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Software that monitors students during tests perpetuates inequality and violates their privacy

The coronavirus pandemic has been a boon for the test proctoring industry. About half a dozen companies in the US claim their software can accurately detect and prevent cheating in online tests. Examity, HonorLock, Proctorio, ProctorU, Respondus and others have rapidly grown since colleges and universities switched to remote classes. While there’s no official tally, it’s reasonable to say...

How falling solar costs have renewed clean hydrogen hopes

The world is increasingly banking on green hydrogen fuel to fill some of the critical missing pieces in the clean-energy puzzle. US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s climate plan calls for a research program to produce a clean form of the gas that’s cheap enough to fuel power plants within a decade. Likewise, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union have all...


THURSDAY 6. AUGUST 2020


The pandemic has changed how criminals hide their cash—and AI tools are trying to sniff it out

When economies across the world shut down earlier this year, it wasn’t only business owners and consumers who had to adapt. Criminals suddenly had a problem on their hands. How to move their money? Profits from organized crime are typically passed through legitimate businesses, often exchanging hands several times and crossing borders, until there is no clear trail back to its source—a...


WEDNESDAY 5. AUGUST 2020


How to cast a wider net for tracking space junk

Space junk isn’t going away anytime soon—and neither are the problems it causes. We’re poised to see more satellite launches with every passing year, which means more pieces of rocketry and spacecraft getting loose and zipping around at over 22,000 mph. At those speeds, even an object just a few centimeters long could instantly destroy a satellite, and send even more debris...

SpaceX flew a prototype of its Starship vehicle for the first time

SpaceX successfully flew a prototype of its next-generation Starship vehicle for the first time ever on Tuesday, a major step forward in the company’s quest to eventually send people to Mars. What happened: Around 8:00pm Eastern Time, from its testing site at Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX flew the prototype about 500 feet into the air (the company has not yet stated what the exact altitude of the...

The UK is dropping an immigration algorithm that critics say is racist

The news: The UK Home Office has said it will stop using an algorithm to process visa applications that critics claim is racially biased. Opponents to it argue that the algorithm’s use of nationality to decide which applications get fast-tracked has led to a system in which “people from rich white countries get “Speedy Boarding”; poorer people of color get pushed to the back of the...

The hack that could make face recognition think someone else is you

Researchers have demonstrated that they can fool a modern face recognition system into seeing someone who isn’t there. A team from the cybersecurity firm McAfee set up the attack against a facial recognition system similar to those currently used at airports for passport verification. By using machine learning, they created an image that looked like one person to the human eye, but was...

Novavax has announced encouraging early results for its experimental coronavirus vaccine

The news: Maryland biotechnology company Novavax has announced encouraging results from a preliminary study of its experimental coronavirus vaccine. The trial enrolled 131 healthy volunteers in Australia, gave them either a placebo or one of four escalating doses of its vaccine, and found that everyone who received the vaccine produced a high level of antibodies against covid-19. Novavax signed a...

AI is learning when it should and shouldn’t defer to a human

The context: Studies show that when people and AI systems work together, they can outperform either one acting alone. Medical diagnostic systems are often checked over by human doctors, and content moderation systems filter what they can before requiring human assistance. But algorithms are rarely designed to optimize for this AI-to-human handover. If they were, the AI system would only defer to...


MONDAY 3. AUGUST 2020


Climate change-fueled heatwaves could kill millions

Blistering heatwaves are breaking temperature records around the globe this year, from Iraq to the American Southwest. And it’s only going to get worse, as climate change accelerates. By the end of this century, extreme heat spells could kill roughly as many people as all infectious diseases combined, including HIV, malaria and yellow fever, according to a new study. The findings:...

Eli Lilly is testing a way to prevent covid-19 that’s not a vaccine

Nurses and patients in some US assisted living facilities will receive an antibody drug to prevent covid-19 infection, according to drug company Eli Lilly. The drug: Early in the coronavirus pandemic, companies searched the blood of covid-19 survivors for potent antibodies against the novel virus. Eli Lilly’s drug is one of these Y shaped proteins—it’s a natural antibody manufactured at...

The quest for quantum-proof encryption just made a leap forward

Many of the things you do online every day are protected by encryption so that no one else can spy on it. Your online banking and messages to your friends are likely encrypted, for example—as are government secrets. But that protection is under threat from the development of quantum computers, which threaten to render modern encryption methods useless.  Quantum machines work in a...


