Talking With Elephants.
Life in the algorithm....
1. Only a third of Americans say they'll accept results of 2024 US election regardless of who wins, according to a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute published Thursday. More than half responded they'd accept the results of the election if their supported candidate wins, but doubt the victory of their rival. The remaining 11 per cent said they would doubt the results, no matter who wins. Although both sides of the political spectrum expressed doubts about the American electoral system according to the poll, previous Trump voters were far more likely to question election results. Overall, 58 per cent of respondents harbored doubts that the electoral process had necessary safeguards against "widespread fraud and cheating," with 26 per cent saying they were "not confident at all." (Sources: agnusreid.org, thestar.com/news)
2. The Economist:
AI is improving all the time, as computing power and training data become more abundant. Could AI-powered fake-detection software, built into web browsers, identify computer-generated content? Sadly not. As we report this week, the arms race between generation and detection favors the forger. Eventually AI models will probably be able to produce pixel-perfect counterfeits—digital clones of what a genuine recording of an event would have looked like, had it happened. Even the best detection system would have no crack to find and no ledge to grasp. (Source: economist.com)
3. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is entering the race to create artificial general intelligence (AGI). While he doesn’t have a timeline for when AGI will be reached, or even an exact definition for it, he wants to build it. At the same time, he’s shaking things up by moving Meta’s AI research group, FAIR, to the same part of the company as the team building generative AI products across Meta’s apps. The goal is for Meta’s AI breakthroughs to more directly reach its billions of users. Says Mr. Zuckerberg: “We have built up the capacity to do this at a scale that may be larger than any other individual company.” Which is undoubtedly true. Read the rest. (Source: theverge.com)
4. Researchers have developed a computational model that predicts how likely a person is to develop long COVID, based on an analysis of more than 6,500 proteins found in blood. In a study published on 18 January in Science, the team compared blood samples from people who tested positive for COVID-19 with ones from healthy adults, and found notable differences in the composition of proteins in people with long COVID, those who recovered and those who were never infected. The analysis suggests that proteins involved in immune responses, blood clotting and inflammation could be key biomarkers in diagnosing and monitoring long COVID, which affects an estimated 65 million people worldwide. The condition has been linked to more than 200 symptoms, including brain fog, fatigue, chest pain and breathlessness, which can persist for months or years after a SARS-CoV-2 infection. (Sources: nature.com, science.org)
5. Newly released documents indicate that a U.S. genetic database had received the sequence of the coronavirus two weeks before it was made public by others. We carried that story in News Items yesterday. Following are the key graphs from today’s story in The New York Times:
The documents, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, do not provide insight into the origins of the virus, Dr. Bloom and other scientists said, given that the sequence did not contain special clues about the virus’s evolution and was later made public anyway.
But they do offer new details about the pace at which Dr. Ren’s team worked to sequence the virus. The swab containing the virus they analyzed was taken from the 65-year-old patient, a vendor at the large market where the illness was first seen spreading, on Dec. 24, 2019. Within four days, scientists sent that virus’s genetic data to GenBank.
Indeed it is. (Source: nytimes.com, italics mine)
6. China’s largest bad-debt managers suffered Moody’s Investors Service’s rating downgrades that cut China Huarong Asset Management Co. to junk status, over concerns about the property crisis. Huarong AMC’s long-term rating was reduced one notch to Ba1. Three other peers - China Great Wall Asset Management Co., China Orient Asset Management Co., China Cinda Asset Management Co. - also had their ratings cut Friday by one to two notches. Moody’s action is the latest alarm sounded over the property sector ills’ spillover across the economy, despite Beijing’s pledges for support policies. It also resembles a sector-wide downgrade by Fitch Ratings earlier this year, when the ratings firm cited concern over bad-debt managers’ financial conditions. (Source: bloomberg.com)
7. Chinese stocks just capped another dismal week, with a gauge of mainland firms listed in Hong Kong languishing at the bottom of global equity index rankings for the year so far. Grim milestones have kept piling up in recent days: Tokyo has overtaken Shanghai as Asia’s biggest equity market, while India’s valuation premium over China has hit a record. Locally, a meltdown in Chinese shares is wreaking havoc on the nation’s asset management industry, pushing mutual fund closures to a five-year high. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index has already lost 11% in 2024. Coming after a record four-year losing streak, the slump is reinforcing a structural shift that’s seeing everyone from active money managers to passive funds turn their back on the world’s second-largest stock market. (Source: bloomberg.com)
8. Congress on Thursday sent legislation to avert a partial government shutdown to President Biden, racing to fund federal agencies through early March one day before money was to run out. Over the strenuous opposition of far-right Republicans, the House voted 314 to 108 to approve the stopgap funding just hours after the Senate provided overwhelming bipartisan backing for the measure in a 77-to-18 vote, allowing lawmakers to narrowly beat a Friday deadline. (Source: nytimes.com)
9. When Iran launched a barrage of airstrikes this week into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, it was not just showing off the reach and sophistication of some of its newest missiles but also staking a claim: This is a new era in which Iran can flex its muscles at will and, as an added benefit, bolster its credentials as an important arms supplier. In at least one of the attacks — a strike that Tehran claimed targeted the Islamic State terrorist group in Idlib, Syria — Iran appeared to make use of one of its longest-range and most advanced missiles, the Kheibar Shekan. Both the range and the apparent accuracy seized the attention of national security officials in Europe and Israel, as well as outside experts who track Iran’s technological advances. (Source: nytimes.com)
10. Arab states are working on an initiative to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages in Gaza as part of a broader plan that could offer Israel a normalisation of relations if it agrees to “irreversible” steps towards the creation of a Palestinian state. A senior Arab official said they hoped to present the plan — which could include the prize of Saudi Arabia formalising ties with Israel — within a few weeks in an effort to end the Israel-Hamas war and prevent a wider conflict erupting in the Middle East. (Source: ft.com)
11. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday rejected calls from the United States to scale back Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip or take steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state after the war, drawing an immediate scolding from the White House. The tense back and forth reflected what has become a wide rift between the two allies over the scope of Israel’s war and its plans for the future of the beleaguered territory. (Source: apnews.com)
12. Peggy Noonan:
Voters are going to want more options. Talk will turn seriously to a third-party bid. The great unanswered question will be whether those mounting that party have enough imagination to understand what they could be this year. (Source: wsj.com)
13. Financial Times:
There is a great deal about elephant communication that (we still) don’t know. Most difficult to untangle are overlapping calls when, in a birth or mating ritual, a group of elephants will talk over each other. Unstitching this cacophony of rumbles is near-impossible — especially when so much of the sound is emitted below the lower limit of human audibility.
