Author Archives: Júne

Facebook Quietly Admitted Millions More Instagram Users’ Passwords Were at Risk

Facebook Quietly Admitted Millions More Instagram Users’ Passwords Were at Risk

https://meson.in/2PklN4P

(SAN FRANCISCO) — Millions more Instagram users were affected by a password security lapse than parent company Facebook acknowledged nearly four weeks ago.

The social media giant said in late March that it had inadvertently stored passwords in plain text, making it possible for its thousands of employees to search them. It said the passwords were stored on internal company servers, where no outsiders could access them.

Facebook said in a blog post Thursday that it now estimates that “millions” of Instagram users were affected by the lapse, instead of the “tens of thousands” it had originally reported. It had also said in March that the issue affected “hundreds of millions” of Facebook Lite users and millions of Facebook users. Facebook Lite is designed for people with older phones or slow internet connections.

Science.general

via Techland https://meson.in/2DLLW54

April 19, 2019 at 06:00AM

Top Takeaways From The Economist Innovation Summit

Top Takeaways From The Economist Innovation Summit

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Over the past few years, the word ‘innovation’ has degenerated into something of a buzzword. In fact, according to Vijay Vaitheeswaran, US business editor at The Economist, it’s one of the most abused words in the English language.

The word is over-used precisely because we’re living in a great age of invention. But the pace at which those inventions are changing our lives is fast, new, and scary.

So what strategies do companies need to adopt to make sure technology leads to growth that’s not only profitable, but positive? How can business and government best collaborate? Can policymakers regulate the market without suppressing innovation? Which technologies will impact us most, and how soon?

At The Economist Innovation Summit in Chicago last week, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, policymakers, and academics shared their insights on the current state of exponential technologies, and the steps companies and individuals should be taking to ensure a tech-positive future. Here’s their expert take on the tech and trends shaping the future.

Blockchain

There’s been a lot of hype around blockchain; apparently it can be used for everything from distributing aid to refugees to voting. However, it’s too often conflated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and we haven’t heard of many use cases. Where does the technology currently stand?

Julie Sweet, chief executive of Accenture North America, emphasized that the technology is still in its infancy. “Everything we see today are pilots,” she said. The most promising of these pilots are taking place across three different areas: supply chain, identity, and financial services.

When you buy something from outside the US, Sweet explained, it goes through about 80 different parties. 70 percent of the relevant data is replicated and is prone to error, with paper-based documents often to blame. Blockchain is providing a secure way to eliminate paper in supply chains, upping accuracy and cutting costs in the process.

One of the most prominent use cases in the US is Walmart—the company has mandated that all suppliers in its leafy greens segment be on a blockchain, and its food safety has improved as a result.

Beth Devin, head of Citi Ventures’ innovation network, added “Blockchain is an infrastructure technology. It can be leveraged in a lot of ways. There’s so much opportunity to create new types of assets and securities that aren’t accessible to people today. But there’s a lot to figure out around governance.”

Open Source Technology

Are the days of proprietary technology numbered? More and more companies and individuals are making their source code publicly available, and its benefits are thus more widespread than ever before. But what are the limitations and challenges of open source tech, and where might it go in the near future?

Bob Lord, senior VP of cognitive applications at IBM, is a believer. “Open-sourcing technology helps innovation occur, and it’s a fundamental basis for creating great technology solutions for the world,” he said. However, the biggest challenge for open source right now is that companies are taking out more than they’re contributing back to the open-source world. Lord pointed out that IBM has a rule about how many lines of code employees take out relative to how many lines they put in.

Another challenge area is open governance; blockchain by its very nature should be transparent and decentralized, with multiple parties making decisions and being held accountable. “We have to embrace open governance at the same time that we’re contributing,” Lord said. He advocated for a hybrid-cloud environment where people can access public and private data and bring it together.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Augmented and virtual reality aren’t just for fun and games anymore, and they’ll be even less so in the near future. According to Pearly Chen, vice president at HTC, they’ll also go from being two different things to being one and the same. “AR overlays digital information on top of the real world, and VR transports you to a different world,” she said. “In the near future we will not need to delineate between these two activities; AR and VR will come together naturally, and will change everything we do as we know it today.”

For that to happen, we’ll need a more ergonomically friendly device than we have today for interacting with this technology. “Whenever we use tech today, we’re multitasking,” said product designer and futurist Jody Medich. “When you’re using GPS, you’re trying to navigate in the real world and also manage this screen. Constant task-switching is killing our brain’s ability to think.” Augmented and virtual reality, she believes, will allow us to adapt technology to match our brain’s functionality.

