‘A new approach to crisis’: how robots are throwing Syrian refugees a lifeline | Kate Hodal | Global development

In a disused hospital in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, three teenage refugees set to work on a robot. Despite intermittent power cuts and blazing summer temperatures, the team buckle down, sweaty and studious, to program the robot to pick up and stack a number of small cones. It is a task requiring skills in coding, engineering, maths and science – an assignment unlike anything they learned back home across the border.

“In Syria, we could only hope to work on something like robotics, with so much innovation, and here we actively can,” says Weeam Salem, 17, who fled Damascus at dawn in 2014 by taxi with her family and nothing but a small backpack, after bombs began flattening her neighbourhood.

“People say to us, ‘You’re just kids, you’re just refugees, you can’t do stuff like that.’ But I can, and I do.”

Among the estimated 1.5 million Syrians living in Lebanon, roughly 300,000 of them are children who are out of school. Despite international pledges to provide a school place for every Syrian child, language barriers, prohibitive fees and lack of classroom space mean many children have never set foot in one, leaving them at risk of child labour and child marriage. Fewer than 3% of Syrians aged 15 to 18 are enrolled in secondary school, making them prime targets for radicalisation.

Salem, along with fellow students Ranim Allawi, 18, and Maher Alessawi, 17, are among the lucky ones. They attend school through the charity Multi Aid Programs (Maps), a grassroots network of nine schools providing for 3,500 Syrian children across Lebanon.

Founded by Syrian neurosurgeon Dr Fadi al-Halabi, Maps is hugely innovative: it offers classes under the Lebanese curriculum, so that students can transfer into Lebanese schools if given the opportunity, and it also gives jobs to Syrian teachers – now refugees themselves – albeit on a volunteer basis. (Under Lebanese labour laws, Syrians are severely restricted in the work they are legally able to undertake.) Halabi has also founded three medical centres, which rely on unpaid Syrian doctors and nurses to provide care to 15,000 Lebanese and Syrians across the Bekaa valley.

At a disused hospital that serves as Maps headquarters, former patient preparation and operation roomshave been turned into “innovation centres” where robotics, computer science, artificial intelligence (AI), and art and design are taught.

Salem’s robotics teacher, Osama Shhadeh, 27, had just graduated from Damascus University with a degree in automation engineering and robotics when he was forced to flee to Lebanon. Within weeks of reaching the Bekaa valley, he responded to a Maps call for volunteer teachers in various fields. Two years on, he now teaches classes to students ranging in age from nine to 30. This year he helped the Hope of Syria robotics team win the coveted “inspire” award out of nearly 600 teams at the international VEX Worlds robotics competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

Hope of Syria robotics team

Osama Shhadeh and the Hope of Syria robotics team (in red shirts) spend an afternoon with a US team, Tiger Pride (in green shirts), in Washington DC. Photograph: David Peterson/US Department of State

“We don’t want to just teach kids how to read and write,” says Halabi. “We need to create a new standard, a new approach to this humanitarian crisis. Seven years [after Syria’s civil war began] refugees are still not recognised here. The main goal for us is to answer the question, how can I maintain my dignity for when, or if, I am able to return to Syria? Robotics helps us achieve dignity because it shows we are not ‘just’ Syrian refugees living in [a situation of] ‘No, you can’t work or be enrolled in school here, stay in your camp’. We can think beyond that.”

Halabi’s approach has struck a chord with academics and activists around the world. After Hope of Syria’s first robotics competition in Kentucky in 2016, the team were invited to meet former president Barack Obama and have since visited the White House three times, showcasing their homemade robot Robogee to various members of Congress.

At University College London, the Institute of Education and the Institute for Global Prosperity want to work with Halabi to develop solutions to mass displacements around the world, using Lebanon – where one in every four people is a refugee, the highest ratio globally – as a testbed.

