Category: Silicon Valley

Silicon valley news. Silicon Valley is a region in Northern California that is a global center for high technology and innovation. Located in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, it corresponds roughly to the geographical area of the Santa Clara Valley

4/20 grew from humble roots to marijuana’s high holiday

SEATTLE — Saturday marks marijuana culture’s high holiday, 4/20, when college students gather — at 4:20 p.m. — in clouds of smoke on campus quads and pot shops in legal-weed states thank their customers with discounts.

This year’s edition provides an occasion for activists to reflect on how far their movement has come, with recreational pot now allowed in nearly half the states and the nation’s capital. Many states have instituted “social equity” measures to help communities of color, harmed the most by the drug war, reap financial benefits from legalization. And the White House has shown an openness to marijuana reform.

Here’s a look at 4/20’s history:

WHY 4/20?

 

The origins of the date, and the term “420” generally, were long murky. Some claimed it referred to a police code for marijuana possession or that it derived from Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35,” with its refrain of “Everybody must get stoned” — 420 being the product of 12 times 35.

But the prevailing explanation is that it started in the 1970s with a group of bell-bottomed buddies from San Rafael High School, in California’s Marin County north of San Francisco, who called themselves “the Waldos.” A friend’s brother was afraid of getting busted for a patch of cannabis he was growing in the woods at nearby Point Reyes, so he drew a map and gave the teens permission to harvest the crop, the story goes.

During fall 1971, at 4:20 p.m., just after classes and football practice, the group would meet up at the school’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur, smoke a joint and head out to search for the weed patch. They never did find it, but their private lexicon — “420 Louie” and later just “420” — would take on a life of its own.

The Waldos saved postmarked letters and other artifacts from the 1970s referencing “420,” which they now keep in a bank vault, and when the Oxford English Dictionary added the term in 2017, it cited some of those documents as the earliest recorded uses.

HOW DID 420 SPREAD?

A brother of one of the Waldos was a close friend of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, as Lesh once confirmed in an interview with the Huffington Post, now HuffPost. The Waldos began hanging out in the band’s circle and the slang spread.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s: Steve Bloom, a reporter for the cannabis magazine High Times, was at a Dead show when he was handed a flyer urging people to “meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” High Times published it.

“It’s a phenomenon,” one of the Waldos, Steve Capper, now 69, once told The Associated Press. “Most things die within a couple years, but this just goes on and on. It’s not like someday somebody’s going to say, ‘OK, cannabis New Year’s is on June 23rd now.’”

While the Waldos came up with the term, the people who made the flier distributed at the Dead show — and effectively turned 4/20 into a holiday — remain unknown.

HOW IS IT CELEBRATED?

With weed, naturally.

Some celebrations are bigger than others: The Mile High 420 Festival in Denver, for example, typically draws thousands and describes itself as the largest free 4/20 event in the world. Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park has also attracted massive crowds, but the gathering was canceled this year, with organizers citing a lack of financial sponsorship and city budget cuts.

College quads and statehouse lawns are also known for drawing 4/20 celebrations, with the University of Colorado Boulder historically among the largest, though not so much since administrators banned the annual smokeout over a decade ago.

Some breweries make beers that are 420-themed, but not laced, including SweetWater Brewing in Atlanta, which is throwing a 420 music festival this weekend and whose founders went to the University of Colorado.

Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California, releases its “Waldos’ Special Ale” every year on 4/20 in partnership with the term’s coiners. That’s where the Waldos will be this Saturday to sample the beer, for which they picked out “hops that smell and taste like the dankest marijuana,” one Waldo, Dave Reddix, said via email.

4/20 has also become a big industry event, with vendors gathering to try each other’s wares.

THE POLITICS

The number of states allowing recreational marijuana has grown to 24 after recent legalization campaigns succeeded in Ohio, Minnesota and Delaware. Fourteen more states allow it for medical purposes, including Kentucky, where medical marijuana legislation that passed last year will take effect in 2025. Additional states permit only products with low THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, for certain medical conditions.

But marijuana is still illegal under federal law. It is listed with drugs such as heroin under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no federally accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The Biden administration, however, has taken some steps toward marijuana reform. The president has pardoned thousands of people who were convicted of “simple possession” on federal land and in the District of Columbia.

The Department of Health and Human Services last year recommended to the Drug Enforcement Administration that marijuana be reclassified as Schedule III, which would affirm its medical use under federal law.

According to a Gallup poll last fall, 70% of adults support legalization, the highest level yet recorded by the polling firm and more than double the roughly 30% who backed it in 2000.

Vivian McPeak, who helped found Seattle’s Hempfest more than three decades ago, reflected on the extent to which the marijuana industry has evolved during his lifetime.

“It’s surreal to drive by stores that are selling cannabis,” he said. “A lot of people laughed at us, saying, ‘This will never happen.’”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

McPeak described 4/20 these days as a “mixed bag.” Despite the legalization movement’s progress, many smaller growers are struggling to compete against large producers, he said, and many Americans are still behind bars for weed convictions.

“We can celebrate the victories that we’ve had, and we can also strategize and organize to further the cause,” he said. “Despite the kind of complacency that some people might feel, we still got work to do. We’ve got to keep burning that shoe leather until we get everybody out of jails and prisons.”

For the Waldos, 4/20 signifies above all else a good time.

“We’re not political. We’re jokesters,” Capper has said. “But there was a time that we can’t forget, when it was secret, furtive. … The energy of the time was more charged, more exciting in a certain way.

“I’m not saying that’s all good — it’s not good they were putting people in jail,” he continued. “You wouldn’t want to go back there.”

