Technology

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When is it better to restart vs. shut down your computer?

<p><strong>Keep calm and shut down</strong></p> <p><span>There are some who believe there’s nothing that can’t be fixed on your computer by shutting it down and starting over. </span></p> <p><span>That may be a stretch, but truly, the shutdown option has always been seen as a cure-all for technical difficulties. </span></p> <p><span>Is it really that simple, though? And can a restart create the same system magic?</span></p> <p><strong>The case for shutting down</strong></p> <p><span>Anh Trinh is the managing editor at Geek with Laptop, a site that helps readers gain knowledge around all kinds of tech subjects. </span></p> <p><span>She explains that shutting down a computer is a way to power down all processes of the machine. </span></p> <p><span>“It’s very similar to a restart but with the exception that your computer won’t turn back on again until someone powers it up,” she explains. </span></p> <p><span>“This is especially useful if you plan to leave your computer for a while.”</span></p> <p><strong>Shut down isn't what it used to be</strong></p> <p>People with newer computers may experience a different kind of shutdown these days, according to ProPrivacy digital privacy expert Ray Walsh.</p> <p>“Although many people assume that a shutdown is a more comprehensive way to ensure that all processes are killed, the reality is that since Windows 8, this is a fallacy,” he says.</p> <p>“In older versions of Windows, both ‘shut down’ and ‘restart’ did exactly the same thing in terms of shutting down processes. However, since Windows 8, a new feature called Fast Startup has altered this considerably.”</p> <p>How has that changed things, exactly? “Shutting down a Windows computer actually creates a deep hibernation file that the PC later leverages to allow for Fast Startup. A restart, on the other hand, completely kills all processes, clears the RAM, and clears the processor cache,” he explains.</p> <p>“This is why a restart is the preferred method when completing a new install or uninstall and why a computer restarts during Windows Operating System updates.”</p> <p>And just so we’re clear, forcible shutdowns are a different story entirely.</p> <p><strong>What about Macs?</strong></p> <p><span>“A Mac is a Unix environment in which everything is cleared during both ‘shut down’ and ‘restart,’” Walsh explains. </span></p> <p><span>“This makes both ‘shut down’ and ‘restart’ identical in that all processes, cache and memory will be cleared, giving the machine a complete refresh.” </span></p> <p><span>In other words, there’s no real difference between a shut down or a restart for Mac users. This means most of the information that follows applies to PC users only unless otherwise stated.</span></p> <p><strong>Which situations call for a restart vs. a shutdown?</strong></p> <p>“When you’re installing new software or hardware, you’re going to need to restart your computer. This will shut off all processes so that the Kernal can be reestablished with the new software or hardware in consideration,” says Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris.</p> <p>For those who aren’t aware, the Kernal is a part of the operating system that manages memory and CPU time.</p> <p>“This is also what you want to use when you’re having problems with your computer, since this will kill all processes and restart them.”</p> <p>And yes, this is different for Macs, according to Walsh. “Due to the fact that a Mac always clears everything during a reboot, Mac users will always clear their machine when they restart or shut down,” he adds.</p> <p><strong>How often should users be performing a restart?</strong></p> <p><span>“Most IT experts recommend doing a restart at least once every two to three days to permit Windows to clean up open files, get rid of temp files, and update itself,” Walsh says. </span></p> <p><span>“This ensures that deleted files and other assets are removed from a PC’s cache and aren’t left hanging around, potentially causing security or privacy issues.”</span></p> <p><strong>How often should users be performing a system shutdown?</strong></p> <p><span>“Shutting down a computer is a more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly way to leave a PC unattended,” Walsh explains. </span></p> <p><span>“Leaving a PC in sleep mode results in some power usage by the RAM and from the storage of open files and programs.”</span></p> <p><strong>Which option is better for battery life?</strong></p> <p><span>“A shut down is a deep hibernation that ensures that your computer is not wasting energy,” Walsh says.</span></p> <p><span> “A restart only momentarily turns the machine off to stop all processes, clear the RAM, and clear the processor cache. Thus, a shut down is better for power consumption and better for prolonging the life of the battery.”</span></p> <p><strong>Which option is better for security?</strong></p> <p><span>This is one area where the answer is the same for both PCs and Macs. “Shutting down a Windows PC or Mac is considered better for security because it means that the machine is completely offline for the period of time that it is off,” Walsh says. </span></p> <p><span>“This removes the potential for that machine to be hacked and stops it from communicating with a command and control server if it has already been infected with an exploit.”</span></p> <p><strong>What about cold temperatures?</strong></p> <p>Believe it or not, temperature should be one of your considerations when deciding whether to shut down or restart.</p> <p>“The cold can be extremely damaging to batteries, which is why it is unwise to switch off a battery-operated device when it is extremely cold,” Walsh explains.</p> <p>“It is better to keep a laptop running rather than switch it off in a cold car.”</p> <p>But that’s not the only reason to avoid a shut down in cold temperatures. “In extremely cold temperatures, it can potentially be unwise to turn off a computer abruptly, particularly if you have been performing intensive CPU/GPU tasks that have made the computer heat up considerably,” Walsh says.</p> <p>“This is because going from hot to cold quickly may adversely affect the PC’s microelectronic components due to thermal contraction.”</p> <p>If you have no choice but to shut down, Walsh advises waiting a little while after the intense processes have ended; that will allow the internal components to slowly cool down first.</p> <p>“However, generally speaking, computers like the cold and will perform better in the cold, where they will not heat up as much performing intensive processes,” he adds.</p> <p><strong>How about hot temperatures?</strong></p> <p><span>“The biggest danger for computers is extreme heat,” Walsh says. </span></p> <p><span>“Anytime that a computer is exposed to extremely hot conditions, it is best to power it down and leave it switched off. Even a relatively hot office can potentially be highly damaging to a computer’s components if the computer is overheating. This will substantially reduce the life span of the computer and is much more of a concern than the cold.”</span></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/true-stories-lifestyle/science-technology/when-is-it-better-to-restart-vs-shut-down-your-computer?pages=1">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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Digital toys for kids you don’t have to feel guilty about

