UK Mega-Lab Generates Weather to Test Homes of Future

The thermometer sinks below zero as a blizzard of fine snow descends on two houses freshly built inside a massive laboratory in northern England.

Despite the icy conditions, the two energy-efficient homes remain cozy and warm due to their use of cutting-edge heating and insulation technology.

Welcome to Energy House 2.0 — a science experiment designed to help the world’s housebuilders slash carbon emissions, save energy and tackle climate change.

The project, based in a laboratory resembling a giant warehouse on Salford University campus near the center of Manchester, opened last month.

Rain, wind, sunshine and snow can be recreated in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees Celsius to –20 Celsius, operated from a control center.

Replicating weather

“What we’ve tried to achieve here is to be able to replicate the weather conditions that would be experienced around 95% of the populated Earth,” Professor Will Swan, head of energy house laboratories at the university, told AFP.

The facility, comprising two chambers that can experience different weather at the same time, will test types of housing from all over the world “to understand how we deliver their net-zero and energy-efficient homes,” he added.

The two houses, which are quintessentially British and constructed by firms with U.K. operations, will remain in place for a few years.

Other builders will then be able to rent space in the lab to put their own properties under the spotlight.

The project’s first house was built by U.K. property firm Barratt Developments and French materials giant Saint-Gobain.

It is clad with decorative bricks over a frame of wood panels and insulation, with solar panels on the roof.

Scientists are examining the efficiency of several different types of heating systems, including air-source heat pumps.

In the living room, a hot-water circuit is located along the bottom of the walls, while further heat is provided via infrared technology in the molding and from a wall panel.

Mirrors also act as infrared radiators while numerous sensors monitor which rooms are in use.

Residents will be able to manage the technology via one single control system similar to Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa interface.

Builders estimate the cutting-edge tech will mean that the energy bill will be just one quarter of what the average U.K. home currently pays, a boon to customers reeling from sky-high energy prices.

It will also make an important contribution to Britain’s efforts to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 to combat climate change.

A parliamentary report found that, in 2019, 17% of heating emissions from buildings came from homes — making their contribution similar to all the petrol and diesel cars driving on Britain’s roads.

Environmental campaigners have long called on the U.K. government to increase energy efficiency and insulation support for existing homes across Britain.

‘Alexa of home energy’

“One of the key technologies that we’re trying on this house is almost like a building management system for residential buildings,” said Tom Cox, U.K. technical director at Saint-Gobain.

“It’s almost like the Alexa of the home energy system — and that can be automated as much as the occupant wants.”

And now with their mega-laboratory, scientists and companies no longer have to wait for extreme swings in the weather.

“We can test a year’s worth of weather conditions in a week,” added Cox.

The “ultimate goal is to create that environment which is comfortable and cost effective and commercially viable to deliver,” added Cox.

“At the same time (we are) addressing the sustainability issues that we have in construction.”

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Seeing Is Believing? Global Scramble to Tackle Deepfakes

Chatbots spouting falsehoods, face-swapping apps crafting porn videos, and cloned voices defrauding companies of millions — the scramble is on to rein in AI deepfakes that have become a misinformation super spreader.

Artificial Intelligence is redefining the proverb “seeing is believing,” with a deluge of images created out of thin air and people shown mouthing things they never said in real-looking deepfakes that have eroded online trust.

“Yikes. (Definitely) not me,” tweeted billionaire Elon Musk last year in one vivid example of a deepfake video that showed him promoting a cryptocurrency scam.

China recently adopted expansive rules to regulate deepfakes but most countries appear to be struggling to keep up with the fast-evolving technology amid concerns that regulation could stymie innovation or be misused to curtail free speech.

Experts warn that deepfake detectors are vastly outpaced by creators, who are hard to catch as they operate anonymously using AI-based software that was once touted as a specialized skill but is now widely available at low cost.

Facebook owner Meta last year said it took down a deepfake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urging citizens to lay down their weapons and surrender to Russia.

And British campaigner Kate Isaacs, 30, said her “heart sank” when her face appeared in a deepfake porn video that unleashed a barrage of online abuse after an unknown user posted it on Twitter.

“I remember just feeling like this video was going to go everywhere — it was horrendous,” Isaacs, who campaigns against non-consensual porn, was quoted as saying by the BBC in October.

The following month, the British government voiced concern about deepfakes and warned of a popular website that “virtually strips women naked.”