“Lebanon is a microcosm of the problems we have got all over the world,” says Professor Henrietta Moore, who heads the Institute for Global Prosperity and co-founded the RELIEF Centre with partners at the American University of Beirut and the Centre for Lebanese Studies. Backed by the UK government’s £1.5bn Global Challenges fund, which looks at the challenges faced by developing countries, the centre is investigating how to scale up the work Maps has initiated.

“We know that the average length of stay [for a displaced person] is 20 to 25 years,” says Moore. “This fantasy that everyone will go home [after being displaced] is a fantasy everyone engages in. But our line is ‘movement is the new normal’: how do we prosper under this movement? How do we get young people involved in subjects crucial for the modern labour force – robotics, stem cell research, AI? What can we do to prepare young people for the future when of all the young people who are meant to be in school, only 3% are?”

For Salem and her mates, the classroom provides a critical window on to the world beyond the daily grind in the Bekaa valley, a dusty, fertile zone where white UNHCR tents are dotted haphazardly across the landscape along with wild lavender, Roman ruins and crops of cotton, wheat and marijuana.

“The day we moved into the basement of our apartment building in Damascus to avoid the bombs was the day my mother decided we had to leave,” Salem says quietly, dressed in a peach hijab, dark jeans and flawlessly white Adidas.

“I have traumatic memories, of course. We are scared of things that would otherwise be normal: whenever I see a plane fly overhead, I think of the bombs dropping, and I react instinctively. As we were driving away, I looked back at our building and thought, ‘I might never see my home again.’”

She looks down at her hands quickly. “But the upside is that it is safe here. I can go to school here. I like robotics because it is something I can work on in the future. Ultimately I want to go into chemical pharmaceuticals and invent medicines to save people. I would love to go back to Syria and save people like that.”

Ranim Allawi, Weeam Salem,Maher Alessawi and Osama Shhadeh

Ranim Allawi, Weeam Salem and Maher Alessawi with their teacher Osama Shhadeh. Photograph: Kate Hodal/Guardian

Ranim Allawi, 18, missed a full year of school in Damascus because it was too far and too dangerous for her to continue going. When her family fled to Lebanon, she missed more school. She is now enrolled in the Maps programme, which has altered her notion of learning, and hopes to be a computer engineer.

“My home was destroyed in the war. We try to keep ourselves busy so we don’t think too much about it,” she says. “I was the kind of person who always liked to work on my own. But robotics has really changed how I operate, it’s taught me how to work in a team.”

For Maher Alessawi, who leads the high school robotics team, Maps and its courses have provided a lifeline in a world that has at times been overwhelming and frightening.

“I came here with only the clothes on my back: everything I owned, all my books, all my games, anything a 15-year-old boy would have, I left behind,” he says. “I found loneliness for the first time. Before I was introduced to robotics, I was in the streets every day, playing. Now I have a goal. Even though I always wanted to be an engineer, now I have a set path. I have travelled, I have been to Qatar and now twice to the US. I am captain of the robotics team.”

Recently he went back to Syria. “It was totally different to how I remembered it. I would love to study at Harvard or George Washington University and keep doing robotics, because I love the mechanics of it, I like creating something.”

Halabi laughs when he thinks about how far his students have come. In 2016 eight students – four boys and four girls – created the Hope of Syria team, learned their first bit of coding and programming and went on to win first place in a robotics competition in Lebanon. “It was a shock to the Lebanese team,” he says, smiling. Hope of Syria went on to be invited to VEX Worlds, where they competed as the first Syrian team in an international robotics competition and won the judges’ award.

“Some of these kids had lived in the [refugee] camps for three or four years and never been outside the camp. Then they’re competing in the US. It shows them what they are capable of.”

Salem blushes when asked about her future and sits up proudly. “The one thing I can tell you is that I now know anything is possible,” she says.

“I am a refugee and, still, I can accomplish this. I can do it.”


By |

Author Bio

shore spurge

Yvette Cooper’s strategy to support workers to move to new, good-quality jobs from those destroyed by the coming technological revolution is commendable (Automation could destroy jobs. We must deal with it now, 7 August). However, it presupposes that such jobs will themselves be enabled by the new technology, and that enough of them can be created. Both are debatable points.