However, a new tool reshaping many aspects of the human world could also transform our understanding of the animal kingdom: generative artificial intelligence.
Researchers hope that the same technology that is powering ChatGPT will allow us to reach into the non-human world, and begin to understand — even speak — animal languages. (Source: ft.com)
14. Laure’s Weekend Movie Pick: “Society of the Snow” - on Netflix. The new version of the famous plane crash and survivor story in the Andes that the book “Alive” brought to fame. This version was made with an Argentinian and South American cast, and is by far the best account of the story. I recommend watching in its original version. Incredibly well made and gripping despite the fact that most of us know the story. (Sources: netflix.com, Laure Sudreau)
Quick Links: Will passports be replaced by biometrics? The United States is drowning OPEC in oil. How America accidentally made a free-money machine for banks. Passively managed US mutual funds and exchange traded funds have for the first time amassed more money than their actively managed counterparts. Why BlackRock is betting billions on infrastructure. America is seeing more and more of its most fertile land snapped up by China and other foreign buyers. Terrific Mary Williams Walsh piece on deficits and debt. Latin America is home to some of the fastest-falling fertility rates in the world.
Political Links: Japan prosecutors build cases against LDP groups over fundraising scandal. Narendra Modi’s electoral juggernaut looks unstoppable. Germany, once a powerhouse, is at an economic ‘standstill.’ Farmers are angry, industrial output is falling and the government is widely disliked. America’s southern border has become a global crossroads. The Biden White House has come to the conclusion that immigration is an important issue(!). Trump tells SCOTUS kicking him off ballot would ‘unleash chaos’. Judge hints that Trump’s election interference trial might be delayed. Trump vows to block any Fed effort to launch digital currency. McHenry slams Johnson’s work as speaker. Hunter Biden agrees to sit for a House deposition on Feb. 28. No Labels asks the Justice Department to investigate its critics. There goes the neighborhood: News Items closes New York City office.
Science/Technology Links: Researchers improve blood tests’ ability to detect and monitor cancer. New hope for early pancreatic cancer intervention via AI-based risk prediction. Study reveals a universal pattern of brain wave frequencies. Chinese scientists say their wireless device can ‘swim’ through pipes to monitor and send data to a smartphone in real time. The CEOs of OpenAI and Microsoft reflect on regulation, the future of AI and how to control superhuman intelligence. French AI start-up Mistral emerged as the toast of Davos. The world’s first working graphene-based semiconductor has arrived. Apple’s Vision Pro headset is remarkable. But one reviewer calls it “bulky and weird.” It will launch with 3D movies from Disney Plus. It goes on sale on February 2nd. Amazon released a new generative AI feature to answer shopper's questions. How hot salt could transform nuclear power. Cobalt-free batteries could power cars of the future. How to guarantee the safety of autonomous vehicles. Japan is getting ready for its first moon landing. Water ice buried at Mars' equator is over 2 miles thick. New, portable antenna could help restore communication after disasters. African Swine Fever (ASF) is probably the most devastating viral disease you have never heard of. Mounting evidence shows daily multivitamins keep you sharp as you age. Life in the Algorithm.
War: The trial and conviction of an activist in Russia sparked one of the biggest outbreaks of social unrest since the start of the war. Russia has been quietly consolidating its control over the territories it occupies in southeastern Ukraine. North Korea threat could change 'drastically' given Russia cooperation-US official. North Korea says it has tested another underwater nuclear drone. Airstrikes on Yemen bring new level of chaos to shipping in the Red Sea. Yemen’s Houthis vowed they would keep attacking ships in the Red Sea. China calls on “all relevant parties” to “ensure the safety of navigation in the Red Sea.” A famine looms in Gaza. Civilians must prepare for all-out war with Russia in the next 20 years, top NATO official warns. China lab simulates attack on US warships using space weapons, hypersonic missiles. The projected cost of replacing the aging nuclear missiles buried in silos across the Great Plains has soared by more than a third to $107 billion.