Google Bars Using Artificial Intelligence Tech in Weapons, Unreasonable Surveillance

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Google Bars Using Artificial Intelligence Tech in Weapons, Unreasonable Surveillance

Friday, 8 June, 2018 – 09:45
FILE PHOTO: Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
Google announced Thursday it would not allow its artificial intelligence software to be used in weapons or unreasonable surveillance efforts under new standards for its business decisions in the nascent field.

The Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) unit said the restriction could help Google management defuse months of protest by thousands of employees against the company’s work with the US military to identify objects in drone video.

Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post: “We want to be clear that while we are not developing AI for use in weapons, we will continue our work with governments and the military in many other areas,” such as cybersecurity, training, or search and rescue.

Pichai set out seven principles for Google’s application of artificial intelligence, or advanced computing that can simulate intelligent human behavior.

He said Google is using AI “to help people tackle urgent problems” such as prediction of wildfires, helping farmers, diagnosing disease or preventing blindness, AFP reported.

“We recognize that such powerful technology raises equally powerful questions about its use,” Pichai said in the blog.

“How AI is developed and used will have a significant impact on society for many years to come. As a leader in AI, we feel a deep responsibility to get this right.”

He added that the principles also called for AI applications to be “built and tested for safety,” to be “accountable to people” and to “incorporate privacy design principles.”

The move came after potential of AI systems to pinpoint drone strikes better than military specialists or identify dissidents from mass collection of online communications has sparked concerns among academic ethicists and Google employees, according to Reuters.

Several technology firms have already agreed to the general principles of using artificial intelligence for good, but Google appeared to offer a more precise set of standards.

Asteroid on Course to Earth Was Spotted Just Hours Before It Hit The Atmosphere

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Asteroid on Course to Earth Was Spotted Just Hours Before It Hit The Atmosphere

Surprise!

ALEX HORTON, THE WASHINGTON POST
5 JUN 2018

Witnesses reported a fireball streaking across the sky above Botswana on Saturday night.

The asteroid hurtling toward Earth at 10 miles (16 km) a second looked like it could be the harbinger of catastrophe. A webcam in a rural area west of Johannesburg captured it, showing a luminous orb igniting the sky in a bright flash.

NASA had only discovered the asteroid on Saturday and determined it was on a collision course for the planet, charted for entry in a vast expanse from Southern Africa and across the Indian Ocean to New Guinea and given the name 2018 LA.

The reality of the asteroid’s fiery end was less dramatic than the video shows. The asteroid was estimated at just six feet (1.8 metres) across, otherwise known as boulder-sized, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.

It burned up “several miles” above the Earth’s surface.

NASA and space enthusiasts do not get many opportunities like this. Asteroid 2018 LA was only the third asteroid discovered on an impact trajectory, the agency said, and just the second time a high probability of impact was determined ahead of time.

The last predicted impact was asteroid 2014 AA, and it too was discovered only hours before it entered the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean on New Year’s Day in 2014, NASA said.

“[T]his real-world event allows us to exercise our capabilities and gives some confidence our impact prediction models are adequate to respond to the potential impact of a larger object,” said Lindley Johnson, an official at NASA’s Planetary Defense team, which tracks and warns of asteroids that may pose a threat to the planet.

KFDLE7J3A4ZMJHHOSXVO67EJUAThe discovery observations of Asteroid 2018 LA. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/CSS-Univ. of Arizona)

Asteroids are small remnants of violent collisions in the solar system’s history and formed around 4.5 billion years ago.

They are typically composed of rock-forming minerals like olivine and pyroxene but often contain iron and nickel, NASA said.

The Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter contains hundreds of thousands of asteroids more than half a mile in size or more, with millions of smaller objects tumbling in space.

Asteroid 2018 LA was first discovered by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey operated by the University of Arizona, the agency said. NASA linked to the video in its statement, and the publisher said on YouTube the video is from his father’s South African farm.

NASA relies on a patchwork of observers to track what it calls near-Earth asteroids, the agency explained in a video.

Constantly scanning telescopes capture images of the sky and movement through photos over time triggers a comparison of known objects in a database.

If the object is unknown, the agency will review the object and expedite the analysis if experts determine it will streak close to the Earth. Astronomers from NASA, other space agencies and even amateur enthusiasts then join in to refine the trajectory.

2018 © The Washington Post

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” From AI

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

ORDER FROM CHAOS

The West is ill-prepared for the wave of “deep fakes” that artificial intelligence could unleash

Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova

Editor’s Note:To get ahead of new problems related to disinformation and technology, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies, write Chris Meserole and Alina Polyakova. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect. This piece originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com.

Russian disinformation has become a problem for European governments. In the last two years, Kremlin-backed campaigns have spread false stories alleging that French President Emmanuel Macron was backed by the “gay lobby,” fabricated a story of a Russian-German girl raped by Arab migrants, and spread a litany of conspiracy theories about the Catalan independence referendum, among other efforts.

