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  2. With a growing body of evidence confirming the potential harm marijuana can cause on a growing adolescent brain, it is reasonable to ask what governmental policy best reduces teenage consumption. A new study has concluded that tough marijuana laws are not associated with reduced teenage use and the current wave of legalization does not seem to increase adolescent consumption. Alongside Canada, Uruguay and a multitude of American states, marijuana legalization seems to be a trend rapidly spreading across the globe. New Zealand is set for a referendum on the issue in 2020, and the Mexican supreme court recently laid the foundation for legalization in the country potentially quite soon. A big question that is rightly asked surrounding marijuana legalization is whether lifting the prohibition on the drug will result in greater youth consumption, a reasonable concern considering the science suggesting it may cause long-term damage to growing adolescent brains. A key study from 2015, led by Yuyan Shi from the University of California San Diego, has underpinned a large volume of calls to restrict the spread of marijuana legalization. That research pooled data from 38 countries and over 150,000 adolescents with an average age of 15. The study concluded a significant association between higher levels of youth marijuana use and more liberal policies such as depenalization and partial-prohibition. Inspired by a raft of newer research suggesting no association between legalization and increased adolescent use, Alex Stevens, from the University of Kent, set out to re-examine the 2015 study's conclusions to ascertain its veracity. Stevens attempted to replicate the same pool of data the earlier study utilized, but included a number of variables and amendments, such as additional survey data from Sweden and a re-interpretation of the influence gender has on cannabis use in different countries. "Shi et al's verbal summary of their findings is not supported by detailed interpretation of their own numerical results," Stevens writes in his research paper. "Without making the suggested amendments, it is possible to find a statistically significant association between policy 'liberalization' and higher odds of some measures of adolescent cannabis use. But when these improvements are made, this association becomes statistically non-significant." Stevens' conclusion is interestingly backed up by smaller studies looking at the first few years of legalization in some early adopting American states. The suggestion is that full prohibition does not reduce youth consumption rates in comparison to full legalization and Stevens suggests, in light of this fact, that the social harm of marijuana criminal convictions may be more damaging to a community. "My new study joins several others which show no evidence of a link between tougher penalties and lower cannabis use," explains Stevens. "This is useful information for governments as they consider the best way to deal with cannabis. As it is, the harms and costs of imposing criminal convictions on people who use cannabis do not seem to be justified by an effect in reducing cannabis use." The new study was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Source: University of Kent
  3. Fear is a vital survival tool, but when it gets too extreme or sticks around long after the trigger, it can really get in the way of someone's day-to-day life. New research from the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia has now found a chemical pathway that helps the brain wipe fear memories, which could lead to new potential treatments for phobias and other fear-related anxiety disorders. On the opposite end of the seesaw to fear sits fear extinction. While it's crucial to develop a fear of something that might be dangerous, the brain needs to be able to overwrite those fear memories if it's no longer a concern. Finding the right balance between fear and fear extinction is important, and problems with this mechanism can crop up as debilitating phobias, PTSD or other anxiety disorders. "You still want to have that memory of 'there's something dangerous there, I want to be careful,' but you don't want it to compromise your ability to function normally," says Timothy Bredy, an author of the new study. The UQ team has now identified a DNA modification that seems to boost fear extinction. In tests, the researchers first taught mice to associate a specific tone with a mild electric shock. Understandably, they soon became afraid of the tone itself and would freeze when they heard it. Next the researchers moved the mice to a different box, where they played the tone repeatedly without giving them shocks. When the mice were then moved back to the original box, they had learned not to fear the sound anymore. So far this sounds like regular old "exposure therapy," where a patient is exposed to the thing they're afraid of until they become desensitized to it. While that's reasonably effective, it's not the most pleasant process and can often result in relapses down the track. This study instead looked at what's going on in the brain during this process, in order to perhaps find a way to mimic the benefits without the actual exposure to the trigger. To this end, the team examined the mice to see if the experiments had changed their DNA in any way. And sure enough, in the neurons responsible for the fear extinction process, they found over 2,800 instances where the DNA base adenine had been chemically tagged to change gene expression. In particular, it seems like these modifications were ramping up activity in a gene called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is associated with learning and memory. "For a long time, it was thought that only one DNA base – cytosine – could be modified, and that these chemical changes in the brain reduce gene expression," says Xiang Li, an author of the study. "We have now discovered that adenosine, another DNA base, can also be chemically tagged, and that fear extinction memories form thanks to a deoxyadenosine (or adenine) modification that increases the activity of certain genes." To confirm the role that these modifications were playing in the fear extinction process, the team then engineered mice that didn't have the ability to make that DNA modification. After repeating the experiment, these mice also learned to fear the sound but couldn't undo the process, remaining scared of the tone long after the threat of the shocks had passed. The researchers say this could unlock a new potential target for treating anxiety disorders in humans. While any such benefit to us would still be a long way off, this study is just one of many examining how fear functions in the brain. Similar recent work has found that fears could be fought by retraining the brain to associate bad cues with rewards instead, or reducing anxiety by magnetically stimulating the brain. The research was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Source: University of Queensland
  4. In an extraordinary milestone procedure, scientists in the UK have performed the first gene therapy operation aimed at stopping progression of the most common cause of vision loss. The success of the procedure is yet to be determined, however the scientists suggest this one-off operation could be performed early in the degeneration process and essentially halt the disease in its tracks. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, and affects millions of people worldwide. The common degenerative disease begins with disruptions in a person's central field of vision, and while it doesn't always result in complete vision loss, it can profoundly alter one's ability to undertake simple things such as reading or even recognizing faces. In AMD, retinal cells are progressively destroyed by an aggressive immune response. This immune response has been found to be triggered by an overactive protein system. The experimental therapy is designed to deliver a gene that codes for a protein that essentially deactivates this aggressive immune response, and to do this the treatment utilizes a benign virus to transport the new gene to where it needs to go. 'We're harnessing the power of the virus, a naturally occurring organism, to deliver the DNA into the patient's cells," says Robert MacLaren, an ophthalmologist from the University of Oxford working on the project. "When the virus opens up inside the retinal cell it releases the DNA of the gene we have cloned, and the cell starts making a protein that we think can modify the disease, correcting the imbalance of the inflammation caused by the complement system." The therapy involves surgically detaching the retina and directly delivering the viral solution to the back of the eye. This targeted approach ensures the treatment is contained to a single point, while the virus is also engineered to only infect specific retinal cells. The first patient to undergo this procedure was 80-year-old Janet Osborne, an Oxford resident with a reasonably advanced case of AMD. The therapy does not reverse any damage already done by the disease, but instead hopes to rapidly halt the degenerative progression. Osborne says her involvement in the experiment was motivated by help others in the future with AMD through establishing the safety and efficacy of the procedure. "I wasn't thinking of me," says Osborne. "I was thinking of other people. For me, I hope my sight doesn't get any worse. That would be fantastic. It means I wouldn't be such a nuisance to my family." It may be several years before the therapy is rolled out into clinical use. Further trials are needed to verify how safe the treatment is, and it will take some time before it is clearly proven to be effective. However, the scientists behind this incredible innovation are hopeful this one-off gene therapy procedure could be administered at the early stages of AMD, stopping the disease before it begins to permanently damage the eye, and potentially saving the sight of millions of people around the world. "This is a rapidly evolving field," suggests MacLaren. "Given that we understand a lot more now about the manufacture of the treatment, and the effects of the virus when doing gene therapy at the back of the eye, as well as all the other gene therapy programmes being developed at the moment, I would hope that we'll see a treatment for people with dry AMD within the next few years." Source: University of Oxford
