Interpol has warned of a new investment scam targeting users of mobile dating apps. As COVID-19 continues to severely restrict our daily lives and in many places, makes social interaction and meeting new people in person impossible, dating apps have experienced a surge in users. As the only possible method of anything akin to dating at the current time, scam artists have decided to capitalize on this trend in order to push an investment-based scam that deprives victims of their cash. According to Arkose Labs research, four million online dating fraud & abuse-related attacks were recorded in 2020, with many taking place through fake account registrations. On Tuesday, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) said the agency had issued a "purple notice" -- the provision of data on criminal groups' methods, objects, devices, and concealment methods -- to 194 member countries.
As politicians play whack-a-mole with COVID-19 infection rates and try to balance the economic damage caused by lockdowns, stay-at-home orders have also impacted those out there in the dating scene. No longer able to meet up for a drink, a coffee, or now even a walk in the park, organizing an encounter with anyone other than your household or support bubble is banned and can result in a fine in the United Kingdom -- and this includes both dates and overnight stays. Therefore, the only feasible option available is online connections, by way of social networks or dating apps. Dating is hard enough at the best of times but sexual desire doesn't disappear just because you are cooped up at home. Realizing this, a number of healthcare organizations worldwide have urged us not to contribute to the spread of COVID-19 by meeting up with others for discreet sex outside of our social bubbles, bringing new meaning to the phrase, "You are your safest sex partner."
CLAIRE, the Confederation of Laboratories for AI Research in Europe, launched its COVID-19 Initiative in March 2020 as the first wave of the pandemic hit the continent. Its objective was to coordinate volunteer efforts from its members to contribute to tackling the effects of the disease. The taskforce was able to quickly gather a group of about 150 researchers, scientists and experts in AI organized into seven topic groups: epidemiological data analysis, mobility data analysis, bioinformatics, medical imaging, social dynamics monitoring, robotics, and scheduling and resource management. We brought you a comprehensive article about the activities of this initiative in one of last month's AI for Good series posts. You can read more about the outcomes and experience of this bottom-up approach in the article: The CLAIRE COVID-19 Initiative: a bottom-up effort from the European AI community.
COVID-19 has infected more than 23 million Americans and killed 386,000 of them to date, since the global pandemic began last March. Complicating the public health response is the fact that we still know so little about how the virus operates -- such as why some patients remain asymptomatic while it ravages others. Effectively allocating resources like ICU beds and ventilators becomes a Sisyphean task when doctors can only guess as to who might recover and who might be intubated within the next 96 hours. However a trio of new machine learning algorithms developed by Facebook's AI division (FAIR) in cooperation with NYU Langone Health can help predict patient outcomes up to four days in advance using just a patient's chest x-rays. The models can, respectively, predict patient deterioration based on either a single X-ray or a sequence as well as determine how much supplemental oxygen the patient will likely need.
Beijing – Browsing the internet as a young policeman in China, Ma Baoli recalls the sheer volume of web pages telling him he was a pervert, diseased and in need of treatment -- simply because he is gay. "I felt extremely lonely after I became aware of my sexual orientation," says Ma, at the time a newly minted officer in a small coastal city. Two decades later, the softly spoken 43-year-old now helms Blued, one of the world's largest dating platforms for gay men. The app went public last July with an $85 million debut on Nasdaq, a remarkable tech success story from a country that classified homosexuality as a mental illness as recently as 2001. Parent company BlueCity's sunlit Beijing campus teems with young and casually dressed programmers who hold meetings in rooms named after Oscar Wilde and other prominent LGBTQ figures from around the world.
