HOT HOT HEAT (AGAIN).
September 2023 recorded the highest global temperatures ever, surpassing previous records for July and August. This unprecedented surge in temperature shocked scientists. September was 1.8C warmer than pre-industrial levels, with a leap of 0.5C from the previous record for the month – the most significant temperature jump ever. European and Japanese data confirmed these findings. High carbon dioxide emissions, combined with the climate phenomenon El Niño, caused the extreme heat. After three years of La Niña, which cools global temperatures, conditions have shifted to El Niño, raising temperatures. Predictions suggest 2023 could be the hottest year, with 2024 potentially surpassing it. Prominent climate scientists have expressed their astonishment at the rapid temperature rise. Countries like France, Germany, Poland, and the UK also reported record temperatures. In Australia, a particularly severe summer is anticipated. Besides human-driven global heating and El Niño, other factors such as solar cycles, reductions in sulphur emissions, and a volcanic eruption contribute to the rising temperatures. Leading climate scientists argue that the current heating trend matches predictions made over the past three decades. To counteract these effects, experts emphasize the need to eliminate fossil fuel usage immediately. (The Guardian)
BIG STEP FORWARD FOR BRAIN-COMPUTER-INTERFACE COMPANY.
Neurotech startup, Precision Neuroscience, has acquired a manufacturing facility in Dallas to produce its unique brain implant component, the Layer 7 Cortical Interface. The move aims to expedite development and target regulatory approval in 2024. The company’s implant could potentially aid paralyzed individuals in operating digital devices using brain signals. The manufacturing plant is specially designed for its advanced electrode array, which is ultra-thin and non-damaging, giving a high-resolution view of neural activity. Precision competes in the burgeoning brain-computer interface sector alongside firms like Neuralink, which was co-founded by Precision’s chief science officer, Dr. Benjamin Rapoport. Unlike Neuralink’s invasive approach, Precision focuses on non-invasive techniques. Owning its manufacturing facility ensures better product quality control and faster production – from previously a year for six arrays to 100 arrays weekly. Precision, which recently received the FDA’s Breakthrough Device designation, is progressing towards commercializing its technology amidst exciting developments. (CNBC)
CHINA THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET.
China plans to double the size of its space station, Tiangong (meaning Celestial Palace), expanding it from three to six modules. Revealed at the 74th International Astronautical Congress, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) mentioned that the station’s operational life would exceed 15 years, 5 years more than initially announced. Fully functional since 2022, Tiangong can currently house three astronauts and orbits at a maximum altitude of 450 km. Even after its expansion, its mass will be just 40% of the International Space Station (ISS), which has been in orbit for over two decades and is set to be decommissioned post-2030. As the ISS nears its end, several countries have expressed interest in collaborating with China’s space station. However, the European Space Agency declined involvement, attributing it to budgetary and political reasons. The Global Times criticized this decision. Meanwhile, Russia has proposed a space collaboration with BRICS nations and plans to build a space station accommodating four cosmonauts. (Reuters)
AMAZON’S BILLION DOLLAR ALGO.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sued Amazon, accusing it of maintaining an illegal monopoly. Central to the FTC’s case is the allegation, recently detailed by The Wall Street Journal, that Amazon used a secret algorithm dubbed “Project Nessie.” This algorithm reportedly manipulated competitors’ weaker pricing algorithms, leading them to raise their prices. Amazon allegedly benefited by over $1 billion in revenue from this tool, teaching competitors that decreasing prices wouldn’t necessarily increase market share. The tool was in use until 2019, but reasons for its discontinuation remain unclear. Amazon’s response to these allegations suggests that the FTC misunderstands retail markets and that “Project Nessie” aimed at preventing unsustainably low prices. Experts, including Luc Rocher of the Oxford Internet Institute, note the potential dangers of “adversarial collusion” where dominant firms manipulate weaker algorithms. The ongoing debate highlights the need for clearer regulation, transparency, and accountability concerning algorithmic pricing in online retail. (Ars Technica)
HACKERS STILL IN BUSINESS.