<p>Guilt has perhaps always been part of selecting and giving gifts for children. However, in 2021, after two years of increased screen time for children thanks to COVID, parents may be experiencing even more uncertainty around what to buy.</p> <p>But what if the power of play could counter some of these fears?</p> <p>The <a href="https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/3/e20182058/38649/The-Power-of-Play-A-Pediatric-Role-in-Enhancing?autologincheck=redirected">importance of play</a> is well recognised. Play holds developmental <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuu59E97igU">power</a> to facilitate communication, increase personal strengths, foster emotional well-being and enhance social relationships.</p> <p>This can be true of digital gifts as well as more traditional presents. Here are some ideas for screen-based toys that are good for both a child’s development and easing parental guilt.</p> <h2>Screen time – is there such a thing as too much?</h2> <p>Firstly, let’s address the key concern many parents have: can too much screen time harm a child’s development? The answer lies in knowing and balancing the risks and benefits of screen time.</p> <p>A recent University of Colorado Boulder <a href="https://theconversation.com/kids-and-their-computers-several-hours-a-day-of-screen-time-is-ok-study-suggests-168022">study</a> of nine and ten year-olds found even when kids spend five hours a day on screens, “it doesn’t appear to be harmful”. The study also suggests screen time can improve social relationships.</p> <p>"While parents should make sure their children are using screens in appropriate ways, our early research suggests lengthy time on screen is not likely to yield dire consequences."</p> <p>Research also indicates the <a href="https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-019-0881-7">type of screen time</a> is important. This suggests active engagement (such as playing a game or doing an activity) may be beneficial, whereas prolonged periods of passive screen time (such as watching TV or YouTube) could be detrimental.</p> <p>There are <a href="https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015128">international</a> and <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise/physical-activity-and-exercise-guidelines-for-all-australians#summary-by-age">Australian</a> recommendations on how much screen time is suitable for children, which vary depending on age.</p> <p>Guidelines also advise negotiating clear boundaries for screen time, limiting sedentary screen time, and incorporating <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/play-learning/screen-time-healthy-screen-use/screen-time-physical-activity">physical activity</a> and <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/play-learning/screen-time-healthy-screen-use/shared-screen-time">social relationships</a>.</p> <p>For children, this may mean sharing a family device, having clear boundaries about usage and a parent supervising.</p> <p>Ultimately, screens are a part of modern life – children need to learn how to navigate them. Modelling <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/family-life/family-media-entertainment/parent-technology-use">healthy screen time</a> as well as selecting developmentally appropriate digital toys or platforms for play are two ways parents can assist children in developing a healthy relationship with screen time.</p> <h2>Digital toys across age groups</h2> <p><strong>Babies and toddlers</strong></p> <p>Video-chatting is <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/play-learning/media-technology/healthy-screen-time-0-2-years">the only</a> recommended form of screen time for babies and toddlers. Digital devices and apps may assist parents when used together with their baby or toddler, to maintain relationships with friends and family.</p> <p>Apps on a parent’s device, such as <a href="https://apps.apple.com/au/app/baby-karaoke/id426373998">Baby Karaoke</a> can help parents to <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/guides/baby-karaoke">remember </a>and sing along to nursery rhymes and children’s songs. Joining together with your child in playful rhythm and rhyme time in the <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/guides/first-1000-days">first 1,000 days</a> supports many aspects of brain development.</p> <p><strong>Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)</strong></p> <p>Screen time, when supervised by a parent and part of a balanced <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/play-learning/screen-time-media/healthy-screen-time-2-5-years">healthy</a> family lifestyle, can support children’s developing imagination, creativity, and storytelling.</p> <p>Apps and digital games like <a href="https://www.playosmo.com/en/">Osmo</a>, where players use objects in the real world to interact with the digital world on their device, can develop communication, social and problem-solving skills.</p> <p><strong>School-age (5-9 years)</strong></p> <p>Apps and digital games that support learning, social skills and creativity are <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/play-media-technology/media/good-apps-games-movies-school-age">recommended for school-age</a> children.</p> <p>App ideas include <a href="https://freeappsforme.com/stop-motion-apps/">Stop Motion</a>, where children use physical toys such as Lego minifigures or plasticine models to create short animated movies. <a href="https://khankids.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360004559231-Welcome-to-Khan-Academy-Kids">Khan Academy for Kids</a> allows children to read books, create and draw, solve puzzles and play games that promote social skills.</p> <p><strong>Pre-teens (9-12 years)</strong></p> <p>Pre-teens may be starting to conduct a significant part of their <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/entertainment-technology/digital-life/screen-time-social-life">social life</a> online. Supporting their developing sense of <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/entertainment-technology/digital-life/digital-citizenship">digital citizenship</a> is a crucial step and should be considered when choosing digital gifts.</p> <p>So, digital games that promote learning, hold positive messages, and allow for a sense of achievement are <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/entertainment-technology/gaming-gambling/video-games-apps">recommended for pre-teens</a>. As a parent of two pre-teens, Kate shares that two current favourite apps in her house are the drawing/art app <a href="https://procreate.art/">Procreate</a> and the meditation, ambient sounds and bedtime stories app <a href="https://www.calm.com/">Calm</a>.</p> <p>Other ideas include learning a new skill like a musical instrument with apps like <a href="https://www.joytunes.com/simply-piano">Simply Piano</a> or <a href="https://simplyguitar.joytunes.com/">Simply Guitar</a>. <a href="https://www.warnerbros.com/games-and-apps/heads">Heads Up!</a> allows you to play charades online, while popular video game <a href="https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/minecraft">Minecraft</a> promotes creativity. Finally, work together as a family to remember, preserve and write family stories using <a href="https://storycorps.org/">Story Corps</a>.</p> <p><strong>Teenagers (13-18 years)</strong></p> <p>Screen time can be included in the <a href="https://raisingchildren.net.au/teens/entertainment-technology/screen-time-healthy-screen-use/healthy-screen-time-teens">healthy lifestyle</a> of teenagers. Digital activities that foster interests and hobbies, and enhance social connections are an important consideration for development, health, and well-being.</p> <p>As a parent of a teenager, Judi shares that the current favourite at her house is the virtual reality headset <a href="https://www.oculus.com/">Oculus Quest 2</a>, which enables social connection through <a href="https://hello.vrchat.com/">VRChat</a>, <a href="https://altvr.com/">Altspace</a> and meditation with <a href="https://www.tripp.com/">TRIPP</a> and <a href="https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/2616537008386430/">Nature Treks </a>.</p> <p>Other ideas include getting out in nature for a family treasure hunt adventure using <a href="https://www.geocaching.com/play">Geocaching </a>. Or host a trivia party with family or friends using <a href="https://www.sporcle.com/groups/topics/766d10e0f72b">Sporcle</a>. Games like <a href="https://www.spore.com/">Spore</a> allow players to design their own species by evolving microscopic organisms into their own creations.</p> <h2>What to bear in mind</h2> <p>If you’re doing your own searches, use terms like “creative apps for preschoolers” and use a review site like <a href="https://www.commonsensemedia.org/">Common Sense Media</a> to check your choice. And consider physically active screen time choices.</p> <p>Examples include the <a href="https://www.nintendo.com.au/nintendo-switch-family/switch">Nintendo Switch</a> that promote <a href="https://www.thegamer.com/10-games-like-ring-fit-adventure-on-the-nintendo-switch/">physical activity</a> such as dancing (<a href="https://www.ubisoft.com/en-au/game/just-dance/2022">Just Dance</a>) or real-life exercises, including jogging and yoga (<a href="https://www.nintendo.com.au/games/nintendo-switch/ring-fit-adventure">Ring Fit Adventure</a>).</p> <p>There is also virtual reality, which enables enjoyment, exploration and experiencing through multi-modes including movement (<a href="https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1304877726278670/">Beat Saber</a>), art-making (<a href="https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/2322529091093901?ranking_trace=0_2322529091093901_QUESTSEARCH_85b10f4f-d9f3-44a1-b964-47c4da2e9cb8">Tilt Brush</a>), and immersive experiences (<a href="https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/2078376005587859?ranking_trace=0_2078376005587859_QUESTSEARCH_f4176e13-59ec-45c0-9b14-21117290e72b">Wander</a>).</p> <p>So, pause for a moment when considering digital gifts for children and ask yourself three things:</p> <p>1) Is there a physical component?</p> <p>2) Will this gift be used together within a relationship?</p> <p>3) What is the play value?</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/digital-toys-for-kids-you-dont-have-to-feel-guilty-about-172612">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>

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This New Year, why not resolve to ditch your dodgy old passwords?

