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Category Archives: Singularity

Russia Could Take the Lead on Human Gene Editing – Singularity Hub

Posted: October 10, 2019 at 11:45 pm

Theres broad consensus that genetically modifying humans isnt a good idea, at least not anytime in the near future. But it seems Russia has less qualms about the idea, which could leave it to determine the future of the technology.

After Chinese geneticist He Jiankui announced he had used CRISPR to genetically edit two human embryos there was widespread outrage from both the scientific community and authorities at home and abroad. But it took less than a year for Russian scientist Denis Rebrikov to announce his desire to carry out similar experiments that edit germline DNA, which refers to changes that will be passed on to future generations.

Condemnation from the international community was again swift, but it appears Rebrikov may be finding a more receptive audience at home. Bloomberg reports that a secret meeting of top Russian geneticists and health officials was convened over the summer to discuss the proposals.

And the meeting had a significant guest: Maria Vorontsova, an endocrinologist and daughter of the man likely to make the final call on Russias position on gene-editing President Vladimir Putin.

Bloomberg reports there was a back and forth between opponents and proponents of the idea, but Vorontsova said scientific progress cant be stopped and suggested such research should be controlled by state-run institutions to ensure oversight.

While thats a long way from an official endorsement, the Russian governments response to Rebrikovs plans has certainly been tepid compared to those in the US, where politicians recently renewed a ban on germline editing, and in China, where Hes work quickly led to a tightening of regulations around human gene editing.

Rebrikovs proposal potentially has more merit than Hes. Rebrikov initially planned to target the same gene as He, which is believed to determine susceptibility to HIV. Switching this gene off was criticized for being an unnecessarily complicated and dangerous way of ensuring the disease wasnt passed from parent to child.

Now he plans to use CRISPR to switch off a rare gene that leads to deafness. He is working with couples who are both deaf due to the condition, but dont want to pass it on to their children. Theres still very little understanding of what the potential side effects of this kind of intervention could be, which has led many to call for a moratorium on the technology.

Both the World Health Organization and an international commission set up by the US national academies and the UKs Royal Society are trying to develop guidelines for human gene editing technology, but scientists leading these efforts admit theres little they can do to prevent this kind of research at present.

And while Rebrikovs proposals may sound fairly benign, the way he talks about the technology should give serious cause for concern. In the Bloomberg article he openly discusses starting small and the prospect of parents genetically enhancing their children, while seeming to invoke the Soviet Unions pursuit of nuclear weapons as a justification for developing a technology that can be used for both good and evil.

So far, most of the discussion around germline editing has been focused on safety. But writing in Scientific American Mildred Solomon, president of bioethics institute The Hastings Center, says we need to start tackling questions that go beyond safety before its too late.

That will inevitably include discussions around the ethics of genetic enhancement, but its becoming increasingly clear that there also needs to be consideration of the geopolitical ramifications of the technology.

Putin has already voiced his concerns about genetically-engineered soldiers, and in todays hostile international climate its easy to see the worlds great powers worrying about being left behind by their adversaries. Rebrikov alluded to this train of thought in his comments to Bloomberg, saying hes sure embryo gene-editing is happening in clandestine dark sites.

Despite Chinas forceful public response to Hes research, theres evidence the government was actually funding it, and bioethicist James Giordano told National Defense that its highly unlikely the scientist was a rogue actor in a country where government, academia, and industry are so deeply entwined.

Were still a long way from the kind of capabilities required for doomsday scenarios like super-soldiers or genetically-targeted biological weapons, but recent developments suggest theres a real danger of a genetic arms race developing. Exactly what can be done to stop it remains far from clear, but there needs to be a major push to ensure the fundamental basis of our humanity doesnt end up being governed by realpolitik.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

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Embracing Mortality in the Face of Big Tech’s Domination – Hyperallergic

Posted: at 11:45 pm

Installation view of Ben Gocker: Foskers & Egg Whites at PPOW Gallery, New York(all images courtesy of Ben Gocker andPPOW, New York)

The American futurist Ray Kurzweil has predicted that humans will achieve immortality by the year 2045 in a process known as the Singularity. This notion has gained significant traction in the tech world. Kurzweil is currently the Director of Engineering at Google, and in 2011 the Russian entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov began funding the 2045 Movement. Itskovs project aims to transfer our personalities into carriers superior to the human body.

Deep skepticism toward this view pervades Ben Gockers Foskers & Egg Whites, an exhibition of painting and sculpture at PPOW that exemplifies the artists patient and obsessive process, involving the imperfect workings of the human hand. (Some viewers might also recognize Gockers eccentric pencils from Scaredy Cat City, a 2014 show at PPOW, reworked into new pieces.)

