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Behind China's 'pork miracle': how technology is transforming rural hog farming

The Guardian

Late autumn is the time for making lap yuk, a type of preserved pork that is a local speciality, and across town I would often spot slabs of meat hanging from high-rise apartment balconies, tied up with string and swaying next to shirts and sheets left out to dry. To make lap yuk, a piece of raw pork belly is soaked in a blend of rice wine, salt, soy sauce and spices, then hung out to cure in the damp, cold autumn air. The fat becomes translucent and imparts a savoury-sweet taste to any stir-fried vegetable dish. A relative of mine claims that only southern China can make preserved pork like this. The secret is the native spores and bacteria that are carried on the wind there. Guangzhou was the first stop on a journey I was taking in order to try to understand how artificial intelligence is transforming China's pork industry. The country is the world's largest producer of pork, and the story of how it has ramped up production in recent years to feed its growing middle class is sometimes described as "China's pork miracle".


News at a glance

Science

SCI COMMUN### Astronomy Talk about a sharper image: A recently constructed imaging sensor array (above) that will be used when the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile opens in 2021 has captured a world-record 3200 megapixels in a single shot. It recorded a variety of objects, including a Romanesco broccoli, at that resolution, which is detailed enough to show a golf ball clearly from 24 kilometers away. The sensor array's focal plane is more than 60 centimeters wide, much larger than the 3.5-centimeter sensors on high-end consumer digital cameras, says the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which built the array. When the telescope, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, begins operating next year, it will image the entire southern sky every few nights for 10 years, cataloguing billions of galaxies each time. The surveys will shed light on mysterious dark energy and dark matter, which make up most of the universe's mass. With its repeat coverage, the telescope will make the equivalent of an astronomical movie in order to discover objects that suddenly appear, move, or go bang. ### Biomedicine Corticosteroids given orally or intravenously should be the standard therapy for people with “severe and critical” COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in new guidelines issued last week—but they should not be given to patients with mild cases. In June, a large U.K. trial named Recovery first showed that the steroid dexamethasone cut deaths among ventilated COVID-19 patients by 35% after 28 days of treatment. That result was confirmed by a WHO-sponsored metaanalysis published in JAMA on 2 September that included Recovery and six other studies testing dexamethasone, as well as two other corticosteroids—hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone. Many countries, including the United States, had already included corticosteroids in their national treatment guidelines. But WHO's recommendations will be important as a signal to low- and middle-income countries, says Martin Landray, one of Recovery's principal investigators. ### Public health COVID-19 virus particles drifting through a Chinese apartment building's plumbing may have infected some residents, a study has found, raising fears of yet another way that the disease could spread. The case echoes a 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that spread through the pipes of a Hong Kong apartment building. Such transmission is difficult to prove. But scientists suspect that aerosolized coronavirus may have spread from the bathroom of a Guangzhou family of five through a floor drain and into the building's wastewater pipes. Two middle-aged couples living in apartments above the family later contracted COVID-19. The study appeared last week in Annals of Internal Medicine . ### Conservation A plan to reforest a cross-continental strip of Africa to hold back expansion of the Sahara Desert and the semi-arid Sahel has made little progress—even though the project is halfway toward its planned completion date in 2030, a report says. Participating countries have planted only 4 million hectares of trees and other vegetation for the Great Green Wall, well short of the 100 million planned to stretch 7000 kilometers from Senegal to Djibouti, says the report by the Climatekos consulting firm, presented on 7 September at a meeting of the countries' ministers. Supporters predicted the project would also create jobs and capture carbon dioxide. Scientists have said creating grasslands may be more effective than planting trees to resist desertification, The Guardian reported. ### Philanthropy Rice University last week received a $100 million gift for materials science. It is the largest to date in that discipline recorded in a database of gifts for engineering maintained by The Chronicle of Philanthropy . The funding will be used to pair materials science with artificial intelligence to advance the design and manufacturing of new materials, for applications that include sustainable water systems, energy, and telecommunications. The donor was the Robert A. Welch Foundation, which supports chemistry research in Texas. ### Conservation Scientists hailed a move last week by the European Union to ban the use of lead ammunition near wetlands and waterways. The European Chemicals Agency has estimated that as many as 1.5 million aquatic birds die annually from lead poisoning because they swallow some of the 5000 tons of lead shot that land in European wetlands each year. Its persistence in the environment is also considered a human health hazard. The EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) committee approved the ban after years of controversy. The German delegation, which had abstained in a July vote on the issue, changed its stance to support the measure after a letter from 75 scientists and petitions signed by more than 50,000 people called for it to do so. The European Commission and the European Parliament are expected to formally approve the ban, allowing it to go into effect in 2022. REACH may debate a complete ban on lead ammunition and fishing weights later this year. ### Chemical weapons Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition politician, was poisoned with a nerve agent “identified unequivocally in tests” as a Novichok, an exotic Sovietera chemical weapon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on 2 September. Navalny fell ill on 20 August after drinking a cup of tea at a Siberian airport. He was flown to Berlin and this week emerged from a coma. German military scientists at the Bundeswehr Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Munich haven't released details of their tests, but they had clear targets to hunt for: Like other nerve agents, Novichoks bind to the enzymes acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase, creating a telltale conjugate compound. Novichok agents came to wide public notice in 2018 after one was used in an assassination attempt against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom. The attack prompted nations to push for a crackdown on Novichok agents, and last year they were added to the list of toxic chemicals regulated under the Chemical Weapons Convention. ### COVID-19 In one of the largest surveys of Americans since COVID-19 lockdowns began, a majority reported having some symptoms of depression, up from one-quarter in a prepandemic survey. The prevalence of symptoms graded as moderate to severe tripled, to 27.8% of respondents. A research team compared results from two surveys used to screen for depression: one administered to more than 5000 people in 2017 and 2018 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other given to 1400 people in early April by NORC at the University of Chicago. Prevalence of depression symptoms rose in all demographic groups and especially among individuals facing financial problems, job loss, or family deaths. The increases in self-reported symptoms are larger than those recorded in previous surveys after large-scale traumatic events in other countries, including outbreaks of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, H1N1, and Ebola, the authors write in the 2 September issue of JAMA Network Open . ### A U.S. vaccine leader's vow: Politics stays out “I would immediately resign if there is undue interference in this process.” So said Moncef Slaoui, scientific director of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. effort to quickly develop a vaccine for COVID-19, in an interview with Science . To date, Warp Speed has invested more than $10 billion in eight vaccine candidates. Three are now in large-scale efficacy trials, and interim reviews of their data by independent safety and monitoring boards could reveal evidence of protection as early as October. Slaoui, an immunologist who formerly headed vaccine development at GlaxoSmithKline, answered questions from Science last week about how Warp Speed operates and addressed concerns that political pressure before the 3 November U.S. presidential election may lead to an emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine before it is proven safe and effective. (On 8 September, nine companies developing vaccines for the pandemic coronavirus pledged not to seek a premature authorization.) “It needs to be absolutely shielded from the politics,” Slaoui says. “Trust me, there will be no [authorization request] filed if it's not right. … The science is what is going to guide us. … And at the end of the day, the facts and the data will be made available to everyone who wants to look at them and will be transparent.” Slaoui defended Warp Speed's decision to not consider vaccines made of whole, inactivated viruses, a time-tested approach. China has three such vaccines in efficacy trials, but he worries they could cause serious side effects in people who receive them. Slaoui also said if it had been his choice, the United States would have participated in COVAX, a mechanism for countries to invest collectively in vaccines and share them; the Trump administration declined to join. The full interview—one of Slaoui's most detailed since taking the job in May—is at .