<p>Most of the classic New Year resolutions revolve around improving your health and lifestyle. But this year, why not consider cleaning up your passwords too?</p> <p>We all know the habits to avoid, yet so many of us do them anyway: using predictable passwords, never changing them, or writing them on sticky notes on our monitor. We routinely ignore the <a href="https://theconversation.com/choose-better-passwords-with-the-help-of-science-82361">recommendations for good passwords</a> in the name of convenience.</p> <p>Choosing short passwords containing common names or words is likely to lead to trouble. Hackers can often guess a person’s passwords simply by using a computer to work through a long list of commonly used words.</p> <p>The <a href="https://nordpass.com/most-common-passwords-list/">most popular choices</a> have changed very little over time, and include numerical combinations such as “123456” (the most common password for five years in a row), “love”, keyboard patterns such as “qwerty” and, perhaps most ludicrously, “password” (or its Portuguese translation, “senha”).</p> <p><span>Experts have long advised against using words, places or names in passwords, although you can strengthen this type of password by jumbling the components into sequences with a mixture of upper- and lowercase characters, as long as you do it thoroughly.</span></p> <p>Complex rules often lead users to choose a word or phrase and then substitute letters with numbers and symbols (such as “Pa33w9rd!”), or add digits to a familiar password (“password12”). But so many people do this that these techniques don’t actually make passwords stronger.</p> <p>It’s better to start with a word or two that isn’t so common, and make sure you mix things up with symbols and special characters in the middle. For example, “wincing giraffe” could be adapted to “W1nc1ng_!G1raff3”</p> <p><span>These secure passwords can be harder to remember, to the extent you might end up having to write them down. That’s OK, as long as you keep the note somewhere secure (and definitely not stuck to your monitor).</span></p> <p>Reusing passwords is another common error – and one of the biggest. Past data leaks, such as that suffered by <a href="https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/blog-post/linkedin-2012-hack-what-you-need-know">LinkedIn in 2012</a>, mean billions of old passwords are now circulating among cyber criminals.</p> <p>This has given rise to a practice called “<a href="https://www.wired.com/story/what-is-credential-stuffing/">credential stuffing</a>” – taking a leaked password from one source and trying it on other sites. If you’re still using the same old password for multiple email, social media or financial accounts, you’re at risk of being compromised.</p> <h2>Pro tip: use a password manager</h2> <p>The simplest and most effective route to good password hygiene is to use a <a href="https://www.choice.com.au/electronics-and-technology/internet/internet-privacy-and-safety/buying-guides/password-managers">password manager</a>. This lets you use unique strong passwords for all your various logins, without having to remember them yourself.</p> <p>Password managers allow you to store all of your passwords in one place and to “lock” them away with a strong level of protection. This can be a single (strong) password, but can also include face or fingerprint recognition, depending on the device you are using. Although there is some risk associated with storing your passwords in one place, experts consider this much less risky than using the same password for multiple accounts.</p> <p>The password manager can automatically create strong, randomised passwords for each different service you use. This means your LinkedIn, Gmail and eBay accounts can no longer be accessed by someone who happens to guess the name of your childhood pet dog.</p> <p>If one password is leaked, you only have to change that one – none of the others are compromised.</p> <p>There are <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_password_managers">many password managers</a> to choose from. Some are free (such as Keepass) or “freemium” (offering the option to upgrade for more functionality like Nordpass), while others charge a one-off fee or recurring subscription (such as 1Password). Most allow you to securely sync your passwords across all your devices, and some let you safely share passwords between family members or work groups.</p> <p>You can also use the password managers built into most web browsers or operating systems (with many phones offering this functionality in the browser or natively). These tend to have fewer features and may pose compatibility issues if you want to access your password from different browsers or platforms.</p> <p>Password managers take a bit of getting used to, but don’t be too daunted. When creating a new account on a website, you let the password manager create a unique (complex) password and store it straight away – there’s no need to think of one yourself!</p> <p>Later, when you want to access that account again, the password manager fills it in automatically. This is either through direct integration with the browser (typically on computers) or through a separate application on your mobile device. Most password managers will automatically “lock” after a period of time, prompting for the master password (or face/finger verification) before allowing access again.</p> <h2>Protect your most important passwords</h2> <p>If you don’t like the sound of a password manager, at the very least change your “critical” account passwords so each one is strong and unique. Financial services, email accounts, government services, and work systems should each have a separate, strong password.</p> <p>Even if you write them down in a book (kept safely locked away) you will significantly reduce your risk in the event of a data breach on any of those platforms.</p> <p>Remember, however, that some sites provide delegated access to others. Many e-commerce websites, for example, give you the option of logging in with your Facebook, Google or Apple account. This doesn’t expose your password to greater risk, because the password itself is not shared. But if the password is compromised, using it would grant access to those delegated sites. It is usually best to create unique accounts - and use your password manager to keep them safe.</p> <p><span>Adopting a better approach to passwords is a simple way to reduce your cyber-security risks. Ideally that means using a password manager, but if you’re not quite ready for that yet, at least make 2022 the year you ditch the sticky notes and pets’ names.</span></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><span><em>This article first appeared on <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/this-new-year-why-not-resolve-to-ditch-your-dodgy-old-passwords-172598" target="_blank">The Conversation</a></em>.</span></p>

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Sports Illustrated model stalked with Apple AirTag

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Supermodel Brooks Nader says she was stalked by a stranger using an AirTag, who followed her around New York City for five hours. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The 26-year-old said she only realised she was being tracked when her iPhone alerted her to the fact that an “unknown accessory” was moving with her through the city.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The AirTag, which was first released in April 2020, is a coin-shaped device that acts as a key tracker, with users connecting the small device to their smartphone to track lost items. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Despite the AirTag’s innovative technology, there have been numerous reports that the $45 device has been used by stalkers and thieves, to track people and their belongings without their knowing. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brooks Nader appears to be the latest victim of this tracking, as she shared her terrifying ordeal with her online following of 827,000 people. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This ‘device’ followed me for the last five hours to every location and (it belonged to) no one in my ‘network.’ It also wasn’t a phone or tablet, it was an ‘item,’” she explained.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The model subsequently shared a screenshot of an AirTag via Instagram Stories: “@Apple, did you take into consideration the danger and potentially fatal consequences this device has?”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She added, “For those asking, it’s not my AirTag, it’s someone randoms, who must have slipped it into my belongings while out. Thank you all for checking in and sending helpful articles. I want this to be a PSA to all my ladies to please please check your belongings.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Apple, they have introduced a system to prevent stalking by notifying people if their smartphone detects an unregistered AirTag in their vicinity. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking,” the tech company states on its website. “If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s travelling with you and send you an alert.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The alert is what tipped Nader off to the fact an AirTag was in her coat pocket.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A spokesperson for Apple told </span><a href="https://nypost.com/2022/01/07/sports-illustrated-model-is-latest-victim-of-airtag-stalker/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The New York Post</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, “We take customer safety very seriously and are committed to AirTag’s privacy and security. AirTag is designed with a set of proactive features to discourage unwanted tracking – a first in the industry – and the Find My network includes a smart, tunable system with deterrents that applies to AirTag, as well as third-party products as part of the Find My Network accessory program.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Due to the safety concerns of AirTags, several Aussie retailers including Big W, JB Hi-Fi and Officeworks have banned the sale of the devices. </span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credits: Instagram @brooksnader</span></em></p>

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How does AI think?

<div class="copy"> <p>Artificial Intelligence (AI) machines can be trained to solve puzzles on their own, by learning to recognise rules and patterns in data, rather than by simply following the rules humans program into them. But often, researchers don’t know what rules the AI have made for themselves.</p> <p>Peter Koo, an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, US, has developed a new method – <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008925" target="_blank">described</a> today in <em>PLOS Computational Biology </em>– that quizzes an AI to figure out what rules it has learned on its own, and whether they’re the right ones.</p> <p>“If you learn general rules about the math instead of memorizing the equations, you know how to solve those equations. So rather than just memorizing those equations, we hope that these models are learning to solve it and now we can give it any equation and it will solve it,” says Koo.</p> <p>Koo has developed an AI called a deep neural network (DNN), that looks for patterns in strands of RNA that increase the ability of a protein to bind to them. Koo’s DNN, called Residual Bind (RB), has been trained with thousands of RNA sequences matched to protein binding scores, and is able to predict scores for new RNA sequences.</p> <p>But Koo was not sure what rules the machine was focusing on – whether it was focusing on a short sequence of RNA letters (a motif) that humans might expect, or whether it was looking at other characteristics. He and his team therefore developed a new method, called Global Importance Analysis, to test what rules RB generated.  They presented the network with a set of synthetic RNA sequences containing different combinations of motifs that the scientists thought might influence RB’s calculations.</p> <p>What they discovered is that RB factored in a range of considerations, including how the RNA strand may fold over and bind to itself, how close one motif is to another, and other features.</p> <p>With the help of RB and Koo’s new Global Importance Analysis, the team can now test biological results in a ‘virtual’ laboratory, running millions of tests far faster than humans could do in traditional lab settings. Their <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://github.com/p-koo/residualbind" target="_blank">tools</a> are now available online for anyone to use.</p> <p>“If you learn general rules about the math instead of memorizing the equations, you know how to solve those equations. So rather than just memorising those equations, we hope that these models are learning to solve it and now we can give it any equation and it will solve it.”</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> </div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/how-does-ai-think/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Amalyah Hart. </em></p> </div>

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At-home dialysis for the cost of a bag of chips