Coney Island (2019), a triptych consisting of wood, paint, steel wire, tin, rock, and rope, includes the phrase Immortality by 2045 in arches at the top of its center panel. Perhaps an artists desire for immortality doesnt seem so surprising. But, by evoking Kurzweils prediction, Gockers aims are altogether different.While Coney Island bears the telltale signs of flawed human action, the artist isnt yearning to be released from the impermanence of his body. His work shows his acceptance of the distinct pairing of nostalgia and melancholy.

On the side panels, Gocker provides an abundance of visual stimuli. There are small painted cats, looking curious and content, their renderings reminiscent of those found in old comic strips. One looks like a version of Heathcliff. Their familiarity is a bit like their names being on the tip of ones tongue. Perhaps this is the essence of nostalgia: sensations driven by a simultaneously distinct and incomplete memory.

Near the cat, at the top of the left-hand panel, are the flattened top ends of keys, as if the keys have broken off in a lock. Gocker surrounds the cats with names such as Beethoven, Uncle Bert, Rafiki, and Icarus. These names resonate with the artists indictment of Big Techs overreach. In the 1994 Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved, love is immortal, not the human body. Meanwhile, Rafiki, the shamanic mandrill from The Lion King (1994), and Uncle Bert, demonstrate uneasiness with the future envisioned by the 2045 movement. Uncle Bert references Whitman Grimms Ghost Stories, issue 58, entitled Uncle Berts Children. The lower panel of the issues cover depicts three adults recoiling from a ghostly woman dressed in early 20th-century garb. The accompanying text asks, What is the specters silent warning? In Gockers case, the specter isnt a ghost. Its the threat of being transformed into a machine.

Prince, the iconic musician who died in 2016, is yet another figure who bears significance throughout the show. The word appears four times in Coney Island. The first work in the gallery, Sheila E (2019), named after the percussionist who worked with Prince during the mid-1980s, establishes Prince as a running motif. As in several of the other works, Gocker has fashioned small wooden slats, a bit like clothespins, and painted them with bright primary colors. Their diagonal arrangement gives the work a vibratory feeling.

Gocker surely remembers the musicians 1993 contractual dispute with Warner Bros., in which Prince changed his name to a symbol and performed with the word Slave written on his face. This gesture was a declaration of self-determination. Gockers rejection of corporate-driven attempts for immortality is an analogous move. The artist has no interest in replicating the masterslave relationship that digital technology subtly recreates.

Things that Dont Last (2019) draws the artists commitment to impermanence further to the surface. This work also uses an array of wooden slats to spell out words like Songs, Snowballs, and Rage. Many of the works in the show use the structure of word search activities designed to foster literacy in developing readers. Each thing named in this piece has a lifespan. Perhaps Gockers discomfort with Kurzweils prediction is its alteration of what we have always known: not only that we die, but that we must die.

Most viewers will recognize the influence of Jasper Johns in Gockers work: the color schemes and inclusion of detritus or trash-like objects in the painting. But where Johns is more invested in formalism, Gocker fuses formalist concerns with an interrogation of a large cultural phenomenon, like Big Techs quest for immortality.

Michael Crichton (2019), reminiscent of Johns hatch mark works, Corpse and Mirror (1976) and Dancers on a Plane (1979), is an intriguing work in this regard. Crichton, who passed away in 2008, is mostly known as the author of techno-thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. A consistent theme throughout his books is the fraught relationship between humans and technology.

In the early 1980s, Crichton published a book on computer programming for novices, in which he argues that programming a computer will make you feel good. Years earlier, he published a coffee table book called Jasper Johns (1970), in which he describes the artists methods and offers interpretations of his work. Crichton serves as a silent specter like the old woman in Uncle Berts Children.

At the heart of Gockers work is a deep commitment to impermanence and independent thinking. He does not assume any right to live forever. An algorithm does not drive his thoughts. He wants to see whether were paying attention, or if we even have any mind left after the continual blitzkrieg of Big Techs dominance.

Ben Gocker: Foskers & Egg Whites continues at PPOW Gallery (535 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 12.

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This Calculator Tells You What Will Happen If Earth Gets Sucked Into a Black Hole – Newsweek

Posted: at 11:45 pm

A particle physicist has created an online tool which enables you to calculate what would happen if the Earth or any other astronomical object was sucked into a black hole.

The tooldeveloped by lvaro Diez from the University of Warsaw in Polandshows you various parameters, such as the amount of energy that would be produced by collisions with different-sized objects.

