AMERICANS A LITTLE LESS SPLIT OVER CLIMATE CHANGE.
Recent extreme weather events have intensified Americans’ belief in climate change, with new polling indicating that about 87% claim to have experienced an extreme weather event in the past five years. This summer’s record heat has been a significant factor, with 74% saying they’ve been affected by extreme heat waves, up from 55% in April. The polling reveals a divide along party lines, with 93% of Democrats who have experienced extreme weather attributing it to climate change, compared to 48% of Republicans. Globally, extreme weather has impacted tens of millions, with scientists attributing the increased frequency and intensity of such events to climate change. Despite the tangible experiences with extreme weather, convincing the skeptics remains a challenge, possibly requiring trusted individuals and institutions to convey the realities and impacts of climate change. (Associated Press)
A NASA space capsule, part of the OSIRIS-REx mission, successfully returned to Earth, landing in the Utah desert, bringing the largest asteroid soil sample ever, collected from Bennu, a near-Earth object. This marks the culmination of a six-year joint mission by NASA and the University of Arizona and is the third and largest asteroid sample returned to Earth. Bennu, a carbon-rich asteroid, is a primordial relic of the early solar system, offering insights into the origins and development of rocky planets like Earth and possibly containing organic molecules akin to those essential for microbial life. The sample, estimated at 250 grams, will be studied by around 200 scientists worldwide. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is expected to continue its exploration, targeting another near-Earth asteroid, Apophis. (Reuters)
RENEWABLES NOT FOR EVERYONE IN AFRICA.
Sub-Saharan Africa leads in renewable electricity generation, with several countries like Ethiopia and the Central African Republic using renewables for over 99% of their electricity. However, the region faces severe energy poverty, with renewables accounting for only 9% of the total energy, impacting home illumination, industrial power, and transport. About 50% of Africans lack access to electricity, a consequence of poverty and infrastructural deficiencies. Government imposed price caps on electricity, intended to relieve citizens, are affecting the financial viability of state-owned electricity companies, hindering foreign investments. The IEA suggests that Africa needs to double its generation capacity to 510 gigawatts to meet UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 7, with 80% potentially coming from renewables. However, this requires a sixfold increase in investments and reliable financial commitments from wealthy nations, which have consistently failed to meet their promised funding targets for climate solutions in Africa. (El Pais)
AI CONCERNS IN UK GOVERNMENT.
Concerns about the misuse of artificial intelligence (AI) by criminals or terrorists are the focus of a summit at Bletchley Park in November, led by UK officials including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The summit will discuss the potential of AI in creating bioweapons and launching cyber-attacks, and the risks posed by AI escaping human control. There is a growing concern about advanced AI models, termed ‘frontier AI’, that could be dangerous enough to risk human life. The UK government is investing £100m in an AI taskforce to test algorithms, and there are plans to discuss the risks of AI with world leaders, including Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron. However, some experts criticize the emphasis on existential risks as overstating the threat and potentially ignoring immediate concerns like disinformation and discriminatory outcomes in public policy decisions made by AI. (The Guardian)
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CHATGPT FINDS ITS VOICE.
OpenAI has upgraded ChatGPT, enabling voice interactions and image descriptions, likened to Google’s Lens feature, enhancing its consumer app appeal. The in-house developed voice technology and image recognition features convert input to text, allowing the chatbot to generate responses, with potential licensing opportunities seen, as demonstrated by Spotify’s interest. The visual search has limitations, with inaccuracies in early tests, but the voice feature is considered conversational, compared to next-gen Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. These features are available in the $20-per-month subscription. The upgrades raise concerns about data handling and user privacy, with OpenAI offering opt-out features for users not wanting their data used for training models. However, user experiences indicate disabling history affects voice capabilities. Quick tests hint that these enhancements could make interactions feel more natural but may pose usage challenges if human communication is not accurately mimicked. (Wired)
AI PROMISE VS AI REALITY.
Google DeepMind’s AlphaFold, renowned for predicting protein structures, spurred hopes for faster, cheaper drug discovery using AI. Utah-based biotech firm Recursion leveraged AlphaFold to calculate binding possibilities of 36 billion potential drug compounds to over 15,000 human proteins, using its tool, MatchMaker. However, some experts are skeptical about the premature application of such models for drug discovery due to a lack of validated data and questions regarding the models’ accuracy in predicting ligand binding. Challenges arise from deviations in modeling and actual protein structures, necessitating further innovations, like Charm Therapeutics’ DragonFold, which considers protein shape alterations during ligand binding. The industry’s focus is on creating systems that can precisely identify strong-binding compounds to lesser-known proteins, demanding rigorous validation and transparency in sharing methods and results, to fully harness the potential of AI models like AlphaFold in drug discovery. (Nature)
BRAINLESS? COULDA FOOLED ME.
Research published in Current Biology reveals that the brainless box jellyfish species, Tripedalia cystophora, possess the ability to learn, indicating a more sophisticated neural network than previously thought. Scientists, led by Anders Garm at the University of Copenhagen, observed the jellyfish’s adaptive behavior when exposed to varying visual contrasts simulating mangrove roots and water in the lab, illustrating their ability to adjust their behavior to avoid collisions. Observations indicated the jellyfish altered their behavior within eight minutes, showcasing a form of short-term memory. This discovery is crucial in understanding the evolutionary aspects of learning, providing insights into the cognitive abilities of early diverging animals. The study prompts further exploration into the universality of learning capacity among nerve cells and the specific cells contributing to the learning ability in box jellyfish, potentially explaining the persistence of nervous systems in the evolutionary tree. (New York Times)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Markus Spiske.
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