  5. To many of us, the great white shark is a mysterious and scary creature from the deep – but now it's a little less mysterious. A team of scientists has sequenced the entire genome of the great white shark, revealing a few clues as to how these animals are so good at healing wounds and resisting cancer. Sharks are fascinating creatures, sitting proudly at the top of the ocean food chain for millions of years – in fact, they've remained virtually unchanged since long before the time of the dinosaurs. On top of that, they're particularly good at healing themselves and rarely get cancer, with some species even living to the ripe old age of 400. To help decode how the animals can manage these incredible feats, an international team led by scientists from Nova Southeastern University, Cornell University and Monterey Bay Aquarium have now sequenced the great white shark genome. The first thing to note is that the shark's genome is one and a half times larger than that of humans. Within that genetic code, the researchers found that natural selection had given a boost to genes involved in DNA repair, DNA damage response and DNA damage tolerance, which could be behind the animals' resilience against cancer and other age-related diseases. "Not only were there a surprisingly high number of genome stability genes that contained these adaptive changes, but there was also an enrichment of several of these genes, highlighting the importance of this genetic fine-tuning in the white shark," says Mahmood Shivji, co-lead author of the study. Interestingly, the shark genome also contained a particularly high number of genes, known as LINEs, that do the exact opposite – destabilize the genome. These LINEs comprised almost 30 percent of their total genome, which is one of the highest proportions ever seen in vertebrates. That in turn might be the reason sharks evolved such strong DNA repair genes. "These LINEs are known to cause genome instability by creating double stranded breaks in DNA," says Michael Stanhope, co-lead author of the study. "It's plausible that this proliferation of LINEs in the white shark genome could represent a strong selective agent for the evolution of efficient DNA repair mechanisms, and is reflected in the positive selection and enrichment of so many genome stability genes." The researchers also found that genes related to wound healing and blood clotting had been selected for and enriched, which goes a long way towards explaining how sharks can shake off even large wounds without too much trouble. Many of these beneficial genes were also found in the genome of a related species, the whale shark. Studying the genomes of both animals could help with conservation of sharks, which are increasingly under threat by overfishing and other human activities. We might also be able to find new treatments for cancer and wound healing in humans. "Genome instability is a very important issue in many serious human diseases; now we find that nature has developed clever strategies to maintain the stability of genomes in these large-bodied, long-lived sharks," says Shivji. "There's still tons to be learned from these evolutionary marvels, including information that will potentially be useful to fight cancer and age-related diseases, and improve wound healing treatments in humans, as we uncover how these animals do it." The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Source: Nova Southeastern University
  6. https://i.postimg.cc/s2MHS95d/flir-black-hornet-1200.jpg The U.S. Army just awarded FLIR Systems Inc. a $39.6 million contract for its Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS) to support the service’s Soldier Borne Sensor effort. Flir Systems Inc. photo The U.S. Army will soon field more pocket-sized drones to its squads and platoons under a recent $39.6 million contract award to FLIR Systems Inc. to support small-unit reconnaissance efforts. The FLIR Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System, or PRS, resembles a tiny helicopter and flies almost silently. Soldiers can use the onboard camera to look around corners in urban areas or recon unfamiliar terrain. "The highly capable nano-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems delivered under this contract will support platoon and small-unit level surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities as part of the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) Program," according to a recent FLIR press release. The Army awarded the first SBS phase contract to FLIR for an initial batch of Black Hornets in June, the release states. This latest contract will expand the use of FLIR's Black Hornet for the SBS effort. "We are proud to be selected by the U.S. Army for the SBS Program of Record; this contract represents a significant milestone with the operational large-scale deployment of nano-UAVs into the world's most powerful Army," said Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems. "This contract is a major win for the newly established Unmanned Systems & Integrated Solutions business division at FLIR and demonstrates the strong and urgent demand for nano-UAV technology offered by FLIR. Protecting U.S. warfighters with our unmanned solutions is a key objective for FLIR." The Army has been working on the SBS program for some time. Soldiers evaluated early versions of the Black Hornet in March 2015 during the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. The latest version of the Black Hornet can fly for up to 25 minutes and transmit live video and still images from up to two kilometers away, according to FLIR's website. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm_xMuo2Ong
  7. A 132-foot-long self-driving ship made history by traveling from San Diego to Hawaii's Pearl Harbor and back again without sailors aboard to guide its way. The Sea Hunter, an autonomous trimaran developed for submarine hunting and counter-mine missions, traveled thousands of miles between San Diego and Pearl Harbor last month. Naval News was first to report on the ship's breakthrough voyage. Crew members from an escort vessel boarded the Sea Hunter for short durations to check electrical and propulsion systems, according to a press release from Leidos, a science and technology company that designed and built the Sea Hunter. For most of the voyage, though, the ship was unmanned. "The recent long-range mission is the first of its kind and demonstrates to the U.S. Navy that autonomy technology is ready to move from the developmental and experimental stages to advanced mission testing," Gerry Fasano, the defense group president at Leidos, said in the release. The Office of Naval Research (ONR), which led the test transit to and from Hawaii, declined a request for an interview, citing operational security concerns. Dan Brintzinghoffer, with Leidos' maritime systems division, said the idea isn't to replace ships with vehicles like Sea Hunter, but to free up personnel aboard bigger vessels to take on more complex tasks. "Autonomous vehicles will likely focus on the 'dull, dirty or dangerous' missions sets and could operate around the world's oceans," Brintzinghoffer said. "For example, an autonomous vessel can conduct hydrographic survey missions, freeing manned ships to accomplish other missions." When the Navy christened the Sea Hunter in 2016, officials said it could change the nature of U.S. maritime operations. It uses a suite of navigation tools and automated lookouts that allow it to safely sail near other vessels in any weather or traffic conditions during the day or night. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency led the design and construction of the vessel and then teamed with ONR for open-water testing. The project was fully transferred to ONR in early 2018, said Bob Freeman, an agency spokesman, when it moved into a "much more security-sensitive area of research." Leidos is currently building a second Sea Hunter hull, Brintzinghoffer said. The company was awarded a $43 million contract to start construction on the ship that will build on some of the first Sea Hunter's capabilities, Leidos announced last month.