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>A new low-carbon-footprint dialysis treatment might soon be available for the cost of a bag of chips.</p> <p>Sydney-based start-up Ellen Medical Devices has received $427,000 in government funding to develop the award-winning <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.ellenmedical.com/the-device/" target="_blank">Ellen Medical Dialysis System</a>.</p> <div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <div class="entry-content-asset"> <div class="embed-wrapper"> <div class="inner"><iframe title="1.4 million people die every year in India because they cannot afford dialysis" width="500" height="281" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nF7vMdckIxc?feature=oembed&amp;enablejsapi=1&amp;origin=https://cosmosmagazine.com" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></div> </div> </div> </div> <p>Dialysis replaces normal kidney function by purifying and cleaning the blood when kidneys alone can’t do it. It has been a common and effective treatment for kidney failure for 70 years but the rate of kidney failure is <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/geographical-health-data-australia/" target="_blank">increasing</a> globally.</p> <p>“The number of people needing treatment for kidney failure is predicted to double to over five million by 2030,” says Ellen Medical Managing Director John Knight, a kidney specialist and UNSW Sydney professor of medicine. “This is not only a preventable human tragedy but a significant market opportunity.”</p> <p>On top of this, dialysis costs around $85,000 per year. This might be covered by insurance in high-income countries, but the cost is prohibitive for many people in low income countries. In fact, 75% of people who require dialysis around the world can’t afford it, and face death as a result.</p> <p>“Families try the best they can to pay for the treatment and often they’ll suffer quite severe financial hardship,” says Knight. “They can often lose their house in an attempt to find the money for payment.</p> <p>“But in the end, they run out of money and the patient will die – not because the treatment doesn’t work, but just because they can’t afford it.</p> <p>“This lack of dialysis treatment is one of the big health inequities around the world.”</p> <p>The new funding will take the product through clinical trials to test how effective it will be as a low cost, low-carbon-footprint alternative to current dialysis.</p> <p>“We think that, while we are mainly aiming for people who are missing out in the poorest countries in the world, the opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint by a factor of 20 means that our system might be very attractive to Australian patients as well,” says Knight.</p> <h2>How does dialysis work?</h2> <p>Normally, a kidney filters out salts, waste and fluids from the blood, which will be excreted from the body as urine. A dialysis machine mimics this process.</p> <p>First, the machine slowly draws out blood from the body using a catheter. Then, a special fluid called dialysate is mixed with the blood to filter the waste products.</p> <p>The dialysate comes in a bag and is made of extra minerals and electrolytes – salts and sugars – and bicarb soda mixed with purified water. Any excess is washed down the drain with blood waste products.</p> <p>The newly cleaned blood is then pumped back into the body.</p> <p>Depending on the person, this needs to be done 3–5 times every 24 hours and can take up to 40 minutes each time. Every session requires a new bag of dialysate, which contributes to the huge cost of treatment.</p> <p>The only way to get the bags is pre-filled and delivered to your door – four bags a day can be up to 2 litres/2 kilograms, or 240kg of fluid delivered per month. The distance delivery trucks must travel to deliver monthly dialysate bags contributes to a high carbon footprint.</p> <h2>The Ellen Medical Dialysis System</h2> <p>Many good ideas come about because of simple competitions.</p> <p>“As a research institute we recognise this medical need, and we ran a global competition called the affordable balances prize,” says Knight. “We had entries from all over the world, and the [dialysis] technology that we’re developing [now] was the prize-winning entry.”</p> <p>The inventor and prize winner, Vincent Garvey, was working on domestic appliances in Shanghai when he came up with the idea and its underlying concept: instead of looking to complicated medical technology, why not model it on everyday items?</p> <p>“The concept is very, very simple,” says Knight. “The distiller that makes pure water [for the dialysate] is basically like a kettle on your kitchen bench to boil water for a cup of tea.</p> <p>“It’s got a few extra bells and whistles, but the technology is really like that of a kettle. We can mass produce it for the same sort of price as you might expect to pay for a good quality kettle in [an appliance store].”</p> <p>The second part of this innovation is bags that can be filled from home using the purified ‘kettle’ dialysate, instead of being frequently delivered pre-filled.</p> <p>“Our approach to manufacturing the bags is less like high-tech med manufacturing and more like food manufacturing,” says Knight.</p> <p>“The bags basically [just have] salt and sugar in them. So, if you think of how much it costs to make a bag of chips or a bag of pretzels, that’s the kind of manufacturing cost we’re looking at.</p> <p>“A very high volume, mass produced, very low unit cost. We think they’re going to come in between five and 10 times less than current dialysis systems.”</p> <h2>Saving lives and saving the planet</h2> <p>The staggering price drop is essential for equitable dialysis globally but filling the bags from home could also dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of dialysis treatment.</p> <p>“Currently in Australia, delivering four bags a day to the patient’s home already filled with fluid works out that each patient needs three tonnes of fluid delivered to their home [each year] so they can do the dialysis at home three times [a day],” explains Knight.</p> <p>“All of the bags for Australia and New Zealand are made in one factory in Western Sydney. That’s fine if you live in Paramatta because the truck can bring you the bags once a month.</p> <p>“But if you live in Perth or in Auckland, then those three tonnes of fluid have to be taken by truck from [Western Sydney] to your home. That carbon footprint, each year, is huge.</p> <p>“Our bags were delivered for 20 times less, so our carbon footprint is going to be 20 times less than current systems.</p> <p>“We’re very proud of that.”</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images            <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=169106&amp;title=At-home+dialysis+for+the+cost+of+a+bag+of+chips" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/medicine/at-home-dialysis-for-the-cost-of-a-bag-of-chips/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Adding noise to electric cars for safer driving

<div class="copy"> <p>The low-decibel motors of <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/as-the-world-surges-ahead-on-electric-vehicle-policy-the-morrison-governments-new-strategy-leaves-australia-idling-in-the-garage/" target="_blank">electric cars</a> are a blessing to many in noise-polluted cities, where poorly muffled gasoline engines can rattle nerves (and eardrums). But are they <em>too</em> silent?</p> <p>The answer, says Michael Roan, an engineering professor at Penn State University, Pennsylvania, US, is an unfortunate yes, especially for the vision impaired, who rely on their ears to detect approaching danger.</p> <p>In fact, Vision Australia has reported that 35% of the blind or vision impaired report being hit, or nearly hit, by electric vehicles they didn’t hear approaching.</p> <p>Governments are also aware of the problem, Roan says, with Australia, the US, and the EU all setting standards for how much sound electric vehicles must make.</p> <p>But do these standards work?</p> <p>To find out, Roan borrowed a Chevy Volt from General Motors and recruited 16 people, some vision impaired and some with normal vision but blindfolded, to listen to the car approaching on a quiet stretch of road. Sometimes the Volt was unmodified; other times it used speakers programmed to emit four different types of sounds, all meeting the standards.</p> <p>When his volunteers heard the car approaching, he asked them to push a button. When they thought it was gone, they pushed the button a second time.</p> <p>To make it harder, in some of the tests Roan’s team set up speakers to play background noise comparable to that in normal urban settings. Sometimes the car went 20 kilometres per hour, sometimes 10 km/h.</p> <p>The results were disconcerting.</p> <p>In general, Roan said last week in Seattle, Washington, at the 181<sup>st</sup> meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, people heard the car much better at 20 km/h than at 10 km/h—not surprising, because the faster a car goes, the more its overall sound is dominated by tyre noise.</p> <p>Above 20 km/h, he says, tyre noise dominates, and most cars sound pretty much alike. But at 10 km/h, he found that 20% of his volunteers would have stepped into the path of danger.</p> <p>Worse, in the course of 90 experimental runs, there were two in which nobody heard the car. That’s not a lot, “but when you extrapolate it to millions and millions of people, that’s a lot of people getting injured”, he says.</p> <p>The next step is figuring out what type of noises best reduce this risk, without being unpleasantly loud.</p> <p>Regulatory authorities, Roan says, have ruled against simply making the car sound like an internal combustion engine. In tests, he says, “people really didn’t like that”.</p> <p>Instead, they want something “more futuristic” that points to the vehicle being electric. The sounds that seem most effective at catching attention, he adds, aren’t steady whirs, but ones that change in volume or pitch. “That gets people’s attention really quickly,” he says. “[Though] their annoyance factor tends to go up, so it’s a balancing act.”</p> <p>Another issue is how to make this work as the green energy future fully arrives and electric vehicles are everywhere. “If there are 20 of these cars all in one area, how is that going to affect people’s detection of the one that’s most dangerous?” Roan asks. “I don’t think anyone knows that yet.”</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/automation/adding-noise-to-electric-cars-for-safer-driving/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Richard A Lovett. </em></p> </div>

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Humans v Machine: fake news headlines or real deal?

<div class="copy"> <p>Can you tell whether the title of a scientific article was written by a human or an AI? Because half the time, not even doctors can spot the fake science headline, according to a<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.bmj.com/content/375/bmj-2021-067732" target="_blank"> paper</a> published in <em>BMJ.</em></p> <p>In a study worthy of the silly season, researchers used an AI to generate research paper titles and tested whether readers could tell if they were fake.</p> <p>They took the top titles from 10 years of <em>BMJs </em>Christmas edition – which are often quirkier than normal – to teach an AI to write its own titles. These were then rated by a random sample of doctors from multiple disciplines and countries.</p> <p>They found that AI-generated titles were rated at least as enjoyable (69%) compared to real titles (64%), although the real titles were rated as more plausible (73%) than AI titles (48%).</p> <p>They also found that the AI titles were deemed less scientific if generated at random, but this became less apparent when the titles were then curated by a human.</p> <p>The authors say that this shows how the best results come from an AI and a human working together, where the AI can compensate for human oversights but humans can make the final call.</p> <p>The two AI-generated titles deemed the most plausible were: “The clinical effectiveness of lollipops as a treatment for sore throats” and “The effects of free gourmet coffee on emergency department waiting times: an observational study.”</p> <p>The silliest title generated by the AI was: “Superglue your nipples together and see if it helps you to stop agonising about <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/mediterranean-diet-helps-ed/" target="_blank">erectile dysfunction</a> at work.” The authors note that this demonstrates the AI doesn’t know how to be polite, which limits its real-world application without human help.</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/fake-science-headline/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis. </em></p> </div>

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Bluetooth headphone hacking: paranoia or a genuine cause for concern?

<div class="copy"> <p>US Vice President Kamala Harris made waves recently, when an <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.politico.com/newsletters/west-wing-playbook/2021/12/06/kamala-harris-is-bluetooth-phobic-495343" target="_blank">article</a> from Politico’s ‘West Wing Playbook’ reported that she refuses to use Bluetooth headphones, believing them to be vulnerable to attack by <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/like-catching-smoke-can-we-stop-a-cyberwar/" target="_blank">malicious hackers</a>. The article described the Vice President as “Bluetooth phobic”, but is there more than paranoia at play here? Is Bluetooth headphone hacking really a thing?</p> <p>Bluetooth technology has streamlined our gadgets, stripping away most of the troublesome wires and jacks that are forever getting tangled in the bottoms of our bags and in the far reaches of our drawers. But it does come with a cost – limited by a short operational range, and designed to be used only between devices in close proximity, Bluetooth technologies have tended to create a lackadaisical attitude towards security.</p> <h2>What do experts say about Bluetooth headphone hacking?</h2> <p>“The risk is significant,” says Christophe Doche, Associate Dean at the Australian Institute of Business Intelligence. “Bluetooth is one of these technologies that was initially designed without too much concern for security.” </p> <p>This is particularly true for innocuous add-ons, such as headphones.</p> <p>Different devices are generally equipped with different security features, with the most stringent protections found where you’d expect them – in computers and laptops. But in headphones? Not so much.</p> <p>“Bluetooth headphones are typically fairly ‘dumb’ devices,” says Paul Haskell-Dowland, Professor of Cyber Security Practice and Associate Dean for Computing and Security in the School of Science at Edith Cowan University.</p> <p>We don’t tend to bother encrypting devices such as headphones, he says.</p> <p>“Most headsets can be simply connected by pressing a button on the headset to initiate the ‘sync’, or may even be selectable directly on the phone with no further interaction required,” he says.</p> <p>Even so, it’s not particularly likely that our headphones will provide the ‘crack’ through which attackers can directly infiltrate, and we generally have little to fear from enjoying a wireless groove session.</p> <p>“When simply listening to music, such headphones don’t really represent any significant risk,” says Haskell-Dowland.</p> <p>Instead, their biggest vulnerability stems from their susceptibility to eavesdropping.</p> <h2>How can others eavesdrop on your Bluetooth headphones?</h2> <p>This is because we do much more than listen to our favourite tunes on our headphones – they are routinely used for phone calls, and increasingly for remote conferencing. As a radio-frequency device, there are opportunities to capture the radio signals and eavesdrop into communications.</p> <p>“A competent and determined attacker could take advantage of Bluetooth headphones and protocols, to implement, for instance, a man-in-the-middle attack, effectively intercepting all the traffic coming in and out the headphones,” says Doche.</p> <p>Haskell-Dowland expresses similar concerns, but reiterates that much of the threat is context-dependent.</p> <p>“Given that a lot of Bluetooth headset use is undertaken in public settings, the concerns are perhaps no different to being overheard by the person sat next to you on the train – although capturing the Bluetooth audio would include all parties in the call,” he says.</p> <p>This means that any sensitive information divulged is only ever as secure as the weakest point in the chain. You can take measures to guard security at your end, but it only takes one group member wearing Bluetooth headphones to open the whole conversation to prying ears.</p> <p>In some very rare instances, a more sophisticated attack known as privilege escalation might be executed. This involves moving from the wireless communication channel to accessing the data on the device itself.</p> <p>“Privilege escalation to your phone or tablet can be even more destructive, because there we have credentials for our online services and possibly sensitive financial and medical data as well,” says Kim Crawley, cybersecurity researcher for <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.hackthebox.com/" target="_blank">Hack The Box</a> and author of the book <em>8 Steps to Better Security: A Simple Cyber Resilience Guide for Business (Wiley Tech).</em></p> <h2>Does this mean Harris’s caution is warranted?</h2> <p>Crawley believes Kamala Harris is right to be cautious about Bluetooth headphone hacking, given her position.</p> <p>“There’s not much that I agree with Vice President Harris on, but I definitely agree with her use of wired earbuds and microphones,” she says.</p> <p> “She is a prominent cyberattack target who is very often privy to highly classified information. Removing the possibility of wireless interception from the device-to-peripheral level does what we in cybersecurity call ‘reducing your attack surface’.”</p> <p>Doche agrees, but notes that just because Harris might be justified in her cautious approach, this doesn’t mean we all need to be similarly worried.</p> <p>“The everyday person faces exactly the same issues,” he says. “However, the likelihood that a competent and determined attacker would try to breach their headphones is less, just because they are not a high-profile target. It is fair to say that they face a smaller risk.”</p> <p>While the risk from Bluetooth headsets is small and generally focused towards specific individuals, being aware of risk and minimising vulnerabilities is always a good idea.</p> <p>“Absolutely nothing that we do with computer technology is zero risk,” says Crawley. “It’s all about deciding what level of risk is acceptable to us.</p> <p>“Every new Bluetooth standard features stronger encryption and more secure cryptographic implementation. But the technology <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/what-is-ransomware-and-how-is-it-dealt-with/" target="_blank">cyberattackers</a> use to crack or bypass encryption is always getting stronger, too. Encryption and decryption is a constant cat-and-mouse game and digital arms race.”</p> <h2>What are the best ways to safeguard your privacy?</h2> <ul> <li>The first step comes at the point of purchase. Buying a headset that requires a PIN code to connect to your phone or computer is a good start, but you can also look for headsets that support stronger levels of security through the use of encryption. If possible, change the PIN code to a unique value – when headsets share a common default code, it is easy to track down the code in online manuals. </li> <li>Try to use headsets supporting the most recent versions of Bluetooth. </li> <li>Only leave your Bluetooth in ‘discoverable’ mode when you’re pairing new headphones with your phone or laptop. Once linked, your device will retain the headset’s unique identifying code – there is no need to replicate the linking process each time you use the same headphones.</li> <li>Turn off Bluetooth when not in use (though this may be challenging in countries where COVID track-and-trace apps use Bluetooth).</li> </ul> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/computing/bluetooth-headphone-hacking/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Jamie Priest. </em></p> </div>

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Here’s how to charge your phone faster

<p><strong>Switch into aeroplane mode</strong></p> <p><span>A quick way to keep the battery from draining so quickly is to switch it to plane mode. </span></p> <p><span>You won’t be able to get texts or search online, but you’ll save power because your phone won’t be constantly searching for a cellular or WiFi connection.</span></p> <p><strong>Turn it off</strong></p> <p><span>There’s no better way to make sure all the power goes directly to your battery than making sure there’s no competition for it by switching it off. </span></p> <p><span>Alternatively, leave your phone in low power mode. You can find it in settings. Sometimes it’s known as battery saver mode.</span></p> <p><strong>Plug it into a wall socket</strong></p> <p>The USB port of your computer may be convenient when you’re working remotely, but an outlet will charge your phone faster.</p> <p>This is because USB ports usually only charge at 0.5 amps, so it’s going to take twice as long to charge your phone than the one amp power adapter it came with.</p> <p><strong>Use a powerful wall charger</strong></p> <p><span>It can also be helpful to have a charger that works faster than the one that comes with your phone, such as a rapid charger. </span></p> <p><span>Just find an outlet, plug it in in, and connect it to your phone.</span></p> <p><strong>Keep a charged battery pack handy</strong></p> <p><span>For those situations when you know you’re going to be away from a traditional power source, buying a battery pack is a good idea. </span></p> <p><span>Just make sure to plan for it in advance, so you can charge the battery pack before you leave.</span></p> <p><strong>Get your phone out of the sun</strong></p> <p><span>Avoid exposing your phone to temperatures above 35º Celsius. </span></p> <p><span>The heat can damage your battery capacity, and your phone’s software may limit charging to about 80% when the phone gets hotter than the recommended temperature.</span></p> <p><strong>Take your phone out of the case</strong></p> <p><span>If you notice that your phone gets hot when you charge it, take it out of its case. </span></p> <p><span>“Charging your device when it’s inside certain styles of cases may generate excess heat, which can affect battery capacity,” according to Apple.</span></p> <p><strong>Clean out your lightning port</strong></p> <p><span>The problem may not be with the power of your battery itself. Over time, lint and dust can accumulate in your lightning port (that’s where you plug your charger into your phone) and clog it. </span></p> <p><span>CNET recommends turning your phone off and using a toothpick to gently remove any debris from the port. Then plug in your charger again and see if it works better.</span></p> <p><strong>Get a powerful wireless charger</strong></p> <p><span>For a quick juice boost, look for a charger with high wattage. “The higher the number of watts, the faster your device will charge,” Macworld reports. </span></p> <p><span>The typical chargers that come with iPhones and older Androids carry one amp of current and produce five watts of power, according to the consumer blog Techlicious. </span></p> <p><span>But “new rapid chargers with technology such as Quick Charge support two amps and 12 watts or more, potentially charging your phone up to four times faster.”</span></p> <p><strong>Get a wireless charging pad</strong></p> <p><span>Though wired charging is faster, wireless charging is also a good option.</span></p> <p><strong>Invest in a charging case</strong></p> <p>For an ongoing solution to ensure you can charge your phone quickly, consider getting a charging case.</p> <p>Some models can extend your battery’s life for 22 hours. They come in a range of prices and designs.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared in <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/true-stories-lifestyle/science-technology/heres-how-to-charge-your-phone-faster?pages=1" target="_blank">Reader's Digest</a>.</em></p>

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Can an algorithm assess Trump’s control over discourse?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Controversial former US president Donald Trump will always be remembered for his prolific and volatile <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/society/in-disasters-twitter-influencers-are-out-tweeted/" target="_blank">twitter </a>presence, but it’s difficult to assess, on the basis of a social media site with billions of tweets and users, how much influence these messages have actually had on public opinion.</p> <p>To find out, researchers have conducted a computational analysis of the many phrases found in Trump’s tweets between 2016 and 2021, looking for answers about how powerful the former president’s influence was over public narratives at that time.</p> <p>The study, led by Peter Dodds of the University of Vermont, Burlington, US, is published today in <em>PLOS ONE.</em></p> <p>The researchers developed a novel computational method for analysing tweets in order to build timelines of stories on a given subject. They analysed all tweets related to Trump spanning the five-year study period, applying their algorithms to measure the temporal dynamics – the fluctuating relevance over time – of stories, as represented by words or short phrases, like “Hillary” and “travel ban”.</p> <p>They noted that the turbulence of a story – how quickly it declined in dominance as new stories arose – varied over time and by topic. Trump’s first year in office, 2017, was the most turbulent, with a myriad of dominant stories like “Russia” and “Comey”.</p> <p>Turbulence declined in 2018 onwards, with stories enduring for longer periods, including 2018’s “Mueller” and 2020’s “Covid-19”. Turbulence spiked with 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, the 2020 election and 2021’s Capitol riot.</p> <p>“In 2020, story turbulence around Trump exploded with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the presidential election,” the authors write, “but also ground to a halt as these stories dominated for long stretches.”</p> <p>So, what does this all mean? The persistence of some stories over others could suggest higher social relevance, and, crucially, the authors note their technique as a way of measuring the zeitgeist and its attitudes over time in a large-scale, systematic way, with implications for recorded history, journalism, economics and more.</p> <p>The researchers say their analysis was also able to measure how much Trump controlled the narrative of each story, based on how much his tweets were retweeted, with his tweets about “Fake news” and “Minneapolis” retweeted far more than those about “coronavirus” and “Jeffrey Epstein”, for example. However, retweets may not be a measure of influence so much as a measure of social relevance; people tend to share posts about issues they care about the most, and may still implicitly agree with Trump’s many other narratives.</p> <p>It’s also worth noting that <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/04/24/sizing-up-twitter-users/" target="_blank">twitter is not a microcosm of real life</a>; the site’s most vocal users are often particularly political and engaged either in very left-wing or right-wing narratives, and users are also of a narrower age bracket than the general public. </p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/computing/can-an-algorithm-assess-trumps-control-over-discourse/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Cosmos. </em></p> </div> </div>

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How to use drones responsibly in Kakadu

<div class="copy"> <p>Drones have transformed conservation and land management over the past decade, making it easier than ever to collect high-quality data. But like all new technologies, they come with new ethical quandaries – particularly when used on country managed by Indigenous Australians.</p> <p>A group of researchers, Jawoyn Traditional Owners, and Indigenous Rangers, have addressed this with an Indigenous-led project to develop guidelines for responsible drone use in Kakadu National Park.</p> <p>The group first began to develop these guidelines while thinking about ways to monitor the ecology at Kakadu.</p> <p>“While we were there, we were working out ways for how we might monitor indicators of healthy country before and after management actions,” says Dr Jennifer Macdonald, a postdoctoral researcher at Charles Darwin University and the CSIRO, and lead author on a paper describing the protocols <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23299460.2021.1964321" target="_blank">published</a> in the <em>Journal of Responsible Innovation</em>.</p> <p>“We started talking about using drones to see how country was responding before and after cool early season fire management. And through these conversations, we realised that there was a need to make sure that the drones were used in a way that ensured that Traditional Owners had control over when and where [they] were being used and how they could best benefit local people.”</p> <p>While drones (and other technologies like motion sensors and video cameras) can be a useful supplement to Indigenous land management, they can also be used disrespectfully or irresponsibly.</p> <p>“Traditional Owners were really keen to use drones, they could see some great potential particularly for young people to learn skills,” says Macdonald. “There were young people really excited by the thought of using this technology and were keen to see the kind of data that we could collect.</p> <p>“But they were also concerned about some things. There were some concerns raised about where the drones fly and the fact that they might be able to see some restricted sites, especially gendered sites.”</p> <p>The researchers (who represented CDU, the University of Western Australia and CSIRO), have spent several years working with Traditional Owners to manage research done in Kakadu (forming the Indigenous-led Kakadu Indigenous Research Steering Committee).</p> <p>As part of this, the Jawoyn Traditional Owners spent a two-day workshop with the researchers at Jarrangbarnmi in 2019, where they worked out protocols for drone management.</p> <p>“We had a number of informal workshops that were led by Traditional Owners to make sure that everyone was welcome on country, and then we had a number of conversations where we talked through things like drone regulation, how the technology works, and then a workshop where we developed the protocols together,” says Macdonald.</p> <p>The protocols are described in full in the paper, but fall under three aims: (1) empowering Indigenous governance, (2) developing ethical and trusted research relationships, and (3) enabling ongoing Indigenous-led technological innovation.</p> <p>“Traditional Owners should be on country when drones are being used, and they should determine where they fly and what drones look at,” says Macdonald, in summary. “And young people should be able to use the drones to get benefit out of the use of that technology on their country. And in the future, the data that the drones are collecting needs to be cared for and governed by Traditional Owners.”</p> <p>The researchers believe that the guidelines, while Kakadu-specific, could be used as a framework for developing guidelines in other places.</p> <p>“People could see if the rules that we’ve come up with resonate with how they’re hoping to regulate drones as well,” says Macdonald.</p> <p>The project was funded by the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/ethics/kakadu-jawoyn-drones-ethics-protocols-technology/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian. </em></p> </div>

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Centenarian's priceless reaction to virtual tour of childhood town

