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Climate change: Is ‘blue hydrogen’ Japan’s answer to coal?

It’s a glorious autumn afternoon and I’m standing on a hillside looking out over Tokyo Bay. Beside me is Takao Saiki, a usually mild-mannered gentleman in his 70s.

But today Saiki-San is angry.

“It’s a total joke,” he says, in perfect English. “Just ridiculous!”

The cause of his distress is a giant construction site blocking our view across the bay – a 1.3-gigawatt coal-fired power station in the making.

“I don’t understand why we still have to burn coal to generate electricity,” says Saiki-San’s friend, Rikuro Suzuki. “This plant alone will emit more than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year!”

Suzuki-San’s point is a good one. Shouldn’t Japan be cutting its coal consumption, not increasing it, at a time of great concern about coal’s impact on the climate?

So why the coal? The answer is the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

In 2010 about one third of Japan’s electricity came from nuclear power, and there were plans to build a lot more. But then the 2011 disaster hit, and all Japan’s nuclear power plants were shut down. Ten years later most remain closed – and there is a lot of resistance to restarting them.

In their place Japan’s gas-fired power stations have been doing a lot of overtime. But, as Britain has found out recently, natural gas is expensive.

So, the Japanese government decided to build 22 new coal-fired power stations, to run on cheap coal imported from Australia. Economically it made sense. Environmentally, not so much. Japan is now under intense pressure to stop using coal.

Instead of closing the old coal plants and switching to renewables, Japan’s answer is to switch to burning hydrogen or ammonia.

“The investment made by electric power companies in coal-fired power plants would suddenly be useless without value in their balance sheet,” says Prof Tomas Kaberger, an expert on energy policy at Chalmers University in Sweden.

“And it would create financial difficulties for electric power companies and then for banks and pension funds. And that is the challenge for Japan.”

The plants can be quite easily converted to burning hydrogen or ammonia, neither of which produce any carbon dioxide. So this seems like a good solution.

But Japan’s government has much bigger ambitions than that. It wants to be the world’s first “hydrogen economy”.

This is where the carmaker Toyota comes in.

It’s another lovely sunny day and I’m in downtown Tokyo, at a shiny new hydrogen filling station. Standing on the forecourt is a sleek new Toyota Mirai. This is a big luxury car, about the size of a large Lexus.

I slip into the leather-clad cabin, press the “start” button and glide out on to the street. The car is extremely smooth, completely silent, and the only thing dribbling on to the road behind me is a bit of water.

The Mirai (which means future in Japanese) is Toyota’s first zero-emissions electric car. Unlike other electric cars, the Mirai doesn’t have a huge battery under the floor. Instead, it has a fuel cell under the bonnet, and hydrogen tanks under the back seat. The hydrogen is passed through the fuel cell, where it’s converted to electricity, which runs the electric motors. It’s the same technology that was used to power the Apollo spacecraft on the Moon missions.

To many people this technology is an odd choice. It’s more expensive and complicated than batteries. Elon Musk has called hydrogen cars “stupid”.

Not true, says Hisashi Nakai, the head of Toyota’s public affairs division. He says the company’s vision for fuel cells goes much further than just cars.

“I know people have different opinions,” he tells me, “but the important thing is realising carbon neutrality. We need to think about how we can make the most out of fuel cell technology. We strongly believe in hydrogen as a powerful and important energy.”

What Nakai-san says shows Toyota is thinking of a future where hydrogen fuel cells are everywhere, in homes and offices and factories, as well as cars. And it wants to be at the forefront of this new hydrogen society.

This brings us to the final, and most important question. Where is the hydrogen to power Japan zero carbon society going to come from?

The answer is “blue hydrogen”.

Make hydrogen from water using renewable energy and you get “green hydrogen”. The problem is green hydrogen is really expensive.

Instead, today most hydrogen is made from natural gas, or even coal. That is cheap but it produces lots of greenhouse gases. However, if you capture those greenhouse gases and bury them in the ground, you are allowed to call it “blue hydrogen”.

This is exactly what Japan says it is going to do.

Earlier this year, Japan and Australia opened a joint project in the state of Victoria to turn a type of coal called lignite, or brown coal, into hydrogen. The hydrogen is then liquified to minus 253C, then piped into a specially built ship which carries it to Japan.

