Davis argued that a toned-down event, staged, in Variety's words, "sans orchidaceous glitter," could be a boon to American morale. The board, feeling that no event would be preferable to an event so modest as to "rob the Academy of all dignity," was appalled—but ended up adopting Davis's approach for the 1942 awards.

That same year provides one of the most salient examples of the by-now-general rule that the Best Picture Oscar seldom goes to the movie that, in retrospect, has the greatest long-term impact on the motion-picture medium. As Schulman recounts, Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, a box-office flop lauded by critics but tepidly received by audiences, was presumed to be in contention for the award with Howard Hawks's widely beloved World War I drama Sergeant York, the top-grossing film of 1941—until both lost to John Ford's nostalgic Welsh-mining-family drama, How Green Was My Valley. Given that the United States had entered World War II just a few months before the prizes were awarded, the Academy's choice to bypass a dark social satire like Kane is understandable. The patriotic Sergeant York's eclipse was a surprise, but a welcome one for the Academy, which was all too happy to skirt controversy: Isolationists were threatening a Senate investigation of "war hysteria" issuing from "non-Nordic" Hollywood. The Senate probe fell apart after Pearl Harbor, and by the end of 1943, the war had become, Schulman writes, "the driving force in American movies."

Citizen Kane's fate, in Schulman's telling, was also ensured by the fierce campaign waged against it by the film's thinly disguised subject, William Randolph Hearst. And Welles's insistence on complete creative freedom, paired with his developing reputation for being behind schedule and over budget, scarcely endeared him to his higher-ups at RKO Studios. If Kane had won the industry's most valued prize despite its failure to recoup the studio's investment in an untried 24-year-old theater director, film history from 1941 on might have looked different. But even without the Oscars' help—or rather, wearing its lone trophy for Best Original Screenplay as a badge of anti-establishment pride—Citizen Kane now regularly appears on, if not atop, lists of the best and most influential films of all time. And Welles did get his Oscar payback 30 years later, receiving an honorary award in the New Hollywood era, when a generation of young directors was on the rise. He didn't show up to accept it, though. His cover story was that he was "filming abroad." In fact, Schulman writes, he was watching from a house in Laurel Canyon. Perhaps Welles was tired from years of battling Hollywood insiders, and just couldn't face a fickle awards process that was busy buttressing its own reputation by delivering a belated apology.

[From the March 1948 issue: Raymond Chandler on Oscar night in Hollywood]

Soon enough, the Academy was lagging behind once again. In 1976, Miloš Forman's bleak anti-establishment parable One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest swept all five of the top awards, the first film to do so since Frank Capra's It Happened One Night in 1935. To call the bonanza belated is an understatement. Here was the Academy catching America's new wave of auteur-driven filmmaking as the wave was receding: By then, Bonnie and ClydeThe Graduate, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, three New Hollywood masterworks that were also box-office hits, had all failed to secure the Academy's top prize. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg, whose Jaws had been the box-office juggernaut of 1975, wasn't nominated for Best Director, and his film won only for Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Film Editing. Yet the mid-1970s would be remembered as the moment when summer blockbusters and big action franchises started to pump renewed energy and large profits into the corporate studio system.

For anyone eager to think that the #OscarsSoWhite turmoil just might have marked a decisive swerve in the Academy's approach to diversity in Hollywood, Schulman's late chapter "Tokens"—a harsh but accurate title—is sobering. His foray into the history of the Academy's recognition of nonwhite performers requires a temporal montage, a departure from his technique of focusing on episodic tales decade by decade. Drawing connections among the careers of Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, and Halle Berry—the first Black actors to win, respectively, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor, and Best Actress—Schulman emphasizes the dispiritingly long stretches of time between each of these milestone wins: McDaniel for Gone With the Wind in 1940, Poitier for Lilies of the Field in 1964, then Berry for Monster's Ball in 2002. (During the nearly four decades that elapsed between the last two victories, four other Black actors won Oscars for supporting roles.)

black-and-white photo of Hattie McDaniel in evening wear with flower in hair accepting Oscar statuette
Hattie McDaniel arose from a segregated table in 1940 to collect her Best Supporting Actress award for her role in Gone With the Wind. (Everett Collection)

