NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN.
Scientists have developed a neural network capable of systematic generalization, a crucial aspect of human cognition where newly learned words are seamlessly integrated and utilized in different contexts. This AI performs comparably to humans, unlike ChatGPT which lagged in tests. This advancement, discussed in a study published on 25 October in Nature, signifies a “breakthrough” in training networks systematically, potentially leading to more natural human-machine interactions. Systematic generalization enables individuals to apply newly acquired words in various scenarios effortlessly, a trait previously elusive to neural networks. The researchers tested human subjects on a pseudo-language, establishing a cognitive benchmark. Subsequently, they trained a neural network similarly, even incorporating human error patterns, resulting in the AI closely mirroring human performance on tested tasks. In contrast, GPT-4 struggled substantially with the same task. This innovative training method could, if scalable, reduce the extensive data required to train systems like ChatGPT, and mitigate ‘hallucination’, where AI perceives non-existent patterns, generating erroneous outputs. This research potentially paves the way for more efficient learning in neural networks, tackling the issue of data dependency and inaccurate outputs simultaneously, thereby contributing to making AI systems more human-like in language processing and utilization. (Nature)
PREPARING FOR THE WORST.
OpenAI has formed a team named Preparedness, headed by Aleksander Madry, to evaluate and mitigate potential “catastrophic risks” associated with AI models. The team will focus on understanding and safeguarding against various dangers posed by future AI systems, like phishing attacks or malicious code generation. Preparedness will delve into a wide range of risk categories, some speculative like AI’s role in “chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear” threats. With this initiative, OpenAI has also launched a contest inviting community ideas for risk studies, offering a $25,000 prize and a job opportunity for notable entries. The Preparedness team is also tasked with crafting a “risk-informed development policy” to guide OpenAI’s AI model evaluation, risk-mitigation actions, and governance structure. This move aligns with OpenAI’s broader mission in AI safety, acknowledging the dual potential of AI to either benefit or jeopardize humanity, especially as AI models evolve towards surpassing human intelligence. This initiative was unveiled amid a UK government summit on AI safety, indicating OpenAI’s proactive stance towards managing emergent “superintelligent” AI risks. (Techcrunch)
MORE EFFECTIVE DENGUE DRUG IN TESTS.
Scientists, led by infectious disease specialist Anna Durbin, conducted a small study to test an experimental antiviral compound by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) against the dengue virus. Recruiting 31 volunteers who were compensated, the study aimed to discover a drug that could prevent dengue infections. The compound, named JNJ-1802, performed effectively at its highest dose, either preventing the dengue virus infection or limiting its replication. This trial, first of its kind for a dengue drug, showed promising results with six out of ten people showing no evidence of infection at the highest dose, marking the first successful human trial for a dengue drug. Despite the success, the drug has a long journey ahead before it hits the market. It now advances to a phase 2 study, with nearly 2000 enrollees from 10 countries, aiming to test its prophylactic properties in endemic areas. The study also opened discussions on the potential of this drug as a treatment, especially when administered early, besides being a preventive measure, especially beneficial for travelers, military personnel, or individuals for whom dengue vaccine isn’t suitable. Future studies will also explore different dosing regimens for more convenient administration. (Science)
The UK is witnessing a significant outbreak of diarrheal illnesses caused by the intestinal parasite, Cryptosporidium (Crypto), with cases peaking to about threefold the usual numbers since mid-September. The exact cause of this surge remains unclear. The outbreak is widespread across all four UK nations, hinting a single local exposure is unlikely. UK health officials are probing possible exposures through a questionnaire covering aspects like food, travel, contact with animals, and water exposure, with early data linking international travel and swimming to the outbreak. Crypto spreads mainly through contaminated water and is highly resistant to chlorine, remaining active in chlorinated water for over a week. Infected individuals, even those recently recovered, can spread the parasite through recreational waters. Health authorities advise individuals with diarrheal infection to avoid swimming for at least 14 days post-recovery to curb the spread. Crypto infections, while usually non-life threatening, can be severe for those with compromised immunity, showcasing symptoms like prolonged diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. The ongoing outbreak has left over half the respondents with symptoms lasting over 10 days. (Ars Technica)
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SO FAR, X IS NO TWITTER.