Europe is finally taking action. In January, Germany’s Network Enforcement Act came into effect. Designed to limit hate speech and fake news online, the law prompted both France and Spain to consider counterdisinformation legislation of their own. More important, in April the European Union unveiled a new strategy for tackling online disinformation. The EU plan focuses on several sensible responses: promoting media literacy, funding a third-party fact-checking service, and pushing Facebook and others to highlight news from credible media outlets, among others. Although the plan itself stops short of regulation, EU officials have not been shy about hinting that regulation may be forthcoming. Indeed, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared at an EU hearing this week, lawmakers reminded him of their regulatory power after he appeared to dodge their questions on fake news and extremist content.

The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies.

The recent European actions are important first steps. Ultimately, none of the laws or strategies that have been unveiled so far will be enough. The problem is that technology advances far more quickly than government policies. The EU’s measures are still designed to target the disinformation of yesterday rather than that of tomorrow.

To get ahead of the problem, policymakers in Europe and the United States should focus on the coming wave of disruptive technologies. Fueled by advances in artificial intelligence and decentralized computing, the next generation of disinformation promises to be even more sophisticated and difficult to detect.

To craft effective strategies for the near term, lawmakers should focus on four emerging threats in particular: the democratization of artificial intelligence, the evolution of social networks, the rise of decentralized applications, and the “back end” of disinformation.

Thanks to bigger data, better algorithms, and custom hardware, in the coming years, individuals around the world will increasingly have access to cutting-edge artificial intelligence. From health care to transportation, the democratization of AI holds enormous promise.

Yet as with any dual-use technology, the proliferation of AI also poses significant risks. Among other concerns, it promises to democratize the creation of fake print, audio, and video stories. Although computers have long allowed for the manipulation of digital content, in the past that manipulation has almost always been detectable: A fake image would fail to account for subtle shifts in lighting, or a doctored speech would fail to adequately capture cadence and tone. However, deep learning and generative adversarial networks have made it possible to doctor imagesand video so well that it’s difficult to distinguish manipulated files from authentic ones. And thanks to apps like FakeApp and Lyrebird, these so-called “deep fakes” can now be produced by anyone with a computer or smartphone. Earlier this year, a tool that allowed users to easily swap faces in video produced fake celebrity porn, which went viral on Twitter and Pornhub.

Deep fakes and the democratization of disinformation will prove challenging for governments and civil society to counter effectively. Because the algorithms that generate the fakes continuously learn how to more effectively replicate the appearance of reality, deep fakes cannot easily be detected by other algorithms—indeed, in the case of generative adversarial networks, the algorithm works by getting really good at fooling itself. To address the democratization of disinformation, governments, civil society, and the technology sector therefore cannot rely on algorithms alone, but will instead need to invest in new models of social verification, too.

At the same time as artificial technology and other emerging technologies mature, legacy platforms will continue to play an outsized role in the production and dissemination of information online. For instance, consider the current proliferation of disinformation on Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

A growing cottage industry of search engine optimization (SEO) manipulation provides services to clients looking to rise in the Google rankings. And while for the most part, Google is able to stay ahead of attempts to manipulate its algorithms through continuous tweaks, SEO manipulators are also becoming increasingly savvy at gaming the system so that the desired content, including disinformation, appears at the top of search results.

For example, stories from RT and Sputnik—the Russian government’s propaganda outlets—appeared on the first page of Google searches after the March nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom and the April chemical weapons attack in Syria. Similarly, YouTube (which is owned by Google) has an algorithm that prioritizes the amount of time users spend watching content as the key metric for determining which content appears first in search results. This algorithmic preference results in false, extremist, and unreliable information appearing at the top, which in turn means that this content is viewed more often and is perceived as more reliable by users. Revenue for the SEO manipulation industry is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

On Facebook, disinformation appears in one of two ways: through shared content and through paid advertising. The company has tried to curtail disinformation across each vector, but thus far to no avail. Most famously, Facebook introduced a “Disputed Flag” to signify possible false news—only to discover that the flag made users more likely to engage with the content, rather than less. Less conspicuously, in Canada, the company is experimenting with increasing the transparency of its paid advertisements by making all ads available for review, including those micro-targeted to a small set of users. Yet, the effort is limited: The sponsors of ads are often buried, requiring users to do time-consuming research, and the archive Facebook set up for the ads is not a permanent database but only shows active ads. Facebook’s early efforts do not augur well for a future in which foreign actors can continue to exploit its news feed and ad products to deliver disinformation—including deep fakes produced and targeted at specific individuals or groups.

Although Twitter has taken steps to combat the proliferation of trolls and bots on its platform, it remains deeply vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, since accounts are not verified and its application programming interface, or API, still makes it possible to easily generate and spread false content on the platform. Even if Twitter takes further steps to crack down on abuse, its detection algorithms can be reverse-engineered in much the same way Google’s search algorithm is. Without fundamental changes to its API and interaction design, Twitter will remain rife with disinformation. It’s telling, for example, that when the U.S. military struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities in April—well after Twitter’s latest reforms were put in place—the Pentagon reported a massive surge in Russian disinformation in the hours immediately following the attack. The tweets appeared to come from legitimate accounts, and there was no way to report them as misinformation.