  8. The German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG is taking this idea seriously, developing airbags that would inflate on a vehicle's exterior to make it even safer. Over the past three decades, we've gotten used to things blowing up in our faces. The advent of airbags has done wonders to protect cars' fragile flesh-and-blood cargo when vehicles go smash. Lots of people—especially those who've been protected from injury or death by an airbag deployment—must have wondered: What if we put the same technology on the outside of the car? Some of those people must work for German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen AG, which has spent 10 years working on the external airbag. The tech is finally ready for carmakers—that is, if ZF can convince them to buy it. When the Worst Is Unavoidable External airbags work just like you'd expect. They are bigger, exterior versions of the airbags that pop out of surprising places in your car's interior—those ugly balloons that fill with weird gases to cushion the human body. With ZF's system, each side sill (the outside bodywork underneath the car doors) packs one airbag that runs the full length of the doors. Sensors on the car will watch out for any objects that look likely to slam into the side of the car. When the computers decide a crash is imminent and unavoidable, they deploy from the side sill, revealing the airbag. In no more than 100 milliseconds, inflators pump up the airbag to the height of a typical front bumper. What if we put the same technology on the outside of the car? One advantage of outside airbags is that they disperse the forces of impact. An oncoming car about the slam into the side of your vehicle would strike with the relatively small surface area of its front bumper—and an even smaller surface if it strikes at an angle. But when a car hits an inflated airbag, the impact force is spread through the airbag and along the length of the vehicle's side structure, which reduces energy loads. ZF says its tech reduces intrusions into the passenger cabin by 30 up to percent, and reduces injury levels by 20 to 30 percent. ZF would outfit vehicles with a number of kinds of sensors to identify whether and when to fill the airbags, because each type has its own specialty. Radar sensors are excellent for measuring distance and are virtually immune to being tricked by funny lighting or weather conditions, says Uwe Class, director of safe mobility systems at ZF. Cameras, meanwhile, are best at recognizing objects by differentiating between, say, a heavy motorcycle and a lightweight bicycle. They also typically have a wider field of view than the radar sensors, so they may see an incoming car sooner. Lidar sensors are the final piece of the puzzle. They pulse light waves toward incoming objects and measure how the waves are reflected back. In this way, they create detailed three-dimensional images of everything they see. At the point where a crash becomes unavoidable, the lidar sensors' short response latencies and fast refresh rates allow the system to quickly detect and track whatever fast-moving object is about to hit the car. Even tiny changes in an incoming object's direction during these final milliseconds could drastically change how the airbags should engage, so lidar must be fast and accurate. Engineered From the Ground Up If you think this system sounds like a hard thing to jam into a vehicle, you're right. Because the ZF tech integrates into the vehicle's on-board sensor suite and requires space in key structural areas, it can't be retrofitted onto a car that wasn't designed with the external airbags in mind. The vehicle needs to be engineered from the beginning to make room for the airbag module, inflators, sensors, and side sill designs. That's a big ask. So rather than convince car companies to add yet another suite of sensors to their vehicles, ZF designed its sensor suite to pull double- or triple-duty. It makes sense; the industry already uses a plethora of cameras and radar sensors in computerized safety subsystems. For example, ZF's external airbag setup could use the same sensors employed in the lane departure warning or active lane correction systems found in new cars. External airbags could also work in tandem with forward-looking systems, such as collision warning systems that alert the driver when the car is about to hit something, and automatic emergency braking systems, which automatically brake the car if the driver doesn't brake or take evasive action. Adaptive cruise control, which lets the car keep pace automatically with the car in front of it on highways, is another system that uses these types of sensors. The first ZF external airbags could be on production cars within two years, Class says, though the company must navigate a number of unknowns. Asked about regulatory issues, the company told PM: "ZF is in the early stages of the process to clarify potential hurdles and clear the path for market introduction of this technology." And while several automakers have shown interest, none have placed contracts yet. Having to engineer a new car around the system is an obstacle in an era where cars typically go seven to ten years between expensive redesigns, and the industry is still feeling out the recent explosion of complex safety systems and sensor suites. But safety sells these days. If enough automakers decide to design new cars around the external airbag, we could end up finding it quaint that we once ever thought airbags only belonged inside cars.
  9. Did you notice that Samsung hasn't made a peep about Blu-ray players at CES or other recent trade shows? There's a good reason for it: the company is exiting the category in the US. Samsung told Forbes and CNET that it's no longer introducing Blu-ray players for the country. It didn't provide reasoning for the move, but Forbes sources reportedly said that Samsung had scrapped a high-end model that was supposed to arrive later in 2019. As it stands, there are a number of likely factors behind the decision. To begin with, Samsung would be competing for a narrow slice of a small market. While 4K Blu-ray disc sales have been growing rapidly, they're part of a declining industry. Overall disc sales fell 11.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018. It's a tough space to be in, and even brands like Oppo Digital have backed out. It didn't help that Samsung's players didn't support Dolby Vision (just HDR10 and HDR10+), ruling them out for home theater enthusiasts who either don't have HDR10 TVs or simply prefer Dolby's approach to HDR video. There's also an elephant in the room: streaming. While many will tout Blu-ray's higher quality compared to streaming services, there's no doubt that there's a larger audience of people who would rather subscribe to Netflix or Amazon than buy physical movies. The Digital Entertainment Group noted that 2.3 million 4K Blu-ray devices sold in US during the first nine months of 2018, but those included game consoles that might never play a disc-based movie. Netflix, meanwhile, had over 148 million global subscribers by the end of 2018. Samsung might not want to pour money into disc players when they have an uncertain future, especially not when its TVs now have access to movie purchase and rental services like iTunes.
  10. It's not a novel idea to make criminals wear GPS bracelets, but they could soon be relatively commonplace in the UK. The country's government plans to use them for around-the-clock monitoring of criminals across England and Wales by the summer, with a handful of regions already putting them to use. They'll be used to both track behavior when out of prison (say, to ensure offenders attend rehab) and enforce geographic limits like restraining orders. The government estimated that roughly 4,000 people will receive GPS tags each year, but no more than 1,000 people will wear tags at any given time. As with earlier uses, there are ethical advantages and drawbacks. This could avoid or reduce prison sentences for minor offenses, and more effectively monitor serious criminals when allowed to reenter society. The current electronic tags can indicate if a wearer is present at a given building, but it's not much use outside of those narrow conditions. However, it still amounts to 24/7 location tracking for people who, in some cases, committed only non-violent crimes. While convicts aren't about to earn much sympathy, there's little doubt that they're losing a lot of privacy.
  11. [ The RemoveDEBRIS is proving to be a viable option for space debris. Space junk is a growing problem—the European Space Agency estimates that there are over 750,000 pieces of debris in space over one centimeter big. Considering how commercial projects like SpaceX want to increase travel beyond the planet, there's the chance that it could metastasize over the next several years. The RemoveDEBRIS system, based out of the University of Surrey in England, has been testing a harpoon-based system of removal of since last year. RemoveDEBRIS just finished its third successful test in space. Shot off at 20 meters per sec (approximately 44 miles per hour), the harpoon was able to successfully spear a five-meter (approximately 16-foot) wide metal plate, formerly a satellite panel, released from a main spacecraft. The harpoon was able to puncture the plate, proving the test successful. “This is RemoveDEBRIS’ most demanding experiment and the fact that it was a success is testament to all involved. The RemoveDEBRIS project provides strong evidence of what can be achieved with the power of collaboration – pooling together the experience across industry and the research field to achieve something truly remarkable,” says Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Center at the University of Surrey, in a press statement. Previously, testing the RemoveDEBRIS system has meant checking out its fundamentals—using a net to simulate a capture, using onboard LIDAR and optical camera systems to identify space junk. This spearing represents the strongest case yet that RemoveDEBRIS can reduce space junk. “Space debris can have serious consequences for our communications systems if it smashes into satellites," says Chris Skidmore, a British MP and and current Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. "This inspiring project shows that UK experts are coming up with answers for this potential problem using a harpoon, a tool people have used throughout history." The RemoveDEBRIS system will undergo one more test after this, placing itself on the sacrificial altar of science. In March, the system will inflate a sail that will take the entire satellite into Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up and disintegrate. There are several ideas on how to eliminate space junk. Another concept is an ion beam shepherd (IBS), which would never have physical contact with the debris but would use a plasma beam to push objects toward desired locations, like a planet's atmosphere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oryJMdonUA Source: MIT Technology Review
