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Doctors Can Now Prescribe FDA-Approved Drug Derived From Cannabis

Marijuana Medication

Just a few decades ago, the idea of a medical use for cannabis was little more than a pipe dream. Now, there’s a cannabis-derived drug on the market that doctors can prescribe as readily as any other medication.

As of Thursday, doctors in the nation are free to prescribe patients Epidiolex, making it the first drug on the market specifically designed to treat a rare form of childhood epilepsy. It’s also the first prescribable cannabis-derived drug.

First Step

In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of Epidiolex to treat treat two rare forms of epilepsy that manifest during childhood: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

While a few treatments for the former were already available, none existed for the latter. Epidiolex showed remarkable promise during trials, though, reducing seizures by up to 40 percent.

Final Step

Even though the FDA approved Epidiolex in June, prescribing it was still illegal because the Drug Enforcement Agency classifies all forms of cannabis as a Schedule I drug — the same category that heroin and LSD fall under.

That changed on September 27 when the DEA classified Epidiolex as a Schedule V drug. That classification means that doctors in all 50 states are now as free to prescribe Epidiolex as they are cough suppressants containing small amount of codeine.

The cannabis-derived drug has already improve the lives of many of the young patients who participated in its trials, and now that it’s widely available, it has the opportunity to improve many more.

READ MORE: The First FDA-Approved Cannabis-Based Drug Is Now Available [Fast Company]

More on Epidiolex: The Digest: A Marijuana-Derived Medication Is Now Approved for Sale in the US

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Doctors Can Now Prescribe FDA-Approved Drug Derived From Cannabis

A Giant Space Laser on Earth Could Blast Messages at Alien Planets

Phone Home

Scientists have a new idea to contact alien civilizations: build a huge laser and start blasting exoplanets with messages.

We could build such a laser, according to research by MIT scientists published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal, with technology that either exists today or requires just minor developments.

Death Star

The laser is more of a homing beacon than a death ray. A one or two-megawatt laser, beamed out through a 30 to 45-meter telescope, would be powerful enough to reach planets as far as 20,000 light years away. For reference, the star nearest our sun is Proxima Centauri, which is just over four light years from us.

If any planet hit with our laser that happens, by some infinitesimally small chance, to host extraterrestrial life that had developed advanced technology, its occupants would be able to look back at Earth and see signs of life.

Waiting Game

The scientists behind this research are counting on SETI, the government agency responsible for scanning the night sky for alien life, to complete more full-sky scans and invest in the infrared technology that could help identify which distant planets likely have habitable atmospheres.

With those advances and if there are aliens out where with a laser of their own — that’s a big “if” — the researchers argue that we could have a back-and-forth conversation over decades or centuries, with each message taking many years to reach its target.

READ MORE: E.T., we’re home [MIT News]

More on the search for alien life: Scientists want Your Help Crafting a Message to Aliens

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A Giant Space Laser on Earth Could Blast Messages at Alien Planets

Take a Virtual Ride Through the Boring Company’s First Tunnel

Can’t Hardly Wait

You don’t have to wait until next month to get a sneak peak inside the Boring Company’s first tunnel.

On October 21, Elon Musk tweeted that construction on his company’s two-mile-long test tunnel in Hawthorne, CA, was nearing completion. He claimed the Boring Company would host an opening party for the tunnel on December 10, at which time the public would get a chance to take free rides through it.

This weekend, Musk confirmed via Twitter that the December 10 date was still a go — and shared a remarkable time-lapse video of a tunnel walkthrough.

Sneak Peak

Be forewarned that the below clip is pretty hypnotic. We’re not doctors, but if you’re prone to seizures, you might want to skip watching this one.

Tunnel Trance

In his tweet Musk called the tunnel “disturbingly long,” but the two miles it covers might eventually seem like a short jaunt. After all, the ultimate plan is a network comprising hundreds of layers of tunnels dug out below the greater Los Angeles area.

