Friday, July 12, 2024

Enquiring Minds

Science does weird things sometimes, especially when you're not really sure what it does. Like, does science figure things out, or does it make things more confusing? Does it prove things right, or does it prove things wrong? Does it discover, or does it forget? Man I'm already confused. 

Analysis claims statistical proof of the COVID-19 seafood market hypothesis is false
Jan 2024,

Hard to believe, years later: "Research on this question is still in its infancy," explains Stoyan.

Real science, good science, takes time. And it takes time because it needs people to correct each other, over and over, until we all agree that we're all right. 

As for this one, I am not statistician, but even I can see why this was a dumb study:

Stoyan and Chiu used the same geostatistical data as Worobey and colleagues. These are the residential addresses of the first 155 coronavirus cases. These addresses were entered as points on a map. In the Science article, this dot pattern is compared with dot patterns generated by simulation, finding significant differences. However, since these artificial dot patterns are incorrectly chosen, the test used must always reject the hypothesis that a location other than the market is the epicenter.

In other words, Worobey and colleagues have excluded locations other than the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market from the outset. However, other locations in the vicinity of the market could also be possible candidates: A large railway station and a huge shopping complex with hotels and restaurants. 

via the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology: Dietrich Stoyan et al, Statistics did not prove that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was the early epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A: Statistics in Society (2024). DOI: 10.1093/jrsssa/qnad139

Why the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology?

The Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg (abbreviation: TU Bergakademie Freiberg, TUBAF) is a public university of technology with 3,471 students in the city of Freiberg, Saxony, Germany. Its focuses are exploration, mining & extraction, processing, and recycling of natural resources & scrap, as well as developing new materials and researching renewable energies. It is highly specialized and proficient in these fields. Today, it's the oldest university of mining and metallurgy in the world.

(No idea why)

Image credit: AI Art - 1930s Poster of a Surgeon Performing a Brain Transplant - 2024

Filed under wtf:
Study examines aerodynamic performance of nylon shuttlecocks
Jan 2024,

Shuttlecocks, also known as birdies or birds, are traditionally made from duck feathers, but nylon shuttlecocks have become more widely used because of their superior durability. Their flight behavior, however, is far different from that of traditional feather birdies.

In Physics of Fluids, a trio of scientists in India explored the aerodynamic performance of nylon shuttlecocks at various flight speeds. Through computational analyses based on two-way fluid-structure interactions, the team coupled equations governing air flow with equations determining skirt deformation of a shuttlecock in flight.

The study's computational results confirm experimental measurements, explaining the phenomenology of why a duck feather shuttlecock does not deform as much as a nylon shuttlecock - and why the flight of each at high speed is quite different.

via Department of Aerospace Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur: Computational analysis of the fluid-structure interactions of a synthetic badminton shuttlecock, Physics of Fluids (2024). DOI: 10.1063/5.0182411

Interstellar signal linked to aliens was actually just a truck
Mar 2024,

Facts vs Fandom:
After a meteor entered Earth's atmosphere over the Western Pacific in January 2014, the event was linked to ground vibrations recorded at a seismic station in Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. In 2023, materials at the bottom of the ocean near where the meteor fragments were thought to have fallen were identified as of "extraterrestrial technological" (alien) origin.

Sound waves thought to be from a 2014 meteor fireball north of Papua New Guinea were almost certainly vibrations from a truck rumbling along a nearby road.

Says planetary seismologist. 

Johns Hopkins University: Benjamin Fernando et al, Seismic and acoustic signals from the 2014 'Interstellar Meteor', arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2403.03966 ,

Materials follow the 'Rule of Four,' but scientists don't know why yet
Apr 2024,

"Rare example of a scientific paper describing a negative result"; it happens.

The two collections of materials science databases include over 80,000 electronic structures of experimental as well as predicted materials; scientists noticed that around 60 percent of structures in both databases have primitive unit cells made out of a multiple of 4 atoms. The scientists named this recurrence the "Rule of Four" and started looking for an explanation.

"The first question we asked was whether the software used to 'primitivize' the unit cell had done it correctly, and the answer was yes."

"We could expect to find that all the materials following this Rule of Four included silicon (which has a coordination number of 4)," says Gazzarini. "But again, they did not."

"The materials that are most abundant in nature should be the most energetically favored, which means the most stable ones, those with negative formation energy. But what we saw with classic computational methods was that there was no correlation between the Rule of Four and negative formation energies."

A machine-learning expert at the University of Wisconsin developed an algorithm to group structures according to their atomic properties and look at formation energies within classes of materials sharing some chemical similarities. But again, this method did not provide a way to distinguish the Rule-of-Four compliant materials from the non-compliant ones.

Similarly, the abundance of multiple of fours does not even correlate with highly symmetric structures but rather with low symmetries and loosely packed arrangements.

In the end, the resulting article in npj Computational Materials is the rare example of a scientific paper describing a negative result: the researchers could only describe the phenomenon and rule out several possible causes, without finding one.

via EPFL Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne and National Centre of Competence in Research: Elena Gazzarrini et al, The rule of four: anomalous distributions in the stoichiometries of inorganic compounds, npj Computational Materials (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41524-024-01248-z

New research confirms plastic production is directly linked to plastic pollution
Apr 2024,

Every 1% increase in plastic production is associated with a 1% increase in plastic pollution in the environment.