Blockchain technologies and other distributed ledgers are best known for powering cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum. Yet their biggest impact may lie in transforming how the internet works. As more and more decentralized applications come online, the web will increasingly be powered by services and protocols that are designed from the ground up to resist the kind of centralized control that Facebook and others enjoy. For instance, users can already browse videos on DTube rather than YouTube, surf the web on the Blockstack browser rather than Safari, and store files using IPFS, a peer-to-peer file system, rather than Dropbox or Google Docs. To be sure, the decentralized application ecosystem is still a niche area that will take time to mature and work out the glitches. But as security improves over time with fixes to the underlying network architecture, distributed ledger technologies promise to make for a web that is both more secure and outside the control of major corporations and states.

If and when online activity migrates onto decentralized applications, the security and decentralization they provide will be a boon for privacy advocates and human rights dissidents. But it will also be a godsend for malicious actors. Most of these services have anonymity and public-key cryptography baked in, making accounts difficult to track back to real-life individuals or organizations. Moreover, once information is submitted to a decentralized application, it can be nearly impossible to take down. For instance, the IPFS protocol has no method for deletion—users can only add content, they cannot remove it.

For governments, civil society, and private actors, decentralized applications will thus pose an unprecedented challenge, as the current methods for responding to and disrupting disinformation campaigns will no longer apply. Whereas governments and civil society can ultimately appeal to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if they want to block or remove a malicious user or problematic content on Twitter, with decentralized applications, there won’t always be someone to turn to. If the Manchester bomber had viewed bomb-making instructions on a decentralized app rather than on YouTube, it’s not clear who authorities should or could approach about blocking the content.

Over the last three years, renewed attention to Russian disinformation efforts has sparked research and activities among a growing number of nonprofit organizations, governments, journalists, and activists. So far, these efforts have focused on documenting the mechanisms and actors involved in disinformation campaigns—tracking bot networks, identifying troll accounts, monitoring media narratives, and tracing the diffusion of disinformation content. They’ve also included governmental efforts to implement data protection and privacy policies, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and legislative proposals to introduce more transparency and accountability into the online advertising space.

While these efforts are certainly valuable for raising awareness among the public and policymakers, by focusing on the end product (the content), they rarely delve into the underlying infrastructure and advertising marketsdriving disinformation campaigns. Doing so requires a deeper examination and assessment of the “back end” of disinformation. In other words, the algorithms and industries—the online advertising market, the SEO manipulation market, and data brokers—behind the end product. Increased automation paired with machine learning will transform this space as well.

To get ahead of these emerging threats, Europe and the United States should consider several policy responses.

First, the EU and the United States should commit significant funding to research and development at the intersection of AI and information warfare. In April, the European Commission called for at least 20 billion euros (about $23 billion) to be spent on research on AI by 2020, prioritizing the health, agriculture, and transportation sectors. None of the funds are earmarked for research and development specifically on disinformation. At the same time, current European initiatives to counter disinformation prioritize education and fact-checking while leaving out AI and other new technologies.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats.

As long as tech research and counterdisinformation efforts run on parallel, disconnected tracks, little progress will be made in getting ahead of emerging threats. In the United States, the government has been reluctant to step in to push forward tech research as Silicon Valley drives innovation with little oversight. The 2016 Obama administration report on the future of AI did not allocate funding, and the Trump administration has yet to release its own strategy. As revelations of Russian manipulation of digital platforms continue, it is becoming increasingly clear that governments will need to work together with private sector firms to identify vulnerabilities and national security threats.

Furthermore, the EU and the U.S. government should also move quickly to prevent the rise of misinformation on decentralized applications. The emergence of decentralized applications presents policymakers with a rare second chance: When social networks were being built a decade ago, lawmakers failed to anticipate the way in which they could be exploited by malicious actors. With such applications still a niche market, policymakers can respond before the decentralized web reaches global scale. Governments should form new public-private partnerships to help developers ensure that the next generation of the web isn’t as ripe for misinformation campaigns. A model could be the United Nations’ Tech Against Terrorism project, which works closely with small tech companies to help them design their platforms from the ground up to guard against terrorist exploitation.

Finally, legislators should continue to push for reforms in the digital advertising industry. As AI continues to transform the industry, disinformation content will become more precise and micro-targeted to specific audiences. AI will make it far easier for malicious actors and legitimate advertisers alike to track user behavior online, identify potential new users to target, and collect information about users’ attitudes, beliefs, and preferences.

In 2014, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission released a report calling for transparency and accountability in the data broker industry. The report called on Congress to consider legislation that would shine light on these firms’ activities by giving individuals access and information about how their data is collected and used online. The EU’s protection regulation goes a long way in giving users control over their data and limits how social media platforms process users’ data for ad-targeting purposes. Facebook is also experimenting with blocking foreign ad sales ahead of contentious votes. Still, the digital ads industry as a whole remains a black box to policymakers, and much more can still be done to limit data mining and regulate political ads online.

Effectively tracking and targeting each of the areas above won’t be easy. Yet policymakers need to start focusing on them now. If the EU’s new anti-disinformation effort and other related policies fail to track evolving technologies, they risk being antiquated before they’re even introduced.