This test tunnel is just the start of that vision, and if watching the walkthrough makes you want to experience the tunnel firsthand, just make sure you’re in the Hawthorne area on December 10.

READ MOREElon Musk Shares First-Look Into the Boring Company’s ‘Disturbingly Long’ Tunnel [Business Insider]

More on the Boring Company: Elon Musk: First Boring Company Tunnel Will Open December 10

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Take a Virtual Ride Through the Boring Company’s First Tunnel

Huge Wind Farms Could Weaken Hurricanes Before They Make Landfall

Breezing Up

The devastation of hurricanes such as Florence and Harvey is a reminder of the terrible power of storms and our apparent helplessness when they strike.

But new research suggests that there might be a way to fight hurricanes before they come ashore and it might even help generate renewable electricity.

Tilting Windmills

According to a paper published this summer in the journal Environmental Research Letters, computer simulations suggest that offshore wind turbines suck the energy out of hurricanes and force them higher into the sky, resulting in decreased rainfall and potentially less destruction when they make landfall.

“Offshore wind farms definitely could be a potential tool to weaken hurricanes and reduce their damage,” author Cristina Archer, a professor at the University of Delaware, told Popular Science. “And they pay for themselves, ultimately, which is why I am excited about this.”

Damage Plan

Today’s wind farms often switch turbines off during high winds, so current wind farms aren’t a good defense mechanism against hurricanes.

But turbines scheduled to hit the market by 2020, Archer said, will be strong enough to withstand hurricane winds — so she’s hopeful they’ll be able to protect coastal communities, and maybe even generate some electricity in the process.

READ MORE: Scientists Want to Put ‘Speed Bumps’ in Hurricane Alley to Slow Down Storms [Popular Science]

More on nanobots: Death Count from Hurricane Maria Was Way Off. That Might Slow Puerto Rico’s Recovery.

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Huge Wind Farms Could Weaken Hurricanes Before They Make Landfall

A New Nanobot Drills Through Your Eyeball to Deliver Drugs

Mobile Bots

Famed futurist Ray Kurzweil thinks tiny robots will flow through our bodies by 2030 to help us stay healthy. We now have one more reason to believe he’s right.

Compelling nanobots to move through liquids such as blood has proven tricky but doable. It’s been much harder to get tiny bots to navigate dense tissues, such as those found in the eyeball, without damaging them.

Thanks to a bit of design ingenuity, though, an international team of researchers has managed to create a nanobot that can do just that.

Teflon-Inspired

The team describes how a few key design features gave their propeller-shaped nanobot that unique ability in a paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

First, the bot is incredibly tiny, approximately 200 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. Second, a non-stick coating helps it slip through dense tissue. And finally, the inclusion of a bit of magnetic material in the nanobots makes them easy to steer with an external magnetic field.

To test the nanobots, the researchers injected tens of thousands of them into a dissected pig’s eye. Using a magnetic field, they were able to direct the swarm to the retina at the back of the pig’s eye — just as they’d hoped.

Drugs On Demand

Eventually, the researchers believe this technique will allow them to deliver drugs directly to hard to reach parts of the human body — not just the back of the eyeball.

“That is our vision,” researcher Tian Qiu said in a press release. “We want to be able to use our nanopropellers as tools in the minimally-invasive treatment of all kinds of diseases, where the problematic area is hard to reach and surrounded by dense tissue. Not too far in the future, we will be able to load them with drugs.”

READ MORE: Nanorobots Propel Through the Eye [Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems]

More on nanobots: Kurzweil: By 2030, Nanobots Will Flow Throughout Our Bodies

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A New Nanobot Drills Through Your Eyeball to Deliver Drugs

The Inventor of the Web Says It’s Broken and Net Neutrality Can Fix It

It’s Alive

Tim Berners-Lee, who’s often credited with inventing the World Wide Web in 1989, sees a modern Frankenstein’s Monster in how his creation is being used today.

That’s the gist of Berners-Lee’s comments at Monday’s Web Summit tech conference, where CNBC reported that he laid out ground rules for a new “Contract for the Web“and called for a return to net neutrality.

