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66 data science teams compete in challenge to help reopen Los Angeles

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California is one of the hardest-hit states when it comes to coronavirus with more than 200,000 total cases. Data scientists seeking ways to help the state reopen the economy participated in a two-week 2020 COVID-19 Computational Challenge (CCC) in mid-June. The challenge was to provide guidance for risk mitigation for Los Angeles County. Additionally, the solution "must incorporate the ethical protection of individual data and respect data privacy norms." The winning teams revealed location-based COVID-19 exposure at different L.A. communities, developed apps for people to calculate their potential for infection, and delivered applicable data-driven recommendations along with L.A.'s reopening stages, officials said.


Boston Bans Use Of Face Recognition Technology

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The ban comes after civil liberties groups highlighted what they described as faults in facial recognition algorithms after NIST found most facial recognition software was more likely to misidentify people of colour than white people. The Boston ban follows a ban imposed by San Francisco on the use of face recognition technology last year. The ban prevents any city employee using facial recognition or asking a third party to use the technology on its behalf. Boston's police department said it had not used the technology over what it called reliability fears, though it's clear the best systems are reasonably accurate in average working conditions. Critics also opposed the technology on the basis it might discourage citizens' rights to protest.


How AI can empower communities and strengthen democracy

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Each Fourth of July for the past five years I've written about AI with the potential to positively impact democratic societies. I return to this question with the hope of shining a light on technology that can strengthen communities, protect privacy and freedoms, or otherwise support the public good. This series is grounded in the principle that artificial intelligence can is capable of not just value extraction, but individual and societal empowerment. While AI solutions often propagate bias, they can also be used to detect that bias. As Dr. Safiya Noble has pointed out, artificial intelligence is one of the critical human rights issues of our lifetimes.


AI's carbon footprint problem

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For all the advances enabled by artificial intelligence, from speech recognition to self-driving cars, AI systems consume a lot of power and can generate high volumes of climate-changing carbon emissions. A study last year found that training an off-the-shelf AI language-processing system produced 1,400 pounds of emissions--about the amount produced by flying one person roundtrip between New York and San Francisco. The full suite of experiments needed to build and train that AI language system from scratch can generate even more: up to 78,000 pounds, depending on the source of power. But there are ways to make machine learning cleaner and greener, a movement that has been called "Green AI." Some algorithms are less power-hungry than others, for example, and many training sessions can be moved to remote locations that get most of their power from renewable sources.


Trump administration awards tech start-up contract to build 'virtual' border wall

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The Trump administration has reportedly awarded a contract to a California-based tech startup to set up hundreds of "autonomous surveillance towers" along the U.S.-Mexico border to aid its immigration enforcement efforts. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced on Thursday that the towers, which use artificial intelligence and imagery to identify people and vehicles, were now a "program of record" for the agency and that 200 would be deployed along the southern border by 2022. CBP did not mention the contract in its announcement, though the Washington Post reported that the effort includes a five-year agreement with Anduril Industries, a tech startup backed by investors such as Peter Thiel. Anduril executives told the Post that the deal is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The company, which specializes in AI and other technologies, is valued at $1.9 billion, according to Bloomberg News.


AI startup Spiketrap secured $3 Million in Seed Funding

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Spiketrap, a California based AI-powered consumer intelligence platform, has now secured $3 million in a seed funding round. Spiketrap is founded by the Kieran Fitzpatrick. It provides an AI-powered platform that enables companies and brands to understand conversations at scale in a real-time scenario. The company helps customers in deriving insights faster and providing rich data for data-driven decision making. The company comprises a team of more than 15 people from industry leaders which includes Logitech, Apple, Amazon, and AdColony.


The State of AI - MIT Technology Review

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Dr. Andrew Ng is a globally recognized leader in artificial intelligence. He was until recently chief scientist at Baidu, where he led the company's approximately 1,300-person AI group and was responsible for driving its global AI strategy and infrastructure. He was also the founding lead of the Google Brain team. In addition, Dr. Ng is co-chairman and cofounder of Coursera, the world's leading MOOC (massive open online course) platform, and an adjunct professor of computer science at Stanford University. He has authored or coauthored over 100 research papers in machine learning, robotics, and related fields.


News from a postpandemic world

Science

We asked young scientists to imagine this scenario: You are a science writer in the year 2040 working on a news story that answers this question: What do you hope or fear will be the long-term effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic? A selection of their responses, arranged as a newpaper, is below. Follow NextGen Voices on Twitter with hashtag #NextGenSci. Read previous NextGen Voices survey results at . —Jennifer Sills Today, scientists confirm that 1000 previously endangered species have been removed from the Vulnerable list. Biodiversity renewal has been under way since the COVID-19 pandemic 20 years ago led many governments to reevaluate their priorities. Hunting practices and bushmeat consumption were constrained to limit the transmission of new pathogens through human contact with the meat and biofluids of wild animals. Deforestation was restricted worldwide when it became clear that land-use modifications and climate change were important drivers of vector-borne diseases. COVID-19 claimed many lives, but the political and environmental changes the pandemic inspired have likely saved many more by protecting the world's biodiversity. Joel Henrique Ellwanger Department of Genetics, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, 91501-970, Brazil. Email: joel.ellwanger{at}gmail.com Science and technology research budgets, now classified as an arm of the national defense force, could rival traditional military spending in a few years' time. This newfound prioritization of science was shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, which made clear that the previous conception of military force is impractical when the enemy is invisible and formidable. The unprecedented redirection of financial resources to scientific communities to help find a cure and vaccines, along with the increased demand for scientific experts, expanded technological frontiers and gave science a well-deserved space in governance. Mpho Diphago Stanley Lekgoathi The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa. Email: mpho.lekgoathi{at}necsa.co.za In response to the 50th wave of COVID-19, which hit New York City last month, the U.S. government has announced that the first spaceship designated for in-orbit medical treatment of COVID-19 patients will soon transport 10,000 residents from high-risk zones to Space. Scientists say that prolonged stay in Space colonies with exposure to controlled gamma radiation from cosmic dust may help weaken the virus's strong affinity to lung tissue. “We will do all we can to protect our residents on Earth. Unlike 2019, we are prepared for this challenge,” said the President in a Capitol Hill address. The Senate has voted to fund the treatment expenses for everyone on the flight. Kartik Nemani Layered Materials and Structures Lab, Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering, Purdue School of Engineering and Technology, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA. Email: snemani{at}purdue.edu Workers at major corporations staged a walk-out today, the 20th anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, to protest what some have deemed invasive monitoring. Many fears subsided when the first SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was broadly distributed in 2023, but subsequent zoonotic viruses emerged faster than society could prepare for them. With the world economy precariously weak, a cautious arrangement was reached: Workers could return to their jobs if they submitted to routine infection checks. At first, these were relatively innocuous temperature probes and cough tracking. However, with the 2029 advent of low-cost RNA wastewater screening by smart toilets and ubiquitous wall-mounted infrared heat sensors, infected employees could be pinpointed before displaying acute symptoms. Later, an eCommerce/fitness-tracking consortium released artificial intelligence algorithms that combined smartwatch health metrics and recent online search history. Corporate Wellness Boards used the results to justify mandatory quarantines. Employees cried foul. The debate rages on in our courts and on the Giganet about whether the public good is served by exposing the “viral status” of the few. Michael A. Tarselli Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening, Oak Brook, IL 60523, USA. Email: mtarselli{at}slas.org Earlier this month, 21 individuals were quarantined in Kampala, Uganda, after a man was diagnosed with Marburg hemorrhagic fever by the local laboratory of the International Center for Disease Prevention (ICDP). The patient, who has now fully recovered, may have been infected at the veterinary clinic where he worked in close contact with possible animal carriers. “This is a virus that spreads easily through bodily fluids and historically has been transmitted to caregivers,” said Dr. Icuaf, director of the ICDP. Once again, the localized presence of centers with efficient testing capabilities made it possible to identify patient zero and contain the outbreak at its inception. As a result, “no deaths occurred, and everyone who might have been exposed has been quarantined while we monitor their health,” added Dr. Icuaf. The ICDP was instituted in 2021 as a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which marked a revolution in public awareness of science-based policy. The cost of crisis prevention is now routinely compared with the predicted price of managing such a crisis after it has occurred. Ahmed Al Harraq Cain Department of Chemical Engineering, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA. Email: aahme22{at}lsu.edu One of the world's leading universities is launching a large-scale screen of potential antiviral and antibacterial drugs on human volunteers. The substances show promising results in vitro but have not been tested on animals. To compensate for the risk of side effects, all volunteers will receive generous payment. “Drugs showing promising effects on mice could be ineffective on humans, making drug development expensive and slow,” explained the leading scientist of the drug screen. Human rights experts warned against granting permission to conduct the study. “Offering payment for causing physical harm targets the economically vulnerable and violates basic human rights,” they argued. However, doctors and politicians praise the idea, referring to the COVID-19 epidemic. “Developing a new drug through the traditional process can take years. Testing multiple potential candidates on coronavirus-infected people saved thousands of lives before basic research had a chance to catch up. Next time, we want to be prepared,” explained the health minister. Anna Uzonyi Department of Molecular Genetics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, 7610001, Israel. Email: anna.uzonyi{at}weizmann.ac.il Results published today from a 20-year experiment show that a “lottery” grant funding scheme is superior to traditional peer-review assessment panels. For decades, researchers have debated the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of selecting grant recipients through a peer-review process, given the documented biases that hinder diversity and equitable decision-making. “It was a controversial move at the time, but the results are clear,” said the lead author of the study. The funding experiment, which began in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was introduced to preserve the workforce employed on short-term contracts. During that year, pandemic-related budget cuts and social restrictions impeded the traditional peer-review process. “The lottery not only reduced peer-review bias but also added millions of dollars per year to the sector in hours saved by academics no longer devoting time to peer review,” said the lead author. “That time was spent on doing more experiments, mentoring colleagues, or achieving a healthier work-life balance.” Ken Dutton-Regester Department of Genetics and Computational Biology, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, QLD 4006, Australia. Twitter: @stemventurist As the debate continues on the efficacy of educational methods, most universities now use a combination of in-person, remote, and technology-enhanced classrooms. The rapid expansion of evidence-based strategies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, audio and video tools, three-dimensional environments, and simulations across disciplines began during the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision to move education to a computer-based environment to protect the health and safety of students and staff transformed the educational conversation. In the increasingly technology-enhanced world, discussions about how to teach a science class online, how to facilitate lab experiences, and how to conduct experiments with new constraints swept the research community. A nuanced understanding emerged about true online pedagogy versus synchronous, remote meetings. Two decades later, we see the results of this transformation. Rachel Yoho Department of Environmental and Global Health, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32603, USA. Twitter: @rachel_yoho A stunning 200,000 people attended the grand opening ceremony of the 2040 Olympics yesterday in New Delhi, India. It has been 20 years since such a public event could take place safely. Only with the recent release of clothing and shoes made of technologically advanced materials that instantly kill viruses could the social distancing that began with the COVID-19 pandemic be relaxed. For added peace of mind, all attendees at the ceremony consented to the skin implantation of Viroclean, a new chip-based device that sounds an alarm when it detects viruses in the air. Sudhakar Srivastava Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, 221005, India. Email: sudhakar.srivastava{at}gmail.com This weekend, at the Coachella 2040 music festival, three aerosol biosurveillance sensors detected a SARS-like virus in the air. Smartphone tracing, using the opt-in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) geospatial health app developed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, identified two potential index cases. The CDC outbreak prevention team mobilized regional contact tracers to intercept and test both individuals within an hour of first detection. One individual tested positive for a variant of the 2019 SARS-CoV-2 strain, previously thought to be eradicated, and is undergoing treatment in quarantine. Michael Strong Center for Genes, Environment, and Health, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Denver, CO 80206, USA. Email: strongm{at}njhealth.org Last week's 15th annual Pan-global Remote Integrated Sciences Meeting (PRISM) attracted more than 100,000 attendees from more than 160 countries. Scientists, educators, students, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and industry experts from fields spanning the physical, biological, and social sciences logged on to the online venue, enabled by virtual reality. Advanced machine learning algorithms provided recommendations for presentations relevant to each participant based on both their expertise and potential for interdisciplinary collaboration. As usual, the highlight of the meeting was the virtual poster sessions, driven by interactivity and streamlined to optimize small-group scientific conversation across fields. Many junior scientist attendees were surprised to learn that such events were nearly unheard of before PRISM grew from the increasing move toward virtual conferences during the coronavirus pandemic over 20 years ago. “My adviser told me that when she was a grad student, big conferences were all held in person,” writes one anonymous Ph.D. student. “Can you imagine having a giant conference like this in some random convention center, with tens of thousands of scientists spending hundreds of dollars on fuel-inefficient flights and hotel booking, lugging around printed posters and just milling around for a week trying to find the optimal talks to attend? Insane.” Yifan Li Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. Twitter: @iWonderWhyly Today, cell-based meat consumption has surpassed farm-produced meat for the first time. The transition began with the meat shortages and near collapse of the meat supply chain during the COVID-19 outbreak. With thousands of workers packed into poorly ventilated and unhygienic facilities, meat processing plants were hotspots for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A global meat shortage emerged as production rates were slashed. Most people turned to the plant-based meat alternatives available at the time. The meat industry's demise was sealed when cell-based meat entered the mainstream market the following year. Clean meat eliminated the negative effects of the meat industry, from pollution caused by runoff and antibiotics, to worker and animal cruelty, to the carbon footprint of livestock, which contributed 18% of greenhouse gas emissions at the time. Cell-based meat has been growing in popularity ever since, as traditional meat became ethically and environmentally unpalatable. JiaJia Fu Whittle School and Studios, Washington, DC 20008, USA. Email: jjnaturalist{at}gmail.com Global seafood supply now relies entirely on aquaculture. The turning point came when researchers optimized the breeding techniques for edible crabs, enabling high-valued crab species such as mud crabs and blue crabs to be mass-produced in full aquaculture settings. The prioritization of aquaculture was made possible by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. A 12-month closure of fisheries during the wave of global stay-at-home orders led to the rejuvenation of overexploited species such as sardines and mackerels, which had been on the verge of extinction, and made people recognize the fragility of the supply chain. Full investment in aquaculture research began the following year. Khor Waiho Institute of Tropical Aquaculture and Fisheries, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Kuala Nerus, Terengganu, 21030, Malaysia. Email: waiho{at}umt.edu.my Next week, the United Nations will meet to assess whether the goals of the 2040 Agenda for Sustainable Development have been achieved. Unfortunately, reasons for optimism are scarce. Overexploitation of natural resources, CO2 emissions, and plastic waste continue to soar. The wealthiest sector of the population consumes 80% of the resources, and the poorest people increasingly suffer from extreme weather events, famines, and freshwater scarcity. We were already heading in this direction early in the century, when the short-term vision of corporations and policy-makers prioritized economic benefits over human and environmental health. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the negative trends. Since 2020, an array of wasteful practices increased, including the proliferation of single-use products and travel in private vehicles to avoid physical contact. After reviewing the past decade, the UN countries will discuss commitments to decrease inequality and pollution by 2050. Isabel Marín Beltrán Laboratory of Environmental Technologies, Centro de Ciências do Mar do Algarve, Universidade do Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, Faro, 8005-139, Portugal. Email: imbeltran{at}ualg.pt For the first time, global average air temperature is more than 2°C higher than the 20th-century global average. Scientists suggest that decisions made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to today's disastrous climate consequences. After the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, scientists were hopeful. National governments were implementing increasingly ambitious measures to meet their commitments. But the economic fallout of the pandemic led growing economies such as India to relax environmental clearance guidelines for industries and infrastructure projects and cut funding allocated to environmental reforms. First-world countries such as the United States and China, instead of shifting toward renewable energy, boosted investment in fossil fuels, which in turn increased greenhouse gas emissions. Even after multiple warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, G20 nations neglected to follow the advice of scientists. Akash Mukherjee Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, Pune, Maharashtra, 411008, India. Twitter: @aghori_AM A government report released yesterday warns of a potential spike in counterfeit immunity passports entering the market this coronavirus season. According to Jane London, the U.K. health minister, “There is a substantial increase in the number of illegal immunigrants crossing provincial and municipal borders. The public should be aware that just scanning someone's immunity passport is not enough anymore.” This report comes just 6 months after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first released notice that the “NextGen Immunity Passport” brand had been hacked, allowing scammers and tech-savvy citizens to falsify the immunity data they carry with them by law. Asked how businesses and town-guards were detecting falsified immunity passports at checkpoints, minister of national movement John Petersfield told journalists, “This is a police matter. Any further information about detection at this time will only help counterfeiters.” Widespread counterfeiting, as well as last year's false-negative scandal, has generated substantial public distrust in the use of the immunity passport system in movement legislation, now 19 years old. “We learned our lesson about free movement back in 2020,” said one government official who wished to remain anonymous, “but the immunity passport system is cracking, and we don't see a fix yet.” Tyler D. P. Brunet Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 3RH, UK. Email: tdpb2{at}cam.ac.uk


Meet robot that will drive food to your table

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Events to see robot serving food that manages delivery route by itself. A company based at the University of California, Berkeley, is using machine learning to teach its delivery robots how to cross the road safely, without any human intervention. This technology will be a helping hand for event's catering service whose usual challenge is to manage serving staff during events. Not just caterers but they could also be helpful to carry food plates with serving staff who are usually seen jumbling with a stake of dishes.


Understanding BERT

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While BERT is a significant improvement in how computers'understand' human language, it is still far away from understanding language and context in the same way that humans do. We should, however, expect that BERT will have a significant impact on many understanding focused NLP initiatives. The General Language Understanding Evaluation benchmark (GLUE) is a collection of datasets used for training, evaluating, and analyzing NLP models relative to one another. The datasets are designed to test a model's language understanding and are useful for evaluating models like BERT. As the GLUE results show, BERT makes it possible to outperform humans even in comprehension tasks previously thought to be impossible for computers to outperform humans.