A how-to guide for managing the end of the post-Cold War era. Read all the Order from Chaos content »

China: Technology adds eyes and ears to old building preservation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS PAPER ‘SHINE’)

 

Technology adds eyes and ears to old building preservation

Toward a people-friendly environment

Li Qian / SHINE

Local officials use a drone to check the condition of historical buildings in the Yuhua Xincun neighborhood in Jing’an District.

Li Qian / SHINE

Sensors have been installed on historical buildings to detect any illegal construction activity.

Officials in downtown Jing’an District are tapping into modern technology to save the old.

Jing’ansi, a subdistrict with many historical buildings, has installed sensors on old buildings to hear disruptions and uses surveillance drones as eyes to ensure that heritage is protected.

Stretching over 1.57 square kilometers — from Fumin and Changde roads in the east, Zhenning Road (west), Changle Road (south) and Xinzha Road (north), about 85 percent of the area features more than 370 landmark structures and is part of the city’s protected historic and cultural zone.

It’s not an easy task to preserve historical buildings when they are inhabited by people, according to Hong Xuegang, deputy director of the subdistrict.

“Owners often move out and rent their units,” he said. “When we need to have documents signed related to maintenance or renovation, or to gain access for inspections, we can’t always find the owners easily.”

One concern is illegal construction that damages the original heritage of a building. Officials can’t just barge their way into an apartment if they get a tip about possible violations but have no direct proof.

Now, historic buildings can speak for themselves.

Since last November, the subdistrict has installed nearly 300 sensors on the facades of 37 historic buildings. Each sensor is the size of two matchboxes and is connected to a big data analytics platform.

Alerts are triggered if vibrations in a building are detected.

“Officials will rush to check whether the alarms signal illegal construction or other violations,” said Hong.

So far, community officials have intervened in 23 valid alerts, arriving in time to prevent damage to buildings.

In addition to the sensors, there are two drones that fly over the historic buildings as part of routine patrols. They can capture and record violations.

“We often can’t just step into residents’ gardens or climb up to rooftops,” Hong said. “The drones do surveillance for us and can provide photographic evidence of violations.”

In one recent example, local officials learned of construction going on inside a protected building. When they went to check, the owner said he was just repairing a leaking roof.

Drones were flown overhead to take photos. By comparing the pictures with archived plans of the building, officials were able to ascertain that the owner wasn’t destroying a heritage roof.

Hong admitted that some people fear loss of privacy when drones are used in surveillance.

“Indeed, there are some concerns,” he said. “We don’t fly drones close to people’s windows. We always use drone operators who are trained and licensed.”

Sensors and drones may be high-tech “eyes” on old buildings, but local residents are still the gatekeepers. Neighborhood volunteers patrol around the buildings daily to ensure that violations like illegal construction don’t occur.

“Previously, many residents weren’t aware that they were living in a building of historical importance,” Hong said. “But now they know, and they clearly value their homes even more.”

Shi Xianghong, 61, is one of the more than 10 volunteers who keep an eye on illegal construction. The volunteer team was set up more than a year ago and has proved to be a success.

“I have lived in Yuhua Xincun neighborhood for more than 30 years, and love the historical buildings and the nostalgic ambience here,” she said.

“Some of my neighbors have rented out their units to others who don’t value the historical facades and the old interior decorations. They like modern decoration and replace the old with new.”

“Once we found iron rods in the lane and we reported it to the authorities. On investigation, they found that the tenant was preparing to build an attic without getting approval. We helped to prevent it,” she said.

Jing’an has three protected historical and cultural zones, and 265 immovable cultural heritage objects.

“At present, work to protect these relics isn’t perfected,” said district director Lu Xiaodong. “We have to pay more attention to preventive measures instead of just relying on rescue efforts in the aftermath.”

In March, Shanghai’s first district-level government body on cultural-relic protection was set up. The Jing’an Cultural Relics Protection Management Center is responsible for collecting and storing archives, making identification cards for historic buildings and repairing heritage structures.

This year, 170 historic buildings in Zhangyuan Garden will be given ID cards that provide information on their age, history and condition. Work on Jing’an Villa, Anlefang and Garden Apartment will start in coming months.

The district is also tapping the memories of older residents to record the history of old buildings and neighborhoods.

The Jiangning Road Subdistrict compiled a book based on interviews with local residents. It included 37 paintings of 24 missing or surviving iconic spots.

The Shimen Road No. 2 Sub-district collected family treasures from residents and displayed them in the city’s first museum of lane house heritage.

Tibetan Medical Technology Ancient And Current Genius

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)

Technology boosts medical practice in Tibetan hospitals

SEED germinators and western medical equipment are no longer novelties in Tibetan hospitals, as researchers and doctors become increasingly technologically adept.

Tashi Tsering with the Biological Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine at Lhasa’s Men-Tsee-Khang — a traditional Tibetan hospital founded in 1916 — has been growing meconopsis aculeata under controlled conditions for six years.

A rare member of the poppy family, the flowering plant grows only at high altitude and is used in 257 traditional remedies, principally for liver complaints.

As global warming pushes the snow line upward, the plant’s habitat has shifted from 3,000-4,000 meters above sea level to 5,000. This, coupled with a growing demand, has resulted in even greater scarcity, Tsering said.