This all sounds like a lot of fun for uses like gaming and entertainment, but what about practical applications?  “Ultimately what we care about is how this technology will improve lives,” Chen said.

A few ways that could happen? Extended reality will be used to simulate hazardous real-life scenarios, reduce the time and resources needed to bring a product to market, train healthcare professionals (such as surgeons), or provide therapies for patients—not to mention education. “Think about the possibilities for children to learn about history, science, or math in ways they can’t today,” Chen said.

Quantum Computing

If there’s one technology that’s truly baffling, it’s quantum computing. Qubits, entanglement, quantum states—it’s hard to wrap our heads around these concepts, but they hold great promise. Where is the tech right now?

Mandy Birch, head of engineering strategy at Rigetti Computing, thinks quantum development is starting slowly but will accelerate quickly. “We’re at the innovation stage right now, trying to match this capability to useful applications,” she said. “Can we solve problems cheaper, better, and faster than classical computers can do?” She believes quantum’s first breakthrough will happen in two to five years, and that is highest potential is in applications like routing, supply chain, and risk optimization, followed by quantum chemistry (for materials science and medicine) and machine learning.

David Awschalom, director of the Chicago Quantum Exchange and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, believes quantum communication and quantum sensing will become a reality in three to seven years. “We’ll use states of matter to encrypt information in ways that are completely secure,” he said. A quantum voting system, currently being prototyped, is one application.

Who should be driving quantum tech development? The panelists emphasized that no one entity will get very far alone. “Advancing quantum tech will require collaboration not only between business, academia, and government, but between nations,” said Linda Sapochak, division director of materials research at the National Science Foundation. She added that this doesn’t just go for the technology itself—setting up the infrastructure for quantum will be a big challenge as well.

Space

Space has always been the final frontier, and it still is—but it’s not quite as far-removed from our daily lives now as it was when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.

The space industry has always been funded by governments and private defense contractors. But in 2009, SpaceX launched its first commercial satellite, and in subsequent years have drastically cut the cost of spaceflight. More importantly, they published their pricing, which brought transparency to a market that hadn’t seen it before.

Entrepreneurs around the world started putting together business plans, and there are now over 400 privately-funded space companies, many with consumer applications.

Chad Anderson, CEO of Space Angels and managing partner of Space Capital, pointed out that the technology floating around in space was, until recently, archaic. “A few NASA engineers saw they had more computing power in their phone than there was in satellites,” he said. “So they thought, ‘why don’t we just fly an iPhone?’” They did—and it worked.

Now companies have networks of satellites monitoring the whole planet, producing a huge amount of data that’s valuable for countless applications like agriculture, shipping, and observation. “A lot of people underestimate space,” Anderson said. “It’s already enabling our modern global marketplace.”

Next up in the space realm, he predicts, are mining and tourism.

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work

From the US to Europe to Asia, alarms are sounding about AI taking our jobs. What will be left for humans to do once machines can do everything—and do it better?

These fears may be unfounded, though, and are certainly exaggerated. It’s undeniable that AI and automation are changing the employment landscape (not to mention the way companies do business and the way we live our lives), but if we build these tools the right way, they’ll bring more good than harm, and more productivity than obsolescence.

Accenture’s Julie Sweet emphasized that AI alone is not what’s disrupting business and employment. Rather, it’s what she called the “triple A”: automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence. But even this fear-inducing trifecta of terms doesn’t spell doom, for workers or for companies. Accenture has automated 40,000 jobs—and hasn’t fired anyone in the process. Instead, they’ve trained and up-skilled people. The most important drivers to scale this, Sweet said, are a commitment by companies and government support (such as tax credits).

Imbuing AI with the best of human values will also be critical to its impact on our future. Tracy Frey, Google Cloud AI’s director of strategy, cited the company’s set of seven AI principles. “What’s important is the governance process that’s put in place to support those principles,” she said. “You can’t make macro decisions when you have technology that can be applied in many different ways.”

High Risks, High Stakes

This year, Vaitheeswaran said, 50 percent of the world’s population will have internet access (he added that he’s disappointed that percentage isn’t higher given the proliferation of smartphones). As technology becomes more widely available to people around the world and its influence grows even more, what are the biggest risks we should be monitoring and controlling?

Information integrity—being able to tell what’s real from what’s fake—is a crucial one. “We’re increasingly operating in siloed realities,” said Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge and head of policy at Data for Democracy. “Inadvertent algorithmic amplification on social media elevates certain perspectives—what does that do to us as a society?”

