A Global Anti-Hoax Mechanism?

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This was the idea advocated by a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson at this years SPIEF economic forum. She was speaking at the “Hoax vs. Truth: challenges of the modern information world” session.

“We are trying to somehow spur a discussion regarding the creation of a certain global mechanism, an instrument that would counteract the spread of false information,” she said. She gave some details about the projects, saying it would involve the collaboration of journalists and news organizations with outreach in various parts of the world.

She said that Russia also advocated working on some kind of framework for snuffing out fake information when it attended the UN’s information committee 2 months ago, but that the U.S. had opposed it.

However, Russia is not known for reliable information coming from its state-run and state-dominated media, and the chief of Germany’s DPA news agency commented that such a program might lead to further censorship and a new “Ministry of Truth.”

Russia’s Central Bank to Develop National Cryptocurrency

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The popularity and value of dealing in cryptocurrency has been established over the past couple of years, with Bitcoin the most prominent of many new digital moneys.

The Russian Central Bank’s Deputy Chairman Olga Skorobogatova spoke at SPIEF 2017 spoke about Russia’s interest in developing their own.

“Regulators of all countries agree that it’s time to develop national cryptocurrencies, this is the future,” said Skorobogatova. “Every country will decide on specific time frames. After our pilot projects we will understand what system we could use in our case for our national currency,”

She wasn’t the only Russian banking official to speak in favor of it at this year’s economic forum. Part of the interest comes from the current state of cryptocurrencies, including that transactions can’t be traced to any person, and that recently there have been new legislative restrictions imposed by various countries.

Paradigm Shift From Industrial to Knowledge City

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In 2017, the idea has come to the fore that there has been a shift towards a knowledge/creative class, and the new method of production is knowledge. Recently, the subject featured large at the 2017 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Cities that have developed lately into strong knowledge economies are considered to have had seeds decades ago in investment in education.

The new drivers of competitiveness of cities: No power losses, evolution and dynamics of the city’s economy, higher disposable income, personal wealth, and high technologies.

According to Roberto dos Reis Alvarez, Executive Director, Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils, who spoke at SPIEF on these ideas, “First, the Seamless City. Cities should operate in a way that we are not wasting energy-created heat, but just light. A second key idea … was really about evolution. And how could cities be adaptive to … all these transformations… A third conversation was about the Wellcity, this is really about wellness at the personal level. … And finally, this concept of the free city.”

Russia’s place in the future knowledge economy was highlighted by Alexey Kudrin, Chairman of the Board, Center for Strategic Research Foundation: “By 2025, 60% of the world’s GDP will be produced in 600 major cities. … In Russia, only two cities – Moscow and St. Petersburg – can somehow take part in this global competition. The first two cities produce 27% of Russia’s GDP; it is 13% in the US and 9% in Europe.”

The speakers talked about building new cities, but with modern technology, because current infrastructure is lagging behind tech. “When Russia will create … large cities and agglomerations which will become the hubs bringing together technology and intellectual potential, social capital and quality of life, it is only then that it will be competitive on a global scale,” said Kudrin. “Those 15 cities with a population of more than a million people, and another five cities that would be able to gather more than a million people around taking the agglomeration into account, should receive special support and, perhaps, a special status,”

The goal of these new cities is one that would require special civil workers, another speaker noted. “There is a need to have such a mayor who would have his own vision of the future and would be working hard in their position, and for a long time.”

And these would also require new transportation — airports and high-speed railways.

PFOA Chemicals in Water

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A study has now shown that residents of the Mid-Ohio River Valley had higher than normal levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), based on blood samples collected over a 22-year span (1991-2013).

The exposure source was likely drinking water contaminated by industrial discharges upriver.

The researchers identified three known industrial sources who discharge PFOA into the Ohio River: DuPont’s Fort Washington Works and on-site landfill, Dry Run Landfill in Washington, WV, and Letart Landfill in Letart, WV.

The issue is increasingly common. It has been reported that every person now has around 4 or 5 parts per billion in their blood, which is around 10x the EPA provisional limit.

And, while PFOA is being phased out, it’s only one chemical in a large class of fluorine-derived substances called fluoropolymers (PFAs), so all the industry has to do is simply switch to different ones that aren’t registered by the EPA, and have not been studied to the same extent.

The recourse taken by those affected tends to be lawsuits. A lawyer recently made headlines for suing DuPont for PFOA after a farmer called him to complain his cattle were getting sick and dying left and right and a soapy froth of chemical buildup in his creek.


Ebola Event in DRC

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At least one person has died and it is believed at least 10 others are affected by a new outbreak in the northernmost province of the Congo.

