Connect with us

Tech

Mapping the way to climate resilience

Published

on

Mapping the way to climate resilience


“We just know it’s the right thing to do for our customers and—I say this from years of doing risk management— it’s good, basic risk management,” says Shannon Carroll, director of global environmental sustainability at AT&T. “If all indications are that something is going to happen in the future, it’s our responsibility to be prepared for that.” 

Globally, leaders from government, business, and academia see the urgency. The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2021 names extreme weather due to climate change and human-driven environmental damage among the most pressing risks of the next decade. When citing risks with the highest impact, those surveyed listed climate action failure and other environmental risks second only to infectious diseases. 

AT&T is taking action with its Climate Resilience Project, using spatial data analysis and location information to tackle the complex problem of how increasingly powerful storms could affect infrastructure such as cell towers and the telecom’s ability to deliver service to its customers. “Spatial analysis is this way of going beyond what we visually see,” explains Lauren Bennett, head of spatial analysis and data science at Esri, a geographic information systems (GIS) company. “It’s going beyond a data-driven approach and much more into a knowledge-driven approach.” 

To better understand its vulnerability, AT&T collaborated with the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Their joint mission was to identify risks to the company’s infrastructure and real estate based on historical weather events and predictive modeling. They fed company asset data and climate data from the lab into a GIS, which can layer volumes of disparate information in the context of location for visualization and analysis. The output of all this multifaceted information is referred to as location intelligence. 

“When we talk about GIS,” says Jay Theodore, chief technology officer at Esri, “we are able to expand to the scale of the world for solving global problems but also shrink down and bring a magnifying glass to something in the immediate vicinity and study that, too.” 

AT&T plans for the future today 

“Everybody needs a plan for climate change,” says Carroll. AT&T’s plan centers on advanced spatial analytics to see how destructive storms and other climate-change-driven phenomena across the United States will affect nearby infrastructure. Ultimately, businesses will be able to forecast where, and to what degree, climate events might affect customers. AT&T understands that without a resilient network, the broadband connectivity required to close the digital divide is also at risk. “Our number one priority is making sure we have a network that’s going to service our customers 20, 30 years from now,” Carroll says. 

The foundation of AT&T’s GIS is a map identifying the locations of the company’s offices and stores, cell towers and servers, storage facilities, underground and above-ground wires and conduits, and other infrastructure. Layered on top of the map is the climate change data analyses that AT&T commissioned from Argonne. Together, Argonne and AT&T created the Climate Change Analysis Tool, which can predict the frequency, extent, and location of flooding, high-speed winds, wildfires, and drought about 30 years into the future. 

Location intelligence visualizes climate-related risks to AT&T’s infrastructure, based on contextual information and science-actuated knowledge. Without the GIS’s spatial correlation of Argonne’s climate analyses to the corporate map, AT&T would have a jumble of difficult-to-interpret data, arrayed in separate spreadsheets and databases—in all, more than 500 billion pages of text. As Theodore explains, “If you want the complete picture, if you want to make the right decisions, you have to bring in location.” 

For example, as a pilot, the AT&T and Argonne team used their Climate Change Analysis Tool to look at regions in the US Southeast susceptible to floods and high winds. “Getting some of the best available climate data from Argonne National Lab and then overlaying that into a GIS so you can visualize it—that in and of itself is very exciting,” Carroll says. With an exceptional degree of detail, executives could determine how infrastructure in four states—Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida—could be affected by, for example, a 50-year storm event in the coming decades. “Not every [asset] is at the same risk, even if they’re close together,” Carroll points out. This assessment can prove helpful for more precise planning—for example, the allocation of resources to potentially relocate, remodel, or reinforce infrastructure against potential damage. 

One key tenet of the telecom’s sustainability effort involves a tactic many companies avoid—sharing data. AT&T teams working on climate risk analysis decided to make their data available to everyone. They publicized access through press releases and social media channels, encouraging people and groups to download it. “When it comes to building climate resilience, you don’t compete. This is where you collaborate,” Carroll says. “We encourage everybody to use this data because it doesn’t do us any good if we’re resilient but the rest of our value chain is not.” 

Download the full report.

Tech

A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing

Published

on

A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing


The researchers claim that their approach could be used to train AI to carry out other tasks. To begin with, it could be used to for bots that use a keyboard and mouse to navigate websites, book flights or buy groceries online. But in theory it could be used to train robots to carry out physical, real-world tasks by copying first-person video of people doing those things. “It’s plausible,” says Stone.

Matthew Gudzial at the University of Alberta, Canada, who has used videos to teach AI the rules of games like Super Mario Bros, does not think it will happen any time soon, however. Actions in games like Minecraft and Super Mario Bros. are performed by pressing buttons. Actions in the physical world are far more complicated and harder for a machine to learn. “It unlocks a whole mess of new research problems,” says Gudzial.

“This work is another testament to the power of scaling up models and training on massive datasets to get good performance,” says Natasha Jaques, who works on multi-agent reinforcement learning at Google and the University of California, Berkeley. 