Crowd Surfing

The new contract, published by Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation, calls for safeguards that protect users’ data from being sold, stolen, or misused. Looking back at the history of the web, Berners-Lee argued that without explicit protections against them, hate speech, misinformation, and abuse have been allowed to proliferate online.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I would have said humanity is going to do a good job with this,” Berners-Lee told CNBC. “If we connect all these people together, they are such wonderful people they will get along. I was wrong.”

Bad Feeling

Apparently Facebook and Google, two of the largest perpetrators of privacy violations and unscrupulous online activity, have already signed onto the contract. It raises the question of how useful such an agreement could possibly be, given the fact that these tech giants are unlikely to sign anything that would hurt their bottom line.

All the same, anything that helps restore net neutrality is a good thing, especially if Berners-Lee is willing to throw his weight around.

READ MORE: The inventor of the web says the internet is now at a ‘tipping point’ — and reveals a plan to fix it [CNBC]

More on net neutrality: Net Neutrality Is Officially Gone. Here’s How This Will Affect You.

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The Inventor of the Web Says It’s Broken and Net Neutrality Can Fix It

General Motors Will Give You $10,000 to Name Its New eBike

What’s In a Name?

Want to flex your creative muscles for a chance to win $10,000?

On Friday, General Motors (GM) unveiled two new electric bike designs it plans to begin selling in 2019, one compact and the other foldable. Each boasts a pair of wheels, a battery-powered motor, and a slew of safety features. What they don’t have, though, is a name — and that’s where you come in.

Ten (eBike) Racks

In the press release announcing the new eBikes, GM also launched a contest to name its eBike brand. The person who submits the winning name will receive a prize of $10,000, while nine runners-up will each receive $1,000.

If you’d like to get in on this naming contest, you have until November 26 at 10 a.m. EST to submit your suggestion via the contest website, which includes further details.

Electric Love

GM is far from the first major auto manufacturer to design an eBike. However, it is rare to see the vehicles actually make it to market — after all, each eBike sold could translate to one fewer car sale.

Still, GM has claimed repeatedly that it is committed to electric vehicles, and the eBike could be one more example of that commitment in action.

Other than the 2019 release date, the press release is pretty short on details. How far can these eBikes travel on a single charge? Will they be part of a bike-sharing network? Who knows?

But with $10,000 up for grabs, the question most people are probably pondering is, “What the heck should we call these things?”

READ MORE: General Motors Is Building an eBike and Wants You to Name It [General Motors]

More on electric bikes: Tow an SUV With This Incredible Electric Bike

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General Motors Will Give You $10,000 to Name Its New eBike

Having a Bad Day? An Adorable Video Shows AI Learning to Get Dressed

Rise and Shine

Most animators would agree: making a cataclysmic explosion destroy a planet is easy, but human figures and delicate interactions are hard.

That’s why engineers from The Georgia Institute of Technology and Google Brain teamed up to build a cute little AI agent — an AI algorithm embodied in a simulated world — that learned to dress itself using realistic fabric textures and physics.

Blessed

The AI agent takes the form of a wobbling, cartoonish little friend with an expressionless demeanor.

During its morning routine, our little buddy punches new armholes through its shirts, gets bopped around by perturbations, dislocates its shoulder, and has an automatic gown-enrober smoosh up against its face. What a day!

Great Job!

Beyond a fun video, this simulation shows that AI systems can learn to interact with the physical world, or at least a realistic simulation of it, all on their own.

This is thanks to reinforcement learning, a type of AI algorithm where the agent learns to accomplish tasks by seeking out programmed rewards.

In this case, our little friend was programmed to seek out the warm satisfaction of a job well done, and we’re very proud.