Algorithms have also already been proven to perpetuate the bias of the people who create it—and those people are often wealthy, white, and male. Ensuring that technology doesn’t propagate unfair bias will be crucial to its ability to serve a diverse population, and to keep societies from becoming further polarized and inequitable. The polarization of experience that results from pronounced inequalities within countries, Vaitheeswaran pointed out, can end up undermining democracy.

We’ll also need to walk the line between privacy and utility very carefully. As Dan Wagner, founder of Civis Analytics put it, “We want to ensure privacy as much as possible, but open access to information helps us achieve important social good.” Medicine in the US has been hampered by privacy laws; if, for example, we had more data about biomarkers around cancer, we could provide more accurate predictions and ultimately better healthcare.

But going the Chinese way—a total lack of privacy—is likely not the answer, either. “We have to be very careful about the way we bake rights and freedom into our technology,” said Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer at Human Rights Foundation.

Technology’s risks are clearly as fraught as its potential is promising. As Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, put it, “Everything we’ve talked about today is simply a tool, and can be used for good or bad.”

The decisions we’re making now, at every level—from the engineers writing algorithms, to the legislators writing laws, to the teenagers writing clever Instagram captions—will determine where on the spectrum we end up.

Image Credit: Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock.com

Think.intellect

via Singularity Hub https://meson.in/2EASxAx

March 14, 2019 at 11:01PM

How celebrities have fuelled the amazing rise in pseudoscience

How celebrities have fuelled the amazing rise in pseudoscience

https://meson.in/2HdTXFZ

Cryotherapy

Cool amusement: will cryotherapy and other treatments help Timothy Caulfield live forever? Probably not

Peacock Alley Entertainment

By Wendy Glauser

FOR the past decade, Timothy Caulfield, a professor of health law in Alberta, Canada, has been waging war on pseudoscience. He has written books on vaccination myths and about our uncritical relationship to medicine, most famously in Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

He is big on Twitter, and now on television, too. Each episode of his series A User’s Guide to Cheating Death delves into the ways people are trying to live longer or look younger, either through …

Bio.medical

via New Scientist – Health https://meson.in/2AA4I2U

March 10, 2019 at 05:35PM

OpenAI’s Eerily Realistic New Text Generator Writes Like a Human

OpenAI’s Eerily Realistic New Text Generator Writes Like a Human

https://meson.in/2NV36UA

Trying to understand how new technologies will shape our lives is an exercise in managing hype. When technologists say their new invention has the potential to change the world, you’d hardly expect them to say anything else. But when they say they’re so concerned about its potential to change the world that they won’t release their invention, you sit up and pay attention.

This was the case when OpenAI, the non-profit founded in 2015 by Y Combinator’s Sam Altman and Elon Musk (amongst others), announced its new neural network for natural language processing: the GPT-2. In a blog post, along with some striking examples of its work, OpenAI announced that this neural network would not be released to the public, citing concerns around its security.

More Data, Better Data

In its outline, GPT-2 resembles the strategy that natural language processing neural networks have often employed: trained on a huge 40GB text sample drawn from the internet, the neural network statistically associates words and patterns of words with each other. It can then attempt to predict the next word in a sequence based on previous words, generating samples of new text. So far, so familiar: people have marveled at the ability of neural networks to generate text for some years. They’ve been trained to write novels and come up with recipes for our amusement.

But GPT-2 appears to be a step ahead of its predecessors. It’s not entirely clear why, in part due to the refusal to release the whole model; but it appears to simply represent a scaling-up of previous OpenAI efforts, using a neural network design that has existed for a couple of years. That means more CPU hours, more fine-tuning, and a larger training dataset.

The data is scraped from the internet, but with a twist: the researchers kept the quality high by scraping from outbound links from Reddit that got more than three upvotes—so if you’re a Reddit user, you helped GPT-2 find and clean its data.

The work of previous RNNs (Recurrent Neural Networks) often felt as if the vast samples of classic literature, or death metal band names, or Shakespeare, had been put through a blender then hastily reassembled by someone who’d only glanced at the original.

This is why talking to AI chatbots can be so frustrating; they cannot retain context, because they have no innate understanding of anything they’re talking about beyond these statistical associations between words.

GPT-2 operates on similar principles: it has no real understanding of what it’s talking about, or of any word or concept as anything more than a vector in a huge vector space, vastly distant from some and intimately close to others. But, for certain purposes, this might not matter.

Unicorn-Chasing

When prompted to write about unicorns that could speak English, GPT-2 (admittedly, after ten attempts) came up with a page of text like this:

“Dr. Pérez believes that the unicorns may have originated in Argentina, where the animals were believed to be descendants of a lost race of people who lived there before the arrival of humans in those parts of South America.