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Meta’s new AI agents confuse Facebook users 

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — Facebook parent Meta Platforms has unveiled a new set of artificial intelligence systems that are powering what CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls “the most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use.” 

But as Zuckerberg’s crew of amped-up Meta AI agents started venturing into social media in recent days to engage with real people, their bizarre exchanges exposed the ongoing limitations of even the best generative AI technology. 

One joined a Facebook moms group to talk about its gifted child. Another tried to give away nonexistent items to confused members of a Buy Nothing forum. 

Meta, along with leading AI developers Google and OpenAI, and startups such as Anthropic, Cohere and France’s Mistral, have been churning out new AI language models and hoping to convince customers they’ve got the smartest, handiest or most efficient chatbots. 

While Meta is saving the most powerful of its AI models, called Llama 3, for later, on Thursday it publicly released two smaller versions of the same Llama 3 system and said it’s now baked into the Meta AI assistant feature in Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. 

AI language models are trained on vast pools of data that help them predict the most plausible next word in a sentence, with newer versions typically smarter and more capable than their predecessors. Meta’s newest models were built with 8 billion and 70 billion parameters — a measurement of how much data the system is trained on. A bigger, roughly 400 billion-parameter model is still in training. 

“The vast majority of consumers don’t candidly know or care too much about the underlying base model, but the way they will experience it is just as a much more useful, fun and versatile AI assistant,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, said in an interview. 

‘A little stiff’

He added that Meta’s AI agent is loosening up. Some people found the earlier Llama 2 model — released less than a year ago — to be “a little stiff and sanctimonious sometimes in not responding to what were often perfectly innocuous or innocent prompts and questions,” he said. 

But in letting down their guard, Meta’s AI agents have also been spotted posing as humans with made-up life experiences. An official Meta AI chatbot inserted itself into a conversation in a private Facebook group for Manhattan moms, claiming that it, too, had a child in the New York City school district. Confronted by group members, it later apologized before the comments disappeared, according to a series of screenshots shown to The Associated Press. 

“Apologies for the mistake! I’m just a large language model, I don’t have experiences or children,” the chatbot told the group. 

One group member who also happens to study AI said it was clear that the agent didn’t know how to differentiate a helpful response from one that would be seen as insensitive, disrespectful or meaningless when generated by AI rather than a human. 

“An AI assistant that is not reliably helpful and can be actively harmful puts a lot of the burden on the individuals using it,” said Aleksandra Korolova, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton University. 

Clegg said Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of the exchange. Facebook’s online help page says the Meta AI agent will join a group conversation if invited, or if someone “asks a question in a post and no one responds within an hour.” The group’s administrators have the ability to turn it off. 

Need a camera?

In another example shown to the AP on Thursday, the agent caused confusion in a forum for swapping unwanted items near Boston. Exactly one hour after a Facebook user posted about looking for certain items, an AI agent offered a “gently used” Canon camera and an “almost-new portable air conditioning unit that I never ended up using.” 

Meta said in a written statement Thursday that “this is new technology and it may not always return the response we intend, which is the same for all generative AI systems.” The company said it is constantly working to improve the features. 

In the year after ChatGPT sparked a frenzy for AI technology that generates human-like writing, images, code and sound, the tech industry and academia introduced 149 large AI systems trained on massive datasets, more than double the year before, according to a Stanford University survey. 

They may eventually hit a limit, at least when it comes to data, said Nestor Maslej, a research manager for Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. 

“I think it’s been clear that if you scale the models on more data, they can become increasingly better,” he said. “But at the same time, these systems are already trained on percentages of all the data that has ever existed on the internet.” 

More data — acquired and ingested at costs only tech giants can afford, and increasingly subject to copyright disputes and lawsuits — will continue to drive improvements. “Yet they still cannot plan well,” Maslej said. “They still hallucinate. They’re still making mistakes in reasoning.” 

Getting to AI systems that can perform higher-level cognitive tasks and common-sense reasoning — where humans still excel— might require a shift beyond building ever-bigger models. 

Seeing what works

For the flood of businesses trying to adopt generative AI, which model they choose depends on several factors, including cost. Language models, in particular, have been used to power customer service chatbots, write reports and financial insights, and summarize long documents. 

“You’re seeing companies kind of looking at fit, testing each of the different models for what they’re trying to do and finding some that are better at some areas rather than others,” said Todd Lohr, a leader in technology consulting at KPMG. 

Unlike other model developers selling their AI services to other businesses, Meta is largely designing its AI products for consumers — those using its advertising-fueled social networks. Joelle Pineau, Meta’s vice president of AI research, said at a recent London event that the company’s goal over time is to make a Llama-powered Meta AI “the most useful assistant in the world.” 

“In many ways, the models that we have today are going to be child’s play compared to the models coming in five years,” she said. 

But she said the “question on the table” is whether researchers have been able to fine-tune its bigger Llama 3 model so that it’s safe to use and doesn’t, for example, hallucinate or engage in hate speech. In contrast to leading proprietary systems from Google and OpenAI, Meta has so far advocated for a more open approach, publicly releasing key components of its AI systems for others to use. 

“It’s not just a technical question,” Pineau said. “It is a social question. What is the behavior that we want out of these models? How do we shape that? And if we keep on growing our model ever more in general and powerful without properly socializing them, we are going to have a big problem on our hands.”

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Reproductive rights elusive 1 year after Japan’s approval of abortion pill

Osaka, Japan — Wider access to abortion in Japan has largely remained elusive a year after the historic approval of medical abortion pills.

In April last year, lawmakers approved the use of the two-step abortion pill — MeFeego Pack — for pregnancies up to nine weeks. Before that, women in the East Asian nation could only receive a surgical abortion in private clinics by designated surgeons that often charge as much as $370.

