Category : Science & Technology

(RNS) Likes and prayers: Facebook tests new ‘prayer post’ feature

When the unfamiliar pop-up touting a new feature appeared on Robert P. Jones’ Facebook, the CEO and founder the CEO and founder of PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) posted a screen grab to Twitter.

“Wondering what fb algorithm thinks it knows about me?” Jones mused.

The new Facebook feature? Prayer posts. The function will allow members of Facebook groups to ask for and respond to prayer requests.

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to Religion News Service that the social media platform is currently testing the prayer post feature.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Spirituality/Prayer

(VF) Ian Hutchinson–Can a scientist believe in the resurrection? Three hypotheses

I’m a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, and I believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. So do dozens of my colleagues. How can this be?….

Today’s widespread materialist view that events contrary to the laws of science just can’t happen is a metaphysical doctrine, not a scientific fact. What’s more, the doctrine that the laws of nature are “inviolable” is not necessary for science to function. Science offers natural explanations of natural events. It has no power or need to assert that only natural events happen.

So if science is not able to adjudicate whether Jesus’ resurrection happened or not, are we completely unable to assess the plausibility of the claim? No. Contrary to increasingly popular opinion, science is not our only means for accessing truth. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we must consider the historical evidence, and the historical evidence for the resurrection is as good as for almost any event of ancient history. The extraordinary character of the event, and its significance, provide a unique context, and ancient history is necessarily hard to establish. But a bare presumption that science has shown the resurrection to be impossible is an intellectual cop-out. Science shows no such thing.

Hypothesis 3: I was brainwashed as a child. If you’ve read this far and you are still wondering how an MIT professor could seriously believe in the resurrection, you might guess I was brainwashed to believe it as a child. But no, I did not grow up in a home where I was taught to believe in the resurrection. I came to faith in Jesus when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge University and was baptized in the chapel of Kings College on my 20th birthday. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are as compelling to me now as then.

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Posted in Apologetics, Easter, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(PD) Adam Seagrave–The 50/50 Problem: How the Internet Is Distorting Our Reality

Many causes combined to produce the US Capitol insurrection on January 6. In the immediate aftermath, most of the blame has been assigned to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. Those inclined to look deeper connect the spark of Trump’s words to the tinder of extreme polarization that accompanied his presidency. Subgroups of Americans increasingly live in entirely different worlds from one another.

This is more than a metaphor. We—in the United States and throughout the world—have actually and quite literally lost the ability to interact and coexist in the common world we once shared.

I’m not just talking about conflicting worldviews, radically differing perspectives, disparate education, or political party polarization. I am talking about a specific, simple, everyday problem that has led to and reinforced all of these broader social and political causes. This is a problem so pervasive, so ubiquitous, so powerful, and so subtle that most of my readers probably have no idea what I’m about to say.

I’m referring to what I call the 50/50 problem: more than 50 percent of Americans spend more than 50 percent of their waking hours living in virtual, artificial worlds rather than the given, created one in which their bodies exist. The 50 percent threshold represents a tipping point that renders dialogue, deliberation, civic friendship, and compromise extraordinarily difficult in any society.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) Growing Global Water Crisis Creates a New ESG Market

About six weeks ago, millions of homeowners across Texas suddenly found their water to be possibly contaminated—or lost access to it entirely—when freezing temperatures and the state’s decrepit infrastructure led to widespread blackouts.

Last week, on the other side of the planet, Taiwan cut water supplies to areas including a key hub of semiconductor manufacturing, thanks to the worst drought in decades.

These back-to-back crises are emblematic of a global catastrophe that is only now getting the attention it deserves. And unlike other calamities that may recede over time, this one is only going to get worse. The World Health Organization estimates that in less than four years, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.

“These risks are only expected to grow as climate change effects intensify,” said Thomas Schumann, the founder of Thomas Schumann Capital, a firm that’s created investable water indexes for the U.S. and Europe. “Not only that, but the business costs associated with these risks are projected to be $300 billion…or five times greater if left unaddressed.”

