#69: History has its eyes on you

In a world where science and basic factual information are under assault more or less every day, let's take a minute to celebrate where the hell science has got us in the past century. 

You could start by simply googling "World War I medicine", or you could check out this great BBC piece.

Want more of the same? Tell your in-laws/friends/Facebook algorithm to stop electing morons to office, at every level. Or better yet, run for office yourself and support much-needed progressive platforms like chemistry 101.

On to the news!

“There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait”- Alexander Hamilton, terrifyingly ambitious cyber-patriot

Let's check in with artificial intelligence and robotics (not the same thing, but grouped together here because deal with it): the status quo, and the promise of things to come.

Dear Abby: have robots taken my job yet?

Dear human: prick the skin of the worker next to you. Do they bleed? J/K. If they haven't replaced you yet, they will soon!

Welcoming Our New Robot OverlordsOnce, robots assisted human workers. Now it’s the other way around.

Reboot for the AI Revolution, by Yuval Noah Harari

"The ongoing artificial-intelligence revolution will change almost every line of work, creating enormous social and economic opportunities — and challenges. Some believe that intelligent computers will push humans out of the job market and create a new 'useless class'; others maintain that automation will generate a wide range of new human jobs and greater prosperity for all. Almost everybody agrees that we should take action to prevent the worst-case scenarios.

A more sensible strategy is to create new jobs. In particular, as routine jobs are automated, opportunities for new non-routine jobs will mushroom. For example, general physicians who focus on diagnosing known diseases and administering familiar treatments will probably be replaced by AI doctors. Precisely because of that, there will be more money to pay human experts to do groundbreaking medical research, develop new medications and pioneer innovative surgical techniques.

This calls for economic entrepreneurship and legal dexterity. Above all, it necessitates a revolution in education."

Artificial intelligence could improve how we age

"Several years ago, at a dinner with the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman in New York City, I attempted to make the argument that the arrival of artificial intelligence and robotics in China would lead to widespread social disruption, with human workers displaced by machines. Kahneman cut me off. “You don’t get it,” he said. “In China, they’ll be lucky if the robots come just in time.”

I was nonplussed. For the previous decade, I had been reporting on the rapid expansion of new AI technologies into the workplace and how they were about to displace not only blue-collar manufacturing jobs but, for the first time, white-collar knowledge workers like lawyers and doctors. But that night, Kahneman alerted me to a largely unexamined aspect of the AI-fueled automation debate. As he pointed out, China is a rapidly aging society. Its one-child policy has ensured that the working-age workforce in China — people aged between 16 and 59 — is actually contracting. The number of working-age people in China is expected to fall to 700 million by 2050. That’s a decline of 23 percent from 2012.

As I began to explore Kahneman’s theory, I came to realize that an aging population is not just a Chinese problem. In 2015, a U.S. Census Bureau report noted that, sometime before 2020, for the first time in history, there would be more people in the world over 65 years old than under five. Populations are also aging quickly elsewhere in Asia — South Korea and Japan in particular — as well as in much of Europe. Even the U.S. is a graying society, although less so than the rest of the world because of more liberal immigration policies — until recently at least. As birth rates fall, the whole world, with the exception of Africa and parts of the Middle East, is getting older at an astounding rate.

Globally, the number of people over 80 will double by the middle of the century — almost half a billion people will fall into the neediest care category — and that percentage will increase by sevenfold by the end of this century. The dependency ratio — that proportion of humans who require care compared to those who can give care — is also increasing inexorably."

AI used to detect breast cancer risk

US scientists are using artificial intelligence to predict whether breast lesions identified from a biopsy will turn out to cancerous.

The machine learning system has been tested on 335 high-risk lesions, and correctly diagnosed 97% as malignant.

It reduced the number of unnecessary surgeries by more than 30%, the scientists said.

One breast cancer specialist said that the research was "useful".

+ Feels like bit of an understatement.

+ More on consciousness, here.

+ And a repost from last week, because it's so great: How to Build a Self-Conscious Machine

“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see” - Alexander Hamilton, terrifying prescient sage

The decisions we make now -- whether or not to install those LED lightbulbs, buy an electric car, recycle, or, I don't know, elect a "populist" (fucking madman in the pocket of both a hostile foreign power and fossil fuel kingpins) -- will reverberate for a long, long time. 

Trump Wants to Open the Gulf to Oil Companies Weeks After a 16,000 Barrel Spill

The Lancet Calls Out EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s Pro–Pollution Stance

"The prestigious British medical journal The Lancet just released a sobering report on the world’s dangerous problem of pollution.

In an editorial about that report, Lancet editors Pamela Das and Richard Horton accused U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his agency of “undermining established environmental regulations.”

This criticism of a climate change denier in bed with the polluting industries his agency is meant to regulate is a shot across the bow, warning that the rest of the world no longer views the United States under the administration of Donald Trump as a leader on world environmental, economic, and health issues.

The Lancet report notes that pollution is the “largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015, or 16% of all deaths globally. That is “three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.”