He and his team surveyed 37 counties in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan before their first attempt to cultivate the plant.

“We scored zero on our first try,” he said. No seeds sprouted in 2011 at the test site in Lhasa, despite the light, temperature, moisture and soil having been meticulously controlled to simulate the natural habitat.

In the second year, the germination rate rose to 17 percent. In 2015, the team harvested their own seeds for the first time and this year almost 90 percent of them sprouted. Despite the achievement, it is too early to begin celebrations until technical assessment and lab tests confirm the reliability of the home-grown product.

Traditionally, Tibetan medical practitioners spent years learning to gather herbs, with instructions so sophisticated that they had to memorize which part of each herb to pick under which weather and seasonal conditions and at which time.

The institute has grown 27 endangered herbs in artificial conditions over the past decade and a new laboratory now houses a variety of equipment including germinators, climate incubators, soil testers and imaging systems.

“To meet the rising demand for Tibetan medicine, artificial cultivation of medicinal herbs is a must,” Tsering said.

Tibetan medicine’s influence is expanding beyond the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

For example, An’erning granules, a remedy for the common cold in children and approved by the State Food and Drug Administration, is a leading pediatric patent medicine nationwide.

Considered incurable

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, considered incurable in western medicine, is claimed to be 94 percent successful in the Arura Hospital in Xining where Tibetan doctors use a holistic approach including medicated bathing, special diets and psychology.

Konchok Gyaltsen, honorary president of the hospital, believes it is the combination of philosophy and herbalism that creates and maintains a healthy mind and body.

Dorje, director of the Qinghai Provincial Tibetan Medicine Research Institute, argues that Tibetan medicine was advanced even in ancient times, with Tibetan physicians performing brain and cataract surgery 1,000 years before their western counterparts. At the Qinghai Tibetan Culture Museum in Xining, dozens of surgical instruments used 1,300 years ago are on display.

Tibetan Medical Technology Ancient And Current Genius

(This article is courtesy of the Shanghai Daily News)

Technology boosts medical practice in Tibetan hospitals

SEED germinators and western medical equipment are no longer novelties in Tibetan hospitals, as researchers and doctors become increasingly technologically adept.

Tashi Tsering with the Biological Research Institute of Tibetan Medicine at Lhasa’s Men-Tsee-Khang — a traditional Tibetan hospital founded in 1916 — has been growing meconopsis aculeata under controlled conditions for six years.

A rare member of the poppy family, the flowering plant grows only at high altitude and is used in 257 traditional remedies, principally for liver complaints.

As global warming pushes the snowline upward, the plant’s habitat has shifted from 3,000-4,000 meters above sea level to 5,000. This, coupled with a growing demand, has resulted in even greater scarcity, Tsering said.

He and his team surveyed 37 counties in Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Tibet and Yunnan before their first attempt to cultivate the plant.

“We scored zero on our first try,” he said. No seeds sprouted in 2011 at the test site in Lhasa, despite the light, temperature, moisture and soil having been meticulously controlled to simulate the natural habitat.

In the second year, the germination rate rose to 17 percent. In 2015, the team harvested their own seeds for the first time and this year almost 90 percent of them sprouted. Despite the achievement, it is too early to begin celebrations until technical assessment and lab tests confirm the reliability of the home-grown product.

Traditionally, Tibetan medical practitioners spent years learning to gather herbs, with instructions so sophisticated that they had to memorize which part of each herb to pick under which weather and seasonal conditions and at which time.

The institute has grown 27 endangered herbs in artificial conditions over the past decade and a new laboratory now houses a variety of equipment including germinators, climate incubators, soil testers and imaging systems.

“To meet the rising demand for Tibetan medicine, artificial cultivation of medicinal herbs is a must,” Tsering said.

Tibetan medicine’s influence is expanding beyond the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

For example, An’erning granules, a remedy for the common cold in children and approved by the State Food and Drug Administration, is a leading pediatric patent medicine nationwide.

Considered incurable

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, considered incurable in western medicine, is claimed to be 94 percent successful in the Arura Hospital in Xining where Tibetan doctors use a holistic approach including medicated bathing, special diets and psychology.

Konchok Gyaltsen, honorary president of the hospital, believes it is the combination of philosophy and herbalism that creates and maintains a healthy mind and body.

Dorje, director of the Qinghai Provincial Tibetan Medicine Research Institute, argues that Tibetan medicine was advanced even in ancient times, with Tibetan physicians performing brain and cataract surgery 1,000 years before their western counterparts. At the Qinghai Tibetan Culture Museum in Xining, dozens of surgical instruments used 1,300 years ago are on display.

Ethiopian Scientist Believe “First Human” Lucy Died From Falling Out Of A Tree

(This article is courtesy of the Addis Ababa News Paper: The Ethiopia Herald)

Scientists say Lucy died after arboreal accident

Texas and Addis Ababa University researchers said that the ancient human ancestor Lucy probably died after falling from a tree.

Indicating that a number of researches have been conducted for years, Co-author and Addis Ababa University Paleoenviromentalist and Geoscintists Dr. Mulugeta Feseha. said that questions how 40 per cent of Lucy’s fossils were found and was Lucy living on tree or earth were some which have not yet been given response for 42 years.

