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Beware the difference between ‘clean’ and ‘green’ hydrogen

<div> <div class="copy"> <p><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/cosmos-briefing-hydrogen-fuel/" target="_blank">Hydrogen</a> is set to be a crucial part of the energy sector by 2030. It combusts and releases energy without making carbon dioxide, meaning it <em>can</em> be used as an emissions-free source of energy – but research from the Australian National University reminds us that it could have an emissions-intensive future as well.</p> <p>The federal government has listed clean hydrogen as a priority in its <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/earth/climate/australian-government-sets-a-net-zero-by-2050-emissions-target/" target="_blank">net-zero emissions plan</a>, and various <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/the-incoming-hydrogen-boom/" target="_blank">state governments</a> and <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/electrolysers-hydrogen-fuel-manufacture-australia/" target="_blank">private entities</a> have invested in clean hydrogen fuel and infrastructure.</p> <p>‘Clean’ hydrogen does not necessarily mean it’s emissions-free: while ‘green’ hydrogen, made from water with renewable energy, involves no carbon at all, other types of hydrogen can still emit greenhouse gases.</p> <p>“The Australian Government, and quite a few other governments around the world, have used a definition of ‘clean’ hydrogen that includes ‘blue’ and ‘green’ in their hydrogen strategies. And they’ve not really differentiated at all between these two ways of making hydrogen,” explains Dr Fiona Beck, a senior lecturer at ANU.</p> <p>Currently, most industrial hydrogen is made from methane (natural gas) – releasing CO<sub>2</sub> in the process. ‘Blue’ hydrogen is hydrogen made from methane, with carbon capture and storage preventing most of the CO<sub>2</sub> from getting into the atmosphere.</p> <p>“The true emissions intensity of blue hydrogen has not been very well reported so far,” says Beck.</p> <p>“For example, international hydrogen strategies assume that you can capture up to 90% of emissions from blue hydrogen, but they’re missing out some really critical parts.”</p> <p>Beck is co-author on a recent <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2021.118145" target="_blank">paper</a> in <em>Applied Energy,</em> examining the relative costs and emissions of blue and green hydrogen.</p> <p>The researchers point out that the CO<sub>2</sub> produced while making hydrogen from methane is not the only greenhouse gas involved. It also takes energy to capture and store the CO<sub>2</sub>, for instance – and excess methane is released as well.</p> <p>“Whenever you extract natural gas, you end up with what we call ‘fugitive emissions’. These are methane leaks that happen during the process of extracting the gas, processing the gas, transporting the gas,” says Beck.</p> <p>“It’s really critical that these are accounted for because methane is a really bad greenhouse gas. It’s worse than carbon dioxide.”</p> <p>While blue hydrogen is currently cheaper to make than green hydrogen, the researchers found that this could change as electrolysers – which are used to make green hydrogen – become more mass-produced.</p> <p>“Electrolysis with renewable energy could become cheaper than fossil fuels with CCS,” says co-author Dr Thomas Longden, also at ANU.</p> <p>“CCS is an expensive option for emissions reduction with most estimates for the cost of carbon capture being above $82 per tonne of carbon dioxide. These estimates increase to about $109 per tonne of CO<sub>2</sub> for high capture rates,” he adds.</p> <p>“Blue hydrogen is sometimes discussed as a transition between just using natural gas and going fully green. But one of the things that we discuss in the paper is it’s really unclear how long blue hydrogen would be cheaper than green hydrogen,” says Beck.</p> <p>Both the blue and green hydrogen industries are in their nascency. The researchers believe an exclusive focus on green hydrogen will be both more economically sensible, and better for the environment.</p> <p>“It’s just the wrong trajectory,” says Beck.</p> <p>“If you’re going to put a whole lot of money into a new industry, it should be an industry that’s at least compatible with this energy transition. And we don’t believe that blue hydrogen is really compatible with reducing methane and carbon dioxide.”</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/energy/beware-difference-between-clean-and-green-hydrogen/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Crime-fighting algorithm to take up the battle against illegal drugs?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>he answer to drug forensics might be AI, according to a new <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s42256-021-00407-x" target="_blank">report</a> published in <em>Nature Machine Intelligence.</em></p> <p>Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, have trained a computer to predict <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/high-times-at-new-years/" target="_blank">designer drugs</a> based on specific common molecules, even before the drugs hit the market.</p> <p>Clandestine chemists are constantly manufacturing new and dangerous psychoactive drugs that law enforcement agencies struggle to keep up with. Many of these designer drugs can lead to irreparable mental damage and/or even death.</p> <p>“The vast majority of these designer drugs have never been tested in humans and are completely unregulated,” says author Dr Michael Skinnider. “They are a major public health concern to emergency departments across the world.”</p> <h2>The algorithm behind drug forensics</h2> <p>The algorithm used by the computer, called deep neural network, generated 8.9 million potential designer drugs that could be identified from a unique molecular make-up if they popped up in society.</p> <p>The researchers then compared this data set to newly emerging designer drugs and found that 90% of the 196 new drugs were in the predicted data set.</p> <p>“The fact that we can predict what designer drugs are likely to emerge on the market before they actually appear is a bit like the 2002 sci-fi movie, Minority Report<em>,</em> where foreknowledge about criminal activities about to take place helped significantly reduce crime in a future world,” explains senior author Dr David Wishart from the University of Alberta, Canada.</p> <p>“Essentially, our software gives law enforcement agencies and public health programs a head start on the clandestine chemists, and lets them know what to be on the lookout for.”</p> <p>With this level of prediction, forensic scanning of drugs can be cut from months to days.</p> <p>The algorithm also learned which molecules were more and less likely to appear.</p> <p>“We wondered whether we could use this probability to determine what an unknown drug is—based solely on its mass—which is easy for a chemist to measure for any pill or powder using mass spectrometry,” says UBC’s Dr Leonard Foster, an internationally recognised expert on mass spectrometry.</p> <p>Using only mass, the algorithm was able to correctly identify the molecular structure of an unknown drug in a single guess around 50% of the time, but the accuracy increased to 86% as more measurements were considered.</p> <p>“It was shocking to us that the model performed this well, because elucidating entire chemical structures from just an accurate mass measurement is generally thought to be an unsolvable problem,” says Skinnider. “And narrowing down a list of billions of structures to a set of 10 candidates could massively accelerate the pace at which new designer drugs can be identified by chemists.”</p> <p>The researchers say this AI could also help identify other new molecules, such as in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/new-test-for-performance-enhancing-drug-cheats/" target="_blank">sports doping</a> or novel molecules in the blood and urine.</p> <p>“There is an entire world of chemical ‘dark matter’ just beyond our fingertips right now,” says Skinnider. “I think there is a huge opportunity for the right AI tools to shine a light on this unknown chemical world.”</p> <em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/crime-fighting-algorithm-to-take-up-the-battle-against-illegal-drugs/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Ex-Apple employee shares mind-blowing iPhone hacks

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A former employee at Apple has posted a series of videos sharing handy hints that iPhone users never knew they needed. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Canadian tech expert Sabrina Badin knows a thing or two about Apple devices after her time working for the tech giant, and is now emparting her wisdom. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sharing the videos on TikTok under the username @sabbadz, she has garnered thousands of views with hacks she learned from her time as an Apple Genius. </span></p> <p><strong>Move multiple apps at once on the Home Screen</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There’s an easy way to move multiple apps at once rather than dragging them one at a time. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To move one app, hold the icon down until it starts to juggle. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">You can then move it to another location on the same page or somewhere else on your phone. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Not many people know that you can move apps at once, as Sabrina has demonstrated in a video.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">First, you tap and hold one app you want to move, and then tap around the other apps you want to move with it. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">You can then move them across your Home Screen as a group, and then letting go will drop them in a line into the empty area of your choosing.</span></p> <p><strong>Play music while recording</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There’s an easy way to jazz up your videos with a fun soundtrack. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Simply play music through your iPhone speakers with your preferred music app, whether it’s Spotify or Apple Music. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While your tune is still playing, open up the camera app, but make sure your camera is set to photo mode and not video.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Then, tap and hold the shutter button and drag it to the right. Your iPhone will begin recording a video while your music continues to play in the background. </span></p> <p><strong>iMessage tricks</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In order to send weird animations to your mates, all you need is a secret codeword for each effect to activate. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For instance, sending the words “pew pew” will trigger a laser effect, while the words “happy birthday” will make balloons float from the bottom of your friends’ screen. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When January rolls around, sending the words “happy new year” will trigger fireworks to burst across the message. </span></p> <p><strong>Scan real-world text in seconds</strong></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Your iPhone is loaded with a handy tool that will allow you to load the content of a menu or newspaper on your iPhone instantly. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The tech, caled “Live Text”, allows you to point your iPhone camera at a real world object and quickly copy and paste text on it onto your handset. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Grab an object with text you want to scan and open the Camera app on your iPhone. Point the camera at the object and then tap the indicator that appears in the lower right of your display. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It looks like lines of text surrounded by a box. When you tap it, the text jumps out on your display and you’re given the option to copy, select, look up, translate or share it. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">You can then copy and paste this information into an email or Note, as well as any messaging social media apps. </span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credits: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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Algorithms predicting parole outcomes

