Food out of thin air? "Solar Foods, a Finland-based company, has developed a process to use renewable electricity and CO2 to produce a healthy ingredient that looks like wheat flour and contains 50% protein. The company is currently gathering data to apply for a food license from the EU later this year and plans to begin commercial production in 2021. ... The process uses solar power to split water through electrolysis in a bioreactor, creating hydrogen that can give microbes energy as they’re also fed carbon. The microbes produce a food that’s composed of roughly 20-25% carbs, 5-10% fat, and 50% protein." It reportedly tastes like wheat flour. www.fastcompany.com/90372330/would-you-eat-a-burger-made-out-of-co2-captured-from-the-air
A growing number of U.S. coastal areas are flooding at high tide, even on sunny days. In less than 20 years (2000-May/June 2019), sunny-day flooding incidents nearly tripled (up 190%) in the southeastern U.S. and more than doubled (up 140%) in the northeastern U.S. Tidal flooding can disrupt traffic, swamp septic systems, ruin buildings and infrastructure, and salt farmland. The Mid Atlantic has been particularly hard hit, with new records for sunny-day flooding set last year in Washington, DC, Baltimore (Maryland), and Annapolis (Maryland). Researchers estimate that by 2050, Norfolk (Virginia) could see 170 days of high-tide flooding per year.
Wonder where facial recognition technology is being used? The digital advocacy group Fight for the Future has assembled this interactive map detailing where and how facial recognition technology is currently being used in the U.S.: www.banfacialrecognition.com/map/
Does our sense of probability, of our luckiness, influence our moral intuition? This article, from Philosophy Now (UK), uses variations on the trolley problem to make a compelling case that it does.
"The thought experiment known as the Trolley Problem was introduced to ethics by the late Philippa Foot. I first heard of it when my lecturer asked our Actuarial Science honours class about it. The thought experiment goes as follows: You see that a runaway trolley car (or tram, if you are British) is about to kill five people walking along a track. But you are standing by the lever that switches the points, and if you pull it the trolley will divert onto another track where only one person is stuck, whom the trolley will then kill instead. Time is running out. Do you pull the lever? ... I decided to test this on a new group of friends. Once again I presented them with the classic trolley thought experiment; and once again they all wanted to pull the lever to save the five at the expense of the one. This time, however, I then took a different approach to show them that their utilitarianism is on shaky grounds: I provided them with ‘another way’. What if there actually is a brake on the trolley – but it only has a 50% chance of stopping the trolley before it kills the one or the five? And unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to pull both the brake and the lever. What would you do? Would you pull the brake, or would you pull the lever? Most of them pull the brake. They say they do this because there is a chance of the best case scenario where no one dies. I challenge them, pointing out that 50% of five is 2.5: therefore there is an expected 2.5 people dying by pulling the brake, and only an expected one person dying by pulling the lever – so based on utilitarian principles, you should pull the lever and not the brake. They still insist on choosing to pull the brake.
"I think what we’re seeing here is that in a deterministic scenario people tend to a utilitarian position, yet as soon as we add uncertainty, people’s ethical reasoning changes. Why? Is it because uncertainty introduces hope and we’re naturally optimistic? Or is it because the very uncertainty removes a degree of responsibility: 'It’s the brake’s fault. Those people were unlucky. I’m not to blame'? ...
"If the brake only has a 10% chance of saving the five lives, would you still pull it? What if the chance of the brake working is unknown? In life we usually don’t know the probabilities associated with our actions; we can only guess them...."