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Posted in Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization

(GR) Richard Ostling–Inspiring feature idea on Christianity near Holy Week sent aloft by (what are the odds?) producers at MSNBC

This got The Guy to thinking about how much we’re missing on TV and religion. Leave aside fictional entertainment, which when religion turns up in the plot too often causes anybody who knows anything about religion to cringe. And let’s not get into the fare transmitted by paid-time preachers.

Eastertide or Christmas may bring seasonal documentaries, often over the years sensationalized attempts to debunk the church or the Bible. David Gibson’s 2015 archaeology series on CNN, “Finding Jesus,” was an exception.

But what about intelligent treatment throughout the year of news and ideas in the world of religion, which interests masses of today’s viewers just as it has gripped imaginations across human history?

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Holy Week, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Telegraph) Giles Fraser–Christian faith can’t be sustained on Zoom

But despite Zoom’s many advantages, no technology can outweigh the fact that Christianity is inescapably physical. It is not just “a message” that can be communicated through social media. It is also about bodily participation, the receiving of bread and wine.

And while the carefully nuanced and endlessly debatable metaphysics of how bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus is a question I have long left to the theological anoraks, I have no doubt that receiving the Eucharist is a physical activity requiring physical participation. The statements “this is my body” and “this is my blood” make Christianity about matter, physically ingested. You can no more do this over Zoom than you can go to the dentist over Zoom.

This is why lockdown has been such a threat – literally – to the lifeblood of the Christian faith. And why the bolted door was such a betrayal of the need of so many of my parishioners for the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist.

This Thursday evening, Maundy Thursday, churches traditionally hold “watch services” where we sit up into the small hours to stay with a terrified man who did not want to be alone on the night before he was to die. This year it will be hard not to think of all those who have died without the physical presence of their loved ones beside them.
Saying goodbye over Zoom, unable to reach out to hold someone’s hand, has to be among the most appalling things that some families will ever go through. And Last Rites are really not for Skype.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

Another Terrific Resource–The Database of Religious History

Check it out.

Posted in Globalization, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(CNBC) Amsterdam bet its post-Covid recovery on ‘doughnut’ economics — more cities are now following suit

More and more cities are embracing a doughnut-shaped economic model to help recover from the coronavirus crisis and reduce exposure to future shocks.

British economist and author of “Doughnut Economics” Kate Raworth believes it is simply a matter of time before the concept is adopted at a national level.

The Dutch capital of Amsterdam became the first city worldwide to formally implement doughnut economics in early April last year, choosing to launch the initiative at a time when the country had one of the world’s highest mortality rates from the coronavirus pandemic.

Amsterdam’s city government said at the time that it hoped to recover from the crisis and avoid future crises by embracing a city portrait of the doughnut theory.

As outlined in Raworth’s 2017 book, doughnut economics aims to “act as a compass for human progress,” turning last century’s degenerative economy into this century’s regenerative one.

“The compass is a doughnut, the kind with a hole in the middle. Ridiculous though that sounds, it is the only doughnut that actually turns out to be good for us,” Raworth told CNBC via telephone.

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Posted in City Government, Ecology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, The Netherlands, Urban/City Life and Issues

(Economist) Small, cheap spy satellites mean there’s no hiding place

HawkEye’s satellites are so-called smallsats, about the size of a large microwave oven. They are therefore cheap to build and launch. HawkEye deployed its first cluster, of three of them, in 2018. They are now in an orbit that takes them over both of Earth’s poles. This means that, as the planet revolves beneath them, every point on its surface can be monitored at regular intervals.

Initially, the data the satellites collected were downloaded to a tracking station on Svalbard, a Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean. But business has since boomed. HawkEye now counts a dozen governments among its customers, as well as private clients. The firm has therefore recruited the services of a second ground station, in Antarctica, and it put a second cluster into orbit on January 24th. It plans three more such launches this year, and also intends to widen its network of ground stations yet further.

Given this success, it is hardly surprising that at least six other companies are operating or developing similar systems. Quilty Analytics, a research firm in Florida, expects the number of radio-frequency (rf) intelligence satellites of this sort in orbit to multiply from a dozen at the beginning of January to more than 60 by the end of next year.

