February 28, 2021

Developments

Earlier this month a mutated variant of the coronavirus was detected in the UK, setting off alarms across Europe and causing some countries to ban travelers from Britain.

But it’s still not clear that the new variant is much more easily transmitted, as some scientists have warned. Moreover, several companies with authorized vaccines or therapeutic drugs for covid-19—Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Regeneron, and Eli Lilly—said they were either doing tests or already had data showing that their treatments should work against the new form of the coronavirus.

And even though these treatments may eventually need to be updated, the technology behind some of the leading vaccines makes them uniquely well suited to keep up with an ever-evolving virus.

Mutation fearmongering

The new variant was discovered by British gene-sequencing labs and was linked to a fast-growing cluster of covid-19 cases in London and southeast England. Scientists advising the UK government have speculated that … Read the rest

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The consensus is that 2020 has been “the worst.” But there is reason to look back at this year and find the unexpected silver linings of quarantine, particularly when it comes to how we connect with other people.

None of these benefits compare with the death and suffering and misery of a terrible year, but here’s a list of the small wins that we can hold onto and nurture as we finally shake the dust of 2020 from our feet. 

We could roll over and log into work. Zoom fatigue is real, but online work shouldn’t be treated as an entirely temporary substitute for the office. Many disability advocates have been asking employers for years to offer remote work as an option for jobs that can be done that way. The pandemic was proof that some people really do benefit from working from home, and can be just as productive … Read the rest

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This spring, while the US government was spinning its wheels on an official covid-19 response, countries around the world were rolling out national contact tracing apps. Beginning with Singapore in mid-March, more than 40 countries have launched digital exposure notification systems, to varying degrees of success.

Our Covid Tracing Tracker logs each country’s app and the technologies used, noting privacy considerations and giving each one a transparency rating. We regularly update the tracker to document changes—for example, after finding that several countries rolled back privacy measures. Among the other changes: countries whose apps have been suspended, relaunched, or replaced.

Iran’s AC19 app, which claimed to detect covid-19 infections but was actually spying on users, was banned from the Google Play store and no longer appears to be in use. Meanwhile, Japan’s app has been suspended at least twice because of glitches. The country plans to allow entry to overseas … Read the rest

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In 2018, Sam Cole, a reporter at Motherboard, discovered a new and disturbing corner of the internet. A Reddit user by the name of “deepfakes” was posting nonconsensual fake porn videos using an AI algorithm to swap celebrities’ faces into real porn. Cole sounded the alarm on the phenomenon, right as the technology was about to explode. A year later, deepfake porn had spread far beyond Reddit, with easily accessible apps that could “strip” clothes off any woman photographed.

Since then deepfakes have had a bad rap, and rightly so. The vast majority of them are still used for fake pornography. A female investigative journalist was severely harassed and temporarily silenced by such activity, and more recently, a female poet and novelist was frightened and shamed. There’s also the risk that political deepfakes will generate convincing fake news that could wreak havoc in unstable political environments.

But as the … Read the rest

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There are two stories you hear about making a living as an artist in the digital age, and they are diametrically opposed. One comes from Silicon Valley and its boosters in the media. There’s never been a better time to be an artist, it goes. If you’ve got a laptop, you’ve got a recording studio. If you’ve got an iPhone, you’ve got a movie camera. GarageBand, Final Cut Pro: all the tools are at your fingertips. And if production is cheap, distribution is free. It’s called the internet: YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Kindle Direct Publishing. Everyone’s an artist; just tap your creativity and put your stuff out there. Soon, you too can make a living doing what you love, just like all those viral stars you read about.

The other story comes from artists themselves, especially musicians but also writers, filmmakers, people who do comedy. Sure, it goes, you can put … Read the rest

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In some stores, sophisticated systems are tracking customers in almost every imaginable way, from recognizing their faces to gauging their age, their mood, and virtually gussying them up with makeup. The systems rarely ask for people’s permission, and for the most part they don’t have to. In our season 1 finale, we look at the explosion of AI and face recognition technologies in retail spaces, and what it means for the future of shopping.

We meet:

  • RetailNext CTO Arun Nair
  • L’Oreal’s Technology Incubator Global VP Guive Balooch
  • Modiface CEO Parham Aarabi
  • Biometrics pioneer and Chairman of ID4Africa Joseph Atick

Credits

This episode was reported and produced by Jennifer Strong, Anthony Green, Tate Ryan-Mosley, Emma Cillekens and Karen Hao. We’re edited by Michael Reilly and Gideon Lichfield.

Transcript

[TR ID]

Strong: Retailers have been using face recognition and AI tracking technologies for years.

[Audio from Face First: What if you … Read the rest

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When resident physicians at Stanford Medical Center—many of whom work on the frontlines of the covid-19 pandemic—found out that only seven out of over 1,300 of them had been prioritized for the first 5,000 doses of the covid vaccine, they were shocked. Then, when they saw who else had made the list, including administrators and doctors seeing patients remotely from home, they were angry.

During a planned photo op to celebrate the first vaccinations taking place on Friday December 18, at least 100 residents showed up to protest. Hospital leadership apologized for not prioritizing them, and blamed the errors on “a very complex algorithm.” 

“Our algorithm, that the ethicists, infectious disease experts worked on for weeks… clearly didn’t work right,” Tim Morrison, the director of the ambulatory care team, told residents at the event in a video posted online.

Many saw that as an excuse, especially since hospital leadership … Read the rest

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Looking back to the start of the pandemic, I am struck by our community’s formidable strength. In March 2020, we did not know what it would take to sustain MIT’s great mission through this crisis. Since then, we have found a way together, and we have made it work. That accomplishment belongs to every member of our community—and thanks to our immense shared effort, MIT is still MIT. We forge ahead with the same passion for the Institute’s mission, the same distinctive practical optimism, the same gaze toward the future. And many members of our community, including our alumni, are actively pursuing research and innovation to better understand the virus and help humanity contain it.

As the United States strives to respond to complex crises from covid-19 to climate change, I believe that the perspective of our community—analytical, hands-on, grounded in facts and science, attuned to complex systems, and … Read the rest

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In the early 1970s, Steve Gorad ’63 had a successful career as a clinical psychologist. He was in charge of the alcohol unit at Boston State Hospital and had a private practice, but he was restless. “It wasn’t enough,” he says. “I was a long-haired hippie writing [draft exemption] letters for people who didn’t want to go to Vietnam. I had doubts about what we really knew about psychology. I was a seeker.” So when Gorad’s boss at the hospital refused to give him time off to attend a 40-day spiritual workshop organized by a group called Arica, he quit. He immersed himself in Arica, turned his home in Boston’s South End into a commune, and traveled throughout Latin America. “My response to most everything during those years was to say yes,” he recalls.

While living in Chile, Gorad visited Bolivia. There he encountered quinoa, a grain considered peasant food … Read the rest

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Hal Crain
Owner, Crain Ranch nut farm and processing facility
Los Molinos, California

I woke up at 4:30 today. Right now, the end of September, this is right in the middle of walnut harvest season. I’m still wearing my work clothes every day, going out into the field every day. 

This story is one of a series about how hidden innovations produce the foods we eat at the prices we pay. It has been edited for length and clarity. As told to Krithika Varagur.

So the shaking operation comes first. You shake the trees, drop the nuts onto the ground. Then you have these mechanical sweepers that basically sweep all the nuts off the ground and into windrows, about three feet wide, all in a big, long line on both sides of each tree. Behind that goes a pickup machine, or a harvester, that picks them up off the ground, … Read the rest

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