For example, the calculator shows that the energy generated by a collision between an object with the same mass as the Earth and a black hole with about four million solar masseslike Sagittarius A*, which lies at the center of the Milky Waywould be roughly 32,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 megajoules.

"These events are so huge we couldn't even begin to comprehend the size," Diez told Newsweek. "There's not really much more context for such a huge amount. Black holes are so compact and, hence, have such strong gravity around them that the speeds, forces and energies related to anything that gets close to them are just out of our imagination."

Diez said he created the calculator because he was inspired by several black hole discoveries which have been announced recently.

"This year has been undeniably the black hole year, from the data collected by Nobel Prize-winning collaboration LIGO, to the first-ever picture of a black hole, to NASA publishing a collision between a black hole and a neutron star not two weeks ago, it seems like we can't go for a month without one or more breakthroughs in our understanding of black holes," he said.

"In particular, this last story was an inspiration for me to create a more complete version of a black hole calculator that can show people not only what black holes are and how they interact, but also the consequences of those interactions and collisions on the black hole itself," he said.

In simple terms, black holes are dead stars that, after exploding as supernovae, have so much mass that nothing can hold them together anymore.

These dead stars eventually collapse in on themselves into a single point of infinite density, known as a singularitywhere gravity is predicted to be infinite and the laws of physics as we know them break down. The singularity is surrounded by the event horizonthe boundary beyond which nothing can escape due to the extreme gravitational pull.

"A black hole is defined by its mass or its Schwarzschild Radius, which is the surface that marks the 'point of no return,' anything that gets closer than that distance cannot escape the black hole, not even lightwhich is why they are called black holes," Diez said.

According to the physicist, there are two main types of interactions between black holes and other objects which help alert us to their existence: destructive and non-destructive.

In the non-destructive interactions, astronomers observe astronomical objectsmost of which are starsorbiting around what appears to be a non-existent object with an extremely strong gravitational pull.

After ruling all other options out, astronomers may conclude that this signifies the existence of a black hole, even if they can't see the object directly.

The more violent encounters involve objects getting too close to the black hole and being swallowed by it. These events are not as common, however, when objects like stars fall into black holes, the collisions produce vast amounts of energywhich we can detect on Earth using infrared and gamma ray detectors, even if they take place in other galaxies, millions of light-years away.

Sometimes stars get too close to the black hole and are ripped apart by what's known as "tidal disruption." This process describes how different parts of the star are pulled into the black hole at different speeds, eventually leading to its demise. Once the black hole has eaten, the event horizon grows, as the calculator reveals.

Recently, NASA released a visualization of a simulated black hole which demonstrates how the extreme gravitational forces produced by such objects distorts the light around them like a carnival mirror.

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Zehner: The Hidden Occupation – The Dartmouth

Posted: at 11:45 pm

Indonesia's goal is unity at all costs.

by Callum Zehner | 10/10/19 2:05am

Unity in Diversity has been Indonesias tagline ever since its independence from the Dutch over 70 years ago. In many respects, this has not just been a soft rhetorical move, but a highly tactical one. With the multitudes of ethnicities, languages and religions that reside within Indonesias borders, the government in Jakarta has, since its inception, utilized this phrase to placate its population, to assert the singularity of the Indonesian people.

Recently, however, the flimsiness of this notion of togetherness has been revealed by the vehement protests of the people of West Papua, one of Indonesias provinces. Jakartas reaction to the protests has shown that the idea of Unity in Diversity, if it was ever alive, is now firmly dead. It is clear from the actions of the Indonesian government in West Papua that diversity was never on the table. Indonesia uses diversity as a ploy to exploit Papua, while unity, no matter the cost, has become the actual goal.

The most recent string of protests began in August, when a number of Papuan students in Java were attacked with tear gas and mocked with racial slurs by security forces. Accused of burning the Indonesian flag, the students were referred to as monkeys and dogs. This event was captured on video and led to widespread protests across urban centers in West Papua and the rest of the country.

The outrage has been used by Papuans to propel demands for independence, even in the face of government crackdown. The slurs simply illustrate the day-to-day derision and racism faced by the indigenous Papuans from the Javanese, the largest ethnic group in the country. But there are many other grievances that have been recently revealed to the wider world, showing that Jakartas track record on the treatment of Papuans has been far from illustrious.