This time last year we were commemorating the end of a decade and looking ahead to the next one. Enter the year that felt like a decade all by itself: 2020. News written in January, the before-times, feels hopelessly out of touch with all that came after. Stories published in the early days of the pandemic are, for the most part, similarly naive. The year’s news cycle was swift and brutal, ping-ponging from pandemic to extreme social and political tension, whipsawing economies, and natural disasters. Hope. Despair. Loneliness. Grief. Grit. More hope. Another lockdown. It’s been a hell of a year. Though 2020 was dominated by big, hairy societal change, science and technology took significant steps forward. Researchers singularly focused on the pandemic and collaborated on solutions to a degree never before seen. New technologies converged to deliver vaccines in record time. The dark side of tech, from biased algorithms to the threat of omnipresent surveillance and corporate control of artificial intelligence, continued to rear its head. Meanwhile, AI showed uncanny command of language, joined Reddit threads, and made inroads into some of science’s grandest challenges. Mars rockets flew for the first time, and a private company delivered astronauts to the International Space Station. Deprived of night life, concerts, and festivals, millions traveled to virtual worlds instead. Anonymous jet packs flew over LA. Mysterious monoliths appeared and disappeared worldwide. It was all, you know, very 2020. For this year’s (in-no-way-all-encompassing) list of fascinating stories in tech and science, we tried to select those that weren’t totally dated by the news, but rose above it in some way. So, without further ado: This year’s picks. How Science Beat the Virus Ed Yong | The Atlantic “Much like famous initiatives such as the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program, epidemics focus the energies of large groups of scientists. …But ‘nothing in history was even close to the level of pivoting that’s happening right now,’ Madhukar Pai of McGill University told me. … No other disease has been scrutinized so intensely, by so much combined intellect, in so brief a time.” ‘It Will Change Everything’: DeepMind’s AI Makes Gigantic Leap in Solving Protein Structures Ewen Callaway | Nature “In some cases, AlphaFold’s structure predictions were indistinguishable from those determined using ‘gold standard’ experimental methods such as X-ray crystallography and, in recent years, cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). AlphaFold might not obviate the need for these laborious and expensive methods—yet—say scientists, but the AI will make it possible to study living things in new ways.” OpenAI’s Latest Breakthrough Is Astonishingly Powerful, But Still Fighting Its Flaws James Vincent | The Verge “What makes GPT-3 amazing, they say, is not that it can tell you that the capital of Paraguay is Asunción (it is) or that 466 times 23.5 is 10,987 (it’s not), but that it’s capable of answering both questions and many more beside simply because it was trained on more data for longer than other programs. If there’s one thing we know that the world is creating more and more of, it’s data and computing power, which means GPT-3’s descendants are only going to get more clever.” Artificial General Intelligence: Are We Close, and Does It Even Make Sense to Try? Will Douglas Heaven | MIT Technology Review “A machine that could think like a person has been the guiding vision of AI research since the earliest days—and remains its most divisive idea. …So why is AGI controversial? Why does it matter? And is it a reckless, misleading dream—or the ultimate goal?” The Dark Side of Big Tech’s Funding for AI Research Tom Simonite | Wired “Timnit Gebru’s exit from Google is a powerful reminder of how thoroughly companies dominate the field, with the biggest computers and the most resources. …[Meredith] Whittaker of AI Now says properly probing the societal effects of AI is fundamentally incompatible with corporate labs. ‘That kind of research that looks at the power and politics of AI is and must be inherently adversarial to the firms that are profiting from this technology.’i” We’re Not Prepared for the End of Moore’s Law David Rotman | MIT Technology Review “Quantum computing, carbon nanotube transistors, even spintronics, are enticing possibilities—but none are obvious replacements for the promise that Gordon Moore first saw in a simple integrated circuit. We need the research investments now to find out, though. Because one prediction is pretty much certain to come true: we’re always going to want more computing power.” Inside the Race to Build the Best Quantum Computer on Earth Gideon Lichfield | MIT Technology Review “Regardless of whether you agree with Google’s position [on ‘quantum supremacy’] or