  12. Some apps may track your activity over time, even when you tell them to forget the past. And there's nothing you can do about it. Roughly 17,000 Android apps collect identifying information that creates a permanent record of the activity on your device, according to research from the International Computer Science Institute that was shared with CNET. The data collection appears to violate the search giant's policy on collecting data that can be used to target users for advertising in most cases, the researchers said. The apps can track you by linking your Advertising ID -- a unique but resettable number used to tailor advertising -- with other identifiers on your phone that are difficult or impossible to change. Those IDs are the device's unique signatures: the MAC address, IMEI and Android ID. Less than a third of the apps that collect identifiers take only the Advertising ID, as recommended by Google's best practices for developers. "Privacy disappears" when apps collect those persistent identifiers, said Serge Egelman, who led the research. He said his team, which reported the findings to Google in September, observed most of the apps sending identifying information to advertising services, an apparent violation of Google's policies. The company's policies allow developers to collect the identifiers but forbid them from combining the Advertising ID with hardware IDs without explicit consent of the user, or from using the identifiers that can't be reset, to target ads. What's more, Google's best practices for developers recommend collecting only the Advertising ID. The behavior fits into the tech industry's long history of creating privacy measures that websites and app developers quickly learn to bypass. Adobe, for instance, was forced to address Flash cookies in 2011 after complaints that the snippets of software could survive in your web browser even after you cleared all your cookies. Similar complaints arose in 2014 over Verizon's and AT&T's use of so-called "supercookies," which tracked users across multiple devices and couldn't be cleared. In 2012, Microsoft accused Google of circumventing its P3P web privacy standard, which let users of the Internet Explorer browser set their preferences for cookies. (Google countered that the standard wasn't useful anymore). Data collected by mobile apps has provoked even broader scrutiny because of the explosion of smartphones and tablets. In January, Facebook and Google were both found to have used a developer tool to circumvent Apple's privacy rules and build iOS apps that collect user information. Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018 and other privacy controversies have sparked greater scrutiny over how data is being collected and used. (For tips on how to prevent apps from taking your data, please see this story.) Egelman's team, which previously found around 6,000 children's apps improperly collecting data, said Thursday that big-name apps for adults are sending permanent identifiers to advertising services. The apps included included Angry Birds Classic, the popular smartphone game, as well as Audiobooks by Audible and Flipboard. Clean Master, Battery Doctor and Cheetah Keyboard, all utilities developed by Cheetah Mobile, were also found to send permanent info to advertising networks. All of these apps have been installed on at least 100 million devices. Clean Master, a phone utility that includes antivirus and phone optimization services, has been installed on 1 billion devices. What Google's doing about it Google said it had investigated Egelman's report and taken action on some apps. It declined to say how many apps it acted on or what action was taken, or to identify which of its policies the apps had violated. The company said its policies allow for the collection of hardware identifiers and the Android ID for some purposes, like fraud detection, but not for the targeting of ads. Google also said it can enforce its policies only when Android apps send the identifiers to Google's own ad networks, such as AdMob. If the apps send the data to outside networks, Google says it can't monitor them for violations. "We take these issues very seriously," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "Combining Ad ID with device identifiers for the purpose of ads personalization is strictly forbidden. We're constantly reviewing apps -- including those listed in the researcher's report -- and will take action when they do not comply with our policies." Google has a number of initiatives that aim to protect user privacy and security. In a blog post Wednesday, the company said it increased the number of abusive apps it blocked from the Google Play store by 55 percent in 2018. Representatives of Rovio, which develops the Angry Birds series, and of Audible, didn't respond to requests for comment. A Cheetah Mobile spokesman said in an email that its apps send a device's Android ID to a company that helps it track installations of its products. The information isn't used for targeted ads, and the company complies with all relevant Google policies and laws, the spokesman said. He added that the version of Battery Doctor tested by the researchers was out of date; Cheetah Mobile updated the app in 2018 to no longer collect the IMEI. Flipboard said it doesn't use the Android ID for ad targeting. The data collection identified by Egelman and his team is similar to an issue that got Uber in trouble with Apple in 2015. According to The New York Times, Apple CEO Tim Cook was furious to learn that Uber was collecting iOS users' hardware identifiers against Apple's policies and threatened to remove the Uber app from the App Store. Egelman's team tested the apps as they ran on Android 6, also known as Marshmallow. Just over half of all Android devices run Android 6 or an earlier version of the system, according to a Google analysis from October. The researchers configured a version of Android that let them track which identifiers an app collected and then ran thousands of apps on the modified software. Egelman said that changing your Advertising ID should serve the same function as clearing out your web browsing data. When you clear cookies, websites you visited in the past won't recognize you. That stops them from building up data about you over time. But you can't reset other identifiers, like the MAC address and IMEI. The MAC address is a unique identifier that your device broadcasts to internet connections like Wi-Fi routers. The IMEI is an identifier for your specific device. Both identifiers can sometimes be used to prevent stolen phones from accessing a cellular network. The Android ID is another identifier that's unique to each device. It can be reset, but only if you run a factory reset of your device. If apps send ad networks any of those identifiers, it won't matter how many times you reset your advertising ID. They can still tell it's you. Sandy Bilus, a privacy and cybersecurity lawyer at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, said the apps might be in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation, a European Union law that requires organizations to tell users what data they collect on them, if they haven't spelled out what they're collecting to EU users. "It certainly could raise GDPR issues," Bilus said. "The app developers who are collecting and using this data should be careful about that." Lorrie Faith Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, said that Google is in the best position to crack down on apps that use hardware identifiers and the Android ID in ways that violate its own policies. The fact that developers are creating workarounds to the Advertising ID suggests that many people are resetting the identifier, Cranor said, even if most users are unaware of the privacy feature. "Otherwise," she said, "why would they bother?"
  13. Several major Hollywood studios, Amazon, and Netflix have filed a lawsuit against Omniverse, which offers live streaming TV packages to several IPTV providers. The companies accuse the service and its operator of facilitating copyright infringement. With the lawsuit, they hope to stop the infringing activity and recoup damages for the harm that was done. Streaming set-top boxes and IPTV services have been selling like hot cakes over the past several years. While some of these offer access legally, that’s certainly not always the case. The unauthorized services are a thorn in the side of mainstream entertainment industry companies, which are trying hard to address the problem. The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) has been particularly active on this front. The anti-piracy partnership between Hollywood studios, Netflix, Amazon, and more than two dozen other companies, has filed lawsuits against several services already, and this week they add a big one to the list. In a complaint filed at a Federal Court in California, ACE accuses the US-based company ‘Omniverse One World Television’ and its owner Jason DeMeo of copyright infringement. Omniverse doesn’t offer any streaming boxes but sells live-streaming services to third-party distributors, such as Dragon Box, HDHomerun, Flixon TV, and SkyStream TV, which in turn offer live TV streaming packages to customers. “Defendants operate at a higher level in the supply chain of infringing content—recruiting numerous downstream services like Dragon Box into the illicit market and providing them with access to unauthorized streams of copyrighted content. “Defendants function as a ‘hub’ of sorts, with the enlisted downstream services as the ‘spokes.’ Omniverse’s offering is illegal, it is growing, and it undermines the legitimate market for licensed services,” the complaint adds. According to the official website, Omniverse includes more than 70 top US TV channels and 8 premium channels. However, ACE and its members allege that some of the channels are offered without proper licenses. As such, they are illegal. “Omniverse’s illegal services, and the downstream ‘Powered by Omniverse’ entities, undermine the legitimate market for legal and licensed services, a harm that has grown as Omniverse has expanded,” ACE spokesperson Richard VanOrnum says. Omniverse Omniverse’s owner Jason DeMeo previously insisted that his company had acquired the rights to stream some channels in the US. However, in an interview with Cord Cutters News, he was not willing to share any details on the underlying contract. The complaint clearly disputes this, stressing that Omniverse and all “Powered by Omniverse” services are operating illegally. “Plaintiffs have not granted licenses that permit Defendant DeMeo or Omniverse to stream the Copyrighted Works or sublicense streams to whatever counterparty they wish,” ACE writes. According to ACE, the public has plenty of options to watch movies and TV-shows through official channels, with 140 legal online services for film and TV content is the US alone. The movie, TV show, and distribution alliance is now asking the California court for an injunction to shut down the infringing service and impound all hardware. In addition, they’re requesting statutory damages which can go up to several million dollars. MPAA CEO Charles Rivkin comments that lawsuits like this one are needed to protect the livelihoods of millions of people who depend upon a healthy film and television industry. “I’ve seen firsthand how creators are economically harmed by piracy enterprises, which is why today’s ACE litigation – and the MPAA’s work helping make it happen – is another strong step forward protecting the rights of artists,” Rivkin says.