READ MORE: Using machine learning to teach robots to get dressed [BoingBoing]

More on cutesy tech: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Amazon Warehouse Robots Slipped On Popcorn Butter

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Having a Bad Day? An Adorable Video Shows AI Learning to Get Dressed

More Robots Means Fewer Seasonal Workers for Amazon This Holiday

Alexa, Buy Me a Gift

The holiday season is upon us, and Amazon is getting ready for the seasonal onslaught with 100,000 additional warehouse hires.

That’s about 20,000 fewer than last year. According to analysts, the drop is because the company’s automation efforts are succeeding.

Automating Santa

In 2012, Amazon bought Kiva Systems — the maker of little orange robots that are quickly becoming the gold standard in warehouse distribution center automation.

They are proving particularly useful in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, where they move orders around massive warehouses quietly and efficiently — and without complaining about horrendous working conditions. The result: fewer human workers.

Prime Real Estate

Automation has also brought much higher productivity to Amazon’s many smaller distribution centers.

And it’s packing as many robots into each of them as it can. The company is planning on using cubic instead of square feet to measure the size of its warehouses thanks to multi-story warehouse systems, CNBC reports.

And if you’re one of the unlucky few warehouse workers working grueling overtime during the holiday season: happy holidays.

READ MORE: Reduced holiday temp hiring is a sign Amazon is turning to more automation and robots: Citi [CNBC]

More on Amazon robots: Amazon Is Ramping up Its (Still Rather) Secretive Home Robot Project

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More Robots Means Fewer Seasonal Workers for Amazon This Holiday

This Gadget Tells You Exactly What Allergens You’re Inhaling

Allergic Reaction

Every minute you’re outside, you’re likely inhaling hundreds of “bioaerosols” — pollens, spores, microbes, and other tiny objects that can cause allergic reactions.

Today’s best method for measuring that allergen load is decidedly low-tech — researchers catch bioaerosols in filters or spore traps and study them under a microscope to identify each one. But a new gadget, hacked together by UCLA researchers, uses machine learning to dramatically speed up that process. Eventually, it might even give you a better sense of the air you’re breathing.

Pollen Kingdom

The UCLA researchers describe their device, which they built for less than $200 in parts, in a new paper published in the journal ACS Photonics. 

Basically, the apparatus catches bioaerosols on a sticky surface and scans them with a laser and a small sensor. Then it feeds the resulting image into a neural network trained to recognize common allergens such as oak, ragweed pollen, and certain mold spores. Finally, it tells you exactly what’s making you sneeze.

Air Apparent

Though promising, the UCLA prototype isn’t quite ready for action. Its algorithm can only recognize five allergens, and its accuracy is a good-not-great 94 percent.

But incremental improvements could result in a compelling gadget that would let you analyze the air around you — and maybe decide whether it’s time to pop an antihistamine.

READ MORE: New Mobile Device Identifies Airborne Allergens Using Deep Learning [UCLA]

More on allergies: The FDA Has Approved a Faster Way to Check for Allergies

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This Gadget Tells You Exactly What Allergens You’re Inhaling

Our Efforts to Heal the Ozone Layer Are Finally Paying Off

Good News, Everyone

It seems like every recent study on the environment has had the same takeaway: We’re heading toward a climate catastrophe.

A newly released report backed by the United Nations bucks that trend with some very positive news. It seems our global efforts to repair the ozone layer are actually paying off — and even better, future efforts already in the works have the potential to help us address global warming.

How’s that for a breath of fresh, non-toxic air?

In the Zone

Every four years, an international team of researchers releases a report focused on the state of Earth’s stratospheric ozone, a naturally occurring gas that shields the planet from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Unfortunately, our actions on Earth have had a detrimental effect on the ozone layer. For decades, we pumped chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the air, and these depleted the ozone layer, leaving us vulnerable to that harmful UV radiation.

In 1987, the world decided to take action against this damage to the ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty focused primarily on the phasing out of CFCs. As of 2010, the harmful chemicals were completely banned.

Based on this newly released report, those efforts have paid off.

Ozone in certain parts of the stratosphere has increased by 1 to 3 percent every decade since 2000. Based on current projections, the ozone layer above the Northern Hemisphere will be completely healed by the 2030s, with the Southern Hemisphere following in the 2050s and the polar regions by 2060.