Under international law, a stateless person is a person who does not possess nationality of any state. Often, this occurs because a given group is denied citizenship, as in the case of the Rohingya in Myanmar or the Burkinabé in the Côte d’Ivoire. Other times, it occurs because of border disputes, war that disrupts documentation, or because citizenship is passed patrilineally in a given country and patrimony cannot be proved. Being stateless generally means an individual lacks the paperwork to legally travel, work, access health care, marry, or open a bank account. As of 2018, the UN recorded nearly 3 million stateless persons. (This number does not include stateless persons who have registered as refugees in another country, as more than 1 million Rohingya have in Bangladesh.) This map shows the geographic distribution of stateless persons. (from popstats.unhcr.org/en/overview)
Looking for a citizen science project? The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is looking for people to help collect data on ginkgos leaves. "Ginkgo trees evolved before the dinosaurs, survived three mass extinctions, and one species is still living today. We are researching how the cells of leaves on ginkgo trees have changed over time and how we can use this knowledge to learn about the ancient atmosphere of the Earth." For more on the project and how to participate, see www.si.edu/fossil-atmospheres
In 1979, 10 years after the first moon landing, the United Nations adopted the "Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies," also known as the Moon Treaty. The treaty was designed to prohibit the militarization, commercialization, and colonization of bodies in our solar system, including the moon, without the consent of the international community. This map looks at the handful of states that are parties to the treaty (in green) or that have signed the treaty but are not necessarily bound by it (in blue). www.statista.com/chart/18738/countries-that-are-signatories-or-parties-to-the-1979-moon-treaty/
"In May, a group of international scientists assembled near Washington, D.C., to tackle an alarming problem: what to do about an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. ... True, the chances of a civilization-destroying asteroid impact are exceedingly small, at least in the foreseeable future. Asteroid strikes that cause regional devastation and catastrophic global climate change occur, on average, only about once every 100,000 years or more. ... Over the past two decades, asteroid hunters with NASA and other international space agencies have identified and tracked the orbits of more than 20,000 asteroids—also known as near-Earth objects—that pass through our neighborhood as they orbit the sun. Of those, about 2,000 are classified as potentially hazardous—asteroids that are large enough (greater than 150 yards in diameter) to cause local destruction and that come close enough to Earth to someday pose a threat. ... On an unlucky Friday the 13th in April 2029, the thousand-foot-wide asteroid Apophis will pass a mere 19,000 miles from Earth—closer than the satellites that bring us DISH TV. But here’s the bad news: Hundreds of thousands of other near-Earth asteroids, both large and small, haven’t been identified. We have no idea where they are and where they are going. On Feb. 15, 2013, a relatively small, 60-foot-wide asteroid traveling at 43,000 mph exploded in the atmosphere near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, sending out a blast wave that injured 1,500 people. No one had seen the asteroid coming. ... Nor is it clear that we could deflect a small but dangerous asteroid heading our way even if we did spot it. No asteroid-deflection method has ever been tested in real-space conditions.... Over its 4.5 billion-year history, Earth has been hit millions of times by powerful asteroids, and it will inevitably be hit again—whether two centuries from now or next Tuesday. So it isn’t a question of whether humankind will have to confront the prospect of a destructive asteroid hurtling our way; it is only a question of when." www.wsj.com/articles/the-asteroid-peril-isnt-science-fiction-11562339356
This short video compilation, from the BBC (UK), highlights 10 incredible aerial views of our planet, from the sunlit meanders of the Amazon river to the blooming of oil seed fields in China: www.facebook.com/watch/?v=742701319510833
One sometimes hears, "Why can't the U.S. have more passenger rail, like Europe?" This map, from The Wall Street Journal, looks at the economics of passenger rail in the U.S.: every Amtrak route shown in red loses money (the thicker the line, the more money it loses). The Amtrak route shown in black -- the Northeast corridor connecting Boston-NYC-Philadelphia-DC -- is the only profitable passenger rail route in the U.S.
si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/B3-EK939_backgr_16U_20190705184738.jpg (from www.wsj.com/articles/amtrak-has-lost-money-for-decades-a-former-airline-ceo-thinks-he-can-fix-it-11562385660)
Is a video game art? If so, is it art based on its narrative arc and aesthetic experience, like a film? Or is it more like a performance art? What does it mean to be a "game" or to be "interactive"? With the development of MFA programs in video game design, this piece challenges philosophers who specialize in the philosophy of art to take on these questions. aesthetics-online.org/page/SmutsVideo
Throughout history, port cities have been important places for commercial, cultural, scientific, genetic, linguistic, even microbial exchange. This map looks at the biggest port cities in Europe (as measured by volume of cargo handled): Rotterdam (Netherlands) is Europe's chief port, handling more than twice as much cargo as runner-up Antwerp (Belgium). One additional note: although Turkey bridges Europe and Asia, the two major cargo ports shown in Turkey are actually in the Asian part of the country despite the name of the map. www.statista.com/chart/18667/europes-top-cargo-ports-by-gross-weight-handled/
The Economist (UK) is sponsoring an essay contest for young people ages 16-25. The topic: "What fundamental economic and political change, if any, is needed for an effective response to climate change?" Essays are limited to 1,000 words and must be submitted by July 31.