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Posted in Science & Technology

(ISCAST) Physicist John Pilbrow writes a nice tribute article about the late John Polkinghorne

Theologically, while John held a very orthodox Christian position, he had a capacity to engage with people from across the broad Christian spectrum. Another rare gift. In my opinion his book that expresses that orthodoxy most eloquently is Science & Christian Belief: Theological Reflections of a Bottom-up Thinker based on his 1993–1994 Gifford Lectures. Here John reflects on the Nicene Creed both theologically and scientifically in the light of the best of modern science. As well, he placed much emphasis on the centrality of the resurrection as a strong basis for hope. Aspects of his thought here may be found in Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope.

John was also able to engage with other faiths without compromising Christian faith. He often reminded us that different faith traditions actually make rather different truth claims. But for him that was a reason to keep dialogue open.

John’s other books are all, of course, excellent in their own way. They are all deliberately relatively short and address one or more specific issues. This makes them readable and accessible resources.

After 1979, John focussed on encouraging and enabling good conversation and dialogue amongst and between scientists and theologians. Establishment of the ISSR was consistent with this and he served as its first President.

John certainly believed in the the unity of knowledge and one reality: the world of our experience that we seek to describe scientifically. Further, he was a critical realist believing that truth, whether scientific or theological, needs to be carefully assessed. This is a big theme and there is not space to deal with it in any detail here.

In the following we get a taste of some of his key insights.

If we are seeking to serve the God of truth then we should really welcome truth from whatever source it comes. We shouldn’t fear the truth. … The doctrine of creation of the kind that the Abrahamic faiths profess is such that it encourages the expectation that there will be a deep order in the world, expressive of the Mind and Purpose of that world’s Creator. It also asserts that the character of this order has been freely chosen by God, since it was not determined beforehand by some kind of pre-existing blueprint … As a consequence, the nature of cosmic order cannot be discovered just by taking thought … but the pattern of the world has to be discerned through the observations and experiments that are necessary in order to determine what form the divine choice has actually taken. (Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, 2007).

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Posted in Books, Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Science & Technology, Theology

(Wired) The Secret Auction That Set Off the Race for AI Supremacy

Two months earlier, Hinton and his students had changed the way machines saw the world. They built what was called a neural network, a mathematical system modeled on the web of neurons in the brain, and it could identify common objects—like flowers, dogs, and cars—with an accuracy that had previously seemed impossible. As Hinton and his students showed, a neural network could learn this very human skill by analyzing vast amounts of data. He called this “deep learning,” and its potential was enormous. It promised to transform not just computer vision but everything from talking digital assistants to driverless cars to drug discovery.

The idea of a neural network dated back to the 1950s, but the early pioneers had never gotten it working as well as they’d hoped. By the new millennium, most researchers had given up on the idea, convinced it was a technological dead end and bewildered by the 50-​year-​old conceit that these mathematical systems somehow mimicked the human brain. When submitting research papers to academic journals, those who still explored the technology would often disguise it as something else, replacing the words “neural network” with language less likely to offend their fellow scientists.

Hinton remained one of the few who believed it would one day fulfill its promise, delivering machines that could not only recognize objects but identify spoken words, understand natural language, carry on a conversation, and maybe even solve problems humans couldn’t solve on their own, providing new and more incisive ways of exploring the mysteries of biology, medicine, geology, and other sciences. It was an eccentric stance even inside his own university, which spent years denying his standing request to hire another professor who could work alongside him in this long and winding struggle to build machines that learned on their own. “One crazy person working on this was enough,” he imagined their thinking went. But with a nine-​page paper that Hinton and his students unveiled in the fall of 2012, detailing their breakthrough, they announced to the world that neural networks were indeed as powerful as Hinton had long claimed they would be.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Psychology, Science & Technology, Theology

(University of Cambridge) Is Social Media Changing Your Life?

“Social media is inherently complex, but trying to set guidelines for ‘consumption’ the same way we do for alcohol or food – as policy makers have tried and failed to do – is a massive oversimplification,” says Orben.

Everybody uses social media differently, and it affects our lives in such a diversity of ways, that setting a recommended daily screen time is far from simple.

Orben adds: “You could use it for twenty minutes to keep in touch with family abroad, or twenty minutes to look at self-harm images on Instagram, for example. The relationship with mental health is really complicated.”

