February 28, 2021


Nobel Prizes are rarely awarded without controversy. The prestige usually hatches a viperous nest of critics who deride the credentials of the winner, complain about the unmentioned collaborators who’ll be sidelined by history, or point to the more deserving recipients who’ve been unfairly snubbed.

So when the Norwegian committee decided to award the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Program, the United Nations’ food assistance agency, it was no surprise that the news was greeted with more than a few smirks and eye-rolls. 

In this case, the committee said, the prize was given because “in the face of the pandemic, the World Food Program has demonstrated an impressive ability to intensify its efforts.” Who could argue with that?

Plenty of people, it turns out. When UN bodies win the peace prize, “we are right at the edge of giving it to ‘the idea of org charts,’” quipped the … Read the rest


By now, we’ve all heard some version of the story. On December 2, after a protracted disagreement over the release of a research paper, Google forced out its ethical AI co-lead, Timnit Gebru. The paper was on the risks of large language models, AI models trained on staggering amounts of text data, which are a line of research core to Google’s business. Gebru, a leading voice in AI ethics, was one of the only Black women at Google Research.

The move has since sparked a debate about growing corporate influence over AI, the long-standing lack of diversity in tech, and what it means to do meaningful AI ethics research. As of December 15, over 2,600 Google employees and 4,300 others in academia, industry, and civil society had signed a petition denouncing the dismissal of Gebru, calling it “unprecedented research censorship” and “an act of retaliation.”

Gebru is known … Read the rest


Mobile application development is one of the fastest growing businesses because of the large number of smart phones being sold. Seamless Wi-Fi, Inc. (SMWF), a development stage company, is an Internet company that is developing cutting edge technologies to create and provide new and innovative products and services for both businesses and consumers. The company is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, has three operating subsidiaries, and engages in the development and marketing of Internet communications products and services in the United States. The company provides wireless Internet access service known as wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) in Wi-Fi hot pots. It also develops software program that provides Wi-Fi users with Seamless-Secure Internet browsing, which encrypts the user’s Wi-Fi signal. Another issue is that low lying coastal areas are the most densely populated areas and are the areas most prone to certain types of disasters, for example Tsunamis. Also, media coverage make people … Read the rest


California’s exposure notification system launched statewide on December 10, which means that almost half of all Americans now live somewhere covered by an app that will warn them if they’ve been close to someone with covid-19. 

We’re watching these rollouts closely as part of our Covid Tracing Tracker, which monitors the development of contact tracing apps in the US and around the world. These apps are now operating in 19 states, as well as in Washington, DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico. A handful of other states are either in a pilot period or have said they are considering using smartphone-based exposure notifications. 

As in several other states using the system designed by Google and Apple, California’s app is embedded in the operating system of newer iPhones: you just need to switch it on in the settings menu. (Android users still need to download software, but that should be … Read the rest


As covid-19 has taken over the US, medical providers have looked for any possible way to keep people home and out of hospitals without compromising care. We’re only now coming to grips with the unintended consequences of changes meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus and relieve strain on the medical system.  

One of the most significant is that millions of women and babies have become subjects in a hasty experiment. The hypothesis: Would it be better if more prenatal and postpartum care happened at home?

Pregnancy, including birth and aftercare, is the single largest reason for hospital visits in the US, and on average a typical pregnancy will involve between 12 and 14 medical appointments. Proper prenatal visits can prevent life-threatening complications. But limiting in-person care is vital during the pandemic, especially for pregnant women, who are more likely to develop severe or even fatal covid infections.

As … Read the rest


A few times a week, Vincent Buyssens’s students in Antwerp, Belgium’s Thomas More University College get on Instagram while he’s lecturing about creative strategy. They swipe through stories, add posts to their profile, and get lost in rabbit holes. But they’re not being surreptitious about it; in fact, Buyssens requires those taking his college course to use the app. The more they scroll during his lecture, the better.

“I teach social media storytelling,” he says. “There’s no way I was going to teach Instagram via Zoom, because it didn’t feel right.”

Buyssens is not the only teacher now moving beyond Zoom to reach out to students … Read the rest


Deep learning is an inefficient energy hog. It requires massive amounts of data and abundant computational resources, which explodes its electricity consumption. In the last few years, the overall research trend has made the problem worse. Models of gargantuan proportions—trained on billions of data points for several days—are in vogue, and likely won’t be going away any time soon.

Some researchers have rushed to find new directions, like algorithms that can train on less data, or hardware that can run those algorithms faster. Now IBM researchers are proposing a different one. Their idea would reduce the number of bits, or 1s and 0s, needed to represent the data—from 16 bits, the current industry standard, to only four.

The work, which is being presented this week at NeurIPS, the largest annual AI research conference, could increase the speed and cut the energy costs needed to … Read the rest


When covid-19 began to race around the world, countries closed businesses and told people to stay home. Many thought that would be enough to stop the coronavirus. If we had paid more attention to pigs, we might have known better. When it comes to controlling airborne viruses, says Bill Christianson, “I think we fool ourselves on how effective we can be.”

Christianson is an epidemiologist and veterinarian who heads the Pig Improvement Company, in Hendersonville, Tennessee. The company sells elite breeding swine to the pork industry, which for the last 34 years has been fighting a viral disease called porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome PRRS.

The pathogen causes an illness known as blue ear, for one of its more visible symptoms; when it first emerged, in the 1980s, it was simply called “mystery swine disease.” Once infected with PRRS (pronounced “purrs”), a sow is liable to miscarry or give birth … Read the rest


The pandemic made for a lot of differences in this year’s US elections, including vastly expanded access to mail-in ballots and early voting. That upended the Election Day rituals many Americans had become used to—but it resulted in more people voting than ever before. 

It also meant they voted more securely than ever.

Officials around the country spent the last four years working to make election systems more resilient, so that if one thing goes wrong, there is still a way to keep the democratic process moving forward. E-poll books have paper backups, for example, while ballots have paper trails, and voter registration databases have offline backups.

But by extending the election so that it covered a longer period—several weeks or even a full month—they ended up with a system that can roll with the punches in a new way.

“If you have everyone voting on Election Day, it makes … Read the rest


As a reporter who can code, I can easily collect information from websites and social media accounts to find stories. All I need to do is write a few lines of code that go into the ether, open up websites, and download the data that is already publicly available on them. This process is called scraping. 

But there’s a calculus I make in my head whenever I begin pursuing a story that requires scraping: “Is this story worth going to prison for?”

I’m not talking about hacking into the walled-off databases of the CIA. I’m talking about using a script to gather information that I can access as an everyday Internet consumer, like public Instagram posts or tweets that use a certain hashtag.

My worry is not unfounded. A vaguely written US law called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes accessing this kind of information in programmatic ways … Read the rest