18th September 2020

Technology Mini robo-surgeon performs mock surgery and other news

Technology Mini robo-surgeon performs mock surgery and other news

Technology

BBC Click’s Omar Mehtab looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week including:

  • Apple can continue to block, for now, video game Fortnite from its App Store for breaking its rules, a US judge rules – a full hearing will take place at the end of September
  • Google allows users to view prehistoric animals and museum artefacts in augmented reality
  • A prototype miniature robot surgeon capable of completing mock surgeries is created by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and Sony

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

18th September 2020

Technology Entirely virtual art museum to open and other tech news

Technology Entirely virtual art museum to open and other tech news

Technology

BBC Click’s LJ Rich looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week including:

  • Uber introduces a selfie feature in its app in the US and Canada to allow drivers to confirm that some of its passengers are wearing masks
  • LG reveals an air-purifying face mask with adjustable fan speeds to make breathing feel more normal
  • A virtual-only online art museum (VOMA) is set to open with what it says is the first completely imagined gallery displaying art loaned from world renowned institutions

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

18th September 2020

Technology Google says its carbon footprint is now zero

Technology Google says its carbon footprint is now zero

Technology

Published

image copyrightGetty Images

Google says it has wiped out its entire carbon footprint by investing in “high-quality carbon offsets”.

It became carbon-neutral in 2007 and says it has now compensated for all of the carbon it has ever created.

Other large technology companies have also committed to reducing or eliminating their carbon use.

Mr Pichai said Google’s pledge to be using only carbon-free energy by 2030 was its “biggest sustainability moonshot yet”.

“We’ll do things like pairing wind and solar power sources together and increasing our use of battery storage,” he said.

“And we’re working on ways to apply AI [artificial intelligence] to optimise our electricity demand and forecasting.”

The endeavour would create 12,000 jobs over the next five years, Mr Pichai added.

Greenpeace said Google was setting “a new high-bar for the sector” with its ambition.

“Today’s announcement, combined with Google’s promise in May to no longer create artificial intelligence solutions for upstream oil and gas exploration, shows that Google takes its role in combating climate change seriously,” said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

Environmentalists have welcomed yet another eye-catching commitment from a world-leading business to abolish the emissions that are damaging the planet. It’s becoming fashionable.

But the claim to have “offset” all of Google’s historical carbon “debt” needs scrutiny.

The company tells me its offsets so far have focused mainly on capturing natural gas where it’s escaping from pig farms and landfill sites. But arguably governments should be ensuring this happens anyway.

Google says it’s also monitoring the debate about so-called Nature Based Solutions, which involve activities such as planting trees to capture CO2. But the science on this is still contested.

And any firm wanting to lock up its emissions in trees would need to make sure they’re never dug up, or burned down.

18th September 2020

Technology Portable air purifier, ‘smallest’ Xbox and other tech news

Technology Portable air purifier, ‘smallest’ Xbox and other tech news

Technology

BBC Click’s Jen Copestake looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week, including:

  • Ghost Robotics’ robo-dogs team up with the US Air Force to guard the perimeter of a military base
  • Microsoft reveals “smallest Xbox ever” – the Series S – will go on sale in November
  • Consumer tech show IFA goes ahead, with an emphasis on coronavirus-related products – including a wearable scented air purifier

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

18th September 2020

Technology Robo-chameleon tongue’s high speed grab and other news

Technology Robo-chameleon tongue’s high speed grab and other news

Technology

BBC Click’s Jen Copestake looks at some of the best technology news stories of the week including:

  • US President Donald Trump joins Triller, a TikTok rival app based in New York
  • Apple is valued at $2tn (£1.5tn) on the stock market – the first US company to do so
  • A robot with a chameleon like tongue which can quickly snatch items up to 80cm (2.6ft) away is developed

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

18th September 2020

Technology Gene editing to produce ‘super dad’ livestock

Technology Gene editing to produce ‘super dad’ livestock

Technology

Technology The goats have been gene-editedImage copyright
JonOatley

Image caption

The genetically modified goats are a “proof in principle”, say scientists

Scientists have produced gene-edited animals they say could serve as “super dads” or “surrogate sires”.