The yellow dots on this map, which accompanied a recent Reuters (UK) story, show the position of oil and liquified natural gas tankers during the week of June 12-19. The narrow body of water in the boxed area between Oman's Musandam exclave (to the south) and Iran (to the north) is the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. graphics.reuters.com/MIDEAST-ATTACKS-HORMUZ/0100B04806Y/index.html
Will tomorrow's leaders need to grapple with the issue of debt? This info-graphic compares government debt to GDP. In seven countries, including the U.S., government IOUs exceed the country's GDP. In one, Japan, government debt is more than double the country's GDP. www.statista.com/chart/17832/countries-with-the-highest-government-debt-as-a-percentage-of-gdp/
Lake Chad, which sits at the intersection of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, is a key source of water for as many as 30 million people. Although Lake Chad is shallow and prone to expanding and shrinking depending on precipitation patterns, I still found these NASA satellite photos stunning: the photo on the left is Lake Chad in Jan. 1973; the photo on the right is Lake Chad in Jan. 2017. (The pale green in the 2017 photo is the only open water; the rest of the lakebed has either dried up, in the northern reaches, or become wetland.)
The counties in red and the counties in orange on this map have the same population. (I find this map interesting to think about whenever one hears a disparaging reference to "coastal elites" as this map reminds us that a significant proportion of the U.S. population is, in fact, coastal.) www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/c63kxv/red_and_orange_areas_have_equal_populations/
What ethical obligations, if any, do we have to the people of the future? This piece from Philosophy Now (UK) argues that we do need to weigh the consequences of our actions on future people, regardless of the ethical framework we invoke.
"Must we take future people into account when judging the rightness or wrongness of our actions? In some ways it seems a bit absurd to be concerned about people who don’t exist. For example, we don’t fret about what deforestation will do to the local (non-existent) hobbit population. Because hobbits do not exist, nothing we do would affect them. Yet it seems to me that there’s a crucial difference between a non-existent hobbit and a not-yet-existent human being: the former will never exist, whereas the latter (probably) will. As such, future human beings belong to a special class of not-existent entities. We could call this class ‘pending subjects’, and define them roughly as a group of people who would deserve ethical consideration if they existed, and in all likelihood will exist someday. ... I suggest that we must take future subjects into account regardless of the ethical system we use. Here I will distinguish two main categories of ethical systems: deontology and consequentialism. A deontological system is any ethical system which believes that actions can be inherently right or wrong regardless of their consequences. For example, a deontologist might suppose that because we have a duty to always tell the truth, lying is never permissible, even in extreme circumstances. A consequentialist system, on the other hand, is a system in which the consequences of one’s actions are the main concern for ethical evaluation, taking precedence over either the actions themselves or the intentions for performing them. ... I wish to demonstrate that both of these ways are inherently concerned with future subjects."
What do France, Haiti, and India (shown in red on this map) have in common? Liberté, égalité, and fraternité (or liberty, equality, and fraternity or brotherhood). "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" is the national motto of both France and Haiti. The English equivalent features prominently in the preamble to the Indian constitution. The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, which will be marked in France by Bastille Day tomorrow.
Learning about chemistry? This periodic table shows where, in real life, you are most likely to encounter each element: elements.wlonk.com/Elements_Pics_11x8.5.pdf
Because today is 7-11, I thought it would be interesting to share this geo-graphic showing the global distribution of the 7 Eleven convenience store chain's 68,000+ locations. (Did you know there are more 7 Elevens in Japan than in any other country?) www.statista.com/statistics/269454/number-of-7-eleven-stores-worldwide-in-2010-by-country/
Corruption is a significant problem around the world. The recently elected mayor of Ankara, Turkey, is trying something new to reduce corruption by promoting greater transparency: livestreaming government procurement bidding.
