Old Nation, New Tricks
December 10, 2020
The Good News
- Over 900 cars paid for each other’s meals at a Dairy Queen drive thru in Minnesota (CNN)
- Endangered North Atlantic right whale population grows with 2 newborns (USA Today)
- Pfizer’s COVID Vaccine Just Got an ‘A+’ From the FDA (Vice)
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
“A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions–as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.”
Can Funding AI Fix Japan’s Fertility Rate?
(Tomohiro Ohsumi via Getty Images)
Japan’s workforce is aging, and in an effort to boost the birth rate, the government plans to fund artificial intelligence (AI) matchmaking schemes to help its young people find love.
Last year’s birth rate fell below 865,000, which was a record low. The country’s population is projected to scale back from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Policymakers are racing to ensure that Japan has an adequate labor force to meet the expanding costs of welfare. So the government has decided that next year it will allocate 2 billion yen ($19 million) to local authorities already running or starting projects that use AI to pair people up.
Many localities already offer human-run matchmaking services, and some have introduced AI systems hoping they will perform a more sophisticated analysis of the standardized forms where people submit their details. A few of the existing systems are limited to considering criteria such as income and age, only producing a result if there is an exact match. The goal for providing funding is to allow authorities to access more advanced systems that will take into account factors like hobbies and values. “We are especially planning to offer subsidies to local governments operating or starting up matchmaking projects that use AI,” a cabinet official said. “We hope this support will help reverse the decline in the nation’s birthrate.”
Others say matchmaking isn’t really the problem. Sachiko Horiguchi, a socio-cultural and medical anthropologist at Japan’s Temple University, thinks raising wages for young workers would do more to help. A recent report suggested a link between lower income levels and the loss of interest in romantic relationships among young Japanese adults. “If they’re not interested in dating, the matchmaking would likely be ineffective,” she said.
Analysts have long pointed out the lack of support for working mothers in Japan, where tradition has dictated that women will do all the housework and raise children while still doing their jobs. “If we are to rely on technologies, affordable AI robots taking over household or childcare tasks may be more effective [than mere matchmaking],” Dr. Horiguchi said.
Iran’s Nuclear Program Goes Underground
(Henghameh Fahimi via Getty Images)
- Iran has suffered two serious setbacks to its nuclear program. Last July, a nuclear fuel enrichment facility in Natanz was destroyed in an explosion, and in late November, the country’s top nuclear scientist was assassinated. Iranian leaders insist their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, and label the attacks sabotage by Israel and the US.
- This time their rebuilt nuclear fuel enrichment facility is being constructed underground. Satellite images at the site show new tunnel entrances under a ridge in mountainous foothills south of the Natanz facility, about 140 miles from Tehran. (NYT)
Cyber Thieves Are Playing With Fire
- The CEO of California-based FireEye, a top cyber-security firm, said Tuesday the company’s own cyber defenses suffered a major breach in what he called a “state-sponsored attack.” Kevin Mandia didn’t name a foreign country, but said 25 years of experience tells him the breach was conducted by “a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities.”
- FireEye didn’t say when it learned of the attack, but did acknowledge that the intruders stole some of the firm’s Red Team tools, which it uses to test for vulnerabilities in the computer networks of its customers. It also confirmed that the cyber thieves “primarily sought information related to certain government customers.” The company did not name them, but it has worked extensively with US government agencies as well as foreign governments. (NPR)
Additional World News
- Off to a hot START: When Biden Takes Office, Clock Will Be Ticking To Save New START Treaty (NPR)
- ‘On Social Media, There Are Thousands’: In Cuba, Internet Fuels Rare Protests (NYT, $)
- Why India just had the biggest protest in world history. (Slate)
- A ballooning industry: Big Push Into Helium Could Have the World on Russia’s String (NYT, $)
- U.S. designates Chinese organized crime leader in anti-corruption sanctions (Reuters)
- Secret deal reveals how Chinese spies are given free rein in Switzerland (Guardian)
- Extraterrestrial or just extra trendy? The monoliths in Utah, California, and Romania, explained (Vox)
- Denmark Apologises to 22 Children Taken from Their Families in Social Experiment (Vice)
- France to start research into ‘enhanced soldiers’ (BBC).
- Canada latest country to approve Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (BBC). Whaddya say, FDA?
- Vaccine Nationalism Is Doomed to Fail (Atlantic, $)
- UAE says Chinese coronavirus vaccine is 86% effective after trial (Axios)
- Allergy warning for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after UK health workers with allergy history suffer reaction (CNN)
- Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines have two doses. Will patients actually get the second? (Vox)
- U.S. adds 1 million cases in just four days, now above 15 million (CNBC)
- What Motivates COVID Rule Breakers? (Scientific American)
- Get in the Christmas spirit with festive socks! Give the perfect gift this year with the Bombas holiday collection; featuring festive patterns, cozy merino wool, skiing & snowboarding socks, and more.