West Papua, with its vast natural resources, has been a prime target for plunder by Jakarta. As of 2013, the Papuan GDP per capita is $3,510, significantly higher than the Indonesian average of $2,452, yet the regions poverty rate is three times that of the national average. The vast majority of profits from the areas mineral reserves are eagerly collected by multinational mining firms, such as Freeport and Rio Tinto, and, crucially, the Indonesian government. Although the current president, Joko Widodo, has made a point of investing substantially in the regions infrastructure over the last few years the poverty rate remains at a disappointing 20 percent.When placed alongside the highest child mortality rates and lowest literacy rates in the country, it is clear that the Papuan people have simply not been a part of the process of wealth generation in the region.

Indonesian leaders also see the countrys easternmost provinces as a big open space, and, therefore, as a way to relieve the mounting population pressures faced in the rest of the country. Government-sponsored transmigration programs have seen the indigenous Papuan population be inundated by large numbers of immigrants mostly from the island of Java. In 1971, non-Papuans made up only four percent of the total population of the region, while, in 2010, this figure had grown to 52 percent, making the native population a minority in their own land. These new arrivals have served to dilute the voices of the native population, with the immigrants in control of many of the provinces high-ranking political positions. Consequently, there are precious few channels for Papuans to express their political wills.

The government response to the ongoing protests gives the most pertinent view to the treatment of Papuans. Phone and Internet lines in Papua were cut so as to prevent the organization of protests and to restore order. Journalists access to the two provinces was also restricted, and 6,000 extra security personnel were deployed. And at least seven Papuans have been made casualties at the hands of government forces. All of these reactions make it plain to see that Jakarta views West Papua as a restive colony with a population to be controlled, not as an equal member of a singular Indonesia.

The publicity that has followed the Papuan protests has been invaluable, pointing the spotlight on a long neglected conflict. Despite Jakarta still paying lip service to the idea that its diversity belies its unity, the West Papua situation suggests the exact opposite. Papua is seen as an area to exploit, with the mineral and land resources to further propel the growing economic and popular might of Indonesia or, at least, the might of the Indonesian metropole. The Papuans, in Jakartas view, are merely a subordinate people who serve to make trouble and disrupt the unity of the state. So then, unity is the end goal, and diversity is the biggest obstacle to it.

As West Papuan leaders attempt to leverage public support around the world in support of their cause, it is critical to listen to them. While the international community decries the current abuses in Hong Kong, West Papua sees no attention as Indonesia presents itself as a nation amenable to all peoples. Yet, it is now obvious that Unity in Diversity is just a mirage that masks the colonial status suffered by the Papuans. It is time to stop taking Indonesia for its word.

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The Flash Showrunner Shares the Story Behind Using Queen’s Flash Gordon Theme – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Posted: at 11:45 pm

WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Into the Void," The Flash Season 6 premiere.

As Barry Allenraced to stop a new meta-human from consuming Central City in a singularity during the Season 6 premiere of The Flash, the Scarlet Speedster briefly left the terrestrial plane as he ran into the black hole. To commemoratethe moment, Cisco Ramon eagerly put on Queen's iconic theme songfrom the cult favorite '80s film Flash Gordon.

For showrunner Eric Wallace, the desire to use the epic theme song was a personal, longstanding ambition, finally fulfilled after working on the Arrowverse series for years.

RELATED:Flash Season 6 Debuts to Solid, But Not Spectacular Ratings

"Ive had the idea [to use the Flash Gordon theme] for a couple of years now," explained Wallace in an interview with TVLine. "That line that Cisco says, Ive been waiting five years!? Well, Ive been waiting five years, too, waiting for the perfect moment. And what better than a premiere, in which the Flash essentially gets to go into outer space -- even if its just for 10 seconds."

Ultimately, Barry is successful in saving the city once again, having gotten a glimpse of the cosmos as Team Flash prepares for the Arrowverse crossover event "Crisis on Infinite Earths." However, viewers should not put too much hope for the DCtelevision series to license additional Queen music anytime soon.

RELATED:The Flash Showrunner 'Could Totally See' an Elongated Man Spinoff Series

"I used as much of it as we could," continued Wallace. "If I could afford it, we would have scored the entire episode to Queen music. But thats a bit out of our budget.

Airing Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW, The Flash stars Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, Danielle Nicolet and Hartley Sawyer.

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The Flash Meets Two Supermen, Black Lightning in Crisis Photos

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Ad Finem are back as they secure a spot in the Minor – VPEsports

Posted: at 11:45 pm

Europe may have only had two slots available at the ChengduMajor and after Team Liquid and Alliance claimed those, a few of the remainingteams would be left to fight for two spots in the Dota 2 Summit 11 Minor.