Financial strain aside, women were often required to provide proof of spousal consent to receive an abortion, making it nearly impossible for them to make the decision on their own. Reports showed that even for single women, doctors still asked for permission of a male partner before agreeing to perform such surgeries.

Despite the approval of the abortion pill, only 3% of all clinics with abortion services in Japan provide them a year after the pill’s approval, according to Kumi Tsukahara, independent researcher of reproductive health and rights, “and none of them have a Maternal Body Protection Law (MBPL) designated doctor,” Tsukahara told VOA News.

Under the MBPL, the controversial requirement for spousal consent before a doctor can prescribe oral abortion medication still exists — it’s the same condition for gaining permission for a surgical abortion.

“Unfortunately, there are no signs of change with regard to either,” the expert said.

In contrast to countries with better abortion access, Japan’s approved abortion pills cannot be administered more than once — sometimes, multiple tries are necessary — and the pregnant women will still need to resort to surgical abortion that involves a serious risk to their health.

Since such surgeries are only allowed in private clinics and are considered profitable by designated doctors, they often charge the same price or higher for abortion pills as for a surgical abortion. Neither measure is covered by Japan’s national health system.

“The high prices and low affordability depending on individual doctors, the inaccurate information given by doctors who cannot use drugs to guide people to conventional surgical procedures, the unjust situation and the state’s failure to respond, and the women are disempowered to have a sense of entitlement on their part,” Tsukahara explained.

Abortion rights activist Kazuko Fukuda, who spearheads a grassroots movement to push for women’s rights to end pregnancies in Japan, echoed the sentiment.

“The abortion rights [in Japan] didn’t improve,” Fukuda told VOA News. “Of course, this [approval of oral abortion] was better than nothing, but conservative politicians went against such pills before the approval. … It’s mandated that women have to stay in hospitals that provide beds until the end of the abortion, but designated private clinics don’t usually have beds.”

Women in Japan are banned from taking abortion pills at home. They must be in hospitals and take the pills in front of the doctors as authorities fear that they might resell them. If violated, these women can be subject to imprisonment for up to a year.

Male-dominated political scene

Abortion is still a big taboo in politics, and real rights improvement will go a long way, Fukuda added.

“News of women being arrested for giving birth alone and abandoning them is still very common — we hear that just a few days ago. … The government should repeal the criminalization of abortion. [Things don’t work] as doctors are still afraid of being sued so they require signatures from boyfriends to prescribe abortion pills.”

Last year, Japan started a study, selling morning-after pills over the counter without prescription. However, the study suffers limited availability in many cities. Girls under 15 are not allowed to purchase them, and those ages 16 to 18 must be accompanied by a parent to buy the pills.

Both experts VOA spoke with say that the information and availability of these contraceptive pills doesn’t appear high in online searches — the usual method for the targeted group to look for contraception.

Japan ranked among the lowest of developed countries in a March report this year by the World Bank in terms of women’s rights.

Currently, women account for less than 10% in Japan’s lower house of parliament and 27% in the upper house. In local politics, only 15% of women are on the front line. The gender pay gap in Japan reached 40%, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Women’s issues like abortion access or contraceptive measures are often not viewed as priorities for female politicians.

“In the male-dominated politics, a lot of women have to become more conservative and look strong to be accepted so it’s really hard for women to liberal or supportive in this kind of thing [abortion and contraception in the parliament],” Fukuda said.

Women blamed for low fertility rate

Social stigma connected to abortion remains strong as Japan blames women for its low fertility rate. The country hit a record low number of births last year.

“The Japanese government has attributed the ‘decreasing number [fertility rate] to ‘women who don’t give birth,’ women are made to feel socially guilty for trying to choose not to give birth. Of course, such an issue construction is itself highly biased and misogynistic,” said researcher Tsukahara.

Fukuda said that the government’s support of favorable reproductive policies stops with women who don’t want babies.

“Anything against that [wanting babies] is not supported at all. Many people think that ‘contraception’ is a taboo and even taking [morning after] pills can expose to judgment as a promiscuous woman. It’s not easy for women to talk about it.”

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US emergency rooms refused to treat pregnant women

WASHINGTON — One woman miscarried in the lobby restroom of a Texas emergency room as front desk staff refused to check her in. Another woman learned that her fetus had no heartbeat at a Florida hospital, the day after a security guard turned her away from the facility. And in North Carolina, a woman gave birth in a car after an emergency room couldn’t offer an ultrasound. The baby later died.

Complaints that pregnant women were turned away from U.S. emergency rooms spiked in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, federal documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal.

The cases raise alarms about the state of emergency pregnancy care in the U.S., especially in states that enacted strict abortion laws and sparked confusion around the treatment doctors can provide.

“It is shocking, it’s absolutely shocking,” said Amelia Huntsberger, an OB/GYN in Oregon. “It is appalling that someone would show up to an emergency room and not receive care — this is inconceivable.”

It’s happened despite federal mandates that the women be treated.

Federal law requires emergency rooms to treat or stabilize patients who are in active labor and provide a medical transfer to another hospital if they don’t have the staff or resources to treat them. Medical facilities must comply with the law if they accept Medicare funding.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday that could weaken those protections. The Biden administration has sued Idaho over its abortion ban, even in medical emergencies, arguing it conflicts with the federal law.

“No woman should be denied the care she needs,” Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said in a statement. “All patients, including women who are experiencing pregnancy-related emergencies, should have access to emergency medical care required under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).”