What happens to the greenhouse gases produced at the site? Right now, they go straight up into the atmosphere. But Japan and Australia are promising that, at some point in the future, they will begin capturing the greenhouse gas produced at the Latrobe Valley site and inject it into the sea floor off the coast.

Climate change campaigners are horrified by this plan. They say the technology to capture and store greenhouse gases is unproven and it will lock Japan into digging up vast quantities of brown coal for decades to come.

According to Prof Kaberger, the biggest hole in the plan is economic.

“Technically it’s possible, but it will always be expensive,” he says. “Using fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage will always be more expensive than using fossil fuels alone, and now in many parts of the world renewable electricity is already cheaper than fossil fuels without carbon capture.”

Prof Kaberger thinks the Japanese government chose blue hydrogen a decade ago when renewables were expensive, and they are now locked into a plan that no longer makes sense.

“Japanese companies need cheap electricity to be competitive and they need clean electricity to be internationally acceptable,” he says. “That means they need renewable electricity. Delaying this development will harm the Japanese economy.”

In the meantime, on the edge of Tokyo Bay, construction continues apace. The giant new coal-fired power station will go online in 2023. It is expected to run for at least 40 years.

“I am ashamed of Japan,” says Hikari Matsumoto, a 21-year-old activist who has joined us to look out from the hillside.

“I’m so frustrated,” she says. “In other countries young people are out on the street protesting, but Japanese people are so quiet. Our generation needs to voice its opinion.”

 

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Why the nights grow less dark, and what to do about it Booming businesses in low orbit will be bad for astronomy, but the outlook can be improved

Walt whitman, the greatest male American poet of the 19th century, and Billy Bragg, the self-proclaimed big-nosed bard of Barking, may not at first seem to have much in common. But both have inveighed against interference with the solace, wonder and communion offered by the unspoiled and unmediated night sky. The protagonist of Whitman’s “When I heard the learn’d astronomer” walks out of an alienating lecture on the science of stars and planets. He wanders off by himself

 

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

The lovelorn youth of Mr Bragg’s debut single, “A New England”, laments the fact that he

 

…saw two shooting stars last night

I wished on them—but they were only satellites

It’s wrong to wish on space hardware

I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

Today it is the learn’d astronomers who wish someone would care, because they are facing space hardware in unprecedented profusion. The idea of reaching billions of people in places hard to wire into the internet has led to a series of schemes seeking to provide wireless broadband from the sky, and it is in the nature of such schemes that they require inordinate numbers of fairly low-flying satellites. SpaceX, the leader in this new market, already has a “shell” of 1,584 satellites circling the Earth. Within a few years it wants to have enough shells to make use of 40,000.

 

Others have plans at least as ambitious. In a decade’s time thousands of swift artificial stars may be racing through the dawn and dusk, and a significant part of the nights in between. They will probably not, for the most part, be noticeable to the naked eye. But for those observing the cosmos with sophisticated instruments, they will be a substantial obstacle.

 

Layering the outermost reaches of the atmosphere with a hardwaresphere is a signal achievement. Human enterprise can now mass-produce sophisticated equipment that functions in the harshest environments and lift it to the heavens in bulk. In so doing companies can bring fully connected modernity to people everywhere. Meanwhile smaller constellations will monitor the Earth more closely, more constantly and more fully than ever before, tracking its changes and helping its inhabitants understand what they are doing from a God’s eye point of view.

 

But all expansions bring externalities, and the number of such satellites is becoming an issue in many ways. It seems bizarre to think of low-Earth orbit—a quadrillion cubic kilometres of empty space, roughly as large a volume as that of the planet which sits at its centre—as being crowded by a population of satellites unlikely to number more than a mere million. But in terms of collision-risk and the sight of the stars that is becoming the case.

 

Collisions are the deepest concern. They do not just wreck the satellites involved: the debris they create puts other satellites at higher risk, too. There are legitimate fears that after a threshold number of collisions a chain reaction will take off that makes whole classes of orbit unusable. That is why anti-satellite-missile tests like the one conducted by Russia a couple of weeks ago are so reprehensible. The world urgently needs to deal with this, and the related issue of what to do with satellites that are defective or have reached the end of their lives.

 

One problem is that it is cheaper to let others tend to the orbital commons than pitch in yourself. Another is that anti-satellite weapons used in earnest might well overturn the apple cart. But in the normal run of things, the interests of satellite operators are generally aligned when it comes to keeping low Earth orbit clear enough to be useful. Get the regulations, norms and incentives right and technologies that allow orbits to be cleaned up could find buyers.