She has found that adolescents who use more social media score lower on mental health questionnaires – but it’s not clear whether social media makes them feel worse, or whether they turn to social media more when they feel worse. And of course, social media isn’t the only thing affecting how adolescents feel.

“There are other things like sleep, parenting, and environment that all affect wellbeing. I don’t think we have the evidence yet to say we should invest lots of money into decreasing social media use, and not invest in other things like youth clubs or better mental health care for adolescents,” she says.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Science & Technology

(C of E) Millions join worship online as churches bring services into the home in pandemic year

Clips and content from the services have been seen 40 million times on social media channels.

The Church of England’s prayer and discipleship apps – in which people can join in ancient services of morning and evening prayer from wherever they are – have been accessed eight million times, up 50 per cent on the previous year.

The figures for online services are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg as churches’ response to the challenge of the pandemic triggered a major change in the way Christians worship and reach out to their neighbours.

At least 20,000 services and other online events are now listed on the Church of England’s ‘church-finder’ website AChurchNearYou. A year ago there were none.

And a special hymn download service, designed for local churches to use as part of online worship, has seen more than a million downloads.

As churches look ahead to an expected easing of restrictions and more public gatherings, many are assessing how to incorporate the lessons of the last year into their regular patterns of worship and outreach after the pandemic.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Health & Medicine, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Westminster Abbey) The Charles Gore Lecture 2020: A Theology of Hope for the 21st Century by Professor Jürgen Moltmann

1. I start with a poison of hatred.
Human life, itself, is in danger today. The humanity of life is threatened. Life is not in danger because it is menaced by death, for it always has been. It is in danger because it is no longer respected and affirmed. It is no longer loved. After the Second World War, Albert Camus stated, “The secret of Europe is that it no longer loves life.” Anyone who took part in World War II knows what he meant.

After seventy years of peace in Europe, we are facing a new ideology of enmity today. In the 20th century, we experienced a state-operating “terror from above” in forms of fascism and Stalinism. Today, we are experiencing private “terror from below”.

“Your young people love life”, Mullah Omar, of the Taliban, told Western journalists, “our young people love death.” Suicide assassins love death of their enemies and their own deaths. That is the terror of the Islamic State in Iraq, and of Boko Haram in Africa towards the “godless” Western world that they feel threatened by. The victim mentality always leads to anger and to hate.

These days, this terror has been joined ranks by “white terror”, as Norway, New Zealand, and Texas, and Germany have witnessed the terror of “white supremacy”, of white racism. In many Western nations, a climate of hate has been fostered, promoting such hate against those perceived as outsiders, against migrants, Jews, and disliked politicians. Our public atmosphere has been poisoned ever since we have had anonymous Twitter on the internet: Hate via the world wide web.

Question is, how can human civilization prevail against these odds?

2. Neo-nationalism
The political problem we are facing is neo-nationalism. The big nations of the world are at war in the middle of peace. It is a hybrid war of economic sanctions and cyber wars with fake news. In the struggle for power, the neo-nationalists seem to believe in the survival of the fittest, because they deem their own nation to be the fittest.

Neo-nationalism began at the end of the East-West conflict in 1990. Up until then, the world had been divided into two blocks: the socialist world in the East, and the “free world” in the West. Then the Soviet Union dissolved itself, Gorbachev lost, and Yeltsin won in 1993. The Soviet Union disintegrated into larger and smaller nations. The socialist dream of equality of all people died.

The “free world” dissolved more slowly.

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Eschatology, Politics in General, Theology

(New Atlantis) John Sexton–A Reductionist History of Humankind: The trouble with Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens”

Harari’s claim that has drawn the most media attention is that we may be on the cusp of an era of super- (or possibly sub-) humans, with newspapers running such sensationalistic headlines as “Humans ‘will become God-like cyborgs within 200 years’” and “The age of the cyborg has begun.” He seems to believe that the “Singularity” is a certainty; that some “Dr. Frankenstein” will likely create “something truly superior to us, something that will look at us as condescendingly as we look at the Neanderthals.” But here again there are practical and technical obstacles that Harari overlooks. As Steven Pinker, of all people, has recently pointed out, most features of organisms, including senescence, are built deep into their genomic structure. If there were easy fixes to mortality and many other conditions, they would have been low-hanging fruit for natural selection, which will always prevail in the long run over the kind of “intelligent design” Harari envisions us undertaking in the near future.