Sometimes you wonder why we even need science. But then you remember that global megacorporations spend lots of money and lots of effort to hide, confuse and redirect attention and scientific investigation away from this stuff:

56 global companies are responsible for more than half of all branded plastic pollution.

The Coca-Cola Company was responsible for 11% of branded waste, followed by PepsiCo (5%), Nestlé (3%), Danone (3%), and Altria/Philip Morris International (2%). The top companies identified produce food, beverage, or tobacco products.

The five-year analysis used #BreakFreeFromPlastic brand audit data from 1,576 audit events across 84 countries. Brand audits are citizen science initiatives in which volunteers conduct waste clean-ups and document the brands found on the pollution collected. Over five years, more than 200,000 volunteers submitted data through Break Free From Plastic or 5 Gyres' TrashBlitz app. 

via Institute of Environmental & Marine Sciences and College of Engineering & Design at Silliman University, and CSIRO: Win Cowger et al, Global Producer Responsibility for Plastic Pollution, Science Advances (2024). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adj8275.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

I Drink Your Milkshake

AKA The Economy Doesn't Exist

Believe it or not, we have run out of things to buy, and now we're coming for you, the consumer. 

Let's start with this old blog post by a guy who says Karen is an acknowledgment of the downfall of consumerism:

For decades this prevailing ideology ["the customer is always right"] instilled in millions of consumers around the world an expectation that when it came to the items they bought and services they used, few things beyond the limits of time and space should get in the way of their satisfaction. If something did go wrong, it was the responsibility of the consumer to “speak with the manager” in order to let them know of the flaw in their operation and insist they correct the problem lest the patron not return in the future. ...

Such admonishments ["go shopping" by GWB after 9-11] worked due to the fact that no matter how unpredictable one’s life or how dysfunctional the performance of core institutions, the system that delivered consumer bliss would never fail. The problem now, of course, is that the system is now failing and the ability of consumer culture to paper over the contradictions of the contemporary global assemblage of power is waning rapidly. ... 

Floods and rising ocean levels will destroy favorite beaches and destroy oceanfront vacation property. Droughts and water shortages will shorten ski seasons and prevent the filling of back yard pools. Pandemics will require lockdowns and the closing of large portions of the economy. Supply chains will be disrupted from any number of new problems not contemplated in decades past.

--The Post-Consumer Society, Aug 2021, Eric Fattor's Blog, professor of politics, security and media at Colorado State

The gaming industry is aiming for subscribers. Will gamers play along?
Jan 2024, BBC News

"As it becomes increasingly difficult for younger generations to own real things, we start to see a push towards temporary ownership, or renting, and that’s going to be the case at a high level, with fewer young families buying homes and cars," he says. "For younger generations ownership is not a necessity, and we’re going to also see that in the games industry."

No it won't. This is what it looks like now, but it's not what will happen. When sectors of industry collapse and re-emerge, and at the same time, regional and national subpopulations revolt against their rapid and absolute loss of agency, this is not what will happen. A disturbance in the force has indeed already happened. The consumer economy is completely out of touch with reality, and the people who control it are unknowingly exposing their entire societal utility as no longer useful but undeniably hostile and extortionist. 

The pendulum has already swung, hard. But when your job depends on not accepting something as real, you don't. The media, which in the United States is majority commercial in nature, as opposed to government-funded or fully user-sponsored, cannot see this happening, because if they did, they would lose their funding ecosystem. This article comes from BBC, but it's written for the US population (almost wanted to say "market" but BBC is ostensibly government funded so it's not a "market" per se) and follows the narrative of the majority media there:

Why US economy is powering ahead of Europe's
Feb 2024, BBC News

For the first time in my life, I see the meaning of these words, right there in plain sight:

High inflation has been a painful experience for many Americans and has shaped their view of how the economy is faring. But a strong jobs market has helped disposable income, which is the engine behind consumer spending.

Disposable Income - It's the engine behind consumer spending. Our consumer economy is predicated on the disposable.

Researchers show Reddit users caused the famous GameStop 'short squeeze'
Feb 2024,

Not sure we needed this but it's good for posterity 

The most notable short squeeze in decades was the GameStop short squeeze of January 2021. Notably, it seemed to originate on social media, especially the r/Wallstreetbets subgroup of Reddit. Users there saw GameStop's stock price receding due in part to the pandemic, and approximately 140% of the public stock was sold short, meaning some who had borrowed the stock had re-lent it.

Redditors decided the stock of the company - a brick-and-mortar video game sales company - was undervalued and began buying it up. The buying caused the stock price to rise, panicking short sellers, who bought back their borrowed shares, creating still more panic. In just three and a half weeks the stock price rose 2,702%, making millionaires of some and breaking others.

When analyzed, the data showed a stronger cross-correlation of trading volume with Reddit activity than with the stock price itself—about three times larger—suggesting that the changes observed in trading volume were more tied to discussions on Reddit than reactions to the increasing stock price.

The wild swing of GameStop stock price served as an alarm for many investors who were now more aware of the power of social media networks and online communities in influencing financial markets and investment decisions.