Building Momentum

Though the findings of this new report are promising, we are far from any sort of “mission accomplished” moment when it comes to the ozone.

We already know that not everyone is abiding by the CFC ban — looking at you, China — so we’ll need to figure out a way to address that issue.

We’re also just months away from the implementation of the Kigali Amendment, an update to the Montreal Protocol that will guide the phasing out of another type of harmful chemical, hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). This amendment has the potential to not only build on the ozone-repair efforts already in place, but also help us avoid up to 0.4 percent of global warming this century, so we’ll need to ensure the world is as committed to phasing out HFCs as it has been CFCs.

If we can do that, who knows? Maybe environmental reports containing positive news could become the norm.

READ MORE: Healing of Ozone Layer Gives Hope for Climate Action: UN Report [UN News]

More on CFCs: Report Identifies China as the Source of Ozone-Destroying Emissions

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Our Efforts to Heal the Ozone Layer Are Finally Paying Off

Go Phub Yourself: How Phones Pull You Away From Your Loved Ones

Phub off

When it comes to smartphone etiquette, we tend to be pretty rude. Most of us — 62 percent according to a new Australian poll— have checked our phone in the middle of an in-person conversation.

The people we snub the most are romantic partners and close friends, according to The Conversation, perhaps because those relationships can survive the occasional rudeness in the form of phubbing — phone snubbing.

All Night Long

Aside from commuting and lunch breaks — honestly, we get it — the most common place people phubbed was in bed, scrolling Reddit or Twitter for hours before falling asleep next to their partner, according to the research, which will be published next month in the Proceedings of the International Conference on Information Systems.

And aside from frying your eyes by staring at a bright blue screen in a dark room, phubbing could be a serious detriment to your relationships. Research published in the journalPsychology of Popular Media Culture in 2016 suggests that cell phone use — texting your bud during dinner or tweeting during movie night — can harm personal relationships and personal well-being.

Screen Time

Of course, these findings alone aren’t enough to extrapolate the future of relationships. But all signs are pointing to the increasing presence of personal technology in our lives, especially our bedrooms, are getting in the way of human intimacy.

Next time, instead of scrolling Reddit for relationship horror stories, see if you can try and prevent your own.

READ MORE: Phubbing (phone snubbing) happens more in the bedroom than when socialising with friends [The Conversation]

More on smartphones: Musk: You’ll be Able to Remote Control Your Tesla Within 6 Weeks

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Go Phub Yourself: How Phones Pull You Away From Your Loved Ones

Exercise Your Civic Duty by Shaming Your Friends Into Voting

Everyone Else Is Doing It

Barring a few special circumstances, every U.S. citizen has the right to vote — or not vote — in government elections. But don’t expect to stay home on election day guilt-free.

In the U.S., your voting record is public information — depending on the state, your record could include anything from the political party you’re affiliated with to whether or not you voted in past elections.

Now, at least two tech startups have created apps that use this information to give people an easy way to peer pressure their friends into voting.

Text the Vote

On Sunday, The New York Times published a compelling story on two political apps, VoteWithMe and Outvote. The apps pull the voting data of everyone in your contact list and group those contacts based on how engaged they are in the voting process.

You can then use the apps to encourage your contacts to vote in the coming election in several ways. For example, you could send reminders of the election date to the less-than-committed voters in your contact list or ask your more committed friends to be sure to encourage their friends to vote.

Shifting Focus

Unfortunately, these political apps might work better in theory than in practice.

First, there’s the fact that they don’t really provide a full picture of your voting history — they only show the data for the state you’re currently registered in. Then there’s the possibility that the apps might affect how people vote — not just how often.

Right now, you might not think twice about registering as a Democrat even though you work for a decidedly Republican-leaning company, but you might if you knew your boss was likely to download an app that reveals that information.