<p>A 100-year-old grandmother has broken down in tears while exploring her hometown in Armenia through the use of a virtual reality headset.</p> <p>The woman, who now lives in the US, became emotional while using VR to take a tour around her hometown of Vagharshapat - something she never thought she would do again.</p> <p>Upon seeing the Etchmiadzin Cathedral that she used to visit as a child, she was hit by a wave of emotion and started to tear up.</p> <p>The woman's granddaughter, Michelle, captured the heart-warming moment and shared it on TikTok, where it racked up over three million views in just a few days.</p> <p>Michelle captioned the video, "Showing my 100-year-old Armenian grandma the Etchmiadzin Cathedral in virtual reality," that shows her grandmother, whom they call Nene.</p> <div class="embed"><iframe class="embedly-embed" src="https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?src=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tiktok.com%2Fembed%2F7034663525347953967&amp;display_name=tiktok&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tiktok.com%2F%40shmellywelly%2Fvideo%2F7034663525347953967%3Flang%3Den%26is_copy_url%3D1%26is_from_webapp%3Dv1&amp;key=59e3ae3acaa649a5a98672932445e203&amp;type=text%2Fhtml&amp;schema=tiktok" width="340" height="700" scrolling="no" title="tiktok embed" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen" allowfullscreen="true"></iframe></div> <div class="embed">Nene dons the extravagant VR headset while her family members instruct her to look around, as they follow what she is seeing on their own screen.</div> <p>Suddenly, Nene becomes emotional, as someone behind the camera asks, "Why are you crying?"</p> <p>"It's so beautiful," she responds, attempting to wipe away her tears with a tissue.</p> <p>The breathtaking Etchmiadzin Cathedral is often considered the oldest cathedral in the world, and a shrine for Armenian Christians.</p> <p>The comments on Michelle's video were flooded by people praising the sweet gesture, as one person said, "This is what VR should be used for."</p> <p>Another commenter noted, "She went from a time when televisions didn't exist to VR in her living room. Protect and love this sweet woman."</p> <p><em>Image credits: TikTok @shmellywelly</em></p>

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Mapping floods on every street in the world

<div class="copy"> <p>Accurate, street-level data on flooding risk is tremendously useful when preparing for natural disasters. But this data can be very hard to come by, especially in poorer nations.</p> <p>Enter the <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://floodmapping.inweh.unu.edu/" target="_blank">World Flood Mapping Tool</a>, a new site developed by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH). The tool contains detailed 3D maps of all the world’s floods since 1985.</p> <p>“As temperatures continue to rise, the number of flood events will increase along with their severity,” says Hamid Mehmood, a GIS and remote sensing specialist at UNU-INWEH, who was lead developer on the tool.</p> <p>“No place is immune. And yet remarkably few regions, even in wealthy countries, have useful, up-to-date flood maps because of the cost and difficulty of creating them.”</p> <p>The free mapping tool, which is available on UNU’s <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://inweh.unu.edu/" target="_blank">website</a>, is designed to be simple to use. Users can select an area of the world map in which they’re interested, enter a time frame, and the tool generates a map showing which parts of the area were inundated. They can also view population density, land type and 3D images of building structures.</p> <p>“We need to prepare now for more intense and more frequent floods due to climate change,” says Vladimir Smakhtin, director of UNU-INWEH.</p> <p>“This tool will help developing nations in particular to see and mitigate the risks more clearly.”</p> <p>The tool uses satellite data from the Google Earth Engine to discern flooded land. The researchers tested the satellite-generated data against eight well-documented flooding events (including the February 2008 <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://knowledge.aidr.org.au/resources/flood-mackay-queensland/" target="_blank">Queensland floods</a>), finding the tool to be 82% accurate.</p> <p>The researchers say their tool will be particularly helpful for urban planning and development, as it can pinpoint precise areas that are at risk of flooding.</p> <p>“Painting a detailed picture of the historical and potential flood-risk areas will be invaluable for any urban and regional planning department,” says collaborator Duminda Perera.</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/water/mapping-floods-on-every-street-in-the-world/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian. </em></p> </div>

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How does a jet engine work?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Modern aviation owes its success to the jet engine. The technology was originally developed in the late 1930s and early 1940s for military use in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II" target="_blank">World War Two</a>, but it has since powered the passenger aircraft revolution. </p> <p>There are many different variations on the jet engine, but the one most commonly used in passenger planes is called a turbofan (because it contains a turbine and a fan). The description below is about turbofans in particular, but much of it applies more generally.</p> <h2>So how does a jet engine work?</h2> <p>At the simplest level the way a jet engine works can be reduced to just four words: suck, squeeze, bang, blow. Let’s break down what that means. </p> <h3>Suck</h3> <p>When you look at a jet engine, the first thing you will generally notice is that the front is a giant many-bladed fan, inside what is known as the intake. The blades act in exactly the same way the blades on a propeller or desk fan work, sucking air in and shoving it out the other side at high speed. The fan in a jet engine does have a lot more blades than a desk fan, though: often more than 20. Think of the fan as a propeller on steroids. </p> <p>In most modern jet engines, the fan alone can generate up to 90% of the thrust, or ‘pushing power’ of the engine. To find out where the other 10% comes from, we must continue to follow the air on its journey.</p> <h3>Squeeze</h3> <p>We are now leaving pre-jet engine technology behind. Once the fan sucks in the air, some of it is not just forced around the engine, but is funnelled to what is known as the compressor. Inside, air is pushed along by many spinning disks loaded with small blades along a tube that gets smaller and smaller. This quickly squeezes the air, making it much denser, hotter and more explosive when fuel is added.</p> <h3>Bang</h3> <p>For the pyromaniacs out there, there is where the fun begins. Fuel is added to the compressed air, creating a highly volatile mix requiring a simple spark to burn. This is what happens in the combustion chamber, where the fuel/air mix is sprayed and ignited, rapidly expanding the air and generating the rest of the thrust of the engine. </p> <h3>Blow</h3> <p>The rapid expansion of the air during combustion generates a massive amount of pressure that needs to find a way out.  The way out of a jet engine is at the end of another tube full of spinning disks bristling with blades that are spun by the force of the expanding gas. This part is known as the turbine. Once at the end of the turbine, the gases leave the engine at high speed, exerting a force on the engine in the opposite direction. (In accord with Newton’s third law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.) </p> <p>The ingenious part of the modern jet engine is that the intake fan, compressor, combustion chamber and turbine are linked by a single shaft running along the inside of the engine. So when the expanding gases spin the turbine at the back, it helps spin the fan at the front, which keeps the process going and generates more thrust.</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/how-does-a-jet-engine-work/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Jake Port. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Science can’t tell if we’re living in The Matrix

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>We live in a unique era, at the boundaries of what transistor-based computer technology can offer.</p> <p>Thanks to that, we can now exploit the impressive versatility of previously prohibitive computational techniques, such as deep learning and other methods of artificial intelligence (AI), to the advantage of scientific research. Such tools are proving so powerful that some people are starting to argue either that we live in a simulation, or that there is a god and it is AI itself.</p> <p>Neural networks, a currently very popular AI method, are known to be universal encoders, which means that, in principle, any problem of any type can be learned and therefore predicted by the network (prohibitive computational costs notwithstanding). Unfortunately, this is not true in practice.</p> <p>Computers are finite-state machines, with finite memory, operated by myopic living beings: humans. This implies that chaotic systems (that is, nearly everything observable) cannot be represented exactly in a computer.</p> <p>Consider the number pi: it is an irrational number containing what seems to be a random, infinite sequence of digits. Neither computers nor humans can represent, or operate with, the true pi: we must approximate it. Fortunately, we have a recipe to approximate it to any precision, but for almost all other irrational numbers the situation is much worse, as they are impossible to compute.</p> <p>If no human can see these numbers, and no computer can really calculate them, do irrational numbers even exist? They do, at least in our imagination.</p> <p>Nature, as we see it, is governed by laws. Anything observable or imaginable obeys them. Physics is just the human-friendly version of a very small fraction of such laws, and it concerns only the observable phenomena. However, physics itself is based on human-centric imaginative assumptions and models.</p> <p>For example, Newton’s laws are never exactly observed in nature: they are a simplified, imaginative set of models able to approximately, yet acceptably, describe several phenomena.</p> <p><span style="font-family: inherit;">Quantum mechanics gives us insight on the finest grains of reality as we can perceive it by telling us that our world is made of funny-behaving “pixels” (</span><span style="font-family: inherit;">Planck length</span><span style="font-family: inherit;">, for the pros), literally several hundreds of trillions of trillions of times smaller than the atom. </span></p> <p>These are all models, and models are nothing but the imaginative representations of observable phenomena.</p> <p>Humans understand nature whenever they can associate observation with imagination. The true problem arises when humans attempt to understand the supernatural. Religious people may give you a different perspective, but we must draw a clear line: nature, by definition, cannot be supernatural, and therefore the supernatural cannot possibly be observed in nature.</p> <p>If a human can imagine or observe a phenomenon, then it clearly cannot be supernatural; hence the very definition of “supernatural” must be part of the conceivable domain of nature. That said, I have my strong reservations about whether we can ever prove or disprove our being part of a simulation in some big alien computer, especially if such a simulation is the Creator of nature itself.</p> <p>Disclaimer: Any findings and conclusions are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or the Department of Energy of United States of America. This article has been approved by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for public release, IM number LLNL-JRNL-739760. </p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images    </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/physics/science-cannot-tell-us-if-were-living-in-the-matrix/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Alfredo Metere.</em> </p> </div> </div>

