United States: sales of human foetal tissue banned

United States: sales of human foetal tissue banned

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that it will allocate $20 million over two years to research alternatives to human foetal tissue. The use of these human foetuses for research is not illegal in the USA, but it is highly controversial since this lucrative trade comes from abortion clinics. In a statement issued on Monday, the NIH announced that it was embarking on a major research effort to “develop and/or further refine human tissue models that closely mimic and can be used to faithfully model human embryonic development or other aspects of human biology, for example, the human immune system, that do not rely on the use of human foetal tissue obtained from elective abortions”.

Since September 2018, the 6,000 American researchers funded by the NIH have been prohibited from purchasing human foetal tissue. The contract between the United States Department of Health and Human Services HHS and Advanced Bioscience Resources – the main supplier of aborted foetuses in the USA – was terminated because “it was not sufficiently assured that the contract included the appropriate protections applicable to foetal tissue research”. The HHS has launched a comprehensive review of human foetal tissue research and has imposed a total freeze on procurement until the end of the review. The project to develop effective alternatives is still in its infancy. Procurement has been halted, but foetal research has not been banned. Researchers do not yet know whether the HHS, at the end of the review, will decide to suspend the research until alternatives are available.

Sources: TIME, Jamie Ducharme (11/12/2018)

How game theory can bring humans and robots closer together

How game theory can bring humans and robots closer together

Date:January 7, 2019Source:University of Sussex

Researchers at the University of Sussex, Imperial College London and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have for the first time used game theory to enable robots to assist humans in a safe and versatile manner.

The research team used adaptive control and Nash equilibrium game theory to programme a robot that can understand its human user’s behaviour in order to better anticipate their movements and respond to them.

The researchers believe the breakthrough could help robots complementing humans for sport training, physical rehabilitation or shared driving.

Lead author Dr Yanan Li, Lecturer in Control Engineering at the University of Sussex, said: “It is still very early days in the development of robots and at present, those that are used in a working capacity are not intuitive enough to work closely and safely with human users. By enabling the robot to identify human users’ behaviour and exploiting game theory to let the robot optimally react to them, we have developed a system where robots can work along humans as humans do.”

In a paper published today in Nature Machine Intelligence, the researchers outline how they adapted game theory for the physical interaction of a robot with a human, and how this can be used to help an impaired stroke survivor retrain their motor control.

Game theory is commonly used to understand how economic agents decide and interact with each other in order to maximise their own gain. To successfully apply game theory to the interaction of a robot and its human user, the researchers had to overcome the issue that the robot cannot know the human’s intentions. The researchers thus had to develop a method enabling the robot to identify the human partner while safely and efficiently interacting with their motion.

The reactive robotic programming system enables a robot to continuously learn the human user’s control and adapt its own control correspondingly. The robot is able to understand the human user’s action and then respond to and assist them to perform tasks successfully and with minimal effort.

Professor Etienne Burdet, Chair in Human Robotics in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London and senior author of the paper, added: “Game theory has had important impacts in economics during the last century and lead to several Nobel prizes such as Nash’s one. To apply it for human-robot interaction, it was necessary to understand how the robot can identify the human user’s control goals simultaneously to smoothly interacting with them.”

Source: University of Sussex. “How game theory can bring humans and robots closer together.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190107112953.htm>.

Their Art Raised Questions About Technology. Chinese Censors Had Their Own Answer.

Their Art Raised Questions About Technology. Chinese Censors Had Their Own Answer.

By Amy Qin

HONG KONG — Artificial intelligence bots. 3-D printed human organs. Genomic sequencing.

These might seem to be natural topics of interest in a country determined to be the world’s leader in science and technology. But in China, where censors are known to take a heavy hand, several artworks that look closely at these breakthroughs have been deemed taboo by local cultural officials.

The works, which raise questions about the social and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, were abruptly pulled last weekend from the coming Guangzhou Triennial on the orders of cultural authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

The artists, from Europe, Australia and the United States, were not given an official reason why their works were rejected for the show, which opens on Dec. 21 at the Guangdong Museum of Art. The pieces did not touch on the Tiananmen democracy crackdown of 1989, independence for Taiwan or Tibet or the private wealth of Chinese Communist Party leaders — topics that are widely known to be off-limits for public discussion in China.

As a result, some of the show’s curators and the affected artists have been left guessing as to why the works were banned. Their conclusion? The works were perhaps too timely, too relevant and therefore too discomforting for Chinese officials.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/arts/china-art-censorship.html

Malta Rescues 249 Migrants in 24 Hours; NGO Boats Held Offshore

Malta Rescues 249 Migrants in 24 Hours; NGO Boats Held Offshore

By Reuters

VALLETTA — Malta’s armed forces saved 180 migrants in two rescue operations in the Mediterranean on Monday, less than 24 hours after picking up another group of 69.

The army said a patrol boat picked up 28 migrants from a dinghy 71 miles (114 km) south-west of Malta and another 152 packed onboard a wooden vessel close by — the largest such rescue mission for many months.

On Sunday, a Maltese patrol boat rescued 69 migrants from another wooden boat in distress south-west of the small Mediterranean island.

However, a further 49 migrants remained blocked at sea days after they were picked up by two NGO rescue ships, with both Malta and Italy refusing to take them in as part of a concerted European effort to halt migration flows from Africa.

The Sea-Watch 3 rescued 32 people on December 22 while the Sea-Eye’s Professor Albrecht Penck rescued 17 people on Saturday. Both boats are operated by German NGOs.

Jan Ribbeck, head of mission on the Professor Albrecht Penck vessel, said maritime law stated that rescued people had to be moved to land as soon as possible.

“It is utterly unscrupulous that no single European state is taking this responsibility,” he said in a statement, urging nearby Malta to take in the migrants for eventual redistribution among several EU countries, as has happened in the past.


Milan to plant 3 million trees by 2030 to fight climate change and improve air quality

Milan to plant 3 million trees by 2030 to fight climate change and improve air quality

Experts say ambitious project could offer relief from city’s humid weather

By Colleen Barry

If Italy‘s fashion capital has a predominant colour, it is grey – not only because of the blocks of neoclassical stone buildings for which the city is celebrated, but also due to its often-grey sky, which traps pollution.

But Milan now wants to shift its colour palette towards green.

The city has ambitious plans to plant 3 million new trees by 2030 – a move experts say could offer relief from the city’s muggy, sometimes tropical weather.

Some ad-hoc projects have already contributed to environmental improvements. Architect Stefano Boeri’s striking Vertical Forest residential towers, completed in 2014 near the Garibaldi train station, aims to improve not only air quality but the quality of life for Milan residents.

Mr Boeri created a small island of greenery in the heart of Milan, his pair of high-rises brimming from every balcony with shrubs and trees that absorb carbon dioxide and PM10 particles, a pollutant with links to respiratory ailments and cancer.

“I think the theme of forestation is one of the big challenges that we have today. It is one of the most effective ways we have to fight climate change, because it is like fighting the enemy on its own field,” Mr Boeri said. “It is effective and it is also democratic, because everyone can plant trees.”

The UN climate summit taking place now in Poland has urged cities and regions to help achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement on curbing global warming, which include limiting the increase in the planet’s temperature to 2C (3.6F) this century.

Also, the World Economic Forum‘s global agenda council has put extending the tree canopy among its top urban initiatives, recognising that small-scale changes can have a major impact on urban areas, including helping to lower city temperatures, creating more comfortable microclimates and mitigating air pollution.

Milan officials estimate the program to boost the number of trees by 30 per cent in the broader metropolitan area will absorb an additional 5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year – four-fifths of the total produced by Milan – and reduce harmful PM10 small particulates by 3,000 tons over a decade. Significantly, it would also reduce temperatures in the city by 2C, they say.

Mr Boeri said the current green canopy of the Lombardy region’s capital is just 7 per cent of the urban area. That is well below northern European cities like Germany’s Frankfurt at 21.5 per cent or Amsterdam at nearly 21 per cent. It is closer to Paris at nearly 9 per cent, according to the World Economic Forum’s Green View Index – and the French capital itself has been battling for years to fight rising air pollution.

By 2030, Milan hopes to increase that green canopy number to between 17 and 20 per cent.

Damiano Di Simine, the scientific coordinator in Lombardy for the environmental group Legambiente, said potentially the biggest impact of the green Milan project will be to lower temperatures in a city where the night-time temperature can be 6C (10.8F) higher than in the surrounding area. City statistics show Milan endures 35 tropical nights a year.

Because the city lies close to the Alps, Milan gets very little wind to clear the pollutants that become blocked in by temperature inversions, where a layer of cool air is trapped by a layer of warmer air.

”The lack of wind also accentuates the urban heating,” Mr Di Simine said. ”It means the discomfort from thermic inversions is terrible, because the climate is very stationary. Planting trees will help this.”

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/milan-trees-air-quality-pollution-climate-change-stefano-boeri-vertical-forest-italy-a8674906.html