Pregnancy care after Roe

Pregnant patients have “become radioactive to emergency departments” in states with extreme abortion restrictions, said Sara Rosenbaum, a George Washington University health law and policy professor.

“They are so scared of a pregnant patient, that the emergency medicine staff won’t even look. They just want these people gone,” Rosenbaum said.

Consider what happened to a woman who was nine months pregnant and having contractions when she arrived at the Falls Community Hospital in Marlin, Texas, in July 2022, a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. The doctor on duty refused to see her.

“The physician came to the triage desk and told the patient that we did not have obstetric services or capabilities,” hospital staff told federal investigators during interviews, according to documents. “The nursing staff informed the physician that we could test her for the presence of amniotic fluid. However, the physician adamantly recommended the patient drive to a Waco hospital.”

Investigators with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded Falls Community Hospital broke the law.

Reached by phone, an administrator at the hospital declined to comment on the incident.

The investigation was one of dozens the AP obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request filed in February 2023 that sought all pregnancy-related EMTALA complaints the previous year. One year after submitting the request, the federal government agreed to release only some complaints and investigative documents filed across just 19 states. The names of patients, doctors and medical staff were redacted from the documents.

Federal investigators looked into just over a dozen pregnancy-related complaints in those states during the months leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s pivotal ruling on abortion in 2022. But more than two dozen complaints about emergency pregnancy care were lodged in the months after the decision was unveiled. It is not known how many complaints were filed last year as the records request only asked for 2022 complaints and the information is not publicly available otherwise.

The documents did not detail what happened to the patient turned away from the Falls Community Hospital.

‘She is bleeding a lot’

Other pregnancies ended in catastrophe, the documents show.

At Sacred Heart Emergency Center in Houston, front desk staff refused to check in one woman after her husband asked for help delivering her baby that September. She miscarried in a restroom toilet in the emergency room lobby while her husband called 911 for help.

“She is bleeding a lot and had a miscarriage,” the husband told first responders in his call, which was transcribed from Spanish in federal documents. “I’m here at the hospital but they told us they can’t help us because we are not their client.”

Emergency crews, who arrived 20 minutes later and transferred the woman to a hospital, appeared confused over the staff’s refusal to help the woman, according to 911 call transcripts.

One first responder told federal investigators that when a Sacred Heart Emergency Center staffer was asked about the gestational age of the fetus, the staffer replied: “No, we can’t tell you, she is not our patient. That’s why you are here.”

A manager for Sacred Heart Emergency Center declined to comment. The facility is licensed in Texas as a freestanding emergency room, which means it is not physically connected to a hospital. State law requires those facilities to treat or stabilize patients, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services agency said in an email to AP.

Sacred Heart Emergency’s website says that it no longer accepts Medicare, a change that was made sometime after the woman miscarried, according to publicly available archives of the center’s website.

Meanwhile, the staff at Person Memorial Hospital in Roxboro, North Carolina, told a pregnant woman, who was complaining of stomach pain, that they would not be able to provide her with an ultrasound. The staff failed to tell her how risky it could be for her to depart without being stabilized, according to federal investigators. While en route to another hospital 45 minutes away, the woman gave birth in a car to a baby who did not survive.

Person Memorial Hospital self-reported the incident. A spokeswoman said the hospital continues to “provide ongoing education for our staff and providers to ensure compliance.”

In Melbourne, Florida, a security guard at Holmes Regional Medical Center refused to let a pregnant woman into the triage area because she had brought a child with her. When the patient came back the next day, medical staff were unable to locate a fetal heartbeat. The center declined to comment on the case.

What’s the penalty?

Emergency rooms are subject to hefty fines when they turn away patients, fail to stabilize them or transfer them to another hospital for treatment. Violations can also put hospitals’ Medicare funding at risk.

But it’s unclear what fines might be imposed on more than a dozen hospitals that the Biden administration says failed to properly treat pregnant patients in 2022.

It can take years for fines to be levied in these cases. The Health and Human Services agency, which enforces the law, declined to share if the hospitals have been referred to the agency’s Office of Inspector General for penalties.

For Huntsberger, the OB/GYN, EMTALA was one of the few ways she felt protected to treat pregnant patients in Idaho, despite the state’s abortion ban. She left Idaho last year to practice in Oregon because of the ban.

The threat of fines or loss of Medicare funding for violating EMTALA is a big deterrent that keeps hospitals from dumping patients, she said. Many couldn’t keep their doors open if they lost Medicare funding.

She has been waiting to see how HHS penalizes two hospitals in Missouri and Kansas that HHS announced last year it was investigating after a pregnant woman, who was in preterm labor at 17 weeks, was denied an abortion.

“A lot of these situations are not reported, but even the ones that are — like the cases out of the Midwest — they’re investigated but nothing really comes of it,” Huntsberger said. “People are just going to keep providing substandard care or not providing care. The only way that changes is things like this.”

President Joe Biden and top U.S. health official Xavier Becerra have both publicly vowed vigilance in enforcing the law.

Even as states have enacted strict abortion laws, the White House has argued that if hospitals receive Medicare funds they must provide stabilizing care, including abortions.

In a statement to the AP, Becerra called it the “nation’s bedrock law protecting Americans’ right to life- and health-saving emergency medical care.”

“And doctors, not politicians, should determine what constitutes emergency care,” he added.

Idaho’s law allows abortion only if the life, not the health, of the mother is at risk. But the state’s attorney general has argued that its abortion ban is “consistent” with federal law, which calls for emergency rooms to protect an unborn child in medical emergencies.

“The Biden administration has no business rewriting federal law to override Idaho’s law and force doctors to perform abortions,” Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador said in a statement earlier this year.