<div> <div class="copy"> <p><span style="font-family: inherit;">The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, which results in overcrowded prisons and all the additional violence that implies.</span></p> <p>Funnelling felons back onto the street through granting parole is thus a critical safety mechanism and management tool – but assessing which inmates will likely not reoffend when granted liberty is a difficult and troubling task.</p> <p>For some years now, the people responsible for calculating the chances of someone reoffending have been assisted in their decision-making by computational frameworks known as risk-assessment instruments (RAIs).</p> <p>The validity of these algorithms was thrown into question in 2018 after a <a rel="noopener" href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/1/eaao5580" target="_blank">major study</a> tested their predictive power against that of untrained humans. The machines and the people were given brief information on 400 inmates, including sex, age, current charge and prior convictions, and asked to make a determination.</p> <p><span style="font-family: inherit;">Both cohorts made the correct call in 65% of cases, which was pretty perceptive on the part of the untrained humans, but rather ordinary for the algorithms, given what was at stake.</span></p> <p>Now a new <a rel="noopener" href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/7/eaaz0652" target="_blank">study</a>, led by Sharad Goel, a computational social scientist at Stanford University, US, has repeated and extended the earlier research, and finds in favour of the software.</p> <p><span style="font-family: inherit;">In the first phase of the research, Goel and colleagues replicated the previous work, and came up with similar results. They then repeated the exercise with several additional variables in play – a situation, they suggest, that much better resembles real-world conditions.</span></p> <p>With the extra information, the algorithms performed much better, correctly predicting recidivism in 90% of cases. The humans got it right only 60% of the time.</p> <p>“Risk assessment has long been a part of decision-making in the criminal justice system,” says co-author Jennifer Skeem.</p> <p>“Although recent debate has raised important questions about algorithm-based tools, our research shows that in contexts resembling real criminal justice settings, risk assessments are often more accurate than human judgment in predicting recidivism.</p> <p>That’s consistent with a long line of research comparing humans to statistical tools.”</p> <p>In their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, the researchers say the more accurate RAI results will be helpful in the management of the over-burdened US penal system.</p> <p><span style="font-family: inherit;">The algorithm will be useful not only in helping to decide which inmates can be safely released into the community but will also assist in allocating prisoners too low or high security facilities.</span></p> <em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/algorithms-getting-better-at-predicting-parole-outcomes/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Barry Keily.</em></p> </div> </div>

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Electric cars are better for the environment

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>A global analysis has verified that electric cars and heat pumps generate less greenhouse gas over their life cycle than their archaic petrol and fossil boiler counterparts, which together account for a quarter of the world’s emissions.</p> <p>Considering several different climate policy scenarios over the next three decades, European researchers <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-020-0488-7" target="_blank" aria-label=" (opens in a new tab)">report</a> in the journal <em>Nature</em> that electric vehicles and heaters are the better options in all cases, dispelling claims they <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/25/are-electric-vehicles-really-so-climate-friendly" target="_blank" aria-label=" (opens in a new tab)">aren’t any greener</a>.</p> <p>“Fears that electric cars could actually increase carbon emissions are unfounded in almost all parts of the world,” says lead author Florian Knobloch, from Radboud University in The Netherlands.</p> <p>“Electric cars and heat pumps lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still involves substantial amounts of fossil fuel.”</p> <p>The researchers simulated 59 regions, including the US, China and most of Europe, which together account for 95% of the global demand for heating and transport.</p> <p>In 53 of these, emissions from electric cars were found to already be lower than fossil fuel alternatives. The few exceptions included places like Poland, which still rely mostly on coal to generate electricity.</p> <p>“However,” says Knobloch, “with energy production decarbonising worldwide, the last few debatable cases will soon disappear.”</p> <p>Countries did vary considerably according to the amount of electricity generated from alternative and renewable sources.</p> <p>In Sweden and France, for instance, average lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from electric cars are 70% lower than petrol cars, while in the UK they are 30% lower.</p> <p>The researchers estimate that by 2050 half of the cars on the road could be electric, which would drop global emissions by up to 1.5 gigatonnes per year – equating to those currently generated by the whole of Russia.</p> <p>For each of the regions in the analysis, Knobloch and colleagues conducted a life-cycle assessment of emissions generated from cars and heating systems, including the production chain and waste processing.</p> <p>Building on previous research, which has only considered the present situation, they also accounted for the vast range of cars and heating systems available.</p> <p>The comprehensive analysis simulated three future scenarios. The first two involve continuing with current climate policies or enacting feasible policies in line with the two-degree target set by the Paris Agreement.</p> <p>The third, a worst-case scenario that the authors say is unlikely, considers what would happen if ambitious targets are implemented for electric cars and heating while overall emissions continue on their current trajectory.</p> <p>The empirical model includes future consumer technology choices, based on detailed consumer market databases, and the resulting emissions from power generation, transport and household heating using historical observations.</p> <p>“We combined the resulting scenario projections with bottom-up estimates of life-cycle emissions from producing different technologies and their fuels,” Knobloch explains.</p> <p>At the study’s inception in 2015, electric cars and heaters both emitted a third less harmful gases than their air-polluting alternatives. Looking ahead, all three tested scenarios looked positive.</p> <p>Staying on current trajectories would lead to 10% lower emissions globally on average by 2030 and 16% by 2050. If Paris Agreement targets are met, that drops to 44% and 74% lower emissions, respectively.</p> <p>This also holds true for low-efficiency electric vehicles and heat pumps, which performed better than high efficiency petrol cars and fossil boilers, leaving no doubt about the best way forward.</p> <p>“Taking into account emissions from manufacturing and ongoing energy use, it’s clear that we should encourage the switch to electric cars and household heat pumps without any regrets,” says Knobloch.</p> <p>“Even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases. This insight should be very useful for policy-makers.”</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock    </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/yes-electric-cars-are-better-for-the-environment/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Natalie Parletta. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Apple customers worried about safety of new AirTag technology

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Tech giant Apple has copped global criticism after their new gadget held crucial security concerns. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The AirTag is the latest accessory from Apple, which is a button-sized electronic device that can be attached like a keychain to valuables such as a wallet or keys, and can be linked to your Apple device to help locate the items when lost. </span></p> <p><a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/05/05/apple-airtags-stalking/"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Washington Post</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, among other sceptics of the new tech, pointed out the design flaw of the device after its release in early 2021, warning users it could be “frighteningly easy” for stalkers to take advantage.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A series of tests conducted by online tech reviewers pointed out how easy it could be for stalkers to place the AirTag on someone without their knowledge and then track their whereabouts. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“AirTags are a new means of inexpensive, effective stalking. I know because I tested AirTags by letting a </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Washington Post</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> colleague pretend to stalk me,” the review said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Eva Galperin, cybersecurity director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has long advocated for more awareness on the dangers of tracking technology. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I don’t expect products to be perfect the moment they hit the market, but I don’t think they would have made the choices that they did if they had consulted even a single expert in intimate partner abuse,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After an influx of global criticism against the AirTag, Apple’s new iOS 15.2 update has made moves to remedy the possibility of stalking, by giving users access to detect “items that can track me” from their chosen Apple devices. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Within the Find My app, there is a new “unknown items” option that can scan for rogue devices the user may be unaware of in their vicinity, alerting people to suspicious activity. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“These are an industry-first, strong set of proactive deterrents,” Kaiann Drance, Apple’s vice president of iPhone marketing, said in an interview. “It’s a smart and tuneable system, and we can continue improving the logic and timing so that we can improve the set of deterrents.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credits: Getty Images</span></em></p>

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New research to make better batteries

