Collaborating Authors


Tyler Cowen - Artificial Intelligence Is the Hope 2020 Needs


This year is likely to be remembered for the Covid-19 pandemic and for a significant presidential election, but there is a new contender for the most spectacularly newsworthy happening of 2020: the unveiling of GPT-3. As a very rough description, think of GPT-3 as giving computers a facility with words that they have had with numbers for a long time, and with images since about 2012. The core of GPT-3, which is a creation of OpenAI, an artificial intelligence company based in San Francisco, is a general language model designed to perform autofill. It is trained on uncategorized internet writings, and basically guesses what text ought to come next from any starting point. That may sound unglamorous, but a language model built for guessing with 175 billion parameters -- 10 times more than previous competitors -- is surprisingly powerful.

News at a glance


SCI COMMUN### Conservation A company seeking to build a controversial gold and copper mine in Alaska won a major victory on 24 July when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued an environmental analysis saying the mine wouldn't endanger the world's most productive sockeye salmon fishery. The decision clears the way for the Corps to issue permits needed by promoters of the Pebble Mine, located at the headwaters of two major watersheds that form part of the Bristol Bay salmon runs, just north of the Aleutian Islands. Environmental and Native Alaskan groups and some salmon scientists blasted the new study, saying it understated risks by focusing on the mine's small, initial footprint over 20 years of mining rather than its potential impacts if it expands to become one of the world's largest gold and copper mines, as its promoters hope. Mine backers have said such an expansion would get a closer environmental review later if they pursue it. Scientists have raised concerns that even the smaller mine could have wide impacts, because the resilience of the salmon runs hinges on access to a wide variety of spawning habitats. Environmental groups have vowed to file lawsuits to block the project. 90% —Accuracy of a new artificial intelligence system trained to identify individual weaver birds, which human birders generally cannot tell apart unless they are tagged ( Methods in Ecology and Evolution ). ### Planetary science China's first independent mission to Mars blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on 23 July. To arrive in February 2021, Tianwen-1, a “quest for heavenly truth,” comprises an orbiter, lander, and rover. Only the United States and the Soviet Union have successfully landed on Mars. Instruments on the three Tianwen-1 craft will study the planet's magnetic field and atmosphere, map its surface, and characterize its geology. Tianwen-1 is the second in a trio of fresh martian missions: The United Arab Emirates launched its Hope orbiter on 19 July, and NASA planned to launch its Perseverance rover as early as 30 July, after Science went to press. ### Funding A bill in France would increase research spending over the next 10 years and add tenure-track faculty positions, a novelty in France. But critics say the plan's increases would be too small and slow. By 2030, the annual public research budget would rise by about one-third, to €20 billion, toward a goal of lifting overall R&D spending from 2.2% of gross domestic product to 3%. The National Research Agency, which funds researchers through competitive calls, would get €1 billion more over 7 years, reaching about €1.7 billion in 2027, to help raise its grant success rates from 16% to a target of 30%. The new, nonpermanent tenure-track positions would complement the permanent entry-level research positions traditionally offered by the French system, but critics fear the growth may lead to a decline in the permanent ones. Parliament is expected to approve the bill. ### Drug trials A monoclonal antibody given to babies has strongly protected them from severe disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a leading cause of infant death. As reported this week in The New England Journal of Medicine , a placebo-controlled study of nearly 1500 babies born preterm—who are at higher risk of severe symptoms of RSV—in 23 countries found that a single injection of the antibody before RSV season starts in the fall led to 78.4% fewer hospitalizations for lower respiratory infections associated with the disease. The antibody, being developed by AstraZeneca and Sanofi Pasteur, could replace one now on the market that is rarely used. (It is recommended only for infants at highest risk, requires five shots, and is very expensive.) The companies plan to seek regulatory approval of the new prophylaxis if larger studies now underway in preterm and full-term infants confirm that it is safe and effective. ### Graduate studies The American Astronomical Society last week launched the Astronomy Genealogy Project, which maps 5000 astronomers to their academic “descendants”—the 28,000 doctorate recipients they supervised. The discipline's family tree, at, stretches back to 1766, but half of the listed doctorates were awarded since 2002. Organizers hope the data will help historians and sociologists of science analyze patterns across countries, universities, and subfields. U.S. universities awarded slightly more than half of the doctorates listed, and about two-thirds of the theses are online. ### Climate Environmental groups last week denounced as weak a plan announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft. The new standard would match an existing one adopted in 2016 by a U.N. body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), that required emissions cuts by 2028. But recently manufactured planes already meet the standard, and EPA conceded its new rule would not reduce overall airplane emissions. Manufacturers have supported such a U.S. regulation to help them meet ICAO certification requirements. IACO has predicted that even under its standard, airplane emissions will grow by at least 3% a year globally. U.S. aviation accounts for 3% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. ### Extreme life Bacteria from seafloor sediments buried 101 million years ago have been grown in the lab, raising the possibility they are as old as their muddy home. They had somehow survived in an area of the Pacific Ocean almost devoid of organic matter or other nutrients most bacteria need, although the sediments recovered do contain oxygen, the researchers report in Nature Communications . The finding pushes back the documented age of bacteria living in marine sediment from 15 million years and provides new insights on the limits of life under extreme conditions. A team led by researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology harvested the microbes from core samples drilled up to 5700 meters below sea level