Citing the report, DW notes that environmental pollution kills more people each year than smoking, hunger, or natural disasters. An overwhelming majority of these deaths (92%) occur in low– and middle–income countries. But in countries of all income levels, disease–causing pollution “is most prevalent among minorities” and marginalized communities, the report states. Children, it noted, are at high risk for diseases caused by pollution.

While pollution also damages the economies of low– and middle–income countries, in higher–income countries like the U.S., it is responsible for 1.7% of annual health spending. This reality is coupled in the U.S. by relentless attemptsby the president and the Republican Party to take away healthcare from millions of people, including many who belong to these same demographic groups."

There’s a Dangerous Bubble in the Fossil-Fuel Economy, and the Trump Administration Is Making It Worse

"In the past several years, investors have increasingly recognized the long-term instability of high-carbon industries. Many of their concerns were first summed up in a 2011 report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a project started by the financier and environmentalist Mark Campanale. The report identified a significant problem with the way in which fossil-fuel stocks were priced. It began with the idea that humanity has a finite “carbon budget”—that if we are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, we must limit our emissions such that the world’s average temperature rises no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (This was the same target agreed upon in Paris.) Campanale looked at the planet’s known fossil-fuel reserves—its savings account, basically—and calculated how much carbon would be released if they were burned. The resulting figure, 2.8 trillion tons, was five times greater than Earth’s carbon budget for the next forty years. If civilization as we knew it were to survive, as much as eighty per cent of all remaining oil, gas, and coal needed to stay in the ground. Campanale called it “unburnable carbon.”

For fossil-fuel companies, petrostates, and investors, unburnable carbon is, of course, useless—a stranded asset, in financial parlance. And since assets, or the promise of future assets, are what help determine a firm’s value, Campanale argued, most petroleum companies appeared to be grossly overvalued by the market. When C.E.O.s told shareholders about moneymaking prospects in Canada’s oil sands, or Venezuela’s Orinoco Belt, or Alaska’s environmentally fragile Smith Bay, they were touting stranded assets. Eventually, the report predicted, investors would spot a bubble. They would wake up to the fact that the carbon economy is quickly becoming a zero-sum game—that any measure of climate relief hurts fossil-fuel production, and vice versa. Then they would divest.

In 2015, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England and the chair of the Financial Stability Board, an international monitoring body, said that allowing the carbon bubble to grow would expose markets to a risk on par with the subprime-mortgage crisis that tanked the global economy in 2007."

And then there's this:

EXCLUSIVE: US Preparing to Put Nuclear Bombers Back on 24-Hour Alert

On the other hand...

Donald Trump’s War on Scientists Has Had One Big Side Effect

"There’s something different about the crop of Democrats running for Congress in 2018. As in previous years, the party has recruited a small army of veterans in high-profile races and in Republican-held districts. There are loads of state legislators, business owners, and government officials.

But the candidates also include a volcanologist who’s worried that her favorite research spot will be opened up for development; an aerospace engineer who’s running against the climate-denying head of the House Science Committee; a pediatrician who spends part of the year treating leprosy patients in Vietnam; and a physicist who worries what budget cuts would mean to the federal research facility where she spent her career.

All told, more than a dozen Democratic candidates with science backgrounds have announced their candidacies for Congress or are expected to in the coming months. The boomlet of STEM-based candidates amounts to a minor seismic event in a community where politics and research have traditionally gone together like sodium and water. Trump has been in office just six months, but he’s already done something remarkable—he’s gotten scientists to run for office."

A New Bill Could Create Stronger Environmental Protections for People of Color

"Low-income communities, communities of color, and indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately from pollution, but a bill introduced Monday by Sen. Cory Booker could solidify environmental protections for these groups—if it passes. With zero Republican sponsors, the Environmental Justice Act of 2017 feels like a long shot, but Booker is hopeful.

“Many communities across the country are facing environmental and public health threats that for too long have gone unaddressed, seemingly only noticeable to those who deal with the effects on a daily basis,” said Booker in an online statement."

Tesla Just Installed a Solar Panel and Batteries For Puerto Rico's Children's Hospital

"In New York, you can be a new man..."

But for how long?

New York City’s fate is closely tied to Antarctic ice, climate scientists warn

"New York City’s ability to withstand hurricanes could hinge on the state of the Antarctic ice sheet some 8,000 miles away, according to a study published Monday.

Using computer projections to simulate thousands of storms in potential future climates, researchers found that storms would be more likely to swerve away from the city. The trouble is the storms that do approach will, on average, be more powerful. And all storms that hit New York, regardless of their power, will start at a higher baseline, as they’ll be traveling on seas that have risen due to climate change.

The result is that the risk of a storm similar to Hurricane Sandy, albeit with a slightly smaller storm surge, has gone from a one-in-500-years event in 1800 to a one-in-25-years event today. By the period between 2030 and 2045, such storms could become a one-in-five-years event, according to the projections."

+ More here, from Bloomberg.

"The world turned upside down."

The Earth is under no obligation to coddle us, by the ever excellent @badastronomer.