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>The quest for a better battery is engaging a lot of scientific minds, but it’s not often three advances are reported at pretty well the same time.</p> <p>Two from the US address the challenge of making next-gen lithium batteries more commercially viable, while the third, from the UK, uses MRI in a novel way.</p> <p>In the first study, led by the US Army Research Laboratory, researchers have demonstrated a new electrolyte design for lithium-ion batteries – which soldiers use regularly in the field but often find wanting.</p> <p>In a <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0601-1" target="_blank">paper</a> in the journal <em>Nature Energy,</em> they describe developing a self-healing protective layer in the battery that significantly slows the electrolyte and silicon anode degradation process, while increasing the number of possible cycles from tens to over a hundred.</p> <p>The design demonstrated a coulombic [the basic unit of electric charge] efficiency of 99.9%, they say, which meant only 0.1% of the energy was lost each cycle.</p> <p>Conventional designs for lithium-ion batteries with silicon anodes have a 99.5% efficiency, and this seemingly small difference translates to a cycle life more than five times longer, according to Army scientist Oleg Borodin.</p> <p>In the second <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(20)30135-5.pdf?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2542435120301355%3Fshowall%3Dtrue" target="_blank">paper</a>, published in the journal <em>Joule</em>, researchers from the University of Texas report they have found a way to stabilise one of the most challenging parts of lithium-sulfur batteries.</p> <p>Creating an artificial layer containing tellurium, inside the battery in-situ, on top of lithium metal, can make it last four times longer, they say. “The layer… allows it to operate without breaking down the electrolyte…” says co-author Amruth Bhargav.</p> <p>No expensive or complicated pre-treatment or coating procedures are required on the lithium-metal anode, he and his colleagues add, and the method can be applied to other lithium- and sodium-based batteries.</p> <p>The third paper, in the <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/ncomms/#search-menu" target="_blank">journal</a> <em>Nature Communications</em>, describes a technique to detect the movement and deposition of sodium metal ions within a sodium battery using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).</p> <p>Although sodium appears to have many of the properties required to produce an efficient battery, there are challenges in optimising the performance.</p> <p>Key among these, says research leader Melanie Britton from the University of Birmingham, is understanding how the sodium behaves inside the battery as it goes through its charging and discharging cycle, enabling the points of failure and degradation mechanisms to be identified.</p> <p>“Taking the battery apart introduces internal changes that make it hard to see what the original flaw was or where it occurred, but using the MRI technique we’ve developed we can actually see what’s going on inside the battery while it is operational, giving us unprecedented insights into how the sodium behaves,” Britton says.</p> <p>Developed with colleagues at the University of Nottingham and Imperial College London, the technique also will enable scientists to monitor the growth of dendrites – branch-like structures that can grow inside the battery over time and cause it to fail or even catch fire.</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock            <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=90434&amp;title=New+research+to+make+better+batteries" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/new-research-to-make-better-batteries/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Nick Carne. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Artificial intelligence could sway your dating and voting preferences

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>AI algorithms on our computers and smartphones have quickly become a pervasive part of everyday life, with relatively little attention to their scope, integrity, and how they shape our attitudes and behaviours.</p> <p>Spanish researchers have now shown experimentally that people’s voting and dating preferences can be manipulated depending on the type of persuasion used.</p> <p>“Every day, new headlines appear in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) has overtaken human capacity in new and different domains,” <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0249454" target="_blank">write</a> Ujue Agudo and Helena Matute, from the Universidad de Deusto, in the journal <em>PLOS ONE</em>.</p> <p>“This results in recommendation and persuasion algorithms being widely used nowadays, offering people advice on what to read, what to buy, where to eat, or whom to date,” they add.</p> <p>“[P]eople often assume that these AI judgements are objective, efficient and reliable; a phenomenon known as <em>machine bias</em>.”</p> <p>But increasingly, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6404/751.full" target="_blank">warning bells</a> are sounding about how people could be influenced on vital issues. Agudo and Matute note, for instance, that companies such as Facebook and Google have been <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/18/a-digital-gangster-destroying-democracy-the-damning-verdict-on-facebook" target="_blank">accused </a>of manipulating democratic elections.</p> <p>And while some people may be wary of explicit attempts to sway their judgements, they could be influenced without realising it.</p> <p>“[I]t is not only a question of whether AI could influence people through explicit recommendation and persuasion, but also of whether AI can influence human decisions through more covert persuasion and manipulation techniques,” the researchers write.</p> <p>“Indeed, some studies show that AI can make use of human heuristics and biases in order to manipulate people’s decisions in a subtle way.”</p> <p>A famous <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature11421" target="_blank">experiment</a> on voting behaviour in the US, for instance, showed how Facebook messages swayed political opinions, information seeking and votes of more than 61 million people in 2010, a phenomenon they say was demonstrated again in 2012 elections.</p> <p>In another example, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/112/33/E4512.full.pdf" target="_blank">manipulating the order </a>of political candidates in search engines or boosting someone’s profile to <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://core.ac.uk/display/132807884" target="_blank">enhance their familiarity </a>and credibility are other covert ploys that can funnel votes to selected candidates.  </p> <p>Worryingly, as Agudo and Matute point out, these strategies tend to go unnoticed, so that people are likely to think they made their own minds up and don’t realise they’ve been played.</p> <p>Yet public research on the impact of these influences is way behind the private sector.</p> <p>“Companies with potential conflicts of interest are conducting private behavioural experiments and accessing the data of millions of people without their informed consent,” they write, “something unthinkable for the academic research community.”</p> <p>While some studies have shown that AI can influence people’s moods, friendships, dates, activities and prices paid online, as well as political preferences, research is scarce, the pair says, and has not disentangled explicit and covert influences.</p> <p>To help address this, they recruited more than 1300 people online for a series of experiments to investigate how explicit and covert AI algorithms influence their choice of fictitious political candidates and potential romantic partners.</p> <p>Results showed that explicit, but not covert, recommendation of candidates swayed people’s votes, while secretly manipulating their familiarity with potential partners influenced who they wanted to date.</p> <p>Although these results held up under various approaches, the researchers note the possibilities are vast. “The number of variables that might be changed, and the number of biases that an algorithm could exploit is immense,” they write.</p> <p>“It is important to note, however, that the speed with which human academic scientists can perform new experiments and collect new data is very slow, as compared to the easiness with which many AI companies and their algorithms are already conducting experiments with millions of human beings on a daily basis through the internet.”</p> <p>Private companies have immense resources and are unfettered in their pursuit of the most effective algorithms, they add. “Therefore, their ability to influence decisions both explicitly and covertly is certainly much higher than shown in the present research.”</p> <p>The pair draws attention to the European Union’s Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI and DARPA’s explainable AI program as examples of initiatives to increase people’s trust of AI. But they assert that won’t address the dearth of information on how algorithms can manipulate people’s decisions.</p> <p>“Therefore, a human-centric approach should not only aim to establish the critical requirements for AI’s trustworthiness,” they write, “but also to minimise the consequences of that trust on human decisions and freedom.</p> <p>“It is of critical importance to educate people against following the advice of algorithms blindly,” they add, as well as public discussion on who should own the masses of data which are used to create persuasive algorithms.</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock            <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=148292&amp;title=Artificial+intelligence+could+sway+your+dating+and+voting+preferences" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/artificial-intelligence-could-sway-your-dating-and-voting-preferences/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Natalie Parletta.</em></p> </div> </div>

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Prince Harry says ‘Megxit’ is a misogynistic term

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Appearing on a panel on Tuesday, Prince Harry described the term ‘Megxit’, used by the British press to refer to his and Meghan’s decision to quit their royal duties, as misogynistic, as well as an example of online and media hatred.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Duke of Sussex was appearing on a panel hosted by WIRED Magazine called ‘The Internet Lie Machine’, and said about the popularly-used term, "Maybe people know this and maybe they don't, but the term Megxit was or is a misogynistic term, and it was created by a troll, amplified by royal correspondents, and it grew and grew and grew into mainstream media. But it began with a troll.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Harry and Meghan moved to California last year after quitting their royal duties in order to lead a more independent life away from the scrutiny of the British press. Harry has previously said that the racist treatment of Meghan by the tabloids was part of the reason for their move.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Trolls are responsible for much of the online hatred directed at the couple; a study released in October by Bot Sentinel identified 83 accounts on Twitter that were responsible for 70 percent of the hateful content and misinformation aimed at Meghan and Harry. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Referring to the study during his panel appearance, Harry said that, "perhaps the most disturbing part of this was the number of British journalists who were interacting with them and amplifying the lies. But they regurgitate these lies as truth." </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Harry and Meghan have since started campaigning against negativity on social media that they say affects people’s mental health.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Harry also talked about misinformation, calling it a “global humanitarian crisis”. Referring to the media treatment of his mother, Princess Diana, who died in Paris in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi, Harry said, "I know the story all too well. I lost my mother to this self-manufactured rabidness, and obviously I'm determined not to lose the mother to my children to the same thing."</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Taylor Hill/WireImage</span></em></p>

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How do Wi-Fi and hotspots work?