 

In the case of the astronomers’ clear view of the cosmos things are less straightforward. If humankind has a common cultural heritage of any sort at all, the night sky must surely form part of it. But no authority is in a position to protect it as such, and compensating astronomers—or for that matter humans at large—for the satellites that get in their way feels more like a piece of satire than a policy proposal. The interests of astronomers and satellite-owners are incommensurate, and there is no overarching authority to decide between them. So facts in the sky are likely to count for everything.

 

The two sides are trying to minimise the problem. Astronomers are looking at new ways to observe; satellite designers at ways of making their creations less bright. But each side could do more.

 

Professional astronomers need to reconsider the degree to which their field, and particularly the space-based bits of it, is dominated by the most expensive telescopes money can buy. Launching things into space is cheaper than it used to be, and it is set to get cheaper still; satellite technology, as the constellations show, has come on in leaps and bounds.

 

That makes it time for a serious attempt to break the interlocking feedback cycles through which space-science missions, having become expensive, need to have any associated risks minimised, which makes them more expensive. That leads them to crowd out smaller missions, which means they need to serve more parts of the community which, again, makes them more expensive. That means their budget has to be spread over a longer period of time; that too makes them more expensive.

 

Those are the sort of dynamics which produce a $10bn marvel like the James Webb Space Telescope, a scientific instrument which has cost as much as a nuclear aircraft-carrier. Is it better to spend such a sum on a unique capability for observing the cosmos than on yet another war machine? Quite possibly. Must new views of space cost quite that much? Very probably not.

 

Finding ways to do astronomy more cheaply in space would allow professional observations to be made above the fray, as it were. But the new satellite constellations would still frustrate amateurs, and quite possibly those who simply stop in their tracks on a clear night to look up and wonder. Here the satellite companies can do something to make amends. For most people satellites are not the only or greatest constraint on the observability of the universe. Street lighting and other forms of light pollution do more harm.

 

Satellite companies should encourage and subsidise the local initiatives to reduce light pollution that can be found all over the world. If so, they might find that such deeds might buy them good will. And if making the sky easier to appreciate in all its glory also means that people become more aware of your satellites, they may well be more inclined to forgive you for it. ■

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From Nigeria To India, Gen Z Taps Apps To Invest

There’s a new generation of investors in town. They’re young, they get their tips on YouTube, and they’re armed with apps that make the stock markets more accessible than ever before.

US investment app Robinhood has made a splash in the West with its mission to open the markets to “everyday people”, but from Nigeria to India, Gen Z are flocking to homegrown equivalents.

“I don’t really care about my college, to be honest. It’s all market, market, and market,” said Delhi student Ishan Srivastava, who started trading last December.

Srivastava uses a handful of Indian trading apps, including Zerodha and Upstox, and often gets his financial advice from YouTube. The ambitious 20-year-old hopes to build a diverse investment portfolio and then retire by 45.

In India in particular, the investment revolution has been aided by a boom in “demat” accounts — easy-to-open electronic accounts for holding financial securities, equity, or debt.

But a similar app-led investment craze is also underway 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles) away, in Nigeria.

 Banks ‘Less Attractive By The Month’ 

The country’s economic hub Lagos has long been known for its hustle and celebration of success, but the weakness of the naira currency has put extra pressure on youths to make cash as the cost of living has rocketed.

Nigerians have flocked to local apps such as Trove and Risevest which allow them to invest in US stocks, widely seen as a means of protecting wealth as the naira nightmare continues.

“I had the option of putting the money in the bank, but that is looking less attractive by the month,” said 23-year-old Dahunsi Oyedele.

“Sometimes I put my money in Risevest and get some returns in a week. Imagine getting one or two percent returns on 100,000 naira ($240) each week — that’s small, but it means a lot.”

For a few months after losing his job as a tech journalist due to the pandemic, Oyedele covered his rent by trading cryptocurrencies.

He is far from alone in turning to speculation during the Covid-19 crisis, as a combination of mass joblessness, stay-at-home orders, and — for the fortunate — underused savings have encouraged people worldwide to dabble in trading for the first time.

In the US alone more than 10 million new investors entered the markets in the first half of 2021, according to JMP Securities, some of them drawn in by social media hype around “meme stocks” like GameStop.