Since acquiring Twitter on 27 October 2022 and rebranding it as X, Elon Musk has aimed to transition the platform into an “everything app” for various online activities. This rebranding surprised many and led to a decrease in user numbers and a 10% visit drop as of September. Musk’s venture saw advertisers reduce spending due to concerns over his leadership and moderation standards, causing a significant dip in revenue primarily generated from advertising. To counteract this, Musk introduced subscription services like X premium, aiming to model X after China’s WeChat. Despite these efforts, subscription revenues are insufficient to cover the advertising revenue slump. Musk’s moderation policies, which saw a massive staff layoff and reinstatement of previously banned users, have been widely criticized, impacting the platform’s standing among advertisers. The EU has also expressed concerns over illegal content dissemination on X, adding to its challenges. Musk, alongside new CEO Linda Yaccarino, is striving to make X profitable amidst these hurdles, with Yaccarino focusing on mending advertiser relations and handling regulatory pressures. While she expresses optimism for X’s future profitability and user engagement, many users, advertisers, and former employees reminisce about Twitter’s old days. (The Guardian)
COMMUNITY NOTES, a crowdsourced fact-checking initiative on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), was recently praised by Elon Musk and X’s CEO Linda Yaccarino for its role in combating disinformation amidst the Israel-Hamas conflict. The platform revealed significant user engagement with over 85 million impressions last week. However, a WIRED investigation uncovered systemic issues, including vulnerability to manipulation by coordinated groups, lack of transparency in note approval, and internal discord. One contributor highlighted that the program could potentially exacerbate disinformation. Originally named Birdwatch, it was designed to harness crowd wisdom to counter misinformation, but has been criticized for not being deployed more extensively post its pilot phase in early 2021. Despite renaming and endorsing it, Musk’s takeover saw the dismantling of many in-house moderation teams, placing more reliance on COMMUNITY NOTES. WIRED disclosed instances where Community Notes facilitated disinformation spread and observed considerable in-fighting among contributors, showcasing the platform’s fallibility in managing misinformation. (Wired)
DRINKING WATER PROBLEMS IN THE MISSISSIPPI.
The communities in rural Plaquemines Parish, near New Orleans, are facing water issues due to a wedge of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico creeping up the Mississippi River, which is their drinking water source. This intrusion, exacerbated by a Midwest drought reducing the river’s flow and dredging activities, has caused corrosion in water systems and forced establishments to regularly drain their water heaters to remove salt. Local officials have provided bottled water and barges of fresh water to dilute the salty intake, lifting advisories against drinking tap water by October 18. Residents criticize the delayed response, claiming actions were only taken when more populated areas were threatened. The situation prompted emergency preparations similar to those for hurricanes, with plans for pipelines to fetch water from upriver, costing up to $250 million. Though the threat to New Orleans has diminished due to favorable river forecasts and underwater structures built to slow saltwater flow, this recurring issue necessitates long-term solutions. Experts suggest large-scale reverse osmosis systems, like those in Tampa Bay, and emphasize regional collaboration to address the water challenges exacerbated by climate change. (Associated Press)
DROUGHT IN THE AMAZON LIMITS DRINKING WATER.
The severe drought in Amazonas, Brazil, has prompted authorities to rush food and water supplies to thousands of isolated communities in this expansive, roadless territory. Out of 62 municipalities in a region as large as three Californias, 59 are in a state of emergency, affecting 633,000 people. The Negro River in Manaus hit its lowest level in 121 years. In Careiro da Varzea near Manaus, emergency kits were distributed via a repurposed cattle barge, with residents trudging through former riverbeds turned to sand banks and mud to collect essential supplies, including 20 liters of water per family, inadequate for more than a few days. The drought, worsened by two climate phenomena—warming waters in the northern tropical Atlantic and El Niño—is stretching the usual dry season, leading to a loss of crops and making transportation of produce nearly impossible. Despite these efforts, obtaining drinkable water remains a significant challenge, with more aid required from state and federal governments to plan further relief rounds. (Associated Press)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Bing.