<div class="copy"> <p>If you’re reading this article on your smartphone or laptop, it’s more than likely you’re connected to a wireless router. <span style="font-family: inherit;">No need for bulky cables – just pick the wireless signal you want and the World Wide Web is at your fingertips. </span></p> <p>This is all thanks to the power of Wi-Fi. So how does it actually work?</p> <p><span style="font-family: inherit;">If you wanted to connect to the internet before Wi-Fi (which, by the way, doesn’t stand for wireless fidelity – it doesn’t actually stand for anything) you needed a cable known as an ethernet cable. </span></p> <p>This cable converts 1s and 0s of binary, the language of computers, into electrical signals which are sent down a wire and converted back into binary by the computer.</p> <p>But in the case of Wi-Fi, those electrical signals are converted by a router to radio waves that carry the electrical signal to the computer, where they’re converted to binary again.</p> <p>Information is sent as lots of small packets that are then stitched together.</p> <p>The process also works in reverse. If you need to send an email, your computer or smartphone shoots radio waves to the router.</p> <p>The radio waves are very similar to those used in mobile phones, walkie-talkies and other devices.</p> <p>So how can radio waves carry the amount of information needed to watch a high-resolution cat video?</p> <p>It’s true: the amount of information transmitted to make a phone call (audio) is far less than to watch an online video (audio and visual).</p> <p>This boils down to the radio wave frequency. Wi-Fi uses either 2.4 gigahertz or 5 gigahertz – far higher than those used by mobile phones at less than 1 gigahertz.</p> <p>A higher frequency means more radio waves – and more data – can be packed into a given space.</p> <p>The trade-off is that the waves can’t travel as far and are heavily influenced by nearby objects, including other Wi-Fi signals.</p> <p>That’s why your Wi-Fi signal gets weaker the more walls you put between your computer and router.</p> <p>You can get around this by linking lots of routers together to boost the signal. This is how the internet hotspots found in places such as cafes, universities and office buildings manage to reach out across multiple levels and large distances.</p> <p>For instance, the University of Twente in the Netherlands has a hotspot covering 1.4 square kilometres. It combines more than 600 individual routers from one massive signal that all students and staff can access at the same time.</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock            <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=12344&amp;title=How+do+Wi-Fi+and+hotspots+work%3F" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on cosmosmagazine.com and was written by Jake Port. </em></p> </div>

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How does a defibrillator work?

<div class="copy"> <h2>Defibrillator? I’ve seen one of those!</h2> <p>No TV medical drama show is complete without a doctor at some point shouting, “Clear!” as he or she applies a <strong>defibrillator</strong> to a dying patient. More often than not, with a massive convulsion, the patient is shocked with hundreds of joules of <a rel="noopener" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity" target="_blank">electricity</a> and miraculously brought back to life.</p> <p>In the real world, defibrillators are a little less dramatic, but they do save countless lives.</p> <h3>How does a defibrillator work?</h3> <p>As the name suggests, the defibrillator is a device that stops <em>fibrillation</em> – the condition where the heart starts to beat erratically, usually during <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/hearts-stopped-young/">cardiac arrest</a>.</p> <p>It does this by generating a powerful electrical current – about 300 joules of electrical energy – which is passed through the heart. This has the effect of stopping the uncontrolled trembling and resetting the beating to normal.</p> <p>There is a common misconception – thanks to those medical dramas – that a defibrillator is used when the heart stops beating entirely, or ‘flat lines’.</p> <p>Unfortunately, this exaggerates the capabilities of the device.</p> <p>Rather than restart the heart, the device works to reset the natural pacemaker in our bodies to return the heart to normal function and rhythm.</p> <p>If the heart has stopped,<strong> a defibrillator will do little to restart it</strong>, so other techniques such as CPR are applied.</p> <p>It is even possible to have an automatic defibrillator placed inside the body for patients who have a disorder of the heart known as <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/hearts-stopped-young/">arrhythmia</a>. These devices, about the size of a pocket watch, administer the appropriate electrical shock if they sense the heart going into fibrillation.</p> <p>They differ from a <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/bionic-heart-beats-like-the-real-thing/">pacemaker</a>, however, as they do not assist the heart in maintaining a pace. Rather, they deliver an electrical shock when they sense that the heart is approaching a dangerous heartbeat.</p> <p>The shock produced by the defibrillator is generated via a built-in battery, which releases a massive pulse of energy. This electrical energy is directed down two wires, each ending at a pad, known as a paddle.</p> <p>With a defibrillator in a hospital, a doctor applies a conductive gel to maximise the flow of electricity to the patient. The paddles have insulated, plastic handles to prevent the user being shocked along with the patient.</p> <p>Automatic defibrillators, such as those you might see at a shopping centre, use an adhesive pad, which can be quickly and easily applied by anyone and avoid the need to hold the pads during use.</p> <p>They can also electronically guide a user through the defibrillation process without the need for a medical professional.</p> <p>Where the pads are placed is crucial.</p> <p>There are two correct positions – the first with the pads above and to the left, and below and to the right of the heart; the second with the paddles placed in front of and behind the heart.</p> <p>These positions ensure that the electrical current moves around and through the heart.</p> <em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/how-does-a-defibrillator-work/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Jake Port. </em></p> </div>

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What is radioactivity?

<div class="copy"> <p>We owe the discovery of radioactivity to bad weather. French physicist <a rel="noopener" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Becquerel" target="_blank">Henri Becquerel</a> was trying to study fluorescence, a phenomenon where certain materials glow when exposed to sunlight, but overcast days thwarted his experiments and so he wrapped his fluorescing uranium salts in cloth and left them in a drawer, along with a photographic plate and a copper cross. This simple serendipitous accident, in 1896, revealed the existence of radioactivity, a phenomenon that opened a window into the subatomic world and kickstarted the nuclear revolution.</p> <h2>Understanding radioactivity</h2> <p>When he finally fetched the salts, Becquerel found that an image of the cross had appeared on the photographic plate – even though the salts had not been exposed to light.</p> <p>“I am now convinced that uranium salts produce invisible radiation, even when they have been kept in the dark,” he wrote after conducting further experiments.</p> <p>Becquerel’s doctoral student, <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/physics/this-week-in-science-history-marie-curie-dies/">Marie Curie</a>, investigated the matter with her husband Pierre and they realised the effect had nothing to do with fluorescence, instead discovering that certain materials naturally emit a constant flow of energy. They coined the term ‘radioactivity’ and also found two new radioactive elements: polonium and radium. For this profound and exciting work, Becquerel and the Curies received the Nobel Prize for <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/physics/">Physics</a> in 1903.</p> <p>Physicists Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy delved deeper and found that tiny amounts of matter contain huge reserves of energy. They also realised that in the process of radioactive decay, one element can turn into another – an atom of uranium can transform (via a few intermediate steps) into an atom of lead.</p> <p>Around the world people assumed that these miraculously energetic materials could be put to good use. Until the 1920s, many manufacturers of laxatives and toothpaste proudly laced their products with radioactive thorium, and radioactive substances were only banned in consumer products in the US in 1938.</p> <h2>How does radioactivity work?</h2> <p>Today we have a much more comprehensive understanding of what radioactivity is, how it can be dangerous, and how we can use it.</p> <p>Here’s a basic rundown: imagine an atom, composed of a cloud of electrons around a central nucleus where particles called neutrons and protons are crammed in together. Some arrangements of protons and neutrons are more stable than others; if there are too many neutrons compared to protons, the nucleus becomes unstable and falls apart. This decay releases nuclear radiation in the form of alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma radiation.</p> <p>An alpha particle carries off two protons and two neutrons, and since an element is defined by its number of protons, the parent atom becomes a whole new element when an alpha particle is emitted. In beta decay, a neutron transforms into one proton and one electron, and the electron speeds off, leaving an extra proton behind and once again resulting in an atom of a different element. Alongside either of the above particles, decaying nuclei can also produce gamma rays: high energy electromagnetic radiation.</p> <h2>What are the health effects?</h2> <p>As Becquerel and the Curies discovered, radioactivity is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. Many minerals in the Earth emit a slow and steady trickle of radiation, the air we breathe contains radioactive gases, and even foods and our bodies contain a small percentage of radioactive atoms like potassium-40 and carbon-14. The Earth also receives radiation from the Sun and as high-energy cosmic rays. These sources create a natural but unavoidable level of background radiation. Many artificial sources add to this, including medical procedures such as X-rays, smoke detectors, building materials and combustible fuels.</p> <p>We generally aren’t harmed by low-level background sources of radiation, as the extent of harm depends on the length and level of exposure. Radiation can damage the body’s internal chemistry, breaking up chemical bonds in our tissue, killing cells, and damaging DNA, which may lead to cancer. In very high doses, radiation can cause sickness and death within hours.</p> <h2>Harnessing nuclear power</h2> <p>The effects of radioactivity have been felt on an even grander scale with the meltdown of nuclear power plants throughout history. The radioactive process of fission has been harnessed for several decades to produce electricity: the nucleus of an atom is split, creating at least two “daughter” nuclei and releasing energy as heat. The heat is used to boil water and create steam, turning a turbine and generating electricity.</p> <p>Unfortunately this isn’t a clean process – it produces radioactive waste that is difficult to safely dispose of, and in extreme cases reactions can spiral out of control, such as the disaster triggered by an earthquake at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2011.</p> <p>Another radioactive process could provide a safe way to generate clean energy: fusion. In contrast to fission, fusion involves joining two atomic nuclei together. This process also releases energy – it’s the exact process occurring in the Sun and other stars – but fusion requires extremely high temperatures and pressures, which are expensive and difficult to recreate on Earth.</p> <h2>A long road ahead</h2> <p>Becquerel died 12 years after his initial discovery at age 54, with burns and scars likely from handling radioactive materials, and Marie Curie died several decades later from leukemia. Radiation was probably slowly killing Pierre Curie too, although it’s difficult to know as he was fatally run down by a carriage in 1906.</p> <p>Today our greater understanding of radioactivity allows us to use it much more safely. Accidents with radioactive materials have decreased in frequency and produce fewer fatalities due to stringent safety measures and thorough emergency responses. In the most recent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, no deaths resulted from radiation exposure – but there’s still a long way to go before we can safely harness the immense raw power of radioactivity.</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock        <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=76198&amp;title=What+is+radioactivity%3F" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/physics/what-is-radioactivity/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Lauren Fuge. </em></p> </div>