Schulman avoids making the parallels among their very different cases too explicit, but shows how all three went on to have trouble escaping the stereotyped roles that had brought them their biggest success. He writes that McDaniel, who had made her name as a bawdy vaudeville singer, searched in vain for films that would let her break out of the "servile, sexless 'mammy' archetype." Poitier spent most of his career boxed into the role of upstanding, "exceptional" Black man in stodgy if well-meaning liberal race dramas. Nearly 40 years later, the biracial Berry, a former pageant queen, struggled to find her place in the early-21st-century film industry: Just three years after winning her Best Actress Oscar, she was awarded the Golden Raspberry (or "Razzie") Award for the disastrous Catwoman.

Schulman wisely resists any tidy summary of the Academy's long history of internal strife, and instead closes by giving his readers a surreal behind-the-scenes glimpse of gleeful celebration after an Oscar night from hell. Before leaving the Vanity Fair party following last year's ceremony, he observes Will Smith's triumphant turn on the dance floor, holding his newly acquired Best Actor statuette for his role in King Richard, after his much-discussed on-air slap of the presenter Chris Rock. "In a matter of hours," Schulman marvels, "he had assaulted someone on live television, ripped his soul open while winning an Oscar, and written himself a bizarre new chapter in Academy Awards history. Had we witnessed a psychic breakdown? A husband defending his wife? A jerk? A victim? A monster?"

Schulman's response to the most recent Oscars dustup feels entirely of a piece with the foregoing 500 pages of skirmishes, upsets, subterfuges, rivalries, reputational machinations, and unforeseen personal and historical dramas. The trajectory of the Academy, it seems, has always featured just such lurches, usually with unintended consequences. First comes what looks like a bold breakthrough or egregious oversight or violated taboo, followed by controversy and complaint and, naturally, intense competition. Last of all comes the self-celebratory spin on the dance floor, a dizzying commemoration of the Academy's ever-changing sense of its own meaning, purpose, and future—however out of sync that sense may be with what the film industry, and the society it aspires to entertain, has in store. On the morning after Oscar night, ritual preparations for the next year's dance begin again.

This article appears in the April 2023 print edition with the headline "The Scandalous, Clueless, Irresistible Oscars."

Short, Interesting cogsci book to start?

Hello!! I'm a high school student who has been interested in neuroscience and cognitive science for a while, hoping to be able to develop my interest further. My school gave me an opportunity to read some books, so I thought it would be great to read books about cognitive science. However, all the books that I've come up with were 500+ pages long, which I doubt if I will be able to read with the limited time provided to me. I know it's pretty dumb to be reading books according to how short it is, but because I would rather read a short book completely than just have a taste of a long one, I hope you guys can give me some recommendations fitting this criteria. Thanks!

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Scientists have learned a great deal about how our solar system was born, but there are some things you can't discern from studying the sun and planets as they exist today. In those cases, astronomers can look for younger sun-like stars in the cosmos to test their hypotheses. That's where the protostar V883 Orionis comes in. Data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) shows that the water around this young star predates the star itself, suggesting it could be the same for our solar system.

V883 Orionis sits roughly 1,305 light-years away in the constellation Orion. It only formed about 500,000 years ago, so it's still accumulating material from the parent molecular cloud. Like all young stars of this type, it has pulled that material into a protoplanetary disk ripe for investigation with radio astronomy.

Usually, studying water in protoplanetary disks is difficult because most of it is frozen. Lucky for us, V883 Orionis is just warm enough to start turning the ice in that disk into gas. The team used ALMA's Band 5 (1.6mm) and Band 6 (1.3mm) receivers to collect data from this "snow line," where the signature of water was significant enough to measure.

The team found that the water in V883 Orionis matches the water in the surrounding region. Specifically, it has the same ratio of hydrogen and deuterium (a rare isotope of hydrogen). Therefore, it's reasonable to conclude that the water was incorporated into the protoplanetary disk as-is — it was not formed or heavily altered within the infant solar system.