Chinese Delivery Robot Startup PuduTech Closes $14.5 Million Funding Round

#artificialintelligence

Chinese indoor delivery robot startup PuduTech received two significant investments in less than two months, in a clear sign that investors are betting on a future in which robot-staffed hospitals, restaurants and hotels are commonplace. The Shenzhen-based company, whose products have been used for meal and drug deliveries without direct human to human contact in some Chinese hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, said on Wednesday that it has closed a nearly 100 million yuan ($14.5 million) series B funding round led by Sequoia Capital China. Other investors include the company's early financial backer Meituan Dianping, a Chinese lifestyle service and food delivery giant that invested more than 100 million yuan in PuduTech in early July. Meituan itself is also looking to a future of completely autonomous deliveries to reduce labor costs, with such services by robots or drones having already been piloted in some parts of China. The capital raised from the fresh financing round will be used to explore new markets for its robots designed for restaurants and develop new scenarios where its products can be applied, according to PuduTech CEO Zhang Tao.


Researchers claim their AI can hear if a speaker is wearing a mask

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Researchers at Duke Kunshan University, Wuhan University, Lenovo, and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou claim to have developed an AI system that detects whether a person is wearing a mask from the sound of their muffled speech. They say that in experiments, it achieves 78.8% accuracy on one metric, demonstrating that sound could be a useful means of enforcing mask-wearing during the pandemic. The team's work is a submission to the 11th annual Computational Paralinguistics Challenge (ComParE) at the upcoming Interspeech 2020 conference, an open challenge dealing with the states and traits of speakers as manifested in their speech. This year saw the introduction of a "mask sub-challenge" in which the goal is to develop algorithms capable of determining whether a person is wearing a mask from the sound of their voice. For the sub-challenge, every competitor -- the coauthors of this study included -- must use the same corpus of 32 German speakers recorded for 10 hours in an audio studio wearing Lohmann & Rauscher face coverings.