The combined interpretation from Lucy’s fossils, CT scan reconstructions and ancient environment interpretation from geological information support to conclude that Lucy died falling from a tall tree, and this was followed by rapid brutal in riverside crevasse splay sandstone sediments.

“It is ironic that the fossil at the center of a debate about the role of arborealism in human evolution likely died from injuries suffered from a fall out of a tree,”said Lead Author Anthropologist and Geographical Professor John Kappelman Austin University.

The fact that 40 per cent of Lucy’s remains are preserved and Lucy being discovered from ancient riverine environment tells that the ancient environment of Lucy needs a close scrutiny to hypothesize how Lucy was preserved,” Dr. Mulugeta said.

Lucy was both terrestrial and arboreal, features that permitted her to move efficiently on the ground may have compromised her ability to climb trees, predisposing her specious to more frequent falls. Using fracture patterns when present, future research may tell a more complete story of how ancient species lived and died, it was learnt.

The Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) Director General Yonas Desta said that his office has been providing unreserved support for researchers who are trying to conduct research and come up with new findings.

WRITTEN BY GIRMACHEW GASHAW

Nigeria’s Basic Education System Is Failing Their Citizens And Businesses

(This article is courtesy of the Abuja Nigeria Inquirer News Paper)

Despite concerted efforts towards improving primary and secondary education in the country, the newly appointed Executive Secretary of Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, Dr. Hameed Bobboyi, has said basic education has suffered serious neglect.
Bobboyi, who spoke in Abuja while assuming duty, called on relevant stakeholders to play an active role towards revamping the sub-sector as there is no alternative to fixing the nation’s basic education.
In a statement by the Public Relations Officer of the Commission, Mrs. Helen Okoro, the UBEC boss, noted that for the country to achieve the needed quality education and production of critical mass of manpower to drive Government’s development agenda, the foundation of basic education must first be established.
He acknowledged that there were multiple challenges confronting basic education sector in Nigeria but expressed confidence that with all relevant stakeholders working together, the much desired quality basic education would be achieved.
“We cannot get it right without properly laying a solid foundation for the growth and development of basic education. Yes, basic education is on the concurrent list, we all need to work collectively to revamp the sector.
“I understand that the Federal government has done a lot through UBEC. We will sustain that and we will also meet with the state governments and relevant stakeholders in this regard,” he said.
Bobboyi pledged to give priority attention to the welfare of staff of the Commission while also urging them to continue to discharge their duties with utmost level of patriotism, honesty and hard work.
Also speaking, the former Executive Secretary of UBEC, Dr. Suleiman Dikko, said the inability of some state governments to pay in matching grants to access UBEC allocations for the development of basic education in their domains, was a major challenge to the Commission. – See more at: http://www.theabujainquirer.com/?page=1597&get=1597#sthash.ZxWiKdZK.dpuf

Lost World Of Shipwrecks Have Been Found In The Black Sea Off Of Bulgarian Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIME’S, SCIENCE SECTION)

An image of the well-preserved medieval ship found at the bottom of the Black Sea, one of more than 40 wrecks discovered. Photogrammetry, a process using thousands of photographs and readings, produced a rendering that appears three-dimensional.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

The medieval ship lay more than a half-mile down at the bottom of the Black Sea, its masts, timbers and planking undisturbed in the darkness for seven or eight centuries. Lack of oxygen in the icy depths had ruled out the usual riot of creatures that feast on sunken wood.

This fall, a team of explorers lowered a robot on a long tether, lit up the wreck with bright lights and took thousands of high-resolution photos. A computer then merged the images into a detailed portrait.

Archaeologists date the discovery to the 13th or 14th century, opening a new window on forerunners of the 15th- and 16th-century sailing vessels that discovered the New World, including those of Columbus. This medieval ship probably served the Venetian empire, which had Black Sea outposts.

Never before had this type of ship been found in such complete form. The breakthrough was the quarterdeck, from which the captain would have directed a crew of perhaps 20 sailors.

“That’s never been seen archaeologically,” said Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, an expedition member at the Center for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, in Britain. “We couldn’t believe our eyes.”

A photogrammetric image of a ship from the Ottoman era that most likely went down between the 17th and 19th centuries. The discoverers nicknamed it the Flower of the Black Sea because of its ornate carvings, including two large posts topped with petals. Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

Remarkably, the find is but one of more than 40 shipwrecks that the international team recently discovered and photographed off the Bulgarian coast in one of archaeology’s greatest coups.

In age, the vessels span a millennium, from the Byzantine to the Ottoman empires, from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Generally, the ships are in such good repair that the images reveal intact coils of rope, rudders and elaborately carved decorations.

“They’re astonishingly preserved,” said Jon Adams, the leader of the Black Sea project and founding director of the maritime archaeology center at the University of Southampton.

Kroum Batchvarov, a team member at the University of Connecticut who grew up in Bulgaria and has conducted other studies in its waters, said the recent discoveries “far surpassed my wildest expectations.”

Independent experts said the annals of deepwater archaeology hold few, if any, comparable sweeps of discovery in which shipwrecks have proved to be so plentiful, diverse and well-preserved.