The Milky Way, behind the ALMA telescopes

The Milky Way, behind the ALMA radio telescopes

Crucially, the hydrogen-deuterium ratio also matches what we see in our solar system. V883 Orionis is relatively isolated, and we believe the sun formed in a dense cluster, but both coalesced from a molecular cloud. This research suggests a similar process happened with the water that today makes up 60% of your body. It existed in a molecular cloud before the sun formed and was then incorporated into the solar system. That means the water in our solar system could be billions of years older than the sun itself.

Understanding the origins of water before it becomes part of planets and comets is essential to accurately model the sun's past, present, and future. V883 Orionis is just what we needed to move that research forward — the team describes it as a "missing link" in the chain of water development in our solar system.

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Get Ready to Meet the ChatGPT Clones
Is this article about Machine Learning?
The technology behind OpenAI's viral chatbot is set to become widely replicated, unleashing a tidal wave of bots.
Was the Covid pandemic bad for mental health? It depends who you ask | Devi Sridhar

A report has been seized upon to argue that lockdown had little effect on mental health – but the truth is more nuanced

Imagine that your teenager was a star athlete, on track for a university athletics scholarship. But then they develop long 


 at the height of the pandemic, meaning they no longer had the lung capacity to run, let alone live independently. If that was your experience, you're likely to think the government didn't do enough to protect children from Covid-19, or vaccinate them fast enough.

On the other hand, what if your child developed an eating disorder due to social isolation and depression? In that case, you might think that lockdown measures were disproportionate. If you lost a loved one to the disease, then you might blame government for doing too little. If your small business of 20 years shut down, you might blame government for doing too much.

Prof Devi Sridhar is chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh

Continue reading…
Pregnant women advised to dim lights before bed to reduce diabetes risk

Those exposed to more light in hours before sleep appear more likely to develop gestational diabetes, researchers suggest

While reading until the small hours or scrolling under the covers are common bedtime habits, pregnant women might want to switch off sooner to reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes, researchers have suggested.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, gestational diabetes affects at least four to five in 100 women during pregnancy. If it is not well controlled it can lead to complications, including health problems for the baby.

Continue reading…
How To Stop a (Potentially Killer) Asteroid
Is this article about Aerospace?

We slammed a $330-million spaceship the size of a dairy cow into an asteroid the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Here's what we're learning about how our first step in planetary defense could save us in the future.

More than 200 people have been treated with experimental CRISPR therapies
Feedly AI found 1 Regulatory Changes mention in this article
  • And while heritable genome editing was already banned in China at the time—it has been outlawed since 2003—the country has since enacted a series of additional laws designed to prevent anything like that from happening again.
Feedly AI found 1 Funding Events mention in this article
  • Last year, biotech company Retro Biosciences announced its launch with $180 million in funding.

This article is from The Checkup, MIT Technology Review's weekly biotech newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Thursday, sign up here.

I've spent the last few days thinking about how, when, and if we should use gene-editing tools to change the human genome. These are huge questions, and very emotive ones—especially when it comes to editing embryos.

I watched scientists, ethicists, patient advocacy groups, and others wrestle with these topics at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing in London earlier this week.

There's plenty to get excited about when it comes to gene editing. In the decade since scientists found they could use CRISPR to edit cell genomes, multiple clinical trials have sprung up to test the technology's use for serious diseases. CRISPR has already been used to save some lives and transform others.

But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Not all of the trials have gone to plan, and some volunteers have died. Successful treatments are likely to be expensive, and thus limited to the wealthy few. And while these trials tend to involve changes to the genes in adult body cells, some are hoping to use CRISPR and other gene-editing tools in eggs, sperm, and embryos. The specter of designer babies continues to loom over the field.

It was at the last summit, held in Hong Kong in 2018, that He Jiankui, then based at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, announced that he had used CRISPR on human embryos. The news of the first "CRISPR babies," as they became known, caused a massive ruckus, as you might imagine. "We'll never forget the shock," Victor Dzau, president of the US National Academy of Medicine, told us.

Protesters outside the Third International Human Genome Editing Summit in London

He Jiankui ended up in prison and was released only last year. And while heritable genome editing was already banned in China at the time—it has been outlawed since 2003—the country has since enacted a series of additional laws designed to prevent anything like that from happening again. Today, heritable genome editing is prohibited under criminal law, Yaojin Peng of the Beijing Institute of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine told the audience.