  14. This is not about terminator robots but "conventional weapons systems with autonomy" A group of scientists has called for a ban on the development of weapons controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). It says that autonomous weapons may malfunction in unpredictable ways and kill innocent people. Ethics experts also argue that it is a moral step too far for AI systems to kill without any human intervention. The comments were made at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington DC. Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the 89 non-governmental organisations from 50 countries that have formed the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, to press for an international treaty. Among those leading efforts for the worldwide ban is HRW's Mary Wareham. "We are not talking about walking, talking terminator robots that are about to take over the world; what we are concerned about is much more imminent: conventional weapons systems with autonomy," she says. "They are beginning to creep in. Drones are the obvious example, but there are also military aircraft that take off, fly and land on their own; robotic sentries that can identify movement. These are precursors to autonomous weapons." Ryan Gariepy, chief technological officer at Clearpath Robotics, backs the ban proposal. His company takes military contracts, but it has denounced AI systems for warfare and stated that it would not develop them. "When they fail, they fail in unpredictable ways," he told BBC News. "As advanced as we are, the state of AI is really limited by image recognition. It is good but does not have the detail or context to be judge, jury and executioner on a battlefield. "An autonomous system cannot make a decision to kill or not to kill in a vacuum. The de-facto decision has been made thousands of miles away by developers, programmers and scientists who have no conception of the situation the weapon is deployed in." According to Peter Asaro, of the New School in New York, such a scenario raises issues of legal liability if the system makes an unlawful killing. "The delegation of authority to kill to a machine is not justified and a violation of human rights because machines are not moral agents and so cannot be responsible for making decisions of life and death. "So it may well be that the people who made the autonomous weapon are responsible."
  15. Earlier
  16. WASHINGTON — In August 2014, well-directed artillery fire was used to devastating effect in Ukraine, leaving three mechanized battalions a smoking ruin. Because the units and their positions were identified by a mini-drone, the Ukrainian government lost 200 vehicles, and very-short-range air defenses weren’t even able to locate it. Today, UAVs have grown from a niche intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to “a favored tool of the non-state actor, initially for ISR, but increasingly for weapons delivery,” according to a newly released assessment of military capabilities and defense economics by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. While much has been made of emerging hypersonic weapons, “uninhabited aerial vehicles” of all classes are another key modern air-defense challenge, according to IISS, alongside other traditional targets and “novel threats,” like combat aircraft with a reduced radar-signature, precision-guided munitions and land-attack cruise missiles. “The U.S. military and any military has to prepare for an operating environment in which enemy drones are not just occasional, but omnipresent,” said Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. “Whether it’s a small, tactical UAS, midsize or strategic, drones of any size will be commonplace on the battlefield of the future.” Army budget documents indicate the service will spend $188 million in the next year for counter-drone solutions in the Middle East. The militant group Hezbollah began to use ISR drones in 2004 and “adapted commercially available hobbyist systems for combat roles,” including the Chinese-made Skywalker, the Talon and the Phantom quadcopter, IISS noted. The three systems are available for purchase on the internet and range in price from $200 to $700. “The cameras available on these types of UAVs have a clear ISR utility,” IISS wrote. “They have been used for purposes including to correct indirect-fire attacks and to support the guidance of vehicle-mounted improvised explosive devices to their intended targets, as well as in direct offensive operations such as the alleged assassination plot on Venezuelan President Nicolàs Maduro in August 2018." While it’s unclear exactly what happened in Venezuela on Aug. 4, 2018, the government claimed an attempt had been made to assassinate Maduro during a speech using two small drones laden with C4 plastic explosive. Open-source investigators at Bellingcat identified the platform as the DJI Matrice 600, a hexcopter available on Amazon for $5,000. Beyond a one-off assassination attempt, the Islamic State group was first reported using small UAVs in 2014, and then in scattered reports afterward. In October 2016, an ISIS drone — a Chinese-made Skywalker X8 — landed near a peshmerga post in the Mosul Dam area in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, and later exploded, killing two peshmerga troops and wounding two French paratroopers. The fixed delta-wing Skywalker X8 weighed 2.2 kilograms, had a payload capacity of 2.3 kilograms and would have cost $1,500 if outfitted with flying and camera equipment. In other words, the cost is low. But then again, so is the payload. “This limited payload-capacity — together with challenges in accurately directing such systems onto their target — restricts their effectiveness, although for the non-state actor the propaganda value of an attack may be considerably greater than any physical damage or casualties,” IISS noted. Russian drone operators in eastern Ukraine, on the other hand, gained experience on platforms later seen in Syria, according to the think tank. Those include the Orlan-10, Takhion and Eleron-3 small UAVs as well as the larger Forpost (that’s Russia name for the Israeli Searcher II). On the flip side, Russia says its air defense assets in Syria have downed 45 drones targeting its main base in the country, according to the IISS report. “The Russians have really learned their lessons from the attacks in Syria,” Gettinger said. “They’re engaging in exercises aimed at counter-UAS, which shows they’re taking the threat seriously. ... It was a real wake-up call to them that they were vulnerable to seemingly homemade drones." How to defeat them? One novel, low-tech approach comes from the Dutch national police, who were experimenting a few years ago with using raptor eagles to target undesirable drones. The U.S. Army has experimented with nets packed into shotgun shells that can fell a flying drone. But, Gettinger noted, that’s a solution for small units and doesn’t provide protection for entire installations. Another challenge for troops is telling apart friendly drones from unfriendly ones on a congested battlefield.“Recognizing the threat is half the battle,” Gettinger said. Beyond low-tech solutions, there is a booming, high-tech market to counter small, ever-cheaper commercial drones. Indeed, Forbes speculated recently: “If 2018 was the year of the drone, 2019 could be the year of the anti-drone.” A survey by the Center for the Study of the Drone published in April found 235 products were sold to detect, mitigate, track and stop drones. These technologies range from audio and visual sensors that can scan the sky for drones, to interdiction machines, net guns, lasers and electronic warfare jamming capabilities. Players in this field include the companies Dedrone, DJI, DroneShield, Rafael, Leonardo and Fortem. Driven by a global increase in the use of mini-drones by terrorists and criminals, the anti-drone market is expected to grow to $1.85 billion by 2024, according to the San Francisco-based market research firm Grand View Research. “As drones become deadlier, stealthier, faster, agile, smaller, sleeker, and cheaper, the nuisance and threat posed by them is expected to go up manifold at various levels, ranging from national security to individual privacy,” Grand View said. “Keeping the above-mentioned threat in mind, there are significant effort, both in terms of money and time, being invested in the development and manufacturing of anti-drone technologies. “Thus, it is just a matter of time before redundant and reliable methods of detecting and disrupting drones become widely available and mainstream.”