Regional qualifiers for the first Minor of the Dota 2 ProCircuit season have been underway since yesterday, October 9th andfor the European region, there were two spots available at the event. While Ninjasin Pyjamas fell just short of reaching the Major, losing in the lower bracketfinals to Liquid, they would have another shot at reaching the Major as theybeat out Team Singularity to claim the first spot at the Dota 2 Summit 11. ForSingularity, they would have to try once more, this time against Ad Finem theGreek squad who had recently made a return to the Dota 2 scene.

The Greeks were able to play some amazing Dota, constantlyputting Singularity on the back foot even making a massive comeback in thefirst game of the series. Unfortunately for Singularity, they would not beattending the first Minor or Major of the season but for Ad Finem, they willhave the chance to fight in Los Angeles in early November. They join the likesof NiP, Virtus.pro, Hellraisers, Geek Fam and Invictus Gaming.

There are still North and South American qualifiers whichare currently underway and in just a few hours, all eight teams for the Dota 2Summit 11 Minor will be set as we countdown towards the beginning of the DPCseason.

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The dangerous myth of the bad border in Northern Ireland – Spectator.co.uk

Posted: at 11:45 pm

The Irish border is awash with journalists and pundits from Great Britain, scratching their heads in wet frontier fields patrolled by incurious Friesians. No border bridge has been left unmolested by visiting television crews in search of a sombre framing shot. The former Killing Fields outside Enniskillen were my home until I left for university in England at 18. I dont decry the honest attempts of blow-in journalists to explain the conundrum of what Churchill wearily dismissed as the dull and dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone its a bit of a head melter all right. But the blaring singularity of the bad border narrative we hear far too much of is both ignorant and dangerous.

The Brexit border discourse in Great Britain, with few exceptions, cleaves to an overwhelmingly nationalist/catastrophist perspective. If a journalist from Martian TV landed inDerry or Newry, they would probably leave with the idea that there is no border in Ireland at all, save for the new one perfidious Albion seems dead set on imposing on a thwarted, helpless population. To some extent this is a victory for Sinn Fein and its relentless revisionism of contemporary Irish history. Left with a 1998 settlement that required it to abandon support for terror and accept the political reality of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, the only way to reconcile this defeat with its death cult delusion was to pretend that the border was constitutionally, as well as visibly, gone. When your prize for 40 years of blood and sacrifice is not the promised 32 county socialist utopia but control over planning and bins, youre going to need some stronger snake oil.

Another little heard but still potent border storylies beneath these layers of agitprop one hidden dimension of Northern Irelands long legacy of hatred and hurt. When journalists arrive on the border in search of local colour, the people they encounter in those locales are invariably hostile to the very idea of the UK frontier, let alone what a no-deal exit might do to it. This tends to skew the media perspective somewhat, leavened only by some occasionally neutral business people and the very odd Unionist voice. Sometimes very odd indeed.

The fact that Unionism on the frontier is usually missing from the Brexit story is in large part due to a ruthless and cynical IRA campaign that attacked vulnerable and isolated Protestant communities there and decimated them. Professor Henry Patterson in his book, Irelands Violent Frontier,views this campaign in the 1970s to mid-90s as a form of targeted ethnic cleansing, designed to force Britain to negotiate with Sinn Fein. This onslaught against a community of people often settled in border regions for longer than white people have been in North America resulted in the British Government establishing permanent border army posts to try to halt the slaughter. Ironically, these often besieged bases are now referred to with pompous piety as the hard borders of the past. Their point was to save lives not process poultry checks. You wont find that nugget of indigestible truth in most of the contemporary BS.

The IRAs tactics meant that border Protestants, already a fearful minority, were driven from their farms and villages on the frontier to the relative safety of towns further away. This retreat, often in the face of indescribably cruel and intimate violence resulted in a permanent greening of the border a demographic shift that inevitably colours most of the contemporary media output. The few remaining Protestants are understandably loathe to attract attention to themselves with any view that might challenge the strident orthodoxy of the bad border many of them suffered grievously in defending during thedarkest days of the Troubles.

This is not to say that these airbrushed people yearn for the days when the British Army were desperately needed to police a violent and lawless border region. Quite the contrary. A continuing invisible border on the ground is universally desired and desirable outside the fevered imagination of a few Loyalist ultras.

Twenty years of semi skimmed peace have replaced the full fat anarchy of the Troubles. The infrastructure of conflict has been all but completely erased, thank God. I frequently visit my Fermanagh homeland where my psyche was forged and probably damaged at a time when the Troubles ran red hot. Still, youre never far from water in Fermanagh and my childhood memories are studded with glorious weekend trips to the seaside towns of Mullaghmore and Rossnowlagh on Irelands Atlantic coast.