FRIDAY 31. JULY 2020


The field of natural language processing is chasing the wrong goal

At a typical annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL), the program is a parade of titles like “A Structured Variational Autoencoder for Contextual Morphological Inflection.” The same technical flavor permeates the papers, the research talks, and many hallway chats. At this year’s conference in July, though, something felt different—and it wasn’t just the...

The problems AI has today go back centuries

In March of 2015, protests broke out at the University of Cape Town in South Africa over the campus statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes, a mining magnate who had gifted the land on which the university was built, had committed genocide against Africans and laid the foundations for apartheid. Under the rallying banner of “Rhodes Must Fall,” students demanded that the statue be...

How an EU tax could slash climate emissions far beyond Europe

Last week, European Union leaders approved the most aggressive climate-change plan in history. The eye-catching part was the $600 billion dedicated to green measures, spread across a massive economic recovery package and the seven-year EU budget approved in concert. All of it will be directed toward achieving the previously announced European Green Deal goal of becoming “climate neutral” by...


THURSDAY 30. JULY 2020


Chinese and Russian hackers were just sanctioned by Europe for the first time

The European Union imposed its first-ever sanctions for cyberattacks on Thursday, targeting Russian, Chinese, and North Korean groups connected to several major hacking incidents. The action, which includes travel bans and asset freezes on individuals and organizations connected to ransomware and industrial espionage, follow earlier sanctions put in place by the United States. Retaliation...

American parents are setting up homeschool “pandemic pods”

In the past few weeks, a new vocabulary has emerged in parenting groups on social media: pandemic pods, copods, microschools, homeschool pods. All describe cobbled-together groups of students who plan to study at home together this fall as the pandemic creeps into a new academic year.  Homeschooling, this is not. As local and federal governments continue to squabble over the risks of...

Climate-change-driven flooding could endanger 200 million people—in 30 years

Rising tides and storm surges will devastate economies and communities around the globe, if we don’t dramatically cut greenhouse-gas emissions and bolster shoreline protection. By the end of the century, increased coastal flooding driven by swelling ocean levels will endanger more than 250 million people and nearly $13 trillion worth of coastal buildings and infrastructure, according to a new...


WEDNESDAY 29. JULY 2020


A neural network that spots similarities between programs could help computers code themselves

Computer programming has never been easy. The first coders wrote programs out by hand, scrawling symbols onto graph paper before converting them into large stacks of punched cards that could be processed by the computer. One mark out of place and the whole thing might have to be redone. Nowadays coders use an array of powerful tools that automate much of the job, from catching errors as you...

NASA’s new Mars rover is bristling with tech made to find signs of alien life

Deep down, our drive to explore Mars has always been about figuring out the story of life in our solar system. Are we alone? Were we always? Or is life on Earth descended from Martian progenitors? NASA is now on the verge of launching its most ambitious effort ever to chip away at those questions, in the form of a high-tech rover called Perseverance and a scheme to return some of the samples it...

Some scientists are taking a DIY coronavirus vaccine, and nobody knows if it’s legal or if it works

Preston Estep was alone in a borrowed laboratory, somewhere in Boston. No big company, no board meetings, no billion-dollar payout from Operation Warp Speed, the US government’s covid-19 vaccine funding program. No animal data. No ethics approval. What he did have: ingredients for a vaccine. And one willing volunteer. Estep swirled together the mixture and…


TUESDAY 28. JULY 2020


How covid-19 conspiracy videos keep getting millions of views

The ongoing battle between social-media companies and covid-19 misinformation pushers—including US president Donald Trump—stepped up again this week thanks to a new viral video. And it has exposed, once again, how difficult addressing conspiracy theories is for Facebook, Twitter, and others. The latest video comes from a group called America’s Frontline Doctors, which is sponsored by the...

The owner of WeChat thinks deepfakes could actually be good

The news: In a new white paper about its plans for AI, translated by China scholars Jeffrey Ding and Caroline Meinhardt, Tencent, the owner of WeChat and one of China’s three largest tech giants, emphasizes that deepfake technology is “not just about ‘faking’ and ‘deceiving,’ but a highly creative and groundbreaking technology.” It urges regulators to “be prudent” and to avoid...


MONDAY 27. JULY 2020


Moderna is enrolling 30,000 volunteers for its biggest covid-19 vaccine trial

Biotech company Moderna has been making some pretty promising strides in developing and testing its covid-19 vaccine. The company just announced it was working with the US National Institutes of Health to launch what will be one of the largest covid-19 vaccine trials, a phase 3 study enrolling tens of thousands of American volunteers to assess whether the vaccine could truly protect people from...