  17. The United States Department of Justice has announced espionage charges against a former US Air Force intelligence officer with the highest level of top-secret clearance for providing the Iranian government classified defense information after she defected to Iran in 2013. Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, was a former U.S. Air Force Intelligence Specialist and Special Agent of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, who served the Air Force between 1997 and 2008 and Department of Defense (DOD) as a contractor until 2010. The indictment states that Witt once held the highest level of Top Secret security clearance and had access to details of highly classified counterintelligence operations, real names of sources, and the identities of U.S. intelligence officers. In February 2012, Witt allegedly traveled to Iran to attend an all-expenses-paid "Hollywoodism" conference held by the Iranian New Horizon Organization, which DoJ describes as focused on promoting anti-U.S. propaganda, and then in 2013, she finally defected to Iran. She Leaked Classified Information to Iran Once settled in Iran, Witt worked actively for the Iranian government, who provided her with a housing and computer equipment, and disclosed the code name and classified mission of a U.S. "Special Access Program" and its specific target. As part of her work, Witt conducted research about the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) agents she had known and previously worked with and drafted "target packages" that provided agents profiles for four Iranian hackers, who were also charged by the DoJ. Witt even shared the name of her former fellow U.S. agent, who is still one active, endangering the agent's life. The Iranian hackers then allegedly used that profile information to send phishing emails and social media messages to Witt's former colleagues with malicious links in an attempt to trick US agents into installing malware, which allowed the hackers to spy on their computer activities, webcam, and keystrokes. "In one such instance, the Cyber Conspirators created a Facebook account that purported to belong to a USIC employee and former colleague of Witt, and which utilized legitimate information and photos from the USIC employee's actual Facebook account," the indictment states. "This particular fake account caused several of Witt's former colleagues to accept 'friend' requests." Witt faces one count of conspiracy and two counts of delivering national defense information to a foreign government. The FBI has issued an arrest warrant for Witt, who is still believed to be in Iran. She Teamed Up With "Game of Thrones" Iranian Hackers Besides her, the DOJ also charged four Iranian nationals—Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar, and Mohamad Paryar—with conspiracy, attempts to commit computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft for their role in assisting Witt in targeting her former colleagues. Mesri is the same Iranian hacker who was charged by the DoJ last year in connection with cyber attacks against HBO and with leaking "Game of Thrones" episodes in 2017. The authorities said Mesri compromised multiple user accounts belonging to HBO to "repeatedly gain unauthorized access to the company's computer servers and steal valuable stolen data including confidential and proprietary information, financial documents, and employee contact information." Mesri then even attempted to extort HBO for $6 million to delete the stolen data. Mesri, Masampour, and Parvar are also facing sanctions for their involvement with Net Peygard, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. "This case underscores the dangers to our intelligence professionals and the lengths our adversaries will go to identify them, expose them, target them, and, in a few rare cases, ultimately turn them against the nation they swore to protect," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement. "When our intelligence professionals are targeted or betrayed, the National Security Division will relentlessly pursue justice against the wrong-doers."
  18. The Orca unmanned autonomous submersible will be capable of crossing entire oceans and fulfilling a variety of missions, from hunting mines to sinking submarines. The U.S. Navy has awarded a contract to Boeing for four Extra-Large Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (XLUUVs). In other words: giant drone subs. The unmanned submarines, called Orcas, will be able to undertake missions from scouting to sinking ships at very long ranges. Drone ships like the Orca will revolutionize war at sea, providing inexpensive, semi-disposable weapon systems that can fill the gaps in the front line—or simply go where it’s too dangerous for manned ships to go. The contract, announced today, stipulates Boeing will get $43 million for “fabrication, test, and delivery of four Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs) and associated support elements.” That’s just over ten million bucks per boat. How much Orca will improve upon the tech already inside Echo Voyager is unknown. U.S. Naval Institute News says the Orca will be capable of, “mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, electronic warfare and strike missions.” Orca could carry sonar payloads, sniffing out enemy submarines and then sending location data to friendly helicopters and surface ships. Orca could even pack a Mk. 46 lightweight torpedo to take a shot at an enemy sub itself. It could also carry heavier Mk. 48 heavyweight torpedoes to attack surface ships, or even conceivably anti-ship missiles. Orca could drop off cargos on the seabed, detect, or even lay mines. The modular hardware payload system and open architecture software ensures Orca could be rapidly configured based on need. This sort of versatility in a single, low-cost package is fairly unheard of in military spending. The nearest rough equivalent is the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, which costs $584 million each and has a crew of 40. While LCS is faster, has the benefit of an onboard crew, and carries a larger payload, Orca is autonomous—and cheaper by orders of magnitude. For missions such as anti-submarine warfare, dozens of cheaper Orcas could saturate an area better than a single surface ship or perhaps even a manned submarine. A single shore-based crew could control several Orcas, allowing the autonomous subs to operate independently for days or even weeks at a time before issuing fresh orders. Another benefit of unmanned submersibles: They're more or less disposable and can operate in dangerous waters without risking human lives. Orca could pretend to be a full-size submarine, waiting for enemy submarines to take a shot while a real Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine sits back, waiting to ambush. Orca could take on dangerous missions such as laying mines in heavy defended waters, leaving behind a deadly surprise for enemies that think minelaying in their waters is simply too dangerous for a manned submarine. Orca may or may not be a system that becomes a full-fledged member of the fleet, although the Navy’s purchase of four of the drones indicates it does plan on using them for real-world missions. The Navy is probably purchasing enough to continue testing while having a few on hand for actual use. Inexpensive systems like Orca could go a long way towards one of the most understated promises of unmanned air, land, and sea drones: reversing the out of control costs of today’s weapon systems. While the cost of manned ships may not be coming down any time soon, inexpensive unmanned ships could bring overall costs down while adding capability to the fleet. If you want to watch the future of naval warfare unfold, keep an eye on the Orca. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9vPxC-qucw
  19. Wristband trackers, video monitoring and drug-detecting robots are being used. Prisons in Hong Kong are testing a variety of high-tech services that will allow correctional facilities to better track inmates. The city's Commissioner of Correctional Services, Danny Woo Ying-min, claimed the new services will be used to monitor for abnormal behavior among the incarcerated, prevent self-harm, and operate the prisons more efficiently. The "smart prison" initiative includes strapping inmates with fitness tracker-style wristbands that monitor location and activity, including heart rate. Some facilities will also start to use video surveillance systems that can identify any unusual behavior, fights and attempts to inflict harm on one's self. Correctional Services is also testing robots that will be used to search for drugs in feces from inmates. The robots, which reportedly cost about $125,000, seem to have less to do with supposed inmate safety methods and increased efficiency and more to do with guards not wanting to deal with poop. While the programs are being positioned as an attempt to keep inmates safe, the new smart programs likely feel invasive for the incarcerated who are being subject to them. The video surveillance system includes placing cameras in bathrooms, and the tracking wristbands place inmates under permanent watch of guards even when they aren't in front of a camera. Evolving technology has opened up new ways to track incarcerated people with little consideration given to their rights. Recently, it was revealed that prisons in the US were creating audio prints of prisoners and people they spoke to on the phone, often without permission, while UK jails once considered RFID implants for people behind bars. Source: South China Morning Post
  20. How do you check if a website asking for your credentials is fake or legit to log in? By checking if the URL is correct? By checking if the website address is not a homograph? By checking if the site is using HTTPS? Or using software or browser extensions that detect phishing domains? Well, if you, like most Internet users, are also relying on above basic security practices to spot if that "Facebook,com" or "Google,com" you have been served with is fake or not, you may still fall victim to a newly discovered creative phishing attack and end up in giving away your passwords to hackers. Antoine Vincent Jebara, co-founder and CEO of password managing software Myki, told The Hacker News that his team recently spotted a new phishing attack campaign "that even the most vigilant users could fall for." Vincent found that cybercriminals are distributing links to blogs and services that prompt visitors to first "login using Facebook account" to read an exclusive article or purchase a discounted product. That’s fine. Login with Facebook or any other social media service is a safe method and is being used by a large number of websites to make it easier for visitors to sign up for a third-party service quickly. Generally, when you click "log in with Facebook" button available on any website, you either get redirected to facebook,com or are served with facebook,com in a new pop-up browser window, asking you to enter your Facebook credentials to authenticate using OAuth and permitting the service to access your profile’s necessary information. However, Vincent discovered that the malicious blogs and online services are serving users with a very realistic-looking fake Facebook login prompt after they click the login button which has been designed to capture users’ entered credentials, just like any phishing site. As shown in the video demonstration the fake pop-up login prompt, actually created with HTML and JavaScript, are perfectly reproduced to look and feel exactly like a legitimate browser window—a status bar, navigation bar, shadows and URL to the Facebook website with green lock pad indicating a valid HTTPS. Moreover, users can also interact with the fake browser window, drag it here-and-there or exit it in the same way any legitimate window acts. The only way to protect yourself from this type of phishing attack, according to Vincent, "is to actually try to drag the prompt away from the window it is currently displayed in. If dragging it out fails (part of the popup disappears beyond the edge of the window), it's a definite sign that the popup is fake." Besides this, it is always recommended to enable two-factor authentication with every possible service, preventing hackers from accessing your online accounts if they somehow manage to get your credentials. Phishing schemes are still one of the most severe threats to users as well as companies, and hackers continue to try new and creative ways to trick you into providing them with your sensitive and financial details that they could later use to steal your money or hack into your online accounts.