Worldwide, the new arrivals are largely young. Robinhood’s median US customer age is 31; India’s Upstox says more than 80 percent of its users are 35 or under, a figure matched by Nigeria’s Bamboo (83 percent).

Trading apps have lowered the barriers to entry for youngsters in part by offering fractional trade.

A share in Amazon, for instance, is currently worth more than $3,000 — unaffordable for the average Gen Z or slightly older millennial. But a small fraction of that share might be within reach, particularly on an app that charges zero commission.

 Flirting With Danger? 

Trading apps may have been hailed as democratising access to the markets, but critics say they could also make it easier for inexperienced young investors to get into hot water.

In the US, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether apps are irresponsibly encouraging overtrading using excessive email alerts and by making investment feel like a game.

And Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority warned in March that the new cohort of young investors — who skew in the UK towards being women and from minority backgrounds — have more to lose.

Nearly two-thirds of the new investors it surveyed said “a significant investment loss would have a fundamental impact on their current or future lifestyle”, the FCA found.

“This newer group of self-investors are more reliant on contemporary media (e.g. YouTube, social media) for tips and news,” the watchdog noted.

“This trend appears to be prompted by the accessibility offered by new investment apps.”

Some young investors have already been burned.

Mumbai-based product designer Ali Attarwala is giving trading a break after a bad experience with cryptocurrencies earlier this year.

“These apps make it easy to buy speculative assets like crypto, but there is still a lot of volatility in these new assets,” the 30-year-old told AFP.

Srivastava has also had ups and downs, but he sees his losses as part of the learning experience.

“When I started, I blew up almost 50 percent of the capital,” he said.

“I don’t treat them as my losses, but like education fees.”

AFP

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Five Ways Artificial Intelligence Could Shape Our Lives

Tech evangelists habitually brim with enthusiasm over artificial intelligence’s potential to transform our lives, and the crowds at this year’s Web Summit were no exception.

Here are five uses for AI showcased at one of the world’s largest technology conferences, which returned to Lisbon this week after the 2020 edition was called off due to the pandemic.

Healthcare

When Iker Casillas learned of a start-up that uses AI to better detect irregular heart rhythms, he swiftly signed up as an investor.

The Spanish football legend had suffered a heart attack in 2019, putting a brutal end to his career.

Madrid-based company Idoven analyses data from home heart monitoring kits to track people’s cardiac health — and crucially, to flag up looming problems.

“We are the first company in the world capable of doing it,” its CEO Manuel Marina-Breysse told AFP.

AI is also being used by a growing number of mental health startups.

Woebot, a chatbot which people can use to unburden their anxieties, adapts its responses based on an AI-informed reading of the person’s emotional state.

“If somebody is in distress or they’re really not feeling great, Woebot will invite them to work on it, or just get it off their chest,” explained its founder Alison Darcy, a clinical research psychologist.

Some may find the idea of pouring one’s heart out to a chatbot unnerving, but the Silicon Valley startup points to studies suggesting that people sometimes prefer confiding in a non-judgmental robot.

Cutting waste

AI doesn’t represent a straightforward win for the climate.

Training a single algorithm system can use nearly five times the emissions produced by a car over its lifetime, according to University of Massachusetts researchers.

But AI is also making a wide range of industrial processes more efficient, from cement production to cooling data centres.

It could also be used to reduce the amount of garbage we send to landfill.

British startup Greyparrot uses AI to recognise different types of waste moving down a conveyor belt, picking out recyclables from plastic to glass better than the machines typically used at the moment.

Safer roads

Could AI stop road accidents? Irish startup Provizio is developing technology that uses machine learning to analyse data from sensors attached to a car.

In time, its founder Barry Lunn hopes that will allow emergency braking systems to kick into gear 10 times faster than previously.

Code writing

The age of AI shunning all need for human help, and writing its own computer code, is closer than you may think.

One initiative generating a buzz in Lisbon this week was Copilot, a joint project by software development platform GitHub and research lab OpenAI.

The tool can auto-complete chunks of code, understanding the intentions of the human software engineer.

But New York University researchers suggest the computers still need us: around 40 percent of the time, the code still has bugs in it.

Deepfakes

Recent years have seen growing alarm over deepfake technology, in which stunningly realistic likenesses of living people can be made to act as the creator pleases.

Deepfakes appearing to show actor Tom Cruise went viral this year, prompting fresh questions over whether the technology could be used for fraud or even political manipulation.