"The Ankara municipality livestreamed a public tender for the purchase of steel pipes to be used in the city sewage system on June 24, and reports indicate that 160,00-300,000 people tuned in to watch the routine government function. The broadcast was the first of its kind in Turkey and comes as part of a pledge for greater transparency from newly elected mayors with the nation’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which won a string of victories in recent municipal elections and the Istanbul election do-over. 'It is something very rare, not only in Turkey but also in the world, that people instead of watching movies or TV series are watching a steel pipe tender,' said Oya Ozarslan, chair of Transparency International in Turkey. ... 'Ordinary people on the street are asking, "What is the government doing with my taxes?" and "How are they using the resources of the country?"' Ozarslan said." https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/turkey-new-mayors-transparency-waste.html
"In a massive survey of rivers across 72 countries, researchers found antibiotics at 66 percent of 711 sites sampled. Many of the most drug-polluted waterways were in Asia and Africa, where there hadn’t been much data until now." Roughly 16% of sites samples showed levels of antibiotics considered unsafe and likely to promote antibiotic resistance. "People should be as concerned about resistance evolving abroad as they are about resistance brewing in their own backyards, says William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter Medical School in England who was not involved with the research. Even if wealthy countries curb antibiotic pollution, drug-resistant microbes can hitch a ride across the globe with traveling people, migrating birds or traded food and livestock, he says." www.sciencenews.org/article/world-rivers-dangerous-levels-antibiotics
This map, from a recent Wall Street Journal article on the growing likelihood of death by heart disease among people ages 55-64, shows where heart disease rates have increased. Counties with particularly pronounced increases in cardiovascular death rates are outlined in red. For the entire article, see www.wsj.com/articles/after-decades-of-progress-america-backslides-on-heart-disease-11561129106
Should artificial intelligence have rights? This article by a pair of U.S. philosophy professors suggests that the issue has important parallels in scientific ethics.
"Universities across the world are conducting major research on artificial intelligence (AI), as are organisations such as the Allen Institute, and tech companies including Google and Facebook. A likely result is that we will soon have AI approximately as cognitively sophisticated as mice or dogs. Now is the time to start thinking about whether, and under what conditions, these AIs might deserve the ethical protections we typically give to animals.
"Discussions of ‘AI rights’ or ‘robot rights’ have so far been dominated by questions of what ethical obligations we would have to an AI of humanlike or superior intelligence – such as the android Data from Star Trek or Dolores from Westworld. But to think this way is to start in the wrong place, and it could have grave moral consequences. Before we create an AI with humanlike sophistication deserving humanlike ethical consideration, we will very likely create an AI with less-than-human sophistication, deserving some less-than-human ethical consideration. We are already very cautious in how we do research that uses certain nonhuman animals. Animal care and use committees evaluate research proposals to ensure that vertebrate animals are not needlessly killed or made to suffer unduly. ... Biomedical research is carefully scrutinised, but AI research, which might entail some of the same ethical risks, is not currently scrutinised at all. Perhaps it should be.
"Discussions of ‘AI risk’ normally focus on the risks that new AI technologies might pose to us humans, such as taking over the world and destroying us, or at least gumming up our banking system. Much less discussed is the ethical risk we pose to the AIs, through our possible mistreatment of them. ... In the case of research on animals and even on human subjects, appropriate protections were established only after serious ethical transgressions came to light (for example, in needless vivisections, the Nazi medical war crimes, and the Tuskegee syphilis study). With AI, we have a chance to do better.
"We propose the founding of oversight committees that evaluate cutting-edge AI research with these questions in mind. Such committees, much like animal care committees and stem-cell oversight committees, should be composed of a mix of scientists and non-scientists – AI designers, consciousness scientists, ethicists and interested community members. These committees will be tasked with identifying and evaluating the ethical risks of new forms of AI design, armed with a sophisticated understanding of the scientific and ethical issues, weighing the risks against the benefits of the research."
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