  21. As powerful as the human brain is, once it's damaged it can't really recover completely. Now researchers at Penn State may have found a way to boost the brain's regenerative abilities, using certain molecules to convert neighboring cells into new neurons. The technique could eventually lead to pills that treat brain injuries, stroke or Alzheimer's disease. Most cells in the body can patch up damage by dividing to create new versions of themselves. But neurons lack this ability, so once they're damaged through illness or injury, there's not much that can be done. Worse still, in an overzealous attempt to protect the injured site, glial cells form scar tissue around damaged brain regions, which can reduce what little neuron growth there might be and prevent neurons from effectively communicating with each other. With the new work, the Penn State team found that these glial cells could be put to work rebuilding the damage, rather than just getting in the way. "The biggest problem for brain repair is that neurons don't regenerate after brain damage, because they don't divide," says Gong Chen, lead researcher on the study. "In contrast, glial cells, which gather around damaged brain tissue, can proliferate after brain injury. I believe turning glial cells that are the neighbors of dead neurons into new neurons is the best way to restore lost neuronal functions." In past work, the researchers had found that a cocktail of nine molecules could convert glial cells into new neurons. Although it was promising, the treatment was too complicated to be very practical. So the team set out to trim the number of molecules down to a more manageable amount. In the new work, they got it down to just four. "We identified the most efficient chemical formula among the hundreds of drug combinations that we tested," says Jiu-Chao Yin, co-first author of the study. "By using four molecules that modulate four critical signaling pathways in human astrocytes, we can efficiently turn human astrocytes (glial cells) – as many as 70 percent – into functional neurons." In their tests on human neurons grown in culture in the lab, the researchers found that the converted neurons functioned as normal neurons would in the brain, forming networks and communicating effectively with each other. They survived for over seven months. To see if the process could be simplified even further, the researchers also tried using just three molecules, and it also worked, albeit with a 20-percent drop in the conversion rate. Using just one molecule, however, wasn't enough to convert cells. According to the researchers, the beauty of this work is that the molecules could potentially be packaged into a pill. Of course, it's still very early days and there's plenty of work to do to make the treatment practical and safe, but the possibility of popping a pill to repair brain damage from Alzheimer's or strokes is an enticing future. The research was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports. Source: Pennsylvania State University
  22. You definitely don't want to be on the receiving end of a lightning strike, but in the right doses the stuff may have a healing effect. A new study from Tel Aviv University suggests that the electromagnetic fields given off by lightning activity around the world could protect living cells from certain kinds of damage, which may have had implications for the evolution of life on Earth. At any given time, there are some 2,000 thunderstorms raging somewhere on Earth. The energy from those constant lightning strikes resonate through a cavity between the Earth's surface and the ionosphere. These are known as Schumann Resonances, and they in turn produce extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields. For as long as life has existed on Earth, it's been bathed in these incredibly weak fields, but they were generally not thought to have any real impact. But in the new study, scientists at Tel Aviv University found that these fields could be exerting influence on life after all – thankfully though, it's a good thing. "We found that under controlled conditions, the Schumann Resonance fields certainly had an effect on living tissues," says Professor Colin Price, lead researcher on the study. "The most important effect was that the atmospheric ELF fields actually protected cells under stress conditions. In other words, when biological cells are under stress – due to lack of oxygen, for example – the atmospheric fields from lightning appear to protect them from damage. This may be related to the evolutionary role these fields have played on living organisms." In their experiments, the researchers recreated the kinds of magnetic fields produced by Schumann Resonances, and cultures of rat heart cells were exposed to them. Within 30 to 40 minutes of exposure to fields with frequencies between 7.6 and 8 Hz – levels often found in nature – the cells changed in several beneficial ways. There were reductions in spontaneous contractions, calcium transients and the release of Creatine Kinase (CK), all three of which are measures of damage to heart cells. When the fields were switched off, the cells were found to revert back to their original state. Of course, this study was only conducted on rat cells in culture, so the results may not apply to other organisms, or even living rats. But it's still an interesting bit of evidence linking the effects of global lightning strikes to the evolution of life on Earth. "It is the first study that demonstrates a link between global lighting activity and the Schumann Resonances and the activity of living cells," says Price. "It may explain why all living organisms have electrical activity in the same ELF spectral range, and it is the first time such a connection has been shown. This may have some therapeutic implications down the line, since these ELF fields appear to protect cells from damage, but this requires further research." The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports. Source: Tel Aviv University via AFTAU
  23. A major measles outbreak in Washington state is being blamed on low-vaccination rates. In response, Washington lawmakers are currently debating a measure seeking to remove a current exemption that allows parents to refuse vaccinating their child based on philosophical or personal beliefs. Over the last month a major outbreak of measles has been spreading across Clark County in Washington state. In mid-January the county declared a public health emergency as cases of the highly contagious disease continued to grow. The vast majority of verified cases so far have been in young, unvaccinated children (under the age of 10). Clark County has been referred to in the past as a "hot spot" for unvaccinated children. Recent data has revealed 7.9 percent of Clark County children commencing kindergarten in the 2017-18 school year were unvaccinated. The vast majority of those children utilized a personal or philosophical exemption to avoid vaccinations. In general, every state in the US mandates children must be appropriately vaccinated before entering public schooling. However, there are several exemptions that currently exist allowing children to go unvaccinated. Seventeen states in the country have broad vaccine exemptions allowing parents to leave their children unvaccinated due to personal or philosophical beliefs. Washington is one of those states There are only three states in the country that have entirely barred non-medical vaccine exemptions - California, Mississippi, and West Virginia. California most notably tightened its rules on vaccine exemptions after a massive outbreak in late 2014 totaled nearly 150 cases. The outbreak was suspected to have originated in Disneyland theme parks. In 2000, after several decades of widespread vaccinations, measles was officially declared to be eliminated in the United States. Since that low-infection point, cases of measles have been progressively rising. A striking 372 cases were reported in the United States last year. In the first month of 2019, there have already been 79 cases reported in the country. The World Health Organization recently delivered its annual report on European rates of measles transmission revealing a concerningly similar trend. 2018 presented a massive surge in measles cases across Europe, more than triple the amount seen in 2017, and a startling 15 times more than the record low seen in 2016. Looking at the data country to country in Europe reveals a direct correlation between local vaccination rates and measles outbreaks. Serbia, for example, reported the highest rates for measles infections over the past year and also generally recorded an average vaccination rate of around 86 percent. This is well below the 90 to 95 percent suggested as necessary for herd immunity. France, Italy and Greece have also reported some of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union, with France in particular hovering around 85 percent. Since the outbreak, demand for measles vaccinations in Clark County has soared 500 percent compared to the same time last year. Alan Melnick, the director of public health in Clark County suggests the upswing in vaccinations may be positive but notes, "I would rather it not take an outbreak for this to happen."
