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The Developers Keeping Hong Kong's Spirit Alive Through Games

WIRED

The year is 2029, and you wake up one morning living in a community called Hope, a dystopian dictatorship. "Everyone here wears the same outfit, lives the same repetitive routine, and is happy … For many, Hope is their entire universe. They are uninterested in the outside world. However, you are different--you have the ability to choose." This is how you are introduced to the game Name of the Will on Kickstarter.


Highlights From COVID-19 Research Papers Published in September 2020

#artificialintelligence

This is an article by Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine at Hong Kong University Medical Center and Malik Peiris Professor at the University Hong Kong 1) COVID vaccines are needed, even if they have minimal impact on transmission 2) COVID vaccines may not help us achieve herd immunity 3) COVID vaccine trials primarily assess prevention of virologically confirmed disease - not infection or transmission 4) an "effective" vaccine confers protection from disease but might not reduce spread 5) if COVID vaccines are effective in reducing morbidity & mortality in high-risk groups, they would have an important role, irrespective of impact on transmission and population immunity 6) if high-risk populations can be shielded by vaccination, COVID control measures could be recalibrated 7) the idea that COVID vaccine-induced population immunity will allow a return to normalcy may be based on false assumptions 8) no country will be truly safe until the entire world is vaccinated. This new study from Akiko Iwasaki, PhD and colleagues at Yale University offers the first clear evidence that COVID can invade brain cells 1) 40-60% of hospitalized COVID patients experience neurological complications including nerve damage and stroke 2) this study suggests that COVID in the brain may be more lethal than the respiratory infection caused by COVID 3) COVID hijacks brain cells to make copies of itself then exploits the brain cells' machinery to multiply 4) then COVID chokes off oxygen to adjacent brain cells causing them to die 5) a few days into the infection there is a dramatic decrease the number of synapses (the connections between neurons in the brain) 6) the researchers didn't find any evidence of an immune response to remedy this problem. It's a silent infection with evasion mechanisms 7) some people may be susceptible because of their genetic background or high viral load. Researchers used Summit Supercomputer to analyze 2.5 billion genetic combinations from COVID; then they made the Bradykinin Hypothesis 1) it took Summit 1 week to run the numbers. These high-powered microscopic images show very high viral loads of SARS-CoV-2 on human respiratory surfaces ready to spread the virus 1) Camille Ehre PhD and colleagues at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine generated these microscopic images showing very high viral loads of SARS-CoV-2.


Top 5 Creepy Robots

#artificialintelligence

We were used to hearing that we'll be out of a job in twenty years, because of robots. Then the virus came, and now many are out of a job a bit faster, and not because of anything more intelligent or capable than themselves. Here are five currently existing robots that score pretty high on the creepiness scale, even without threatening to take away one's job. Sophia has somehow become the flagship of humanoid robotics. Constructed in Hong Kong, it has taken part in major TV talk shows and has been granted Saudi Arabian citizenship, although it is, essentially, not more than a "chatbot with a face" [1]. What the citizenship thing really means is unclear: Can Sophia vote?


Feds Charge Chinese Hackers With Ripping Off Video Game Loot From 9 Companies

WIRED

For years, a group of Chinese hackers known variously as Barium, Winnti, or APT41 has carried out a unique mix of sophisticated hacking activities that has puzzled the cybersecurity researchers tracking them. At times they appear focused on the usual state-sponsored espionage, believed to be working in the service of the Chinese Ministry of State Security. At other times their attacks looked more like traditional cybercrime. Now a set of federal indictments has called out those intruders by name, and cast their activities in a new light. Five Chinese hackers are accused of a sprawling scheme to break into the networks of hundreds of global companies in a broad range of industries, as well as think tanks, universities, foreign government agencies, and the accounts of Hong Kong government officials and pro-democracy activists.


US charges five hackers part of Chinese state-sponsored group APT41

ZDNet

The US government has filed charges today against five Chinese nationals for hacking into more than 100 companies across the world, part of a state-sponsored hacking group known as APT41. According to court documents unsealed today, US officials said the group has hacked software development companies, computer hardware manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, video game companies, non-profit organizations, universities, think tanks, from where they stole proprietary source code, code-signing certificates, customer data, and valuable business information. Victim companies resided in countries such as the US, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. US officials said APT41 members also compromised foreign government computer networks in India and Vietnam, as well as pro-democracy politicians and activists in Hong Kong. Attacks against he UK government were also executed, but were not successful.


News at a glance

Science

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


Breakthrough AI identifies 50 new planets from old NASA data

#artificialintelligence

Hong Kong (CNN Business)British researchers have identified 50 new planets using artificial intelligence, marking a technological breakthrough in astronomy. Astronomers and computer scientists from the University of Warwick built a machine learning algorithm to dig through old NASA data containing thousands of potential planet candidates. It's not always clear, however, which of these candidates are genuine. When scientists search for exoplanets (planets outside our solar system), they look for dips in light that indicate a planet passing between the telescope and their star. But these dips could also be caused by other factors, like background interference or even errors in the camera.


Australia tells U.S. it has no intention of hurting relationship with China

The Japan Times

Washington – The United States and close ally Australia held high-level talks on China on Tuesday and agreed on the need to uphold a rules-based global order, but the Australian foreign minister stressed that Canberra's relationship with China was important and it had no intention of injuring it. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper held two days of talks in Washington with their Australian counterparts, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds, who had flown around the world for the meetings despite the COVID-19 pandemic and face two weeks of quarantine on their return. At a joint news conference, Pompeo praised Australia for standing up to pressure from China and said Washington and Canberra would continue to work together to reassert the rule of law in the South China Sea, where China has been pressing its claims. Payne said the United States and Australia shared a commitment to the rule of law and had reiterated their commitment to hold countries to account for breaches, such as China's erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong. She said the two sides had also agreed to form a working group to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation and would look at ways to expand cooperation on infectious diseases, including access to vaccines.


China's Great Firewall looms over Hong Kong as surveillance grows

The Japan Times

Hong Kong – Hong Kong, already grappling with tightened policing to rein in widespread protests that followed last year's proposed extradition bill, is now bracing for the prospect of stricter digital controls -- ones that would curtail free speech, communications and the ability to organize and turn the city of 7 million into a surveillance state that more closely resembles mainland China. In recent years, law enforcement has deployed tens of thousands of closed-circuit television cameras in Hong Kong's streets and shopping malls, used broad warrants to crack into the mobile phones of protesters and deployed facial recognition software that can identify activists in massive crowds. Now, residents and activists worry that proposed national security legislation will further encroach on civil liberties, as part of a continuing effort by Beijing to exert its influence over the former British colony. Residents have already watched with concern past efforts to curb online speech. A similar bill proposed and later withdrawn in 2003 would have punished those who published seditious material with up to seven years in prison.


China measure 'death knell' for Hong Kong autonomy, U.S. says

The Japan Times

Washington – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday condemned China's effort to take over national security legislation in Hong Kong, calling it "a death knell for the high degree of autonomy" that Beijing had promised the territory. Pompeo called for Beiing to reconsider the move and warned of an unspecified U.S. response if it proceeds. Meanwhile, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said China risked a major flight of capital from Hong Kong that would end the territory's status as the financial hub of Asia. Shortly afterward, the Commerce Department announced new restrictions on sensitive exports to China. The contentious measure, submitted Friday on the opening day of China's national legislative session, is strongly opposed by pro-democracy lawmakers in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.