Harari tends to think that it’s onward and upward for the modern project to master nature through technology, though he doubts whether the trajectory is really “upward” in the sense of involving genuine improvement in the human condition. But it may be that the golden age of technological progress has already passed. As Peter Thiel and others have observed, the development of new technology has arguably slowed in recent decades, a fact disguised by the dissemination of old technology in the form of consumer goods like personal computers and smart phones.

Still, Harari is right to suggest that scientific advancement potentially threatens much of what we now hold dear, including our humanity as we traditionally understand it. He is also right to point out that questions about the moral character of scientific experimentation always meet with the response that it is being done to “cure diseases and save human lives.” Harari says that “nobody can argue with” such a response. He is right, up to a point: given the value that modern societies put on health, it can be very difficult to question research conducted in the name of medicine. But arguments can still be made against some forms of experimentation and “enhancement.” One could also point out that science itself provides no reason to save human lives or care about curing diseases, whereas moral principles do. One might also ask whether physical health and longevity are the highest goods.

But Sapiens provides us with no resources for answering questions about the moral implications of scientific and technological change. A commitment to a reductionist, mechanistic view of Homo sapiens may give us some insight into some of the aspects of our past most tied to our material nature. But Harari’s view of culture and of ethical norms as fundamentally fictional makes impossible any coherent moral framework for thinking about and shaping our future. And it asks us to pretend that we are not what we know ourselves to be — thinking and feeling subjects, moral agents with free will, and social beings whose culture builds upon the facts of the physical world but is not limited to them.

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Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Science & Technology

The Rev. Canon Dr John Polkinghorne RIP

From Queen’s College, Cambirdge:

“It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of our former President and friend, The Revd Dr John Polkinghorne.

To say John had an exceptional life would be an understatement. Born in 1930, he touched many lives as a highly respected physicist, theologian, and priest. The author of a number of influential books, he was admired for his important research and insights on religion and science.

Building on his important academic accomplishments, he was ordained in 1982 and elected as our President a few years later. He served Queens’ in this capacity in an admirable and impactful manner for eight years. Knighted in 1997, he went on to win the prestigious Templeton Prize, donating the proceeds to endow College positions…..

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, Science & Technology, Theology

(AP) Facial recognition company sued by California activists

Civil liberties activists are suing a company that provides facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies and private companies around the world, contending that Clearview AI illegally stockpiled data on 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court in the San Francisco Bay Area, contends that the New York-based firm violates California’s constitution and seeks an injunction to bar it from collecting biometric information in California and requiring it to delete data on Californians.

The lawsuit says the company has built “the most dangerous” facial recognition database in the nation, has fielded requests from more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies and private companies, and has amassed a database nearly seven times larger than the FBI’s.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Science & Technology

Church of England Pensions Board commits to the global ‘Net Zero Investment Framework’

21 asset owners, with $1.2 trillion in assets, have used publication of the Framework to commit to achieve net zero alignment by 2050 or sooner. The funds, including the Church of England Pensions Board, are drawing on the Framework to deliver these commitments, alongside a number of asset managers who are already working with clients on net zero alignment.

The Framework enables investors to decarbonise investment portfolios and increase investment in climate solutions, in a way that is consistent with and contributes to a 1.5°C net zero emissions future. Investors do this by developing a ‘net zero investment strategy’ built around five core components of the Framework. These key components are: objectives and targets, strategic asset allocation and asset class alignment, alongside policy advocacy and, investor engagement activity and governance.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Climate Change, Weather, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Stewardship, Stock Market

(WSJ) China Targets AI, Chips Among Seven Battlefronts in Tech Race With U.S.

China upped the stakes in its tech race with the U.S. as leaders laid out plans to speed up development of advanced technologies from chips to artificial intelligence and quantum computing over five years.