It has opened the eyes of institutional investors on Wall Street.

via Technical University of Denmark: Antonio Desiderio et al, The causal role of the Reddit collective action on the GameStop short squeeze, arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2401.14999

More than money, family and community bonds prep teens for college success
Apr 2024,

No need to make it any clearer, money is the opposite of people; good old financial capital vs social capital; but social capital disperses the power to the many, and power wants to be concentrated into the hands of the few, so it's hard.

Social connectedness had a bigger effect on college enrollment and graduation rates than a family's socioeconomic status, a high school environment or a student's high school grades.
  • Build family social capital -
  • Bond with teens
  • Convey expectations and norms toward schoolwork
  • Check homework
  • Discuss classes
  • Developing connections with others in the community, including with the parents of their kids' friends and with neighbors, coaches or teachers.
  • Work policies that encourage family time
  • Urban planning for walkable neighborhoods
  • School practices that help parents get involved
Their data came from 20,000 students who participated in the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study and the 2002 Educational Longitudinal Study, which provided data about family relationships, community connection and educational attainment from students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades, then followed up two and eight years after high school graduation.

via Brigham Young University, North Carolina State University and the National Institute on Aging: Mikaela J. Dufur et al, Is social capital durable?: How family social bonds influence college enrollment and completion, PLOS ONE (2024). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0298344

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Everything Is A Computer If You Try Hard Enough

You walk into a room, and it's empty, but you enter, and without hesitation, you sit down into mid air, and before you land, a chair materializes itself to catch you. The actual matter, the particles that make up the chair, have been engineered to become chairs. They have "chair" written not into their DNA, but into their fundamental physics. They have no power source because they take their energy from light waves, sound waves, vibrations, even gradients like in between high temperatures and lows, or saltwater and fresh, or whatever that means, since it could be an information gradient (could it?). They have no battery because they don't use more than they need in real time. Every particle of this special form of matter is a computer, with wireless communication, with sensors, all of it built into the physics of the particles themselves. It will know you're in the room, who you are and what you want. And that's why all you have to do is want to sit, and the chair materializes. It's still too hard to explain what it means when everything is a computer, but here is an introduction:  

Photonic chip that 'fits together like Lego' opens door to semiconductor industry
Dec 2023,

Chiplets - The chip is built using an emerging technology in silicon photonics that allows the integration of diverse systems on semiconductors less than 5 millimeters wide; it's like fitting together Lego building blocks, where new materials are integrated through advanced packaging of components, using electronic "chiplets."

via University of Sydney Nano Institute:  Matthew Garrett et al, Integrated microwave photonic notch filter using a heterogeneously integrated Brillouin and active-silicon photonic circuit, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-43404-x

Unexpected AI fingers image credit: AI Art - AI Fingers at Work on a Circuitboard - 2023

Study suggests that physical processes can have hidden neural network-like abilities
Jan 2024,

Natural molecular processes can do complex calculations that rival a simple neural network. On the face of it, the initial steps in the act of freezing - called 'nucleation' in physics - do not resemble 'thinking'. But the new study shows that the act of freezing can "recognize" subtly different chemical combinations - e.g., the smell of oatmeal raisin cookies versus chocolate chip - and build different molecular structures in response.

The work points at a new view of computation that does not involve designing circuits, but rather designing what physicists call a phase diagram. For example, for water, a phase diagram might describe the temperature and pressure conditions in which liquid water will freeze or boil, which are 'muscle'-like material properties. But this work shows that the phase diagram can also encode 'thinking' in addition to 'doing,' when scaled up to complex systems with many different kinds of components.

via University of Chicago, California Institute of Technology, and Maynooth University: Constantine Glen Evans et al, Pattern recognition in the nucleation kinetics of non-equilibrium self-assembly, Nature (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06890-z

International research team develops new hardware for neuromorphic computing
Feb 2024,

In the eye, the visual information is pre-processed by hundreds of millions of the retina's photoreceptors and converted into electrical signals that are transmitted by the optic nerve to the brain. This process greatly reduces the amount of data processed in the brain by the visual cortex.

(The nose is far, far crazier in what it does, by the way)

Inspired by eyesight, this on-chip phonon-magnon reservoir for neuromorphic computing maps input signals into a multidimensional reservoir space. The reservoir is made of acoustic waves (phonons) and spin waves (magnons), and is not trained but only expedites recognition by a simplified artificial neural network, resulting in enormous reduction of computational resources and training time.

(Wait until they get inspired by the nose)

via Technische Universität Dortmund, Loughborough University, V. E. Lashkaryov Institute of Semiconductor Physics in Kyiv, University of Nottingham: Dmytro D. Yaremkevich et al, On-chip phonon-magnon reservoir for neuromorphic computing, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-43891-y

A low-cost system to collect EEG measurements during VR experiences
Feb 2024,

Everything gets it's own chip, just like this

NeuroVista, the new system proposed by the researchers, utilizes KS1092, a cost-effective biological potential measurement chip. The prototype of the device created by the researchers is comprised of this chip, along with a set of electrodes, and a lithium battery.

via South China University of Technology: Zhiyuan Yu et al, A low-cost, wireless, 4-channel EEG measurement system used in virtual reality environments, HardwareX (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.ohx.2024.e00507.