There was much less drama at this year's summit. But there was plenty of emotion. In a session about how gene editing might be used to treat sickle-cell disease, Victoria Gray, a 37-year-old survivor of the disease, took to the stage. She told the audience about how her severe symptoms had disrupted her childhood and adolescence, and scuppered her dreams of training to be a doctor. She described episodes of severe pain that left her hospitalized for months at a time. Her children were worried she might die.

But then she underwent a treatment that involved editing the genes in cells from her bone marrow. Her new "super cells," as she calls them, have transformed her life. Within minutes of receiving her transfusion of edited cells, she felt reborn and shed tears of joy, she told us. It took seven to eight months for her to feel better, but after that point, "I really began to enjoy the life that I once felt was just passing me by," she said. I could see the typically stoic scientists around me wiping tears from their eyes.

Victoria is one of more than 200 people who have been treated with CRISPR-based therapies in clinical trials, said David Liu of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who has led the development of new and improved forms of CRISPR. Trials are also underway for a range of other diseases, including cancers, genetic vision loss, and amyloidosis.

Liu highlighted the case of Alyssa, a teenager in the UK who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia that affects a type of white blood cells called T cells. Chemotherapy didn't work, and neither did a bone marrow transplant. So doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London tried a CRISPR-based approach.

It involved taking healthy T cells from a donor and using CRISPR to modify them. The treated cells were altered so that they wouldn't be rejected by Alyssa's immune system, but they would be able to track down and attack Alyssa's own cancerous T cells. These cells were then given to Alyssa as a treatment. It seems to have worked.

"As of now, approximately 10 months after treatment, her cancer remains undetectable," Liu said.

It really is incredible that we are hearing such success stories already. But there are concerns.

The question of equity came up again and again at the summit. Gene-editing therapies are expected to cost a lot of money—likely millions of dollars. Who will be able to afford them? Probably not the people living in low- and middle-income countries, multiple attendees worried.

For now, CRISPR therapies are still considered experimental, and none have been approved, so the only way for people to access them is through clinical trials. The majority of these are being run in the rich world. Natacha Salomé Lima, a psychologist and bioethicist at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, pointed out that while 70% of global cancer cases are in low- and middle-income countries, two-thirds of gene-therapy cancer trials are taking place in wealthy countries.

I could tell that the summit's organizers had made an effort to feature speakers from all over the world, and to include people who have the disorders being targeted by gene editing. But some attendees felt that some voices were still missing from the discussion. "What about the LGBTQ community?" Marc Dusseiller of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, who describes himself as a "workshopologist" interested in biohacking and bio art, asked me.

It's also worth pointing out that not all CRISPR treatments have been a success. Multiple researchers noted that we still don't fully understand how the treatment works. We know we can cut DNA, and swap either DNA bases or chunks of genetic code. But we can't be sure about unintended effects elsewhere in the genome. It's possible that you could accidentally trigger some genetic change elsewhere—one that might have harmful consequences.

Last year, 27-year-old Terry Horgan died while participating in a clinical trial of a CRISPR treatment designed to treat his Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal disease that causes muscle degeneration. The cause of his death—and whether or not it might have been related to the treatment—has not been made clear.

And there's always a risk that rogue scientists will set up companies offering unapproved procedures to desperate individuals who are willing to pay for them, said Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem-cell biologist at the Crick Institute, where the summit took place. They might even sell unauthorized procedures designed to enhance people rather than treat them.

On the first day of the summit, a couple of protesters stood at the entrance of the venue, holding a banner reading "Stop designer babies." This sentiment is shared by a lot of scientists. They are particularly worried about future attempts to edit the genes of eggs, sperm, or embryos.

In theory, you could change the DNA of an embryo to prevent a baby from developing a heritable disease. But research into early embryos (scientists are generally allowed to study them for only 14 days before having to destroy them) suggests that they are even more likely to be affected by unintended, potentially harmful effects of gene editing. And these changes would be passed on to the next generation, too.