In a draft economic blueprint unveiled at the country’s annual legislative gathering, officials said they would boost research and development spending by more than 7% annually over the five years to the end of 2025. That will account for a higher percentage of gross domestic product than in the previous five-year period.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech Friday that China will revise regulation and policies to support the flow of venture capital into startups, free up bank lending and extend tax incentives to encourage research and development.

Economists and industry analysts say China’s 14th five-year plan stands out for its emphasis on advanced technologies and innovation. It also included China’s vision for 2035, when the country expects to have “significant breakthroughs on core technologies and seeks to be among the most innovative nations globally.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Science & Technology

(NYT) The Robots Are Coming for Phil in Accounting

The robots are coming. Not to kill you with lasers, or beat you in chess, or even to ferry you around town in a driverless Uber.

These robots are here to merge purchase orders into columns J and K of next quarter’s revenue forecast, and transfer customer data from the invoicing software to the Oracle database. They are unassuming software programs with names like “Auxiliobits — DataTable To Json String,” and they are becoming the star employees at many American companies.

Some of these tools are simple apps, downloaded from online stores and installed by corporate I.T. departments, that do the dull-but-critical tasks that someone named Phil in Accounting used to do: reconciling bank statements, approving expense reports, reviewing tax forms. Others are expensive, custom-built software packages, armed with more sophisticated types of artificial intelligence, that are capable of doing the kinds of cognitive work that once required teams of highly-paid humans.

White-collar workers, armed with college degrees and specialized training, once felt relatively safe from automation. But recent advances in A.I. and machine learning have created algorithms capable of outperforming doctors, lawyers and bankers at certain parts of their jobs. And as bots learn to do higher-value tasks, they are climbing the corporate ladder.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

(New Scientist) Facebook AI learned object recognition from 1 billion Instagram pics

Artificial intelligence built by Facebook has learned to classify images from 1 billion Instagram photos. The AI used a different learning technique to many other similar algorithms, relying less on input from humans. The team behind it says the AI learns in a more common sense way.

Conventionally, computer vision systems are trained to identify specific things, such as a cat or a dog. They achieve this by learning from a large collection of images that have been annotated to describe what is in them. After doing this enough, the AI can then identify the same things in new images, for example, spotting a dog in an image it has never seen before.

This process is effective, but must be done afresh with every new thing the AI needs to identify, otherwise performance can drop.

By contrast, the approach used by Facebook is a technique called self-supervised learning, in which the images don’t come with annotations. Instead, the AI first learns just to identify differences between images. Once it is able to do this, it sees a small number of annotated images to match the names with the characteristics it has already identified.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) Electric Vehicles Could Make Dealerships a Thing of the Past, Too

There’s auto news out of Sweden: Volvo Cars says that it will be fully electric by 2030. No more internal combustion, no more hybrids. It’s batteries or bust.

In making this commitment, Volvo is betting on a trend: that as EVs are becoming cheaper and new conventional cars are being priced higher, consumers’ math on electric-versus-internal combustion will soon come out in electrics’ favor.

But there’s more to Volvo’s position on EVs than just changing the powertrain. The carmaker says its pure electric models will only be available for sale online, and that its first fully electric car is now receiving over-the-air software updates. (Tesla has been doing this for years.) That first plan has implications for the built environment; the second, for emissions and the global climate.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Ecology, Science & Technology, Sweden, Travel

([London] Times) Deepfake TikTok videos of Tom Cruise watched by millions

Tom Cruise looks at the camera. “I’m going to show you some magic,” he says holding up a coin. “It’s the real thing”, the Hollywood actor insists, giving his trademark laugh and making the coin disappear. “It’s all the real thing.”

Millions have watched the video on TikTok, with many initially wondering if the 58-year-old Mission: Impossible star had joined the video-sharing platform beloved of teenagers.

Except this is not Cruise but a “deepfake” video, one of several of the actor that have garnered millions of views and shares across social media. They have led experts to warn that deepfake technology is advancing much faster than most people realise.

The three videos first appeared on TikTok and have been created by an account called “deeptomcruise”. They show the Top Gun actor apparently performing a magic trick, playing golf before bending to talk to the camera, and falling over in a fashionable clothes store before telling an anecdote about Mikhail Gorbachev.