Describing those cross-border journeys in the 1980s to my own grown children as we retrace my steps is surreal. Theres no trace of the massive military infrastructure on the quiet country road that leads to the beach. The queues of traffic and the exotic accents of squaddies from Yorkshire, Strathclyde, Devon are distant memories. The ominous security architecture that looked more at home in some Afghan hotspot than squatting between two friendly and culturally intertwined nations, is razed to the ground. The difference between your own seamless and friendly encounter with the state compared with the experience of others not of your traditions a few cars behind, is an unhappy memory. Who in their right mind would wish a return to those times?

But the simplistic piety of those saying no return to a hard border, replete with shroud waving over renewed terrorism repeated ad infinitum by the GB media risks painting the whole Unionist community, Leavers and Remainers alike, into a dangerous corner where they are forced into a false choice between their own constitutional security and peace. Indeed the Good Friday Agreement was designed primarily to paper over these very cracks. While many Unionists voted for Remain, rightly seeing Brexit as the anvil on which their UK future might well be broken, they did not vote to be co-opted into Sinn Feins long-term project to destroy British identity in Northern Ireland. This matters. Loyalist paramilitaries, long distracted by the lucrative business of wrecking their own working class ghettos with drugs and organised crime, are beginning to pay attention to the bigger picture. The perception of a British identity eroded by Brussels and Dublin beyond an already thin tolerance doesnt allow for the fact that their own Government and fellow citizens landed them at this juncture. No matter. While security correspondents obsess over a resurgent republican threat in the former Badlands, these people are also stirring.But their experience and their threat doesnt really feature in reports from South Down and South Armagh or Derrys hinterland where prowling hacks from Sky News, the Today programme et al wait to pounce.

Northern Ireland defies the physics of soundbite news gathering. Identity is a two way street laced with landmines. The distance between polarities is always surprisingly small on the map but the chasm of unreconciled hurt and grief is enormous and no more so than on the frayed edges of Britains rule in Ireland. Any hopeful future will be helped by reporting that acknowledges this uncomfortable diversity.It is not assisted by the indecent excitement of some elements of our media, talking up civil disobedience and violent insurgency along Europes latest go-to fault line. We are beginning to see the dark prophesy of all this attention. The answer to the border is to put it back to sleep. It should never have been woken up.

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The Day Shall Come: Chris Morriss film may be the years biggest disappointment to date – The Irish Times

Posted: at 11:45 pm

That noise you hear may be mystique hissing from the venerable Chris Morris Project. To this point, Morris, co-creator of The Day Today, prime mover of Brasseye, has been cautious about giving too much of himself to interviewers, but he has been on every other news bulletin explaining the premise of his second feature film.

Based on a hundred true stories, The Day Shall Come touches on efforts by the FBI to encourage harmless oddballs towards acts of terrorism that the agency could then bravely thwart. The projects took the art of entrapment to hitherto unimagined heights. Few fantasy novelists have worked so hard to create alternative universes.

You know what they say about the relative strangeness of fact and fiction. Morris, who co-authored the screenplay with Jesse Armstrong, has transformed these fascinating yarns into the first out-and-out dud of his career.

There were a few clanks and some over-extended routines in Four Lions, Morriss first feature, but that 2010 films singularity of purpose kicked aside most reasonable objections. It knew where it was going. Clocking in at a suspiciously short 87 minutes (not that one would want it much longer), The Day Shall Come, which began shooting over two years ago, feels like a salvage job on a smart notion that curdled in the execution.

It helps not a jot that much of the action suggests a ramshackle version of Four Lions. That film concerned bumbling terrorists. The current project concerns bumbling fake terrorists. Morris and his team could at least have made a different sort of bad film.

Anyway, The Day Shall Come does boast some brave, committed performances. The largely unknown Marchnt Davis is excellent as Moses Al Shabazz, leader of a bonkers but largely benign religious commune in an impoverished section of Miami. Merrily titled The Star of Six, the cult shares its devotions among Allah, a black Santa and Haitian revolutionary Franois-Dominique Toussaint LOuverture (weirdly little effort is made to conceal the fact that much of the Florida action is shot next door to Haiti in the Dominican Republic).

Somehow or other, Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick), an FBI operative, happens upon one of Mosess speeches and decides to nudge the cult towards an outrageous terrorist conspiracy. This involves interactions with a fake sheikh, flogging ersatz nukes to Nazi bikers and apparently divine messages from angry weather systems.

Orange is the New Black graduate Danielle Brooks deserves much praise for making something fleshy of Mosess long-suffering, less befuddled wife. There is real pathos in their struggles with sanity and neoliberal economics. Indeed, Brooks and Davis are so good one yearns for them to escape the chaos and settle down in a nice quiet sitcom.