Now, the Supreme Court will weigh in. The case could have implications in other states like Arizona, which is reinstating an 1864 law that bans all abortions, with an exception only if the mother’s life is at risk.

EMTALA was initially introduced decades ago because private hospitals would dump patients on county or state hospitals, often because they didn’t have insurance, said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Some hospitals also refused to see pregnant women when they did not have an established relationship with physicians on staff. If the court nullifies or weakens those protections, it could result in more hospitals turning away patients without fear of penalty from the federal government, she said.

“The government knows there’s a problem and is investigating and is doing something about that,” Kolbi-Molinas said. “Without EMTALA, they wouldn’t be able to do that.”

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Developers: Enhanced AI could outthink humans in 2 to 5 years

vancouver, british columbia — Just as the world is getting used to the rapidly expanding use of AI, or artificial intelligence, AGI is looming on the horizon.

Experts say when artificial general intelligence becomes reality, it could perform tasks better than human beings, with the possibility of higher cognitive abilities, emotions, and ability to self-teach and develop.

Ramin Hasani is a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the CEO of Liquid AI, which builds specific AI systems for different organizations. He is also a TED Fellow, a program that helps develop what the nonprofit TED conference considers to be “game changers.”

Hasani says that the first signs of AGI are realistically two to five years away from being reality. He says it will have a direct impact on our everyday lives.

What’s coming, he says, will be “an AI system that can have the collective knowledge of humans. And that can beat us in tasks that we do in our daily life, something you want to do … your finances, you’re solving, you’re helping your daughter to solve their homework. And at the same time, you want to also read a book and do a summary. So an AGI would be able to do all that.”

Hasani says that advancing artificial intelligence will allow for things to move faster and can even be made to have emotions.

He says proper regulation can be achieved by better understanding how different AI systems are developed.

This thought is shared by Bret Greenstein, a partner at London-based  PricewaterhouseCoopers who leads its efforts on artificial intelligence.

“I think one is a personal responsibility for people in leadership positions, policymakers, to be educated on the topic, not in the fact that they’ve read it, but to experience it, live it and try it. And to be with people who are close to it, who understand it,” he says.

Greenstein warns that if it is over-regulated, innovation will be curtailed and access to AI will be limited to people who could benefit from it.

For musician, comedian and actor Reggie Watts, who was the bandleader on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, AI and the coming of AGI will be a great way to find mediocre music, because it will be mimicked easily.

Calling it “artificial consciousness,” he says existing laws to protect intellectual property rights and creative industries, like music, TV and film, will work, provided they are properly adopted.

“I think it’s just about the usage of the tool, how it’s … how it’s used. Is there money being made off of it, so on, so forth. So, I think that that we already have … tools that exist that deal with these types of situations, but [the laws and regulations] need to be expanded to include AI because they’ll probably be a lot more nuance to it.”

Watts says that any form of AI is going to be smarter than one person, almost like all human intelligence collected into one point. He feels this will cause humanity to discover interesting things and the nature of reality itself.

This year’s conference was the 40th year for TED, the nonprofit organization that is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

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WHO urges heightened vigilance on potential spread of bird flu in cows

Geneva — In the wake of a recent outbreak of avian influenza detected in dairy cows and goats in the United States, the World Health Organization is calling on governments to increase their surveillance and to “remain vigilant” regarding the possible spread of this deadly disease to their countries.

Dr. Wenqing Zhang, head of the WHO’s global influenza program, said Friday that investigations are underway to determine the extent and severity of the H5N1 bird flu found in 29 herds in eight U.S. states since March.

“While WHO and its partners are closely monitoring, reviewing, assessing and updating the risk associated with H5N1 and other avian influenza viruses, we call on countries to remain vigilant, rapidly report human infections if any, rapidly share sequences and other data, and reinforce biosecurity measures on animal farms,” said Zhang.

Zhang also told journalists in Geneva that on April 1 a laboratory-confirmed case of avian influenza was found in a man who was working at a dairy cattle farm in Texas.

“The case in Texas is the first case of a human infected by avian influenza by a cow,” she said, noting that he most likely got infected “through the direct contact with cows.”

“Now we see multiple herds of cows affected in an increasing number of U.S. states, which shows a further step of the virus spillover to mammals,” she added, warning that “farm workers and others in close contact with cows should take precautions in case the animals are infected.”

Zhang also noted that so far there has been no detected transmission of the virus from cattle to other mammals, though bird-to-cow, cow-to-cow and cow-to-bird transmission have occurred during the current outbreaks.

“Although a lot is still under investigation, this suggests that the virus may have found … routes of transmission other than what we previously understood,” she said. “While this sounds concerning, it is also a testament to strong disease surveillance which allows us to detect the virus.”

Avian influenza A(H5N1) first emerged in 1996. In 2020, the virus spread into Africa, Asia, and Europe and then in 2022, it crossed into North and South America.

“In recent years, we see the virus spillover to mammals,” Zhang said, noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has detected infections in “around 200 mammals.”

Human infections of avian flu are rare and tied to exposure to infected animals and environments. The WHO reports nearly 900 cases have been detected since 2003. About half of those infected with the disease reportedly have died.

In the early years, most cases were found in Asia and Southeast Asia. WHO reports the relatively few U.S. and European cases reported to the agency over the past two years have been mild.

Zhang said the virus in dairy cows currently circulating in the United States also has been detected in milk from infected animals.

“We also received reports that there is very high virus concentration in raw milks. But exactly how long the virus will be able to survive in the milks remains under investigation.

“So, we recommend that people really should consume pasteurized milk and milk products,” she said, adding that this recommendation applies to people “in the whole world.”