‘Information apocalypse’

With no barriers to creating AI-synthesized text, audio and video, the potential for misuse in identity theft, financial fraud and tarnishing reputations has sparked global alarm.

The Eurasia group called the AI tools “weapons of mass disruption.”

“Technological advances in artificial intelligence will erode social trust, empower demagogues and authoritarians, and disrupt businesses and markets,” the group warned in a report.

“Advances in deepfakes, facial recognition, and voice synthesis software will render control over one’s likeness a relic of the past.”

This week AI startup ElevenLabs admitted that its voice cloning tool could be misused for “malicious purposes” after users posted a deepfake audio purporting to be actor Emma Watson reading Adolf Hitler’s biography “Mein Kampf.”

The growing volume of deepfakes may lead to what the European law enforcement agency Europol described as an “information apocalypse,” a scenario where many people are unable to distinguish fact from fiction.

“Experts fear this may lead to a situation where citizens no longer have a shared reality or could create societal confusion about which information sources are reliable,” Europol said in a report.

That was demonstrated last weekend when NFL player Damar Hamlin spoke to his fans in a video for the first time since he suffered a cardiac arrest during a match.

Hamlin thanked medical professionals responsible for his recovery, but many who believed conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 vaccine was behind his on-field collapse baselessly labeled his video a deepfake.

‘Super spreader’

China enforced new rules last month that will require businesses offering deepfake services to obtain the real identities of their users. They also require deepfake content to be appropriately tagged to avoid “any confusion.”

The rules came after the Chinese government warned that deepfakes present a “danger to national security and social stability.”

In the United States, where lawmakers have pushed for a task force to police deepfakes, digital rights activists caution against legislative overreach that could kill innovation or target legitimate content.

The European Union, meanwhile, is locked in heated discussions over its proposed “AI Act.”

The law, which the EU is racing to pass this year, will require users to disclose deepfakes but many fear the legislation could prove toothless if it does not cover creative or satirical content.

“How do you reinstate digital trust with transparency? That is the real question right now,” Jason Davis, a research professor at Syracuse University, told AFP.

“The [detection] tools are coming and they’re coming relatively quickly. But the technology is moving perhaps even quicker. So like cyber security, we will never solve this, we will only hope to keep up.”

Many are already struggling to comprehend advances such as ChatGPT, a chatbot created by the U.S.-based OpenAI that is capable of generating strikingly cogent texts on almost any topic.

In a study, media watchdog NewsGuard, which called it the “next great misinformation super spreader,” said most of the chatbot’s responses to prompts related to topics such as COVID-19 and school shootings were “eloquent, false and misleading.”

“The results confirm fears … about how the tool can be weaponized in the wrong hands,” NewsGuard said.

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Breast Cancer Is Leading Cause of Cancer Deaths Among Women

As it marks World Cancer Day, the World Health Organization is calling for action to tackle breast cancer, the most common and leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

 

Every year, more than 2.3 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and nearly 700,000 die of the disease, which disproportionately affects women living in low- and middle-income countries.

 

WHO officials say women who live in poorer countries are far less likely to survive breast cancer than women in richer countries.   

 

“Breast cancer survival is 50 percent or less in many low- and middle-income countries, and greater than 90 percent for those able to receive the best care in high income countries,” says Bente Mikkelsen, director of the Noncommunicable Diseases Department at the WHO.

 

She says the odds are stacked against women who live in poor countries, noting many must sell their assets to pay for the treatment they need.   

 

She notes that women also are discouraged from seeking and receiving a timely diagnosis for their condition because of the stigma attached to breast cancer.   

 

“A woman subjected to racial and ethnic disparities will receive lower quality care and be forced to abandon treatment,” she says.

 

WHO data show more than 20 high income countries have successfully reduced breast cancer mortality by 40 percent since 1990. It finds five-year survival rates from breast cancer in North America and western Europe is better than 95 percent, compared to 66 percent in India and 40 percent in South Africa.

 

Mikkelsen says by closing the rich-poor inequity gap, some 2.5 million lives could be saved over the next two decades.

 

“Time is, unfortunately, not on our side. Breast cancer will be a larger public health threat for tomorrow, and the gap in care will continue to grow.  

 

She says that “by the year 2040, more than 3 million cases and 1 million deaths are predicted to occur each year worldwide. Approximately 75 percent of these deaths will occur in low- and middle-income countries.”

 

Coinciding with World Cancer Day, the WHO is launching a global breast cancer initiative to tackle the looming threat. The initiative contains a series of best practices for addressing this significant public health issue.