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology

(Wash Post) An evangelical scientist on reconciling her religion and the realities of climate change

Because here’s the thing. When I run into people who are very adamant about rejecting climate change — they’re not that many; only 7 percent of people are dismissive, but they’re very loud about it. I look at those people, whether it’s on social media or if they wrote me a letter — rarely do I run into them in person; most prefer to be behind the safety of a keyboard before they attack you — but I look at who they are because I’m curious. And easily 90 percent of the time — probably more than that — climate change is just one of a package of issues: extreme nationalism, anti-immigration, right-wing politics. You know, whatever the current issue of the day is — covid, school shooting — you can guarantee that whoever rejects climate change will also be adamantly defending the right of people to bear weapons and supporting covid myths and disinformation. It all goes together.

So only 7 percent are what we would call climate-change deniers?

Yeah. Seven percent are really hardcore, but then what happens is that a lot of people are not outright dismissive — they just are what social scientists call “cognitive misers.” We all are. [Laughs.] Because who has time to read all of these things and develop a thoughtful opinion on the myriad issues that we’re expected to have in order to vote or to advocate or even [address] when it comes up in conversation? So we look to the opinions of people we respect, whose values we believe that we share, who we assume have spent a bit more time thinking about it than we have. And we adopt their opinions. Unfortunately, today a lot of that has become very politically polarized. And you have a lot of people who are just really confused because they hear people whose values they share, who call themselves Christians, who have called themselves Republicans or conservatives, telling people, “Oh, this isn’t real.” “Those scientists are just making it up.” “It’s just a liberal hoax.”

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

“Americans have not yet grappled with just how profoundly the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will impact our economy, national security, and welfare”

Americans have not yet grappled with just how profoundly the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution will impact our economy, national security, and welfare. Much remains to be learned about the power and limits of AI technologies. Nevertheless, big decisions need to be made now to accelerate AI innovation to benefit the United States and to defend against the malign uses of AI.

When considering these decisions, our leaders confront the classic dilemma of statecraft identified by Henry Kissinger: “When your scope for action is greatest, the knowledge on
which you can base this action is always at a minimum. When your knowledge is greatest, the scope for action has often disappeared.” The scope for action remains, but America’s
room for maneuver is shrinking.

As a bipartisan commission of 15 technologists, national security professionals, business executives, and academic leaders, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) is delivering an uncomfortable message: America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era. This is the tough reality we must face. And it is this reality that demands comprehensive, whole-of-nation action. Our final report presents a strategy to defend against AI threats, responsibly employ AI for national security, and win the broader technology competition for the sake of our prosperity, security, and welfare. The U.S. government cannot do this alone. It needs committed partners in industry, academia, and civil society. And America needs to enlist its oldest allies and new partners to build a safer and freer world for the AI era.

AI is an inspiring technology. It will be the most powerful tool in generations for benefiting humanity. Scientists have already made astonishing progress in fields ranging from
biology and medicine to astrophysics by leveraging AI. These advances are not science fair experiments; they are improving life and unlocking mysteries of the natural world. They
are the kind of discoveries for which the label “game changing” is not a cliché.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology

(Guardian) Atlantic Ocean circulation at weakest in a millennium, say scientists

The Atlantic Ocean circulation that underpins the Gulf Stream, the weather system that brings warm and mild weather to Europe, is at its weakest in more than a millennium, and climate breakdown is the probable cause, according to new data.

Further weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) could result in more storms battering the UK, more intense winters and an increase in damaging heatwaves and droughts across Europe.

Scientists predict that the AMOC will weaken further if global heating continues, and could reduce by about 34% to 45% by the end of this century, which could bring us close to a “tipping point” at which the system could become irrevocably unstable. A weakened Gulf Stream would also raise sea levels on the Atlantic coast of the US, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who co-authored the study published on Thursday in Nature Geoscience, told the Guardian that a weakening AMOC would increase the number and severity of storms hitting Britain, and bring more heatwaves to Europe.

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Posted in Climate Change, Weather, Ecology

New bishop for the environment appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury

The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, has accepted the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to lead the Church of England’s Environment Programme with a charge to lead bold, deliberate, collaborative action across the Church to tackle the grave existential crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Bishop Graham will work with the Mission and Public Affairs department of the Church of England to lead the Church of England’s Environment Programme, including the commitment to net-zero carbon impacts across the Church of England by 2030 set by General Synod in February 2020.