An additional strategy is to support moves into good-quality jobs that depend less, if at all, on technology. An example is food production. In France, pioneering efforts at Bec Hellouin have proved that intensive cultivation of vegetables and fruit with well-designed hand tools can be as productive and profitable per hour worked as large-scale mechanised farming. Crucially, and counterintuitively, these results get better as the cultivated area per person gets smaller. Judging from the pioneers, such work is conducive to physical and mental health, soil health, family life, and time for activities outside work. This is not a return to peasantry.

Such “super-efficient market gardening” (my phrase) could make our country self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit, including most exotics, year round. I calculate that this would require at least 400,000 jobs but only 0.6% of our presently cultivated land area, thanks to its intensity. This calculation uses historical as well as modern statistics: it’s been done before, so we can do it again.

This raises other desirable possibilities, such as: towns and cities being supplied mainly from their own and surrounding areas, greatly reducing food miles; repopulation of the countryside and hence lower housing pressures in towns; large-scale sequestration of carbon in living soils.

Although half a million new horticultural jobs would absorb nowhere near those lost to automation, they do illustrate the additional strategy: society at all levels should identify and support any work which is more productive with human effort.

For example, support in market gardening might include co-operatives to acquire land, buy supplies and distribute produce – and it could start today!
Malcolm Fowles

• Kim and Nick Hoare’s heartfelt call for a cross-party action programme for tackling climate change is crucial (Letters, 9 August).

Yet there is a way that the UK could contribute to substantially reducing its domestic carbon emissions while addressing the other serious threat of rapid and ubiquitous automation raised by Yvette Cooper.

There are two major labour-intensive sources of local jobs: face-to-face caring in the public and private sector, and infrastructural provision and improvements. Both are difficult to automate and can’t be relocated abroad. There is much discussion of the former, but far too little of the latter, which is crucial to tackling climate change. This would include prioritising energy efficiency and the increased use of renewables in constructing and refurbishing every UK building. In transport the emphasis would be on increased provision of interconnected road and rail services in every community, encouragement of electric vehicles for private use and for example using plastic waste in resurfacing roads and mending potholes.

Aside from the obvious advantages of improving social conditions and protecting the environment, this programme will have two further very politically attractive effects. The majority of this work will take place in every constituency and will require a wide range of skills for work that will last decades. In addition it would also inevitably help improve conditions and job opportunities for the “left behind” communities in the UK.
Colin Hines
Convener, UK Green New Deal Group

• Just because some jobs can be replaced, why must that happen (Millions fear being replaced by machines, study finds, 9 August)? In my local supermarket, the many self-service tills are frequently empty while we customers choose to queue to be served by a real person.

The investment in this under-used equipment could have been used to pay staff who could then earn money to spend in the shop – and so the economy goes round.

And where is all the power going to come from to run this new machine economy? Perhaps the newly unemployed could work treadmills to generate it – truly a circular economy.
Susannah Everington
Marshwood, Dorset

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This Week’s Strangest Science News

At Live Science, we delve into science news from around the world every day — and some of those stories can get a little weird. Here are some of the strangest science news articles from this week.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (<i>Tursiops aduncus</i>) like Tullula (shown here) learned how to walk on their tails.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) like Tullula (shown here) learned how to walk on their tails.

Credit: Copyright Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)

Wild dolphins in Australia are walking on water. In 1988, a dolphin named Billie was rescued from a polluted harbor and was temporarily placed in a dolphinarium, next to trained dolphins that knew how to “tail walk.” After her release, Billie apparently taught her podmates this trick, because a total of 11 dolphins in her pod were later spotted “moonwalking.” [Read more about the moonwalking dolphins]

An amphipod firmly grasps an unwilling snail "backpack."

An amphipod firmly grasps an unwilling snail “backpack.”