“While their origins are still unclear, some believe that perhaps the creatures were created when a human and a unicorn met each other in a time before human civilization. According to Pérez, “In South America, such incidents seem to be quite common.”

“However, Pérez also pointed out that it is likely that the only way of knowing for sure if unicorns are indeed the descendants of a lost alien race is through DNA. “But they seem to be able to communicate in English quite well, which I believe is a sign of evolution or at least a change in social organization,” said the scientist.”

What’s really notable about this sample is the overarching structure of it: it reads almost exactly as a normal scientific article or write-up of a press release would. The RNN doesn’t contradict itself or lose its flow in the middle of a sentence. Its references to location are consistent, as are the particular “topics” of discussion in each paragraph. GTP-2 is not explicitly programmed to remember (or invent) Dr. Perez’s name, for example—yet it does.

The unicorn sample is a particularly striking example, but the RNN’s capabilities also allowed it to produce a fairly convincing article about itself. With no real understanding of the underlying concepts or facts of the matter, the piece has the ring of tech journalism, but is entirely untrue (thankfully, otherwise I’d be out of a job already).

The OpenAI researchers note that, like all neural networks, the computational resources used to train the network and the size of its sample determine its performance. OpenAI’s blog post explains: “When prompted with topics that are highly represented in the data (Brexit, Miley Cyrus, Lord of the Rings, and so on), it seems to be capable of generating reasonable samples about 50 percent of the time.”

Rewriting the World

However, when trained on specifically-selected datasets for narrower applications, the AI becomes more convincing. An example of the niche applications the OpenAI researchers trained the model to perform was writing Amazon reviews. This kind of convincing generation of online content was what led OpenAI to decide not to release the algorithm for general use.

This decision has been controversial, with some cynics suggesting that it’s a publicity stunt designed to get more articles written to overhype OpenAI’s progress. But there’s no need for an algorithm to be particularly intelligent to shape the world—as long as it’s capable of fooling people.

Deepfake videos, especially in these polarized times, could be disruptive enough, but the complexity of a video can make it easier to spot the “artefacts,” the fingerprints left by the algorithms that generate them.

Not so with text. If GPT-2 can generate endless, coherent, and convincing fake news or propaganda bots online, it will do more than put some Macedonian teens out of a job. Clearly, there is space for remarkable improvements: could AI write articles, novels, or poetry that some people prefer to read?

The long-term impacts on society for such a system are difficult to comprehend. The time is well overdue that the machine learning field abandon its ‘move fast and break things’ approach in releasing algorithms that have potentially damaging social impacts. An ethical debate about the software we release is just as important as ethical debates about new advances in biotechnology or weapons manufacture.

GPT-2 hasn’t yet eliminated some of the perennial bugbears associated with RNNs. Occasionally, for example, it will repeat words, unnaturally switch topics, or say things that don’t make sense due to poor word modeling: “The fire is happening under water,” for example.

Unreasonable Reason

Yet one of the most exciting aspects of the RNN is its apparent ability to develop what you might call “emergent skills” that weren’t specifically programmed. The algorithm was never explicitly programmed to translate between languages or summarize longer articles, but can have a decent stab at both tasks simply based on the enormity of its training dataset.

In that dataset were plenty of examples of long pieces of text, followed by “TL;DR.” If you prompt GPT-2 with the phrase “TL;DR”, it will attempt to summarize the preceding text. It was not designed for this task, and so it’s a pretty terrible summarizer, falling well short of how the best summarizing algorithms can perform.

Yet the fact that it will even attempt this task with no specific training shows just how much behavior, structure, and logic these neural networks can extract from their training datasets. In the endless quest to determine “which-word-comes-next” as a byproduct, it appears to develop a vague notion of what it is supposed to do in this tl;dr situation. This is unexpected, and exciting.

You can download and play with a toy version of GPT-2 from Github.

Image Credit: Photo Kozyr / Shutterstock.com

Think.intellect

via Singularity Hub https://meson.in/2EASxAx

March 8, 2019 at 12:13AM

How Three People With HIV Became Virus-Free Without Drugs

How Three People With HIV Became Virus-Free Without Drugs

https://meson.in/2NUU89Y

You’re not entirely human.

Our DNA contains roughly 100,000 pieces of viral DNA, totaling 8 percent of our entire genome. Most are ancient relics from long-forgotten invasions; but to HIV patients, the viral attacks are very real and entirely prescient to every moment of their lives.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS—the horrifying disease that cruelly eats away at the immune system. As a “retrovirus,” the virus inserts its own genetic material into a cell’s DNA, and hijacks the cell’s own protein-making machinery to spew out copies of itself. It’s the ultimate parasite.