It has been 3 years since the West African Epidemic peaked. The epidemic killed over 11,000.

Black Death Rate Improves Drastically

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A 25% improvement in the black death rate since 1999 was reported by the CDC this week.

They analyzed for age-specific trends among 4 age groups: 18 to 34, 35 to 49, 50 to 64 and 65 and older.

Whites, who live 4 years longer than blacks on average, have seen worse death rates since 1999, as was reported in headline news earlier this year. The trend in white deaths is referred to as “deaths of despair” and are often related to drugs, alcohol and suicide, and they are widespread — crossing the county and all its socioeconomic brackets, but are particularly prevalent in low-education whites (high school or less).

Globally, mortality rates are getting better for almost everyone. In the U.S., minorities are seeing longer lives, but in other developed countries, which are often compared with America, white lives are increasing.

Swearing Makes You Stronger, Psychologists Say

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It might not be a surprise to anyone who has ever used strong language in a difficult situation as part of their natural strategy for getting through it, but scientists have tested it.

They had people repeat swear words and perform physical tasks, like riding exercise bikes and squeezing hand grips. Compared with people who didn’t swear, those who used strong language had higher performance.

The research was done by Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University.

Robots for Fruit-Picking Jobs

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Fruit may join the large number of U.S. crops that are harvested by machines.

Robotics companies like FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics are working on building machines to harvest delicate fruits.

FFRobotics is developing a 4- to 12-armed machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch — at a rate of up to 10,000 apples an hour. The machines would leave about 10 or 15% of the fruit on the trees that humans would have to pick.

Abundant Robotics’ machine uses a vacuum to pull off apples.

The goal is to have these bots working in a couple of years, and analysts think they can do it.

Back to the Moon? Trump’s Statement Rouses Spaceheads

moon mission
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When President Donald Trump mentioned “other worlds” in his speech to a join Congress this week, the space community started buzzing.

“American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream,” said Trump at the end of his speech.

According to PBS NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O’brian a manned mission could take place in 2019, as “all of a sudden there is wide agreement in the space community [the moon] might be the next step.” The mission may take the form of “learning how to live there on a sustained basis” — ie, a manned encampment.

A traditional barrier to space missions has been the large cost. NASA’s budget is around 19 billion, and the Army’s budget for space is around $40 billion, and analysts are considering ways these two organizations could borrow from each other in a force multiplier relationship, making it possible to make a moon mission with reduced costs to the country.

The private sector is also increasingly interested in the moon. SpaceX also is continuing to push toward commercial voyages. Elon Musk’s company announced a tourist trip for two people around the moon before.

Image: Foster + Partners/ESA

Dubai to Have Flying Driverless Cars This Summer

Dubai to Have Flying Driverless Cars This Summer
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In a few months, the UAE will have flying driverless cars, according to Dubai’s transport authority.

They’ve already done test runs for the autonomous aerial vehicles (AAV), made by Chinese firm Ehang.

The vehicles are Ehang 184s and can carry one pilot.

Top speed: 160kph
Flight time: 30 minutes
Ascending speed: 8 meters / second
Landing speed: 4 meters / second
Weight:250kg empty / 360kg with passenger
Max cruising height:3000 feet
Charging time:1-2 hours

“The AAV exhibited at the summit is not just a model; it is a real version that we have already experimented the vehicle in a flight in Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017,” said Mattar Al Tayer, the director general and chairman of the RTA.

Video of the Ehang 184 test

The RTA, in collaboration with the Chinese firm Ehang, has carried out the first test run of an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) capable of carrying a human, the Ehang 184, and the authority said it is set to launch operations very soon.

The flying car was exhibited at the World Government Summit in Dubai this week and the chief of the RTA said a summer start date for flights is envisioned.

“The AAV exhibited at the summit is not just a model; it is a real version that we have already experimented the vehicle in a flight in Dubai sky. The RTA is making every effort to start the operation of the AAV in July 2017,” said Mattar Al Tayer, the director general and chairman of the RTA.

The Ehang 184 is fitted with a touchscreen to the front of the passenger seat displaying a map of all destinations in the form of dots. It has preset routes and the passenger selects the intended destination. The vehicle will then start automatic operation, take off and cruise to the set destination before descending and landing in a specific spot. A ground-based centre will monitor and control the entire operation.

“The trial run of the first AAV is in implementation of the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to transform Dubai into the smartest city in the world,” said Mr Al Tayer

“It is also part of the RTA’s endeavors to provide self-driving transport through engaging in the technological tests of self-driving vehicles in a Dubai environment.