The pigs, goats, cattle and mice make sperm carrying the genetic material of donor animals.

The researchers used a hi-tech gene editing tool to knock out a male fertility gene in animal embryos.

The animals were born sterile, but began producing sperm after an injection of sperm-producing cells from donor animals.

The technique would enable surrogate males to sire offspring carrying the genetic material of valuable elite animals such as prize bulls, said a US-UK team.

This would be a step towards genetically enhancing livestock to improve food production, they added.

Prof Jon Oatley, of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said: “This can have a major impact on addressing food insecurity around the world. If we can tackle this genetically, then that means less water, less feed and fewer antibiotics we have to put into the animals.”

Image copyright
Robert Hubner, WSU

Image caption

Bull “super dads” could be used to sire healthier or meatier cows

Technology What did the experiment show?

The surrogate sires were confirmed to have active donor sperm. And the mice fathered healthy offspring that carried the genes of the sperm donor.

The larger animals have not yet been bred. But Prof Bruce Whitelaw of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh said the study provided a powerful proof of concept.

“This shows the world that this technology is real. It can be used,” he said. “We now have to go in and work out how best to use it productively to help feed our growing population.”

According to the researchers, the technology could also help in the conservation of endangered species.

It might be possible, for example, to use the frozen sperm of an endangered rhino to regenerate the species. But they said the speed at which the science could be put into action will be influenced by policymakers.

Gene-edited livestock have yet to be granted approval for human consumption, with concerns over product safety, ethics, and animal welfare.

Image copyright
Robert Hubner, WSU

Image caption

Prof Jon Oatley says genetic techniques could address food insecurity

Technology What is gene editing?

Gene editing involves deleting or changing coding in embryos. One example of current technology is CRISPR, a biological system for altering DNA discovered in 2012.

CRISPR scans the genome looking for the location of a certain gene and then uses “molecular scissors” to snip through the DNA.

While effective in the lab, the process is less than perfect and can cut out too much DNA. These unwanted edits could alter other important genes.

Technology What are the ethical issues?

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is examining the ethical issues raised by the use of gene-editing techniques in farmed animals.

Potential applications of gene-editing technology include genetically hornless cows, and pigs or chickens that are resistant to diseases.

Gene-editing could form part of the response to many of the challenges facing societies in different parts of the world, including securing access to healthy and nutritious food, said director Hugh Whittall.

“Whether and to what extent genome editing can and should be deployed outside the research setting will depend on further research and development progressing in alignment with societal values and interests that have, in many cases, yet to be clearly defined,” he told BBC News.

“These are among the questions that we are exploring in our current inquiry on genome editing and farmed animals.”

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

18th September 2020

Technology Tough times to continue for Chinese firms in the US

Technology Tough times to continue for Chinese firms in the US

Technology

Technology The anti-Chinese sentiment is expected to continue under Trump or Biden.Image copyright
Getty Images

The Democratic and Republican National Conventions are typically an opportunity for US voters to get a sense of what their next president’s domestic policies might look like.

But this year they also provided a key insight for China Inc as it navigates its rocky relationship with the US.

Several insiders at Chinese technology firms say have told me that a Joe Biden presidency would be more appealing than another four more years of President Trump – which would be seen as “unpredictable”.

And while they think a Biden administration would still be tough on China, it would be based more on reason, and fact rather than rhetoric and politicking.

One thing is clear though: companies on the mainland believe that whoever is in the White House the tough stance on China is here to stay.

Here are three things that are worrying Chinese companies the most about the next US administration – and what they’re doing to protect themselves:

Technology Decoupling

This word gets used a lot these days. President Trump and his administration talk about it in tweets and in press statements in relation to China.

Decoupling basically means undoing more than three decades’ worth of US business relations with China.

Everything is on the cards: from getting American factories to pull their supply chains out of the mainland, to forcing Chinese-owned companies that operate in the US – like TikTok and Tencent – to swap their Chinese owners for American ones.

Make no mistake, under a Trump administration “decoupling will be accelerated”, according to Solomon Yue, vice chairman and chief executive of the Republicans Overseas lobby group.

“The reason is because there’s a genuine national security concern about our technology being stolen,” he said.

But decoupling isn’t that simple.

While the US has had some success in forcing American companies to stop doing business with Chinese tech giants like Huawei, it is pushing Chinese firms to develop self-sufficiency in some key industries, like chip-making and artificial intelligence.

“There’s a realisation that you can never really trust the US again,” a strategist working for a Chinese tech firm told me. “That’s got Chinese companies thinking what they need to do to protect their interests.”

Technology Delisting

As part of its focus on China, the Trump administration has come up with a set of recommendations for Chinese firms listed in the US, setting a January 2022 deadline to comply with new rules on auditing.

If they don’t, according to the recommendations, they risk being banned.

While a Biden administration may not necessarily push through with the exact same ban, analysts say the scrutiny and tone of these recommendations is likely to stay.

“A Democrat, whether in the White House, Senate or Congress, would have little reason to roll back Trump’s toughness on China without some concession in return,” said Tariq Dennison, a Hong Kong-based investment adviser at GFM Asset Management.

‘”One thing both parties seem to agree on in 2020 is to blame China for any of America’s problems that can’t be easily blamed on the other party. That’s not going to change anytime soon.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Ant Financial has announced its intention to float

While fears of being delisted aren’t high on the list of concerns for Chinese companies that are already listed in the US, it’s enough to sway the decisions of companies that are looking to float in the future.

Take Ant Group, for example, the mammoth Chinese digital financial services group that this week filed for an IPO.

Affiliated to the Alibaba Group, which is listed in the US and Hong Kong, it chose Hong Kong and Shanghai in which to sell its shares instead of the US.

Increasingly other Chinese companies are likely to follow suit, as tensions between the US and China get worse.

Technology Deglobalisation

China has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalisation over the last 30 years. It has helped hundreds of millions of Chinese afford a better quality and standard of life, the bedrock upon which President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream is based.

But that’s precisely what President Trump says needs to change: his administration argues that China has become richer while the US has become poorer.

During Mr Trump’s term, deglobalisation – where borders are less open and trade is less free – has become a trend. And it’s something that Beijing knows won’t change even after the election.

“The fundamental adjustment of the US’ strategic mind-set over China is real”, reads the latest op-ed in the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, The Global Times. ‘This has to a large extent reset the China-US relationship.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping

One of the natural consequences of globalisation was arguably a safer world.

If you’re doing business with one another, chances are you’re not going to want to get in a fight – or at least not open conflict.

A big worry for many businesses in Asia is that a real military clash between the two superpowers is inevitable – and those concerns only grew this week when Beijing fired missiles into the South China Sea, a lucrative but contested waterway.

The reset of the US-China relationship is dangerous – not just for the US and China – but for the rest of us too.

18th September 2020

Technology Climate change: Removing CO2 could spark big rise in food prices

Technology Climate change: Removing CO2 could spark big rise in food prices

Technology

Technology wheatImage copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Wheat prices could be affected by the rise in technologies to remove CO2

Technologies that can remove carbon dioxide from the air could have huge implications for future food prices, according to new research.

Scientists say that machines that remove CO2 from the air will be needed to keep the rise in global temperatures in check.

But these devices will have major impacts on energy, water and land use.

By 2050, according to this new report, food crop prices could rise more than five-fold in some parts of the world.

In the wake of the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015, researchers have tried to understand what keeping the world under a 1.5C temperature threshold would mean in practice.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported on this question in 2018, and found that keeping below this temperature rise would require the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050 but would also need the removal and storage of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

One of the ideas on how to achieve this is called BECCS – bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. It means growing crops that soak up CO2, then burning them for electricity while capturing and burying the carbon that’s produced.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

A Direct Air Capture (DAC) machine installed in Iceland

Critics say this idea would need the deployment of huge amounts of land which would reduce the amount of land for agriculture at a time of increasing global population.

Another technology that has raised much interest is called Direct Air Capture (DAC), where machines pull CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

A number of experimental installations of this idea have been successfully implemented, notably in Switzerland and Canada.

But there has been little research to date on how the deployment of DAC would impact crop and food prices.

This new study looks at the large-scale deployment of a range of negative emissions technologies including DAC.

The report says that the energy and water resources needed to drive these machines will be on a very large scale.

DAC will need large amounts of heat to make the process work, say the authors. This would require energy equal to 115% of current global natural gas consumption.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Poorer countries will see the worst impacts on food prices

Water for DAC is also a significant cost by 2050, with the machines using 35% of the water currently used in global electricity production.

And while DAC reduces the amount of land required, there will still be a need for significant amounts of energy crops and new forests.

“I want to make clear that we’re not in any way trying to throw cold water on efforts to try and develop DAC,” says Dr Andres Clarens from the University of Virginia, who led the study.

“I think DAC is really very important technology that needs to be developed.”

“But in our simulations, what we find is that the world doesn’t just go 100% all in on DAC, right?

“Even under optimistic pricing scenarios for the technology, the world is still deploying a decent amount of BECCs, if you want to get to 1.5C.

“DAC is not going to be the only thing.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Rapeseed is an important energy crop and could be used for BECCS

According to the report, with widespread use of DAC, many parts of the world will see substantial price increases in maize, wheat and rice.

The worst affected areas would be in sub-Saharan Africa which could see prices rise by 5-600% by 2050.

India, Pakistan and many other countries in Asia could see three to five-fold increases, while Europe and South America could see prices double or treble.

But some people involved in DAC reject the report’s findings, saying that the authors wrongly assumed that all air capture systems are the same.

“We would like to point out that the paper only analysed liquid sorbent direct air capture technology whilst Climeworks has developed a solid sorbent technology that does not rely on the burning of natural gas or has a need for fresh water to deliver carbon dioxide removal from the air,” said Christoph Beuttler from Climeworks.

“We are confident that if the paper would have made that distinction the reported direct air capture potentials could be significantly higher and the risks lower.”

Despite the questions over methods, all involved in negative emissions agree that the longer it takes to implement these technologies, the bigger the impact on food, energy and water.

Short-term efforts to decarbonise, particularly in transport and energy production will alleviate some of the difficulties with negative emissions.

“I think that negative emissions are going to be important. I think that DAC in particular is going to be important. But I think that it can’t be our first order of business. We have to get off fossil fuels as soon as possible,” said Andres Clarens.

“Anybody that thinks we can continue to burn fossil fuels for another decade, because we’ll just do DAC, you know, down the road. That’s not a viable approach.”

The study has been published in Nature Climate Change.

Follow Matt on Twitter..

16th September 2020

Science PMQs: Boris Johnson accused of ‘governing in hindsight’

Science PMQs: Boris Johnson accused of ‘governing in hindsight’

Science

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionKeir Starmer says Boris Johnson must extend the job retention scheme as it was “desperately needed”.

Boris Johnson was accused of “governing in hindsight” over a series of U-turns, as he appeared before MPs at PMQs for the first time since July.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the prime minister was “making it up as he goes along”.

And he said even Mr Johnson’s own MPs had “run out of patience” after what he claimed was 12 U-turns over the summer.

The PM hit back by calling Sir Keir “captain hindsight” over the exam results debacle.

He accused the Labour leader of “leaping on a bandwagon, opposing a policy that he supported two weeks ago”.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford claimed Mr Johnson had made eight U-turns this year – and he called for a ninth to extend the government’s job retention scheme, which ends next month, echoing a call made by Sir Keir.

The PM insisted “indefinite furlough” was not the answer to help the economy through the pandemic.

With grumblings on the Tory benches about the government’s recent performance Boris Johnson needed a good PMQs to mark the return to parliament.

His political opponents – perhaps unsurprisingly – criticised the number of policy U-turns in recent months.

While ministers have repeatedly said they’re responding to changing science as the pandemic progresses, the speed and frequency of policy shifts is the crux of concern among some Conservative backbenchers.

Keir Starmer returned to what some supporters have called a “forensic” style of questioning in pushing the prime minister for detail on the exam results crisis.

Boris Johnson responded with a wide-ranging attack on the Labour leader which led to a tetchy exchange.

But with another shift in policy – this time on local lockdowns in Trafford and Bolton – taking place as the prime minister was at the dispatch box, it seems unlikely his performance was enough to silence critics – including those within his own party.