A photogrammetric image of the stern of the Ottoman-era ship showing coils of rope and a tiller with elaborate carvings. A lack of oxygen at the icy depths of the Black Sea left the wrecks relatively undisturbed.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“It’s a great story,” said Shelley Wachsmann of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. “We can expect some real contributions to our understanding of ancient trade routes.”

Goods traded on the Black Sea included grains, furs, horses, oils, cloth, wine and people. The Tatars turned Christians into slaves who were shipped to places like Cairo. For Europeans, the sea provided access to a northern branch of the Silk Road and imports of silk, satin, musk, perfumes, spices and jewels.

Marco Polo reportedly visited the Black Sea, and Italian merchant colonies dotted its shores. The profits were so enormous that, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Venice and Genoa fought a series of wars for control of the trade routes, including those of the Black Sea.

Brendan P. Foley, an archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., said the good condition of the shipwrecks implied that many objects inside their hulls might also be intact.

“You might find books, parchment, written documents,” he said in an interview. “Who knows how much of this stuff was being transported? But now we have the possibility of finding out. It’s amazing.”

Experts said the success in Bulgarian waters might inspire other nations that control portions of the Black Sea to join the archaeological hunt. They are Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Dr. Foley, who has explored a number of Black Sea wrecks, said the sea’s overall expanse undoubtedly held tens of thousands of lost ships. “Everything that sinks out there is going to be preserved,” he added. “They’re not going away.”

For ages, the Black Sea was a busy waterway that served the Balkans, the Eurasian steppes, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Greece. It long beckoned to archaeologists because they knew its deep waters lacked oxygen, a rarity for large bodies of water.

The great rivers of Eastern Europe — the Don, the Danube, the Dnieper — pour so much fresh water into the sea that a permanent layer forms over denser, salty water from the Mediterranean. As a result, oxygen from the atmosphere that mixes readily with fresh water never penetrates the inky depths.

In 1976, Willard Bascom, a pioneer of oceanography, in his book “Deep Water, Ancient Ships,” called the Black Sea unique among the world’s seas and a top candidate for exploration and discovery.

A photogrammetric image of a Byzantine wreck, dating perhaps to the ninth century. Superimposed is an image of one of the expedition’s tethered robots that photographed the lost ships.CreditExpedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“One is tempted,” he wrote, “to begin searching there in spite of the huge expanse of bottom that would have to be inspected.”

In 2002, Robert D. Ballard, a discoverer of the sunken Titanic, led a Black Sea expedition that found a 2,400-year-old wreck laden with the clay storage jars of antiquity. One held remnants of a large fish that had been dried and cut into steaks, a popular food in ancient Greece.

The new team said it received exploratory permits from the Bulgarian ministries of culture and foreign affairs and limited its Black Sea hunts to parts of that nation’s exclusive economic zone, which covers thousands of square miles and runs up to roughly a mile deep.

Although the team’s official name is the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project, or Black Sea MAP, it also hauls up sediments to hunt for clues to how the sea’s rising waters engulfed former land surfaces and human settlements.

Team members listed on its website include the Bulgarian National Institute of Archaeology, the Bulgarian Center for Underwater Archaeology, Sodertorn University in Sweden, and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece.

An illustration of what the research team believes the medieval ship found in the Black Sea looked like during its heyday. Credit Jon Adams/University of Southampton/Black Sea MAP

The project’s financial backer is the Expedition and Education Foundation, a charity registered in Britain whose benefactors want to remain anonymous, team members said. Dr. Adams of the University of Southampton, the team’s scientific leader, described it as catalyzing an academic-industry partnership on the largest project “of its type ever undertaken.”

Nothing is known publicly about the cost, presumably vast, of the Black Sea explorations, which are to run for three years. The endeavor began last year with a large Greek ship doing a preliminary survey. This year, the main vessel was the Stril Explorer, a British-flagged ship bearing a helicopter landing pad that usually services the undersea pipes and structures of the offshore oil industry.

Instead, archaeologists on the ship lowered its sophisticated robots to hunt for ancient shipwrecks and lost history.

In an interview, Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton said he was watching the monitors late one night in September when the undersea robot lit up a large wreck in a high state of preservation.

“I was speechless,” he recalled. “When I saw the ropes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t.”

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Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the vessel hailed from the Ottoman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople (today Istanbul), and most likely went down sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries. He said the team nicknamed it “Flower of the Black Sea” because its deck bears ornate carvings, including two large posts with tops that form petals.

In an interview, Dr. Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut said most of the discoveries date to the Ottoman era. So it was that, late one night, during his shift, he assumed that a new wreck coming into view would be more of the same.

“Then I saw a quarter rudder,” he recalled, referring to a kind of large steering oar on a ship’s side. It implied the wreck was much older. Then another appeared. Quickly, he had the expedition’s leader, Dr. Adams, awakened.

“He came immediately,” Dr. Batchvarov recalled. “We looked at each other like two little boys in a candy shop.”

Dr. Batchvarov said the wreck — the medieval one found more than a half-mile down — was part of a class known by several names, including cocha and “round ship.” The latter name arose from how its ample girth let it carry more cargo and passengers than a warship.