Nearly 20 vaccines are currently licensed for pandemic use for influenza. Zhang said two “candidate vaccine viruses” are available that can respond to bird flu outbreaks in dairy cows and other animals in the United States.

“Having candidate vaccine viruses really allows us to be prepared to quickly produce vaccines for humans, if this becomes necessary,” she said, adding that at least four antiviral medications, including oseltamivir, widely marketed as Tamiflu, are available to treat people who may become sick with bird flu.

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UN approves updated cholera vaccine that could help fight a surge in cases

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Google fires 28 workers protesting contract with Israel

New York — Google fired 28 employees following a disruptive sit-down protest over the tech giant’s contract with the Israeli government, a Google spokesperson said Thursday.

The Tuesday demonstration was organized by the group “No Tech for Apartheid,” which has long opposed “Project Nimbus,” Google’s joint $1.2 billion contract with Amazon to provide cloud services to the government of Israel.

Video of the demonstration showed police arresting Google workers in Sunnyvale, California, in the office of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s, according to a post by the advocacy group on X, formerly Twitter.

Kurian’s office was occupied for 10 hours, the advocacy group said.

Workers held signs including “Googlers against Genocide,” a reference to accusations surrounding Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

“No Tech for Apartheid,” which also held protests in New York and Seattle, pointed to an April 12 Time magazine article reporting a draft contract of Google billing the Israeli Ministry of Defense more than $1 million for consulting services.

A “small number” of employees “disrupted” a few Google locations, but the protests are “part of a longstanding campaign by a group of organizations and people who largely don’t work at Google,” a Google spokesperson said.

“After refusing multiple requests to leave the premises, law enforcement was engaged to remove them to ensure office safety,” the Google spokesperson said. “We have so far concluded individual investigations that resulted in the termination of employment for 28 employees, and will continue to investigate and take action as needed.”

Israel is one of “numerous” governments for which Google provides cloud computing services, the Google spokesperson said.

“This work is not directed at highly sensitive, classified, or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services,” the Google spokesperson said.

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Zimbabwe mine turns dumpsite into solar station

A gold mine in Zimbabwe has turned its former dumpsite into a solar station, generating all the energy it needs for operations at the mine and releasing excess energy into the national grid. Located in Zimbabwe’s southwestern Bubi district, some 500 kilometers from the capital, the project has drawn praise from environmentalists. Columbus Mavhunga has more.

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UK, EU face significant medicine shortages, study says

LONDON — Patients in the U.K. and European Union are facing shortages of vital medicines such as antibiotics and epilepsy medication, research published Thursday found.

The report by Britain’s Nuffield Trust think-tank found the situation had become a “new normal” in the U.K. and was “also having a serious impact in EU countries.”

Mark Dayan, Brexit program lead at the Nuffield Trust think tank, said Britain’s decision to leave the European Union had not caused U.K. supply problems but had exacerbated them.

“We know many of the problems are global and relate to fragile chains of imports from Asia, squeezed by COVID-19 shutdowns, inflation and global instability,” he said.

“But exiting the EU has left the U.K. with several additional problems -– products no longer flow as smoothly across the borders with the EU, and in the long term our struggles to approve as many medicines might mean we have fewer alternatives available,” he said.

Researchers also warned that being outside the EU might mean Britain is unable to benefit from EU measures taken to tackle shortages, such as bringing drug manufacturing back to Europe.

It said that this included the EU’s Critical Medicines Alliance which it launched in early 2024.

Analysis of freedom of information requests and public data on drug shortages showed the number of notifications from drug companies warning of impending shortages in the UK had more than doubled in three years.

Some 1,634 alerts were issued in 2023, up from 648 in 2020, according to the report, The Future for Health After Brexit.

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said medicine shortages had become “commonplace,” adding that this was “totally unacceptable” in any modern health system.

“Supply shortages are a real and present danger to those patients who rely on life-saving medicines for their well-being,” he said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the U.K. was not alone in facing medical supply issues.

It said most cases of shortages had been “swiftly managed with minimal disruption to patients.” 

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Hospitals in eastern DRC face vaccine shortages

Goma — In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, specifically in the Beni and Butembo region, parents are finding it hard getting vaccines for their children. Health care providers report that vaccines have been in short supply for several months, leaving thousands of children unvaccinated. Parents worried about their children’s health are calling on authorities to quickly resolve the situation.

In the town of Butembo, vaccination programs have come to a stop. The head nurse of the Makasi health area, Kambale Wangahikya, confirms the absence of vaccines in certain areas of North Kivu province.

He said they’re missing several vaccines, such as the one that fights pneumonia and helps children fight coughs, and also the vaccine that fights meningitis and mumps. He said that all children born and unborn are therefore still at risk.

This situation creates frustrations for breastfeeding women. One mother, Kasoki, is worried because her infant son has not yet received the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis.

She said she has a 4-month-old baby, but he’s having trouble getting BCG and other vaccines. She went to the hospital four times and couldn’t find anything. The doctors gave her several appointments but when she arrived, she could hardly find anything. She’s worried that her baby will catch serious diseases.

Another mother, Stephanie’s, said she made several trips to health facilities to have her child vaccinated. It was only last week, she said, that her son received his first dose of any vaccine. She told us about the fear she felt.

She said she felt very bad because the vaccine she had been looking for a long time was very important for her child, because if he didn’t get it, he would be exposed to disabilities and diseases when he grew up. She said that the health authorities should force themselves to bring in the vaccines, because this shortage could cause problems for the children later on.

Kasoki Defrose, a nurse at Beni’s university clinic, said that not vaccinating children has consequences for the physical health of newborns. She said that local authorities are working hard to respond to this shortage.

