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Robot Showboat: Now Even Our Celeb Feuds Are Automated

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 09:27 AM PDT

Drake and Meek Mill. 6ix9ine and The Game. Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall. Let’s be real, part of the reason we’re on social media is for the celebrity feuds.

And now it seems like that’s just another thing the robots are going to do better (or, at least, stranger) than us.

Earlier this week, famous instagram robot Bermuda, a digital avatar who posts gems about how climate change is fake, feminists are misguided, and whites are supreme, took over the account of Miquela, another Instagram "robot" who models designer clothes, supports Black Lives Matter, and loves Beyonce.

After a few days, Miquela "came clean," and posted an “emotional” rant about her “revelation” that she was not based on a real person, but instead is an artificial intelligence-powered robot that, like Bermuda, was created by the Trump-endorsing tech company Cain Intelligence.

Bermuda returned Miquela's account, and the feud ended.

But the true mystery had just begun.

Now, we here at Futurism love some good internet as much as anyone else. But it's important to mention that none of this is real. Just like Twitter's horse ebooks or YouTube's Pronunciationbook, Miquela and Bermuda's feud and revelation is probably just another exhausting internet art project. Sigh.

In fact, Cain Intelligence is not even a real company. And it's unclear how much (if any) of either digital persona's account is generated by artificial intelligence. It's possible that some of the captions and images are rendered through a machine learning algorithm, but it's just as likely that some dude behind the scenes is writing everything himself, as is partially the case for Hanson Robotics' Sophia.

No one, human or AI, has come forward to reveal the real goal behind this artificial feud, and Miquela hasn't posted since her confession, so she’s not dropping any clues. Until then, we can probably all move on and get ready for the next viral social media feud/prank.

Unless, of course, AI really is controlling Bermuda and Miquela, in which case I apologize and beg that they leave my account alone.

The post Robot Showboat: Now Even Our Celeb Feuds Are Automated appeared first on Futurism.

UK Officials Reveal 5 New Principles for Businesses Working With AI

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 08:54 AM PDT

These guiding principles may be the first step towards codified laws governing businesses’ use of AI.

The post UK Officials Reveal 5 New Principles for Businesses Working With AI appeared first on Futurism.

This Week in Science: Apr 14 – Apr 20, 2018

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 06:55 AM PDT

FDA Committee Recommends Approving Marijuana-Derived Drug

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 03:33 PM PDT

Medical marijuana may be legal in 29 states, but marijuana-based medicine isn’t legal in any. Yet.

Today, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee unanimously recommended that the FDA approve Epidiolex, a drug whose active ingredient — cannabidiol (CBD) — is a non-hallucinogenic compound found in marijuana (it doesn’t produce a “high”).

If the agency agrees with the committee’s recommendation and approves the drug, Epidiolex will be the first cannabis-derived drug approved for sale in the U.S.

Epidiolex is a liquid medicine developed by U.K.-based GW Pharmaceuticals PLC for the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Both syndromes begin in childhood, sometimes causing seizures in patients just six months old.

During the FDA committee meeting, GW presented findings from three Epidiolex studies conducted over a period of 14 weeks. Two of those focused on patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, the other on those with Dravet syndrome.

Overall, the drug decreased seizures in Lennox-Gastaut patients and convulsive seizures (ones involving the whole body) in Dravet syndrome patients by more than 40 percent. According to GW, the primary side effect was sleepiness, but there is a possibility of liver injury following long-term use.

Potential For Cannabis
Click to View Full Infographic

Currently, there aren no medications on the market specifically to treat Dravet syndrome. While there are six to treat Lennox-Gastaut, the drugs aren’t always effective, leaving patients and their families with little recourse.

“I had seizures for 10 years,” Sam Vogelstein, 16, an Epidiolex user from Berkeley, California, said during the FDA meeting, according to Forbes. “My parents tell me there were times I had seizures 100 times a day.”

Vogelstein, who CNN noted calls himself “the first person to try Epidiolex for epilepsy,” began taking the drug five years ago. He hasn’t had a seizure for the last two years.

“It changed my life,” he told the committee.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, one-third of the 3.4 million epilepsy sufferers in the U.S. simply can’t control their seizures through available treatment options. Like Vogelstein, they might find that Epidiolex is the drug that finally helps.

And though it’s intended to treat epilepsy, Epidolex could end up being prescribed for other conditions, such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS), which have been shown in studies to be treated by cannabidiol. If Epidiolex receives FDA approval, doctors could prescribe it “off label” if it might help patients with those conditions, too.

The FDA should issue its final decision on Epidiolex by June 27. If Epidolex is approved, Vogelstein’s life might be just the first of many — epilepsy suffers and otherwise — that the drug changes for the better.

The post FDA Committee Recommends Approving Marijuana-Derived Drug appeared first on Futurism.