Reface, a US startup founded by Ukrainians, wants to use deepfake AI for more playful purposes, allowing the user to swap Justin Bieber’s head, or the Mona Lisa’s, for their own.

But co-founder Ivan Altsybieiev imagines a future where people could mock up entire remakes of their favourite TV shows, starring themselves.

A “future where all content could be personalised”, he told AFP.

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Yahoo Pulls China Services As Regulatory Crackdown Bites

US internet services giant Yahoo pulled out of mainland China starting Monday, the company said in a statement on its website, as a crackdown by Beijing on the tech industry gathers pace.

Yahoo said its site would “no longer be accessible from mainland China” starting November 1, after it gradually winnowed down its services offered in the country in recent years.

The firm is the latest foreign company to pull a major product from the Chinese market in recent weeks after Microsoft announced in October that it would close its career-oriented social network LinkedIn.

Visitors to Yahoo’s website in China are now redirected to a brief statement announcing the closure.

“In recognition of the increasingly challenging business and legal environment in China, Yahoo’s suite of services will no longer be accessible from mainland China as of November 1,” the company said.

“Yahoo remains committed to the rights of our users and a free and open internet. We thank our users for their support.”

Foreign tech companies have long walked a tightrope in China, forced to comply with strict local laws and government censorship of content.

But a regulatory crackdown in recent months targeting the country’s tech sector has tightened requirements for everything from data protection to content moderation.

Yahoo China was launched in 1999, when the company was among the world’s most important internet firms.

Its presence in the country has shrunk in recent years, with Yahoo shutting down its Chinese mail service in 2013.

Yahoo’s latest statement echoes Microsoft’s complaint in October that it faced an increasingly “challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements”.

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Facebook Grapples With Another Global Outage

Facebook on Friday said users around the world again had problems accessing its services for hours due to a tweak of its system, just days after a massive outage caused in a similar fashion.

“Sincere apologies to anyone who wasn’t able to access our products in the last couple of hours,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP about 21:30 GMT.

“We fixed the issue, and everything should be back to normal now.”

Website trouble tracker DownDetector showed spikes in reports of problems accessing or using Facebook and its photo-centric Instagram network as well as Messenger and WhatsApp starting about three hours earlier.

Facebook attributed the trouble to a configuration change at its computing platform and said that it affected users of the social network and  Instagram, Messenger and Workplace globally.

People flocked to Twitter to voice frustration.

“What’s up with Instagram?” read a tweet that included a picture of cartoon character Bart Simpson sitting in a corner in apparent punishment.

“It’s not even 4 days and it’s already down again.”

“Problems with Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp AGAIN!” read a lament in a DownDetector chat forum.

Hundreds of millions of people were unable to access Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp for more than six hours on Monday, underscoring the world’s reliance on platforms owned by the Silicon Valley giant.

In an apologetic blog post, Santosh Janardhan, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure, said that day’s outage was caused by “configuration changes” on routers that coordinate network traffic between data centers.

Cyber experts think that problem boiled down to something called BGP, or Border Gateway Protocol — the system the internet uses to pick the quickest route to move packets of information around.

Sami Slim of data center company Telehouse compared BGP to “the internet equivalent of air traffic control.”

In the same way that air traffic controllers sometimes make changes to flight schedules, “Facebook did an update of these routes,” Slim said.

But this update contained a crucial error.

It’s not yet clear how or why, but Facebook’s routers essentially sent a message to the internet announcing that the company’s servers no longer existed.

The outage on Friday was not related to the one earlier in the week, according to Facebook.

Experts say Facebook’s technical infrastructure is unusually reliant on its own systems.

Social media outages are not uncommon: Instagram alone has experienced more than 80 in the past year in the United States, according to website builder ToolTester.

Facebook’s services are crucial for many businesses around the world, and Facebook accounts are also commonly used to log in to other websites.

Facebook’s apps are used by billions of people monthly, meaning outages can touch a large portion of the world’s population.

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Chinese Astronauts Arrive At Space Station For Longest Mission

Three astronauts successfully docked with China’s new space station on Saturday on what is set to be Beijing’s longest crewed mission to date and the latest landmark in its drive to become a major space power.

The three blasted off shortly after midnight (1600 GMT Friday) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert, the China Manned Space Agency said, with the team expected to spend six months at the Tiangong space station.

The space agency declared the launch a success and said the crew “were in good shape”.

The Shenzhou-13 vessel carrying the three completed its docking with the radial port of the space station less than seven hours after the launch.