and took precautions against contaminating them with modern bacteria. The group argues the microbes likely didn't have enough food to keep replicating, and instead may have survived for eons without dividing by repairing age-related cellular damage. The microbes identified are known members of more than eight bacterial groups, many of which are commonly found elsewhere on Earth. ### Biotechnology Scientists announced last week that they used CRISPR gene editing to modify a cow embryo so that the resulting calf, named Cosmo, should produce more offspring bearing male traits. Bulls are 15% more efficient than cows at converting feed into weight gain, so the new method may allow cattle farmers to raise fewer cattle, benefiting the environment, say the researchers at the University of California, Davis. The researchers inserted a gene called SRY , which initiates male development and is normally found on the male sex chromosome, into an embryo's chromosome 17. Next, the researchers plan to determine whether Cosmo's offspring that inherit the SRY gene look and grow like males. Fifty percent of the calf's progeny will naturally be male; another 25% will be genetically female but will carry the SRY gene. ### Conservation Florida's governor this month signed a bill to establish a 162,000-hectare marine sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico and protect one of the state's last remaining stretches of seagrass. Florida's coast boasts the most continuous expanse of seagrass beds in the United States, but these diverse habitats, home to blue crabs and manatees, have been damaged by nutrient-driven algal blooms and boat propellers. Authorities plan to create a management plan for the new Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve to balance protection with ecotourism, boating, and fishing. ### A magic ride for science In 1984, artist Bruce Degen met writer Joanna Cole at a publisher's office in New York City to discuss creating a children's book about science. They went on to collaborate and publish 13 colorful, zany books in The Magic School Bus series, featuring the ebullient, intrepid teacher Ms. Frizzle (above, right), who takes her students on fantastic adventures into the ocean, across the Solar System, and through the human body, for example. Cole died on 12 July at age 75. But the series continues to teach young readers and their parents about the natural world. > Q: Did you expect to create such a legacy? > A: I was in art school doing very serious art, and I realized that, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to do children's books. In the beginning, it was darn hard work. Some book sketch dummies have five layers of rewrites and reillustrations. The first book was a one-book contract to see if this would work. [The reception] was like the world was waiting for somebody to make this happen. People say, “[As a child,] I [used to] read these books, now I read them to my kids!” I could never have imagined it. > Q: Does scientific accuracy get in the way of storytelling? > A: Frequently. You have to tell kids what is true, but you can't give them all the truth—it's too much. For example, the evolution book goes from now [back] to the beginning of the Earth. I [initially] tried to show every era, year, and life form. It was too complicated. So it ended up as a nice, open spiral with a few representations of each era. > Q: Why use the format of adventures? > A: By following the story, it gave kids a mental filing system—they could retrieve and remember information because it was given to them in a memorable trip. ### Dispatches from the pandemic Read additional Science coverage of the pandemic at [][1]. #### U.S. vaccine efficacy trials begin The first large-scale efficacy trials of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States began last week. On 27 July, the National Institutes of Health, working with Moderna, announced the start of one that aims to recruit 30,000 people. Later that day, a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech announced separately it was launching a similarly sized study at sites in the United States and elsewhere. Both the Moderna and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines contain messenger RNA that prompts cells to make a protein that studs the surface of the COVID-19 virus. If the vaccines work, this viral protein will safely teach the immune system how to battle the virus if a person later is exposed to it. Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's push to accelerate development of a COVID-19 vaccine, has committed nearly $3 billion to these two R&D projects, about half its total investment. Other efficacy trials of various COVID-19 vaccines have begun in Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Results are expected in late fall at the earliest. #### CDC slammed over school rules Guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week for safely reopening schools downplays risks that teachers, other staff members, and students will spread or contract COVID-19, many public health specialists say. Provoking claims that CDC's advice had been politicized, the agency revised an earlier draft that President Donald Trump had panned as “very tough and expensive.” The nonbinding recommendations, released 23 July, emphasize the social and developmental benefits of in-person schooling and highlight that young children are at low risk for contracting the disease and transmitting the virus that causes it. The document also recommends against screening students for symptoms. Nevertheless, the Trump administration did advise communities with high infection rates to consider not beginning in-person classes. Large school districts, such as those in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego, have already announced that they will begin the 2020–21 school year with online instruction only. #### Anti-Fauci TV segment canceled Following heavy criticism from scientists and others, Sinclair Broadcast Corp. this week canceled plans for its chain of local TV stations to air a segment featuring widely challenged accusations that Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, intentionally created the virus responsible for COVID-19 and sent it to China. Fauci has helped lead the U.S. effort to control the pandemic despite tangling with President Donald Trump. The allegation came from Judy Mikovits, a virologist and antivaccine activist who appears in a documentary about the coronavirus that was also widely debunked as false and misleading (). The Sinclair segment, a new interview with Mikovits, was available online until the company pulled it for review on 25 July, after Media Matters reported its existence. Sinclair announced on 27 July that it would not air the segment on the nearly 200 TV stations it owns or operates in 89 U.S. markets—but not before one in Charleston, West Virginia, had broadcast it. [1]:

How an ancient microbial arms race remodeled human cells


At a recent symposium on the evolution of infectious diseases, University of California, San Diego (UCSD), pathologist Nissi Varki noted that humans suffer from a long list of deadly diseases—including typhoid fever, cholera, mumps, whooping cough, and gonorrhea—that don't afflict apes and most other mammals. All of those pathogens follow the same well-trodden pathway to break into our cells: They manipulate sugar molecules called sialic acids. Hundreds of millions of these sugars stud the outer surface of every cell in the human body—and the sialic acids in humans are different from those in apes. Varki and an international team of researchers have now traced how evolution may have scrambled to construct new defenses after that molecular vulnerability emerged in our distant ancestors. By analyzing modern human genomes and ancient DNA from our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, the researchers detected a burst of evolution in our immune cells that occurred in an ancestor of all three types of human by at least 600,000 years ago. As the researchers report in the current issue of Genome Biology and Evolution , these genetic changes may have sharpened the body's defenses against the pathogens that evolved to exploit sialic acids—but created new vulnerabilities. In an added irony, they note, humans' distinctive sialic acids were themselves once a defense against disease. The evolutionary saga is a vivid illustration of the competition between humans and microbes, says microbiologist Christine Szymanski of the University of Georgia, Athens, who is not a co-author. “This gives us a human perspective on how we have to keep changing to keep pace.” The arena for this evolutionary arms race is the glycocalyx, a sugar coating that protects the outer membrane of all cells. It consists of a forest of molecules that sprout from the cell membrane. The sialic acids are at the tip of the tallest branches, sugar chains called glycans, which are rooted to fats and proteins deeper in the membrane. Given their prominence and sheer number, sialic acids are usually the first molecules that invading pathogens encounter. Human cells are coated with one type of sialic acid, N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac). But apes and most other mammals also carry a different one, N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc). More than 2 million years ago, according to multiple molecular clock methods that estimate when mutations arose, a mutation in a gene on chromosome six made it impossible for human ancestors to make Neu5Gc anymore; instead, they made more of another sialic acid, Neu5Ac ( Science , 4 September 1998, p. [1432][1]). “We now know we had an ancient complete makeover of the surface of the human cells,” says evolutionary biologist Pascal Gagneux of UCSD, a co-author of the new paper. Birds, some bats, ferrets, and New World monkeys all separately made the same evolutionary change. The change likely evolved as a defense against malaria, says UCSD physician-scientist Ajit Varki, senior author of the paper and Nissi Varki's spouse. Malarial parasites that infect chimpanzees were no longer able to bind with the altered sialic acids on our red blood cells ( Science , 24 September 2010, p. 1586). But in the next million years or so, that mutation became a liability, as Neu5Ac became a portal for a flurry of other pathogens. At the infectious disease symposium organized by UCSD's Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny, researchers described how multiple diseases evolved to use Neu5Ac to enter cells or to evade immune cells. Coronaviruses appear to be no exception. “Most coronaviruses infect cells in two steps—first by recognizing abundant sialic acids as binding sites to gain a foothold, and then seeking out the higher affinity protein receptors like ACE2,” Ajit Varki says. “Think of it like an initial handshake or introduction that is required before one can ask for a date.” Two preprints suggest the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, also docks with sialic acids before binding with the ACE2 receptor to pierce human cells. In