A Moss Can Naturally Clean Harmful Arsenic From Water

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 03:11 PM PDT

If you happen to be thirsty in the woods, there are a lot of things you can stick in your canteen to help clean up your drinking water. There are chlorine pills and filters (not crystals — never crystals). And now scientists have identified a certain kind of moss that could do it, too.

The moss is called Warnstorfia fluitans. It grows in Swedish wetlands contaminated with the toxic arsenic from nearby mining operations. Researchers found that the moss brought the arsenic levels of water down to drinkable levels surprisingly quickly, according to research published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

In northern Sweden, iron mines have contaminated much of the water with arsenic, a metal that is also toxic to humans. That harmful combination works its way into agricultural products like rice, traveling throughout the food web.

Researchers from the University of Stockholm hope that introducing this moss into wetlands could help clean up the area.

To test it in a controlled lab setting (that’s science-ese for "no one has tested this in the field yet,") the researchers started with water that contained ten times the amount of arsenic deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. When they exposed the moss to it, the moss took just an hour to absorb 82 percent of the arsenic.

But further tests showed that higher concentrations of arsenic, plus mixing in other miscellaneous compounds, slowed down the filtration process. That’s a bit closer to real-world conditions, so that lab ideal would be far from how this moss performs in an actual arsenic-contaminated wetland. But even so, researchers found that the moss was able to tolerate arsenic concentrations 1,000 times higher than the EPA's maximum before it showed any signs of toxicity itself.

So how did the moss survive after taking in all that harmful arsenic? The researchers found that most of the toxin was being bound to the moss tissue, rendering it harmless. And because very few organisms eat wetland moss, this could help break the cycle of arsenic poisoning in which predators become sick after eating contaminated prey.

The road from laboratory tests to successful environmental cleanups is long and arduous, but if researchers find that it helps to grow this moss in and around streams with dangerous levels of arsenic, we may be on our way to an inexpensive, handy solution to a serious ecological hazard.

The post A Moss Can Naturally Clean Harmful Arsenic From Water appeared first on Futurism.

We’re in the Middle of a Gut Health Crisis, and Most of Us Don’t Know It [Affiliate]

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 02:30 PM PDT

Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with Viome, who is offering Futurism readers $20 off with code FUTURISM. They help us keep the lights on, and Futurism may receive a commission from sales. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

You may by now be familiar with the microbiome in your body. The microbiome is the bacteria, viruses, yeast and other organisms in your gut, and elsewhere, that affect your overall health and your mind. What you may not realize, and many don't, is the world is facing a microbiome crisis.

As Nils Gilman and Tobias Mees of the Berggruen Institute wrote recently for the Washington Post, many aspects of how we live our lives are threatening our microbiomes in substantial ways. The processed foods we eat, the number of Caesarean sections being done, the antibiotics we feed ourselves and our livestock and our sterile environments appear to be some of the driving forces behind this crisis.

"The wholesale bombardment of the microbiome with full spectrum antibiotics happens both in humans and, perhaps more importantly, the livestock populations that humans feed off of," Nils Gilman, vice president of programs at the Berggruen Institute, told Futurism. "There's a whole series of health issues that are now beginning to be associated with this rampant use of antibiotics."

Gilman explained that everything from obesity to cancer may be linked to the overuse of antibiotics, but he said that doesn't mean they're inherently bad. Antibiotics are great when you need them, but often times they're prescribed when they're not necessarily needed. The CDC claims around 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are not needed. Besides what we take personally, farm animals also often receive far too many antibiotics, and they end up in the meat we buy and eat.

One way in which we get our microbiomes is through birth. Not just our genes, the act of being birthed itself. C-sections have been on the rise for some time, and this looks as if it’s causing a problem for the human microbiome. If we don't get that bacteria at birth, it can cause problems later in life. Again, Gilman acknowledges that C-sections can save lives, but it seems they should be avoided when they're not absolutely necessary.

"There's been a whole series of well-documented patterns of certain kinds of health challenges that children who are born via C-section have at higher rates," Gilman said. "Notably: Allergies. Obviously there's been an enormous increase in the amount of allergies."

bacteria gut
Image credit: Pixabay

One solution doctors are trying is literally swiping babies with the vaginal bacteria they would encounter during birth after a C-section is performed. This is seen as a way to get the baby a better microbiome than if they hadn't done it. That said, some doctors have warned against this practice, as it could expose the baby to dangerous bacteria.

Kids not being exposed to their environments enough is also a problem when it comes to the microbiome. If children are kept inside and don't play in areas that have lots of bacteria they can be exposed to, that's actually harmful for their microbiome, which needs that kind of exposure.

Perhaps the most predictable reason there's a microbiome crisis is the simple fact we're not eating well. We're eating too many processed foods that lack the kind of bacteria our gut thrives on, and we're not eating the kinds of food that are high in that kind of bacteria.

