Category Archives: Tech

Life on Mars? Nasa Says The World Is Not Ready

By: Conrad Duncan

Nasa is close to finding life on Mars but the world is not ready for the “revolutionary” implications of the discovery, the space agency’s chief scientist has said.

Dr Jim Green has warned that two rovers from Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) could find evidence of life within months of arriving on Mars in March 2021.

The ExoMars Rover, which has been dubbed “Rosalind” in memory of British chemist Rosalind Franklin, will search for extra-terrestrial life by drilling 6.5 feet down into Mars’ core to take samples.

Those samples will then be crushed up and examined for organic matter in a mobile laboratory.

Dr Green compared the potential discovery to when the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus stated that the Earth revolves around the Sun in the 16th century.

“It will start a whole new line of thinking. I don’t think we’re prepared for the results,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “I’ve been worried about that because I think we’re close to finding it and making some announcements.”

Nasa’s rover Mars 2020 will drill into rock formations on the planet before sending test-tubes of rock samples back to Earth – the first time material from Mars will have been brought onto this planet.

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Algae Bioreactor As Efficient As an Acre of Trees

By : Mike Brown

Algae could play a surprising role in the fight against climate change.

On Tuesday, A.I.-focused technology firm Hypergiant Industries announced a machine that uses the aquatic organisms to sequester carbon dioxide. Algae, the company claims, is “one of nature’s most efficient machines.” By pairing it with a machine learning system, its developers hope to make these talents even more effective.

That’s not all. The team claims the device, which measures three feet on each side and seven feet tall, can sequester as much carbon as a whole acre of trees — estimated somewhere around two tons.

“We’ve been thinking about climate change solutions in only a very narrow scope,” Ben Lamm, CEO of the Austin-based firm, tells Inverse. “Trees are part of the solution but there are so many other biological solutions that are useful. Algae is much more effective than trees at reducing carbon in the atmosphere, and can be used to create carbon negative fuels, plastics, textiles, food, fertilizer and much more.”

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Will Low Earth Orbit Satellites Save Billions of Dollars For Americans ?

By: Tyler Cooper of Podium

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for broadband internet access are beginning to display signs of real potential. Recently, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin pulled back the curtain on its space intentions by announcing Project Kuiper, a 3,236-satellite constellation. Additionally, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink recently launched a rocket containing 60 satellites from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.

The fight for space internet supremacy is on. Both players, alongside others like OneWeb, are spending billions in space in hopes of making further billions annually once the satellites go into service for consumers in the US and around the globe. 

SpaceX will initially launch service to North America, but once its full array is in place, the company has plans to roll the service out across the entire planet. Ostensibly, anywhere with access to open skies could be covered. Amazon has global aspirations for its project as well. 

These low Earth orbit ventures have the potential to dramatically shift the broadband internet market and save consumers $10s-of-billions of their own. My colleagues and I have analyzed US market pricing data which suggests that the technology could save Americans more than $30 billion per year.

Ignition… we have lift-off

LEO satellites promise to bring low-latency broadband internet to millions of Americans. LEO satellites orbit extremely close to Earth, between 99 to 1200 miles — versus 22,000 miles of traditional GEO satellites — which means less time to transfer information (lower latency) and a quality of service comparable to wired cable and fiber broadband providers. The arrays will be precisely mapped into massive constellations to maximize coverage.

LEO technology will offer robust internet access to underserved and rural communities lacking wired, low-latency broadband options. The arrival of this technology is likely to drive down monthly internet prices for hundreds-of-millions of Americans.

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Leaked Executive Order Draft Shows Potential Problems For Internet Freedom

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Civil liberties groups are warning of a major threat to online freedoms and First Amendment rights if a leaked draft of a Trump administration edict—dubbed by critics as a “Censor the Internet” executive order that would give powerful federal agencies far-reaching powers to pick and choose which kind of Internet material is and is not acceptable—is allowed to go into effect.

“If these reports are a trial balloon from the White House, then it’s time to pop it.” 
—Chris Lewis, Public Knowledge
According to CNN, which obtained a copy of the draft, the new rule “calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.”

While Politico was the first to report how the draft was being circulated by the White House, CNN notes that if put into effect, “the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.”

Following reporting on the leaked draft, free speech and online advocacy groups raised alarm about the troubling and far-reaching implications of the Trump plan if it was put into effect by executive decree.

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Why Are People Planning To Storm Area 51

By Leah Asmelash and Brian Ries of CNN

Stretch those quads and prep that tinfoil hat!