The mission, which is expected to last twice as long as a previous 90-day visit, will involve the crew setting up equipment and testing technology for future construction on the Tiangong station.

 

Mission commander Zhai Zhigang, 55, a former fighter pilot who performed the country’s first spacewalk in 2008, said the team would undertake “more complex” spacewalks than during previous missions.

The crew includes military pilot Wang Yaping, 41, who is the first woman to visit the space station after becoming China’s second woman in space in 2013.

The other team member is People’s Liberation Army pilot Ye Guangfu, 41.

Pictures released by the space agency showed the three astronauts waving to wellwishers who held up slogans of encouragement at a send-off ceremony before the launch.

A previous record-breaking crew — making the first mission to Tiangong — returned to Earth in September after spending three months on the space station.

China’s heavily promoted space programme has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.

Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace”, is expected to operate for at least 10 years.

Its core module entered orbit earlier this year, with the station expected to be operational by 2022.

The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited Earth from the 1980s until 2001.

The latest mission is set to “expand China’s technological boundary” and verify the space station system’s capacity for a longer duration of human occupation, Chen Lan, an independent space analyst at GoTaikonauts, told AFP.

“I don’t think it is very challenging, as China’s technologies (are) quite mature, though anything in space is always challenging,” Chen said.

Space Race

Saturday’s blast-off came shortly after China launched its first solar exploration satellite into space, equipped with a telescope to observe changes in the Sun.

The Chinese space agency is planning a total of 11 missions to Tiangong through to the end of next year, including at least two more crewed launches that will deliver two lab modules to expand the 70-tonne station.

China’s space ambitions have been fuelled in part by a US ban on its astronauts on the International Space Station, a collaboration among the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.

Chinese space authorities have said they are open to foreign collaboration on the space station, although the scope of that cooperation is as yet unclear.

The country has come a long way since launching its first satellite in 1970.

It put the first Chinese “taikonaut” in space in 2003 and landed the Chang’e-4 robot on the far side of the Moon in 2019 — a historic first.

China in May became the second nation to land and operate a rover on Mars.

Astronauts on the Tiangong space station will have separate living spaces, exercise equipment, and a communication centre for emails and video calls with ground control.

State broadcaster CCTV said astronauts had also packed special food and supplies to celebrate the Lunar New Year during their long mission, including dumplings.

AFP

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Embattled Facebook Changes Name To ‘Meta’ In Major Rebrand

 

This illustration photo taken in Los Angeles on October 28, 2021, shows a person using Facebook on a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing the META logo. (Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP)

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday announced the parent company’s name is being changed to “Meta” to represent a future beyond just its troubled social network.

The new handle comes as the social media giant tries to fend off one its worst crises yet and pivot to its ambitions for the “metaverse” virtual reality version of the internet that the tech giant sees as the future.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp will keep their names under the rebranding.

“We’ve learned a lot from struggling with social issues and living under closed platforms, and now it is time to take everything that we’ve learned and help build the next chapter,” Zuckerberg said during an annual developers conference.

“I am proud to announce that starting today, our company is now Meta. Our mission remains the same, still about bringing people together, our apps and their brands, they’re not changing,” he added.

Facebook critics pounced last week on a report that leaked the rebranding plans, arguing the company was aiming to distract from recent scandals and controversy.

An activist group calling itself The Real Facebook Oversight Board has warned that major industries like oil and tobacco had rebranded to “deflect attention” from their problems.

“Facebook thinks that a rebrand can help them change the subject,” the group said last week, adding the “real issue” was the need for oversight and regulation.

Facebook has just announced plans to hire 10,000 people in the European Union to build the “metaverse,” with Zuckerberg emerging as a leading promoter of the concept.

Crisis mode
The social media giant has been battling a fresh crisis since former employee Frances Haugen leaked reams of internal studies showing executives knew of their sites’ potential for harm, prompting a renewed US push for regulation.

Facebook has been hit by major crises previously, but the current view behind the curtain of the insular company has fueled a frenzy of scathing reports and scrutiny from US regulators.

“Good faith criticism helps us get better, but my view is that what we are seeing is a coordinated effort to selectively use leaked documents to paint a false picture of our company,” Zuckerberg said in an earnings call on Monday.

The Washington Post last month suggested that Facebook’s interest in the metaverse is “part of a broader push to rehabilitate the company’s reputation with policymakers and reposition Facebook to shape the regulation of next-wave Internet technologies.”