Giant leap toward neuromorphic devices: High-performance spin-wave reservoir computing
Mar 2024,

It's a high-performance spin wave reservoir computing that uses spintronics. It works with a randomly generated network called the "reservoir" which enables the memorization of past input information and its nonlinear transformation, allowing physical systems to perform tasks for sequential data.

via Tohoku University Advanced Institute for Materials Research: Satoshi Iihama et al, Universal scaling between wave speed and size enables nanoscale high-performance reservoir computing based on propagating spin-waves, npj Spintronics (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s44306-024-00008-5

No Randomness Like Quantum Randomness

It sounds like an exaggeration, but random number generators (RNGs) run the world. Modern electronic telecomunications don't exist without it, and neither does any form of artificial generation, from pictures to text to video games. Chances are you don't understand it at all, and neither does anyone you know. Lots of people act like they know, like the kinds of people who "predict" the stock market, or lotto numbers. But if you think RNGs are beyond your capacity, give up now, because we're already using quantum RNGs, or QRNGs, and this first article below is like reading another language, while still reading English, a favorite past-time here at Network Address.

Quantum random number generator operates securely and independently of source devices
May 2023,

Source-device-independent (source-DI) quantum random number generators (QRNGs) -- The random numbers are extracted by a process that measures the arrival time of a photon from a pair of time–energy entangled photons. The time–energy entangled photon pairs are produced from a spontaneous parametric down conversion (SPDC) process.

The researchers were able to confirm the security of the scheme by certifying the time–energy entanglement though observation of nonlocal dispersion cancelation. To improve security, they employ a modified entropic uncertainty relation to quantify the randomness, taking into account a well-recognized problem of finite measurement range.

via SPIE International Society for Optics and Photonics, Nanjing University: Ji-Ning Zhang et al, Realization of a source-device-independent quantum random number generator secured by nonlocal dispersion cancellation, Advanced Photonics (2023). DOI: 10.1117/1.AP.5.3.036003

Image credit: Illustration of the uncertainty of Earth's orbit 56 million years ago due to a potential past passage of the Sun-like star HD7977 2.8 million years ago - Nathan A Kaib at Planetary Science Institute - Feb 2024

Better cybersecurity with quantum random number generation based on a perovskite light emitting diode
Sep 2023,

Probably the worst science article I ever read but QRNGs; Perovskite LED (PeLED) QRNGs.

via Linköping University: Joakim Argillander et al, Quantum random number generation based on a perovskite light emitting diode, Communications Physics (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s42005-023-01280-3

Further Reading on Random Number Generators:
Random Instantiation Generator, 2021
Reality Engines, 2023

Required Reading - Understanding Randomness by way of Slot Machines and Gambling:
Electronic Drugs and Addiction by Design

And on Procedural Generation, one of the more interesting contemporary applications of RNGs:
No Man's Game, 2022

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Erosion of Privacy and the Dematerialization of the Consumer

The Omnopticon is rising, a million eyeballs in every corner of the Earth. And they're all looking at you, watching your every move, where you go, who you're with, what you're thinking about, and before you know it yourself. 

New research harnesses AI and satellite imagery to reveal the expanding footprint of human activity at sea
Jan 2024,

They synthesized GPS data with five years of radar and optical imagery to reveal that about 75% of the world's industrial fishing vessels are not publicly tracked, with much of that fishing taking place around Africa and South Asia. More than 25% of transport and energy vessel activity is also missing from public tracking systems.

via Global Fishing Watch, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Duke University, UC Santa Barbara, and SkyTruth: Fernando Paolo, Satellite mapping reveals extensive industrial activity at sea, Nature (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06825-8.

Image credit: An array of photomultiplier tubes mounted inside the steel tank of the Eos neutrino detector - Thor Swift Berkeley Lab - Mar 2024 [link]

A CPAP Machine Can Help Some Get Better Sleep But Insurers Don't Make It Easy
Nov 2018, NPR

In an email, a Blue Cross Blue Shield spokesperson said that it's standard practice for insurers to monitor sleep apnea patients and deny payment if they aren't using the machine. 

N.J. police officers’ personal information posted online by data brokers, lawsuit says
Feb 2024,

Plot twist?

To contrast an earlier incident in NJ where a college campus security officer used his access to private surveillance software to spy on students (which seems pretty impossible to find again using a basic search), this time, the email service provider for police and corrections officers leaked personal information to brokers who in turn sold it, so it was put on the web for the public to see, which includes criminals, and so it endangered an officer.

This tiny, tamper-proof ID tag can authenticate almost anything
Feb 2024,

Very smart anti-surveillance strategy

Cryptographic antitampering ID tag - They mix microscopic metal particles into the glue that sticks the tag to an object and then use terahertz waves to detect the unique pattern those particles form on the item's surface. Akin to a fingerprint, this random glue pattern is used to authenticate the item. (And this is to avoid a counterfeiter who could peel the tag off and reattach it to a fake.)

