Brief #12 - okładka

The computer faster than the laws of physics

The creators of the Cerebras CS-1 claim that their 1.2 trillion transistors computer chip can run simulations faster than the laws of physics. During a 3D analysis of over a million variables – from the temperature changes to the air circulation – which it did during the modeling of combustion in a coal-burning power plant, it showed “what is going to happen in the future faster than the laws of physics produce that same result.” Cerebras CS-1 was developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The United States Army Research Office is developing a computer-based system that would allow soldiers to communicate telepathically. The researchers already managed to separate brain signals responsible for motion. They aim at creating a machine-human interface for combat use, but it will take decades more to achieve.

The scientists from the University of Tokyo, Japan are working on artificial intelligence that will be able to act spontaneously, mirroring the behavior of animals. They used a computer neural network to make robots behave within the new pattern of instinctive changes – for example, by altering the way of moving from running to walking. It may lead to the creation of the synthetic brains in artificial bodies.

Period poverty

Scotland is the first country in the world to provide free access to menstrual hygiene products to anyone who needs them. Such products are already available in all the schools and universities, and now they will enter public bathrooms in libraries, museums, and government buildings. The decision made by the Scottish parliament may pressure other governments to change their policies regarding period poverty. For example, in many of the U.S. states, there still exists a so-called “pink tax”, which means that the taxation on menstrual products is similar to that of luxury goods.

According to a 2017 survey by a humanitarian and development NGO Plan Survey, one in every ten British girls lacks money for pads or tampons. The study relied on interviews with about 1000 females aged 14 to 21. Meanwhile, only 12 % of Indian women and girls have access to sanitary products.

In fear of the president’s Trump’s immigration policies, the undocumented migrants in the U.S. resign from prenatal care and give birth at home. Those women have no health insurance and many of them lack money to pay hospital bills in cash. They are afraid that applying for public benefits may affect their Green Card chances or even result in deportation.

Natives fighting for nature

The Swinomish tribe from Washington, U.S., came up with a strategy to cope with the effect of climate change and now 50 other native tribes follow their lead. In one of the examples, the Swinomish work together with Sauk-Suiattle people, on restoring salmon habitat near the city of Mount Vernon. Local indigenous communities presceive clams, oysters, elks, deers, traditional plants and salmons not only as food, but as a central part of their spiritual and cultural life and practices as well.. The Swinomish’s strategy relies on various tools, among which are Indigenous Health Indicators thatconsiders ecosystem health, social and cultural beliefs, and values integral to a community.”

Conservation advocates, together with Native Alaskans, oppose the planned Arctic oil and gas drilling. The coalition they created approached banks and insurance companies with a request not to support the oil and gas projects fostered by the president’s Trump administration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not grant permission for the proposed opencast Pebble Mine project planned in the Bristol Bay region, Alaska, U.S. The area is a breeding ground for salmon, and the opposition to the proposal of building the mine came from the Alaskan Native Americans, environmentalists, and the representatives of the fishing industry.

Plants with personalities and ecocide

Plants may have quite complex personalities, according to Rick Carban, an entomologist from the University of California who plans to publish a paper on his theory of plant personalities. He claims that some are braver while the others are timider – and that characteristics impact their relations with other plants. Plants can send chemical signals to, for example, communicate distress when they are in danger. Carban says that if a plant sending such a signal is “known” by the neighboring plants as a coward, they may not react – but they will undoubtedly do if such a signal comes from a plant considered brave.

Climate change is making leaves fall earlier in autumn and shortens the growing season, claims a new report prepared by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Scientists looked into data on six tree species in almost 4000 locations in Europe between 1948 and 2015. They found that leaves become more productive early on – in summer and spring – but also die earlier. If this proves to be true also for Asia and North America, it will be gruesome news. It will mean leaves store much less carbon dioxide than previously thought: even one gigatonne less – or about 10% of annual human-caused emissions.

France is on its way to make “ecocide” punishable by even 10 years in prison in an attempt to “put an end to environmental banditry,” as phrased by the country’s Minister of Justice. The new law will name a range of different offenses. For example, it will allow punishing felons even before the act happens or fine those who benefit from destroying the environment up to 10 times the profit they would obtain.

AI predicting suicides and DNA-based cancer therapies

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is using AI-based technology to predict the risk of suicide among the veterans. It uses mental health history data, as doctors usually do, but it also takes into consideration other data like age, physical condition, job, and marital status, hospital visits, or past prescriptions. It uses thousands of cases of past suicides from the database and relies on 61 factors all together to mark persons at risk of taking their own lives. Once it does it, a suicide safety plan is prepared, and the veteran at risk is offered help.

Scientists from universities in Israel and the U.S. were able to get rid of cancerous cells in mice, without affecting the healthy ones around them. The research team relied on an editing tool that allows to cut out a part of DNA. They targeted two of the most lethal cancers: glioblastoma and ovarian cancer. In both cases, they were able to raise the survival rate of the mice patients significantly. The technology needs to be developed further and should be ready to use on humans within the next two years.

A new blood test could allow the continuous tracking of breast cancer in patients, including how it spreads, changes, and responds to treatment. The new test, developed by scientists from the U.K., tracks cancer’s molecular clock taking its DNA signature from the blood. It will help doctors to prepare individual and more effective treatment. Once introduced, the test should be inexpensive.

Aid agencies are “systematically failing” older people and the stories from the war zones

Aid agencies are “systematically failing” older people, according to a report published jointly by two international NGOs: HelpAge International and Age International. The humanitarian response around the world lacks a specific approach to senior citizens. They have problems with access to health services, more than half lacks food, and 77% have no income. The vast majority was never asked their opinion about the aid they received and had no idea how to make a complaint. Almost 40% couldn’t reach the aid distribution point on their own. The report, based on 9000 interviews in 11 countries in crisis, characterizes the situation of the older people as an “immense suffering”.

Photographers working in the conflict zones released pictures focusing on children living in the regions torn by war. Stories from six countries were released together with an annual report from Save the Children NGO. Over 400 million children live in conflict zones, and more than 100 000 have been killed or maimed due to conflict in the last decade.

Save the Children also warns about the situation in Iraq. In August of 2019, the government in Baghdad started to close displacement camps in the country. People supposed to return to their homes found many of them in ruin. Now, children are playing among the rubble and encounter unexploded bombs and dead bodies. Families fear for their safety; they lack drinking water and the essential services.