past studies, Ajit Varki and Gagneux suggested the makeover of the cell and the loss of Neu5Gc may have even contributed to the origin of a new species in our genus Homo . If a woman with only Neu5Ac sialic acids mated with a man who still expressed Neu5Gc, her immune system may have rejected that man's sperm or the fetus that developed from it. This fertility barrier might have helped divide Homo populations into different species more than 2 million years ago, the researchers speculated. But the sialic acid change also sparked a new arms race between pathogens and our ancestors. In the new study, the researchers scanned DNA for immune genes in six Neanderthals, two Denisovans, and 1000 humans, and looked at dozens of chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans as well. They found evolutionary changes that “markedly altered” one class of proteins—sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-type lectins, or Siglecs—that usually sit on the surface of human immune cells and recognize sialic acids. ![Figure][2] Battle at the cell surface Some pathogens use sialic acids, which sit on the outer edge of the cell membrane, to invade a cell. Pathogens sometimes coat themselves in humanlike sialic acids to trick signaling molecules called sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-type lectins (Siglecs) into inhibiting immune responses. But other Siglecs can instead turn on an immune response if they sense sialic acids on pathogens. GRAPHIC: PASCAL GAGNEUX/UCSD, ADAPTED BY N. DESAI/ SCIENCE Siglecs are molecular sentries: They probe sialic acids to see whether they are familiar parts of our own bodies or foreign invaders. If Siglecs spot sialic acids that are damaged or missing, they signal immune cells to activate, rousing an inflammatory army to attack potential invaders or clean up damaged cells. If sialic acids instead appear to be normal parts of our own cells, other, inhibitory Siglecs throttle back immune defenses so as not to attack our own tissues (see graphic, below). The researchers identified functional changes in the DNA of eight out of 13 Siglecs encoded by genes on chromosome 19 in humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. This hot spot of evolution appears only in Siglec gene variants, not in nearby genes on the chromosome, suggesting natural selection favored these changes, presumably because they helped fight pathogens that target Neu5Ac. Apes did not show these changes, says first author Naazneen Khan, an evolutionary biologist now at the University of Kentucky. Given the mutations' presence in archaic hominins, this burst of evolution must have happened before our lineages diverged 600,000 years ago, but after the mutation in that altered sialic acid arose more than 2 million years ago, perhaps in Homo erectus , thought to be an ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. Most Siglecs are found on immune cells, but in the new paper, the team reports that several of the human Siglecs that underwent evolutionary changes are expressed in other types of human cells, including some in the placenta, cervix, pancreas, gut, and brain. Siglec changes may have been a side effect of intense battles with pathogens that infected these tissues, Nissi Varki suggests. Although the recently mutated Siglecs protect us from pathogens, they may also contribute to other diseases. Some of the genetically changed Siglecs are associated with inflammation and autoimmune disorders such as asthma and with meningitis. The researchers suggest the altered Siglecs are constantly on high alert and do not dampen immune responses against our own tissues; they may even make some individuals more prone to the runaway inflammation seen in severe COVID-19. Other researchers say the work underscores broad evolutionary principles. “This nicely shows that … natural selection is not always going for the optimal solution, because the optimal solution is changing all the time,” says Rita Gerardy-Schahn, a glycobiologist at Hannover Medical School in Germany, who was not part of the new work. “What is best for natural selection in the short run may be the wrong selection tomorrow.” [1]: [2]: pending:yes