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Cracking the code of unbreakable phone screens

<div class="copy"> <p>Unbreakable phone screens might seem too good to be true, but some chemical engineers reckon they’ve cracked the secret, developing a new material that combines glass with nanocrystals to make a resilient screen that would produce high-quality images in phones, LEDs and computers.</p> <p>The breakthrough substance could even be used to make phone screens that double as solar panels.</p> <p>The technology revolves around <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/overcoming-atomic-level-perovskite-defects/" target="_blank">perovskites</a>: nanometre-sized crystals that have a range of exciting electrical properties, making them prime candidates for better solar cells, LEDs and touchscreens.</p> <p>While perovskites have had a few early commercial successes, their physical properties have mostly stopped them from getting far out of the lab.</p> <p>“The stability of perovskites is the most difficult challenge which has hindered their commercialisation,” says Professor Lianzhou Wang, a materials scientist at the University of Queensland and co-author on a paper describing the research, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abf4460" target="_blank">published</a> in <em>Science.</em></p> <p>Lead author Dr Jingwei Hou, also from UQ, says the material is “super sensitive to almost everything – oxygen, water, gas, temperature, and even sensitive to light.</p> <p>“I think it’s a fantastic material, but it doesn’t really make sense if we want to use it on a solar panel, or display, if it’s sensitive to light.”</p> <p>The researchers have overcome this sensitivity by figuring a way to encase lead-halide perovskites in glass.</p> <p>“We created a lot of very small, nano-sized pores within the glass,” explains Hou. “That offers a very nice host material environment for the perovskite.</p> <p>“If we just put those very small nanocrystals within the pores, they will be not only stabilised against all of the external environment…it also makes the perovskite somewhere between 100 to 1000 times more efficient.”</p> <p>At the level of nanometres, the material resembles a chocolate chip cookie. “The perovskite nanocrystals are the chocolate chips, and the glass surrounds them,” says Hou.</p> <p>The material is also much more durable than normal glass. “Conventional glass is so brittle [because] it’s really dense. If you zoom in and look at the molecular structure, it’s silicon, aluminium, oxygen – very densely packed atoms,” says Hou.</p> <p>“Once you apply any pressure or any mechanical force to it, there’s no way to get it relaxed, and that’s what leads to the breakage of chemical bonds.”</p> <p>The pores, on the other hand, allow the glass to absorb more stress.</p> <p>“This is really a kind of platform technology,” says Hou. “The pore size can be tuned, the chemistry can be tuned. So that means it can be used to host a different type of perovskite.”</p> <p>In the paper, the international team of researchers – who are based at the University of Leeds and the University of Cambridge in the UK, and Université Paris-Saclay in France – demonstrate several different types of “lead halide perovskite and metal-organic framework glasses”, all of which they’ve been able to create.</p> <p>As well as their potential applications in screens and LEDs, the glasses could be used to make higher-quality X-ray images and more efficient solar panels.</p> <p>“We’re looking at trying to combine a solar panel with a display,” says Hou.</p> <p>“Think about mobile phones, for example – when you use it, it will become a display. When you don’t use it, put it in the sunlight, it will charge the battery. So it’s one device for two functions.”</p> <p>Manufacture of the material is scalable, according to Hou, and the researchers are currently looking at building prototype devices with it.</p> <p>“We’re really confident that we’ll be able to generate devices in the next stage,” says Hou.</p> <p>“We are also looking for some industrial collaborators who are really interested in bringing this exciting material into the real world.”</p> <em>Image credits: Shutterstock            <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=171112&amp;title=Cracking+the+code+of+unbreakable+phone+screens" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/materials/unbreakable-phone-screens/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian.</em></p> </div>

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Windsor Castle's clockmaker shares a royal insight

<p>As the UK enjoyed an extra hour in bed over the weekend to signify the end of daylight savings, royal staff have been busy at work in Windsor Castle. </p> <p>Taking to the Royal Family's Instagram account, a team of horological conservators worked throughout the castle to tweak the 400 clocks of the estate to set the time back one hour. </p> <p>Of the 400 timepieces on the state, 250 are located inside the castle.</p> <p class="mol-para-with-font">Offering a glimpse into their many clocks, the Royal Family shared a picture of their chief horologist with the caption, "For those living in the UK, don’t forget that clocks go back an hour tonight."</p> <p class="mol-para-with-font">"Did you know there are over 1,000 clocks within Her Majesty’s official residences?"</p> <p class="mol-para-with-font">"<span>Each timepiece is conserved by a special horologist and each will be set back an hour this Sunday."</span></p> <p class="mol-para-with-font"><span>The estate's head horological conservator explained that a lot more work is involved to wind the clocks back in the winter than turning them forwards in the summertime.</span></p> <p class="mol-para-with-font">"We have 400 clocks on the estate of which 250 are inside the castle and the rest are distributed around the estate. I go round once a week to wind them up so I get to know every clock very well", he said. </p> <p class="mol-para-with-font">"Just like a car that needs an MOT every now and then a clock will need a service every couple of years, twice a year we have the clock change."</p> <p class="mol-para-with-font">"When we set the clocks backwards in winter it’s a different process for every clock, in summer it’s much easier because every clock just goes forward one hour and each time it takes me about a weekend to set all the clocks to the right time."</p> <p class="mol-para-with-font"><span>The royal estates features musical, astronomical and miniature clocks including 600 at the Queen's official London residence Buckingham Palace and 50 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland. </span></p> <p>Windsor Castle in Berkshire is where Her Majesty is currently recovering after recent stay in hospital.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images / Instagram @theroyalfamily</em></p>

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Is it even possible to regulate Facebook effectively? Time and again, attempts have led to the same outcome