The best satire teases and heightens the absurdities of real life. The current project buries the reality in such fuss and mess that it becomes an irrelevance. The film does not regain its bite until, with accompanying snaps, the closing credits lay out the awful injustices visited on largely innocent citizens. It might work better if the FBI schemes were better known, but here the historical absurdities feel indistinguishable from Morriss fevered inventions.

The complications that spin out around Moses are too random to bother entangling. Its as if James Ellroy had been taking dictation from the Banana Splits. Worse still are the embarrassingly off-the-peg Ianuccisms that characterise the FBI interactions.

Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris have, of course, been fecund collaborators for decades and Morriss influence runs through his friends The Thick of It and Veep, but, in this instance, the baroque profanity plays like a desperate effort to force energy into an imminent corpse.

Possibly the movie years biggest disappointment to date.

Opens on October 11th

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Giant black hole at centre of Milky Way exploded recently and blast was felt 200,000 light-years away – The Sun

Posted: at 11:45 pm

THE SUPERMASSIVE black hole at the centre of the Milky Way exploded 3.5million years ago, according to astronomers.

This is considered to be 'astonishingly recent' in galactic terms and is changing what scientists thought they knew about our galaxy.

Professor Lisa Kewley, who worked on the study, said: "This is a dramatic event that happened a few million years ago in the Milky Way's history.

"A massive blast of energy and radiation came right out of the galactic centre and into the surrounding material.

"This shows that the centre of the Milky Way is a much more dynamic place than we had previously thought. It is lucky we're not residing there!"

The cataclysmic blast ripped through our galaxy and was likely felt 200,00 light years away in the Magellanic Stream.

It is considered to be a recent event because when it happened the dinosaurs had already been wiped out for 63million years and human ancestors were already walking on Earth.

This black hole blast phenomenon is known as a Seyfert flare.

The astronomers think it would have created two enormous 'ionisation cones' that would have sliced through the Milky Way.

They think it was caused by nuclear activity in the gigantic black hole, known as Sagittarius A.

It is estimated to have lasted for around 300,000 years, which is extremely short in galactic terms.

Co-author Magda Guglielmo from the University of Sydney said: "These results dramatically change our understanding of the Milky Way.

"We always thought about our Galaxy as an inactive galaxy, with a not so bright centre.

"These new results instead open the possibility of a complete reinterpretation of its evolution and nature.

"The flare event that occurred three million years ago was so powerful that it had consequences on the surrounding of our Galaxy.

"We are the witness to the awakening of the sleeping beauty."

The research was led by by Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).

During the study, data was gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope and used to calculate when and how the explosion took place.

It will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

What is a black hole? The key facts

Here's what you need to know...

What is a black hole?

What is an event horizon?

What is a singularity?

How are black holes created?

In other news, the mysterious cosmic web that sticks the universe together has been pictured for first time.

Aplanet so massive it should not existhas been found by baffled astronomers in a nearby star system.

INCOMING New asteroid threat as 50ft space rock could hit Earth in just 70 years

SKY LIGHT How to spot the Draconids meteor shower in the UK tonight

SIMBA ON ICE Perfectly preserved Siberian lion cubs that died up to 44,000 YEARS ago found

DEAD STRANGE Egyptian coffin covered with nonsense hieroglyphics baffles archaeologists

PLANE CRAZY Nasa reveals stellar snap of fiery 'blue' meteor taken through airplane window

WHAT A GEM Ultra-rare diamond with SECOND gem inside found and it could be world's first

And, there's an enormous black holelurking in this Nasa photo can you find it?

What do you make of this Milky Way explosion? Let us know in the comments...

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Giant black hole at centre of Milky Way exploded recently and blast was felt 200,000 light-years away - The Sun

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Grammarly raises $90M at over $1B+ valuation for its AI-based grammar and writing tools – TechCrunch

Posted: at 11:45 pm

While attention continues to be focused on the rise and growing sophistication of voice-based interfaces, a startup that is using artificial intelligence to improve how we communicate through the written word has raised a round of funding to capitalise on its already profitable growth.

Grammarly which provides a toolkit used today by 20 million people to correct their written grammar, suggest better ways to write things and moderate the tone of what they are saying depending on who will be doing the reading has closed a $90 million round of funding.

Brad Hoover, the companys CEO, confirmed to TechCrunch that the funding catapults the companys valuation to more than $1 billion as it gears up to grow to more users by expanding Grammarlys tools and bringing them to more platforms.