Over 300,000 people have signed on to a Facebook event pledging to raid Area 51 in Nevada in a quest to “see them aliens.” 
The event, titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” is inviting users from around the world to join a “Naruto run” — a Japanese manga-inspired running style featuring arms outstretched backwards and heads forward — into the area.
“We can move faster than their bullets,” the event page, which is clearly written with tongue in cheek, promises those who RSVP for September 20.

What they’re after

The mysterious Area 51 has been the focus of conspiracy theories for decades, and many people think it’s where the US government stores its secrets about aliens and UFOs. 
The area was officially acknowledged as a military site in 2013, but the theories live on.
Though the September event is most certainly a joke, it comes just a few weeks after a group of US senators was briefedabout reported encounters between the US Navy and an unidentified aircraft — literally an unidentified flying object.
So what do they know? Where can we sign up to hear about that?

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HPV Vaccines has significantly cuts rates of cancer causing infections

By: Jessica Hamzelou of New Scientist

The HPV vaccine appears to be working. Countries with vaccination programmes are lowering the rate of virus infection, precancerous lesions and genital warts in girls and women. Boys and men are benefiting too, even when they aren’t vaccinated.

That’s the conclusion of a review of 65 studies across 14 high-income countries, including 60 million people, over eight years. “Our results provide strong evidence that HPV vaccination works to prevent cervical cancer in real-world settings,” says Mélanie Drolet of Laval University in Canada, who led the work.

HPV vaccination programmes are currently running in around 115 countries, says Marc Brisson, also at Laval University, who co-authored the study. It is too soon to measure how these programmes might impact rates of cervical cancer, so the team looked at rates of HPV infection and the incidence of precancerous lesions and anal and genital warts, which can result from infection.

The team found that, between five and eight years into a vaccination programme, the prevalence of two strains of HPV that the vaccine protects against dropped by 83 per cent among teenage girls and 66 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. The prevalence of the virus also dropped by 37 per cent in women aged between 25 and 29, even though most were unvaccinated.

The incidence of anogenital warts also dropped – by 67 per cent among girls aged 15 to 19, and 54 per cent in women aged 20 to 24. Diagnoses of anogenital warts was reduced in unvaccinated boys and men too – by 48 per cent in boys aged 15 to 19, and 32 per cent in men aged 20 to 24. This suggests that vaccinating girls and young women can protect boys and men too, thanks to herd immunity, says Brisson.

The team also looked at the incidence of precancerous lesions in girls and women. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) is the term given to abnormal cervical cells, which can be diagnosed as CIN1, CIN2 or CIN3. The latter two can develop into cervical cancer if untreated.

Diagnoses of CIN2 and CIN3 decreased by 51 per cent among 15 to 19-year-old girls between five and nine years into vaccination programmes. Incidence of these lesions in unvaccinated women, on the other hand, increased over the same period.

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Atmospheric Carbon Levels Are Reaching Dangerous Levels

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Atmospheric levels of carbon registered 415 parts per million over the weekend at one of the world’s key measuring stations, a concentration level researchers say has not existed in more than 3 million years – before the dawn of human history.

Taken at the Mauno Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the measure continues the upward trend of atmospheric carbon concentration that lies at the heart of the global warming and climate crisis:

415.26 parts per million (ppm) CO2 in air 11-May-2019 http://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/  First daily baseline over 415ppm

Writing on his Informed Comment blog Monday, historian Juan Cole said that life on Earth in that pre-historic era, known as the Pliocene Period, is not a place humans would recognize:

In the Pliocene, it was much hotter.

In the Pliocene, oceans were much higher, maybe 90 feet higher.

That is our fate, folks. That is what 415ppm produces. It is only a matter of time, and some of the sea level rise will come quickly.

Amsterdam, New Orleans, Lisbon, Miami – the list of cities that will be submerged is enormous.

Elsewhere online, reaction to the unsettling milestone was met with a mix of frustration, alarm, and fresh demands for urgent action to address the crisis.

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Instagram To Hide Likes

By: Hamza Shaban of Washington Post

Instagram will test hiding the number of likes and views that photos and videos receive — a central aspect of its platform — to rein in competitive tendencies and make the experience a little “less pressurized.”

Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, said the change is designed to minimize the stress of posting online, where users can fixate on how many likes their videos draw. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said Tuesday during Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8.

In the test run, which will roll out in Canada this week, the Facebook-owned site will display user posts as it would normally, but people scrolling through the feed won’t see like counts. Account owners will still be able to check the tallies on their own photos and videos by clicking through a prompt.