Credit: Charlotte Havermans/Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research

Tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods have discovered a life hack: They kidnap sea snails and put them on like a backpack. Why do the amphipods do this? Sea snails have a potent chemical cocktail that protects them from predators, and the amphipods want this protection, too. [Read more about the kidnapped sea snails]

According to a study in mice, the brain might come with a noise-canceling feature: It may help you ignore the sound of your own footsteps or the crunching of your bites. Researchers found that the brain of mice canceled out the sound of their own footsteps, which essentially allowed them to focus on surrounding sounds, such as those from approaching cats. [Read more about how the brain ignores noise]

After Xavier Cunningham fell face first onto a meat skewer, the skewer pierced his face and got stuck in his head.

After Xavier Cunningham fell face first onto a meat skewer, the skewer pierced his face and got stuck in his head.

Credit: Medical News Network/Cliff Erwin

A young boy in Missouri has recovered from a freak accident. He fell from a treehouse ladder onto a rotisserie skewer, which pierced his face and narrowly missed his carotid artery. Luckily, doctors at the University of Kansas Health System were able to remove the skewer, leaving the boy with just a bandage on his face. [Read more about the boy’s freak accident and recovery]

ONE TIME USE - Vatican Observatory's meteorite collection

ONE TIME USE – Vatican Observatory’s meteorite collection

Credit: Eric Vandeville/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

The Vatican has an astonishing number of meteorites — more than 1,100. And now, the Vatican is helping to advance science by hosting a conference on best practices for meteorite collections. [Read more about the meteorite conference]

One of the rings that Jeremy Bentham gifted in his will.

One of the rings that Jeremy Bentham gifted in his will.

Credit: Copyright UCL Digital Media/Tony Slade, Courtesy of UCL Culture

When the famed 19th-century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham died in 1832, he left 26 rings — complete with his silhouette and a compartment holding a lock of his hair — to the intellectual leaders of his time. Researchers at University College London, where Bentham’s mummified body is on display, know the whereabouts of six of these rings, but now they’re looking for the remaining 20 … so get in touch if you know anything! [Read more about the philosopher’s rings]

A screenshot from the released footage shows one of the fish munching on some bait.

A screenshot from the released footage shows one of the fish munching on some bait.

Credit: Newcastle University

Three newly identified fish species live deep underwater in the Atacama Trench, off Peru’s coast. But it’s impossible to study these fish at the water’s surface because the creatures “melt” when they’re brought up to research vessels. As a workaround, researchers were still able to study these fragile creatures by snagging some underwater videos of them. [Read more about the “melting” fish]

Want more weird science news and discoveries? Check out these and other “Strange News” stories on Live Science!

Original article on Live Science.

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So we are doomed. Robots will steal our jobs. Algorithms will capture our children. Artificial intelligence will corrupt our free will. We are to be slaves to machines.

The Bank of England economist Andy Haldane warns today that “large swathes” of current labour will disappear as AI takes over. For a man who lives and breathes statistics, large swathes is a poor percentage. These jeremiads attended the invention of computers, combine harvesters, spinning jennies and probably iron-age axes. But no one gets on the Today programme for predicting that AI might be good news.

How is it then that elsewhere in the news, we hear of people frantic for staff? There are currently 90,000 vacancies in social care and 24,000 in nursing. A chronic labour shortage in British social services has risen from 7% six years ago to 11% today. Education is suffering likewise. Employers across the health, construction, agriculture, travel and hospitality sectors are screaming that Brexit heralds an employment disaster, as the EU migrant tap is turned off.

The idea that algorithms, robots and 3D computer printing will render these booming industries redundant is silly. Clearly new technology will mechanise a number of activities. As throughout history, innovation requires labour markets to shift and people – or their offspring – to retrain. The reality of economic history is that technology and trade yield short-term disruption. The same thing happened with refrigerated transport in the 1880s and combine harvesting between the wars. But we survived and prospered as new needs, and jobs, emerged. Haldane’s gloom merely serves the looming politics of protectionism and chauvinism.

