Connect with us

Tech

The Download: China’s monkeypox crisis, and fighting AI photo manipulation

Published

on

🍝


This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

China is suddenly dealing with another public health crisis: mpox

The Chinese government is battling a new public health concern: mpox. The World Health Organization reports that China is currently experiencing the world’s fastest increase in cases of mpox (formerly known as monkeypox)—and it needs to act fast to contain the spread.

The countries that have successfully contained mpox outbreaks have mostly done so thanks to proactive measures like vaccination campaigns. The problem is, the Chinese government has barely started to take action. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

These new tools could help protect our pictures from AI

Generative AI is making it ridiculously easy to manipulate people’s images. While nonconsensual deepfake porn has been used to torment women for years, the latest generation of AI makes it an even bigger problem. These systems are much easier to use than previous deepfake tech, and they can generate images that look completely convincing. 

The good news is that new tools are starting to emerge which can protect people’s photos and artworks from being tinkered with using AI systems. These tools are neither perfect nor enough on their own—but they’re a start.  Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, Melissa’s weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 Worldcoin’s data-capturing plan is working 
Despite glaring privacy concerns, plenty of people like cash rewards. (Rest of World)
+ How Worldcoin recruited its first half a million test users. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Twitter is suing a nonprofit that says it hosts hate speech
The Center for Countering Digital Hate claims Elon Musk is trying to silence it. (WSJ $)
+ The company’s advertising income is still in freefall. (FT $)
+ Its new slogan is the rather lame ‘Blaze your glory!’ (Motherboard)

3 Meta is creating chatbots with personas for its platforms
Which seems like a particularly creepy way to boost engagement. (FT $)
+ Just as it looks like Threads is losing its initial attraction. (Slate $)
+ Google wants to make its Assistant more personable, too. (The Verge)

4 Post-Roe, pregnancy-related deaths are probably rising
The problem is, there’s no way of knowing exactly how much. (Undark Magazine)
+ The cognitive dissonance of watching the end of Roe unfold online. (MIT Technology Review)

5 Amazon wants to deliver your packages even faster
Think hours, rather than days. (Insider $)
+ Spare a thought for your delivery driver in the heat. (Wired $)

6 TikTok is pushing a dietary supplement as a weight loss solution
It’s not exactly new, but it’s attracting new attention in the age of Ozempic. (Wired $)
+ Weight-loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for people IRL? (MIT Technology Review)

7 UV and blue light could help us to kill deadly E.coli
But the two forms of light are only effective when used together. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Why tiny viruses could be our best bet against antimicrobial resistance. (MIT Technology Review)

8 Start-ups are harnessing AI to treat erectile dysfunction
In a bid to truly personalize treatment to the individual. (Motherboard)

9 When did food videos get so… racy?
Thirst trap chefs know exactly what they’re doing with that pasta. (NY Mag $) 

10 Apple’s bid to save classical music hasn’t gone to plan 🎻
Smaller, nimbler rivals do a better job across the board. (New Yorker $)

Quote of the day

“SHUT IT OFF! It is creating a massive nighttime nuisance and making it hard to sleep.”

—San Francisco residents complain about the bright, flashing X sign that Elon Musk installed on the roof of Twitter’s headquarters without permission, the Washington Post reports.

The big story

Geoffrey Hinton has a hunch about what’s next for AI

April 2021 

In November 2020, psychologist Geoffrey Hinton had a hunch. After a half-century’s worth of attempts—some wildly successful—he’d arrived at another promising insight into how the brain works and how to replicate its circuitry in a computer.

If his bet pays off, it might spark the next generation of artificial neural networks—mathematical computing systems, loosely inspired by the brain’s neurons and synapses, that are at the core of today’s artificial intelligence. 

His “honest motivation,” as he puts it, is curiosity. But ideally, the consequence is more reliable and trustworthy AI. Read the full story. 

—Siobhan Roberts

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ What does a week living like Mario look like? Pretty hard work, actually.
+ Not everyone can pull off a buzz cut like Sinéad O’Connor.
+ Would you cut it as a doctor in The Sims?
+ Chicken is great, caprese is great, so it makes sense that caprese chicken looks amazing.
+ Congratulations to these watermelons, which defied the odds to flourish in Antarctica. 🍉



Tech

The hunter-gatherer groups at the heart of a microbiome gold rush

Published

on

The hunter-gatherer groups at the heart of a microbiome gold rush


The first step to finding out is to catalogue what microbes we might have lost. To get as close to ancient microbiomes as possible, microbiologists have begun studying multiple Indigenous groups. Two have received the most attention: the Yanomami of the Amazon rainforest and the Hadza, in northern Tanzania. 

Researchers have made some startling discoveries already. A study by Sonnenburg and his colleagues, published in July, found that the gut microbiomes of the Hadza appear to include bugs that aren’t seen elsewhere—around 20% of the microbe genomes identified had not been recorded in a global catalogue of over 200,000 such genomes. The researchers found 8.4 million protein families in the guts of the 167 Hadza people they studied. Over half of them had not previously been identified in the human gut.

Plenty of other studies published in the last decade or so have helped build a picture of how the diets and lifestyles of hunter-gatherer societies influence the microbiome, and scientists have speculated on what this means for those living in more industrialized societies. But these revelations have come at a price.

A changing way of life

The Hadza people hunt wild animals and forage for fruit and honey. “We still live the ancient way of life, with arrows and old knives,” says Mangola, who works with the Olanakwe Community Fund to support education and economic projects for the Hadza. Hunters seek out food in the bush, which might include baboons, vervet monkeys, guinea fowl, kudu, porcupines, or dik-dik. Gatherers collect fruits, vegetables, and honey.

