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Paris votes on ban for rental e-scooters (Update)

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A voter with a ballot and an e-scooter inside a voting station in Paris' 17th Arrondissement
A voter with a ballot and an e-scooter inside a voting station in Paris’ 17th Arrondissement.

Residents of Paris voted Sunday on whether to banish for-hire electric scooters from the streets of the French capital, which was a pioneer in adopting the divisive new form of urban transport.

City authorities once welcomed operators of app-based rental scooters with open arms, seeing them as an emissions-free alternative to cars and motorbikes.

But after a chaotic introduction in 2018, city hall has progressively tightened regulations, creating designated parking zones, limiting the top speed and restricting the number of operators.

Their presence remains controversial, with pedestrians complaining about reckless driving while a spate of fatal accidents has highlighted the dangers of vehicles that can currently be hired by children as young as 12.

“They’re dangerous, both for those who use them and for pedestrians,” Francoise Granier, a 68-year-old doctor who voted in the Ninth Arrondissement of the capital, told AFP. “And the police never intervene.”

Like her, IT worker Michael Dahan, 50, deplored the state of the capital’s streets, saying: “If it was better regulated, I wouldn’t be against… but you see people behaving in a crazy way.”

Such views are expected to dominate in the 21 voting booths set up around the French capital, with the exercise billed as a “public consultation” rather than a referendum by mayor Anne Hidalgo.

The pro-cycling Socialist leader favours a ban, and announced the vote in January to settle the issue of whether they should be allowed.

“I’m committed to respecting the choice of voters, purely and simply,” she told reporters as she voted.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has pushed cycling and bike-sharing but favours a ban on e-scooters
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has pushed cycling and bike-sharing but favours a ban on e-scooters.

The 63-year-old said the so-called free-floating scooter model was “very expensive—five euros for 10 minutes—it’s not very sustainable, and above all, it’s the cause of a lot of accidents.”

The consultation will not affect privately owned electric scooters, of which 700,000 were sold nationwide last year, according to transport ministry figures.

Around 100,000 journeys are completed each day in France on rented e-scooters in around 200 towns and cities.

Watched abroad

Transport Minister Clement Beaune expects the poll to result in a ban, while some operators also privately fear a negative result unless their mostly young users turn out to vote.

“It’s an important consultation that will be watched by a lot of other towns in France and overseas,” Beaune told Europe 1 radio on Wednesday.

He argues that e-scooters are a valuable new transport solution that have replaced up to one in five journeys in Paris that would have previously involved an emissions-producing vehicle.

The leader of President Emmanuel Macron’s party, Stephane Sejourne, said the referendum underscored that the mayor “had not regulated as it should have been done”.

A total of 1.6 million people are eligible to vote, with turnout expected to be low overall because of the small number of polling stations.

Paris has progressively tightened regulations for electric scooters since their chaotic introduction in 2018
Paris has progressively tightened regulations for electric scooters since their chaotic introduction in 2018.

Results are scheduled to be released at around 10:00 pm (2000 GMT).

A ban would be a setback for operators such as California-based Lime, Amsterdam-based Dott or Germany’s Tier and could encourage other cities to follow suit.

They offered free rides to customers on Sunday who had voted and employed online influencers to try to drum up support among young users—largely in vain judged by the high proportion of older voters seen in queues.

“Of course, there are driving offences and dangerous behaviour. That’s human nature, not the vehicle,” Nicolas Gorse, managing director of Dott, told LCI television on Sunday. “What we need is to educate, detect and punish.”

Montreal banned all electric scooters for rental or private use in 2020, while Copenhagen banned rental versions in 2020 before bringing them back a year later with stricter conditions.

But the operators insist they are still expanding.

“Paris is going against the current,” Hadi Karam, general manager for France at Lime, told AFP, citing decisions to increase the number of e-scooters or extend contracts in Washington, Madrid or London.

The vote has also focused attention on the environmental record of e-scooters amid a debate about whether they help reduce emissions, given that in most cases they replace a journey that would previously have been made on foot or in public transport.

Their batteries also have short life expectancies of around three years on average, according to the transport ministry.

© 2023 AFP

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Paris votes on ban for rental e-scooters (Update) (2023, April 2)
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Apple is expected to unveil a sleek, pricey headset. Is it the device VR has been looking for?

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Apple CEO Tim Cook discusses the Apple Watch at the Apple event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. If Apple unveils a widely anticipated headset equipped with mixed reality technology on Monday, it will be the company’s biggest new product since the introduction of the Apple Watch nearly a decade ago. Credit: AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

Apple appears poised to unveil a long-rumored headset that will place its users between the virtual and real world, while also testing the technology trendsetter’s ability to popularize new-fangled devices after others failed to capture the public’s imagination.

After years of speculation, the stage is set for the widely anticipated announcement to be made Monday at Apple’s annual developers conference in a Cupertino, California, theater named after the company’s late co-founder Steve Jobs. Apple is also likely to use the event to show off its latest Mac computer, preview the next operating system for the iPhone and discuss its strategy for artificial intelligence.