 

The strategy rests on three main pillars: early-detection programs so at least 60 percent of breast cancers are diagnosed and treated as an early-stage disease; starting treatment within three months of diagnosis; managing breast cancer to ensure at least 80 percent of patients complete their recommended treatment.

 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, says, “Countries with weaker health systems are least able to manage the increasing burden of breast cancer … so, it must be a priority for ministries of health and governments everywhere.

 

“We have the tools and the knowhow to prevent breast cancer and save lives,” he says.   

 

Benjamin Anderson, medical officer and lead of the WHO’s global breast cancer initiative, says one of the best ways to implement the initiative is through primary health care systems.   

 

“The patient pathway is the basis of the three pillars of the global cancer initiative framework. What we anticipate is that by using awareness, education in the public, combined with professional education, it sets us up for the diagnostic processes that must take place and the treatment that has to follow.”  

 

The World Health Organization warns failure to act now to address cancer in women, including breast cancer, will have serious intergenerational consequences.

 

It cites a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that reported that because of “the estimated 4.4 million women who died from cancer in 2020, about 1 million children became maternal orphans in that year,” 25 percent of which was due to breast cancer.

 

Mikkelsen observes, “the children whose mothers die from cancer experience health and educational disadvantages throughout their lives.”

 

WHO officials acknowledge the cost of drugs to treat breast cancer could be a matter of life or death. It notes the price of certain oral drugs is less than $1, while others range from $9,000 to $10,000.

 

As many countries are unable to negotiate prices, they say the WHO is working to increase the availability and affordability of breast cancer medication.

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Musk Found Not Liable in Tesla Tweet Trial

Jurors on Friday cleared Elon Musk of liability for investors’ losses in a fraud trial over his 2018 tweets falsely claiming that he had funding in place to take Tesla private.

The tweets sent the Tesla share price on a rollercoaster ride, and Musk was sued by shareholders who said the tycoon acted recklessly in an effort to squeeze investors who had bet against the company.

Jurors deliberated for barely two hours before returning to the San Francisco courtroom to say they unanimously agreed that neither Musk nor the Tesla board perpetrated fraud with the tweets and in their aftermath.

“Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed!” tweeted Musk, who had tried but failed to get the trial moved to Texas on the grounds jurors in California would be biased against him.

“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case.”

Attorney Nicholas Porritt, who represents Glen Littleton and other investors in Tesla, had argued in court that the case was about making sure the rich and powerful have to abide by the same stock market rules as everyone else.

“Elon Musk published tweets that were false with reckless disregard as to their truth,” Porritt told the panel of nine jurors during closing arguments.

Porritt pointed to expert testimony estimating that Musk’s claim about funding, which turned out not to be true, cost investors billions of dollars overall and that Musk and the Tesla board should be made to pay damages.

But Musk attorney Alex Spiro successfully countered that the billionaire may have erred on wording in a hasty tweet, but that he did not set out to deceive anyone.

Spiro also portrayed the mercurial entrepreneur, who now owns Twitter, as having had a troubled childhood and having come to the United States as a poor youth chasing dreams.

No joke

Musk testified during three days on the witness stand that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share was no joke and that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund was serious about helping him do it.

“To Elon Musk, if he believes it or even just thinks about it then it’s true no matter how objectively false or exaggerated it may be,” Porritt told jurors.

Tesla and its board were also to blame, because they let Musk use his Twitter account to post news about the company, Porritt argued.

The case revolved around a pair of tweets in which Musk said “funding secured” for a project to buy out the publicly traded electric automaker, then in a second tweet added that “investor support is confirmed.”

“He wrote two words ‘funding secured’ that were technically inaccurate,” Spiro said of Musk while addressing jurors.

“Whatever you think of him, this isn’t a bad tweeter trial, it’s a ‘did they prove this man committed fraud?’ trial.”

Musk did not intend to deceive anyone with the tweets and had the connections and wealth to take Tesla private, Spiro contended.

During the trial playing out in federal court in San Francisco, Spiro said that even though the tweets may have been a “reckless choice of words,” they were not fraud.

“I’m being accused of fraud; it’s outrageous,” Musk said while testifying in person.

Musk said he fired off the tweets at issue after learning of a Financial Times story about a Saudi Arabian investment fund wanting to acquire a stake in Tesla.

The trial came at a sensitive time for Musk, who has dominated the headlines for his chaotic takeover of Twitter where he has laid off more than half of the 7,500 employees and scaled down content moderation. 

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