"These metal particles are essentially like mirrors for terahertz waves. If I spread a bunch of mirror pieces onto a surface and then shine a light on that, depending on the orientation, size, and location of those mirrors, I would get a different reflected pattern. But if you peel the chip off and reattach it, you destroy that pattern." 

via Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Ruonan Han et al, "A Packageless Anti-Tampering Tag Utilizing Unclonable Sub-THz Wave Scattering at the Chip-Item Interface," IEEE Solid State Circuits Conference (2024).

Keeping your data from Apple is harder than expected, finds study
Apr 2024,

The researchers studied eight apps: Safari, Siri, Family Sharing, iMessage, FaceTime, Location Services, Find My and Touch ID. They collected all publicly available privacy-related information on these apps, from technical documentation to privacy policies and user manuals.

The fragility of the privacy protections surprised even the researchers.

"Due to the way the user interface is designed, users don't know what is going on. For example, the user is given the option to enable or not enable Siri, Apple's virtual assistant. But enabling only refers to whether you use Siri's voice control. Siri collects data in the background from other apps you use, regardless of your choice, unless you understand how to go into the settings and specifically change that," says Lindqvist.

Participants weren't able to stop data sharing in any of the apps.

"The online instructions for restricting data access are very complex and confusing"

In the end the participants were able to take one or two steps in the right direction, but none succeeded in following the whole procedure to protect their privacy.

via Aalto University, from a paper for the 2024 CHI Conference: Privacy of Default Apps in Apple's Mobile Ecosystem, Lindqvist et al

Monday, July 8, 2024

The Climate in the Room

Climate change might be the single best case study we have for understanding not just misinformation but memetic propagation in general; it affects literally everyone on the planet (except the richest 5,000 people who aren't really affected by anything) and it's a really big deal, and it's happening at a time when we can monitor almost 100% of the world's communications; great opportunity. 

Climate change: Why disinformation is so persistent
Nov 2023,

  • The team developed and tested six psychological interventions on nearly 7,000 participants from twelve countries
  • One third of the population still doubts or disputes climate change
  • This phenomenon can be explained by the disinformation spread by certain companies and lobbies over the last 50 years.
  • For instance, these messages can take the form of an unfounded questioning of the scientific consensus or an overestimation of the socio-financial burden of climate policies
  • "We found that the protective effect of our strategies is small and disappears after the second exposure to disinformation"

"Disinformation is therefore extremely persuasive, seemingly more so than scientific information." 

via University of Geneva: Tobia Spampatti et al, Psychological inoculation strategies to fight climate disinformation across 12 countries, Nature Human Behaviour (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-023-01736-0

Here's an example of how fossil fuel companies are shifting the blame onto Big Meat, thereby lessening the perceived impact of their own industries:
Pregnant women are missing vital nutrients, a situation that could worsen with plant-based foods
Dec 2023,

"The push to reduce our dependence on meat and dairy to achieve net-zero carbon emissions is likely to further deplete expecting mothers of vital nutrients, which could have lasting effects on unborn children.

"Our study shows that almost every woman trying to conceive had insufficient levels of one or more vitamin, and this figure is only going to get worse as the world moves towards plant-based diets.

"People think that nutrient deficiency only affects people in underdeveloped countries - but it is also affecting the majority of women."

via University of Southampton: eith Godfrey et al, Maternal B-vitamin and vitamin D status before, during, and after pregnancy and the influence of supplementation preconception and during pregnancy, PLoS Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004260

I am always wondering this number (seriously), so here it is:
Researchers calculated the UK's greenhouse gas emissions from people exhaling: Here's what they found
Dec 2023,

The UK population collectively breathes out about 1,100 tons of methane and nitrous oxide every year; that's 0.05% and 0.1% of the UK's total human-generated emissions of the two gases respectively. 

The CO₂ in human breath is essentially "carbon neutral. As part of the respiration process, we consume fuels like sugars and fats, converting them into water and the carbon dioxide we then breathe out, so our exhalation contributes no more to climate change than we mitigate through growing crops.

via University of Edinburgh: Ben Dawson et al, Measurements of methane and nitrous oxide in human breath and the development of UK scale emissions, PLOS ONE (2023). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0295157

AI Art - Giant Transparent Computer by Hieronymus Bosch 2 - 2024

2023's record heat partly driven by 'mystery' process
Jan 2024,

via an interview with NASA's top climatologist Gavin Schmidt by AFP; but I'm paraphrasing his responses for brevity:

  • Can you put what we saw in 2023 into perspective?
  • It wasn't just a record. It was a record that broke the previous record by a record margin.
  • The long term trends we understand, ... But what happened in 2023 was that, and then plus something. And that 'plus something' is much larger than we expect, or as yet can explain.
  • What are the leading hypotheses for that 'plus something'?
  • Earth's energy imbalances, aerosols, El Niño, Antarctic and North Atlantic activity.

Did you get that? Not record breaking, record-record breaking. (And it's a total mystery.)

Investors are 'flying blind' to risk of climate lawsuits, researchers say
Jan 2024,

Investors end up investing in the wrong projects and run risks that neither they nor regulators understand.

For example, U.S. oil and gas giant Chevron could be liable for up to $8.5 trillion alone, according to the authors' estimates. In 1990–2019, the company's profits were $291 billion. "It's possible that Chevron's business may in fact be net value destroying,"
Not just planet destroying, but value destroying.

via University of Oxford: Thom Wetzer et al, Climate risk assessments must engage with the law, Science (2024). DOI: 10.1126/science.adj0598

Uncertainty abounds in seeding the sky to fight climate change, says study
Jan 2024,

We don't know what it will do, but we will do it anyway 

Recent studies have shown that the use of solid materials such as alumina, calcite, or even diamond particles could more effectively cool the climate while simultaneously reducing these side effects. However, there is limited understanding of how solid material injection affects the stratospheric ozone layer. 

The new research found that although alumina injection may have an advantage over sulfur dioxide in terms of reduced local stratospheric heating, there are "significant uncertainties" in estimating such injections' impact on the ozone layer.

The scenarios they tested would inject about 5 megatons of alumina particles into the stratosphere per year, which would compensate for about a quarter of the present-day radiative forcing caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers estimate that the global mean ozone loss from these scenarios could range from negligible to as much as 9%, which is about twice the historical peak of ozone loss from chlorofluorocarbons in the 1990s.

via Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science at ETH Zürich, Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University, and the American Geophysical Union: Sando Vattioni et al, Chemical Impact of Stratospheric Alumina Particle Injection for Solar Radiation Modification and Related Uncertainties, Geophysical Research Letters (2023). DOI: 10.1029/2023GL105889

Most Earth system models are missing key piece of future climate puzzle, researchers say
Jan 2024,

Maybe something to keep in mind when hearing about the Great Climate Anomaly of 2023

1. "What happens to the carbon in permafrost is one of the biggest unknowns about our future climate"
2. Earth system models (ESMs) are supercomputer-driven programs that can forecast future carbon emissions and climate dynamics. But most science research funding operates on a three-year funding cycle; too brief a time to train up model developers or to complete model development steps before teams turn over. (Read: AI please help us.)

Our understanding of the permafrost has drastically improved over the last 15 years, and we're not keeping up.

via Woodwell Climate Research Center: Earth system models must include permafrost carbon processes, Nature Climate Change (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41558-023-01909-9

AI Art - Giant Transparent Computer by Hieronymus Bosch 1 - 2024

Study shows much more pollution leaking into atmosphere from oil sands operations than thought
Jan 2024,

Read where it says we've been using the oil companies for information but now we thought we would do something more pragmatic like fly over the space and record the emissions, you know like we'll go see for ourselves because you're completely lying about everything you do:

Analysis of the samples showed that toxic emissions in the samples were on average 1,900% to over 6,300% of levels reported by standard methods. The researchers point out that such levels indicate that air pollutants released by extraction of bitumen from oil sands are equivalent to all other sources of similar emissions across Canada combined.


via Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at Yale and Air Quality Research Division at Environment and Climate Change Canada: Megan He et al, Total organic carbon measurements reveal major gaps in petrochemical emissions reporting, Science (2024). DOI: 10.1126/science.adj6233

Most clean power purchasing strategies do little to cut emissions
Jan 2024,

Today's most common procurement strategy - known as volumetric or annual matching - proved to be almost entirely ineffective in reducing long-term emissions in the U.S., and because companies can claim full decarbonization by simply calculating their total annual energy consumption and procuring enough clean energy to match that yearly consumption, regardless of when it is actually produced.

Instead, the temporal matching approach the researchers studied consistently succeeded in driving down system-wide emissions because it addresses the temporal mismatch between clean energy production and consumption. By requiring companies to procure their clean energy at the same time as they consume energy, the approach drives investments beyond wind and solar to include energy storage and firm clean energy technologies.

via Princeton: Qingyu Xu et al, System-level impacts of voluntary carbon-free electricity procurement strategies, Joule (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2023.12.007

Geoengineering may slow Greenland ice sheet loss, finds modeling study
Jan 2024,

Stratospheric aerosol injection, or SAI

SICOPOLIS model simulations showed that stratospheric aerosol injection of sulfur dioxide would have a clear protective effect on the Greenland Ice Sheet, reducing sea level rise by about 30% compared to the worst-case scenario.

via University of Lapland and the Institute of Low Temperature Sciences at Hokkaido University: John C. Moore et al, Reduced Ice Loss From Greenland Under Stratospheric Aerosol Injection, Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface (2023). DOI: 10.1029/2023JF007112

Friday, July 5, 2024

No Mystery Here

As a wet bag of twitching proteins, your biosignatures are unavoidable. Everything you do sends a signal, waiting for someone, something to recognize your existence, your intent, your fate. You are not a mystery; your every move, every decision, every thought and desire, they are all being broadcast, in myriad ways. You think that CIA agent has a superpower because she can tell that you're lying by looking at the micro-twitches on your face? Nothing. We are no match for what's coming. And if we don't become half robot very soon, the Anthropocene will be marked not by plutonium or "plastic rocks" but by the sudden disappearance of humans from the fossil record. Let's begin:

Eye movements can be decoded by the sounds they generate in the ear, study shows
Nov 2023,

Fucking "ear squeaks" - 

In 2018, Groh's team discovered that the ears make a subtle, imperceptible noise when the eyes move; the Duke team now shows that these sounds can reveal where your eyes are looking.

via Duke University: Stephanie N. Lovich et al, Parametric information about eye movements is sent to the ears, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2303562120

AI-powered satellite analysis reveals the unseen economic landscape of underdeveloped nations
Dec 2023,

The researchers used Sentinel-2 satellite images from the European Space Agency (ESA) that are publicly available. They split these images into small six-square-kilometer grids. At this zoom level, visual information such as buildings, roads, and greenery can be used to quantify economic indicators.