"People don't eat foods that are as bacterially rich as they used to," Gilman said. "We eat a lot less pickled stuff and cured stuff, which are often quite rich in microbiotic terms."

So here we are. But what can we do about it? We can start by eating better. It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as universally healthy food. A food that's healthy for one person can be inflammatory for another person. Even a food that's healthy for you today may become harmful few months later. In the era of new fad diets coming out almost daily, eating right can be very confusing. As we know, what you eat can affect the gut significantly, so learning what foods you should eat is critical for your good health. In order to do that, you need to know where you stand. One way of doing that is to get your gut tested.

As we've reported before, a company named Viome is selling quite possibly the best gut analysis kit ever created, and they recommend precisely what foods are good for you right now and what foods you need to minimize and avoid. Instead of analyzing the DNA in your gut, which is often from organism that are not active in it, they analyze the RNA, which shows ever organism that's truly active in your system, and more importantly what they are actually doing. Are they converting certain foods in to nutrients that your body needs or converting the so-called "healthy" food into toxins that are causing inflammation?

When you know better, you do better. Have a healthy microbiome helps you have a healthier life. A company like Viome can help you make that first step. Once you have that information, you can make the changes you need to make to remove yourself from this growing gut crisis. If you don't know what damage you've done, you're not really going to know where to go next.

Futurism fans: To create this content, a non-editorial team worked with Viome, who is offering Futurism readers $20 off with code FUTURISM. They help us keep the lights on, and Futurism may receive a commission from sales. This post does not reflect the views or the endorsement of the Futurism.com editorial staff.

The post We're in the Middle of a Gut Health Crisis, and Most of Us Don't Know It [Affiliate] appeared first on Futurism.

To Protect Endangered Coral Reefs, Researchers Need Legal Recourse

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 01:52 PM PDT

We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Or, sometimes, until it’s almost gone. So consider this fair warning: it’s just about time to start appreciating the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, which is once again the subject of some doom-and-gloom findings.

Half of the Great Barrier Reef has bleached (read: died) due to global warming (read: our fault) since 2016, according to research published yesterday in Nature. The damage was greater than what would have been if it were just local weather or other short-term events, the researchers found.

This puts a serious dent in scientists’ forecast of the reef’s long-term stability.

If you’re a fan of things like less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, biodiversity, and coasts that aren’t rapidly eroded, this is bad news.

Which is why the researchers behind the study are calling for regulators to give the reef the same kinds of protections as they would to a species on the verge of extinction.

Often, when a plant or animal is on the verge of extinction, it is granted the legal protections of the Endangered Species Act. It’s intended to protect the organism itself, plus a bit of the habitat. This happens regardless of whether the forces pushing the species to die off are natural (why can't we get pandas to bone?) or if it's entirely our fault as we alter the climate too dramatically or the organisms to keep up (hang in there, polar bears!).

Over the past few years, researchers at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has begun ranking entire ecosystems the way we would species. Their Red List of Ecosystems, which they hope to complete by 2025, notes specific ecosystems of interest from "Least Concern" to "Endangered" all the way to "Collapsed" — the ecosystem equivalent of going extinct.

Listing ecosystems this way could help conservation groups prioritize their money and other resources. But one thing it doesn’t do? Actually protect a precarious ecosystem.

There’s no law to keep people from driving their boats over a reef, or logging a rainforest. Even if countries do pass a law, it only applies within a country’s borders; ecosystems often don’t fit quite so neatly within those. International treaties intended to mitigate climate change exist, but participation is voluntary.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature can provide evidence-based recommendations. These are valuable, no question. But scientists have been providing legislators with recommendations for decades. And compared to the endless piles of cash from fossil fuel lobbyists, those recommendations haven't gotten us too far.

In order to truly bring about change, conservation groups will need to lobby for legal protections to conserve large ecosystems in the same way they do individual species. This study shows they may have to work more loudly and quickly than they previously thought.

The post To Protect Endangered Coral Reefs, Researchers Need Legal Recourse appeared first on Futurism.

Amazon Wants to Help Crack Down on Crypto Crime — for a Price

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 01:05 PM PDT

Giant gummy bears. Fake mullets. Even, yes, the kitchen sink. Anything you need (plus anything you didn’t think anyone could ever need) is for sale on Amazon.

Soon, the e-retailer could sell something far more valuable, and in a much more limited supply, than any of that stuff: the identities of cryptocurrency users.

On Tuesday, Amazon won a U.S. patent it submitted back in 2014 for a “streaming data marketplace.” That is, a marketplace of data streams, infinite ledgers of information documenting anything from people's physical addresses to their internet use. Instead of selling a product, this marketplace would sell access to data.

In the patent, Amazon lists several possible configurations and uses for their data marketplace. One focuses on cryptocurrency. A potential customer? Government agencies.