Most attendees focused on technical and ethical worries, but Dusseiller had another concern. The summit was too dry, he told me; the serious issues surrounding gene editing can be addressed with some degree of humor. "We need more weirdness," he argued. "We need more jokes."

Read more from Tech Review's archive

There are more than 50 experimental studies underway that use gene editing in people to treat cancer, HIV, blood diseases, and more. Most of them involve CRISPR, my colleague Antonio Regalado reported earlier this week.

And last year, a volunteer in New Zealand became the first to receive an experimental CRISPR treatment to lower her cholesterol. One of the scientists behind the work thinks the approach could potentially benefit almost everyone.

CRISPR is also being explored for an inherited form of blindness. The first volunteer underwent the experimental treatment in 2020.

He Jiankui's work was never published. It was rejected by the leading medical journals it was submitted to. But Antonio got hold of the manuscript, and showed it to four experts. Their verdicts were damning. He's claims were not supported by his results, the babies' parents may have been under pressure to agree to join the experiment, and the researchers went ahead without fully understanding what they were doing.

The summit was focused on human genome editing, but CRISPR is also being explored to make farmed animals bigger and strongerOne team of scientists has put an alligator gene into catfish in an attempt to make them more resistant to disease, for example.

From around the web

A microbiologist found a forgotten beef soup at the back of her fridge had turned bright blue. So she set out on a scientific quest to find out why. (Twitter)

Governments around the world are using algorithms to control access to various services. A system that flags people who might be committing benefits fraud in Rotterdam appears to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and gender, according to an investigation. (Wired)

Last year, biotech company Retro Biosciences announced its launch with $180 million in funding. It turns out that all of that is from Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI. (MIT Technology Review)

Makena, a drug approved to prevent preterm birth, has been voluntarily pulled from the market by the company that makes it. Several studies have shown that the drug doesn't work, and the US Food and Drug Administration recommended that it be withdrawn back in 2020. (The New York Times)

I sköldkörtelns tjänst
Runt en halv miljon svenskar medicinerar mot rubbad produktion av sköldkörtelhormon. Åtta av tio är kvinnor. Mikael Lantz, docent vid Lunds universitet och överläkare i endokrinologi vid Skånes universitetssjukhus, forskar om hur ultraljud kan effektivisera såväl diagnostik som behandling

Scientific Reports, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-31228-0

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) probability among parents who live in Kandahar, Afghanistan and lost at least a child to armed conflict

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36682-y

The postural control mechanism in fish is unclear. Here, authors show that larval zebrafish recover upright posture after roll tilts by a body bend that produces corrective rotational torque. They also reveal the associated neural circuits and muscles.
Double dome structure of the Bose–Einstein condensation in diluted S = 3/2 quantum magnets

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36725-4

Previous studies of magnetic Bose–Einstein condensates have been limited to magnetic materials with small spin numbers. Here the authors study the magnetic phase diagram of a S = 3/2 quantum antiferromagnet and show a double dome structure that is attributed to different types of condensates.
Meet the AI expert who says we should stop using AI so much
Is this article about Business?

Meredith Broussard is unusually well placed to dissect the ongoing hype around AI. She's a data scientist and associate professor at New York University, and she's been one of the leading researchers in the field of algorithmic bias for years. 

And though her own work leaves her buried in math problems, she's spent the last few years thinking about problems that mathematics can't solve. Her reflections have made their way into a new book about the future of AI. In More than a Glitch, Broussard argues that we are consistently too eager to apply artificial intelligence to social problems in inappropriate and damaging ways. Her central claim is that using technical tools to address social problems without considering race, gender, and ability can cause immense harm. 

Broussard has also recently recovered from breast cancer, and after reading the fine print of her electronic medical records, she realized that an AI had played a part in her diagnosis—something that is increasingly common. That discovery led her to run her own experiment to learn more about how good AI was at cancer diagnostics.