The key feature of their research model is the "human-machine collaborative approach," which lets researchers combine human input with AI predictions for areas with scarce data. In this research, 10 human experts compared satellite images and judged the economic conditions in the area, with the AI learning from this human data and giving economic scores to each image. The results showed that the Human–AI collaborative approach outperformed machine-only learning algorithms.

via KAIST Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology: Donghyun Ahn et al, A human-machine collaborative approach measures economic development using satellite imagery, Nature Communications (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-42122-8

Artificial intelligence can predict events in people's lives, researchers show
Dec 2023,

Researchers have analyzed health data and attachment to the labor market for 6 million Danes in a model dubbed life2vec. Then they trained it, and asked for answers to general questions such as: 'death within four years'? 

Results are consistent with existing findings within the social sciences; for example, all things being equal, individuals in a leadership position or with a high income are more likely to survive, while being male, skilled or having a mental diagnosis is associated with a higher risk of dying.

In a way, this thing is sequencing the events of a person's life, and making a prediction the same way it can already look at the words in your prompt and produce what should be the expected response. 

via Technical University of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, ITU, and Northeastern University: Sune Lehmann, Using sequences of life-events to predict human lives, Nature Computational Science (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s43588-023-00573-5. 

Researchers develop algorithm that crunches eye-movement data of screen users
Feb 2024,

Hold onto your eyeballs 

Raw Eye Tracking and Image Ncoder Architecture (RETINA) can zero in on selections before people even made their decisions.

Can you read this and ask yourself on what planet you would ever want this?

The algorithm could be applied in many settings by all types of companies. For example, a retailer like Walmart could use it to enhance the virtual shopping experiences they are developing in the metaverse, a shared, virtual online world. Many of the VR devices people will use to explore the metaverse will have built-in eye tracking to help better render the virtual environment. With this algorithm, Walmart could tailor the mix of products on display in their virtual store to what a person will likely choose, based on their initial eye movements.

"Even before people have made a choice, based on their eye movement, we can say it's very likely that they'll choose a certain product," Wedel says. "With that knowledge, marketers could reinforce that choice or try to push another product instead."

The researchers are already working to commercialize the algorithm and extend their research to optimize decision-making.

"We think eye tracking will become available at very large scales"

via (get ready) University of Maryland's PepsiCo Chair in Consumer Science in the Robert H. Smith School of Business, as well as Tel Aviv University and New York University: Moshe Unger et al, Predicting consumer choice from raw eye-movement data using the RETINA deep learning architecture, Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s10618-023-00989-7

AI Art - Affluent Gentleman w Money Surrounded by Envious People 2 - 2024

Study discovers neurons in the human brain that can predict what we are going to say before we say it
Feb 2024,

"Although speaking usually seems easy, our brains perform many complex cognitive steps in the production of natural speech - including coming up with the words we want to say, planning the articulatory movements and producing our intended vocalizations" 

New neural probes allow scientists to see certain neurons become active before a phoneme is spoken out loud.  

Neuropixel probes were first pioneered at Massachusetts General Hospital and are smaller than the width of a human hair, yet have hundreds of channels capable of simultaneously recording the activity of dozens or even hundreds of individual neurons"

via Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School: Arjun R. Khanna et al, Single-neuronal elements of speech production in humans, Nature (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06982-w

Improving traffic signal timing with a handful of connected vehicles
Feb 2024,

With GPS data from as little as 6% of vehicles on the road, the team used connected vehicle data, resulting in a 20% to 30% decrease in the number of stops at signalized intersections.

"While detectors at intersections can provide traffic count and estimated speed, access to vehicle trajectory information, even at low penetration rates, provides more valuable data including vehicle delay, number of stops, and route selection"

via University of Michigan Center for Connected and Automated Transportation: Xingmin Wang et al, Traffic light optimization with low penetration rate vehicle trajectory data, Nature Communications (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-45427-4

Post Script: It occurs to me that we have here one of the use cases for connected services data collected by your car likely without you knowing about it, "The team used connected vehicle data insights provided by General Motors to test its system ...".

Smartphone app uses AI to detect depression from facial cues
Feb 2024,

It's really instructive how easy it is to fuck things up real good - instead of being a boon to mental health, this sounds like complete dystopia, where humans have lost all control over their lives and live in absolute subjugation to machines infinitely smarter than us and upon whom we are hopelessly reliant for everyday existence (the simple act of unlocking your phone...)  

MoodCapture took 125,000 images of 177 participants over 90 days. A first group of participants was used to program MoodCapture; if they answered the question, "I have felt down, depressed, or hopeless" from the eight-point Patient Health Questionnaire or PHQ-8, the program correlated self-reports of feeling depressed with specific facial expressions such as gaze, eye movement, positioning of the head, and muscle rigidity, and environmental features such as dominant colors, lighting, photo locations, and the number of people in the image.