Mangola, who has met with multiple scientists over the years and participated in many research projects, has witnessed firsthand the impact of such research on his community. Much of it has been positive. But not all researchers act thoughtfully and ethically, he says, and some have exploited or harmed the community.

One enduring problem, says Mangola, is that scientists have tended to come and study the Hadza without properly explaining their research or their results. They arrive from Europe or the US, accompanied by guides, and collect feces, blood, hair, and other biological samples. Often, the people giving up these samples don’t know what they will be used for, says Mangola. Scientists get their results and publish them without returning to share them. “You tell the world [what you’ve discovered]—why can’t you come back to Tanzania to tell the Hadza?” asks Mangola. “It would bring meaning and excitement to the community,” he says.

Some scientists have talked about the Hadza as if they were living fossils, says Alyssa Crittenden, a nutritional anthropologist and biologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, who has been studying and working with the Hadza for the last two decades.

The Hadza have been described as being “locked in time,” she adds, but characterizations like that don’t reflect reality. She has made many trips to Tanzania and seen for herself how life has changed. Tourists flock to the region. Roads have been built. Charities have helped the Hadza secure land rights. Mangola went abroad for his education: he has a law degree and a master’s from the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at the University of Arizona.

Continue Reading

Tech

The Download: a microbiome gold rush, and Eric Schmidt’s election misinformation plan

Published

on

The Download: a microbiome gold rush, and Eric Schmidt’s election misinformation plan


Over the last couple of decades, scientists have come to realize just how important the microbes that crawl all over us are to our health. But some believe our microbiomes are in crisis—casualties of an increasingly sanitized way of life. Disturbances in the collections of microbes we host have been associated with a whole host of diseases, ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s.

Some might not be completely gone, though. Scientists believe many might still be hiding inside the intestines of people who don’t live in the polluted, processed environment that most of the rest of us share. They’ve been studying the feces of people like the Yanomami, an Indigenous group in the Amazon, who appear to still have some of the microbes that other people have lost. 

But there is a major catch: we don’t know whether those in hunter-gatherer societies really do have “healthier” microbiomes—and if they do, whether the benefits could be shared with others. At the same time, members of the communities being studied are concerned about the risk of what’s called biopiracy—taking natural resources from poorer countries for the benefit of wealthier ones. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Eric Schmidt has a 6-point plan for fighting election misinformation

—by Eric Schmidt, formerly the CEO of Google, and current cofounder of philanthropic initiative Schmidt Futures

The coming year will be one of seismic political shifts. Over 4 billion people will head to the polls in countries including the United States, Taiwan, India, and Indonesia, making 2024 the biggest election year in history.

Continue Reading

Tech

Navigating a shifting customer-engagement landscape with generative AI

Published

on

Navigating a shifting customer-engagement landscape with generative AI


A strategic imperative

Generative AI’s ability to harness customer data in a highly sophisticated manner means enterprises are accelerating plans to invest in and leverage the technology’s capabilities. In a study titled “The Future of Enterprise Data & AI,” Corinium Intelligence and WNS Triange surveyed 100 global C-suite leaders and decision-makers specializing in AI, analytics, and data. Seventy-six percent of the respondents said that their organizations are already using or planning to use generative AI.

According to McKinsey, while generative AI will affect most business functions, “four of them will likely account for 75% of the total annual value it can deliver.” Among these are marketing and sales and customer operations. Yet, despite the technology’s benefits, many leaders are unsure about the right approach to take and mindful of the risks associated with large investments.

Mapping out a generative AI pathway

One of the first challenges organizations need to overcome is senior leadership alignment. “You need the necessary strategy; you need the ability to have the necessary buy-in of people,” says Ayer. “You need to make sure that you’ve got the right use case and business case for each one of them.” In other words, a clearly defined roadmap and precise business objectives are as crucial as understanding whether a process is amenable to the use of generative AI.

The implementation of a generative AI strategy can take time. According to Ayer, business leaders should maintain a realistic perspective on the duration required for formulating a strategy, conduct necessary training across various teams and functions, and identify the areas of value addition. And for any generative AI deployment to work seamlessly, the right data ecosystems must be in place.

Ayer cites WNS Triange’s collaboration with an insurer to create a claims process by leveraging generative AI. Thanks to the new technology, the insurer can immediately assess the severity of a vehicle’s damage from an accident and make a claims recommendation based on the unstructured data provided by the client. “Because this can be immediately assessed by a surveyor and they can reach a recommendation quickly, this instantly improves the insurer’s ability to satisfy their policyholders and reduce the claims processing time,” Ayer explains.

All that, however, would not be possible without data on past claims history, repair costs, transaction data, and other necessary data sets to extract clear value from generative AI analysis. “Be very clear about data sufficiency. Don’t jump into a program where eventually you realize you don’t have the necessary data,” Ayer says.

The benefits of third-party experience

Enterprises are increasingly aware that they must embrace generative AI, but knowing where to begin is another thing. “You start off wanting to make sure you don’t repeat mistakes other people have made,” says Ayer. An external provider can help organizations avoid those mistakes and leverage best practices and frameworks for testing and defining explainability and benchmarks for return on investment (ROI).

Using pre-built solutions by external partners can expedite time to market and increase a generative AI program’s value. These solutions can harness pre-built industry-specific generative AI platforms to accelerate deployment. “Generative AI programs can be extremely complicated,” Ayer points out. “There are a lot of infrastructure requirements, touch points with customers, and internal regulations. Organizations will also have to consider using pre-built solutions to accelerate speed to value. Third-party service providers bring the expertise of having an integrated approach to all these elements.”

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2021 Seminole Press.