<p>The Australian government’s <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-is-why-australia-may-be-powerless-to-force-tech-giants-to-regulate-harmful-content-169826">recent warning</a> to Facebook over misinformation is just the latest salvo in the seemingly constant battle to hold the social media giant to account for the content posted on its platform.</p> <p>It came in the same week as the US Senate heard <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-58805965">whistleblowing testimony</a> in which former Facebook executive Frances Haugen alleged the company knew of harmful consequences for its users but chose not to act.</p> <p>Governments all over the world have been pushing for years to make social media giants more accountable, both in terms of the quality of information they host, and their use of users’ data as part of their business models.</p> <p>The Australian government’s <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_LEGislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r6680">Online Safety Act</a> will <a href="https://perma.cc/95A5-T79H">come into effect in January 2022</a>, giving the eSafety Commissioner unprecedented powers to crack down on abusive or violent content, or sexual images posted without consent.</p> <p>But even if successful, this legislation will only deal with a small proportion of the issues that require regulation. On many such issues, social media platforms have attempted to regulate themselves rather than submit to legislation. But whether we are talking about legislation or self-regulation, past experiences do not engender much confidence that tech platforms can be successfully regulated and regulation put in action easily.</p> <p>Our <a href="https://aisel.aisnet.org/ecis2021_rip/35">research</a> has examined previous attempts to regulate tech giants in Australia. We analysed 269 media articles and 282 policy documents and industry reports published from 2015 to 2021. Let’s discuss a couple of relevant case studies.</p> <h2>1. Ads and news</h2> <p>In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/digital-platforms-inquiry-final-report">inquiry into digital platforms</a> described Facebook’s algorithms, particularly those that determine the positioning of advertising on Facebook pages, as “opaque”. It concluded media companies needed more assurance about the use of their content.</p> <p>Facebook initially welcomed the inquiry, but then <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Facebook_0.pdf">publicly opposed it</a> when the government argued the problems related to Facebook’s substantial market power in display advertising, and Facebook and Google’s dominance of news content generated by media companies, were too important to be left to the companies themselves.</p> <p>Facebook argued there was <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Facebook.pdf">no evidence of an imbalance of bargaining power</a>between it and news media companies, adding it would have no choice but to withdraw news services in Australia if forced to pay publishers for hosting their content. The standoff resulted in Facebook’s <a href="https://theconversation.com/facebook-has-pulled-the-trigger-on-news-content-and-possibly-shot-itself-in-the-foot-155547">infamous week-long embargo on Australian news</a>.</p> <p><span>The revised and amended News Media Bargaining Code was </span><a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Final%20legislation%20as%20passed%20by%20both%20houses.pdf">passed by the parliament in February</a><span>. Both the government and Facebook declared victory, the former having managed to pass its legislation, and the latter ending up striking its own bargains with news publishers without having to be held legally to the code.</span></p> <h2>2. Hate speech and terrorism</h2> <p>In 2015, to deal with violent extremism on social media the Australian government initially worked with the tech giant to develop joint AI solutions to improve the technical processes of content identification to deal with countering violent extremism.</p> <p>This voluntary solution worked brilliantly, until it did not. In March 2019, mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch were live-streamed on Facebook by an Australian-born white supremacist terrorist, and the recordings subsequently circulated on the internet.</p> <p>This brought to light <a href="https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-shooting/111473473/facebook-ai-failed-to-detect-christchurch-shooting-video">the inability Facebook’s artificial intelligence algorithms</a> to detect and remove the live footage of the shooting and how fast it was shared on the platform.</p> <p>The Australian government responded in 2019 by <a href="https://www.ag.gov.au/crime/abhorrent-violent-material">amending the Criminal Code</a>to require social media platforms to remove abhorrent or violent material “in reasonable time” and, where relevant, refer it to the Australian Federal Police.</p> <h2>What have we learned?</h2> <p>These two examples, while strikingly different, both unfolded in a similar way: an initial dialogue in which Facebook proposes an in-house solution involving its own algorithms, before a subsequent shift towards mandatory government regulation, which is met with resistance or bargaining (or both) from Facebook, and the final upshot which is piecemeal legislation that is either watered down or only covers a subset of specific types of harm.</p> <p>There are several obvious problems with this. The first is that only the tech giants themselves know how their algorithms work, so it is difficult for regulators to oversee them properly.</p> <p>Then there’s the fact that legislation typically applies at a national level, yet Facebook is a global company with billions of users across the world and a platform that is incorporated into our daily lives in all sorts of ways.</p> <p>How do we resolve the impasse? One option is for regulations to be drawn up by independent bodies appointed by governments and tech giants to drive the co-regulation agenda globally. But relying on regulation alone to guide tech giants’ behaviour against potential abuses might not be sufficient. There is also the need for self-discipline and appropriate corporate governance - potentially enforced by these independent bodies.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p> <p><em>This article first appeared on <a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/is-it-even-possible-to-regulate-facebook-effectively-time-and-again-attempts-have-led-to-the-same-outcome-169947" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>.</em></p>

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New “miracle” Parkinson’s treatment can be done “anywhere in the world”

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">World-first technology has opened doors for new treatment of Parkinson’s disease, with the new wireless implants being dubbed a “miracle” by patients.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) implants reduce the symptoms of Parkinsons, and have required adjusting from a neurologist every time a patient’s condition changes - until now.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The new technology from neuromodulation company Abbott allows specialists to adjust DBS devices remotely over the internet.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For 70-year-old Clive Couperthwaite, the first patient to use the new tech as part of a clinical trial last year, the development has put an end to his two-hour commutes for 20-minute adjustments to his implant.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;"> “I’m not the patient that lives the furthest away, but it’s a complication to get in [to visit a specialist] … if you live in Longreach or some place out of the city - it’s a major demand, Mr Couperthwaite <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-29/qld-remote-brain-function-parkinsons-treatment-breakthrough/100576716" target="_blank">said</a>.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“When you live so far away from your specialist, it’s anxiety-provoking because what if something goes wrong.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 0px; height:0px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7845200/_0-17-screenshot.png" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/b2d4ab738fcf499ea41e2d814c23d5f2" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Clive Couperthwaite, the first person to use the new remote technology. Image: Abbott / YouTube</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“You feel like you can live again - you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The technology has been approved for use in Australia, Europe, and the United States.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Professor Peter Silburn, a neurologist from the Queensland Brain Institute, said the development of the new technology has been “the most exciting development” in treatment of the neurological disease since the DBS device itself.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The DBS device works as a pacemaker for the brain, sending electrical signals to areas responsible for movement to reduce symptoms.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“We take away the cardinal symptoms of Parkinson’s and we’re able to take the drugs right down - if not stop them all together,” Dr Silburn said.</span></p> <p><img style="width: 0px; height:0px;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7845199/_1-26-screenshot.png" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/80b1ad454cf64e9bbdeab17e3c6b2dce" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Two electrodes are implanted in the brain and receive electrical signals from the device, implanted in the chest. Image: Abbott / YouTube</span></em></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Without the new technology, Dr Silburn said the device may need to be adjusted as frequently as every two weeks.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Now, the wireless technology allows specialists such as Dr Silburn to connect with patients via an app installed on paired devices - meaning that adjustments can be made from anywhere in the world.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“This is going to have a major impact for particularly regional Australians,” Dr Silburn said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It reduces the burden of care, whether you’re remote in the bush or an hour away in the car - someone has to give up their time to bring you in.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“If you’re way out in the middle of Australia and something goes wrong, you need to have a Careflight, that could be completely eliminated.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr Couperthwaite said the DBS implant is the source of his autonomy, allowing him to complete tasks from painting to kayaking.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Before I was shaking through my hands, I couldn’t write my name legibly,” he said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Migual Diaz, the chief executive of Parkinson’s Australia, said the new development could lead more people to pursue DBS as a form of treatment, especially if they are geographically isolated.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“People [who] may have been put off by the fact that you have to come to Brisbane to have [adjustments] and have opted not to have DBS surgery might now reconsider that,” he said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, so anything that will improve their wellbeing is an absolute benefit and we’ve got to pursue it.”</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image: Abbott / YouTube</span></em></p>

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The unbeatable poker-playing program