It’s a tricky situation. Democracies work best when everyone participates, but is app-delivered peer pressure really the best way to encourage a higher voter turnout in the future? Just a thought, but maybe we should all focus on securing our elections and restoring Americans’ faith in the democratic process instead.

READ MORE: Did You Vote? Now Your Friends May Know (and Nag You) [The New York Times]

More on democracy: Pre-Teen Hackers Prove It: The U.S. Election System Simply Isn’t Secure Enough

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Exercise Your Civic Duty by Shaming Your Friends Into Voting

An Ancient Star Reveals Our Galaxy Is Older Than We Thought

Old Kid on the Block

In the outer layers of the Milky Way is an old star, newly discovered by Johns Hopkins University astronomers, that might be one of the oldest in the universe.

New research which will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal describes a star with the mouthful of a name, 2MASS J18082002-5104378 B. It’s about one-sixth the size of our sun and dates back 13.5 billion years — just 300 million years younger than the entire universe.

Old-School Metal

We know this star is so old because of its metal composition. As stars die and their leftover materials form new stars, the nuclear fusion reactions that power their cores give off heavy metals like gold and platinum. The more heavy metals, the more generations a given star must have been through.

But this star, still dimly twinkling, has such a small heavy metal content that astronomers think it comes from just the second generation of all the stuff in the universe — its celestial predecessor would have been formed in the Big Bang itself. For reference, our sun first emerged many generations after that, a 4.6 billion-year-old youngster compared to 2MASS.

I Wish I Might

This star is far older than anything else found in our galaxy so far, and its discovery opens the doors to finding even older stars.

That means we may soon learn more about how the Big Bang gave rise to the universe — and a better understanding of our own origins.

READ MORE: Johns Hopkins Scientist Finds Elusive Star with Origins Close to Big Bang [Johns Hopkins University]

More on old stars: Scientists Now Know When the First Stars Formed in the Universe

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An Ancient Star Reveals Our Galaxy Is Older Than We Thought

Unless Governments Get Involved, Plant-Based Meat Won’t Take Off

Meatless Monday

Plant-based meats are finally taking off: animal-free beef is popping up everywhere from high-end burger joints to, uh, biochemical research facilities.

Fine, plant-based and 3D-printed burgers, steaks, and chicken cutlets haven’t quite yet liberated the world’s livestock. But the technology behind these scientific snacks is progressing — with enough support, food researcher Jacy Reese predicts in a new book that we could replace a good chunk of traditional meats in a matter of decades.

Let Them Eat Steak

If we want to prevent catastrophic levels of global climate change, we need to farm and eat less meat. The various startups working on fake meat, perhaps the most famous of which is Impossible Foods, are pursuing an ambitious workaround: bringing cheap, sustainable food to the world without completely making people give up meat.

“In addition to contributing towards decreasing the effect of livestock on climate change, desertification and avoid animals slaughter, the development of these kinds of technological advances should help the populations living in the rural areas of our planet to have better access to healthy food and a varied diet,” Giuseppe Scionti, a biomedical researcher who found a way to 3D print realistic chicken cutlets and steaks, told Futurism.

Hamburger Helper

But major governments need to step in if these plant-based meats are ever going to get out of bougie restaurants and into the hungry mouths of the world.

Without massive structural investments, Fast Company’s reporting corroborated, plant-based meats will be stuck as a fad diet and may never become widespread and inexpensive enough to help the world.

READ MORE: Can we end animal farming by the end of the century? [Fast Company]

More on changing diets: To Feed a Hungry Planet, We’re all Going to Need to eat Less Meat

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Unless Governments Get Involved, Plant-Based Meat Won’t Take Off

To Fight Climate Change, The Poor Would Spend More Than The Rich

Pale Blue Dot

We’re running out of time to avoid a planetary climate change catastrophe. And while the global poor already face problems caused by rising temperatures and severe weather, political leaders often seem frozen.

A new experiment, published last week in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that those with the resources to change the world are hesitant to do their part. That’s a bummer: If the world is going to make it, we’ll all need to do what we can to slow climate change.

