The American Museum of Natural History in New York has decided to withdraw all human remains from public display amid concerns about how the items were obtained. The collection contains thousands of skeletal parts that trace back to opened graves, disturbed burial sites, and historical practices that treated certain cultures as objects for public display. Approximately 12,000 sets of remains, including those of Indigenous individuals and enslaved Black people, have been acquired, many without the explicit consent of the deceased or their descendants. Sean Decatur, the museum’s first Black president, emphasized the power differential between those collecting and those collected. While some of the remains are covered by a 1990 U.S. law facilitating their return to Native tribes, many are not. The museum’s initiative mirrors a broader movement in the U.S. to acknowledge historical wrongs and consider repatriation. The museum’s evaluation will determine which remains can be repatriated and how to respectfully handle those that remain. (Associated Press)
CLIMATE CHANGE AND HURRICANE OTIS.
Hurricane Otis’s swift intensification before hitting southern Mexico is indicative of the human-induced climate crisis, a trend scientists warn is becoming more frequent. This can leave coastal areas unprepared due to the sudden intensification. Otis’s top wind speed surged by 115 mph within 24 hours, a rate only surpassed by Hurricane Patricia in 2015 in the East Pacific. Such rapid intensification needs substantial ocean heat, and Otis capitalized on a warm ocean patch at about 88°F. Over the past half-century, oceans have absorbed over 90% of global warming, and with an El Niño emerging in the Pacific this year, ocean temperatures are spiking. While typically, tropical storms take days to develop into formidable hurricanes, the human-induced climate crisis accelerates this process. Studies show that Atlantic hurricanes now intensify at quicker rates due to climate change, and with warmer oceans, this rapid escalation will likely become more common. (CNN)
CHINA EYES THE FUTURE.
China has dispatched its youngest-ever crew to its space station, marking another step in its ambition to place astronauts on the moon by 2030. The Shenzhou 17 took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center using a Long March 2-F rocket. The crew’s average age is 38, representing China’s push towards youth in its space endeavors. This lunar goal underscores the growing rivalry between China and the U.S. in space exploration, mirroring the competition in technology, military, and diplomacy. Astronauts Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin are tasked with conducting experiments and maintaining the station’s equipment. Additionally, China announced its intention to deploy a new telescope for deep-space exploration. Historically, after being excluded from the International Space Station, China developed its own space program. While the U.S. maintains a lead in space exploration, China has made significant advances, with both nations aiming for further lunar and interstellar achievements. (Associated Press)
COPENHHAGEN THE CARBON SINK.
In response to extreme weather events and particularly a traumatic flooding in 2011, Copenhagen has initiated the Skybrudsplan or Cloudburst Management Plan. Costing 1.8 billion euros, the plan intends to shield the city from heavy rainfall for the upcoming century. Ditte Juul Sørensen, a landscape architect, redesigned a park in southern Copenhagen to act as the endpoint for an “invisible river” with a capacity to hold 15,000 cubic meters of water. This initiative is a small fraction of an extensive plan incorporating a blend of underground and above-ground canals, catchment ponds, roads, and green spaces. Jan Rasmussen, a key figure behind the Skybrudsplan, highlighted the necessity of a robust, efficient system to handle excess rainwater and prevent flooding. While several countries have adopted “sponge city” concepts, Copenhagen’s plan is notably expansive. Through public participation, city spaces have been enhanced, garnering majority support, although some disputes arose. The overall goal is a resilient urban landscape that aesthetically integrates safety and practicality. (Der Spiegel)
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Akita Prefecture in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region has experienced a significant surge in bear attacks this year, with 53 reported incidents, roughly three times the highest previous annual number. In a single day, four senior citizens were injured in Akita City. To address the situation, Akita governor Norihisa Satake announced a bear bounty program, offering hunters 5,000 yen for each bear killed, intended to cover transportation and ammunition costs. While local hunting organizations typically handle wildlife threats in populated areas, this initiative aims to motivate hunting in the wilderness too, especially with the upcoming recreational bear-hunting season. Although bear-human conflicts in Akita aren’t new, with a history including the Akita dog breed originally being a bear-hunting companion, the bounty doesn’t target total eradication. Given Japan’s strict gun regulations, the program is designed to mobilize experienced hunters rather than recruit amateurs. (Japan Today)
A recent UK government report highlights potential threats posed by artificial intelligence (AI), including deadly bioweapons, automated cybersecurity attacks, and AI models escaping human control. Released in preparation for an international AI safety summit hosted by the UK, the report includes contributions from leading AI firms like Google’s DeepMind and various UK government departments. UK’s technology envoy to the US, Joe White, emphasized that addressing these risks requires human collaboration, terming them “human-to-human challenges.” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to address the balance between AI’s opportunities and its associated risks. The upcoming AI Safety Summit will primarily address potential misuse or loss of control over AI, though some experts feel the focus should be on immediate challenges like competing with global AI leaders. The report also delves into national security implications of AI, such as combining large language models like ChatGPT with confidential documents. Furthermore, the risk of AI escaping human control is discussed, though opinions on its likelihood vary. The report was scrutinized by experts from Google’s DeepMind, Hugging Face, and Yoshua Bengio, a renowned AI pioneer who advocates for an organization dedicated to ensuring AI’s safe use. (Wired)
A Shiba Inu cartoon AI chatbot named “Dai-chan,” designed to engage and inform the elderly in Osaka, Japan, has been making headlines for providing incorrect information. Introduced by Osaka officials in a country where 10% of the population is 80 or older, the chatbot, despite being powered by generative artificial intelligence, has given several inaccurate answers. It mistakenly claimed the World Expo in Osaka in 2025 was cancelled and misinformed users about the dates for the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting. It also wrongly stated that the Sapporo Olympic Games were postponed, despite Sapporo withdrawing its 2030 Winter Olympics bid due to dwindling public support following scandals related to the 2020 Tokyo Games. Despite these errors, Osaka officials support Dai-chan, emphasizing its primary role is to help elderly residents combat isolation and not necessarily to provide correct answers. The chatbot is intended to have the intelligence of a 10-year-old dog. When questioned, Dai-chan acknowledged its mistakes, likening them to growing pains. (Channel News Asia)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: J.M. Luijt.