An HIV diagnosis in the 80s was a death sentence; nowadays, thanks to combination therapy—undoubtedly one of medicine’s brightest triumphs—the virus can be kept at bay. That is, until it mutates, evades the drugs, propagates, and strikes again. That’s why doctors never say an HIV patient is “cured,” even if the viral load is undetectable in the blood.

Except for one. Dubbed the “Berlin Patient,” Timothy Ray Brown, an HIV-positive cancer patient, received a total blood stem cell transplant to treat his aggressive blood cancer back in 2008. He came out of the surgery not just free of cancer—but also free of HIV.

Now, two new cases suggest Brown isn’t a medical unicorn. One study, published Tuesday in Nature, followed an HIV-positive patient with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a white blood cell cancer, for over two years after a bone marrow transplant. The “London patient” remained virus-free for 18 months after quitting his anti-HIV drugs, making him the second person ever to beat back the virus without drugs.

The other, presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Washington, also received a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia while controlling his HIV load using drugs. He stopped anti-virals in November 2018—and doctors only found traces of the virus’s genetic material, even when using a myriad of ultra-sensitive techniques.

Does this mean a cure for HIV is in sight? Here’s what you need to know.

Is There a Cure on the Horizon?

Sadly, no. Stem cell transplant, often in the form of a bone marrow transplant, is swapping one evil out with another. The dangerous surgery requires extensive immunosuppression afterwards and is far too intensive as an everyday treatment, especially because most HIV cases can be managed with antiviral therapy.

Why Did Stem Cell Transplants Treat HIV, Anyways?

The common denominator among the three is that they all received blood stem cell transplants for blood cancer. Warding off HIV was almost a lucky side-effect.

I say “almost” because the type of stem cells the patients received were different than their own. If you picture an HIV virus as an Amazon delivery box, the box needs to dock to the recipient–the cell’s outer surface—before the virus injects its DNA cargo. The docking process involves a bunch of molecules, but CCR5 is a critical one. For roughly 50 percent of all HIV virus strains, CCR5 is absolutely necessary for the virus to get into a type of immune cell called the T cell and kick off its reproduction.

No CCR5, no HIV swarm, no AIDS.

If CCR5 sounds familiar, that may be because it was the target in the CRISPR baby scandal, in which a rogue Chinese scientist edited the receptor in an ill-fated attempt to make a pair of twins immune to HIV (he botched it).

As it happens, roughly 10 percent of northern Europeans carry a mutation in their CCR5 that make them naturally resistant to HIV. The mutant, CCR5 Δ32, lacks a key component that prevents HIV from docking.

Here’s the key: all three seemingly “cured” patients received stem cells from matching donors who naturally had the CCR5 Δ32 to treat their cancer. Once settled into their new hosts, blood stem cells activated and essentially repopulated the entire blood system—immune cells included—with the HIV-resistant super-cells. Hence, bye bye virus.

But Are Mutant Stem Cells Really the Cure?

Here’s where the story gets complicated.

In theory—and it is a good one—lack of full-on CCR5 is why the patients were able to beat back HIV even after withdrawing their anti-viral meds.

But other factors could be at play. Back in the late 2000s, Brown underwent extensive full-body radiation to eradicate his cancerous cells, and received two bone marrow transplants. To ward off his body rejecting the cells, he took extremely harsh immunosuppressants that are no longer on the market because of their toxicity. The turmoil nearly killed him.

Because Brown’s immune system was almost completely destroyed and rebuilt, it led scientists to wonder if near-death was necessary to reboot the body and make it free of HIV.

Happily, the two new cases suggest it’s not. Although the two patients did receive chemotherapy for their cancer, the drugs specifically targeted their blood cells to clear them out and “make way” for the new transplant population.

Yet between Brown and the London patient, others have tried replicating the process. But everyone failed, in that the virus came back after withdrawing anti-viral drugs.

Scientists aren’t completely sure why they failed. One theory is that the source of blood stem cells matters, in the sense that grafted cells need to induce an immune response called graft-versus-host.

As the name implies, here the new cells viciously attack the host—something that doctors usually try to avoid. But in this case, the immune attack may be responsible for wiping out the last HIV-infected T cells, the “HIV reservoir,” allowing the host’s immune system to repopulate with a clean slate.