Podcast: Canada's narwhals skewer Silicon Valley's unicorns

MIT Technology Review

Toronto and the corridor that stretches west to Kitchener and Waterloo is already Canada's capital of finance and technology--and naturally, the region's leaders want to set an example for the rest of the world. That's part of the reason why in 2017, municipal organizations in Toronto tapped Google's sister company Sidewalk Labs to redevelop a disused waterfront industrial district as a high-tech prototype for the "smarter, greener, more inclusive cities" of tomorrow. But within three years the deal had collapsed, a victim of conflicting visions, public concerns over privacy and surveillance, and (to hear Sidewalk Labs tell it) pandemic-era economic change. Journalist Brian Barth, who trained in urban planning and spent seven years living and working in Toronto before returning to the US this summer, says the Sidewalk fiasco also symbolizes a larger difference: the contrast between Silicon Valley's hard-charging, individualist, libertarian ethos and a Canadian business style that emphasizes collaboration, respect, and social responsibility. In this edition of Deep Tech, Barth talks about the tensions that led to Sidewalk Labs' departure and the strategies Canadian CEOs are following to build a more open and inclusive tech sector. Toronto would like to be seen as the nice person's Silicon Valley, if that's not too much trouble, June 17, 2020 Wade Roush: Is Toronto like Silicon Valley for nice people?

Artificial intelligence, loyalty card companies draw venture capital funding


The flow of venture capital to Long Island companies slowed in the second quarter, with funding going to a restaurant loyalty card and an artificial intelligence system for options trading, according to data provider Crunchbase Inc. After a first quarter highlighted by a $20 million funding round to Farmingdale biotechnology company Codagenix Inc., there were two funding rounds in the second quarter: $1.5 million for Foodie Card Inc. and an undisclosed bootstrap round for Neuratrade LLC, according to San Francisco-based Crunchbase. The economic slowdown and safety measures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic cut venture capital to a trickle, said Neil Kaufman, managing partner at Hauppauge law firm Kaufman & Associates LLC and chairman emeritus of the Long Island Capital Alliance. "The venture capital investment market has obviously slowed," he said. "It's difficult to do due diligence and meet people and develop relationships."

AI Steps Up for Hospital COVID-19 Screening


Once again, artificial intelligence shows its potential for sifting through massive amounts of medical test data to deliver actionable results, this time with COVID-19 screening in hospitals and emergency departments. We've written numerous posts about AI applications in medicine, often for diagnostics. For example, we covered AI assisting with autism spectrum disorder diagnosis at the University of California Davis and Google Health's success with AI deep learning to improve breast cancer detection. A group of researchers from Oxford University and Harvard University developed two AI models for COVID-19 early-detection using routinely collected data in hospital emergency departments (EDs) and hospital admissions. Information is available in a research study preprint from medRxiv and bioRxiv.

Admiring art in the future could mean virtually stepping into a painting


When the novel coronavirus startled the world earlier this year, San Francisco quickly took action by suspending large public gatherings in the city. The order meant many artists -- and art exhibitors -- had to quickly consider how they must pivot and prepare for a society that exists with the virus, one that might not allow the same artistic interactions we've come to take for granted. As such, the pandemic is accelerating technology's already rapid transformation of visual arts, from their creation process to their discovery and experience. Within visual arts, artificial intelligence (AI) has already redefined who can be an artist. In 2018, a portrait created by an AI was sold at auction for $432,000, reaching a new milestone for conceptual and generative art.

OpenSpace raises $15.9 million to automate photo documentation on construction sites


OpenSpace, a platform that helps construction teams track the progress of building projects by capturing 360-degree photos of construction sites, has raised $15.9 million in a series B round of funding led by Menlo Ventures. While the construction sector has never been renowned for efficiency, digital technology is playing a pivotal role in getting the $11 trillion industry back on its feet during the COVID-19 crisis. The construction industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, due to social distancing measures, but AI and remote collaboration tools are making it easier to resume some projects by reducing the number of people required to be on-site. Founded in 2017, San Francisco-based OpenSpace uses AI to automatically create navigable 360-degree photos of construction sites. The software works in tandem with a 360-degree camera, which builders or site managers strap to their hats to document the evolution of a site.

If you stay at a hotel during the pandemic, a robot may deliver wine to your door or clean your room

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

Picture this: You use your hotel's app on your phone to ask for extra towels. Your phone rings and you hear that your delivery is ready. Open the door and you find a 3-foot-tall bellhop has arrived with your linens. Were you picturing a robot? Because at certain Hilton and Marriott hotels across California, a robot is what you'd find.

GPT-3 Creative Fiction


What if I told a story here, how would that story start?" Thus, the summarization prompt: "My second grader asked me what this passage means: …" When a given prompt isn't working and GPT-3 keeps pivoting into other modes of completion, that may mean that one hasn't constrained it enough by imitating a correct output, and one needs to go further; writing the first few words or sentence of the target output may be necessary.