IBM’s, the next goal is clear, Oliver says: to build a quantum computer that can do something useful. …The trouble is that it’s nearly impossible to predict what the first useful task will be, or how big a computer will be needed to perform it.” The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It Kashmir Hill | The New York Times “Searching someone by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to listen in on sensitive conversations, take photos of the participants and know personal secrets. Someone walking down the street would be immediately identifiable—and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would herald the end of public anonymity.” Wrongfully Accused by an Algorithm Kashmir Hill | The New York Times “Mr. Williams knew that he had not committed the crime in question. What he could not have known, as he sat in the interrogation room, is that his case may be the first known account of an American being wrongfully arrested based on a flawed match from a facial recognition algorithm, according to experts on technology and the law.” Predictive Policing Algorithms Are Racist. They Need to Be Dismantled. Will Douglas Heaven | MIT Technology Review “A number of studies have shown that these tools perpetuate systemic racism, and yet we still know very little about how they work, who is using them, and for what purpose. All of this needs to change before a proper reckoning can take pace. Luckily, the tide may be turning.” The Panopticon Is Already Here Ross Andersen | The Atlantic “Artificial intelligence has applications in nearly every human domain, from the instant translation of spoken language to early viral-outbreak detection. But Xi [Jinping] also wants to use AI’s awesome analytical powers to push China to the cutting edge of surveillance. He wants to build an all-seeing digital system of social control, patrolled by precog algorithms that identify potential dissenters in real time.” The Case For Cities That Aren’t Dystopian Surveillance States Cory Doctorow | The Guardian “Imagine a human-centered smart city that knows everything it can about things. It knows how many seats are free on every bus, it knows how busy every road is, it knows where there are short-hire bikes available and where there are potholes. …What it doesn’t know is anything about individuals in the city.” The Modern World Has Finally Become Too Complex for Any of Us to Understand Tim Maughan | OneZero “One of the dominant themes of the last few years is that nothing makes sense. …I am here to tell you that the reason so much of the world seems incomprehensible is that it is incomprehensible. From social media to the global economy to supply chains, our lives rest precariously on systems that have become so complex, and we have yielded so much of it to technologies and autonomous actors that no one totally comprehends it all.” The Conscience of Silicon Valley Zach Baron | GQ “What I really hoped to do, I said, was to talk about the future and how to live in it. This year feels like a crossroads; I do not need to explain what I mean by this. …I want to destroy my computer, through which I now work and ‘have drinks’ and stare at blurry simulations of my parents sometimes; I want to kneel down and pray to it like a god. I want someone—I want Jaron Lanier—to tell me where we’re going, and whether it’s going to be okay when we get there. Lanier just nodded. All right, then.” Yes to Tech Optimism. And Pessimism. Shira Ovide | The New York Times “Technology is not something that exists in a bubble; it is a phenomenon that changes how we live or how our world works in ways that help and hurt. That calls for more humility and bridges across the optimism-pessimism divide from people who make technology, those of us who write about it, government officials and the public. We need to think on the bright side. And we need to consider the horribles.” How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend C. Brandon Ogbunu | Wired “…[W. E. B. DuBois’] ‘The Comet’ helped lay the foundation for a paradigm known as Afrofuturism. A century later, as a comet carrying disease and social unrest has upended the world, Afrofuturism may be more relevant than ever. Its vision can help guide us out of the rubble, and help us to consider universes of better alternatives.” Wikipedia Is the Last Best Place on the Internet Richard Cooke | Wired “More than an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has become a community, a library, a constitution, an experiment, a political manifesto—the closest thing there is to an online public square. It is one of the few remaining places that retains the faintly utopian glow of the early World Wide Web.” Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back the American Chestnut? Gabriel Popkin | The New York Times Magazine “The geneticists’ research forces conservationists to confront, in a new and sometimes discomfiting way, the prospect that repairing the natural world does not necessarily mean returning to an unblemished Eden. It may instead mean embracing a role that we’ve already assumed: engineers of everything, including nature.” At the Limits of Thought David C. Krakauer | Aeon “A schism is emerging in the scientific enterprise. On the one side is the human mind, the source of every story, theory, and explanation that our species holds dear. On the other stand the machines, whose algorithms possess astonishing predictive power but whose inner workings remain radically opaque to human observers.” Is the Internet Conscious? If It Were, How Would We Know? Meghan O’Gieblyn | Wired “Does the internet behave like a creature with an internal life? Does it manifest the fruits of consciousness? There are certainly moments when it seems to. Google can anticipate what you’re going to type before you fully articulate it to yourself. Facebook ads can intuit that a woman is pregnant before she tells her family and friends. It is easy, in such moments, to conclude that you’re in the presence of another mind—though given the human tendency to anthropomorphize, we should be wary of quick conclusions.” The Internet Is an Amnesia Machine Simon Pitt | OneZero “There was a time when I didn’t know what a Baby Yoda was. Then there was a time I couldn’t go online without reading about Baby Yoda. And now, Baby Yoda is a distant, shrugging memory. Soon there will be a generation of people who missed the whole thing and for whom Baby Yoda is as meaningless as it was for me a year ago.” Digital Pregnancy Tests Are Almost as Powerful as the Original IBM PC Tom Warren | The Verge “Each test, which costs less than $5, includes a processor, RAM, a button cell battery, and a tiny LCD screen to display the result. …Foone speculates that this device is ‘probably faster at number crunching and basic I/O than the CPU used in the original IBM PC.’ IBM’s original PC was based on Intel’s 8088 microprocessor, an 8-bit chip that operated at 5Mhz. The difference here is that this is a pregnancy test you pee on and then throw away.” The Party Goes on in Massive Online Worlds Cecilia D’Anastasio | Wired “We’re more stand-outside types than the types to cast a flashy glamour spell and chat up the nearest cat girl. But, hey, it’s Final Fantasy XIV online, and where my body sat in New York, the epicenter of America’s Covid-19 outbreak, there certainly weren’t any parties.” The Facebook Groups Where People Pretend the Pandemic Isn’t Happening Kaitlyn Tiffany | The Atlantic “Losing track of a friend in a packed bar or screaming to be heard over a live band is not something that’s happening much in the real world at the moment, but it happens all the time in the 2,100-person Facebook group ‘a group where we all pretend we’re in the same venue.’ So does losing shoes and Juul pods, and shouting matches over which bands are the saddest, and therefore the greatest.” Did You Fly a Jetpack Over Los Angeles This Weekend? Because the FBI Is Looking for You Tom McKay | Gizmodo “Did you fly a jetpack over Los Angeles at approximately 3,000 feet on Sunday? Some kind of tiny helicopter? Maybe a lawn chair with balloons tied to it? If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘yes,’ you should probably lay low for a while (by which I mean cool it on the single-occupant flying machine). That’s because passing airline pilots spotted you, and now it’s this whole thing with the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration, both of which are investigating.” Image Credit: Thomas Kinto / Unsplash Continue reading →
CLAIRE, the Confederation of Laboratories for AI Research in Europe, launched its COVID-19 initiative in March 2020 as the first wave of the pandemic hit the continent. Its objective is to coordinate volunteer efforts of its members to contribute to tackling the effects of the disease. The taskforce was able to quickly gather a group of about 150 researchers, scientists and experts in AI organized in seven topic groups: epidemiological data analysis, mobility data analysis, bioinformatics, medical imaging, social dynamics monitoring, robotics, and scheduling and resource management. Activities of these groups yielded multiple outcomes including a publicly released resource on COVID-19 related data for drug-repurposing; the development the COVID-19 Infodemic Observatory to track spread of misinformation in social media and tools for the diagnosis based on CT scans using High Performance Computing (HPC) platforms. The latter was the catalyst for establishing a partnership between CLAIRE, the Italian National Inter-University Consortium for Informatics (CINI) and the Associazione Big Data (ABD) to provide HPC-enabled AI technologies to our network members.