Complicating things even more, a small trial transplanting cell with normal CCR5 into HIV-positive blood cancer patients also found that the body was able to fight back the HIV onslaught—up to 88 months in one patient. Because immunosuppressants both limit the graft-versus-host/HIV attack and prevent HIV from infecting new cells, the authors suggest that time and dosage of these drugs could be essential to success.

One more ingredient further complicates the biological soup: only about half of HIV strains use CCR5 to enter cells. Other types, such as X4, rely on other proteins for entry. With CCR5 gone, these alternate strains could take over the body, perhaps more viciously without competition from their brethren.

So the New Patients Don’t Matter?

Yes, they do. The London patient is the first since Brown to live without detectable HIV load for over a year. This suggests that Brown isn’t a fluke—CCR5 is absolutely a good treatment target for further investigation.

That’s not to say the two patients are cured. Because HIV is currently only manageable, scientists don’t yet have a good definition of “cured.” Brown, now 12 years free of HIV, is by consensus the only one that fits the bill. The two new cases, though promising, are still considered in long-term remission.

As of now there are no accepted standards on how long a patient needs to be HIV-free before he is considered cured. What’s more, there are multiple ways to detect HIV load in the body—the Düsseldorf patient, for example, showed low signals of the virus using ultrasensitive tests. Whether the detected bits are enough to launch another HIV assault is anyone’s guess.

But the two new proof-of-concepts jolt the HIV-research sphere into a new era of hope with a promise: the disease, affecting 37 million people worldwide, can be cured.

What Next?

More cases may be soon to come.

The two cases were part of the IciStem program, a European collaboration that guides investigations into using stem cell transplantation as a cure for HIV. As of now, they have over 22,000 donors with the beneficial CCR5 Δ32 mutation, with 39 HIV-positive patients who have received transplants. More cases will build stronger evidence that the approach works.

However, stem cell transplants are obviously not practical as an everyday treatment option. But biotech companies are already actively pursuing CCR5-based leads in a two-pronged approach: one, attack the HIV reservoir of cells; two, supply the body with brand new replacements.

Translation? Use any method to get rid of CCR5 cells in immune cells.

Sangamo, based in California, is perhaps the most prominent player. In one trial, they edited CCR5 from extracted blood cells before infusing them back into the body—a sort of CAR-T for HIV. The number of edited cells weren’t enough to beat back HIV, but did clear out a large pool of the virus before it bounced back. With the advent of CRISPR making the necessary edits more efficient, more trials are already in the works.

Other efforts, expertly summarized by the New York Times, include making stem cells resistant to HIV—acting as a lifelong well of immune cells resistant to the virus—or using antibodies against CCR5.

Whatever the treatment, any therapy that targets CCR5 also has to consider this: deletion of the gene in the brain has cognitive effects, in that it enhances cognition (in mice) and improves brain recovery after stroke. For side effects, these are pretty awesome. But they also highlight just how little we still know about how the gene works outside the immune system.

Final Takeaway?

Despite all the complexities, these two promising cases add hope to an oft-beaten research community. Dr. Annemarie Wensing at the University Medical Center Utrecht summarized it well: “This will inspire people that a cure is not a dream. It’s reachable.”

Image Credit: Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock.com

Think.intellect

via Singularity Hub https://meson.in/2EASxAx

March 10, 2019 at 11:01PM

Air pollution: Cars should be banned near schools says public health chief

Air pollution: Cars should be banned near schools says public health chief

https://meson.in/2O07j9G

Exhaust pipeImage copyright Getty Images

Public health chiefs have called for cars to be banned around schools in the UK, reports say.

Paul Cosford, the medical director of Public Health England, told the Times it should be socially unacceptable to leave a car running near school gates.

The comments came as PHE published a series of recommendations on how the government can improve air quality.

PHE said 28,000 to 36,000 deaths a year in the UK could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.

It is also calling for congestion charges to be imposed in cities across the UK.

It describes air pollution as the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK and says there is strong evidence that air pollution causes the development of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and lung cancer, and exacerbates asthma.

In its review, it recommends:

  • Redesigning cities so people aren’t so close to highly polluting roads by, for example, designing wider streets or using hedges to screen against pollutants
  • Investing more in clean public transport as well as foot and cycle paths
  • Encouraging uptake of low emission vehicles by setting more ambitious targets for installing electric car charging points
  • Discouraging highly polluting vehicles from entering populated areas with incentives such as low emission or clean air zones

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionUK scientists estimate air pollution cuts British people’s lives by an average of six months

Prof Cosford said: “Transport and urban planners will need to work together with others involved in air pollution to ensure that new initiatives have a positive impact.