Google rebranded itself as Alphabet in a corporate reconfiguration in 2015, but the online search and ad powerhouse remains its defining unit despite other operations such as Waymo self-driving cars and Verily life sciences.

 

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Facebook proposes feature to ‘nudge’ teens away from harmful content

 

A Facebook executive said Sunday that the company would introduce new measures on its apps to prompt teens away from harmful content, as U.S lawmakers scrutinize how Facebook and subsidiaries like Instagram affect young people’s mental health.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, also expressed openness to the idea of letting regulators have access to Facebook algorithms that are used to amplify content. But Clegg said he could not answer the question whether its algorithms amplified the voices of people who had attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The algorithms “should be held to account, if necessary, by regulation so that people can match what our systems say they’re supposed to do from what actually happens,” Clegg told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He spoke days after former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testified on Capitol Hill about how the company entices users to keep scrolling, harming teens’ well-being.

“We’re going to introduce something which I think will make a considerable difference, which is where our systems see that the teenager is looking at the same content over and over again and it’s content which may not be conducive to their well-being, we will nudge them to look at other content,” Clegg told CNN.

In addition, “we’re introducing something called, ‘take a break,’ where we will be prompting teens to just simply just take a break from using Instagram,” Clegg said.

U.S. senators last week grilled Facebook on its plans to better protect young users on its apps, drawing on leaked internal research that showed the social media giant was aware of how its Instagram app damaged the mental health of youth.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, has argued for more regulation against technology companies like Facebook.

“I’m just tired of hearing ‘trust us’, and it’s time to protect those moms and dads that have been struggling with their kids getting addicted to the platform and been exposed to all kinds of bad stuff,” Klobuchar told CNN on Sunday after Clegg’s interview.

She said the United States needs a new privacy policy so that people can “opt in” if they favour allowing their online data to be shared. The United States also should update children’s privacy laws and its competition policy, and require tech companies to make their algorithms more transparent, Klobuchar said.

Clegg noted that Facebook had recently put on hold its plans for developing Instagram Kids, aimed at pre-teens, and was introducing new optional controls for adults to supervise teens.

 

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Earth Is Dimming Due To Climate Change

Warming ocean waters have caused a drop in the brightness of the Earth, according to a new study.

Researchers used decades of measurements of earthshine — the light reflected from Earth that illuminates the surface of the Moon — as well as satellite measurements to find that there has been a significant drop in Earth’s reflectance, or albedo, over the past two decades.

The Earth is now reflecting about half a watt less light per square meter than it was 20 years ago, with most of the drop occurring in the last three years of earthshine data, according to the new study in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters, which publishes high-impact, short-format reports with immediate implications spanning all Earth and space sciences.

That’s the equivalent of 0.5% decrease in the Earth’s reflectance. Earth reflects about 30% of the sunlight that shines on it.

“The albedo drop was such a surprise to us when we analyzed the last three years of data after 17 years of nearly flat albedo,” said Philip Goode, a researcher at New Jersey Institute of Technology and the lead author of the new study, referring to the earthshine data from 1998 to 2017 gathered by the Big Bear Solar Observatory in Southern California. When the latest data were added to the previous years, the dimming trend became clear.

Two things affect the net sunlight reaching the Earth: the Sun’s brightness and the planet’s reflectivity. The changes in Earth’s albedo observed by the researchers did not correlate with periodic changes in the Sun’s brightness, so that means changes in Earth’s reflectiveness are caused by something on the Earth.

Specifically, there has been a reduction of bright, reflective low-lying clouds over the eastern Pacific Ocean in the most recent years, according to satellite measurements made as part of NASA’s Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) project.

That’s the same area, off the west coasts of North and South America, where increases in sea surface temperatures have been recorded because of the reversal of a climatic condition called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, with likely connections to global climate change.

The dimming of the Earth can also be seen in terms of how much more solar energy is being captured by Earth’s climate system. Once this significant additional solar energy is in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, it may contribute to global warming, as the extra sunlight is of the same magnitude as the total anthropogenic climate forcing over the last two decades.

“It’s actually quite concerning,” said Edward Schwieterman, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Riverside who was not involved in the new study. For some time, many scientists had hoped that a warmer Earth might lead to more clouds and higher albedo, which would then help to moderate warming and balance the climate system, he said. “But this shows the opposite is true.”

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