Going Dutch

In the study, researchers gave groups of people different amounts of money that they could choose to keep or donate towards a common goal that would specifically help fight climate change. Those who were given a larger share of the pot were less likely to contribute, while those who were given less money offered most of their donations.

Of course, the study had limitations. Researchers only gave the participants between 20 and 60 euros each, which is chump change compared to the sums involved in the global climate. Still, the finding was a gloomy reflection of the fact that the wealthy cause far more harm to the environment than the poor and do less to clean it up.

Storm the Castle

Perhaps it’s not time to grab a pitchfork and form an angry mob quite yet, but it’s easy to see this new study as a reflection of the many ways that climate change is already hurting the most vulnerable among us — and how the richest seem content to let it happen.

Of course, this is one limited experiment, and the number of participants involved is way too small to extrapolate these results to global politics. All the same, it revealed an unfortunate glimpse into what happens when some get far more money than they need.

READ MORE: Wealthier people do less in the struggle against climate change [Universitat Rovira i Virgili]

More on billionaires: Disrupting the Reaper: Tech Titans’ Quest for Immortality Rages Forward

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To Fight Climate Change, The Poor Would Spend More Than The Rich

China’s New Space Station Is Called The “Heavenly Palace”

Heavenly Palace

The first components of the International Space Station (ISS) launched into space more than 20 years ago, and it’s been continuously occupied for 18. Right now, it’s the only operational space station in orbit — but that’s about to change.

China just unveiled a life-size replica of the country’s new space station at Airshow China, the largest aerospace exhibition in the country. The new station is called Tiangong, which means “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese.

American Football

The new ISS competitor’s central module is 55 feet (17 meters) long, weighs 60 tons, and can fit three astronauts. That’s actually quite a bit smaller than the ISS, which is about as large as an American football field if you count its large solar panels.

WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

The new space station will allow astronauts to conduct cutting-edge scientific research in the fields of biology and microgravity, according to the Associated Press.

The new station will technically belong to China, but will open its doors to all UN countries. Construction is expected to be completed around 2022.

Here’s to hoping that China’s new space station will fare better than the Tiangong-1 space lab, which crashed into the Pacific earlier this year after authorities lost control of it in orbit.

READ MORE: China unveils new ‘Heavenly Palace’ space station as ISS days numbered [Phys.org]

More on Tiangong-1: The Chinese Space Station Has Crashed in the Pacific. Why Was It So Hard to Track?

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China’s New Space Station Is Called The “Heavenly Palace”

SpaceX Reveals How It Would Handle an Astronaut Emergency

Ready for Anything

When it comes to space travel, we can’t overprepare — countless things could go wrong at any step in the process, and even a brief delay in response could be the difference between life and death.

To that end, Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently demonstrated it was ready to handle one of our worst-case space flight scenarios: an injured or sick astronaut.

Testing the Waters

SpaceX will eventually transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

Some of those return flights will end with the Crew Dragon splashing down in the ocean near Florida’s eastern coast. A crane aboard SpaceX’s recovery ship, GO Searcher, will then lift the craft from the water and place it onto the ship’s main deck. Doctors can then evaluate the returning crew to ensure they’re in good shape before GO Searcher heads to Cape Canaveral.

At least, that’s if everything goes according to plan. If the astronauts aboard the Crew Dragon are sick or injured, SpaceX will need to get them medical attention as quickly as possible.

To prepare for that possibility, SpaceX rehearsed a scenario in which a helicopter landed on GO Searcher. The crew then loaded a stretcher onto the aircraft for transportation to a nearby hospital. The helicopter is also equipped to transport doctors and other medical personnel to GO Searcher so they can care for patients at the ship’s medical treatment facility.

Prior Preparation

SpaceX is ahead of the game with this dress rehearsal — there isn’t even a date set yet for the first water landing of an astronaut-carrying Crew Dragon.