<div class="copy"> <p>When it comes to games, machines have left us in the dust – we’ve been trounced at draughts, chess, even the TV quiz show <em>Jeopardy</em>. But clever humans still had an edge when it came to poker – until now.</p> <p>A new program, Cepheus, plays the game so well you could play against it your whole life and, unless you were unbelievably lucky, still not finish on top. It is the brainchild of Michael Bowling and colleagues at the University of Alberta who published the algorithm behind their winning result in <em>Science</em>.</p> <p>And yes – Cepheus can even bluff.</p> <p>“It will almost certainly leave human opponents in its wake,” says David Dowe, a machine learning and artificial intelligence expert at Monash University.</p> <p>Computer algorithms are very good at cracking those games where players know everything that has occurred before making their move – this is known in game theory as “perfect information”. Examples are Connect Four and draughts – each player can see where all pieces lie on the board. These games were solved by computers in 1998 and 2007 respectively. But poker is an imperfect-information game.</p> <p>A player doesn’t know what cards their opponent holds or what cards their opponent thinks <em>they</em> hold. Not surprisingly, it’s these unknowns that make poker extremely challenging for computers to handle.</p> <p>So in 2008, Las Vegas was a little shaken up when a computer program, Polaris, beat some of its best poker pros at Texas hold ’em.</p> <p>But Polaris was not perfect – it occasionally lost. By rejigging its algorithm, Bowling and his poker research group have upped the ante and “solved” the game of poker while they were at it.</p> <p>“Solving” a game is not quite the same as beating your opponents. When it comes to chess or <em>Jeopardy</em>, all IBM’s Deep Blue or Watson had to do was provide a solution superior to their human opponents – but not necessarily the perfect one.</p> <p>By contrast, Cepheus’s algorithms were derived as rigorously as any mathematical proof. Its solutions are unbeatable by any opponent. So poker can be said to have been solved in a way that neither chess nor <em>Jeopardy</em> have.</p> <p>To get to its virtually unbeatable state, Cepheus had to “learn” from experience. It played the equivalent of a billion billion hands over two months, “… more poker than has been played by the entire human race,” says Bowling.</p> <p>And in a classical example of machine learning, it reviewed every decision, learnt which did or didn’t pay off and used that information to play as perfectly as possible.</p> <p>Cepheus’s strength lies in its ability to solve problems where there is a great deal of uncertainty.</p> <p>A human opponent might win individual hands if they get lucky with the cards, but Cepheus always comes out on top in the long run.</p> <p>Texas hold ’em is the most popular form of poker played today and Bowling’s group restricted Cepheus to a simple version called “heads-up limit hold ’em” – it’s played with two players (heads-up) and has fixed bet sizes and number of raises (limit).</p> <p>But when faced with a decision in real life, people aren’t usually limited to a set number of choices. So might a future version of Cepheus solve a no-limit version of poker? “Out of the question, ” says Bowling.</p> <p>“No-limit poker is considerably more complex. The heads-up limit game has 10<sup>14</sup> (100 trillion) possible decision points and heads-up no-limit hold ’em has 10<sup>140</sup> decision points.” To put that number in context, there are around 10<sup>70</sup> atoms in the universe. If every atom contained its own universe you’d have as many atoms as decision points in heads-up no-limit hold ’em poker, well beyond the capabilities of any computer.​</p> <p>Bowling believes the decision-making strategies Cepheus has mastered will have their greatest impact outside of the games room. Artificial intelligence has a history of beating humans at games and then going on to bigger and better things.</p> <p>For example, IBM’s <em>Jeopardy</em>-winning computer system Watson now helps optimise cancer treatment at Sloan Kettering and provides financial advice at Citicorp and ANZ.</p> <p>Cepheus’s strength lies in its ability to solve problems where there is a great deal of uncertainty. For instance, if you have diabetes, calculating the wrong amount of insulin needed day-to-day can be life threatening, particularly when you take into account unforeseen changes in physical activity or diet.</p> <p>Working with clinicians, Bowling is already using Cepheus-like strategies to develop diabetes management policies, although he says it will be years before they are implemented.</p> <p>Despite heading the poker research laboratory, Bowling says he’s not much of a poker player and has only played a few hands against his “perfect player” program. “The first time I ran for about 20 hands and I was in the lead and ready to quit, but then I played another 20 hands and lost a bunch of money, so now I’m behind,” he laughs.</p> <p>You can try your hand against Cepheus at <a rel="noopener" href="http://poker.srv.ualberta.ca/play" target="_blank">http://poker.srv.ualberta.ca/play</a></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock  </em></p> <em><img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=6287&amp;title=The+unbeatable+poker-playing+program" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/science/mathematics/the-unbeatable-poker-playing-program/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Belinda Smith. </em></div>

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Woman shocked by Amazon recordings

<p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A woman who is the owner of several Amazon products has been shocked to discover how much private information they had collected. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The woman, who posts videos on TikTok as @my.data.not.yours, shared a video explaining that she had requested to see what data the tech giant had collected about her. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I requested all the data Amazon has on me and here’s what I found,” she said in the video. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She revealed that she owns three different Amazon smart speakers, as well as smart bulbs in her house that are controlled by the voice-activated speakers. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“When I downloaded the ZIP file these are all the folders it came with,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After clicking on the audio file, she was shocked to discover how much data had been collected without her knowledge. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The file revealed thousands of short voice clips that had been recorded and stored on her Amazon smart speakers. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She described them as “so scary” and played one of her talking about turning on a light.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There are said to be 3534 short audio clips in one file alone.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She was also sent a “Contacts” file.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It turns out they have a full list of my contacts from my phone and I never remember syncing that,” she said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The very last thing that I didn’t know that they had, I could have assumed that they have but I don’t love that they have, is my location.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another file she was sent by the tech giant showed the exact location of all her Alexa smart speakers. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I’m not totally comfortable with everything they have,” she said. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">There have been many complaints about the privacy of Amazon devices, as others have requested their data from the company. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While Alexa is “always listening” for the activation words such as “Alexa”, “Echo”, or any other custom “wake words”, </span><a href="https://www.amazon.com/is-alexa-always-listening/b?ie=UTF8&amp;node=21137869011"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Amazon</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> assures its users that their devices are “built with privacy in mind”.</span></p> <p><em><span style="font-weight: 400;">Image credits: Shutterstock / TikTok</span></em></p>

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Can games tell if you are impulsive?

<div class="copy"> <p>Using a series of Wild West style computer games, Australian researchers<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01127-3" target="_blank"> report</a> in the journal <em>Nature Human Behaviour</em> that they have developed a way to accurately assess how impulsive people are – an important attribute for mental health.</p> <p>Poor impulse control is a core feature of many different conditions such as addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, personality disorders, bipolar disorder and some dementias, as well as various risk-taking behaviours like reckless driving or unsafe sex.</p> <p>But until now, no comprehensive cognitive tests have been developed to measure impulsivity, or disinhibition, according to lead author Antonio Verdejo-Garcia from Monash University. Validating such a test would require large sample sizes.</p> <p>To address this, his team collaborated with game developers, Torus Games, to create an online test that could reach more people than is possible in the lab. They also realised they needed to make it engaging.</p> <p>“We created a gamified test battery in which cognitive tasks that measured different impulsive mechanisms were ‘disguised’ as fun and challenging games,” Verdejo-Garcia explains.</p> <p>The battery includes a bounty hunter game, where you have to shoot the bandit but not the sheriff; a spotter game, which involves guiding a caravan safely through dangers and obstacles and deciding what gradually emerging images are (such as a buffalo or cougar); and the prospector’s gamble, where you pick the luckiest prospector while fortunes are changing.</p> <div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <div class="entry-content-asset"> <div class="embed-wrapper"> <div class="inner"><iframe title="Cognitive Impulsivity Suite demo" width="500" height="281" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/videoseries?list=PLs-GMH-Foyaz-UkhauX-uSCDBQkAM1sTv" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></div> </div> </div> </div> An example of the video games used in the research. Credit: Verdejo-Garcia et al, Nature Human Behaviour. <p>Behind the scenes, each task is designed to measure a distinct aspect of impulsive behaviour: attention lapses, acting before gathering enough information and limited use of feedback from previous choices.</p> <p>The team first delivered the “Cognitive Impulsivity Suite” online using the crowdsourcing platform MTurk with a community sample of more than 1000 people. Then they confirmed their findings with 63 people in the lab before delivering it online again with a sample of 578 people, including participants with alcohol and drug problems.</p> <p>Results showed the test is an accurate and reliable measure of the three different impulsivity features that can help identify the likely cognitive source of disinhibition. It was also accurate at predicting real-world addiction-related problems.</p> <p>Currently, the test provides a useful research tool for gaining further insights into mental and neurological disorders associated with impulsivity, but Verdejo-Garcia says it has the potential to be developed into a tool for clinicians and the general public.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <em> <!-- End of tracking content syndication --></em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/can-games-tell-if-you-are-impulsive/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Natalie Parletta. </em></p> </div>

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What is ransomware and how is it dealt with?