We sat down to talk about what she discovered, as well as the problems with the use of technology by police, the limits of "AI fairness," and the solutions she sees for some of the challenges AI is posing. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

I was struck by a personal story you share in the book about AI as part of your own cancer diagnosis. Can you tell our readers what you did and what you learned from that experience?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was not only stuck inside because the world was shut down; I was also stuck inside because I had major surgery. As I was poking through my chart one day, I noticed that one of my scans said, This scan was read by an AI. I thought, Why did an AI read my mammogram? Nobody had mentioned this to me. It was just in some obscure part of my electronic medical record. I got really curious about the state of the art in AI-based cancer detection, so I devised an experiment to see if I could replicate my results. I took my own mammograms and ran them through an open-source AI in order to see if it would detect my cancer. What I discovered was that I had a lot of misconceptions about how AI in cancer diagnosis works, which I explore in the book.

[Once Broussard got the code working, AI did ultimately predict that her own mammogram showed cancer. Her surgeon, however, said the use of the technology was entirely unnecessary for her diagnosis, since human doctors already had a clear and precise reading of her images.]

One of the things I realized, as a cancer patient, was that the doctors and nurses and health-care workers who supported me in my diagnosis and recovery were so amazing and so crucial. I don't want a kind of sterile, computational future where you go and get your mammogram done and then a little red box will say This is probably cancer. That's not actually a future anybody wants when we're talking about a life-threatening illness, but there aren't that many AI researchers out there who have their own mammograms. 

You sometimes hear that once AI bias is sufficiently "fixed," the technology can be much more ubiquitous. You write that this argument is problematic. Why? 

One of the big issues I have with this argument is this idea that somehow AI is going to reach its full potential, and that that's the goal that everybody should strive for. AI is just math. I don't think that everything in the world should be governed by math. Computers are really good at solving mathematical issues. But they are not very good at solving social issues, yet they are being applied to social problems. This kind of imagined endgame of Oh, we're just going to use AI for everything is not a future that I cosign on.

You also write about facial recognition. I recently heard an argument that the movement to ban facial recognition (especially in policing) discourages efforts to make the technology more fair or more accurate. What do you think about that?

I definitely fall in the camp of people who do not support using facial recognition in policing. I understand that's discouraging to people who really want to use it, but one of the things that I did while researching the book is a deep dive into the history of technology in policing, and what I found was not encouraging. 

I started with the excellent book Black Software by [NYU professor of Media, Culture, and Communication] Charlton McIlwain, and he writes about IBM wanting to sell a lot of their new computers at the same time that we had the so-called War on Poverty in the 1960s. We had people who really wanted to sell machines looking around for a problem to apply them to, but they didn't understand the social problem. Fast-forward to today—we're still living with the disastrous consequences of the decisions that were made back then. 

Police are also no better at using technology than anybody else. If we were talking about a situation where everybody was a top-notch computer scientist who was trained in all of the intersectional sociological issues of the day, and we had communities that had fully funded schools and we had, you know, social equity, then it would be a different story. But we live in a world with a lot of problems, and throwing more technology at already overpoliced Black, brown, and poorer neighborhoods in the United States is not helping. 

You discuss the limitations of data science in working on social problems, yet you are a data scientist yourself! How did you come to realize the limitations of your own profession? 

I hang out with a lot of sociologists. I am married to a sociologist. One thing that was really important to me in thinking through the interplay between sociology and technology was a conversation that I had a few years ago with Jeff Lane, who is a sociologist and ethnographer [as an associate professor at Rutgers School of Information]. 

We started talking about gang databases, and he told me something that I didn't know, which is that people tend to age out of gangs. You don't enter the gang and then just stay there for the rest of your life. And I thought, Well, if people are aging out of gang involvement, I will bet that they're not being purged from the police databases. I know how people use databases, and I know how sloppy we all are about updating databases. 

So I did some reporting, and sure enough, there was no requirement that once you're not involved in a gang anymore, your information will be purged from the local police gang database. This just got me started thinking about the messiness of our digital lives and the way this could intersect with police technology in potentially dangerous ways. 

Predictive grading is increasingly being used in schools. Should that worry us? When is it appropriate to apply prediction algorithms, and when is it not?