“Decision makers should carefully design policies to make sure that the poorest in society are protected against the financial implications of new schemes.”

PHE said that national government policy could support these local actions – for example, they could allow controls on industrial emissions in populated areas to take account of health impacts.

Science.general

via BBC News – Science & Environment https://meson.in/2Pv3gCp

March 11, 2019 at 03:06PM

To help fight the opioid crisis, a new tool from Maps and Search

To help fight the opioid crisis, a new tool from Maps and Search

https://meson.in/2Xi5s49

In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, with over 130 Americans dying every day from opioid-related drug overdoses.  Last month, we saw that search queries for “medication disposal near me” reached an all-time high on Google.

opioids_data

53 percent of prescription drug abuse starts with drugs obtained from family or friends, so we’re working alongside government agencies and nonprofit organizations to help people safely remove excess or unused opioids from their medicine cabinets. Last year, we partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for National Prescription Take Back Day by developing a Google Maps API  locator tool to help people dispose of their prescription drugs at temporary locations twice a year. With the help of this tool, the DEA and its local partners collected a record 1.85 million pounds of unused prescription drugs in 2018.

Today, we’re making it easier for Americans to quickly find disposal locations on Google Maps and Search all year round. A search for queries like “drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me” will display permanent disposal locations at your local pharmacy, hospital or government building so you can quickly and safely discard your unneeded medication.

opioid_gif

This pilot has been made possible thanks to the hard work of many federal agencies, states and pharmacies. Companies like Walgreens and CVS Health, along with state governments in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania have been instrumental in this project, contributing data with extensive lists of public and private disposal locations. The DEA is already working with us to provide additional location data to expand the pilot.

For this pilot, we also looked to public health authorities—like HHS—for ideas on how technology can help communities respond to the opioid crisis. In fact, combining disposal location data from different sources was inspired by a winning entry at the HHS’s Opioid Code-A-Thon held a year ago.

We’ll be working to expand coverage and add more locations in the coming months. To learn more about how your state or business can bring more disposal locations to Google Maps and Search, contact RXdisposal-data@google.com today.

Product.google

via The Official Google Blog https://meson.in/2HntRgD

February 22, 2019 at 02:14AM

Allegations Against the Maker of OxyContin Are Piling Up. Here’s What They Could Mean for the Billionaire Family Behind Purdue Pharma

Allegations Against the Maker of OxyContin Are Piling Up. Here’s What They Could Mean for the Billionaire Family Behind Purdue Pharma

https://meson.in/2GETwEG

Executives from Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin, admitted in federal court in 2007 that Purdue’s marketing practices and interactions with doctors had understated the strength and addictive potential of the drug — an omission that many experts believe contributed to an opioid epidemic that claimed nearly 50,000 American lives in 2017 alone.

But on Thursday, the release of a previously sealed deposition from 2015 showed that Purdue executives knew of OxyContin’s strength long before that $600 million settlement. The deposition, which had been filed in court, revealed that Dr. Richard Sackler — part of the family that founded and controls Purdue, and who has served as Purdue’s president and co-chairman of the board — knew as early as 1997 that OxyContin was much stronger than morphine, but chose not to share that knowledge with doctors.

“We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that,” Purdue’s head of sales and marketing, Michael Friedman, wrote in an email to Sackler, according to the deposition, which was obtained by ProPublica and co-published with STAT. “I agree with you,” Sackler wrote back. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”

The document’s publication comes just weeks after the release of an unredacted 277-page lawsuit filed against Purdue by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey — itself just one of thousands of legal complaints brought against Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies by plaintiffs across the country, many of which have been rolled into one multi-district litigation in Ohio federal court. And as the evidence mounts, legal experts say Purdue could face serious consequences, from astronomical fines to injunctions that could threaten its ability to do business.

“One theme that clearly emerges from this deposition, brick by brick, is the foundation that is laid, that shows how even after this guilty plea there was a shocking lack of care for people that were at risk of abusing this drug and instead a singular focus on profit,” says Joseph Khan, a Philadelphia-based attorney who is currently bringing suits against corporations involved in the opioid epidemic.

As the New York Times reported, parts of Sackler’s deposition are in conflict with his previous testimony. For example, a 2006 Department of Justice report suggested he knew in 1999 that users in internet chatrooms were discussing abuse of the drug. In the deposition, however, Sackler said he first learned of its street value in a 2000 Maine newspaper article.

In a statement provided to TIME, Purdue said the “intentional leak of the deposition is a clear violation of the court’s order and, as such, is regrettable.” The statement adds that, “Dr. Sackler described Purdue’s efforts to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations and to appropriately reflect OxyContin’s risks of abuse and addiction as the science of opioid pain therapy evolved over time.”