Still, it’s encouraging to know Elon Musk’s space company is taking every precaution to ensure it’s prepared to provide NASA astronauts with the best possible medical care long before they might ever need it.

READ MORE: SpaceX Rehearses Helicopter Landing at Sea [NASA]

More on the Commercial Crew program: NASA Announces the First Commercial Astronauts to Pilot the Next Generation of Spacecraft

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SpaceX Reveals How It Would Handle an Astronaut Emergency

AI Can Tell If You’re Depressed by Listening to You Talk

Diagnosing Depression

Depression can manifest with many different symptoms, from a “loss of energy” to “indecisiveness” — broad criteria that make the condition difficult to diagnose with a high degree of certainty.

Now, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are working on an algorithm that could eliminate some of that guesswork. They used text and audio data from 142 interviews with patients — 30 of whom had been diagnosed with depression — to teach a machine learning algorithm to listen for signs of depression in speech.

Tone of Voice

What makes this effort stand out is that the researchers examined the patients’ tone of voice, not just the specific words they used. That technique made the model surprisingly accurate: It was able to identify subjects who had been diagnosed with depression with a 77 percent success rate.

But before we go on and implement AI as a tool to diagnose mental disorders in the real world, we’ll have to take these results with a substantial grain of salt.

AI Therapy

While chatbots like Woebot have recently surfaced help people to deal with depression, they won’t be able to replace a human therapist, at least for the time being.

There are far too many variables, and while 77 percent sounds promising, a false positive could raise serious ethical concerns. For instance, AI diagnostic tools could fall into the wrong hands — like your employer or insurance company.

But the researchers are realistic about their machine learning model’s ability to detect depression. Rather than replacing human therapists, they see it as another tool in [a clinician’s] toolbox,” MIT researcher James Glass, who worked on the model, told Smithsonian.

READ MORECan Artificial Intelligence Detect Depression in a Person’s Voice? [Smithsonian]

More on treating depression: New App for Depression Uses Artificial Intelligence for Therapy Treatments

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AI Can Tell If You’re Depressed by Listening to You Talk

China Can Now Identify a Citizen Based on Their Walk

Big Brother

China’s latest weapon in its war against citizen privacy: gait recognition software.

According to a new story by the Associated Press, police in Beijing and Shanghai are using a gait recognition system developed by artificial intelligence company Watrix to identify Chinese citizens — even when their faces aren’t visible.

Walk This Way

Watrix claims its system can identify a person from up to 165 feet away even if their back is to a camera or their face turned away. It doesn’t require any special cameras, either — it can analyze existing surveillance footage to ID an individual with 94 percent accuracy.

“You don’t need people’s cooperation for us to be able to recognize their identity,” Watrix CEO Huang Yongzhen told the AP. “Gait analysis can’t be fooled by simply limping, walking with splayed feet, or hunching over, because we’re analyzing all the features of an entire body.”

However, the software doesn’t yet work in real time. It needs roughly 10 minutes to analyze about an hour’s worth of video, during which time it extracts a person’s silhouette and then creates a model of their individual gait.

Eyes Everywhere

It’s easy to see how this technology could be useful on a smaller scale. A company could produce a database of all its employees’ gaits and then use that database to ensure unauthorized individuals aren’t in restricted areas.

It’s harder to imagine how China could make use of the technology on a nationwide scale, though.

Facial recognition tech is easy to implement because the faces of most citizens are already in government databases. Would the nation need to produce a similar database of citizen gaits? Or would the tech work retroactively — arrest someone for a crime, have them walk for you, and then compare their gait to that of the criminal caught on camera?

Whatever the case may be, police in Beijing and Shanghai are making use of this tech somehow, which means it might just be a matter of time before anyone on the move in China will find themselves under the watchful eye of the nation’s government.

READ MORE: Chinese ‘Gait Recognition’ Tech IDs People by How They Walk [Associated Press]

More on Chinese surveillance: If You Jaywalk in China, Facial Recognition Means You’ll Walk Away With a Fine

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China Can Now Identify a Citizen Based on Their Walk


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