SIAT Researchers Design Novel Deep Learning System to Assess Skeletal Maturity

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Content provided by the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Assessment of skeletal maturity is an important tool in managing human's growth problems, especially in assisting physicians decide the best treatment for various skeletal disorders. This task remains challenging when using machine learning method due to limited data and large anatomical variations among different subjects. Recently, researchers from the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Hong Kong introduced an ensemble-based deep learning pipeline to automatically assess the distal radius and ulna (DRU) maturity from left-hand radiographs. The study was published in IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics: Systems. The researchers combined the dense connection mechanism with the ensemble model to improve the stability and accuracy of a skeletal maturity assessment system.


Segafredo Zanetti launches unmanned Robocup Café in Shenzhen, China

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MILAN – Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group is pleased to announce the launch of its first unmanned twenty-four hour self-service Robocup robotic café in Shenzhen, a city known as the hub for Artificial Intelligence and Information Technology in China. This unique café delivers a fully automated coffee experience where customers can order their coffee – either on a large touch screen menu or through a mobile device. This innovative robotic-driven café marks a milestone for Segafredo Zanetti as the first Italian coffee brand to offer freshly brewed hot and cold coffee via a fully automated operating system, complete with a cup lid covering system in an enclosed environment for food safety. The project was made possible thanks to the special partnership of Robocup China. Supported by e-payment systems and a QR Code drink collection system, customers can now enjoy an authentic Italian coffee any time of the day at their convenience.


Country Garden Opens Restaurant Operated Completely By Robots

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Country Garden, a property developer in China, revealed that its subsidiary Qianxi Robot Catering Group (Qianxi Group) opened a restaurant complex operated completely by robots. Located in Shunde, which is a city in China's Guangdong province, the restaurant eliminates most human-to-human contact and may be a harbinger of how businesses plan to handle the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. "Country Garden assistant executive officer and Qianxi Group general manager Qiu Mi explained that Qianxi Group has built a complete industry chain encompassing back-end supply production (the centralized kitchens) and robotic cooking alongside the operation of restaurants and the management of robots," Country Garden shared. The restaurant complex is 2,000 square meters or about 21,527 square feet, and it has 20 robots equipped to serve a variety of dishes, including Chinese food, fast food, clay-pot rice and hot pot. The menu has 200 items, but they are available within 20 seconds of ordering.


New application of machine learning and image analysis to help distinguish a rare subtype of kidney cancer: US researchers collaborate with scientist quarantined in China during COVID-19 outbreak

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Despite those obstacles, Indiana University School of Medicine faculty and Regenstrief Institute research scientists had their research published in Nature Communications on April 14, which is an even more significant feat considering one of the leading authors has been quarantined in Wuhan, China for the last two months of their work. The team consists of Affiliated Scientist Jie Zhang, PhD, Regenstrief Institute Research Scientist Kun Huang, PhD, both Indiana University School of Medicine faculty members, Jun Cheng, PhD, of Shenzhen University and colleagues including Liang Cheng, M.D. of IU School of Medicine. The study was led by Dr. Zhang, an assistant professor of medical and molecular genetics at IU School of Medicine. The work focuses on the application of machine learning and image analysis to help researchers distinguish a rare subtype of kidney cancer (translocational renal cell carcinoma, or tRCC) from other subtypes by examining the features of cells and tissues on a microscopic level. Dr. Zhang said the structural similarities have caused a high rate of misdiagnosis.


A self-improving pyramid stereo network for intelligent transport systems

#artificialintelligence

In autonomous driving, stereo vision-based depth estimation technology can help to accurately estimate the distance of obstacles, which is crucial for correct path planning of the vehicle. The stereo depth estimation problem has been formulated into a deep learning model with convolutional neural networks. However, these models need a lot of post-processing and do not have strong adaptive capabilities to ill-posed regions or new scenes. In addition, due to the difficulty of labeling the true ground depth for real circumstances, training data for the system is limited. A research team led by Dr. Zhang Qieshi from the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has proposed a new technical solution to address the current depth estimation for autonomous driving.


CloudWalk raises additional 1.8 billion yuan in financing - SHINE News

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CloudWalk has set up a facility in an AI industry park in Zhangjiang, displaying latest technologies and services including smart city projects. Chinese artificial intelligence firm CloudWalk Technology has raised 1.8 billion yuan (US$257 million) in its latest round of financing, the company said on Thursday. Investors in the new round include China Internet Industry Fund, Shanghai-based Guosheng Group, Guangzhou-based Nansha Financial Holdings and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the country's biggest bank. The latest investment points to rebounded market confidence and marks CloudWalk's next step toward an initial public offering, the company said in a statement. CloudWork is among China's "Four AI Dragons," along with Megvii, SenseTime and Yitu, each of which is valued at more than US$1 billion.