The robots are definitely coming and will make the world a more unequal place

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By John Naughton

New studies show that the latest wave of automation will
make the world’s poor poorer. But big tech will be even richer

Xinhua Headlines: Tech know-how modernizes China's century-old industrial city
Firefighting robots in Tangshan City, north China.

So the robots are coming for our jobs, are they? Yawn. That’s such an old story. Goes back to Elizabeth I and the stocking frame, if my memory serves me right. Machines have been taking our jobs forever. But economists, despite their reputation as practitioners of the “dismal science”, have always been upbeat about that. Sure, machines destroy jobs, they say. But hey, the new industries that new technology enables create even more new jobs. Granted, there may be a bit of “disruption” between destruction and creation, but that’s just capitalist business as usual. Besides, it’s progress, innit?

We have now lived through what one might call Automation 1.0. The paradigmatic example is car manufacturing. Henry Ford’s production line metamorphosed into Toyota’s “lean machine” and thence to the point where few humans, if any, are visible on an assembly line. Once upon a time, the car industry employed hundreds of thousands of people. We called them blue-collar workers. Now it employs far fewer. The robots did indeed take their jobs. In some cases, those made redundant found other employment, but many didn’t. And sometimes their communities were devastated as a result. But GDP went up, nevertheless, so economists were happy.

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Now we’re embarking on Automation 2.0. This is largely driven by technologies employing machine learning (ML) and big data, what we misleadingly call “artificial intelligence”. The types of job it targets are different from those addressed by Automation 1.0: they have some cognitive content but also a lot of routine. We call them white-collar jobs. And the new machines can often do them adequately or well.

Which may explain why people are beginning to be more agitated about the widespread deployment of the technology than they ever were about Automation 1.0. Early studies of the likely impact were pretty alarmist. For example, in 2013 Carl Frey and Mike Osborne in Oxford predicted that nearly half of the 700+ job categories used by the US Bureau of Labor were vulnerable. In their book The Future of the Professions, Richard and Daniel Susskind foresaw a radical impact on professional experts such as accountants, lawyers and management consultants. The word got out that maybe a lot of high-status employment might be vulnerable to automation and people began to fret about the hollowing-out of the middle class. After all, there isn’t a functioning democracy without one. (Strangely, the same liberal democracy has apparently been able to survive the unemployment of millions of blue-collar workers. But we will let that pass.)

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Last week, Oxford Economics, a high-end consultancy, unveiled the findings of its latest peek into the future in a report entitled How Robots Change the World. Like most of these inquiries, it foresees a “great displacement” of employment by Automation 2.0. But this displacement, the report says, will not be evenly distributed around the world or within countries.

“Our research shows,” it says, “that the negative effects of robotisation are disproportionately felt in the lower-income regions of the globe’s major economies – on average, a new robot displaces nearly twice as many jobs in lower-income regions compared with higher-income regions of the same country. At a time of worldwide concern about growing levels of economic inequality and political polarisation, this finding has important social and political implications.”

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The report makes for pretty sobering reading. It claims that, on average, each additional robot wipes out 1.6 jobs. In lower-income regions of the world, each machine displaces 2.2 jobs, but only 1.3 in higher-income areas. The researchers compiled a “vulnerability score” for different regions in five countries – the UK, USA, France, Germany and Japan. The resulting maps confirm that employment in poorer areas will be hit harder by automation. “The regional inequalities that exist within countries,” it concludes, “such as England’s north-south divide, could be exacerbated by the rise of the robots.” The report notes that this trend “has important implications for policy design in advanced economies pursuing international competitiveness through automation”.

You bet it has. One of the things we are learning about digital technology is that in almost every area of its deployment it has become an amplifier of inequality. The tech companies that control it employ almost no one in comparison either to their profits or to non-tech companies of comparable size and scale. Volkswagen, for example, employs nearly 656,000 people worldwide. As of December 2018, Facebook employed only 35,587.

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Likewise, tech companies pay derisory amounts in tax in the territories where they make colossal profits. In 2018, for example, Amazon paid nothing in US federal income tax on more than $11bn in profits before taxes. It also received a $129m tax rebate from the federal government. Automation 2.0 is likely to be very profitable for the companies that deploy it, but it’ll be governments that will be left to pick up the pieces. Some progress.

 

 

 

Commanding & Controlling the Weather by 2025?

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In April 1997, William S. Cohen, who was then the U.S. Secretary of Defense when Bill Clinton held the position of President of the United States, made an amazing and controversial statement to a packed audience at the University of Georgia, which is located in Athens. The conference at which the Secretary of Defense was speaking was The Conference on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and U.S. Strategy. Cohen came straight to the point and told the audience that certain bodies and people – who he elected not to name, which is intriguing – were then presently “…engaging in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter the climate, set off earthquakes, volcanoes remotely through the use of Electro-Magnetic waves. So there are plenty of ingenious minds out there that are at work finding ways in which they can wreak terror upon other nations. It’s real.” Yes, it is real. We know that thanks to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. We now have in our possession an amazing – almost sci-fi like – document that details where the U.S. Air Force hopes to be in 2025, on the matter of weather modification and control – and with respect to multiple additional technologies, too. The document was written in 1996 and is amazing enough in content – even though it was written more than two decades ago.  The document is entitled USAF 2025.

Researched and written by the 2025 Support Office at the Air University, Air Education and Training Command, and developed by the Air University Press, Educational Services Directorate, College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research, and Education, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, the document was “designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.” The section of the document that we need to focus our attentions upon is titled: Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025. Yes, “owning the weather.”

The U.S. Air Force offered the following, thought-provoking words: “In 2025, US aerospace forces can ‘own the weather’ by capitalizing on emerging technologies and focusing development of those technologies to war-fighting applications. While some segments of society will always be reluctant to examine controversial issues such as weather-modification, the tremendous military capabilities that could result from this field are ignored at our own peril. Weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary.” The USAF 2025 document adds: “The desirability to modify storms to support military objectives is the most aggressive and controversial type of weather-modification. While offensive weather-modification efforts would certainly be undertaken by U.S. forces with great caution and trepidation, it is clear that we cannot afford to allow an adversary to obtain an exclusive weather-modification capability.”

The Air Force presented a fictional scenario which goes some way towards explaining how, and under what specific circumstances, the weather may become the next weapon of conflict: “Imagine that in 2025 the U.S. is fighting a rich, but now consolidated, politically powerful drug cartel in South America. The cartel has purchased hundreds of Russian-and Chinese-built fighters that have successfully thwarted our attempts to attack their production facilities. With their local numerical superiority and interior lines, the cartel is launching more than 10 aircraft for every one of ours. In addition, the cartel is using the French system probatoire d’ observation de la terre (SPOT) positioning and tracking imagery systems, which in 2025 are capable of transmitting near-real-time, multispectral imagery with 1 meter resolution. The U.S. wishes to engage the enemy on an uneven playing field in order to exploit the full potential of our aircraft and munitions.”

So, steps are taken to engage that same enemy, but in a very strange fashion: “Meteorological analysis reveals that equatorial South America typically has afternoon thunderstorms on a daily basis throughout the year. Our intelligence has confirmed that cartel pilots are reluctant to fly in or near thunderstorms. Therefore, our Weather Force Support Element (WFSE), which is a part of the commander in chief’s (CINC) air operations center (AOC), is tasked to forecast storm paths and trigger or intensify thunderstorm cells over critical target areas that the enemy must defend with their aircraft. Since our aircraft in 2025 have all-weather capability, the thunderstorm threat is minimal to our forces, and we can effectively and decisively control the sky over the target.”

The Weather Force Support Element, the USAF 2025 document reveals, “has the necessary sensor and communication capabilities to observe, detect, and act on weather-modification requirements to support US military objectives. These capabilities, we are told “are part of an advanced battle area system that supports the war-fighting CINC. In our scenario, the CINC tasks the WFSE to conduct storm intensification and concealment operations. The WFSE models the atmospheric conditions to forecast, with 90 percent confidence, the likelihood of successful modification using airborne cloud generation and seeding.” Things then become even more science-fiction-like: “According to USAF 2025, by 2025 uninhabited aerospace vehicles (UAV) are routinely used for weather-modification operations. By cross-referencing desired attack times with wind and thunderstorm forecasts and the SPOT satellite’s projected orbit, the WFSE generates mission profiles for each UAV. The WFSE guides each UAV using near-real-time information from a networked sensor array.

“Prior to the attack, which is coordinated with forecasted weather conditions, the UAVs begin cloud generation and seeding operations. UAVs disperse a cirrus shield to deny enemy visual and infrared (IR) surveillance. Simultaneously, microwave heaters create localized scintillation to disrupt active sensing via synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems such as the commercially available Canadian search and rescue satellite-aided tracking (SARSAT) that will be widely available in 2025. Other cloud seeding operations cause a developing thunderstorm to intensify over the target, severely limiting the enemy’s capability to defend. The WFSE monitors the entire operation in real-time and notes the successful completion of another very important but routine weather-modification mission.”

While the military stated that this scenario might be viewed by some as being “far-fetched,” it was as sure as it could be that “technological advances in meteorology and the demand for more precise weather information by global businesses will lead to the successful identification and parameterization of the major variables that affect weather.” The USAF 2025 people then did a bit of digging into the future, which, one suspects, will not be too far off of the mark: “By 2025, advances in computational capability, modeling techniques, and atmospheric information tracking will produce a highly accurate and reliable weather prediction capability, validated against real-world weather. In the following decade, population densities put pressure on the worldwide availability and cost of food and usable water. Massive life and property losses associated with natural weather disasters become increasingly unacceptable.

“These pressures prompt governments and/or other organizations who are able to capitalize on the technological advances of the previous 20 years to pursue a highly accurate and reasonably precise weather-modification capability. The increasing urgency to realize the benefits of this capability stimulates laws and treaties, and some unilateral actions, making the risks required to validate and refine it acceptable.” Less than a decade from now, we can suggest, our planet may not resemble the world in which we live today. After all, consider the following from the Air Force, who are confident that they will be able to “shape local weather patterns by influencing the factors that affect climate, precipitation, storms and their effects, fog, and near space. These highly accurate and reasonably precise civil applications of weather-modification technology have obvious military implications. This is particularly true for aerospace forces, for while weather may affect all mediums of operation, it operates in ours.”

The military recommended that, “the DOD explore the many opportunities (and also the ramifications) resulting from development of a capability to influence precipitation or conducting ‘selective precipitation modification.’ Although the capability to influence precipitation over the long term (i.e., for more than several days) is still not fully understood. By 2025 we will certainly be capable of increasing or decreasing precipitation over the short term in a localized area.” Perhaps most important and relevant of all is the way in which the United States was guaranteed to benefit, strategically, from the deployment of such technologies in areas of hostility:  “Before discussing research in this area, it is important to describe the benefits of such a capability. While many military operations may be influenced by precipitation, ground mobility is most affected. Influencing precipitation could prove useful in two ways. First, enhancing precipitation could decrease the enemy’s trafficability by muddying terrain, while also affecting their morale. Second, suppressing precipitation could increase friendly trafficability by drying out an otherwise muddied area.”

As for the matter of not just creating storms – but definitive super-storms – that might decimate entire landscapes, and without even a bullet or a missile fired, the Air Force’s report makes things acutely obvious that it is this area, perhaps more than any other, which presents the biggest strategic gains: “The desirability to modify storms to support military objectives is the most aggressive and controversial type of weather-modification. The damage caused by storms is indeed horrendous. For instance, a tropical storm has an energy equal to 10,000 one-megaton hydrogen bombs, and in 1992 Hurricane Andrew totally destroyed Homestead AFB, Florida, caused the evacuation of most military aircraft in the southeastern US, and resulted in $15.5 billion of damage.”

On the matter of manufactured storms, we are also told: “At any instant there are approximately 2,000 thunderstorms taking place. In fact 45,000 thunderstorms, which contain heavy rain, hail, microbursts, wind shear, and lightning form daily. Anyone who has flown frequently on commercial aircraft has probably noticed the extremes that pilots will go to avoid thunderstorms. The danger of thunderstorms was clearly shown in August 1985 when a jumbo jet crashed killing 137 people after encountering microburst wind shears during a rain squall. These forces of nature impact all aircraft and even the most advanced fighters of 1996 make every attempt to avoid a thunderstorm.”

USAF 2025 then asked an important question, one which has a bearing everyone who flies – regularly or occasionally: “Will bad weather remain an aviation hazard in 2025?” In answering its very own question, the Air Force said: “The answer, unfortunately, is ‘yes,’ but projected advances in technology over the next 30 years will diminish the hazard potential. Computer-controlled flight systems will be able to ‘autopilot’ aircraft through rapidly changing winds. Aircraft will also have highly accurate, onboard sensing systems that can instantaneously ‘map’ and automatically guide the aircraft through the safest portion of a storm cell. Aircraft are envisioned to have hardened electronics that can withstand the effects of lightning strikes and may also have the capability to generate a surrounding electropotential field that will neutralize or repel lightning strikes. Assuming that the U.S. achieves some or all of the above outlined aircraft technical advances and    maintains the technological ‘weather edge’ over its potential adversaries, we can next look at how we could modify the battlespace weather to make the best use of our technical advantage.”

The technology and science surrounding the issue of turning weather into weapons was further explored: “Weather-modification technologies might involve techniques that would increase latent heat release in the atmosphere, provide additional water vapor for cloud cell development, and provide additional surface and lower atmospheric heating to increase atmospheric instability.” Paramount to the success of any attempt to ignite a storm cell, noted the authors, “…is the pre-existing atmospheric conditions locally and regionally.”

In essence, that means the Earth’s atmosphere must be deemed “conditionally unstable and the large-scale dynamics must be supportive of vertical cloud development. The focus of the weather-modification effort would be to provide additional ‘conditions’ that would make the atmosphere unstable enough to generate cloud and eventually storm cell development. The path of storm cells once developed or enhanced is dependent not only on the mesoscale dynamics of the storm but the regional and synoptic (global) scale atmospheric wind flow patterns in the area which are currently not subject to human control.”

The Air Force admitted that “the technical hurdles for storm development in support of military operations are obviously greater than enhancing precipitation or dispersing fog as described earlier. One area of storm research that would significantly benefit military operations is lightning modification. Most research efforts are being conducted to develop techniques to lessen the occurrence or hazards associated with lightning. This is important research for military operations and resource protection, but some offensive military benefit could be obtained by doing research on increasing the potential and intensity of lightning.”

Let’s now take a look at the final words on this particular issue: “The lessons of history indicate a real weather-modification capability will eventually exist despite the risk. The drive exists. People have always wanted to control the weather and their desire will compel them to collectively and continuously pursue their goal. The motivation exists. The potential benefits and power are extremely lucrative and alluring for those who have the resources to develop it. This combination of drive, motivation, and resources will eventually produce the technology. History also teaches that we cannot afford to be without a weather-modification capability once the technology is developed and used by others. Even if we have no intention of using it, others will. To call upon the atomic weapon analogy again, we need to be able to deter or counter their capability with our own. Therefore, the weather and intelligence communities must keep abreast of the actions of others.

“Weather-modification is a force multiplier with tremendous power that could be exploited across the full spectrum of war-fighting environments. From enhancing friendly operations or disrupting those of the enemy via small-scale tailoring of natural weather patterns to complete dominance of global communications and counter-space control, weather-modification offers the war fighter a wide-range of possible options to defeat or coerce an adversary. But, while offensive weather-modification efforts would certainly be undertaken by US forces with great caution and trepidation, it is clear that we cannot afford to allow an adversary to obtain an exclusive weather-modification capability.”

2025 is not that far way at all. It will be interesting to see if by that year we will have perfected weather-based weaponry to a highly significant degree.

There are diseases hidden in ice, and they are waking up

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By Jasmin Fox-Skelly

Long-dormant bacteria and viruses, trapped in ice and permafrost for centuries, are reviving as Earth’s climate warms.

Throughout history, humans have existed side-by-side with bacteria and viruses. From the bubonic plague to smallpox, we have evolved to resist them, and in response they have developed new ways of infecting us.

We have had antibiotics for almost a century, ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In response, bacteria have responded by evolving antibiotic resistance. The battle is endless: because we spend so much time with pathogens, we sometimes develop a kind of natural stalemate.

However, what would happen if we were suddenly exposed to deadly bacteria and viruses that have been absent for thousands of years, or that we have never met before?

We may be about to find out. Climate change is melting permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years, and as the soils melt they are releasing ancient viruses and bacteria that, having lain dormant, are springing back to life.

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) migrating (Credit: Eric Baccega/naturepl.com)

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) migrating (Credit: Eric Baccega/naturepl.com)

In August 2016, in a remote corner of Siberian tundra called the Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle, a 12-year-old boy died and at least twenty people were hospitalized after being infected by anthrax.

The theory is that, over 75 years ago, a reindeer infected with anthrax died and its frozen carcass became trapped under a layer of frozen soil, known as permafrost. There it stayed until a heatwave in the summer of 2016, when the permafrost thawed.

This exposed the reindeer corpse and released infectious anthrax into nearby water and soil, and then into the food supply. More than 2,000 reindeer grazing nearby became infected, which then led to the small number of human cases.

The fear is that this will not be an isolated case.

Permafrost in Svalbard (Credit: Wild Wonders of Europe/de la L/naturepl.com)

Permafrost in Svalbard (Credit: Wild Wonders of Europe/de la L/naturepl.com)

As the Earth warms, more permafrost will melt. Under normal circumstances, superficial permafrost layers about 50cm deep melt every summer. But now global warming is gradually exposing older permafrost layers.

Frozen permafrost soil is the perfect place for bacteria to remain alive for very long periods of time, perhaps as long as a million years. That means melting ice could potentially open a Pandora’s box of diseases.

The temperature in the Arctic Circle is rising quickly, about three times faster than in the rest of the world. As the ice and permafrost melt, other infectious agents may be released.

“Permafrost is a very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark,” says evolutionary biologist Jean-Michel Claverie at Aix-Marseille University in France. “Pathogenic viruses that can infect humans or animals might be preserved in old permafrost layers, including some that have caused global epidemics in the past.”

In the early 20th Century alone, more than a million reindeer died from anthrax. It is not easy to dig deep graves, so most of these carcasses are buried close to the surface, scattered among 7,000 burial grounds in northern Russia.

However, the big fear is what else is lurking beneath the frozen soil.

Anthrax spores can survive for decades (Credit: Cultura RM/Alamy)

Anthrax spores can survive for decades (Credit: Cultura RM/Alamy)

People and animals have been buried in permafrost for centuries, so it is conceivable that other infectious agents could be unleashed. For instance, scientists have discovered fragments of RNA from the 1918 Spanish flu virus in corpses buried in mass graves in Alaska’s tundra. Smallpox and the bubonic plague are also likely buried in Siberia.

In a 2011 study, Boris Revich and Marina Podolnaya wrote: “As a consequence of permafrost melting, the vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th Centuries may come back, especially near the cemeteries where the victims of these infections were buried.”

NASA scientists successfully revived bacteria that had been encased in a frozen pond in Alaska for 32,000 years

For instance, in the 1890s there was a major epidemic of smallpox in Siberia. One town lost up to 40% of its population. Their bodies were buried under the upper layer of permafrost on the banks of the Kolyma River. 120 years later, Kolyma’s floodwaters have started eroding the banks, and the melting of the permafrost has speeded up this erosion process.

In a project that began in the 1990s, scientists from the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Novosibirsk have tested the remains of Stone Age people that had been found in southern Siberia, in the region of Gorny Altai. They have also tested samples from the corpses of men who had died during viral epidemics in the 19th Century and were buried in the Russian permafrost.

The researchers say they have found bodies with sores characteristic of the marks left by smallpox. While they did not find the smallpox virus itself, they have detected fragments of its DNA.

Certainly it is not the first time that bacteria frozen in ice have come back to life.

Bacteria have been found dormant in Antarctic ice (Credit: Colin Harris/Era Images/Alamy)

Bacteria have been found dormant in Antarctic ice (Credit: Colin Harris/Era Images/Alamy)

In a 2005 study, NASA scientists successfully revived bacteria that had been encased in a frozen pond in Alaska for 32,000 years. The microbes, called Carnobacterium pleistocenium, had been frozen since the Pleistocene period, when woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth. Once the ice melted, they began swimming around, seemingly unaffected.

Once they were revived, the viruses quickly became infectious

Two years later, scientists managed to revive an 8-million-year-old bacterium that had been lying dormant in ice, beneath the surface of a glacier in the Beacon and Mullins valleys of Antarctica. In the same study, bacteria were also revived from ice that was over 100,000 years old.

However, not all bacteria can come back to life after being frozen in permafrost. Anthrax bacteria can do so because they form spores, which are extremely hardy and can survive frozen for longer than a century.

Other bacteria that can form spores, and so could survive in permafrost, include tetanus and Clostridium botulinum, the pathogen responsible for botulism: a rare illness that can cause paralysis and even prove fatal. Some fungi can also survive in permafrost for a long time.

Some viruses can also survive for lengthy periods.

Mimivirus, an example of a giant virus (Credit: Science Photo Library/Alamy)

Mimivirus, an example of a giant virus (Credit: Science Photo Library/Alamy)

In a 2014 study, a team led by Claverie revived two viruses that had been trapped in Siberian permafrost for 30,000 years. Known as Pithovirus sibericum and Mollivirus sibericum, they are both “giant viruses”, because unlike most viruses they are so big they can be seen under a regular microscope. They were discovered 100ft underground in coastal tundra.

Once they were revived, the viruses quickly became infectious. Fortunately for us, these particular viruses only infect single-celled amoebas. Still, the study suggests that other viruses, which really could infect humans, might be revived in the same way.

The giant viruses tend to be very tough and almost impossible to break open

What’s more, global warming does not have to directly melt permafrost to pose a threat. Because the Arctic sea ice is melting, the north shore of Siberia has become more easily accessible by sea. As a result, industrial exploitation, including mining for gold and minerals, and drilling for oil and natural gas, is now becoming profitable.

“At the moment, these regions are deserted and the deep permafrost layers are left alone,” says Claverie. “However, these ancient layers could be exposed by the digging involved in mining and drilling operations. If viable virions are still there, this could spell disaster.”

Giant viruses may be the most likely culprits for any such viral outbreak.

“Most viruses are rapidly inactivated outside host cells, due to light, desiccation, or spontaneous biochemical degradation,” says Claverie. “For instance, if their DNA is damaged beyond possible repair, the virions will no longer be infectious. However, among known viruses, the giant viruses tend to be very tough and almost impossible to break open.”

Neanderthals once lived in Siberia (Credit: The Natural History Museum/Alamy)

Neanderthals once lived in Siberia (Credit: The Natural History Museum/Alamy)

Claverie says viruses from the very first humans to populate the Arctic could emerge.
We could even see viruses from long-extinct hominin species like Neanderthals and Denisovans, both of which settled in Siberia and were riddled with various viral diseases. Remains of Neanderthals from 30-40,000 years ago have been spotted in Russia. Human populations have lived there, sickened and died for thousands of years.

NASA scientists found 10-50,000-year-old microbes inside crystals in a Mexican mine

“The possibility that we could catch a virus from a long-extinct Neanderthal suggests that the idea that a virus could be ‘eradicated’ from the planet is wrong, and gives us a false sense of security,” says Claverie. “This is why stocks of vaccine should be kept, just in case.”

Since 2014, Claverie has been analyzing the DNA content of permafrost layers, searching for the genetic signature of viruses and bacteria that could infect humans. He has found evidence of many bacteria that are probably dangerous to humans. The bacteria have DNA that encodes virulence factors: molecules that pathogenic bacteria and viruses produce, which increase their ability to infect a host.

Claverie’s team has also found a few DNA sequences that seem to come from viruses, including herpes. However, they have not as yet found any trace of smallpox. For obvious reasons, they have not attempted to revive any of the pathogens.

It now seems that pathogens cut off from humans will emerge from other places too, not just ice or permafrost.

The crystals in the Naica cave (Credit: SOTK2011/Alamy)

The crystals in the Naica cave (Credit: SOTK2011/Alamy)

In February 2017, NASA scientists announced that they had found 10-50,000-year-old microbes inside crystals in a Mexican mine.

The bacteria have somehow become resistant to 18 types of antibiotics

The bacteria were located in the Cave of the Crystals, part of a mine in Naica in northern Mexico. The cave contains many milky-white crystals of the mineral selenite, which formed over hundreds of thousands of years.

The bacteria were trapped inside small, fluid pockets of the crystals, but once they were removed they revived and began multiplying. The microbes are genetically unique and may well be new species, but the researchers are yet to publish their work.

Even older bacteria have been found in the Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico, 1,000ft underground. These microbes have not seen the surface for over 4 million years.

Selenite formations in Lechuguilla Cave (Credit: Paul D. Stewart/naturepl.com)

Selenite formations in Lechuguilla Cave (Credit: Paul D. Stewart/naturepl.com)

The cave never sees sunlight, and it is so isolated that it takes about 10,000 years for water from the surface to get into the cave.

Antibiotic resistance has been around for millions or even billions of years

Despite this, the bacteria have somehow become resistant to 18 types of antibiotics, including drugs considered to be a “last resort” for fighting infections. In a study published in December 2016, researchers found that the bacteria, known as Paenibacillus sp. LC231, was resistant to 70% of antibiotics and was able to totally inactivate many of them.

As the bacteria have remained completely isolated in the cave for four million years, they have not come into contact with people or the antibiotic drugs used to treat human infections. That means its antibiotic resistance must have arisen in some other way.

The scientists involved believe that the bacteria, which does not harm humans, is one of many that have naturally evolved resistance to antibiotics. This suggests that antibiotic resistance has been around for millions or even billions of years.

Permafrost on the Tibetan plateau (Credit: Gertrud & Helmut Denzau/naturepl.com)

Permafrost on the Tibetan plateau (Credit: Gertrud & Helmut Denzau/naturepl.com)

Obviously, such ancient antibiotic resistance cannot have evolved in the clinic as a result of antibiotic use.

The reason for this is that many types of fungi, and even other bacteria, naturally produce antibiotics to gain a competitive advantage over other microbes. That is how Fleming first discovered penicillin: bacteria in a petri dish died after one became contaminated with an antibiotic-excreting mould.

As Earth warms northern countries will become more susceptible to outbreaks of “southern” diseases like malaria

In caves, where there is little food, organisms must be ruthless if they are to survive. Bacteria like Paenibacillus may have had to evolve antibiotic resistance in order to avoid being killed by rival organisms.

This would explain why the bacteria are only resistant to natural antibiotics, which come from bacteria and fungi, and make up about 99.9% of all the antibiotics we use. The bacteria have never come across man-made antibiotics, so do not have a resistance to them.

“Our work, and the work of others, suggests that antibiotic resistance is not a novel concept,” says microbiologist Hazel Barton of the University of Akron, Ohio, who led the study. “Our organisms have been isolated from surface species from 4-7 million years, yet the resistance that they have is genetically identical to that found in surface species. This means that these genes are at least that old, and didn’t emerge from the human use of antibiotics for treatment.”

Although Paenibacillus itself is not harmful to humans, it could in theory pass on its antibiotic resistance to other pathogens. However, as it is isolated beneath 400m of rock, this seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, natural antibiotic resistance is probably so prevalent that many of the bacteria emerging from melting permafrost may already have it. In line with that, in a 2011 study scientists extracted DNA from bacteria found in 30,000-year-old permafrost in the Beringian region between Russia and Canada. They found genes encoding resistance to beta-lactam, tetracycline and glycopeptide antibiotics.

Permafrost tundra in Siberia (Credit: Staffan Widstrand/naturepl.com)

Permafrost tundra in Siberia (Credit: Staffan Widstrand/naturepl.com)

How much should we be concerned about all this?

One argument is that the risk from permafrost pathogens is inherently unknowable, so they should not overtly concern us. Instead, we should focus on more established threats from climate change. For instance, as Earth warms northern countries will become more susceptible to outbreaks of “southern” diseases like malaria, cholera and dengue fever, as these pathogens thrive at warmer temperatures.

The alternative perspective is that we should not ignore risks just because we cannot quantify them.

“Following our work and that of others, there is now a non-zero probability that pathogenic microbes could be revived, and infect us,” says Claverie. “How likely that is is not known, but it’s a possibility. It could be bacteria that are curable with antibiotics, or resistant bacteria, or a virus. If the pathogen hasn’t been in contact with humans for a long time, then our immune system would not be prepared. So yes, that could be dangerous.”

 

Is Facebook listening to me? Why those ads appear after you talk about things

Google knows: Check your settings if you don’t want your every move tracked

How to stop it: Amazon is watching, listening and tracking you

In the case of Michelle’s Joymode ad, we asked Facebook point blank to help us decipher how this happened, and it sent us to the “Why you’re seeing this ad,” feature that’s included in the menu of all Facebook ads. (Three dots at the top right of the page.)

Facebook unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to create a new digital currency. One technology expert believes they must first ‘convince people to trust’ them with their personal information in order for it to succeed. (June 18) AP, AP

The answer was written in marketing speak. Michelle saw the ad because Joymode wanted to reach “people who may be similar to their customers,” and people over 18 who live in Los Angeles.

That offers no real clarity on why it showed up when it did.

However, here’s our translation, with an assist from Court. Facebook’s algorithm figured, since she was with her friend of a similar age and both had children, that Michelle would be equally interested in a brand the mom had liked once it deduced that both were in the same geographic location together – where the friend’s Joymode subscription was actively in use.

And if she had posted photos from the party on Instagram, more data clues could have been collected to solidify the interest connection.

“The FB AI engine can determine intent from textual and visual material you provide,” notes tech industry veteran Phil Lieberman. “With intent, they can find product and services that you might be interested in. This is all about ‘recommender systems’ similar to what Amazon offers,  but FB has more information on an ongoing basis to determine what you might be interested in buying.”

Tracking vs. listening

Atlanta-based Facebook user Lily Leiva came up with a similar explanation for the Finnish Baby Box, briefly mentioned at a dinner with a friend. The ad for the $500 maternity box appeared in her News Feed the next day. “I found it so unnerving,” she said. “Facebook was trying to predict my behavior.”

Her theory was that Facebook pushed the ad to her because she had been with her friend, who had liked the product.

“Facebook says they don’t listen to our conversations,” she said. “But they don’t say they don’t track you.”

In fact, the social network actually is quite open about the tracking.

Most of us know that every time we like a post, leave a comment and tag a friend, that gives Facebook even more ammunition to serve us ads. Every check-in, every hashtag, every comment is more grist for the mill.

But wait, there’s more…

The social network admits that it collects the “content, communications and other information,” including photographs and videos, accounts, hashtags and groups we are connected to. It notes what posts, videos and other content we view and even collects our payment information, including credit or debit card number, billing and shipping info.

“There are many other ways for Facebook to target you with ads based on data they’ve collected and put through algorithms,” affirms privacy advocate Paul Bischoff of Comparitech.com. “Remember that Facebook can track what you do on other websites and apps that use Facebook plugins, login and widgets.”

Facebook’s single sign-on offers another door to your data. If you’ve used your Facebook account to sign in on a website, to subscribe to an email, make a purchase or snag a coupon, Facebook can collect data of what you do like view a webpage or add a product to an online shopping cart.

Tired of #$%& passwords? Single Sign-on could be savior

The social network tracks us on mobile phones if we give permission, meaning the social network knows where you are, even with the app closed. It leaves “cookie” data on our devices for tracking, “to create personalized products that are unique and relevant to you.”

On permissions, Facebook doesn’t entice you to allow non-stop tracking even with the app closed. Instead, as it did to this reporter recently, a post on Facebook-owned Instagram was about to go live, when a pop-up window urged him to “Turn on Location Services,” to automatically select the city tag.

There are steps we can take to limit Facebook’s tracking, but face it – if you’re using the Facebook app and interacting with people, Facebook can get most of everything they need. “We may still understand your location using things like check-ins, events, and information about your internet connection,” Facebook says in its FAQ on how its Location Settings work.

In fact, Aleksandra Korolova, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, did a study of Facebook’s location tracking and says that even if you opt-out, Facebook will still keep tabs on you.

“Even when we explicitly exercise all location controls,” she said, “Facebook still learns the locations we visit and exploits it for ads.”

In a widely read Medium post published in December 2018, Korolova noted the downside of being tracked. “The locations that a person visits and lives in reveal a great deal about them,” she writes. “Their surreptitious collection and use in ad targeting can pave way to ads that are harmful, target people when they are vulnerable, or enable harassment and discrimination.”

The issue of privacy can become particularly acute when there’s the presumption or wish for confidentiality – say, during a therapist visit or at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

What to do? Security expert Will Strafach is launching a new smartphone app, Guardian Firewall, in July, to stop companies from tracking. “The electronic devices you bought and own should not be snitching on you,” he says.

The app costs $9.99 monthly, and he says will stop Facebook and others from peering into your data most of the time.

“These companies are stealing data from your pocket, from the phones you paid for,” he says. “They are wasting your battery life, and most people don’t even realize it’s happening.”

HOW TO CHANGE PRIVACY SETTINGS ON FACEBOOK

Location tracking

There are steps you can take to dial back Facebook’s interest in your activities. Start by refusing access to location data. On Apple iOS devices, go to Settings and open Facebook in the Apps section. Location access has three options: Always, While Using the App and Never.

On Android devices, open the Facebook app, go to Manage Settings, and put location tracking on Never.

Ad tracking

Click the button at the top right to access the Facebook settings, and look for Ads. Here you can fine-tune what information Facebook gives advertisers. Facebook has four categories to mull over: Interests, Advertising and Business, Your Information and Ad Settings.

The sub-categories you’ll want to click are “Ads based on data from partners,” “Ads based on your activities” and “Ads that include your social actions.”

But even if you opt for “Never” on all of them, as Facebook notes, “you’ll still see ads, but they won’t be as relevant to you.” And you’ll still see ads for other reasons, such as your age, gender or location, the content in the app or website you’re using and your activity in and around Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Other options? Quit.

Facebook can’t track you if you close your membership and delete the app. Asked if she’s ready to do that, Leiva says, “That’s the dilemma. Where else do I go?”

Facebook declined to comment.

 

Hunched Backs, Thick Skulls and Small Brains May Be the Future Look of Humanity

    Hunched Backs, Thick Skulls and Small
    Brains May Be the Future Look of Humanity

Hunchback

You may think that tech companies care more about profits than about the health of their customers or the people who live near their products or factories – and in most cases you’d probably be right. A telecommunications provider in Los Angeles seems to be trying to do the right thing with its new study that predicts what humans will look like in in the near future if we continue down the current handheld communications path. Are you ready for hunched backs, thick skulls, double eyelids and smaller brains (that one sounds like a given)?

“Spending hours looking down at your phone strains your neck and throws your spine off balance. Consequently, the muscles in your neck have to expend extra effort to support your head. Sitting in front of the computer at the office for hours on end also means that your torso is pulled out in front of your hips rather than being stacked straight and aligned.”

TollFreeForwarding.com is the LA telecommunications company which recently commissioned Maple Holistics, a provider of holistic health and beauty products, to develop a 3D model based on what kinds of strains modern technology usage is placing on our bodies today and how we’ll look if that doesn’t change. A recent Australian study showed that teens are developing external occipital protuberances or bony spikes on their necks due to excessive cell phone usage. So, it should come as no surprise that Mindy, the name Maple Holistics gave to its 3D user-of-the-future has major changes to her back and neck which eventually will lead to an arched or humped back and neck. (More Photos of Mindy can be seen here.) Who knew that Quasimodo was ahead of his time?

Mindy_Detailed_Image

“The way we hold our phones can cause strain in certain points of contact – causing “text claw,” which is known as cubital tunnel syndrome.”

Dr. Nikola Djordjevic from Med Alert Help explains in the study that future humans will develop clawed hands and pain in their elbows, shoulders and arms when they’re not in the 90-degree bend for cell phone usage. Again, not much of a surprise. It’s the changes above the neck that will make Mindy far different that today’s humans.

“In 2011, the World Health Organization classified smartphone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, with a number of long-term studies seeking to establish the full impact. After a 2018 study suggested smartphone radiation may affect memory performance, questions were raised over its impact on other cognitive areas too.”

Based on that, Mindy developed a thick skull to protect her brain from radiation. However, it’s not thick enough to protect her from the most serious evolutionary development – because that has nothing to do with radiation. Mindy has a smaller brain and a smaller body in general because that technology in her hand has removed the need for the rest of her to develop and improve.

Needless to say, this Mindy would have problems getting a date on today’s Tinder … and that’s before the final evolutionary change predicted by the model because of too many years of staring at screens both big and small – double eyelids.

“Humans may develop a larger inner eyelid to prevent exposure to excessive light, or the lens of the eye may be evolutionary developed such that it blocks incoming blue light but not other high wavelength lights like green, yellow or red.”

Ahhhhh! The progression to Reptilian is compete!

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Clawed hands? Check. Smaller brain? Check. Hunched back? Check. Two eyelids? Check. Protuberances? Check.

Is a hunchbacked, bent-elbowed, thick-skull, small-brained, reptilian eyelidded future human inevitable? Probably not. We’ve already tested ways to move away from cell phones to hands-free communications and internet usage (remember Google Glass?) and need for cell phones, tablets and notebooks will most likely dissipate, if not disappear completely into the next generation of technology. However, the psychological changes are longer-lasting (tech dependency, less human interaction, lack of sleep) and need to be studied further.

It looks like Mindy will spend a lot of time hunched up on her small-brained psychiatrist’s couch.

After a lengthy hiatus we are back!

“Somewhere in the Universe, there has to be something better
than man.”
“Has to be.” “Regrettably, we found nothing.”

Indiana ape06
After being absent for almost 4 entire years, we have returned to share the news with you. Sadly, it probably isn’t very good news, as the world has been engulfed in a shit storm as of late. Regardless, we will continue circulating the latest stories from around the globe and hopefully you will find some to cheer you up.

Guerrilla World Press is back!

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