January 15, 2020
“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” – Henry James, inspired from a quote pulled from this article
“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao-Tzu
Setting aside pesky ethics debates, US researchers have created the first living machines by assembling cells from African clawed frogs into tiny robots, less than 1mm long, that move around under their own steam. “These are entirely new lifeforms. They have never before existed on Earth,” said the director of the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University in Massachusetts. “They are living, programmable organisms.”
The tiny robots were designed by an “evolutionary algorithm” that runs on a supercomputer. The program generated random 3D configurations of 500 to 1,000 skin and heart cells. Scientists picked a handful of designs to build in the lab, using tweezers and cauterizing tools to sculpt early-stage skin and heart cells scraped from the embryos of African clawed frogs, Xenopus laevis. They named their creations “xenobots.”
Each design was tested in a virtual environment to see how well it performed; for example, how far it moved when the heart cells were set beating. Because heart cells spontaneously contract and relax, they behave like miniature engines that drive the robots along until their energy reserves run out. The cells have enough fuel for the robots to survive a week to 10 days before keeling over.
One team member acknowledged that the work raised ethical issues, particularly since future variants could have nervous systems and be selected for cognitive capability. “What’s important to me is that this is public, so we can have a discussion as a society and policymakers can decide what is the best course of action,” he said.
The research is funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s lifelong learning machines program, which aims to recreate biological learning processes in machines.
Additional read: Soon a Robot Will Be Writing This Headline (NYT, $)
The Christmas Present Was A Lovely Timeshare In Pyongyang
- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has acknowledged it’s unlikely either a breakthrough in deadlocked negotiations with the Trump administration over denuclearization, or a lifting of US-led UN sanctions, is likely to happen anytime soon. Instead he wants to rebuild his country’s economy with tourism, one of the few North Korean industries not covered by heavy sanctions against earning foreign currency.
- Recently Kim opened seafront resorts or ski and spa complexes, all built in part to attract tourist cash from abroad, mainly China. On Tuesday South Korean president Moon Jae-in, a tireless advocate for dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, called for economic exchanges with the North, including allowing South Korean tourists to visit there.
- Moon hopes it will help ease tensions and encourage Kim to resume talks with the US. (NYT)
I Pull The Troops Down In Africa
- America’s allies are strongly opposed to a Pentagon proposal to greatly reduce troops in West Africa in order to focus on China and Russia. French officials said removing American intelligence assets in the region could stymie the fight against extremist groups.
- The Pentagon said it intended to proceed nonetheless, although a final decision hasn’t been made on just how many troops will be redrawn from Africa and the Middle East. The operation has been spearheaded by General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- President of France, Emmanuel Macron just finished a meeting with five African leaders, in which he promised a small increase in troops stationed to fight the rebels. This shows a continuing rift in interests between the United States and their European Allies in the fight against global terrorism. (NYT)
- France Agrees to Small Troop Increase, but Little Else, at Sahel Summit (NYT, $)
China’s Coin Is More Than Just A Bit
- China’s central bank is preparing to test a digital currency; some observers say it could mark the beginning of a new economic arms race, challenging the global supremacy of the US dollar.
- Hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers already pay for purchases without cash by using popular smartphone apps such as WeChat and Alipay.
- As one economist pointed out: “Everything is immensely convenient [in China]. You pretty much only need these two apps to do just about anything. You walk into a restaurant, scan a code and order your food….All the payments are automatic. It’s quite extraordinary.”
- China didn’t start out with a well-established payment system built on credit cards, so tech companies — counterparts to Amazon and Facebook — paved the way for the system to work. Now the central bank wants a piece of the digital action. (NPR)
- US reverses China ‘currency manipulator’ label (BBC)
- At least six dead after huge sinkhole in China swallows bus and pedestrians (Guardian)
- Chinese student dies after living on pennies a day (BBC)
Additional World News
- Photographer captures moment kangaroo cradles dying companion as joey looks on (Guardian) & James Murdoch criticises father’s news outlets for climate crisis denial (Guardian)
- Influential Iraqi cleric Sadr calls for anti-U.S. demonstrations (Reuters)
- Iran plane downing: Person who filmed video arrested (BBC)
- European Powers Put Iran on Notice Over Nuclear Deal (WSJ, $) & Iran’s Grim Economy Limits Its Willingness to Confront the U.S. (NYT, $)
- The Aftermath Of Iran’s Missile Attack On An Iraqi Base Housing U.S. Troops (NPR)
- Senate resolution to limit Trump’s military authority on Iran has enough GOP votes to pass, key Democrats say (WaPo, $)
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Stamping Out Food Stamps
- Four years ago West Virginia instituted tougher work requirements for people on food stamps. Thousands of poor people in nine counties affected by the state policy change found themselves having to prove they were working or training for at least 20 hours a week in order to keep receiving food stamps consistently.
- Now, beginning in April pursuant to a rule change by the Trump administration, all “able-bodied adults without dependents” will have to do the same. The policy seems straightforward. By administration estimates about 700,000 people will lose food stamps altogether. But jobs should be easy to find in this humming economy.
- In truth, however, there is nothing straightforward about the reality of the working poor: a daily life of unreliable transportation, erratic work hours, and unstable living arrangements.
- We don’t have a crystal ball, but considering what’s happened in those nine West Virginia counties in the last four years does offer an indication of how that policy might play out on a larger scale. Spoiler alert: the lives of poor people got more complicated; they had less to eat and had to rely more on homeless missions and food pantries; and employment did not increase. (NYT)
- What Would It Take to End Homelessness? (NYT, $)
- Newark’s Challenge to New York City Homeless Program Keeps Dozens From Moving (WSJ, $)
Additional USA News
- Democratic Debate Recap: Gender, War and Taking on Trump (NYT, $)
- House To Vote Wednesday On Sending Impeachment Articles To Senate (NPR)
- Ukraine prosecutor offered information related to Biden in exchange for ambassador’s ouster, newly released materials show (WaPo, $)
- Can air purifiers improve students’ academic performance? | Education (Guardian) & these students might also need nets to cover their schools: More than 50 injured after Delta jet dumps fuel on LA schools during midair emergency (NBC News)
- Trump launches fresh attack on Apple over privacy (BBC)
- Michael Flynn: Trump’s former security adviser seeks to withdraw guilty plea (Guardian)
PIBTSUFO: Possibly Identified But Technically Still Unidentified Flying Object
- In November 2004, several US Navy pilots stationed aboard the USS Nimitz encountered a Tic-Tac-shaped UFO darting and dashing over the Pacific Ocean in apparent defiance of the laws of physics. Navy officials dubbed the strange craft an “unidentified aerial phenomenon.” No one has been able to get any information on the occurrence since.
- Last October an independent researcher made a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request for access to any nonclassified records or portions of records regarding the 2004 UFO encounter.
- In responding to the request, a spokesperson from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) recently confirmed that the agency possesses several top-secret documents and at least one classified video pertaining to the 2004 UFO encounter.
- However, according to the ONI, these documents were either labeled “SECRET” or “TOP SECRET” by the agencies that provided them, and that sharing the information with the public” would cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States.” (CBS News)
- Popular Apps Share Intimate Details About You With Dozens of Companies (Consumer Reports)
- The rise of Japan’s ‘super solo’ culture (BBC)
- The solution to the plastic waste crisis? It isn’t recycling | John Vidal (Guardian)
- Microsoft bids farewell to Windows 7 and the millions of PCs that still run it (The Verge) & How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free (The Verge)
- The dark side of human nature and technology: Pre-teen girls ‘tricked into sex acts on webcams’ (BBC) & Cam girl reality: an enticing illusion leaves many models poor and defeated (Guardian)
- Dream job? Hundreds apply to work on remote Irish island (Guardian)
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