Large internet-sized data sets will certainly unlock new capabilities for AI, says Jaques. “We’ve seen that over and over again, and it’s a great approach.” But OpenAI places a lot of faith in the power of large data sets alone, she says: “Personally, I’m a little more skeptical that data can solve any problem.”

Still, Baker and his colleagues think that collecting more than a million hours of Minecraft videos will make their AI even better. It’s probably the best Minecraft-playing bot yet, says Baker: “But with more data and bigger models I would expect it to feel like you’re watching a human playing the game, as opposed to a baby AI trying to mimic a human.”

Continue Reading

Tech

The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death

Published

on

The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death


+ Scientists have found a way to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab. It could offer them new ways to start a family—without the need for distressing IVF procedures. Read the full story.  + How reproductive technology is changing what it means to be a parent. Advances could lead to babies with four or more biological parents—forcing us to reconsider parenthood. Read the full story.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk wants to reinstate banned Twitter accounts
It’s an incredibly dangerous decision with widespread repercussions. (WP $) 
+ Recent departures have hit Twitter’s policy and safety divisions hard. (WSJ $)
+ It looks like Musk’s promise of no further layoffs was premature. (Insider $)
+ Meanwhile, Twitter Blue is still reportedly launching next week. (Reuters)
+ Imagine simply transferring your followers to another platform. (FT $)
+ Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Russia’s energy withdrawal could kill tens of thousands in Europe 
High fuel costs could result in more deaths this winter than the war in Ukraine. (Economist $)
+ Higher gas prices will also hit Americans as the weather worsens. (Vox)
+ Ukraine’s invasion underscores Europe’s deep reliance on Russian fossil fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

3 FTX is unable to honor the grants it promised various organizations 
Many of them are having to seek emergency funding to plug the gaps. (WSJ $)
+ Bahamians aren’t thrilled about what its collapse could mean for them. (WP $)

4 It’s a quieter Black Friday than usual
Shopping isn’t much of a priority right now. (Bloomberg $)
+ If you do decide to shop, make sure you don’t get scammed. (Wired $)

5 The UK is curbing its use of Chinese surveillance systems 
But only on “sensitive” government sites. (FT $)
+ The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Long covid is still incredibly hard to treat 
Its symptoms vary wildy, which can make it hard to track, too. (Undark)
+ A universal flu vaccine is looking promising. (New Scientist $)

7 San Francisco’s police is considering letting robots use deadly force
The force has 12 remotely piloted robots that could, in theory, kill someone. (The Verge)

8 Human hibernation could be the key to getting us to Mars 
It could be the closest we can get to time travel. (Wired $)

9 Why TikTok is suddenly so obsessed with dabloons 
It’s a form of choose-your-own-adventure fun. (The Guardian)

10 We can’t stop trying to reinvent mousetraps 🧀
There are thousands of versions out there, yet we keep coming up with new designs. (New Yorker $)

Continue Reading

Tech

We can now use cells from dead people to create new life. But who gets to decide?

Published

on

We can now use cells from dead people to create new life. But who gets to decide?


His parents told a court that they wanted to keep the possibility of using the sperm to eventually have children that would be genetically related to Peter. The court approved their wishes, and Peter’s sperm was retrieved from his body and stored in a local sperm bank. 

We have the technology to use sperm, and potentially eggs, from dead people to make embryos, and eventually babies. And there are millions of eggs and embryos—and even more sperm—in storage and ready to be used. When the person who provided those cells dies, like Peter, who gets to decide what to do with them?

That was the question raised at an online event held by the Progress Educational Trust, a UK charity for people with infertility and genetic conditions, that I attended on Wednesday. The panel included a clinician and two lawyers, who addressed plenty of tricky questions, but provided few concrete answers. 

In theory, the decision should be made by the person who provided the eggs, sperm or embryos. In some cases, the person’s wishes might be quite clear. Someone who might be trying for a baby with their partner may store their sex cells or embryos and sign a form stating that they are happy for their partner to use these cells if they die, for example. 

But in other cases, it’s less clear. Partners and family members who want to use the cells might have to collect evidence to convince a court the deceased person really did want to have children. And not only that, but that they wanted to continue their family line without necessarily becoming a parent themselves.

Sex cells and embryos aren’t property—they don’t fall under property law and can’t be inherited by family members. But there is some degree of legal ownership for the people who provided the cells. It is complicated to define that ownership, however, Robert Gilmour, a family law specialist based in Scotland, said at the event. “The law in this area makes my head hurt,” he said.

The law varies depending on where you are, too. Posthumous reproduction is not allowed in some countries, and is unregulated in many others. In the US, laws vary by state. Some states won’t legally recognize a child conceived after a person’s death as that person’s offspring, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “We do not have any national rules or policies,” Gwendolyn Quinn, a bioethicist at New York University, tells me.

Societies like ASRM have put together guidance for clinics in the meantime. But this can also vary slightly between regions. Guidance by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, for example, recommends that parents and other relatives should not be able to request the sex cells or embryos of the person who died. That would apply to Peter Zhu’s parents. The concern is that these relatives might be hoping for a “commemorative child” or as “a symbolic replacement of the deceased.”

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2021 Seminole Press.