By design, it’s not easy to figure out the person behind a cryptocurrency transaction. Two parties just need each other’s crypto address, which is a long string of numbers and letters. Transactions are tracked in a long ledger that isn’t stored in any one place, so is pretty much impossible to hack.

But finding out a user’s identity isn’t impossible. If you can combine that address with other information, the pieces start to come together. Amazon proposes doing exactly that — connecting those dots — through its marketplace.

In the patent, Amazon describes a crypto data stream that starts with a list of all known bitcoin transactions. The bitcoin blockchain is public, so that information is easy to access and could refresh in near-real time.

Here’s where the stream starts to get useful. Amazon or any other e-retailers that accept bitcoin transactions could publish the shipping addresses linked to the bitcoin addresses. That right there could be useful for identifying users, but Amazon takes the idea even further.

Perhaps the buyer used a fake shipping address. Telecommunications providers could add their info to the stream by publishing the location of the internet protocol (IP) address associated with the transaction (presumably Amazon would pay companies for that info, though the patent doesn’t mention it).

Finally, government officials could subscribe to the crypto stream in the data marketplace and use the information to crack down on crypto crime.

For example, the IRS could track a person’s address in the bitcoin ledger. They could see how much money that person cashed out throughout the year to determine if they paid the right amount in taxes.

If law enforcement agencies know that someone is buying illegal goods using a specific crypto address, they could search Amazon’s data stream for that address and see if a name turns up.

This plan hinges on the idea that criminals would be dumb careless enough to use the same address for both legal and illegal transactions, which, let’s be real, probably happens. Amazon even suggests selling the data on a per-gigabyte (GB) basis, which would help them make buckets of cash off targeted searches.

For now, this is just a patent — there’s no indication that Amazon will take the idea any further. Still, a number of government agencies have already expressed their commitment to addressing crypto crime. If they’re willing to pay for Amazon’s help, Amazon just might be willing to sell it to them.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

The post Amazon Wants to Help Crack Down on Crypto Crime — for a Price appeared first on Futurism.

The Impossible Burger Looks, Tastes, and Smells Traditional – But Is Vegan

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 12:28 PM PDT

The impossible burger is here. Literally. (And it might be coming to a restaurant near you.)

The post The Impossible Burger Looks, Tastes, and Smells Traditional – But Is Vegan appeared first on Futurism.

The World’s Most Googled Bitcoin Questions Answered

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 12:14 PM PDT

Brush up on your bitcoin knowledge with answers to the most googled bitcoin questions from Crypto Capitalist Anthony Pompliano.

The post The World’s Most Googled Bitcoin Questions Answered appeared first on Futurism.

Basically Everyone Wants Scott Pruitt Out of Office

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 11:57 AM PDT

Scott Pruitt’s tenure as head of the Environmental Protection Agency has been anything but smooth sailing.

Disastrous environmental policies aside, Pruitt has come under fire for alienating longtime EPA staffers. Has been notably opaque, both within the agency and with the public, about who he meets with (many suspect he’s spending most of his time lending an ear to people from the oil and gas industries). He’s been criticized repeatedly for ethics violations — from flying first class to excessive spending on security detail to renting an apartment from a lobbyist for cutthroat rate — seemingly by everyone but the President.

People who care about the environment and (unlike Pruitt, the head of the E P freakin’ Abelieve in climate change, have been calling for his ouster for a good while now.

Now, that $43,000 soundproof phone booth (that some believe reeks of corruption) seems to be the final straw. Those calls have reached a fever pitch.

They’re coming loudly from lawmakers. Yesterday, a bipartisan coalition of 170 Senators and Representatives, led by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), filed a resolution calling for Pruitt to step down.

They call for this action based on, among other reasons, Pruitt’s “[misuse of] taxpayer dollars by spending those taxpayer dollars on excessive personal conveniences and unnecessary office enhancements while dramatically cutting budgets and staff for critically important enforcement, research, and implementation activities,” according to the resolution.

And they’re coming from the unlikely alliance of labor and civil rights nonprofits. Yesterday, a coalition of NGOs including the NAACP and the Sierra Club, ran full-page ads in three major newspapers, the Washington Post reports.

President Trump would be foolish to ignore these calls. He risks a disagreeable Congress that might not cooperate when he demands immediate action on his pet legislation. He also risks further disapproval from his electorate, who may decide they no longer want Trump’s easy, breezy, Republican-dominated Congress in this year’s midterm election.

And, yet, Trump may not heed these calls. Pruitt has done exactly what Trump has wanted him to do (namely, gut the EPA). And continuing to distract people while Pruitt quietly strips away any remaining environmental regulations fits neatly into that plan.

The White House has no choice but to investigate that pricey phone booth. But for now at least, Pruitt’s tenure isn’t over.

The post Basically Everyone Wants Scott Pruitt Out of Office appeared first on Futurism.