Dr. Adams said the remarkable color images of the lost ships derived from a process known as photogrammetry. It combines photography with the careful measurement of distances between objects, letting a computer turn flat images into renderings that seem three-dimensional.

He said tethered robots shot the photographic images with video and still cameras. The distance information, he added, came from advanced sonars, which emit high-pitched sounds that echo through seawater. Their measurements, he said, can range down to less than a millimeter.

A news release from the University of Southampton refers to the images as “digital models.” Their creation, it said, “takes days even with the fastest computers.”

Filmmakers are profiling the Black Sea hunt in a documentary, according to the team’s website.

Another part of the project seeks to share the thrill of discovery with schools and educators. Students are to study on the Black Sea, the website says, or join university scientists in analyzing field samples “to uncover the mysteries of the past.”

The team has said little publicly on whether it plans to excavate the ships — a topic on which nations, academics and treasure hunters have long clashed. Bulgaria is a signatory to the 2001 United Nations convention that outlaws commercial trade in underwater cultural heritage and sets out guidelines on such things as artifact recovery and public display.

Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the team had so far discovered and photographed 44 shipwrecks, and that more beckoned.

Which was the most important? Dr. Adams said that for him, a student of early European shipbuilding, the centerpiece was the medieval round ship. He said it evoked Marco Polo and city states like Venice. The ship, he added, incorporated a number of innovations that let it do more than its predecessors had and paved the way for bigger things to come.

“It’s not too much,” he said, “to say that medieval Europe became modern with the help of ships like these.”

New Earth Found?

New Earth Found?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

Habitable planet found outside solar system

SCIENTISTS on Wednesday announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star nearest our Sun, opening up the glittering prospect of a habitable world that may one day be explored by robots.

Named Proxima b, the planet is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water — a key ingredient for life.

The findings, based on data collected over 16 years, were reported in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

“We have finally succeeded in showing that a small-mass planet, most likely rocky, is orbiting the star closest to our solar system,” said co-author Julien Morin, an astrophysicist at the University of Montpellier in southern France.

“Proxima b would probably be the first exoplanet visited by a probe made by humans,” he said.

An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System.

Lead author Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University London, described the find as the “experience of a lifetime.”

Working with European Southern Observatory telescopes in the north Chilean desert, his team used the so-called Doppler method to detect Proxima b and describe its properties.

The professional star-gazers spent 60 consecutive days earlier this year looking for signs of gravitational pull on its host star, Proxima Centauri.

Regular shifts in the star’s light spectrum — repeating every 11.2 days — gave a tantalising clue.

They revealed that the star alternately moved towards and away from our Solar System at the pace of a leisurely stroll, about five kilometers per hour.

Goldilocks zone

After cross-checking an inconclusive 2000-2014 dataset and eliminating other possible causes, the researchers determined that the tug of an orbiting planet was responsible for this tiny to-and-fro.

“Statistically, there is no doubt,” Anglada-Escude told journalists in a briefing.

“We have found a planet around Proxima Centauri.”

Proxima b is a mere four light years from the Solar System, meaning that it is essentially in our back yard on the scale of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

It has a mass around 1.3 times that of Earth, and orbits about seven million kilometers from its star.

A planet so near to our Sun — 21 times closer than Earth — would be an unlivable white-hot ball of fire.

But Proxima Centauri is a so-called red dwarf, meaning a star that burns at a lower temperature.

As a result, the newly discovered planet is in a “Goldilocks” sweet spot: neither so hot that water evaporates, nor so cold that it freezes solid.

But liquid water is not the only essential ingredient for the emergence of life.

An atmosphere is also required, and on that score the researchers are still in the dark. It all depends, they say, on how Proxima b evolved as a planet.

“You can come up with formation scenarios that end up with and Earth-like atmosphere, a Venus-like atmosphere” — 96 percent carbon dioxide — “or no atmosphere at all,” said co-author Ansgar Reiners, an expert on “cold” stars at the University of Goettingen’s Institute of Astrophysics in Germany.

Computer models suggest the planet’s temperature, with an atmosphere, could be “in the range of minus 30 Celsius on the dark side, and 30C on the light side,” Reiners said.

Like the Moon in relation to Earth, Proxima b is “tidally locked,” with one face always exposed to its star and the other perpetually in shadow.

Emerging life forms would also have to cope with ultraviolet and X-rays bombarding Proxima b 100 times more intensely than on Earth.

Search for life

An atmosphere would help deflect these rays, as would a strong magnetic field.

But even high doses of radiation do not preclude life, especially if we think outside the box, scientists say.

“We have to be very open-minded as to what we call ‘life’,” Jean Schneider, an expert on exoplanets at the Observatoire de Paris, said.

Last year, NASA unveiled Kepler 452b, a planet about 60 percent larger than Earth that could have active volcanoes, oceans, sunshine like ours, and a year lasting 385 days.

But at a distance of 1,400 light-years, humankind would have little hope of reaching this Earth-twin any time soon.

By comparison, Proxima b is a stone’s throw away, though still too far away for humans to visit with present-generation chemical rockets.

“This is a dream for astronomers if we think about follow up observations,” said Reiners.