The Zoom video meeting service is finally coming to Amazon's Echo Show video device, five months after first being announced. This follows the launch of the service on Facebook's Portal video device in September, and Google's announcement this week that a limited preview of Zoom for the Nest Hub Max video device was now available. Fine print alert: Google's preview hasn't yet opened to the general public and Amazon's Zoom support is only available on one of the three Echo Show devices, the 8-inch model, which is currently holiday-priced at $44.99. Amazon also has models with 5-inch and 10-inch screens. Zoom was named the most downloaded app of the year by Apple, as the pandemic changed the way we learn and work from home.
Science has named nine scientific advances as runners-up for the 2020 Breakthrough of the Year. For 5 decades, scientists have struggled to solve one of biology's biggest challenges: predicting the precise 3D shape a string of amino acids will fold into as it becomes a working protein. This year, they achieved that goal, developing an artificial intelligence (AI) program that predicts most protein structures as accurately as laboratory experiments can map them. Because a protein's precise shape determines its biochemical functions, the new program could help researchers uncover mechanisms of disease, develop new drugs, and even create drought-tolerant plants and cheaper biofuels. Researchers traditionally decipher structures using laborious techniques such as x-ray crystallography and cryo–electron microscopy. But detailed molecular maps only exist for about 170,000 of the 200 million known proteins. Computational biologists have dreamed of simply predicting a protein's structure by modeling the amino acid interactions that govern its 3D shape. But because amino acids can interact in so many ways, the number of possible structures for single protein is astronomical. In 1994, structural biologists launched a biennial competition called the Critical Assessment of Protein Structure Prediction (CASP). Entrants are given amino acid sequences for about 100 proteins with as-yet-unknown structures. Some groups try to predict their structures, while others map the same structures in the lab; afterward, their results are compared. Even in CASP's early years, the predictions for small, simple proteins were on par with experimental observations. But predictions for larger, more challenging proteins lagged far behind. Not anymore. This year, an AI program created by researchers at U.K.-based DeepMind tallied a median score of 92.4 on a 100-point scale, where anything above 90 is considered as accurate as an experimentally derived structure. On the most challenging proteins, the AlphaFold program averaged 87, 25 points ahead of its closest competitor. And because contest rules require competitors to reveal enough of their methods for others to make use of them, organizers say it's only a matter of months before other groups match AlphaFold's success. — Robert F. Service Since the revolutionary genome-snipping tool known as CRISPR burst on the scene in 2012, it has given researchers new power to engineer crops and animals, stirred ethical debates, and earned a Nobel Prize—not to mention Science 's Breakthrough of the Year in 2015. Now, CRISPR is again making waves, scoring its first success in the clinic by treating two inherited blood diseases. People with beta-thalassemia have low levels of the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin protein, leading to weakness and exhaustion; those with sickle cell disease make a defective form of the protein, resulting in sickle-shaped red blood cells that block blood vessels and often cause severe pain, organ damage, and strokes. To treat three sickle cell patients, researchers harvested immature blood cells, known as blood stem cells, from each. They then used CRISPR to disable an “off” switch that—in adults—stops production of the fetal form of hemoglobin, which can counter the effects of the sickling mutation. After the patients received chemotherapy to wipe out their diseased blood stem cells, the CRISPR-treated cells were infused back into their bodies. The patients, treated up to 17 months ago, are now making plentiful fetal hemoglobin, and have not experienced the painful attacks that used to strike every few months, the companies CRISPR Therapeutics and Vertex Pharmaceuticals reported in December. One patient, a young mother of three, says the treatment changed her life. The companies also gave the treatment to seven patients who normally receive blood transfusions for beta-thalassemia. They haven't needed transfusions since, the companies reported in the same paper and meeting presentation. With more testing, the new treatment could rival the success of gene therapies that treat the two diseases by adding hemoglobin DNA to stem cells. But like gene therapy, the CRISPR approach requires high-tech medical care and could cost $1 million or more per patient—putting it out of reach for much of Africa, where most people with sickle cell live. — Jocelyn Kaiser More than 40 years ago, the world's leading climate scientists gathered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to answer a simple question: How hot would Earth get if humans kept emitting greenhouse gases? Their answer, informed by rudimentary climate models, was broad: If atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) doubled from preindustrial levels, the planet would eventually warm between 1.5°C and 4.5°C, a climate sensitivity range encompassing the merely troubling and the catastrophic. Now, they've finally ruled out the mildest scenarios—and the most dire. Narrowing those bounds has taken decades of scientific advancement. Understanding how clouds trap or reflect heat has been a particular challenge. Depending on their thickness, location, and composition, clouds can amplify warming—or suppress it. Now, high-resolution cloud models, supported by satellite evidence, have shown that global warming thins low, light-blocking clouds: Hotter air dries them out and subdues the turbulence that drives their formation. Longer and better temperature records have also helped narrow the range. Studies of Earth's ancient climate, which estimate paleotemperatures and CO2 levels using ice and ocean sediment cores, suggest how greenhouse gases may have driven previous episodes of warming. And modern global warming has now gone on long enough that surface temperatures, 1.1°C hotter than in preindustrial times, can be used to more confidently project trends into the future. This year, these advances enabled 25 scientists affiliated with the World Climate Research Programme to narrow climate sensitivity to a range between 2.6°C and 3.9°C. The study rules out some of the worst-case scenarios—but it all but guarantees warming that will flood coastal cities, escalate extreme heat waves, and displace millions of people. If we're lucky, such clarity might galvanize action. Atmospheric CO2 is already at 420 parts per million—halfway to the doubling point of 560 ppm. Barring more aggressive action on climate change, humanity could reach that threshold by 2060—and lock in the foreseen warming. — Paul Voosen Everyone loves a good mystery. Take fast radio bursts (FRBs)—short, powerful flashes of radio waves from distant galaxies. For 13 years, they tantalized astronomers keen to understand their origins. One running joke said there were more theories explaining what causes FRBs than there were FRBs. (Currently, astronomers know of more than 100.) Now, cosmic sleuths have fingered a likely culprit: magnetars, neutron stars that fizzle and pop with powerful magnetic fields. Because FRBs are so fast, they must come from a small but intense energy source like a magnetar, which are formed when burned-out stars collapse to the size of a city. But although a handful of FRBs had been traced to particular galaxies, no telescope had sharp enough vision to connect them to an individual magnetar at such great distances. Then, in April, an FRB went off in the Milky Way—close enough that astronomers could examine the scene. The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, a pioneering survey telescope in British Columbia responsible for the discovery of many FRBs, narrowed the source to a small area of sky, which was soon confirmed by the U.S. radio array STARE2. Orbiting observatories sensitive to higher frequencies quickly found that a known magnetar in that part of the sky, called SGR 1935+2154, was acting up at the same time, spewing out bursts of x-rays and gamma rays. Although astronomers studying FRBs believe they have finally found their perpetrator, they still don't know exactly how magnetars produce the radio bursts. They could come from close to the magnetar's surface, as magnetic field lines break and reconnect—similar to the Sun's flaring behavior. Or they could come from farther out, as shock waves slam into clouds of charged particles and generate laserlike radio pulses. Stay tuned for a sequel: Crack theorists are on the case. — Daniel Clery More than 40,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, a prehistoric Pablo Picasso ventured into the depths of a cave and sketched a series of fantastic animal-headed hunters cornering wild hogs and buffaloes. The age of the paintings, pinned down just 1 year ago, makes them the earliest known figurative art made by modern humans. In 2017, when an Indonesian researcher chanced across the scene, the figures alone told him he had found something special. The animals appear to be Sulawesi warty pigs and dwarf buffaloes, both of which still live on the island. But it was the animallike features of the eight hunters, armed with spears or ropes, that captivated archaeologists. Several of the hunters seem to have long muzzles or snouts. One sports a tail. Another's mouth resembles a bird beak. It's possible the artist was depicting the hunters wearing masks or camouflage, the researchers say, but they may also represent mythical animal-human hybrids. Such hybrids appear in other ancient works of art, including a 35,000-year-old ivory figurine of a lion-man found in the German Alps. Parts of the paintings were covered in white, bumpy mineral deposits known as cave popcorn. Uranium in this popcorn decays at a fixed rate, which allowed researchers to date minerals on top of the pigment to about 44,000 years ago. The cave scene must be at least that old—about 4000 years older than any other known figurative rock art, they reported in late December 2019. It decisively unseats Europe as the first place where modern humans are known to have created figurative art. If the figures do depict mythical human-animal hunters, their creators may have already passed an important cognitive milestone: the ability to imagine beings that do not exist. That, the researchers say, forms the roots of most modern—and ancient—religions. — Michael Price Within days of a racially charged confrontation between a white dog owner and a Black birdwatcher in New York City's Central Park in late May, scientists flocked to Twitter to celebrate—and support—Black nature enthusiasts. The #BlackBirdersWeek hashtag was soon followed by others, in disciplines from neuroscience to physics, all aiming to create community among Black scientists on Twitter, Zoom, and other platforms. “We're few and far between, so having us come together as a conglomerate in one virtual space—it really helped,” says Ti'Air Riggins, a biomedical engineering Ph.D. student at Michigan State University who helped organize #BlackInNeuro week. The social media events took place against the backdrop of the anguished response to police killings in the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement, and discussions within science about the need to create a more equitable, welcoming environment for people of color. Through those discussions, many scientists hoped to reach colleagues who had paid little attention to these issues in the past. “People of color across the board are struggling,” says Tanisha Williams, a botanist at Bucknell University who spearheaded #BlackBotanistsWeek. “It's a systemic problem.” Although it's too early to tell whether the events of this year will spur lasting change, many are hopeful. “This year feels different,” says Shirley Malcom, a senior adviser at AAAS (publisher of Science ) who has worked on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues since the 1970s. “All of a sudden, after George Floyd and everything else that came out after that time, you could at least get people's attention,” she says—adding that many scientists now seem more open to the idea that systemic racism is a problem in their community. “I definitely feel like our voices are being heard, and in a different way [than before],” Williams says. “But it's not going to be a quick fix … we have a long road.” — Katie Langin HIV, like all retroviruses, has a nasty feature that allows it to dodge attack: It integrates its genetic material into human chromosomes, creating “reservoirs” where it can hide, undetected by the immune system and invulnerable to antiretroviral drugs. But where it hides may make all the difference. This year, a study of 64 HIV-infected people who have been healthy for years without antiretroviral drugs reveals a link between their unusual success and where the virus has hunkered down in their genomes. Although the new understanding of these “elite controllers” won't lead directly to a cure, it opens up a novel strategy that may routinely allow other infected people to live for decades without treatment. Many studies have examined elite controllers, who make up about 0.5% of the 38 million people living with HIV. But this new work stood apart in size and scope, comparing integrated HIV in the 64 elite controllers with that in 41 HIV-infected people on treatment. HIV does best when it slots itself within genes. When the cell transcribes the genes, the integrated HIV, or “provirus,” can produce new viruses that infect other cells. If it parks in “gene deserts,” portions of chromosomes that rarely transcribe DNA, the provirus sits around like a fully functioning car stuck in a place that doesn't sell gas. The study found that in the elite controllers, 45% of functioning proviruses resided in gene deserts, compared with just 17.8% for the people on treatment. Presumably, immune responses in the elite controllers somehow cleared proviruses from the more dangerous parking spots. Now, the challenge is to figure out interventions that will train the immune systems of the vast majority of people living with HIV to behave similarly. That new insight suggests long-standing, frustrating attempts to cure people by eliminating HIV reservoirs may be too ambitious an approach. Instead, success may depend on shrinking—and then making peace with—these reservoirs, and minding the old real estate dictum of location, location, location. — Jon Cohen Scientists have spent decades searching for materials that conduct electricity without resistance at room temperature. This year they found the first one, a hydrogen- and carbon-containing compound squeezed to a pressure approaching that at the center of Earth. The discovery is setting off a hunt for room temperature superconductors that work at typical surface pressures; such materials could transform technologies and save the vast amounts of energy wasted when electricity moves through wires. Superconductivity got its start in 1911 when physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes found that a mercury wire chilled to 4.2°C above absolute zero, or 4.2 K, conducted electrons without the usual heat-producing friction. In 1986, researchers found the same was true of a family of copper oxide ceramics. Because these superconductors worked above 77 K—the temperature of liquid nitrogen—they spawned a new generation of MRI machines and particle accelerator magnets. There were hints that copper oxides might superconduct at room temperature, but they were never verified. Confirmation now comes from high-pressure physics, in which scientists smash flecks of materials between the flattened points of two diamonds at pressures millions of times higher than those at Earth's surface. With such a diamond anvil, researchers in Germany in 2019 compressed a mix of lanthanum and hydrogen to 170 gigapascals (GPa), yielding superconductivity at temperatures up to 250 K, just under the freezing point of water. This year, researchers in the United States topped that result with a hydrogen, carbon, and sulfur compound compressed to 267 GPa. It conducted without resistance to 287 K, the temperature of a chilly room. So far, the new superconductors fall apart when the pressure is released. But the same isn't true of all high-pressure materials: Diamonds born in the crushing depths of Earth, for example, survive after rising to the surface. Now, researchers hope to find a similarly long-lasting gem for their own field. — Robert F. Service Their eyes are beady and their brains are no bigger than a walnut. But two studies published this year suggest birds have startling mental powers. One reveals that part of the avian brain resembles the human neocortex, the source of human intelligence. The other shows that carrion crows are even more aware than researchers had thought—and may be capable of some conscious thought. In humans, the neocortex consists of horizontal layers laced with interconnected columns of nerve cells, which allow for complex thinking. Bird brains, in contrast, were thought to be arranged in simple clusters of nerve cells. By using a technique called 3D polarized light imaging, neuroanatomists took a closer look at the forebrain of homing pigeons and owls and found that nerves there connect both horizontally—like the layers in the neocortex—and vertically, echoing the columns seen in human brains. Another team of scientists probed this part of the brains of carrion crows—well-known for their intelligence—for clues that they are aware of what they see and do. The researchers first trained lab-raised crows to turn their heads when they saw certain sequences of lights flashing on a computer monitor. Electrodes in the crows' brains detected nerve activity between the moment the birds saw the signal and when they moved their heads. The activity developed even when the lights were barely detectable, suggesting it was not simply a response to sensory input, and it was present regardless of whether the birds reacted. The scientists think the neural chatter represents a kind of awareness—a mental representation of what the birds saw. Such “sensory consciousness” is a rudimentary form of the self-awareness that humans experience. Its presence in both birds and mammals suggests to the researchers that some form of consciousness may date back 320 million years, to our last common ancestor. — Elizabeth Pennisi
A Facebook spokesperson reveals that the social media giant would be redoubling its efforts to counter harmful content on its platform using artificial intelligence. It results in a company that would use Artificial Intelligence to prioritize harmful content. This move is targeting at helping over fifteen thousands of human reviewers and moderators in dealing with reported contents. During the press interaction, we will make sure of getting to the worst of the worst, prioritizing real-world imminent harm above all. There have numerous attempts in the past to bring AI into the content moderation process on Facebook platform.