  24. For people with type 2 diabetes, regular insulin injections are a part of everyday life, but that's not the most comfortable routine. Plenty of work has gone into developing an insulin pill as a less invasive alternative, but that comes with its own challenges. Now, an MIT team has created a new design for a capsule that houses a microneedle made of insulin, which injects the hormone through the stomach lining. Delivering insulin orally might sound simple enough, given how common pills are for many medicines. But the stomach is a hostile environment, and the harsh acids there can neutralize many drug compounds before they can get to work. Unsurprisingly, much of the work in developing insulin pills has gone into protective coatings that help it survive the journey until it can deliver the insulin payload. But the MIT researchers have taken a different approach. A few years ago the team created a pill coated in tiny needles, which injected medicine into the intestinal lining as it passed through. Now the design has been refined so it only has one needle, which injects the drug into the wall of the stomach. The new capsule is roughly the size of a blueberry and is made of a biodegradable polymer. The mechanical components inside are quite complex: There's a microneedle made of freeze-dried insulin, and a stainless steel spring coiled up and held back by a disk made of sugar. When the sugar dissolves in the stomach acid, the spring flicks out and pushes the microneedle into the stomach lining. Once the tip of the needle is inserted, the insulin dissolves into the bloodstream at a consistent rate – in this test that took about an hour, but the rate can be tweaked by the researchers. After the payload has been delivered, the capsule then passes through the digestive system harmlessly. To make sure the needle comes in contact with the stomach wall and stays there, the capsule has a high, steep dome so it will always roll and come to rest on the flat side, where the needle pops out from. This design, the team says, was inspired by the leopard tortoise, which has a similar-shaped shell that lets it get back on its feet if it ever finds itself on its back. The team tested the capsule in pigs, and found that it was effective at delivering up to 5 milligrams of insulin into the animals' bloodstreams. This is on a level comparable to the amount in a regular insulin shot. The researchers say the tests show that the method could be an effective alternative to self-injections for insulin, as well as other treatments delivered the same way. "We are really hopeful that this new type of capsule could someday help diabetic patients and perhaps anyone who requires therapies that can now only be given by injection or infusion," says Robert Langer, senior author of the study. As promising as the capsule seems, it's far from the only method in development. Other oral insulin delivery systems are in the works, including a pill from Oramed that is currently in Phase 2b trials. If that works, its relative simplicity compared to the MIT capsule could see it being favored. Either way, it looks like the daily insulin injection is on its way out. The research was published in the journal Science, and the team describes the capsule in detail in the video below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7UTwEPYD4M Source: MIT
  25. Los Angeles residents got a surprise this week when helicopters, ostensibly filled with Special Forces operators, began flying around the Los Angeles and Long Beach skylines, disgorging their fully armed passengers into parking lots while simulated gunfire and explosions rang out. If you're surprised to hear that the military instituted martial law in Los Angeles last night, well, obviously, it was an exercise. As surprised residents began contacting journalists and taking to social media, the Army answered questions from journalists and told them that Los Angeles had been selected as a training location because its urban terrain is similar to that which soldiers might be deployed to in future conflicts. "The local terrain and training facilities in Los Angeles provide the Army with unique locations and simulates urban environments the service members may encounter when deployed overseas," the Army told CBS. "There is no replacement for realistic training. Each location selected enables special operations teams and flight crews to maintain maximum readiness and proficiency, validate equipment and exercise standard safety procedures." The Army said that it had alerted local residents to the training, but it's hard to get the word out to everyone in such a densely populated area. Apparently, some people missed the memo or were simply driving through the exercise area and didn't know about the drills until they saw what appeared to be a raid happening in front of their eyes. Some property owners had given permission for the military to use their land and buildings, so the operators had a lot of options in their work. The training is scheduled to go through Saturday, February 9. This isn't the first time that local residents have gotten surprised by military training. For instance, in 2015, Texas residents had gotten plenty of warning that Jade Helm 15, a massive exercise including vehicles, special operators, and aircraft, would be taking place. Texans protested the training and pressured the governor to assign member of the Texas State Guard, separate from the National Guard, to monitor the training and ensure the federal troops didn't take any illegal actions during the exercise. It grew into a massive conspiracy theory before the event took off, but the actual exercise took place with little drama. Update: An earlier version of this story said that Jade Helm included tanks, something that caused the author to slap himself in the face the next morning when he realized that he had said that. Jade Helm did not include tanks. It did include some vehicles, bust mostly just HMMWVs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgfzWZnk92A https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cISSyQkm1Ug
  26. In January 2017, the Navy tested remote-controlled micro-drones dropping out of fighter jets. The exercise, held at China Lake, California, used three F/A-18 multi-role fighters that launched 103 Perdix micro-drones from "specially designed canisters affixed under the aircraft's fuselages," The Washington Post reported at the time. The Air Force has simulated a similar drop. In 2014, Perdix drones were dropped from F-16 Fighting Falcons at Edwards Air Force Base, California, the Post said. Most recently, DARPA tested how drones could work together in a GPS-denied environment. In November, the research arm tested multiple drones at Arizona's Yuma Proving Ground. The test showed the drones "efficiently shared information, cooperatively planned and allocated mission objectives, made coordinated tactical decisions, and collaboratively reacted to a dynamic, high-threat environment with minimal communication," according to a news release. But should the Pentagon worry about making the drone swarms too smart? Roper said that while he believes that swarming technology will have a significant role in the future battlespace, the artificial intelligence must be designed carefully to be able to "contain the types of effects ... so that it doesn't do things that are unintended while still allowing it the freedom ... without having to micromanage it." That applies to A.I. that learns and improves after each military operation, he said. Brainstorming these ideas has forced officials to think beyond the traditional ways the Pentagon looks at potential programs, Roper said. For example, while testing Perdix in his previous post as head of the Defense Department's Strategic Capabilities Office, it "was tough to find a range" to define the boundaries for the smart technology, he said. "I went to [leadership] and said, 'Hey, I'd like to throw 100 micro-UAVs out of fighters.' And they said, 'OK, great, tell me the flight plan for each one.' Well, I don't have one," Roper said. He continued, "They're going to do their own thing. But I can draw a box and make sure they don't leave that box. And that's just an example of how we have to ... require different kinds of thinking." These types of technologies "are about infrastructure, data management, and it's something that is more of like a network that goes across systems than something you look at," he said.
  27. The Navy recently got a step closer to getting the first ship in its new class of aircraft carriers ready for combat missions with a live-fire test off the coast of California. A drone was taken out by Raytheon's latest integrated combat system that’s being developed for the supercarrier Gerald R. Ford, Raytheon. The event took place on a test vessel off the coast of California, said Ian Davis, a Raytheon spokesman. The system the Navy used to take down the drone is called the Ship Self-Defense System. It integrates a myriad of equipment that will be used aboard the Navy’s first Ford-class carrier, such as sensors, missiles and radars. Raytheon program manager Mike Fabel said in a release that the new system allowed for "seamless integration" when its sensors and missiles were put to the test. "This first-of-its-kind test [proves] the ability of the system to defend our sailors," Fabel said. "This integrated combat system success brings Ford [herself] one step closer to operational testing and deployment." At least five of the integrated-combat system's capabilities, which are also used on amphibious assault ships, were used during the live-fire event, according to the release detailing the test. That included a radar that searched for, tracked and illuminated the target; the Ship Self-Defense System, which processed the data and passed launch commands to the missile; and missiles that took out the targeted drone. The Ford, which is the first in its class of next-generation carriers, is expected to deploy in 2022. The first in the new generation of carriers, the flattop has faced a series of mechanical and technological setbacks. That has left lawmakers and the commander in chief pressing Navy officials to explain the issues, including those with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and advanced weapons elevators. The problems have even left some members of Congress reluctant to bless future multi-carrier purchases, a process that some say saves the service billions. Navy and Raytheon officials are planning to conduct more live-fire events this year as they continue putting the Ford's integrated combat system to the test.
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