Mosseri said the experiment is part of a broader effort to rethink the fundamentals of how Instagram works and create a more welcoming experience. The company also is testing a redesigned profile page that de-emphasizes follower counts. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition, we want to make it a less pressurized environment,” he said.

The psychological drawbacks of social media use have gained more attention in recent years, with parents, consumer advocates and even tech companies pointing to its potential to increase anxiety and social isolation. Technologists also have taken issue with popular social media platforms that place engagement metrics at center stage, encouraging users to maximize those figures by spending more time on the site and perpetuating a feedback loop of notifications and social validation.

Though shielding like counts might curtail strategic efforts to punch up engagement numbers on Instagram, other troublesome aspects like social exclusion won’t be addressed with the change, said Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California with expertise in social media and psychology. Young people might still feel left out, or worse, if they see their friends posting from parties and other social events without them, and then read the comments that follow. Neither is directly tied to likes, she said.

Hiding the counts could potentially introduce new problems for users, such as diminishing the feeling of camaraderie from liking a popular post tied to a social cause or a massive in-joke. “While we can focus on the negative side of comparing likes, it is also true that people enjoy the game of supporting a post, a friend or an influencer,” she said.

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Sharing Economy Helping or Hurting?

By: Ephrat Livni of QZ

No kid ever dreamed of growing up and driving for Uber or styling for Stitch Fix. In part, that’s because none of those companies existed when most of today’s adults were young. It’s also because, besides its much-touted “flexibility,” the gig economy isn’t much of a place to build a career. Instead, over the course of less than a decade, the self-described “tech companies” that connect people to gig work have managed to erode hard-fought labor protections in place for a century.

In Hustle and Gig, to be published in March by University of California Press, sociologist Alexandrea Ravenelle interviews 80 gig workers who are struggling, striving, and succeeding. She analyzes their stories in the context of US employment history and concludes that “for all its app-enabled modernity, the gig economy resembles the early industrial age…the sharing economy is truly a movement forward to the past.”

Although gig work was initially seen as a way to maximize worker freedom and create opportunities, it has, in its short history, proven corrosive. Ravenelle notes that a small percentage of people are making lots of money via side hustles, but they tend to be those who need it least. For example, she speaks to independent hoteliers in New York renting out rooms and apartments via AirBnB, including a corporate lawyer and a man with a chain of laundromats. Because they already had capital, have steady sources of income apart from their side gigs, and are willing to skirt rental laws, these two individuals are able to invest heavily in their “gigs” and create lucrative businesses.

Sadly, those who most need to work can find themselves trapped in a cycle of struggle. Ravenelle interviewed men and women signed up to do tasks on Task Rabbit—prior to its acquisition by IKEA—and who drove for Uber, for example. They were not employees and so had no health insurance, workers’ compensation protections, employer contributions to Social Security and payroll taxes, paid time off, family leave protections, discrimination protections, or unemployment insurance benefits.

Sometimes, this gig work also requires an initial outlay of capital. (My own neighbor just traded in her old vehicle for a new car, taking on thousands of dollars in debt so that she can make extra money driving for Lyft.) At the very least, a potential worker needs a smartphone and wi-fi service. Ravanelle’s book boasts an image inside of a young man in a park panhandling for $30 to activate his phone service so that he can start picking up work.

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Europe Passes Article 13

By:

European politicians have voted to pass Article 13 and Article 11 as part of sweeping changes to regulation around online copyright. The European Parliament passed the legislation by 348 votes to 274.

Opponents had hoped for last-minute amendments to be made to the legislation, but failed to garner enough votes. Julia Reda, a German MEP representing the Pirate Party who opposes the copyright directive, said it was a “dark day for internet freedom”. Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, said the result was “great news”.

A vote on debating amendments – including an amendment to remove Article 13 and the Article 11 ‘link tax’ from the broader copyright legislation – was rejected by just five votes. EU member states now have two years to pass their own laws that put the Copyright Directive into effect.

Rapporteur Axel Voss, a member of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, said the directive was “an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on”.

In a statement, YouTube said the final version of the directive was “an improvement” but that it remained “concerned” that Article 13 could have “unintended consequences that may harm Europe’s creative and digital economy”.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the global record industry, welcomed the outcome of the vote. “This world-first legislation confirms that user-upload content platforms perform an act of communication to the public,” said CEO Frances Moore.

Robert Ashcroft, chief executive of PRS for Music, which collects royalties for artists, said the new rules are “about creating a fair and functioning market for creative works of all kinds on the internet”.

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