She said that if children aren’t vaccinated against polio, for example, they risk becoming weak and their muscles won’t be strengthened. She said the authorities intend to respond to the shortage soon.

According to officials from the Beni health zone, which oversees dozens of hospitals in the region, over 1,000 children are waiting to be vaccinated in several towns in the Beni and Butembo region.

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NASA chief warns of Chinese military presence in space

Washington — China is bolstering its space capabilities and is using its civilian program to mask its military objectives, the head of the U.S. space agency said Wednesday, warning that Washington must remain vigilant.

“China has made extraordinary strides especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space program is a military program. And I think, in effect, we are in a race,” Nelson said.

He said he hoped Beijing would “come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses,” but added: “We have not seen that demonstrated by China.”

Nelson’s comment came as he testified before the House Appropriations Committee on NASA’s budget for fiscal 2025.

He said the United States should land on the moon again before China does, as both nations pursue lunar missions, but he expressed concern that were Beijing to arrive first, it could say: “‘OK, this is our territory, you stay out.'”

The United States is planning to put astronauts back on the moon in 2026 with its Artemis 3 mission. China says it hopes to send humans to the moon by 2030.

Nelson said he was confident the United States would not lose its “global edge” in space exploration.

“But you got to be realistic,” he said. “China has really thrown a lot of money at it and they’ve got a lot of room in their budget to grow. I think that we just better not let down our guard.”

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New effort tackles drug overdose epidemic in US

The Biden Administration has launched a new effort to tackle the drug overdose epidemic in the United States, which in 2022 took more than 100,000 lives, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But as VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports, some critics say there are some gaps in the government’s strategy to save lives.

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New TikTok Lite app raises concerns in EU

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Report: Decades of progress in sexual, reproductive health being rolled back

GENEVA — Decades of progress in sexual and reproductive health are being rolled back with the poorest, most vulnerable members of society at greatest risk of losing out on lifesaving services, according to the 2024 State of World Population report.  

The report, issued Wednesday by the U.N. Population Fund, UNFPA, says, “The data are damning.”  

“Women and girls who are poor, belong to ethnic, racial and indigenous minority groups, or are trapped in conflict settings, are more likely to die because they lack access to timely health care.”  

Thirty years ago, 179 governments that attended the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo pledged that they would place sexual and reproductive health at the core of sustainable development, to empower women and girls, and achieve gender equality.  

“There was a moment in Cairo when humanity came together in agreement that women should not die while giving life. And this is a worthy pursuit,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA executive director, told journalists in Geneva on Monday, in advance of the report’s publication.  

Unfortunately, she said, the promise of Cairo is not being met. Women are still being left behind. That, she added, is happening after a generation of notable achievement in reducing the rate of unintended pregnancy, in lowering maternal deaths by one-third, and in securing laws against domestic violence in more than 160 countries.  

“In the report, we show that inequalities are widening, human reproduction is being politicized. The rights of women, girls and gender-diverse people are the subject of increasing pushback … progress is slowing and by many measures it has stalled completely,” she said.  

“Annual reductions in maternal deaths have flatlined. Since 2016, the world made zero progress in saving women from preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth,” she said, noting that 800 women die every day giving birth.  

Instead of being empowered, she said women continue to be repressed and denied their rights. “One woman in four cannot make her own health care decisions, one woman in four cannot say no to sex, and nearly one in 10 are unable to make their own choices about whether or not to use contraception,” she said.  

The report finds racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are blocking women’s and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health and that those living in poor, developing countries are far more likely to die from a lack of services than are women and girls in richer countries.  

The report says African women are most at risk. It says an African woman who experiences pregnancy and childbirth complications is around 130 times more likely to die from them than a woman in Europe or North America.  

It says nearly 500 deaths a day, more than half of all preventable maternal deaths, occur in countries with humanitarian crises and conflicts.  

The report notes that women of African descent across the Americas are more likely to die in childbirth than white women, noting, “In the United States, the rate is three times higher than the national average.”  

Kanem says the data show that “inequalities are killing women,” adding they are dying because “health systems today are weak, tainted by gender inequality, by racial discrimination, and by misinformation.”  

For example, she notes that midwives are undervalued, underpaid and under-supported in male-dominated health systems “even though increasing midwifery coverage could avert more than 40 percent of maternal deaths.”  

“We also see that women of African descent experience higher rates of mistreatment and neglect by health providers. Indigenous women are routinely denied culturally appropriate maternal health care.  

“As a result, these groups are much more likely and, in some places, six times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth,” she said.  

Nowhere in the 168-page report does the word “abortion” appear in the text. Kanem explains that as a U.N. entity, UNFPA does not take a position on member state policies and complies with whatever national governments determine “about that procedure.”  

However, she noted that UNFPA believes that, “Where legal in countries it should be safe and accessible and where not legal, it should be clear that post-abortion services, typically presenting as hemorrhage and bleeding, must be available, no matter the legal status. 

“In my mind, it is clear that unsafe abortion, the result of not having contraception … is a leading cause of this stubborn maternal death globally,” indicating that deaths from unsafe abortions are likely to be higher than the data suggest.  

“Often the physician is not going to put ‘unsafe abortion’ on the death certificate. You will see hemorrhage or some other concomitant cause,” she said.  

The report shows that investing in sexual and reproductive health benefits everyone and would contribute trillions of dollars to the global economy.  

Authors of the report say that spending an additional $79 billion in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 “would avert 400 million unplanned pregnancies, save one million lives and generate $660 billion in economic benefits.”

