CIA DENIES COVID ORIGINS CLAIMS.
Public-health officials in the Northern Hemisphere are expediting COVID-19 booster vaccinations in response to new SARS-CoV-2 variants. While England has advanced its booster program and the US CDC advises boosters for everyone over six months, many countries recommend them only for high-risk demographics. The emergence of strains like BA.2.86 has influenced booster policies, with recent data suggesting effectiveness against such variants.
Separately, the CIA refuted a whistleblower’s claims concerning their research on COVID-19’s origins. CIA’s Tammy Kupperman Thorp emphasized the agency’s commitment to transparency and objectivity. Congress members Wenstrup and Turner have requested information about the CIA’s COVID research. The intelligence community’s limited disclosure on the virus’s origins has drawn criticism. Key researchers, having collaborated with intelligence agencies, dispute the whistleblower’s allegations, underscoring the agencies’ neutral stance on the issue. (Science)
COUGH MEDS DON’T WORK.
An FDA advisory panel unanimously concluded that phenylephrine, a common decongestant ingredient in many over-the-counter cold medicines, is ineffective. This paves the way for the FDA to possibly ban the ingredient, affecting hundreds of products including Tylenol, Mucinex, and Benadryl cold and flu remedies. While the FDA usually follows the advisory panels’ recommendations, it could take months for a final decision. Despite being deemed ineffective for nasal congestion when ingested orally, the ingredient isn’t harmful. It’s found in products worth approximately $1.8 billion in sales last year. Other products use an alternative decongestant, pseudoephedrine, which has restricted sales due to its illicit use in meth labs and has potential side effects. The FDA’s decision could disrupt the market significantly. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association opposes the panel’s recommendation, suggesting potential negative impacts on consumers and the health care system. The FDA will review these findings before making a final decision. (New York Times)
NEW COVID-19 VACCINE. YES OR NO?
Public-health officials across the Northern Hemisphere are rapidly launching autumn COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in response to new SARS-CoV-2 variants. England began administering an updated booster earlier than planned, while the US CDC recommended new boosters for everyone over six months. Many countries, however, are suggesting these boosters only for high-risk individuals, primarily those aged 60 and above. While healthy, younger, vaccinated individuals retain some protection against severe illness, an extra booster reduces infection risk. US boosters have been given multiple times since 2021 for different risk groups. Countries’ stances on universal booster distribution vary. While some believe low-risk individuals gain little protection against severe disease from the booster, others argue it can reduce transmission by shortening COVID-19 bouts. New SARS-CoV-2 variants, like BA.2.86, have influenced booster policies. Recent data indicates boosters targeting the XBB.1.5 variant are effective against BA.2.86 and other contemporaneous variants. (Nature)
IPHONE RADIATION CONCERNS.
The National Frequency Agency (ANFR) in France has directed Apple to withdraw the iPhone 12 from the French market, citing that the phone emits electromagnetic radiation levels surpassing acceptable standards. In a recent examination of 141 cellphones, ANFR found the iPhone 12’s electromagnetic energy absorption to be 5.74 watts per kilogram, exceeding the European Union’s 4 watts per kilogram standard. However, the iPhone 12 met the acceptable radiation level when placed in a jacket or bag. Apple disputed ANFR’s claims, asserting that the iPhone 12, launched in late 2020, adheres to global radiation regulations and has received certifications from several international entities. Apple further provided ANFR with laboratory results, from both its own and third-party labs, demonstrating the phone’s compliance with set standards. (Associated Press)
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AI IN IPHONES.
Apple is integrating artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance basic functions in its new devices, a strategy contrasting with other tech giants like Microsoft and Google who have ambitious AI transformation goals. While not overtly emphasizing “artificial intelligence” in its marketing, Apple introduced iPhones and a new Series 9 Watch with improved semiconductor designs for AI features. The watch’s chip, featuring a four-core “Neural Engine”, can process machine learning tasks twice as fast, making Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, 25% more accurate. A unique AI-driven feature allows users to “double tap” by pinching their fingers, offering a new interaction method when the other hand is occupied. Apple’s phones now possess enhanced image capture capabilities, automatically enabling “portrait mode” for blurring backgrounds when a person is detected in the frame. Though Apple’s AI incorporation is noteworthy, other brands like Google’s Pixel phones also utilize AI for image editing functions. (Reuters)
SPEED BUMP FOR CHINA’S AI INDUSTRY?
In China, startups like Zhang Haiwei’s Chingmu find developing their own large language models (LLMs) challenging due to high costs and competition from big tech firms like Baidu. Instead, they’re leveraging models from entities like OpenAI for specific applications, such as motion-capture in Zhang’s case. The AI landscape in China is described as “involution”, meaning intense competition with diminishing returns. Though the ChatGPT bot from OpenAI revived global AI interest, data access challenges make AI advancements harder in China compared to the US. Additionally, startups like vrch.io are finding niche AI applications, but regulatory uncertainties in China push them to target foreign markets first. The economic slowdown in China is also affecting the tech industry, with AI being viewed as a solution for specific challenges, rather than revolutionary applications. (Wired)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: CIA.