man with binary code projected on his face

The Daily Dose: Hackers steal sensitive COVID-19 vaccine information from the European Medicines Agency.

Industrial espionage has finally hit the COVID-19 vaccine race. Per Wired, “Information relating to one of the most promising coronavirus vaccines has been “unlawfully accessed” following a hack on the European regulatory body that’s in the final stages of approving it, the firms jointly developing the vaccine said on Wednesday. The European Medicines Agency based in Amsterdam first disclosed the breach. The statement said only that the EMA had been subject to a cyberattack and that it had begun a joint investigation along with law enforcement.” At around the same time, Pfizer and BioNTech released a statement acknowledging that the EMA had been hacked and sensitive material compromised. I suppose when the copycat version of the vaccine emerges, we’ll know who was involved, though I’m sure cybersecurity experts already know.

While we’re on the subject of vaccines, the development of a local Australian version has pretty much ceased after a flaw was discovered. Because the vaccine utilized a tiny portin of the human immunodeficiency virus, people people who received a dose elicited HIV antibodies. Per Science, “Although the added component didn’t represent an actual infection with HIV, the vaccine developers and the Australian government concluded a widespread rollout of the candidate would interfere with HIV diagnostic tests and decided not to proceed to larger clinical trials that would have measured its protection against COVID-19. Given the strong efficacy shown by several recent COVID-19 vaccines, it’s likely that other candidates still in development will now have a higher bar to clear to move forward.” It’s a gentle reminder that drug development comes with risks, scientific and financial.

For the most part, children have proven surprisingly resilient to the more serious aspects of COVID-19. It’s puzzled scientists and public health officials since the early days when SARS-CoV-2 first emerged. A recent paper in Nature explores possible explanations. “Farber says the types of antibody children develop offer clues about what is going on. In a study7 of 32 adults and 47 children aged 18 or younger, she and colleagues found that children mostly produced antibodies aimed at the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which the virus uses to enter cells. Adults generated similar antibodies, but also developed antibodies against the nucleocapsid protein, which is essential for viral replication. Farber says the nucleocapsid protein is typically released in significant quantities only when a virus is widespread in the body.”

For the time being, robots are pretty stupid. They can’t do anything without some form of direction that originates with humans. That will change over time. A big hurdle tripping up modern day robots is its inability to learn on its own. That is beginning to change as artificial intelligence improves and is merged with robotics. Now there are several proposals for how to achieve this. One example is called multi-expert learning architecture. A paper in Science Robotics describes teaching a four-legged robot (you’ve seen them online and in the news) new tricks. “During training, MELA is first initialized by a distinct set of pretrained experts, each in a separate deep neural network (DNN). Then, by learning the combination of these DNNs using a gating neural network (GNN), MELA can acquire more specialized experts and transitional skills across various locomotion modes. During runtime, MELA constantly blends multiple DNNs and dynamically synthesizes a new DNN to produce adaptive behaviors in response to changing situations. This approach leverages the advantages of trained expert skills and the fast online synthesis of adaptive policies to generate responsive motor skills during the changing tasks.” When do humans get reprogrammed?

It’s been said before and we’ll say it again, 2020 has been a terrible year. Police killings. Protests. Celebrity deaths. A global pandemic causing untold numbers of fatalities. Anti-science fascists. A disputed presidential election. The Associated Press put together a stunning photography year-in-review feature. The first line of the accompanying introduction says it all: “Behold, a world in distress…” What a year.

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