"When we look at the Earth carefully, understand it through the filter of trying to learn from what it’s showing us rather than simply taking from it what we want, we find out something very, very important: The Earth is under no obligation whatsoever to nurture us.

Quite the opposite, in fact. If you look at the planet another way, it seems like it’s constantly trying to kill us."

The angry sea will kill us all

"One way to interpret the mood of Kiribati (pronounced ‘Keer-uh-bas’), a tiny country straddling both sides of the equator in the central Pacific Ocean, is to listen to its state-run radio station. 

The most popular songs play several times a day for months on end, and observers have noticed they uncannily reflect the mood of the nation and its people, known as the i-Kiribati (pronounced ‘E-Keer-uh-bas’: ‘ti’ is used to represent the ‘s’ sound in Gilbertese, which can be confusing - Christmas, for example, is spelled ‘Kiritimati’). 

Recently, the song of choice has been an upbeat, promotional track created by a local bus company, comparing its vehicles – and, subtextually, the i-Kiribati people – to a frigate bird, a local icon known for its elegance and unusual ability to migrate long distances. 

A few years ago, it was another song that captured the airwaves. It had won a Government-funded competition for the best original song about climate change, and it was hugely popular. Its ominous chorus went: "The angry sea will kill us all". 

Another popular song, a ballad sung in falsetto by an i-Kiribati boy band, has a chorus which goes: "We are small / We are vulnerable / We are the frontline of climate change / So please save us and our island." 
They're all suitable backing tracks for a nation deeply imprinted with the effects of climate change, each reflecting one of the country’s varying emotional states: acceptance, anger, grief."

Miami’s sea level is rising quickly, forcing residents out

"Sea-level rise is real and the water is rising faster than any scientist had predicted even half a dozen years ago. Miami Beach is flooding regularly with the city raising roads and installing new storm water systems and pumps, in an attempt to mitigate the effects. In the short term this is fine, but in the midterm it’s a waste of time and money. The sea cannot be held back, when we heat it up and ice caps melt, sea levels will rise. My house is for sale while I still have equity in it and it is still insurable. Many residents of South Florida, and coastal residents across America, still don’t believe in the upcoming disaster."

World wine production 'to hit 50-year low'

"Global wine production is expected to fall to its lowest in more than 50 years, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).

The group blamed the decline on extreme weather in Italy, France and Spain - the world's top three producers. Total world output is projected to fall 8% from last year to about 247 million hectolitres. This could raise prices and dissipate a global surplus caused by a demand slump in the wake of the financial crisis."

A little further out...

Why our ‘freakish’ galaxy has got cosmologists seriously worried

"It has long been assumed that our galaxy is a classic example of many of the galaxies that pepper the cosmos. That’s important, because astronomers have intensely studied the Milky Way and, with this assumption, can use what they find to inform their view of the wider universe.

But what if our neck of the woods isn’t that normal after all? It would be a big deal for cosmologists and astronomers. That question is coming to the fore because yet more observations suggest that our galaxy is an “outlier” in important ways. And if it isn’t a representative galaxy, a fair chunk of astronomical thinking could be out of kilter."

“We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable.”

OK, yes, the context isn't the same, but the point remains.

Pollution’s Annual Price Tag? $4.6 Trillion and 9 Million Dead*

*in 2015 alone.

Climate change already costing U.S. billions, GAO report says

"A non-partisan federal watchdog says climate change is already costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars each year, with those costs expected to rise as devastating storms, floods, wildfires and droughts become more frequent in the coming decades.

A Government Accountability Office report released Monday said the federal government has spent more than $350 billion over the last decade on disaster assistance programs and losses from flood and crop insurance. That tally does not include the massive toll from this year's three major hurricanes and wildfires, expected to be among the most costly in the nation's history."

On that note: 

We all get poorer every time a climate disaster strikes

"Almost every nation agrees that we can’t afford not to limit further warming. That’s why they signed up to the Paris climate agreement. But just how bad will the effect on the global economy be, and how much should countries spend now to limit the economic fallout? Some recent studies suggest we are wildly underestimating the long-term damage– perhaps by a factor of 100.

The headline figures are bad enough. It is estimated that hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria could cost the US alone over $400 billion. Globally, this could be the worst year ever for insurers."

And yet:

"I'm not throwing away my shot." Massive US fund backs climate change

"One of the world's largest pension funds will vote with activists against Origin's board over the company's approach to climate change risk disclosure at its looming annual meeting.

The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), a US-based pension fund that has $US340 billion ($431 billion) in assets under management, has announced plans to vote against Origin's board and support three climate change-related resolutions at the company's meeting on Wednesday."

Other Interesting Stuff You Should Read

What the Hell Happened to the March for Science?

CRISPR Bacon: Chinese Scientists Create Genetically Modified Low-Fat Pigs

'Geostorm' is a very silly movie that raises some very serious questions

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

Vikings Razed the Forests. Can Iceland Regrow Them?

New Gene-Editing "Pencil" Erases Disease-Causing Errors, could fix genetic mistakes that lead to about 15,000 illnesses