But the star of the show is expected to be a pair of goggles—perhaps called “Reality Pro,” according to media leaks—that could become another milestone in Apple’s lore of releasing game-changing technology, even though the company hasn’t always been the first to try its hand at making a particular device.

Apple’s lineage of breakthroughs date back to a bow-tied Jobs peddling the first Mac in 1984 —a tradition that continued with the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, the iPad in 2010, the Apple Watch in 2014 and its AirPods in 2016.

But with a hefty price tag that could be in the $3,000 range, Apple’s new headset may also be greeted with a lukewarm reception from all but affluent technophiles.

If the new device turns out to be a niche product, it would leave Apple in the same bind as other major tech companies and startups that have tried selling headsets or glasses equipped with technology that either thrusts people into artificial worlds or projects digital images with scenery and things that are actually in front of them—a format known as “augmented reality.”

Apple’s goggles are expected be sleekly designed and capable of toggling between totally virtual or augmented options, a blend sometimes known as “mixed reality.” That flexibility also is sometimes called external reality, or XR for shorthand.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been describing these alternate three-dimensional realities as the “metaverse.” It’s a geeky concept that he tried to push into the mainstream by changing the name of his social networking company to Meta Platforms in 2021 and then pouring billions of dollars into improving the virtual technology.

But the metaverse largely remains a digital ghost town, although Meta’s virtual reality headset, the Quest, remains the top-selling device in a category that so far has mostly appealed to video game players looking for even more immersive experiences.

Apple executives seem likely to avoid referring to the metaverse, given the skepticism that has quickly developed around that term, when they discuss the potential of the company’s new headset.

In recent years, Apple CEO Tim Cook has periodically touted augmented reality as technology’s next quantum leap, while not setting a specific timeline for when it will gain mass appeal.

Apple is expected to unveil a sleek, pricey headset. Is it the device VR has been looking for?
People stand outside of the Steve Jobs Theater before an event on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Cupertino, Calif. If Apple unveils a widely anticipated headset equipped with mixed reality technology at the theater on Monday, it will be the company’s biggest new product since the introduction of the Apple Watch nearly a decade ago.Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

“If you look back in a point in time, you know, zoom out to the future and look back, you’ll wonder how you led your life without augmented reality,” Cook, who is 62, said last September while speaking to an audience of students in Italy. “Just like today you wonder how did people like me grow up without the internet. You know, so I think it could be that profound. And it’s not going to be profound overnight.”

The response to virtual, augmented and mixed reality has been decidedly ho-hum so far. Some of the gadgets deploying the technology have even been derisively mocked, with the most notable example being Google’s internet-connected glasses released more than a decade ago.

After Google co-founder Sergey Brin initially drummed up excitement about the device by demonstrating an early model’s potential “wow factor” with a skydiving stunt staged during a San Francisco tech conference, consumers quickly became turned off to a product that allowed its users to surreptitiously take pictures and video. The backlash became so intense that people who wore the gear became known as “Glassholes,” leading Google to withdraw the product a few years after its debut.

Microsoft also has had limited success with HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset released in 2016, although the software maker earlier this year insisted it remains committed to the technology.

Magic Leap, a startup that stirred excitement with previews of a mixed-reality technology that could conjure the spectacle of a whale breaching through a gymnasium floor, had so much trouble marketing its first headset to consumers in 2018 that it has since shifted its focus to industrial, healthcare and emergency uses.

Daniel Diez, Magic Leap’s chief transformation officer, said there are four major questions Apple’s goggles will have to answer: “What can people do with it? What does this thing look and feel like? Is it comfortable to wear? And how much is it going to cost?”

The anticipation that Apple’s goggles are going to sell for several thousand dollars already has dampened expectations for the product. Although he expects Apple’s goggles to boast “jaw dropping” technology, Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said he expects the company to sell just 150,000 units during the device’s first year on the market—a mere speck in the company’s portfolio. By comparison, Apple sells more than 200 million iPhones, its marquee product a year. But the iPhone wasn’t an immediate sensation, with sales of fewer than 12 million units in its first full year on the market.

In a move apparently aimed at magnifying the expected price of Apple’s goggles, Zuckerberg made a point of saying last week that the next Quest headset will sell for $500, an announcement made four months before Meta Platform plans to showcase the latest device at its tech conference.

Since 2016, the average annual shipments of virtual- and augmented-reality devices have averaged 8.6 million units, according to the research firm CCS Insight. The firm expects sales to remain sluggish this year, with a sales projection of about 11 million of the devices before gradually climbing to 67 million in 2026.

But those forecasts were obviously made before it’s known whether Apple might be releasing a product that alters the landscape.

“I would never count out Apple, especially with the consumer market and especially when it comes to finding those killer applications and solutions,” Magic Leap’s Diez said. “If someone is going to crack the consumer market early, I wouldn’t be surprised it would be Apple.”

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Apple is expected to unveil a sleek, pricey headset. Is it the device VR has been looking for? (2023, June 4)
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Human extinction threat ‘overblown’ says AI sage Marcus

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Gary Marcus testified to the US Senate during a hearing on artificial intelligence in mid-May 2023.

Ever since the poem churning ChatGPT burst on the scene six months ago, expert Gary Marcus has voiced caution against artificial intelligence’s ultra-fast development and adoption.