The latest cliche, the “fourth industrial revolution”, supposedly describes a new algorithmic age. If there is to be a fourth revolution it will be the complete opposite, a reversion to the economy of human experience. The digital age will satisfy the mundanities of life, releasing leisure time for activities that are already soaring in demand. These cover everything from health, beauty, travel, food, the arts and entertainment to psychotherapy, social work, the care of children and the elderly. These service industries essentially involve human relationships. They cannot be done by robots or machines. They are labour-intensive and they are costly, whether in the private or public sector. They are also booming. Leisure and travel is second in value only to financial services.

Economists obsessed with manufacturing statistics would do better to welcome AI as releasing workers into the experience economy. They should discuss how we are going to pay for them, especially those concentrated in the public sector. They should stop grabbing easy headlines by encouraging those now suffering a Trump/Brexit retreat into chauvinist job protectionism.

• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist

People Don’t Know When They’re Being Jerks

How well do you know yourself? New research suggests that people are pretty good at knowing how they’re acting, with one exception: whether they’re being jerks.

According to a study posted on the psychology preprint server PsyArXiv, people are relatively accurate judges, moment to moment, of whether they’re acting outgoing or shy. They’re also good judges of whether their behavior is conscientious and reliable or a bit more haphazard. But people aren’t quite as good at gauging whether they’re being rude.

“There might be some biases that prevent people from recognizing their own agreeable behaviors or disagreeable behaviors,” said study co-author Jessie Sun, a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, Davis. [Understanding the 10 Most Destructive Human Behaviors]

Most previous studies on how well people know themselves have been done on long-term personality traits, Sun told Live Science. But Sun and her graduate adviser, Simine Vazire of UC Davis, wanted to probe how well people understand how they’re acting from one moment to the next.

Finding out took a Herculean effort and nine years of work. The researchers asked college students to spend time wearing audio recorders that would automatically activate every 9.5 minutes between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. to record 30 seconds of audio each. These participants would then be emailed or texted surveys four times a day asking them to recall how extraverted, agreeable, conscientious or neurotic (a measurement of their level of worry) they were during a particular hour of the day.

Though the researchers collected data for more than 400 participants over several years, the current study used data from 248 participants, all of whom answered questions about their day-by-day traits for two weeks and wore the audio device for one of those weeks. It took five years just to transcribe audio and get outsider observers to rate behavior for the first year’s data, Sun said.

Six laboratory assistants rated each participant’s audio clips to see how their observations compared with people’s self-awareness. The six raters were generally in agreement with one another about how the people they were observing acted: 93 percent of the changes in ratings of extraversion, 76 percent of the changes in ratings of conscientiousness, 73 percent of the changes in ratings of neuroticism and 62 percent of the changes in ratings of agreeableness were due to real changes rather than disagreement among raters or other statistical noise. [7 Thoughts That Are Bad For You]

Participants’ ratings of their own behaviors agreed with outside observers for extraversion, or how outgoing they were being, and for conscientiousness, or how reliable and responsible they were being.

But the agreement between participants and outside observers was much smaller for neuroticism and for agreeableness.

Some of this could be because the outside observers had only audio to go on, and they couldn’t read cues like body language, Sun said. But there are probably a couple of other reasons to consider, she said. Neuroticism isn’t necessarily an obvious trait — a person can be anxious and worried on the inside without showing it on the outside. Thus, she and Vazire suspect that participants were accurate in rating their own level of neuroticism, but that trait was invisible to outside observers.

Agreeableness, on the other hand, is not so hidden.

“People should be able to hear when a participant is being kind versus being rude,” Sun said. The weak agreement between how participants thought they were acting and what observers heard could be because people get defensive about whether they’re a jerk and would rather deny it. On the other hand, Sun said, mistakes went both ways: Some participants thought they were being rude when observers rated them as kind and polite. Those people might be particularly agreeable sorts who hold themselves to impossibly high standards in daily interactions, Sun suggested.

It might be interesting in the future to find out what kinds of people make which kinds of mistakes about their self-awareness, Sun said. The findings are also important for psychology researchers, who often rely on self-reports in their studies.