“It replicates Dubai Self-driving Transport Strategy aimed at transforming 25 per cent of total individual trips in Dubai into self-driving trips using various modes of transport by 2030,” added Mr Al Tayer.

“The step would also enhance the integration between public transport modes and people happiness through the provision of smooth, quick and innovative mobility.

“We have addressed the highest levels of security in the designing and manufacturing of the Ehang184. The vehicle is fitted with eight main propellers,” Mr Al Tayer said.

“In case of any failure in the first propeller, there would be seven other propellers ready to complete the flight and a smooth landing, while mitigating the impact of the fault sustained by the first propeller.”

Importantly, the vehicle has numerous basic systems all running independently, but at the same time, so that if something malfunctions a standby can take over.

“The AAV is designed to operate under all climatic conditions unless there is a thunderstorm. The vehicle is fitted with highly accurate sensors with a very low-error threshold and can resist vibrations and extreme temperatures,” said Mr Al Tayer.

“Dubai Civil Aviation Authority was a partner in our trials defining the safety criteria required, issuing the permits for trial and inspecting the vehicle, RTA appreciates their contribution.

“The 4G data network is used in communication between the AAV and the ground control center. The company had also provided the support needed to ensure the continued communication between the AAV and the control centre through M2M and LTE technologies,” he explained.

Young People Like Big Government, Pew Finds

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According to a recent report by Pew Research, young people are more often in favor of big government that provides a lot of social services.

Pew’s research found that Americans from 18-50 are around 55% in favor of bigger government. Those over 50 and under 65 are the least in favor of bigger governments, and those over 65 also are more often in favor of smaller governments, but not as much as the 50-64s.

Who else prefers bigger governments? Relatively speaking, women, those with highschool education or less, and those with less than $30,000 in family income. Also, Republicans and Conservatives fairly strongly favor small government, while Liberals and left-leaning individuals strongly favor bigger government.

3D Printing Against Daesh: “We Will Recreate What ISIS Destroyed”

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3D technology comes to the rescue after the destruction of several world cultural treasures by the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the United Nations, ISIS has destroyed and damaged 200 world heritage sites along with hundreds of statues and artefacts since 2014.

ISIS’ plan is simple. It is about erasing all traces of previous cultures to establish their own and take advantage of the media coverage following massing destructions of historic sites to grab the world’s attention. In addition, this cultural cleaning is a way for Daesh to finance their activities by selling to dealers and private collectors.

Yet those lost treasures that some call “blood artifacts” may not be lost forever.

Through her digital fabrication and 3D printing project “Material Speculation : ISIS”, Iranian artist and activist Morehshin Allahyari chose to focus on the reconstruction of selected artifacts and statues destroyed by ISIS in Iraq in 2015.

In addition, to repair history and memory, each 3D printed object comprises a flash drive and a memory card. The data in these flash drives contain materials: maps, images, videos and pdf files on the destroyed artifacts and sites. They were gathered thanks to a collaboration with different archaeologists and historians, including and museum staff.

“Like time capsules, each object is sealed and kept for future civilizations.”
Morehshin Allahyari

Just like Murehshin Allahyari artifacts, Palmyra has suffered numerous act of vandalism. The Syrian desert city known as the Venice of the Sands lost the triumphal arch from 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel.

Devastated, many archaeologists talked restoration and reconstruction such as American lawyer/archaeologist Roger Michel. Indeed, as the founder of Oxford’s Institute for Digital Archaeology, Michel has built a 3D facsimile arch from Palmyra’s destroyed Temple of Bel.

Temple of Bel

Thanks to 3D technology, Palmyra’s rose again in London’s Trafalgar Square last April to coincide with world heritage week. It should then travel on to Times Square in New York City.

This 3D replica of the 15-meters arch that formed the temple’s entrance is a gesture of defiance against ISIS’ desire to erase cultural and historical evidence.

“My intention is to show Islamic State that anything they can blow up we can rebuild exactly as it was before, and rebuild it again and again. We will use technology to disempower ISIS.” Roger Michel

Moving for some or uncanny for others, this incredible public display of 3D reconstruction is the proof that new technology can restore entire parts of 20th-century historical sites. Although out of their original context and site, 3D monuments or artifacts might still conserve their precious sense of place and craftsmanship, thus preserving everybody’s heritage.

By Pauline Schnoebelen

Featured image (‘Temple of Bel’): ICONEM is a young Paris based start-up focused on 3D reconstruction and analysis of endangered archaeological sites, which the group considers to be part of our common heritage. To prevent destruction caused by conflict, looting or natural disasters, they send teams on the ground to train people and help them document this heritage.