Today, Grammarly can be used across a number of browsers via browser extensions, as a web app, through mobile and on desktop apps, and through specific apps such as Microsoft Office. But in our current era of communication, the number of places where we write to each other is expanding all the time consider, for example, how much we use chat and texting apps for leisure and for work so expect that list to continue growing.

The mountain of digital communication is increasing, and in the workplace we have more distributed teams, he said, pointing tothe importance of people presenting themselves in consistent and compelling ways.

This latest round is being led by General Catalyst, which had also helped lead its previous and only other round, for $110 million in 2017, with participation from previous investor IVP and other, unnamed backers. It brings the total raised by the startup to $200 million.

Grammarly today operates on a freemium model, where paid tiers give users more tools beyond grammar checks and conciseness to include things like readability detection, alternative vocabulary and tone suggestions (not to be confused with tone policing) and plagiarism checks, with tiers that are priced at $11.66, $19.98 and $29.95 per month.

Hoover would not say how many of its users are taking paid tiers or how much the company makes from that, but he did confirm that, like others offering freemium, the majority of users are free ones.

Like other free users, they are subject to cookies and the rest, but the company confirms to me that it doesnt make any money from that, and only from its subscriptions revenues.

We dont sell or rent user data to third parties for any reason, including for them to deliver their ads. Period. Our business model is a freemium model, in which we offer a free version of our product as well as Grammarly Premium and Grammarly Business, which are paid upgrades, a spokesperson said. The only way Grammarly makes money is through its subscriptions.

It notes that the lengthy privacy policy is going to be updated to make it shorter, but acknowledges the length can be off-putting.

It is a fair critique to say that our privacy policy is longer and wordier than it needs to be. In an effort to comply with various disclosure requirements imposed by laws around the world, we have erred on the side of completeness and detail, sacrificing brevity in the process, a spokesperson said. Indeed, the sheer length of our privacy policymay be a barrier to users reading all the way through the document. The explicit statements we make about not selling or renting personal data and not sharing it for the purposes of advertising are contained toward the end.

Its worth noting that Grammarly has been profitable almost from the start, when it was founded as a bootstrapped outfit in 2009 by Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn, who continue to respectively work on product and revenue at the company (Hoover is the startups longtime CEO, having joined back in 2011).

Its singularity of focus and simple message its only available in English and only for written communications, with no plans to expand currently into other languages or other mediums like audio has partly been the reason why Grammarly has found interesting traction in the market, but its also a consequence of the endeavor itself.

The company brings together not just a vast trove of data about proper grammar, but using AI techniques around machine learning and natural language processing it is constantly synthesizing new words and phrases and styles to improve the help that it provides to users, to solve what is essentially an everyday problem for many people: writing well.

Grammarly is solving real challenges that people face every time they pick up a device to answer a text, answer a work email or cold email a potential client, saidHemant Taneja, who led the investment for General Catalyst, in an interview.

While there are large companies attempting to innovate in this space, creating intuitive AI that complements our natural communication abilities isnt their primary focus. Its not even their third, fourth or twentieth focus. For Grammarly, helping people communicate more effectively is their sole goal. And thats why, despite any competition, theyve got more than 20 million daily active users. That 20 million figure is more than three times the number of users Grammarly had in 2017.

Nevertheless, a number of would-be competitors have emerged to provide similar tools or those that directly compete with slightly different propositions. Google, for example, today gives you prompts of what to say when responding to an email, in the form of stock sentences or cues while you are writing.

Hoover says these are less of a worry to Grammarly for a couple of reasons. The first is its approach to be available around whatever you might be writing, and the second is its platform-agnostic state, which means its potentially wherever you are writing, too.

We havent seen any impact from the rise of platform-based aids, Hoover said.

Looking ahead, he added that while Grammarly will be making its way to more platforms, the company will be creating more tools specifically to better court enterprise customers and the use cases that are more specific to them.

While that will not (yet) extend to verbal communication or other languages beyond English, there will be more tools built on the concept of style guides for people in specific departments, such as customer service, to remain consistent in their language and how they speak for the company to the outside world.

One of the reasons enterprises use Grammarly is to increase effectiveness both internally and externally, Hoover said. This isnt a tool to write on behalf of users but to be used as a coach. This is also where the tone tool fits into the spectrum, he added.

We surveyed our users and the results suggested that a majority were concerned about the appropriate tone that they used in written communication, he said. Thats not surprising because unlike spoken or in-person communications, you cant use non-verbal tones to get an idea across, so you can be misinterpreted.

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Grammarly raises $90M at over $1B+ valuation for its AI-based grammar and writing tools - TechCrunch

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