But against AI’s apocalyptic doomsayers, the New York University emeritus professor told AFP in a recent interview that the technology’s existential threats may currently be “overblown.”

“I’m not personally that concerned about extinction risk, at least for now, because the scenarios are not that concrete,” said Marcus in San Francisco.

“A more general problem that I am worried about… is that we’re building AI systems that we don’t have very good control over and I think that poses a lot of risks, (but) maybe not literally existential.”

Long before the advent of ChatGPT, Marcus designed his first AI program in high school—software to translate Latin into English—and after years of studying child psychology, he founded Geometric Intelligence, a machine learning company later acquired by Uber.

‘Why AI?’

In March, alarmed that ChatGPT creator OpenAI was releasing its latest and more powerful AI model with Microsoft, Marcus signed an open letter with more than 1,000 people including Elon Musk calling for a global pause in AI development.

But last week he did not sign the more succinct statement by business leaders and specialists—including OpenAI boss Sam Altman—that caused a stir.

Global leaders should be working to reduce “the risk of extinction” from artificial intelligence technology, the signatories insisted.

The one-line statement said tackling the risks from AI should be “a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”.

Signatories included those who are building systems with a view to achieving “general” AI, a technology that would hold the cognitive abilities on par with those of humans.

“If you really think there’s existential risk, why are you working on this at all? That’s a pretty fair question to ask,” Marcus said.

Instead of putting the focus on more far-fetched scenarios where no one survives, society should be putting attention on where real dangers lie, Marcus surmised.

“People might try to manipulate the markets by using AI to cause all kinds of mayhem and then we might, for example, blame the Russians and say, ‘look what they’ve done to our country’ when the Russians actually weren’t involved,” he continued.

“You (could) have this escalation that winds up in nuclear war or something like that. So I think there are scenarios where it was pretty serious. Extinction? I don’t know.”

Threat to democracy

In the short term, the psychology expert is worried about democracy.

Generative AI software produces increasingly convincing fake photographs, and soon videos, at little cost.

As a result, “elections are going to be won by people who are better at spreading disinformation, and those people may change the rules and make it really difficult to have democracy proceed.”

Moreover, “democracy is premised on having reasonable information and making good decisions. If nobody knows what to believe, then how do you even proceed with democracy?”

The author of the book “Rebooting AI” however doesn’t think we should abandon hope, still seeing “a lot of upside.”

There’s definitely a chance AI not yet invented can “help with science, with medicine, with elder care,” Marcus said.

“But in the short term, I feel like we’re just not ready. There’s going to be some harm along the way and we really need to up our game, we have to figure out serious regulation,” he said.

At a US Senate hearing in May, seated beside OpenAI’s Altman, Marcus argued for the creation of a national or international agency responsible for AI governance.

The idea is also backed by Altman, who has just returned from a European tour where he urged political leaders to find the “right balance” between safety and innovation.

But beware of leaving the power to corporations, warned Marcus.

“The last several months have been a real reminder that the big companies calling the shots here are not necessarily interested in the rest of us,” he warned.

© 2023 AFP

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Human extinction threat ‘overblown’ says AI sage Marcus (2023, June 4)
retrieved 4 June 2023
from https://techxplore.com/news/2023-06-human-extinction-threat-overblown-ai.html

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California bill requiring Big Tech to pay for news gains momentum

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Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-San Fernando Valley, left, congratulates Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, after Wicks’ measure that would force Big Tech companies to pay media outlets for using their news content, was approved by the Assembly at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, June 1, 2023. The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration. Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

A California bill that would force Big Tech companies to pay media outlets for posting and using their news content cleared another critical hurdle Thursday.

The measure is among hundreds of bills that passed in the state Senate and Assembly this week before Friday—the last day a bill can pass out of its original chamber and get a chance to become law later this year.

The bill, which passed the Assembly floor with bipartisan support, would require companies such as Google and Meta to share with California media companies their advertising revenue stemming from the news and other reported content. The amount would be determined through an arbitration process. The bill would also require at least 70% of the shared revenue go toward journalists’ salaries.

Such payments would help local media organizations survive after many have seen their advertising revenues nosedive in the digital era, said the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks. California has lost more than 100 news organizations in the past decade, she said.

“The California Journalism Preservation Act will not save journalism, but it will provide a support for news outlets and journalists at a moment when the stakes could not be higher,” Wicks said Thursday.

California bill requiring Big Tech to pay for news gains momentum
Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, left, D-Oakland, is congratulated by Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-Colton, after Wicks’ measure that would force Big Tech companies to pay media outlets for using their news content was approved by the Assembly at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, June 1, 2023. The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration. Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

The bill is backed by major journalism unions such as the News Media Alliance and Media Guild of the West, which represents The Los Angeles Times and other newsrooms. The California Labor Federation joined in supporting the bill Thursday, saying the bill would protect journalism jobs by “leveling the playing field between publishers and social media websites.”

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, threatened to pull all news content from its platforms if the bill becomes law. The company has made similar threats to the U.S. Congress in 2022 and the Canadian government this year when those lawmakers attempted similar measures to bolster local journalism.

Meta also said the California bill would create a “slush fund” primarily benefiting out-of-state newspaper chains and hedge funds.

“The bill fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves and that substantial consolidation in California’s local news industry came over 15 years ago, well before Facebook was widely used,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement a day ahead of the vote. “It is disappointing that California lawmakers appear to be prioritizing the best interests of national and international media companies over their own constituents.”

California bill requiring Big Tech to pay for news gains momentum
Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, smiles after measure that would force Big Tech companies to pay media outlets for using their news content was approved by the Assembly at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, June 1, 2023. The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration. Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Wicks called Meta’s statement “an empty threat,” noting that “these are companies that have made billions and billions and billions of dollars while our newsrooms are shutting down across the state of California.”

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opponents of the bill, including LION Publishers, a national news group representing more than 450 independent newsrooms, have also raised concerns that the measure would encourage more clickbait news content. An analysis of bill, conducted by the Legislature, says news organizations would more likely invest in high-quality and investigative journalism if they are financially healthy. The analysis also said concerns the bill would potentially violate the First Amendment are “mostly overstated.”

Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli, who co-authored the bill, said it doesn’t impose a tax on Big Tech.

California bill requiring Big Tech to pay for news gains momentum
Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland, left, discusses her measure that would force Big Tech companies to pay media outlets for using their news content, with Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, June 1, 2023. If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, the bill would require companies such as Google and Meta to share with California media companies their advertising revenue stemming from the news and other reported content Muratsuchi wanted to make. Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

“I do not support corporate welfare, … but I also do not support unjust enrichment,” Essayli said Thursday. “If you’re taking other people’s work product and you’re financially benefiting from it, you must compensate them for it.”

Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi urged Wicks to continue working with local news organizations to make sure small and ethnic-owned newsrooms are not left behind. Wicks said she’s committed to resolve that concern.

“I know that this is still a work in progress, but what I also know is that doing nothing is not an option,” Wicks said.

The bill now heads to the state Senate.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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California bill requiring Big Tech to pay for news gains momentum (2023, June 2)
retrieved 4 June 2023
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Idaho hospitals working to resume full operations after cyberattack

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Two eastern Idaho hospitals and their clinics are working to resume full operations after a cyberattack on their computer systems.

Officials with Idaho Falls Community Hospital said the attack happened Monday, causing some clinics to close, some ambulances to be diverted to nearby hospitals and their cafes to only accept cash. Mountain View Hospital, also located in Idaho Falls, was similarly affected by the computer virus, officials said.

Hospital information technology staff identified the attack quickly and immediately acted to limit the impacts and keep all patient information safe and secure, officials said.

Work to fully recover from the attack was ongoing on Wednesday.

“Both hospitals remain open and are safely caring for all their patients and the vast majority of clinics are seeing patients as usual,” officials said in a blog post on the Idaho Falls Community Hospital website.

Healthcare organizations have been an appealing target for cyber attackers—particularly those who use malware to lock a victim organization’s files and leverage the information for a payment. Ransomware has remained a persistent threat for the industry, which is among the sectors the U.S. government classifies as critical infrastructure.

Officials in the Idaho attack have only referred to the problem as a virus that needs to be removed.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Idaho hospitals working to resume full operations after cyberattack (2023, June 2)
retrieved 4 June 2023
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Developing technologies to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production

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Schematic of the electrode fabrication process for this development. Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

Green hydrogen, which produces hydrogen without the use of fossil fuels or the emission of carbon dioxide, has become increasingly important in recent years as part of efforts to realize a decarbonized economy. However, due to the high production cost of water electrolysis devices that produce green hydrogen, the economic feasibility of green hydrogen has not been very high. However, the development of a technology that drastically reduces the amount of rare metals such as iridium and platinum used in polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysis devices is opening the way to lower production costs.

A research team led by Dr. Hyun S. Park and Sung Jong Yoo of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research Center at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) announced that they have developed a technology that can significantly reduce the amount of platinum and iridium, precious metals used in the electrode protection layer of polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysis devices, and secure performance and durability on par with existing devices.

In particular, unlike previous studies that focused on reducing the amount of iridium catalyst while maintaining the structure that uses a large amount of platinum and gold as the electrode protection layer, the researchers replaced the precious metal in the electrode protection layer with inexpensive iron nitride having large surface area and uniformly coated a small amount of iridium catalyst on top of it, greatly increasing the economic efficiency of the electrolysis device.

The polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysis device is a device that produces high-purity hydrogen and oxygen by decomposing water using electricity supplied by renewable energy such as solar power, and it plays a role in supplying hydrogen to various industries such as steel making and chemicals. In addition, it is advantageous for energy conversion to store renewable energy as hydrogen energy, so increasing the economic efficiency of this device is very important for the realization of the green hydrogen economy.

  • Developing technologies to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production
    (A) Catalyst shapes made with conventional technology (red-iridium catalyst/green-platinum). Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology
  • Developing technologies to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production
    (B) Catalyst shape made with the new technology (red-iridium catalyst/green-iron nitride). Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

In a typical electrolysis device, there are two electrodes that produce hydrogen and oxygen, and for the oxygen generating electrode, which operates in a highly corrosive environment, gold or platinum is coated on the surface of the electrode at 1 mg/cm2 as a protective layer to ensure durability and production efficiency, and 1-2 mg/cm2 of iridium catalyst is coated on top. The precious metals used in these electrolysis devices have very low reserves and production, which is a major factor hindering the widespread adoption of green hydrogen production devices.

To improve the economics of water electrolysis, the team replaced the rare metals gold and platinum used as a protective layer for the oxygen electrode in polymer electrolyte membrane hydrogen production devices with inexpensive iron nitride (Fe2N).

To do so, the team developed a composite process that first uniformly coats the electrode with iron oxide, which has low electrical conductivity, and then converts the iron oxide to iron nitride to increase its conductivity. The team also developed a process that uniformly coats an iridium catalyst about 25 nanometers (nm) thick on top of the iron nitride protective layer, reducing the amount of iridium catalyst to less than 0.1 mg/cm2, resulting in an electrode with high hydrogen production efficiency and durability.

The developed electrode replaces the gold or platinum used as a protective layer for the oxygen generating electrode with non-precious metal nitrides while maintaining similar performance to existing commercial electrolysis units, and reduces the amount of iridium catalyst to 10% of the existing level. In addition, the electrolysis unit with the new components was operated for more than 100 hours to verify its initial stability.

Developing technologies to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production
(A) Durability test of water electrolysis device using the developed electrode(B) Water electrolysis performance before and after the durability test of the water electrolysis device using the developed electrode (C) Durability test of water electrolysis device with electrodes manufactured by conventional technology(D) Water electrolysis performance before and after durability test of water electrolyzer with conventional electrodes. Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

“Reducing the amount of iridium catalyst and developing alternative materials for the platinum protective layer are essential for the economical and widespread use of polymer electrolyte membrane green hydrogen production devices, and the use of inexpensive iron nitride instead of platinum is of great significance,” said Dr. Hyun S. Park of KIST. “After further observing the performance and durability of the electrode, we will apply it to commercial devices in the near future.”

The research results were published online in the journal Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.

More information:
Hui-Yun Jeong et al, High–performance water electrolyzer with minimum platinum group metal usage: Iron nitride–iridium oxide core–shell nanostructures for stable and efficient oxygen evolution reaction, Applied Catalysis B: Environmental (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.apcatb.2023.122596

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Developing technologies to reduce the cost of green hydrogen production (2023, June 2)
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Team makes electronic skin that can sense touch

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by Lisa M. Krieger

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Stanford scientists have developed a soft and stretchable electronic skin that can directly talk to the brain, imitating the sensory feedback of real skin using a strategy that, if improved, could offer hope to millions of people with prosthetic limbs.

“We were inspired by the natural system and wanted to mimic it,” said Weichen Wang, whose team published its success in the journal Science. “Maybe we can someday help patients to not only restore motor function, but also restore their sensations.”

Much faster, larger and more sophisticated circuitry is needed before so-called “e-skin” holds promise for people.

But, in a milestone, the device showed remarkable success in a lab rat. When researchers pressed the rat’s e-skin and sent electronic pulses to its brain, the animal responded by twitching its leg.

Scientists have long dreamed of building prosthetic limbs that not only restore movement but also provide perception—sensing pressure, temperature and vibration, for instance—to help restore a more normal quality of life. Skin damage and amputation cause a massive disruption in the loop of perception and movement, so even simple tasks like feeling or grasping an object are challenging.

“If you pick up a glass of beer and you can’t sense that it’s not cold, then you won’t get the right taste,” said Ravinder Dahiya, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, who is also studying the use of flexible electronics to develop artificial skin.

Electronic skin also could be used to clad robots so they feel sensations in the same way that humans do. This is critical to the safety of industries where robots and humans have physical interactions, such as passing tools on a manufacturing floor.

But the sensation of touch is complicated. Human skin has millions of receptors that sense when they are poked or pressed, squeezed or scalded. They react by sending electrical pulses to the brain, through nerves. The brain responds by sending information back, telling muscles to move.

And biological skin is soft and can stretch, repeatedly, for many decades.

The Stanford team, led by chemical engineering professor Zhenan Bao, has been working on e-skin designs for several years. But an earlier effort used rigid electronics and 30 volts of power, which requires 10 batteries and isn’t safe. And it wasn’t able to endure continuous stretching without losing its electrical properties.

“The hurdle was not so much finding mechanisms to mimic the remarkable sensory abilities of human touch, but bringing them together using only skin-like materials,” said Bao, in a statement.

The new e-skin is innovative because it uses networked layers of stretchable organic transistors that perceive and transmit electrical signals. When sandwiched, the layers are only about 25 to 50 microns thick—as thin as a sheet of paper, similar to skin.

Its networks act as sensors, engineered to sense pressure, temperature, strain, and chemicals. They turn this sensory information into an electrical pulse.

And the e-skin runs on only 5 volts of electricity.

To test the system, the Stanford team implanted it into a live rat. When the rat’s e-skin was touched, a pulse was transmitted by a wire to the rat’s brain—specifically, an area called the somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for processing physical sensations.

The rat’s brain responded by sending an electrical signal down to its leg. This was done using a device that amplifies and transmits signals from the brain to muscles, mimicking connections in the nervous system called synapses.

The rat’s leg twitched. Significantly, its movement corresponded to varying levels of pressure, said Wang, an engineering Ph.D. and first author on the new paper. For example, the team could increase the leg’s movement by pushing the e-skin harder, which boosted the signal’s frequency and the transistor’s output.

If tested in humans, the device would not require implantation of a wire to send sensory information to the brain. Rather, the team envisions using wireless communication between e-skin and an electrical stimulator located next to a nerve.

Joe McTernan of the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association said such research encourages technological advancements that could someday provide real-time biofeedback for people who have lost limbs.

“Although this skin technology is fairly new, there has been significant research and development in recent years that have focused on creating a positive tactile experience for the patient,” he said.

The Stanford team’s closed-loop system—from sensation to muscle movement—is “very exciting…very much a proof of concept,” bioelectronics expert Alejandro Carnicer-Lombarte of University of Cambridge told the journal Nature.

In the field of artificial prosthetics, most researchers tend to work on individual components, he said. “Combining those things, in sequence, is not trivial.”

Dahiya applauded the team’s success in building flexible electronics and then making them work. “That’s where they’ve done a nice job,” he said.

But he said there’s still a missing piece of the puzzle: creating memory. Unlike Stanford’s e-skin, human skin learns how an object feels, then can anticipate it.

There’s another challenge: The transmission of signals is currently too slow to be useful. The flow of information through the team’s flexible carbon-based transistors is sluggish compared to more traditional silicon-based transistors, he said.

Such a delay “will not allow us to get a real feeling,” Dahiya said. “And without real feeling, then you have a practical bottleneck.”

At Stanford, the next step is to pack more and different sensors into the e-skin, to more closely replicate the many sensations felt by the human hand, said Wang.

“We’re scaling up,” he said. “It will be more advanced.

“The whole field is under development,” he said. “It will take many more generations of developments to realize our target.”

More information:
Weichen Wang et al, Neuromorphic sensorimotor loop embodied by monolithically integrated, low-voltage, soft e-skin, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.ade0086

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Twitter executive responsible for content safety resigns after Elon Musk criticism

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Twitter logos hang outside the company’s offices in San Francisco, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Ella Irwin, a top Twitter executive responsible for safety and content moderation, has left the company. Her departure came after owner Elon Musk publicly complained about the platform’s handling of posts about transgender topics. Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

A top Twitter executive responsible for safety and content moderation has left the company, her departure coming soon after owner Elon Musk publicly complained about the platform’s handling of posts about transgender topics.

The departure pointed to a fresh wave of turmoil among key officials at Twitter since Musk took over last year.

Ella Irwin, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, confirmed her resignation in a pair of tweets late Friday. She did not say in the message why she was leaving, but her departure came shortly after Musk criticized Twitter’s handling of tweets about a conservative media company‘s documentary that questions transgender medical treatment for children and teens.

Musk was responding to complaints by Jeremy Boreing, co-CEO of the media company, the Daily Wire. Boreing said in tweets and retweets of conservative commentators Thursday that Twitter was suppressing the movie by flagging posts about it as hate speech and keeping the movie off lists of trending topics.

Boreing tweeted that Twitter canceled a deal to premiere “What is a Woman?” for free on the platform “because of two instances of ‘misgendering.'” Twitter rules prohibit intentionally referring to transgender individuals with the wrong gender or name.

“This was a mistake by many people at Twitter. It is definitely allowed,” Musk tweeted back. “Whether or not you agree with using someone’s preferred pronouns, not doing so is at most rude and certainly breaks no laws.”

Irwin tweeted Friday that “one or two people noticed” she left the company the day before, and she noted speculation about whether she was fired or quit. She teased that she would post 24 tweets to explain her departure.

Then she posted that she was just kidding about the long narrative.

“In all seriousness, I did resign but this has been a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so thankful to have worked with this amazing team of passionate, creative and hardworking people. Will be cheering you all and Twitter as you go!”

Next to Musk, Irwin had been the most prominent voice of the company’s ever-changing content policies in recent months.

Twitter has struggled to bring back advertisers turned off by Musk’s drastic changes and loosening of rules against hate speech since he bought Twitter for $44 billion in October. Twitter also has an incoming CEO, Linda Yaccarino, known for decades of media and advertising industry experience, but she hasn’t started yet.

Irwin and Twitter didn’t respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment.

Twitter has been in turmoil including mass layoffs and voluntary departures since the billionaire Tesla owner bought the San Francisco company and took it private. The company’s head of trust and safety left shortly after the takeover, and turnover in the top ranks has continued. Last month, Twitter fired two more top managers.

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YouTube scraps 2020 US election misinformation policy

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YouTube’s updated policy, which goes into effect immediately, comes as tech platforms grapple with a key issue in a hyperpolarized political environment in the United States.

YouTube will stop removing content that falsely claims the 2020 US presidential election was plagued by “fraud, errors or glitches,” the platform said Friday, a decision quickly criticized by anti-misinformation advocates.

The announcement by the Google-owned video website is a marked departure from its policy initiated in December 2020, which attempted to curb false claims—most importantly pushed by then-president Donald Trump—that his re-election loss to Joe Biden was due to the vote being “stolen.”

“The ability to openly debate political ideas, even those that are controversial or based on disproven assumptions, is core to a functioning democratic society—especially in the midst of election season,” YouTube said in a blog post.

“We will stop removing content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches occurred in the 2020 and other past US presidential elections.”

YouTube’s updated policy, which goes into effect immediately, comes as tech platforms grapple with a key issue in America’s hyperpolarized political environment: How to combat misinformation without curtailing free speech?

YouTube appeared to acknowledge that policing misinformation comes with downsides.

“Two years, tens of thousands of video removals, and one election cycle later, we recognized it was time to reevaluate the effects of this policy in today’s changed landscape,” the video-sharing giant said.

“In the current environment, we find that while removing this content does curb some misinformation, it could also have the unintended effect of curtailing political speech without meaningfully reducing the risk of violence or other real-world harm.”

But that response prompted sharp criticism from US advocacy groups.

“YouTube is dead wrong in its assertion that removing false election content curtails political speech without meaningfully reducing real-world harms,” said Nora Benavidez, from the nonpartisan group Free Press.

“Its dangerous decision to immediately stop removing content… which continues to sow hate and disinformation that threatens our democracy must be reversed immediately.”

Youtube insisted that its other existing rules against election misinformation remain unchanged, including its prohibition of content that deceives voters or incites people to interfere with democratic processes.

“YouTube was one of the last major social media platforms to keep in place a policy attempting to curb 2020 election misinformation,” said Julie Millican, vice president of the left-leaning watchdog Media Matters.

“Now, it’s decided to take the easy way out by giving people like Donald Trump and his enablers free rein to continue to lie without consequence about the 2020 elections.”

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YouTube scraps 2020 US election misinformation policy (2023, June 3)
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California law would make tech giants pay for news

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A bill making its way through the California state legislature would mandate that internet giants pay news agencies monthly ‘journalism usage fees’ based on viewing of stories via their platforms.

A proposed law requiring internet giants to pay for news stories moved forward in California on Friday, despite Facebook owner Meta threatening to pull news from its platform if it passes.

The California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), which cleared the state assembly on Thursday and was in the hands of the state senate, would mandate that large online platforms pay a monthly “journalism usage fee” to news providers whose work appears on their services.

The bill is designed to support local news organizations, which have been decimated in recent years as ad revenue bled away to Google and Facebook, both advertising behemoths.

Meta spokesman Andy Stone on Friday told AFP that if the bill becomes law, Meta “will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies.”

The bill has to make its way through the state senate and be signed by Governor Gavin Newsom to become law.

The CJPA is like other legislative texts pending across the globe.

In Australia, Facebook in 2021 briefly blocked news articles over a similar law and Google threatened to pull its search engine from the country before they made deals to pay several media groups.

In the European Union, tech giants can be asked to pay a copyright fee to publishers for links posted in search results or feeds.

“The CJPA is riddled with holes, the biggest of which is that the bill primarily funds national media outlets that spread misinformation,” said Chamber of Progress chief executive Adam Kovacevich.

“It’s sad the Assembly is passing the buck to the Senate rather than fixing the bill’s problems.”

The chamber is a trade group with a list of partners that includes Amazon, Apple, Google, and Meta.

A study posted by the chamber concluded that “disinformation outlets” including Fox News would benefit most from the California law.

The bill defines online platforms as those having at least 50 million monthly active users in the United States; a billion monthly users worldwide, or be valued at more than $550 billion based on its stock price.

Money for reporters?

Fees paid would be based on the number of views and news providers would be required to spend it on journalism and support staff, according to the text of the bill.

Stone noted that the wording of the bill means revenue from the law would not have to be spent on reporters covering news.

The California state assembly website indicated the bill was sent to a senate committee responsible for scheduling debates and votes on legislation, with no indication of when it would go to a vote.

“Meta’s threat to take down news is undemocratic and unbecoming,” trade group News Media Alliance said in a posted statement.

“We have seen this in their playbook before.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month slammed Meta after executives said it would block news for Canadian Facebook and Instagram users in response to the proposed law there.

The Canada law builds on Australia’s New Media Bargaining Code, which was a world first, aimed at making Google and Meta pay for news content on their platforms.

© 2023 AFP

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California law would make tech giants pay for news (2023, June 3)
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An organic electrochemical transistor that serves as a sensor and processor

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Design of the mode-switchable cv-OECT. a, Comparison between the biological nervous system and cv-OECT-based artificial nervous system, where cv-OECT can act as both volatile receptor and non-volatile synapse. Optical micrographs display the top view of a v-OECT (scale bar, 100 μm). b, Device architecture of v-OECT; the two dashed boxes show the ion contribution in the volatile/non-volatile mode and the chemical structure of PTBT-p, respectively. c, Cryo-EM images of the 200 °C-thermal annealed (TA) and as-cast PTBT-p films. d, Transfer curves of cv-OECT with polarizable/non-polarizable gate electrode. e, Normalized 0–1 absorbance as a function of doping potential; the inset shows the setup for UV–vis measurement. Stages I and II correspond to the doping of amorphous and crystalline regions, respectively. f, Time-resolved UV–vis spectra of channels correspond well with the device performance. g, XPS spectra of as-cast and annealed p-OECT channels doped at LGP and HGP. The pink and blue lines are the signals from [TFSI] before and after 30 nm etching. h, One-dimensional GIWAXS profile of the annealed film samples. Before measurement, the samples were doped at LGP or HGP and then grounded. Reversible displacement of the (100) peak between the high/low resistance state (HRS/LRS) suggests that the anions firmly embed among the glycol side chains in the crystalline region. i, Schematic explaining the mode-switching mechanism. The special channel dimensions and crystallization provide a high-barrier eVb between the two ionic states (1 and 2), resulting in a non-volatile behavior. Vb denotes the voltage bias that drives the ions to overcome the barrier. LGP can only inject ions into the amorphous regions and lead to volatile behavior. When the non-polarizable gate was used, the counterions cannot be reduced on the gate and thus they migrate into and neutralize the channel because of the reversed electric field, making the device volatile. Credit: Nature Electronics (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41928-023-00950-y

In recent years, electronics engineers have been trying to develop new brain-inspired hardware that can run artificial intelligence (AI) models more efficiently. While most existing hardware is specialized in either sensing, processing or storing data, some teams have been exploring the possibility of combining these three functionalities in a single device.

Researchers at Xi’an Jiaotong University, the University of Hong Kong and Xi’an University of Science and Technology introduced a new organic transistor that can act as a sensor and processor. This transistor, introduced in a paper published in Nature Electronics, is based on a vertical traverse architecture and a crystalline-amorphous channel that can be selectively doped by ions, allowing it to switch between two reconfigurable modes.

“Conventional artificial intelligence (AI) hardware uses separate systems for data sensing, processing, and memory storage,” Prof. Wei Ma and Prof. Zhongrui Wang, two of the researchers who carried out the study, told Tech Xplore.

“This separation often leads to significant energy consumption and time delays due to the constant need for data transfer between different hardware components and the sequential conversion of analog to digital signals. Some ground-breaking studies have highlighted the remarkable sensing and analog memory capabilities of organic electrochemical transistors (OECTs).”

The initial objective of the researchers’ recent study was to develop an OECT that can work both as a sensor and processor, as such a device could enable the creation of more homogeneous and efficient AI hardware. OECTs are thin film-based organic electronic devices that function as transistors. Their thinness makes them particularly promising for the development of smart bioelectronics, such as wearable or implantable devices, and neuromorphic hardware.

The OECT developed by Wang, Chen and their colleagues has two different modes of operation, namely a sensing and a processing mode. These two different modes are supported via the selective ion doping of a crystalline-amorphous channel inside in the device.

“In the sensing mode, ions in the electrolyte, driven by a physiological signal, migrate into the crystal structure, but they can easily diffuse back into the electrolyte, keeping the channel in a low-conductance state,” Wang explained. “In the processing mode, these ions can be ‘trapped’ by the crystal structure, maintaining the channel in a high-conductance state. This dual functionality makes our OECT device unique and efficient.”

To manufacture their OECT array, the researchers used a series of straightforward techniques and processes, including thermal evaporation, solution blade coating, thermal annealing, and reactive ion etching. As all these techniques are cost-effective, they could facilitate the large-scale fabrication of their device.

“Our device also boasts impressive versatility,” Wang said. “As a sensor, it can detect various kinds of signals, such as those from electrophysiology, chemical species, light, and temperature. Furthermore, as a memory unit, it offers a range of benefits like the ability to store 10-bit analog states, low switching randomness, and a state retention of over 10,000 seconds. This makes our OECT device a versatile tool in the world of AI.”

Wang, Chen and their colleagues evaluated their device and its ability to switch between its different operating modes in a series of experiments. They found that their OECT’s dynamics could be effectively modulated, allowing it to function well both as a sensor and processor.

As a sensor, the device can sense different type of stimuli, including ions and light. As a processor, it is capable of 10-bit analogue states, while also retaining these states well.

“The novel device we developed features two distinct operating schemes due to where ions are trapped,” Shijie said. “As a result, it functions as both a sensor and processor. This reconfigurability is bio-inspired, which also makes future neuromorphic hardware more versatile and adaptable.”

In the future, the transistor created by this team of researchers could be used to create advanced neuromorphic devices that can collect different types of data and process it. As part of their study, Wang, Chen and their colleagues showed that it could be used to diagnose cardiac diseases in real-time and their next works could explore more promising applications.

“We are currently planning to refine our fabrication technology with the aim of creating a large-scale OECT array,” Wang added. “This will lay the foundation for a fully integrated sensing-processing neural network. The potential applications of this technology are extensive and could revolutionize fields such as healthcare. For instance, it could enable real-time disease diagnosis using hardware alone, a breakthrough that could greatly enhance speed and accuracy in medical settings.”

More information:
Shijie Wang et al, An organic electrochemical transistor for multi-modal sensing, memory and processing, Nature Electronics (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41928-023-00950-y

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An organic electrochemical transistor that serves as a sensor and processor (2023, June 2)
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