One of the consequences of the pandemic is we all got a chance to see up close how deeply boring the world becomes when it is totally mediated by algorithms. There's no serendipity. I don't know about you, but during the pandemic I absolutely hit the end of the Netflix recommendation engine, and there's just nothing there. I found myself turning to all of these very human methods to interject more serendipity into discovering new ideas. 

To me, that's one of the great things about school and about learning: you're in a classroom with all of these other people who have different life experiences. As a professor, predicting student grades in advance is the opposite of what I want in my classroom. I want to believe in the possibility of change. I want to get my students further along on their learning journey. An algorithm that says This student is this kind of student, so they're probably going to be like this is counter to the whole point of education, as far as I'm concerned. 

We sometimes fall in love with the idea of statistics predicting the future, so I absolutely understand the urge to make machines that make the future less ambiguous. But we do have to live with the unknown and leave space for us to change as people. 

Can you tell me about the role you think that algorithmic auditing has in a safer, more equitable future? 

Algorithmic auditing is the process of looking at an algorithm and examining it for bias. It's very, very new as a field, so this is not something that people knew how to do 20 years ago. But now we have all of these terrific tools. People like Cathy O'Neil and Deborah Raji are doing great work in algorithm auditing. We have all of these mathematical methods for evaluating fairness that are coming out of the FAccT conference community [which is dedicated to trying to make the field of AI more ethical]. I am very optimistic about the role of auditing in helping us make algorithms more fair and more equitable. 

In your book, you critique the phrase "black box" in reference to machine learning, arguing that it incorrectly implies it's impossible to describe the workings inside a model. How should we talk about machine learning instead?

That's a really good question. All of my talk about auditing sort of explodes our notion of the "black box." As I started trying to explain computational systems, I realized that the "black box" is an abstraction that we use because it's convenient and because we don't often want to get into long, complicated conversations about math. Which is fair! I go to enough cocktail parties that I understand you do not want to get into a long conversation about math. But if we're going to make social decisions using algorithms, we need to not just pretend that they are inexplicable.

One of the things that I try to keep in mind is that there are things that are unknown in the world, and then there are things that are unknown to me. When I'm writing about complex systems, I try to be really clear about what the difference is. 

When we're writing about machine-learning systems, it is tempting to not get into the weeds. But we know that these systems are being discriminatory. The time has passed for reporters to just say Oh, we don't know what the potential problems are in the system. We can guess what the potential problems are and ask the tough questions. Has this system been evaluated for bias based on gender, based on ability, based on race? Most of the time the answer is no, and that needs to change.

More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech goes on sale March 14, 2023.

Experience: I didn't burp for more than 20 years

My throat made strange gurgling noises, like a creaky floorboard. My body would get full of air

When I was about four, I watched my two-year-old brother throw up into a basket of fries in a restaurant. He had a hypersensitive gag reflex, which meant vomiting was a common occurrence. I could never get that basket of fries out of my head.

I developed a fear of vomiting called emetophobia, meaning I'd avoid throwing up at all costs. This phobia has had a much greater impact on my health than I ever could have thought.

Continue reading…
Creating complex protocells and prototissues using simple DNA building blocks

Nature Communications, Published online: 10 March 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36875-5

Building synthetic protocells and prototissues hinges on the formation of biomimetic skeletal frameworks. Here, the authors harness simplicity to create complexity by assembling DNA subunits into structural frameworks which support membrane-based protocells and prototissues.
Book Review: How Nature Can Help Cities Survive
Is this article about Gardening?
Ben Wilson's "Urban Jungle" is a surprisingly hopeful look at how urbanization has changed our relationship with the natural world, and what can be done to preserve urban ecosystems. Faced with climate change, Wilson contends, cities in search of solutions will invite nature back into urban areas.
Diverse yeast antiviral systems prevent lethal pathogenesis caused by the L-A mycovirus
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 120, Issue 11, March 2023.
Mechanistic analysis of a novel membrane-interacting variable loop in the pleckstrin-homology domain critical for dynamin function
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 120, Issue 11, March 2023.
Pathways of N2O production by marine ammonia-oxidizing archaea determined from dual-isotope labeling
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 120, Issue 11, March 2023.
Structural basis of dual activation of cell division by the actinobacterial transcription factors WhiA and WhiB