In heated exchanges, Sir Keir told the PM: “This has been a wasted summer. The government should have spent it preparing for the autumn and winter.

“Instead, they have lurched from crisis to crisis, U-turn to U-turn.”

He accused the government of “serial incompetence”, and asked: “Will the prime minister take responsibility and finally get a grip?”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionIan Blackford calls on the government to “change tack for a ninth time” and extend the job retention scheme.

Mr Johnson hit back by citing a series of alleged U-turns made by Sir Keir in the past and – in a reference to his predecessor as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – accusing him of supporting “an IRA-condoning politician who wanted to get out of Nato”.

Speaker Sir Lindsey Hoyle intervened to warn the prime minster “to answer the questions that have been put” to him.

A clearly angry Sir Keir said: “As Director of Public Prosecutions, I prosecuted serious terrorists for five years, working with the intelligence and security forces and with the police in Northern Ireland.

“I ask the prime minister to have the decency to withdraw that comment.”

Speaking afterwards, Labour sources said they would not be taking the matter further, but added that the PM had supported a peerage for former Brexit Party MEP, Claire Fox, who had once been a member of a far left party which defended an IRA attack,

16th September 2020

Science Airport tests will cut quarantine – senior Tory David Davis

Science Airport tests will cut quarantine – senior Tory David Davis

Science

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionPrime Minister Boris Johnson: Airport testing only works in 7% of virus cases

A senior Conservative MP has called for coronavirus testing to be introduced at UK airports in order to cut quarantine to “less than five days”.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said results should be given to passengers inside two hours.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster there should be a second test four or five days later.

But Boris Johnson rejected Mr Davis’s idea, saying airport tests gave a “false sense of security”.

Coronavirus infection rates have risen recently in the UK and many of the main destinations for UK tourists, including Spain and France.

People entering the UK from countries not on exemption lists drawn up by the UK’s four governments face 14 days of self-isolation.

But critics say this is too long, unenforceable and damaging to the economy.

Mr Davis told The Week in Westminster, in an interview to be broadcast on Saturday, that testing at airports was a “necessity” and much of the “science” used – including the UK government’s contention that only 7% of cases can be picked up on day one of an infection – had been “guesswork from the beginning”.

France and Germany are using testing at airports for passengers arriving from countries with a higher infection rate.

Image caption

David Davis said airport hotels could be used to house those who test positive

Mr Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: “What you ought to have is a test at the airport with a fast response, not a 24-hour one – an hour or two or less, if you can.

“And then if anybody is positive, they should be quarantined right there.”

Mr Davis suggested the UK government, which oversees health policy in England, should hire some of the “plenty of empty hotels the moment” near under-used airports to house those who are infected.

He added that passengers who test negative at airports should be checked again four or five days later to ascertain that the earlier result was not false.

Mr Davis said: “If you have to have a quarantine, you can reduce your timescale to less than five days.

“For most people, it’s manageable. But two weeks for a factory worker or two weeks for somebody who works in a garage, who works as a salesman or saleswoman and in a store, that’s crippling for for many of my less well-off constituents.”

Science ‘Arms around business’

The aviation industry – which has shed thousands of jobs during the pandemic – is also calling for coronavirus testing at airports.

On Thursday, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said quarantine restrictions were “killing” international travel and that testing trials should have been set up “several months ago”.

The different national administrations of the UK decide their own quarantine rules. Their exemption lists are mainly the same, but this week, Scotland and Wales removed Portugal and parts of Greece, while England and Northern Ireland did not.

On a visit to an HS2 construction site near Birmingham, Boris Johnson said: “The particular problem is that everyone thinks you can have some test at the airport that will answer whether you’ve got it or not.

“Unfortunately it only works in 7% of the cases, so 93% of the time you could have a real false sense of security, false sense of confidence when you arrive and take a test.”

The prime minister added that quarantine had to remain “an important part of our repertoire, of our toolbox, in fighting Covid”.

He said he understood the difficulties airlines faced and “how tough” it was for employees.

“We’re going to do everything – continue to do everything – we can to help to put our arms around every part of British business, large and small,” Mr Johnson added.

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