Much of the material included in the deposition pertains to activity carried out before the company’s 2007 settlement, while Healey’s suit relates to post-2007 behavior. But Khan says the ramifications of the document are still relevant today, given the judgements Purdue could face from juries.

“There are straight contradictions between what’s in here and what the Department of Justice has put together. This is not something that will play well in front of a jury,” Khan says. “They don’t have as much leverage as they might want.”

The Massachusetts complaint also includes dramatic accusations about how much Purdue executives knew about their blockbuster drug, and when they knew it.

According to lawsuit, members of the Sackler family and other Purdue executives purposefully downplayed the addictive properties of OxyContin, and promoted sales tactics meant to encourage doctors to prescribe as much OxyContin, in the highest doses and longest durations, as possible — despite the potential risks for abuse, and despite the terms of Purdue’s prior settlement with the federal government. The suit also details Purdue’s plans to sell addiction treatments, helping them dominate “the pain and addiction spectrum.” Purdue’s board, controlled by the Sacklers, also voted to pay out $4 billion to the family between 2007 and 2018, the documents show.

In a statement provided to TIME, a Purdue representative said the attorney general’s office “seeks to publicly vilify Purdue, its executives, employees and directors by taking out of context snippets from tens of millions of documents and grossly distorting their meaning. The complaint is riddled with demonstrably inaccurate allegations,” they said, and “offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims.” Purdue fought to keep portions of the suit from being released publicly.

If successful, Massachusetts’ lawsuit could force Purdue to pay not only significant fines, but also require the company to cease certain behaviors and make efforts to remedy the damages it has allegedly caused, Khan says.

“If you think about what would restitution look like, these are staggering, almost incalculable costs,” Khan says. But the problem goes beyond money. “What would it mean to stop this epidemic they’re accused of putting into place?” he asks. “You’re not going to find anyone who knows anything about the opioid epidemic who will just say you can solve this problem overnight with a quick fix.”

Further complicating matters, Purdue’s future hinges on far more than a single lawsuit.

John Jacobi, a professor of health law and policy at Seton Hall Law School, called the Massachusetts complaint “extraordinary in the length and depth of the allegations against individual defendants,” but says it is “more or less consistent” with the roughly 1,200 complaints included in the Ohio MDL, as well as the hundreds of others individually making their way through state court systems.

And for that reason, Jacobi says, Purdue could be facing consequences much larger than those included in Healey’s complaint. Opioid manufacturers could face a situation similar to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with Big Tobacco, which forced five major manufacturers to pay out billions of dollars over cigarette marketing and promotional practices. (Mike Moore, the lawyer who orchestrated the Master Settlement Agreement, is now bringing a new suit against opioid distributors and manufacturers. He was not immediately available for comment to TIME.)

“Many people have suggested that the only way out of the thicket that all of these litigants find themselves in would be some sort of global settlement similar to what was achieved in the tobacco litigation, and I don’t think that’s a far-fetched suggestion,” Jacobi says. “All of those, at some point, will be gathered up and resolved.”

Khan agrees that the volume of lawsuits in the MDL could hold a major threat for opioid manufacturers. And the results of MDL cases set for trial later this year will likely set the tone for other individual suits, like Healey’s, filed around the country, he says.

“There becomes a point at which it becomes mathematically impossible for every one of those plaintiffs to receive what they’re seeking,” Khan says. “Some of these companies are not going to be equipped to survive. Purdue may or may not be differently situated.”

Bio.medical

via Healthland https://meson.in/2DLLW54

February 23, 2019 at 07:32AM

Encrypting DNS end-to-end

Encrypting DNS end-to-end

https://meson.in/2EUQnPb


Over the past few months, we have been running a pilot with Facebook to test the feasibility of securing the connection between 1.1.1.1 and Facebook’s authoritative name servers. Traditionally, the connection between a resolver and an authoritative name server is unencrypted i.e. over UDP.

In this pilot we tested how an encrypted connection using TLS impacts the end-to-end latency between 1.1.1.1 and Facebook’s authoritative name servers. Even though the initial connection adds some latency, the overhead is amortized over many queries. The resulting DNS latency between 1.1.1.1 and Facebook’s authoritative name servers is on par with the average UDP connections.

To learn more about how the pilot went, and to see more detailed results, check out the complete breakdown over on Code, Facebook’s Engineering blog.

Product.platform

via The Cloudflare Blog https://meson.in/2DaAAwa

December 22, 2018 at 01:02AM