He will succeed the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, who retires later in the year.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ecology, England / UK, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Pfizer Vaccine Is Highly Effective After One Dose and Can Be Stored in Normal Freezers, Data Shows

The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE generates robust immunity after one dose and can be stored in ordinary freezers instead of at ultracold temperatures, according to new research and data released by the companies.

The findings provide strong arguments in favor of delaying the second dose of the two-shot vaccine, as the U.K. has done. They could also have substantial implications on vaccine policy and distribution around the world, simplifying the logistics of distributing the vaccine.

A single shot of the vaccine is 85% effective in preventing symptomatic disease 15 to 28 days after being administered, according to a peer-reviewed study conducted by the Israeli government-owned Sheba Medical Center and published in the Lancet medical journal. Pfizer and BioNTech recommend that a second dose is administered 21 days after the first.

The finding is a vindication of the approach taken by the U.K. government to delay a second dose by up to 12 weeks so it could use limited supplies to deliver a single dose to more people, and could encourage others to follow suit. Almost one-third of the U.K.’s adult population has now received at least one vaccine shot. Other authorities in parts of Canada and Europe have prioritized an initial shot, hoping they will have enough doses for a booster when needed.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(World) Scientists discover that Butterflies are more efficiently designed than they realized

For decades, scientists unfairly maligned the humble butterfly as an inefficient creature. Now, with the help of a wind tunnel, scientists in Sweden are proving the opposite is true.

In the early 1970s scientists first noticed the insect claps its wings during flight. At first, the discovery seemed to help cement the creature’s reputation as a clumsy flier. But Swedish scientists on Jan. 20 published a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface showing slapping its wings at the top of the upstroke helps the butterfly produce forward thrust by capturing a pocket of air and jetting it backwards. The discovery demonstrates that, far from being inefficient flyers, butterflies are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Biologists Christoffer Johansson and Per Henningsson of Sweden’s Lund University began by catching six silver-washed fritillary butterflies in a meadow near their Stensoffa, Sweden, field station. The pair of scientists hoped to use a wind tunnel to monitor how the butterflies use their flexible wings to create thrust and lift. But in order to study butterfly aerodynamics, the team needed to see the air interacting with the insects’ wings. By releasing visible gas called a tracer into the wind tunnel, the team could observe the butterflies creating vortices or even capturing pockets of air with their wing flaps. “When the wings clap together at the end of upstroke the air between the wings is pressed out, creating a jet, pushing the animal in the opposite direction,” the scientists wrote in their report.

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Posted in Animals, Science & Technology

(CS Monitor) No pew? No problem. Online church is revitalizing congregations.

All that changed last year, however, when joining another church became an option – a church 2,000 miles away.

Ms. Schultz began worshipping at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, one of many making room during the pandemic for new “virtual members” who attend only online. She watches services on YouTube in her bathrobe, attends social gatherings on Zoom, and is glad to be rid of what she calls “the judgment factor” that she’s too often felt when visiting churches in person. So when Wilshire Senior Pastor George Mason started inviting online attendees to join the congregation, no matter where they live, she eagerly signed up.

“It’s nice to be seen, noticed, and welcomed when you show up alone,” says Ms. Schultz, who tithes to her faraway church and sometimes has a speaking role during worship. “It feels like less pressure when you’re behind a screen. You don’t have to talk, but you can talk when you’re ready to talk.”

It’s a pandemic shift no one saw coming at the start of 2020. Churches that had long assumed their members would live nearby are no longer resigned to geographic constraints. As congregations have gone online to maintain ministries while social distancing, new worshippers from other regions have been showing up. Now some are getting even more involved. They’re becoming part of the fabric of church life as members, regular donors, and active participants in a host of church activities.

“Online really is a way to reach people that maybe we couldn’t reach in a local setting because some people wouldn’t come into a church building,” says Gary McIntosh, professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and author of 23 books on church growth. “But they will observe a worship service online, and they will get involved in a small group online

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology