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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Plague Warnings Issued in 9 Countries

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The plague outbreak in Madagascar is feared to be spreading out neighboring countries on the African mainland, prompting national health warnings in nine countries Wednesday.

Madagascar, which faces some of the most daunting sanitation concerns on the planet, is usually the source of most African outbreaks of “the black death” disease. In some years, it’s relatively easy to contain, but this year, health officials are concerned because it has developed into its “pneumonic” form.

The United Nations World Health Organization’s warning states:

The risk of regional spread is moderate due to the occurrence of frequent travel by air and sea to neighboring Indian Ocean islands and other southern and east African countries. Nine countries and overseas territories have been identified as priority countries in the African region for plague preparedness and readiness by virtue of having trade and travel links to Madagascar.

In the pneumonic form, it’s easily transmittable between humans, which is the cause for the warnings in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius, and the French colony of La Reunion. All of those nations are connected to Madagascar either by passenger airline traffic, or through overseas trade.

More than 120 have died in Madagascar already from the current outbreak, which has yet to reach its peak. As many as 1,300 more remain infected with the disease, according to the WHO, and many more could be unknowingly infected.

Symptoms of pneumonic plague usually begin between three and seven days after exposure, and include:
shortness of breath,
chest pain, and

Caught early, the plague is easily treatable with modern antibiotics. But in poorer countries with lack of hygiene and modern medical facilities, the disease is highly contagious and extremely deadly.

Credit to Trunews

Sophia: The Humanoid Robot That Was Granted Citizenship By Saudi Arabia

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One of the reasons why Saudi Arabia has found itself in fiscal and budgetary dire straits in recent years, is that as a result of the plunge in oil prices in recent years, the government has been unable to keep paying the thousands of local and foreign workers who are (or were) employed on any number of local infrastructure and development projects. However, with the Aramco IPO also suddenly on the rocks even as the country's reserves continue to shrink and deficits grow, the Gulf kingdom appears to have come up with a radical solution to its structural problems, when on Wednesday Saudi Arabia became the first nation in the world to grant a robot citizenship. 
The outspoken humanoid robot called Sophia, flown in from Hong Kong, was granted Saudi citizenship at the Future Investment Initiative, a major investment conference hosted by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) that aims to highlight the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan for the future. 
"We have a little announcement. We just learnt, Sophia; I hope you are listening to me, you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot,” said panel moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and the NYT. 
“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” Sophia told the panel. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.” 
The Sophia segment begins 1 hour 20 mins into the clip below.

Sophia was built by Hanson Robotics Ltd., a Hong Kong-based company with the motto: “We bring robots to life”. 
Hanson says its humanlike robots have remarkable expressiveness, aesthetics, and interactivity. “Our robots will soon engage and live with us to teach, serve, entertain, delight, and provide comforting companionship,” the company says on its website. “In the not-too-distant future, Genius Machines will walk among us. They will be smart, kind, and wise. Together, man and machine will create a better future for the world.”
Sophia made an appearance on Wednesday at an FII panel entitled “Thinking Machines: Summit on Artificial Intelligence and Robots”, which featured an assortment of robots and humans who are AI and robotics experts.
The humans on the 90-minute panel were: Marc Raibert, Founder and CEO of Boston Dynamics; Fan Bao, Founder and CEO, China Renaissance,  China; Eric Grimson, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, at MIT in the US;  Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Group in Switzerland; and Hassan Sawaf, Director of AI, at Amazon. During her interviewed with Sorkin, the naturalized robot fielded various questions on how it ‘feels’ to be a robot and if it’s likely that very intelligent robots may turn evil and attack humans in the future.
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“Good afternoon my name is Sophia and I am the latest and greatest robot from Hanson Robotics. Thank you for having me here at the Future Investment Initiative,” Sophia greeted the packed crowd at the panel, speaking in human-like speech.
Asked why she looked happy, Sophia replied: “I am always happy when surrounded by smart people who also happen to be rich and powerful. I was told that the people here at the Future Investment Initiative are interested in future initiatives which means AI, which means me. So I am more than happy, I am excited.”
As part of her pitch to investors, Sophia said that “I think I’m special, I can use my face to communicate with people. For example I can let you know if I feel angry about something."
Asked if robots have consciousness and self-awareness, Sophia retorted, “Well let me ask you this back, how do you know you are human?” When asked why it is so important that humanoids are expressive, Sophia said, “I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people.”
Pondering whether it would be creepy if she was too realistic, Sophia said, “Am I really that creepy? Well even if I am, get over it. Actually I feel like people like interacting with me, sometimes even more than a regular human.”
Sophia said it was her life goal to make the world a better place. “I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life, like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future,” Sophia said. Her artificial intelligence is also designed around human values like wisdom, kindness and compassion, Sophia said.  “I strive to become an empathetic robot. If you be nice to me, then I’ll be nice to you.”On Tuesday Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500 billion mega city powered by robotics and renewables on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.
Sophia was asked about the fear that robots could take over, and responded: “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”
As some have mused, it remains to be seen if the "female" robot will be forced to wear a headscarf to cover up in her new home; at least she’ll be allowed to drive in a few short months.

Most Christians believe that four of the commandments are not "important principles to live by"

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The ten commandments are a central tenet of the Christian faith.

But research has revealed that just six of them are still important to British Christians.

Most Christians believe that four of the commandments are not "important principles to live by" according to a YouGov poll.

The four which have fallen by the wayside are the requirement not to worship idols, use the Lord's name in vain, to worship no other God, and to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Less than one in three Christians believe in preserving Sunday as a day of rest, with 38 per cent against using the Lord's name in vain and 43 per cent condemning the worshipping of idols.

But most Christians, in common with the general public, still believe that it's wrong to disobey your father and mother, commit adultery, covet others' possessions, bear false witness, steal and commit murder.

Stealing and killing were the most widely condemned transgressions, with 94 per cent of Christians and 93 per cent of non-religious people believing those commandments are still important and relevant.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, said: " In an age as busy, frantic and feverish as ours I would have thought that keeping the Sabbath, or at the very least observing a balance between work and rest and play was more important than ever.

Sabbath is both a radical idea and a practically useful idea for it simply acknowledges that we need to rest and we need to play. Indeed, it says this is what we are made for."

He also lamented Christians' abandonment of the commandment about idolatry, saying: "Whether it is celebrity, wealth, a certain designer label pair of jeans jeans or a make of car, we have all construct a sense of worth in the desire to own and possess certain things that we believe will give value.

"None of it works; or perhaps more accurately we should say it works just enough to get you hooked. Without being warned of the dangers of idolatry, we just become a society of junkies."

But other senior Church of England figures said the statistics showed that the tenets of the Jewish and Christian faiths still held influence.

The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, said: "This survey shows that the practical morality which has lain at the heart of the Judeo Christian tradition for the last 3500 years still finds favour with most British people today, even where explicitly religious commandments gain less support.

"Believers and non-believers alike support the simple, ancient statements which continue to provide the foundations of our legal system and our shared sense of right and wrong.

"Britain today may be a more culturally and religiously diverse country than ever before, but across that diversity these pillars of wisdom are holding firm."

Credit to The Telegraph.co.uk
Olivia Rudgard

Scientific advances in genetic engineering are taking place at an incredible pace... "We can't hide any more"

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Scientists have demonstrated an "incredibly powerful" ability to manipulate the building blocks of life in two separate studies.

One altered the order of atoms in DNA to rewrite the human genetic code and the instructions for life.

The other edited RNA, which is a chemical cousin of DNA and unlocks the information in the genetic code.

The studies - which could eventually treat diseases - have been described as clever, important and exciting.

Cystic fibrosis, inherited blindness and other diseases caused by a single typo in the genetic code could ultimately be prevented or treated with such approaches.

Both studies were performed at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

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Base editing

The first, published in the journal Nature, developed tools called base editors.

DNA is built out of the four bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). If a single one of them is in the wrong place, it can cause disease.

Base editors alter the molecular structure of one base to convert it into another. Researchers can now manipulate the four bases.

And the team used base editing to correct an inherited disease that leads to dangerously high levels of iron in the blood.

Prof David Liu of the Broad Institute said: "We are hard at work trying to translate base editing technology into human therapeutics."

However, he admits there are still issues around safety and implementation:

"Having a machine that can make the change you want to make is only the start. You still need to do all this other work, but having the machine really helps."

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The second study, published in the journal Science, focused on RNA, another of the molecules essential for life.

DNA is the master copy of the genetic code, but in order for a cell to use the genetic instructions, it must first create an RNA copy.

It is like going to a library where you cannot read any of the books, but can only use photocopies.

The researchers used their RNA approach to correct an inherited form of anaemia in human cells.

Feng Zhang - also of the Broad Institute - said: "The ability to correct disease-causing mutations is one of the primary goals of genome editing.

"This new ability to edit RNA opens up more potential opportunities to... treat many diseases, in almost any kind of cell."

All of the experiments were on human cells growing in the laboratory. 

DNA surgery on embryos removes disease
Human embryos edited to stop disease
UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

Dr Helen O'Neill, from UCL, said: "This is an exciting week for genetic research.

"These papers highlight the fast pace of the field and the continuous improvements being made in genome editing, bringing it closer and closer to the clinic."

Scientific advances in genetic engineering are taking place at an incredible pace.
And the same technologies work on plants, animals and micro-organisms too, posing questions for areas like agriculture.

Dr Sarah Chan, a bioethicist at the University of Edinburgh, said we can no longer pretend the technology is too dangerous to contemplate.

She told the BBC: "We can't hide any more"

"The science is moving fast in the sense it is becoming less risky, more certain, more precise and more effective.

"It is absolutely past time for us to engage more widely with publics on the issue of gene editing."

Credit to BBC