- Bombas socks are high-quality and are made with what is often called the softest cotton in the world. Not only are Bombas socks comfortable, toasty, and warm, but they also feature innovations like extra arch support, stay-up technology, and a seam-free design (nothing scratchy or distracting). Bombas changes socks from those things that you have to wear on your feet, to things you want to wear on your feet.
- For every pair you buy, Bombas donates a pair to someone experiencing homelessness. Now that’s the holiday spirit. Use code PNUT for 20% off your first order!
5G Towers And An Abuse Of Power
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is approving the construction of 5G towers on Indigenous land without having received tribal consent. Muscogee (Creek) Nation works on projects in 12 states across the midwest and the southern US, and is expected to inspect proposals for every 5G tower that goes up in those states.
- Normally, it receives 150 small cell tower projects per month. But since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, it has received 1,700 requests. The manager of the tribe’s historic and cultural preservation department in Oklahoma said they just had no capacity to respond. Many tribal offices are closed or working at reduced capacity during the pandemic. Many officers are working remotely, and in some areas lack the necessary connectivity to work effectively.
- The manager said, “It’s ironic that we have people reviewing cell phone towers who don’t even have internet access at home.” Federal law requires agencies to consult with the tribal historic preservation officer about proposed projects on indigenous lands, but after 30 days with no response, a company can continue with the project. (Vice)
Tesla Takes Its Taxes To Texas
- Elon Musk is in a huff and leaving CA in the dust. The billionaire entrepreneur, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, is moving to Texas. Last May, Musk threatened to move his electric car company, valued at $500 billion, out of Silicon Valley after local officials refused to let its factory reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.
- In a May 9th tweet Musk wrote: “Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant “Interim Health Officer” of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense.”
- Not only will he save millions in taxes, but he won’t get any such cautionary nonsense from Texas officials. Musk plans to build a new factory in Austin; his spaceflight company already has facilities in South Texas. (Yahoo News)
Additional USA News
- Zuck-busted: Facebook Accused of Breaking Antitrust Laws (NYT, $)
- Microsoft, Unilever join Amazon’s Climate Pledge group that critics find lacking (WaPo, $)
- Wage gap: Highest-paid workers see pay rise much faster (USA Today)
- House approves one-week spending bill as stimulus talks drag on (WaPo, $)
- Son of a… Hunter Biden says he’s under tax investigation (CNN)
- Democratic opposition mounts to Biden picking retired general to lead Pentagon (Axios)
- “Not my president” reaches a new level: Poll: Only Quarter Of Republicans Accept 2020 Election Results (NPR)
- Trump’s Attacks on Local Officials Are Spreading Hatred and Inciting Violence (New Yorker, $)
- ‘I literally don’t know’: Operation Warp Speed scientist can’t explain Trump’s vaccine order (Politico)
- McKinsey Apologizes For Helping Purdue Pharma ‘Turbocharge’ Opioid Sales (NPR). Painkiller or Bain-killer?
- Racism literally ages black Americans faster, according to our 25-year study (Guardian)
Care To Dance? The Olympics Breaks New Ground.
- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board made history Monday when it announced the first DanceSport event to appear at an Olympics Games. Breaking (elite breakdancing) will make its Olympics debut in Paris 2024. Also featured will be skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing. The latter three sports had previously been set to debut at the postponed 2020 Tokyo Games.
- The president of the World DanceSport Federation (WDSF) thanked everyone who helped make the sport’s inclusion possible, and promised to “redouble our efforts in the lead-up to the Olympic Games to make sure the breaking competition at Paris 2024 will be unforgettable.”
- The breaking competition was first staged at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires — three medals were handed out, and crowds of over 30,000 attended each day. The 2024 Olympics will feature 16 b-boys and 16 b-girls — the term used for competitive breakers — who will compete in one on one battles. It’s hoped the sport’s inclusion at Paris 2024 will also attract a young audience to the Olympics. (CNN)
- Concrete evidence of human life: Human-made materials now equal weight of all life on Earth. The amount of concrete, asphalt, metal, and plastic on Earth is growing fast. (NatGeo)
- How you measure happiness depends on where you live (Inverse)
- Physicists solve 150-year-old mystery of equation governing sandcastle physics (Ars Technica)
- Isaac Newton notes almost destroyed by dog sell for £380,000 (Guardian)
- Bees Paint Animal Poo on Their Homes to Repel Giant Hornets (Wired). Quite the peculiar paint job.
- Leaked Government Photo Shows ‘Motionless, Cube-Shaped UFO’ (Popular Mechanics)
- Search party: How an Apple search engine could compete with Google (Fast Company)
- Why movies about public servants are so soothing in 2020 (Vox)
- Hollywood Will Never Stop Trying to Decode Orson Welles (Ringer)
- Martin Amis Goes Out With a Bang (Atlantis, $)
- Cartel chronicles: MS-13 Is Getting Rich From Altered Weed ‘More Addictive Than Cocaine’ (Vice)
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