<div> <div class="copy"> <h3>What is ransomware?</h3> <p>Ransomware is a type of malicious software – AKA malware – that infects and takes control of a device. It blocks access to files or even whole devices, and then sends a message demanding a ransom to grant access to those files.</p> <p>This is a common form of cybercrime that has recently affected <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.afr.com/policy/health-and-education/unisa-cyber-attack-hits-staff-email-20210519-p57td5" target="_blank">universities</a>, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/125294482/cyber-attack-waikato-dhb-counting-ransomware-cost-but-it-remains-to-be-tallied" target="_blank">hospitals</a> and <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-02/fbi-investigating-jbs-meatworks-ransomwear-cyber-attack/100183376" target="_blank">meatworks</a>. Because it blocks vital data from being accessed, it can <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.zdnet.com/article/ransomware-an-executive-guide-to-one-of-the-biggest-menaces-on-the-web/" target="_blank">massively disrupt</a> organisations that use the shared networks and/or the internet – which is, well, everyone at this point.</p> <h3>How does ransomware work?</h3> <p>Malware is infectious software that will download onto a computer, phone or other device. It can be shared though phishing emails, links in messages or other online locations, or fake download buttons. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a link or button is malicious in the first place.</p> <p>When the fake link is clicked, the malware automatically downloads and then hunts through the system or network to identify important data. The software can lock the device or files with a new password, or encrypt files with a secret key, preventing access.</p> <p>This can be exacerbated because malware can be accompanied by social-engineering tools that trick you into granting admin access, or it can exploit security holes to dive into the important files and software on the computer without even needing to get ‘permission’.</p> <p>There are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/topic/a-brief-summary-of-encryption-method-used-in-widespread-ransomware/#gref" target="_blank">many ways of encrypting files</a>, but the point is to prevent user access with computer algorithms. Without an up-to-date backup, this data is essentially lost.</p> <p>The user will then often see a ransom note in the form of a message demanding (usually) money to lift the password or encryption.</p> <p>Of course, paying the ransom doesn’t mean the cyber-criminal will actually lift the encryption, and if you have paid up once, there is incentive for the criminal to do it again.</p> <p><iframe title="vimeo-player" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/497805836" allowfullscreen="" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p class="caption"><em>Credit: cyber.gov.au</em></p> <p>The real kicker here is that the infectious software can gain access to a whole network of connected devices, even if it has been downloaded on just one computer – which means businesses that have shared data can be completely prevented for accessing anything<em>, </em>including saved files, emails and user profiles.</p> <p>There is no simple explanation of how the programming works – it is complex software engineering that can be continuously updated, and there are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.unitrends.com/solutions/ransomware-education" target="_blank">different examples</a> that can be spread and downloaded in ways the suit the attacker.</p> <h3>What does ransomware look like?</h3> <p>Because malware can pop up in almost anywhere, it is often hard to identify.</p> <p>A lot of ransomware is designed to look like something real, such as a casual email attachment, something shared via social media, or a website that looks <em>almost </em>like a real website you wanted to visit, but has a few different letters in the URL.</p> <p>in one sneaky approach, the attacker can even pretend to be somebody from law enforcement who is “stopping another cybercrime” that they accuse you of, and then demand a fine from you – but there are easier ways to get access to a device.</p> <p>The main thing to remember is that a lot of phishing can be prevented by not clicking suspicious links. Just a little life hack on how not to get hacked.</p> <p><iframe src="https://giphy.com/embed/MM0Jrc8BHKx3y" width="480" height="270" frameborder="0" class="giphy-embed" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p><a rel="noopener" href="https://giphy.com/gifs/hacker-MM0Jrc8BHKx3y" target="_blank">via GIPHY</a></p> <h3>Who is committing ransomware cybercrimes?</h3> <p>More seriously, this in an increasingly big business – between ransoms paid, loss of data and downtime, costs of recovery, and other security and investigations, ransomware attacks cost the world <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cybersecurityventures.com/ransomware-damage-report-2017-part-2/" target="_blank">$5 billion in 2017</a>.</p> <p>Cybercriminals are often individuals or work in teams or networks, but there are also <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/people/society/cybercrime-can-be-a-tough-game/" target="_blank">crimeware-as-a-service</a> groups that essentially operate as a business.</p> <h3>What cybersecurity measures need to be in place?</h3> <p>Technology develops so quickly that defenders and attackers can get stuck in an arms race, so cybersecurity and trained professionals are <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/ai/cosmos-briefing-intelligent-manufacturing/" target="_blank">absolutely essential</a> to an online world, especially as we begin to incorporate more AI and machine learning into our manufacturing. Once ransomware is in a network, it’s extremely hard to remove.</p> <div class="twitter-tweet twitter-tweet-rendered" style="display: flex; max-width: 550px; width: 100%; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px;"><iframe id="twitter-widget-0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allowfullscreen="true" class="" style="position: static; visibility: visible; width: 551px; height: 389px; display: block; flex-grow: 1;" title="Twitter Tweet" src="https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=CosmosMagazine&amp;dnt=false&amp;embedId=twitter-widget-0&amp;features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&amp;frame=false&amp;hideCard=false&amp;hideThread=false&amp;id=1399844326855880704&amp;lang=en&amp;origin=https%3A%2F%2Fcosmosmagazine.com%2Ftechnology%2Fwhat-is-ransomware-and-how-is-it-dealt-with%2F&amp;sessionId=1edacffebc49fba152bed8435892b99ad3545164&amp;siteScreenName=CosmosMagazine&amp;theme=light&amp;widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&amp;width=550px" data-tweet-id="1399844326855880704"></iframe></div> <p>First and foremost, <strong>keep backups</strong>. If all your files get encrypted but you have another offline backup, it’s simple to restore your data.</p> <p><strong>Always keep your malware security up to date</strong>. Attackers obviously try to get around this security, but it is a whole lot better than having none at all. Many companies test their systems with <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-emerging-threats-what-is-the-difference-between-black-white-and-grey-hat-hackers.html" target="_blank">white hat hackers</a>, who attempt to hack their systems to recognise – and fix – the security flaws.</p> <p>Teaching people to recognise <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams" target="_blank">phishing emails</a> and be cautious about suspicious sites and links is also necessary, but it can only go so far, because phishing material is constantly being ‘improved’ to blend in better. Don’t click on links or open attachments if you don’t know the sender of the email. A lot of these emails suggest you need to make a payment, have breached some sort of contract, or pretend to have blocked access to an account.</p> <p>Because ransomware secretly searches your device, there can be a delay between when a link is clicked and when files are encrypted. There is a rise in predictive analytics and machine learning to help detect this suspicious behaviour and shut it down early.</p> <p>And finally, if you do get attacked, <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.cyber.gov.au/ransomware#:~:text=Ransomware%20is%20a%20type%20of,to%20get%20back%20your%20access." target="_blank">don’t pay up</a>, because it’s likely to make you seem like an easy target in the future.</p> <h2><strong>Q&amp;A with a cybersecurity expert</strong></h2> <p>We asked Diep Ngyuen, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology at UTS, for a little more depth. This is what they said</p> <h3>How can a cyber-attack effect a whole network?</h3> <p>Cyber attacks target either to bring down networks/systems (make them malfunction) or to compromise the information access authority or integrity.</p> <p>Although the former is often closer and easier to understand to most people, the latter is more popular and the major target of most daily life cyber attacks.</p> <p>For example, DoS (Denial-of-Service) attacks can make a network or service inaccessible for some time, disrupting corporates’ functioning or business. These types of attacks can be easily detected.</p> <p>However, cybercrimes often target high-value information and attempt to illegally access it or even alter the information.</p> <p>The information authority or integrity attacks are more difficult to be detected but their consequences can be very damaging, even much worse than the DoS attacks.</p> <h3>What are some common cybersecurity precautions?</h3> <p>To prevent or reduce risks from cyber attacks, IT core engineers/experts and daily users can take different approaches. However, these approaches all aim to early detect cyber threats, then effectively protect or cure the systems when the attacks really happen.</p> <p>One of the most common precautions [is] to avoid using services/websites, apps, hardware from non-certified or low-reputation sources/providers. These systems often have back doors or vulnerable loopholes that can be leveraged by cybercrimes.</p> <p>The second precaution would be to update and follow security recommendations from governments and experts, e.g., using multi-factor authentication methods, not to share or be cautious on sharing personal/private information like Date of Birth, photos, [etc] on open platforms (even social media).</p> <p>The last, but not least, is to become more aware of cyber threats/risks before deciding to take any action (e.g., do you understand the risk of using Apple pay or using activity trackers?).</p> <h3>How has cyber security changed over the last decade?</h3> <p>Cyber security landscape has been changing dramatically over the last 10 years. This is because of the penetration of IT to every corner of our daily life, from working, entertaining, to sleeping.</p> <p>This is also because of the ever-growing advances in attacks and their countermeasures. In comparison with 10 years ago, the number of connecting devices today has been increased by multiple times.On average, each person now would have more than a few connecting devices (e.g., phones, activity trackers, laptops, sensors at home).</p> <p>These devices, [while they] bring us lots of conveniences, are making us more vulnerable to cyber threats when they are attacked or compromised. More importantly, most of these newly added devices (e.g., in Internet of Things) are limited in computing and storage capability or referred to as low-end devices in cyber security. They are more susceptible to cyber threats.</p> <p>The advances in machine learning and AI also empower cybercrimes, allowing them to launch larger scale and more damaging attacks.</p> <em>Image credit: Shutterstock                         <!-- Start of tracking content syndication. Please do not remove this section as it allows us to keep track of republished articles --> <img id="cosmos-post-tracker" style="opacity: 0; height: 1px!important; width: 1px!important; border: 0!important; position: absolute!important; z-index: -1!important;" src="https://syndication.cosmosmagazine.com/?id=154123&amp;title=What+is+ransomware+and+how+is+it+dealt+with%3F" alt="" width="1" height="1" /> <!-- End of tracking content syndication -->          </em></div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a rel="noopener" href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/what-is-ransomware-and-how-is-it-dealt-with/" target="_blank">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Deborah Devis. </em></p> </div> </div>

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