The new study shows that passive photos are key to successful mobile-based therapeutic tools, Campbell said. They capture mood more accurately and frequently than user-generated photographs—or selfies—and do not deter users by requiring active engagement.

"These neutral photos are very much like seeing someone in-the-moment when they're not putting on a veneer, which enhanced the performance of our facial-expression predictive model," Campbell said.

via Dartmouth College: MoodCapture: Depression Detection using In-the-Wild Smartphone Images, arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.1145/3613904.3642680.

AI model trained with images can recognize visual indicators of gentrification
Mar 202,4

Wow, science
The ten-year U.S. Census and the five-year American Community Survey are aggregated by census tract rather than building by building; not sufficiently fine-grained.

Now they're using visual cues of gentrification like new construction or renovations from Google Street View images for entire cities.

They got construction permits to identify where construction was planned, and extracted data on business upscaling (laundry to coffee shop; grocery to high-end restaurant) from a national business directory. Then, manually looking at pairs of images from 2007 through 2022 from the full Google Street View data set for three cities Oakland, Denver, and Seattle.

About 74% of the time the model predicted gentrification in the same places where gentrification had been previously found in other studies.

Interestingly, the model identified a significant number of what could be false positives—census tracts the model labeled as gentrifying that had been labeled non-gentrifying in the past. These could have been errors by the model, but when the researchers looked at paired images in those census tracts, they found what looked like gentrification—new apartment buildings and neighborhood upgrades.

The conclusion: Because the model leveraged granular street-level imagery, it seemed to be spotting early signs of gentrification that previous studies had missed.

via Stanford: Tianyuan Huang et al, CityPulse: Fine-Grained Assessment of Urban Change with Street View Time Series, arXiv (2024). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2401.01107

Also: Tianyuan Huang et al, Detecting Neighborhood Gentrification at Scale via Street-level Visual Data, 2022 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data) (2023). DOI: 10.1109/BigData55660.2022.10020341

AI Art - Affluent Gentleman w Money Surrounded by Envious People 3 - 2024

Machine learning tools can predict emotion in voices in just over a second
Mar 2024,

As good as any human they say 

"Machine learning can be used to recognize emotions from audio clips as short as 1.5 seconds. Our models achieved an accuracy similar to humans when categorizing meaningless sentences with emotional coloring spoken by actors."

The researchers drew nonsensical sentences from two datasets - one Canadian, one German - which allowed them to investigate whether ML models can accurately recognize emotions regardless of language, cultural nuances, and semantic content.

Each clip was shortened to a length of 1.5 seconds, as this is how long humans need to recognize emotion in speech. It is also the shortest possible audio length in which overlapping of emotions can be avoided.

The emotions included in the study were joy, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, and neutral.

Deep neural networks filter sound components like frequency or pitch, for example when a voice is louder because the speaker is angry—to identify underlying emotions.

Convolutional neural networks scan for patterns in the visual representation of soundtracks, much like identifying emotions from the rhythm and texture of a voice.

This hybrid model merges both techniques.

But alas, good-as-human is not better-than-human:
"We wanted to set our models in a realistic context and used human prediction skills as a benchmark," Diemerling explained. "Had the models outperformed humans, it could mean that there might be patterns that are not recognizable by us." The fact that untrained humans and models performed similarly may mean that both rely on resembling recognition patterns, the researchers said.

via Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development: Implementing Machine Learning Techniques for Continuous Emotion Prediction from Uniformly Segmented Voice Recordings, Frontiers in Psychology (2024). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1300996

Robotic face makes eye contact, uses AI to anticipate and replicate a person's smile before it occurs
Mar 2024,

Coexpression - when a person, or a robot, smiles at you while you're smiling at them.

Emo is a robot that anticipates facial expressions and executes them simultaneously with a human. It can predict a forthcoming smile about 840 milliseconds before the person smiles.

Emo could predict people's facial expressions by observing tiny changes in their faces as they begin to form an intent to smile.

via the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science: Yuhang Hu et al, Human-robot facial coexpression, Science Robotics (2024). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.adi4724

Also: Rachael E. Jack, Teaching robots the art of human social synchrony, Science Robotics (2024). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.ado5755

Exploring the factors that influence people's ability to detect lies online
Apr 2024,

People were more suspicious of others if they had themselves lied during the game, but also when other players had reported holding a statistically unlikely card.

When compared to the predictions of an artificial, simulated lie detector, poor lie detection was associated with an over-reliance on one's own honesty (or dishonesty) and an under-reliance on statistical cues.

These findings imply that honest people may be particularly susceptible to scams, because they are the least likely to suspect a lie and thus detect a scam.

Moreover, as social media platforms use recommendation systems that feed people with more of the same content they like, these systems distort the likelihood of seeing certain information - fake news included.

People's natural reliance on statistical likelihoods to infer what is true thus will not work well in these contexts.

via University College London (UCL) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Sarah Ying Zheng et al, Poor lie detection related to an under-reliance on statistical cues and overreliance on own behaviour, Communications Psychology (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s44271-024-00068-7