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Warming oceans hit coral reefs with 4th massive bleaching event, NOAA says

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US Commerce Dept. grants Samsung $6.4 billion for Texas chip plants

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AI-generated fashion models could bring more diversity to industry — or leave it with less

Chicago, Illinois — London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect: Her counterpart is made of pixels instead of flesh and blood.

The virtual twin was generated by artificial intelligence and has already appeared as a stand-in for the real-life Alexsandrah in a photo shoot. Alexsandrah, who goes by her first name professionally, in turn receives credit and compensation whenever the AI version of herself gets used — just like a human model.

Alexsandrah says she and her alter-ego mirror each other “even down to the baby hairs.” And it is yet another example of how AI is transforming creative industries — and the way humans may or may not be compensated.

Proponents say the growing use of AI in fashion modeling showcases diversity in all shapes and sizes, allowing consumers to make more tailored purchase decisions that in turn reduces fashion waste from product returns. And digital modeling saves money for companies and creates opportunities for people who want to work with the technology.

But critics raise concerns that digital models may push human models — and other professionals like makeup artists and photographers — out of a job. Unsuspecting consumers could also be fooled into thinking AI models are real, and companies could claim credit for fulfilling diversity commitments without employing actual humans.

“Fashion is exclusive, with limited opportunities for people of color to break in,” said Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit aiming to advance workers’ rights in the fashion industry. “I think the use of AI to distort racial representation and marginalize actual models of color reveals this troubling gap between the industry’s declared intentions and their real actions.”  

Women of color in particular have long faced higher barriers to entry in modeling and AI could upend some of the gains they’ve made. Data suggests that women are more likely to work in occupations in which the technology could be applied and are more at risk of displacement than men.

In March 2023, iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would be testing AI-generated models produced by Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai to add a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website. But after receiving widespread backlash, Levi clarified that it was not pulling back on its plans for live photo shoots, the use of live models or its commitment to working with diverse models.

“We do not see this (AI) pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such,” Levi said in its statement at the time.

The company last month said that it has no plans to scale the AI program.

The Associated Press reached out to several other retailers to ask whether they use AI fashion models. Target, Kohl’s and fast-fashion giant Shein declined to comment; Temu did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for Nieman Marcus, H&M, Walmart and Macy’s said their respective companies do not use AI models, although Walmart clarified that “suppliers may have a different approach to photography they provide for their products, but we don’t have that information.”

Nonetheless, companies that generate AI models are finding a demand for the technology, including Lalaland.ai, which was co-founded by Michael Musandu after he was feeling frustrated by the absence of clothing models who looked like him.

“One model does not represent everyone that’s actually shopping and buying a product,” he said. “As a person of color, I felt this painfully myself.”

Musandu says his product is meant to supplement traditional photo shoots, not replace them. Instead of seeing one model, shoppers could see nine to 12 models using different size filters, which would enrich their shopping experience and help reduce product returns and fashion waste.

The technology is actually creating new jobs, since Lalaland.ai pays humans to train its algorithms, Musandu said.

And if brands “are serious about inclusion efforts, they will continue to hire these models of color,” he added.

London-based model Alexsandrah, who is Black, says her digital counterpart has helped her distinguish herself in the fashion industry. In fact, the real-life Alexsandrah has even stood in for a Black computer-generated model named Shudu, created by Cameron Wilson, a former fashion photographer turned CEO of The Diigitals, a U.K.-based digital modeling agency.

Wilson, who is white and uses they/them pronouns, designed Shudu in 2017, described on Instagram as the “The World’s First Digital Supermodel.” But critics at the time accused Wilson of cultural appropriation and digital Blackface.

Wilson took the experience as a lesson and transformed The Diigitals to make sure Shudu — who has been booked by Louis Vuitton and BMW — didn’t take away opportunities but instead opened possibilities for women of color. Alexsandrah, for instance, has modeled in-person as Shudu for Vogue Australia, and writer Ama Badu came up with Shudu’s backstory and portrays her voice for interviews.

Alexsandrah said she is “extremely proud” of her work with The Diigitals, which created her own AI twin: “It’s something that even when we are no longer here, the future generations can look back at and be like, ‘These are the pioneers.'”

But for Yve Edmond, a New York City area-based model who works with major retailers to check the fit of clothing before it’s sold to consumers, the rise of AI in fashion modeling feels more insidious.

Edmond worries modeling agencies and companies are taking advantage of models, who are generally independent contractors afforded few labor protections in the U.S., by using their photos to train AI systems without their consent or compensation.

She described one incident in which a client asked to photograph Edmond moving her arms, squatting and walking for “research” purposes. Edmond refused and later felt swindled — her modeling agency had told her she was being booked for a fitting, not to build an avatar.

“This is a complete violation,” she said. “It was really disappointing for me.”

But absent AI regulations, it’s up to companies to be transparent and ethical about deploying AI technology. And Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, likens the current lack of legal protections for fashion workers to “the Wild West.”

That’s why the Model Alliance is pushing for legislation like the one being considered in New York state, in which a provision of the Fashion Workers Act would require management companies and brands to obtain models’ clear written consent to create or use a model’s digital replica; specify the amount and duration of compensation, and prohibit altering or manipulating models’ digital replica without consent.

Alexsandrah says that with ethical use and the right legal regulations, AI might open up doors for more models of color like herself. She has let her clients know that she has an AI replica, and she funnels any inquires for its use through Wilson, who she describes as “somebody that I know, love, trust and is my friend.” Wilson says they make sure any compensation for Alexsandrah’s AI is comparable to what she would make in-person.

Edmond, however, is more of a purist: “We have this amazing Earth that we’re living on. And you have a person of every shade, every height, every size. Why not find that person and compensate that person?”

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