The FBI’s recent effort to dismantle the Qakbot malware operation, responsible for infecting over 700,000 machines worldwide and causing immense financial damage, might not have been entirely successful. Despite the FBI’s announcement in August of their “Operation Duck Hunt” which involved the seizure of 52 servers to destroy the malware’s infrastructure, researchers from Cisco Talos have found the hackers to be still active. Since early August, the Qakbot-affiliated attackers have been distributing Ransom Knight ransomware, Remcos remote access trojan, RedLine information stealer malware, and Darkgate backdoor. The filenames and urgent financial themes of these campaigns align with past Qakbot activities. While mainly targeting Italian-speaking users, their campaigns also reach out to English and German-speaking individuals. The recent findings suggest that the FBI’s operation might have only affected the malware’s command and control servers and not its spam delivery infrastructure. With Qakbot developers still at large, the malware is expected to remain a significant threat. The FBI declined to comment. (Techcrunch)
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AI FASHION DESIGNER.
Mango, a Spanish fashion company, has embraced artificial intelligence (AI) tools, including a platform named Lisa, which integrates technologies like ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Microsoft’s OpenAI. Developed over nine months, Lisa centralizes functionalities from Mango’s previous 15 AI platforms, covering pricing, customer service, and design, into a unified system. Jordi Álex, Mango’s Director of Information Systems and Technology, highlights how Lisa assists in trend analysis, design ideation, and analyzing customer feedback. Additionally, Lisa will optimize post-sale customer interactions with conversational AI. Unique to Lisa is its internal-centric nature; it provides a centralized platform for different departments, from design to logistics. Despite its extensive capabilities, Mango developed Lisa with minimal investment, thanks to the firm’s technological maturity. Two teams collaborated on Lisa’s development: one focused on technology aspects and the other on AI. Álex emphasized that Mango’s AI advancements aim to augment their workforce’s abilities, not replace them. (El Pais)
GOING BACK TO THE START WITH WIND POWER.
To combat climate change, the shipping industry is revisiting wind-assisted propulsion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This entails mounting wing-like structures on a ship’s deck, similar to Boeing 747 wings, which use computerized sensors to adjust to wind speed and direction, significantly reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Gavin Allwright, secretary-general of the International Windship Association, notes the return to zero-carbon wind energy for shipping. Given that maritime transport, responsible for around 3% of global carbon emissions annually, carries about 90% of the world’s goods, greener solutions are imperative. While the 2015 Paris Agreement excluded commercial shipping, the European Union will make shippers pay for carbon emissions starting next year. Furthermore, the UN’s International Maritime Organization aims to halve shipping’s annual carbon emissions by 2050. Companies like Maersk and NYK are testing wind-assisted technologies. The success of these tests could mark a significant shift towards eco-friendly maritime transport. (NPR)
PARIS PANICS OVER BEDBUG INFESTATION.
Bedbugs have become a significant concern in France, prompting governmental intervention. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne convened a ministerial meeting to address the growing bedbug issue, with concerns heightened due to the upcoming Olympic Games, a potential hotspot for these pests. Transport Minister Clement Beaune met with transportation firms to strategize on monitoring and disinfection. Although several cases reported in transportation systems proved to be false, the anxiety persists, fuelled partly by social media. Bedbugs, which can survive a year without feeding, have troubled various countries for years and are becoming insecticide-resistant. Over the period from 2017 to 2022, about 10% of French households reported bedbug infestations. It’s crucial to note that cleanliness isn’t a factor; bedbugs are drawn to human blood. Eradication companies are experiencing a business surge, often employing dogs for detection and steam treatments for extermination. The Paris Olympics presents an additional challenge, given the large influx of people. (Associated Press)
A GENETIC LIBRARY FOR WILDLIFE CONSERVATION’.
Climate change poses severe threats to wildlife, leading to habitat loss and reduced food supplies, pushing U.S. endangered species towards extinction. To preserve the critical genetic information of these species, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has teamed up with nonprofit Revive & Restore and other partners. They aim to build a “genetic library” through biobanking, a process where biological samples like blood, tissues, and reproductive cells from animals are cryogenically preserved at extremely low temperatures and stored in a USDA facility in Colorado. This genetic information will be sequenced and made accessible on the GenBank database. This initiative will support conservation efforts, such as increasing genetic diversity in captive breeding programs or potentially cloning. Already, five endangered species, including the Mexican wolf and Florida bonneted bat, have had samples preserved. The long-term goal is to biobank every endangered mammal in the U.S., preserving the nation’s biodiversity legacy. (Ars Technica)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Ketut Subiyanto.