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REVEALED: The two people Queen Elizabeth II will pick up the phone for

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A royal commentator has </span><a rel="noopener" href="https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/royals" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">revealed</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that the Queen only speaks to two people within “The Firm” on her phone - and they might not be who you would expect.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Apparently, the Queen has two people who she speaks to the most on her phones and she also apparently has a mobile phone which is said to be a Samsung packed with anti-hacker encryption by MI6 so nobody can hack into her phone,” royal commentator Jonathan Sacerdoti said during his appearance on US podcast </span><em><a rel="noopener" href="https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/royally-us-harry-meghan-kate-and-william-royal-news/id1553314202" target="_blank"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Royally</span></a></em><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“But the two people she phones the most is said to be her daughter Princess Anne and her racing manager John Warren.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It has also been revealed that the Queen intends to host the Royal Family at Sandringham House for Christmas.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The revelation comes at the end of a difficult year for Queen Elizabeth II, who lost her husband Prince Philip earlier this year and has experienced several health scares in recent months.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The Queen has told everyone she is feeling far better of late and is very much looking forward to welcoming them for Christmas,” a source told </span><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Daily Mail</span></em><span style="font-weight: 400;"> last week.</span></p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/CWtH84uMQCL/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="14"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/CWtH84uMQCL/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">A post shared by The Royal Family (@theroyalfamily)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The invites have reportedly been sent to Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie and their families.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, </span><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Page Six</span></em><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has reported that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle won’t be joining the festivities at Sandringham House.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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Beware the difference between ‘clean’ and ‘green’ hydrogen

<div> <div class="copy"> <p><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/cosmos-briefing-hydrogen-fuel/" target="_blank">Hydrogen</a> is set to be a crucial part of the energy sector by 2030. It combusts and releases energy without making carbon dioxide, meaning it <em>can</em> be used as an emissions-free source of energy – but research from the Australian National University reminds us that it could have an emissions-intensive future as well.</p> <p>The federal government has listed clean hydrogen as a priority in its <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/climate/australian-government-sets-a-net-zero-by-2050-emissions-target/" target="_blank">net-zero emissions plan</a>, and various <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/the-incoming-hydrogen-boom/" target="_blank">state governments</a> and <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/electrolysers-hydrogen-fuel-manufacture-australia/" target="_blank">private entities</a> have invested in clean hydrogen fuel and infrastructure.</p> <p>‘Clean’ hydrogen does not necessarily mean it’s emissions-free: while ‘green’ hydrogen, made from water with renewable energy, involves no carbon at all, other types of hydrogen can still emit greenhouse gases.</p> <p>“The Australian Government, and quite a few other governments around the world, have used a definition of ‘clean’ hydrogen that includes ‘blue’ and ‘green’ in their hydrogen strategies. And they’ve not really differentiated at all between these two ways of making hydrogen,” explains Dr Fiona Beck, a senior lecturer at ANU.</p> <p>Currently, most industrial hydrogen is made from methane (natural gas) – releasing CO<sub>2</sub> in the process. ‘Blue’ hydrogen is hydrogen made from methane, with carbon capture and storage preventing most of the CO<sub>2</sub> from getting into the atmosphere.</p> <p>“The true emissions intensity of blue hydrogen has not been very well reported so far,” says Beck.</p> <p>“For example, international hydrogen strategies assume that you can capture up to 90% of emissions from blue hydrogen, but they’re missing out some really critical parts.”</p> <p>Beck is co-author on a recent <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2021.118145" target="_blank">paper</a> in <em>Applied Energy,</em> examining the relative costs and emissions of blue and green hydrogen.</p> <p>The researchers point out that the CO<sub>2</sub> produced while making hydrogen from methane is not the only greenhouse gas involved. It also takes energy to capture and store the CO<sub>2</sub>, for instance – and excess methane is released as well.</p> <p>“Whenever you extract natural gas, you end up with what we call ‘fugitive emissions’. These are methane leaks that happen during the process of extracting the gas, processing the gas, transporting the gas,” says Beck.</p> <p>“It’s really critical that these are accounted for because methane is a really bad greenhouse gas. It’s worse than carbon dioxide.”</p> <p>While blue hydrogen is currently cheaper to make than green hydrogen, the researchers found that this could change as electrolysers – which are used to make green hydrogen – become more mass-produced.</p> <p>“Electrolysis with renewable energy could become cheaper than fossil fuels with CCS,” says co-author Dr Thomas Longden, also at ANU.</p> <p>“CCS is an expensive option for emissions reduction with most estimates for the cost of carbon capture being above $82 per tonne of carbon dioxide. These estimates increase to about $109 per tonne of CO<sub>2</sub> for high capture rates,” he adds.</p> <p>“Blue hydrogen is sometimes discussed as a transition between just using natural gas and going fully green. But one of the things that we discuss in the paper is it’s really unclear how long blue hydrogen would be cheaper than green hydrogen,” says Beck.</p> <p>Both the blue and green hydrogen industries are in their nascency. The researchers believe an exclusive focus on green hydrogen will be both more economically sensible, and better for the environment.</p> <p>“It’s just the wrong trajectory,” says Beck.</p> <p>“If you’re going to put a whole lot of money into a new industry, it should be an industry that’s at least compatible with this energy transition. And we don’t believe that blue hydrogen is really compatible with reducing methane and carbon dioxide.”</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/beware-difference-between-clean-and-green-hydrogen/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Crime-fighting algorithm to take up the battle against illegal drugs?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>he answer to drug forensics might be AI, according to a new <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s42256-021-00407-x" target="_blank">report</a> published in <em>Nature Machine Intelligence.</em></p> <p>Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, have trained a computer to predict <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/high-times-at-new-years/" target="_blank">designer drugs</a> based on specific common molecules, even before the drugs hit the market.</p> <p>Clandestine chemists are constantly manufacturing new and dangerous psychoactive drugs that law enforcement agencies struggle to keep up with. Many of these designer drugs can lead to irreparable mental damage and/or even death.</p> <p>“The vast majority of these designer drugs have never been tested in humans and are completely unregulated,” says author Dr Michael Skinnider. “They are a major public health concern to emergency departments across the world.”</p> <h2>The algorithm behind drug forensics</h2> <p>The algorithm used by the computer, called deep neural network, generated 8.9 million potential designer drugs that could be identified from a unique molecular make-up if they popped up in society.</p> <p>The researchers then compared this data set to newly emerging designer drugs and found that 90% of the 196 new drugs were in the predicted data set.</p> <p>“The fact that we can predict what designer drugs are likely to emerge on the market before they actually appear is a bit like the 2002 sci-fi movie, Minority Report<em>,</em> where foreknowledge about criminal activities about to take place helped significantly reduce crime in a future world,” explains senior author Dr David Wishart from the University of Alberta, Canada.</p> <p>“Essentially, our software gives law enforcement agencies and public health programs a head start on the clandestine chemists, and lets them know what to be on the lookout for.”</p> <p>With this level of prediction, forensic scanning of drugs can be cut from months to days.</p> <p>The algorithm also learned which molecules were more and less likely to appear.</p> <p>“We wondered whether we could use this probability to determine what an unknown drug is—based solely on its mass—which is easy for a chemist to measure for any pill or powder using mass spectrometry,” says UBC’s Dr Leonard Foster, an internationally recognised expert on mass spectrometry.</p> <p>Using only mass, the algorithm was able to correctly identify the molecular structure of an unknown drug in a single guess around 50% of the time, but the accuracy increased to 86% as more measurements were considered.</p> <p>“It was shocking to us that the model performed this well, because elucidating entire chemical structures from just an accurate mass measurement is generally thought to be an unsolvable problem,” says Skinnider. “And narrowing down a list of billions of structures to a set of 10 candidates could massively accelerate the pace at which new designer drugs can be identified by chemists.”</p> <p>The researchers say this AI could also help identify other new molecules, such as in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/new-test-for-performance-enhancing-drug-cheats/" target="_blank">sports doping</a> or novel molecules in the blood and urine.</p> <p>“There is an entire world of chemical ‘dark matter’ just beyond our fingertips right now,” says Skinnider. “I think there is a huge opportunity for the right AI tools to shine a light on this unknown chemical world.”</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/crime-fighting-algorithm-to-take-up-the-battle-against-illegal-drugs/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis. </em></p> </div> </div>

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