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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...

Why Congress should look at Twitter and Facebook

Twitter recently announced it would take action against accounts posting information related to the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose adherents follow the “breadcrumbs” left by a mysterious figure known as Q in cryptic messages posted about the Trump administration on anonymous online message boards. In response to their spread of misinformation and harassment, more than 7,000 accounts will be...

Carbon border taxes are unjust

The European Union’s economic recovery plan is notable for its focus on climate action, sustainable investments, and a just transition fund. As part of this deal, the EU is also proposing a carbon border adjustment, also known as a carbon border tax, on imports by 2023. In the simplest terms, a carbon border adjustment is a tax on imported goods such as steel or cement, where the amount of tax...


SUNDAY 26. JULY 2020


It’s too late to stop QAnon with fact checks and account bans

Twitter is perfect as a megaphone for the far right: its trending topics are easy to game, journalists spend way too much time on the site, and—if you’re lucky—the President of the United States might retweet you. QAnon, the continuously evolving pro-Trump conspiracy theory, is good at Twitter in the same way as other successful internet-native ideologies—using the platform to...


FRIDAY 24. JULY 2020


An AI hiring firm promising to be bias-free wants to predict job-hopping

Since the onset of the pandemic, a growing number of companies have turned to AI to assist with their hiring. The most common involve using face-scanning algorithms, games, questions, or other evaluations to help companies determine which candidates to give an interview.  While activists and scholars warn that these screening tools can perpetuate discrimination, the makers themselves argue...


THURSDAY 23. JULY 2020


Lockdown was the longest period of quiet in human history

When lockdown started in March, the world went instantly, strangely silent. City streets emptied. Joggers and families disappeared from parks. Construction projects froze. Stores closed.  Now a network of seismic monitoring stations around the world has quantified this unprecedented period of quiet. The resulting research into “seismic silence,” published in Science today, has shown...

The US says Russia just tested an “anti-satellite weapon” in orbit

The US Space Command has announced it’s found evidence that Russia recently conducted a test of anti-satellite weapons , albeit one that did not destroy or harm any objects. SpaceCom claims that on July 15, Russian satellite Kosmos 2543 deployed a new object into its own orbit, similar to a previous anti-satellite demonstration in 2017.  What does that mean? A US SpaceCom...

China’s Tianwen-1 mission is on its way to Mars

The news: China’s Tianwen-1 mission to Mars successfully lifted off shortly before 1 p.m. local time on Thursday, July 23, Chinese media reported. The mission, which includes a lander, rover, and orbiter, is expected to arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021. China is the first nation to try to transport all three components to Mars at once. If the landing is successful, it will become the...


WEDNESDAY 22. JULY 2020


Why Japan is emerging as NASA’s most important space partner

The first time the US went to the moon, it put down an estimated $283 billion to do it alone. That’s not the case with Artemis, the new NASA program to send humans back. Although it’s a US-led initiative, Artemis is meant to be a much more collaborative effort than Apollo. Japan is quickly emerging as one of the most important partners for this program—perhaps the most important....

Here’s one way to make daily covid-19 testing feasible on a mass scale

It’s impossible to contain covid-19 without knowing who’s infected: until a safe and effective vaccine is widely available, stopping transmission is the name of the game. While testing capacity has increased, it’s nowhere near what’s needed to screen patients without symptoms, who account for nearly half of the virus’s transmission. Our research points to a compelling opportunity for...

Facebook says it will look for racial bias in its algorithms

The news: Facebook says it is setting up new internal teams to look for racial bias in the algorithms that drive its main social network and Instagram, according to the Wall Street Journal. In particular, the investigations will address the adverse effects of machine learning—which can encode implicit racism in training data—on Black, Hispanic, and other minority groups. Why it matters: In...


TUESDAY 21. JULY 2020


Venus is likely teeming with dozens of volcanoes that were recently active

An international group of researchers have identified 37 volcanic structures on Venus that were recently active and are likely still active today. The results, published Monday in Nature Geoscience, upend long-held assumptions that the second planet from the sun is largely dormant.  What we thought: Unlike Earth, Venus doesn’t have plate tectonics that are constantly moving and gradually...


MONDAY 20. JULY 2020


The Oxford covid-19 vaccine candidate has produced promising early trial results

The news: A covid-19 vaccine candidate being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca proved safe and provoked a strong immune response in its first clinical trials. Participants’ systems produced both antibodies and T cells, and only relatively mild side effects were observed. The results were described today in a paper in The Lancet. The study: The trial consisted of 1,077 healthy...

The United Arab Emirates just launched its first ever mission to Mars

The UAE launched its Emirates Mars Mission on Monday, from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 6:58 am local time (Sunday evening US Eastern Time). If the mission successfully reaches Mars, the UAE will join a very small list of nations to have gone to the red planet. What’s the mission about: An orbital spacecraft named Hope will study Mars’ atmosphere and weather. There is still a...


FRIDAY 17. JULY 2020


A concept in psychology is helping AI to better navigate our world

The concept: When we look at a chair, regardless of its shape and color, we know that we can sit on it. When a fish is in water, regardless of its location, it knows that it can swim. This is known as the theory of affordance, a term coined by psychologist James J. Gibson. It states that when intelligent beings look at the world they perceive not simply objects and their relationships but also...

Covid-19 data is a public good. The US government must start treating it like one.

Earlier this week as a pandemic raged across the United States, residents were cut off from the only publicly available source of aggregated data on the nation’s intensive care and hospital bed capacity. When the Trump administration stripped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of control over coronavirus data, it also took that information away from the public. I run a...


THURSDAY 16. JULY 2020


The online battle for the mental health of service workers

Morgan Eckroth became famous on TikTok as morgandrinkscoffee. A 21-year-old barista and social-media manager for Tried & True Coffee in Corvallis, Oregon, she shares latte art, dramatic reenactments of customer interactions, and drink tutorials with her 4 million followers. Before the pandemic her content was pretty wholesome—she likes her job! But then in May, someone who was angry about...

Russian hackers have been accused of targeting covid-19 vaccine researchers

The news: Russian hackers targeted UK, US, and Canadian researchers developing coronavirus vaccines, according to a report from the United Kingdom, American, and Canadian intelligence services. The hackers: The Russian intelligence hacking group known as Cozy Bear or APT29 has been blamed. You might know Cozy from its many previous high-profile cyber-espionage ventures, most notably hacking...

OpenAI’s fiction-spewing AI is learning to generate images

In February of last year, the San Francisco–based research lab OpenAI announced that its AI system could now write convincing passages of English. Feed the beginning of a sentence or paragraph into GPT-2, as it was called, and it could continue the thought for as long as an essay with almost human-like coherence. Now, the lab is exploring what would happen if the same algorithm were instead...