“We can trust these measurements for extraversion and conscientiousness, and probably neuroticism,” she said, “but maybe not agreeableness.”

Another question, Sun said, is whether people can be prompted to recognize their behavior from moment to moment and hour to hour, and perhaps to reflect upon it. If you act like a jerk, she said, it’s usually useful to recognize your mistake quickly so you can make apologies. That’s why understanding one’s short-term behavior — not just one’s overall personality — is important, she said.

“It’s a more useful form of self-knowledge than knowing that, in general, you’re a jerk,” Sun said.

The research is under review in a peer-reviewed journal.

Original article on Live Science.

Use of ‘killer robots’ in wars would breach law, say campaigners | Science

The use of fully autonomous weapons in a theatre of war would breach international law, campaigners and experts say, as longstanding calls for a ban on “killer robots” intensify.

These AI-powered guns, planes, ships and tanks could fight future wars without being subject to any human control, as high-tech nations step up investment in the weapons and inch towards full autonomy.

Twenty-six countries explicitly support a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons, with Austria, Belgium and China recently joining thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts and more than 20 Nobel peace prize laureates in declaring their support.

In a new report published jointly by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the organisations have stated that fully autonomous weapons would violate the Martens Clause – a well established provision of international humanitarian law.

It requires emerging technologies to be judged by the “principles of humanity” and the “dictates of public conscience” when they are not already covered by other treaty provisions.

“Permitting the development and use of killer robots would undermine established moral and legal standards,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, which coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Countries should work together to preemptively ban these weapons systems before they proliferate around the world.

“The groundswell of opposition among scientists, faith leaders, tech companies, nongovernmental groups, and ordinary citizens shows that the public understands that killer robots cross a moral threshold. Their concerns, shared by many governments, deserve an immediate response.”

More than 70 governments are meeting at the UN in Geneva on 27 August for the sixth time to discuss the challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons.

The talks were formalised under a major disarmament treaty in 2017 but they are not yet directed toward a specific goal and there has been widespread frustration among campaigners with the glacial pace of the process.

However, if states recommend negotiations should begin in 2019, it will help pave the way for their formal approval in November, after almost every country agreed that some form of human control should be maintained over the use of force at the last meeting in April.

“The idea of delegating life and death decisions to cold compassionless machines without empathy or understanding cannot comply with the Martens clause and it makes my blood run cold,” said Noel Sharkey, a roboticist who wrote about the reality of robot war as far back as 2007 and has acted as a spokesperson for the Campaign to Ban Killer Robots.

“We expect more European countries will step up and that the clamour will get us that key word ‘negotiation’ into the mandate for next year. There is already a growing consensus that human control of weapons systems is crucial in conflict.

“Some states would prefer to shift from a prohibition protocol to one that requires a positive obligation to ensure meaningful human control, and both amount to the same humanitarian law,” he added.

Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist but high-ranking military officials have said that the use of the devices – which would select and engage targets without meaningful human control – will be widespread in warfare in a matter of years.

At least 381 partly autonomous weapon and military robotics systems have been deployed or are under development in 12 states, including France, Israel, Russia, the UK and the US.

It has been reported that Russia opposes the ban of fully autonomous weapon systems, joining various others – including the US – who could seek to block any future negotiations.

Automatic systems, such as mechanised sentries in the Korean demilitarised zone and Israel’s Iron Dome, have already been deployed but cannot act fully autonomously.

Research by the International Data Corporation has suggested that global spending on robotics will double from $91.5bn (£71.8bn) in 2016 to $188bn in 2020 and bring full autonomy closer to realisation.


Lone Narwhal Caught Chilling with Gang of Beluga Whales in Canada

A lone narwhal swims with his bros … beluga whales.

Credit: GREMM

It’s hard to find your place when you’re the new kid in town — especially when you’re the only kid with a tusk the size of a baguette jutting out of center of your forehead.

That didn’t stop one young, orphaned narwhal from making fast friends with a gang of 10 male beluga whales in Eastern Canada. For three years in a row, the gray-speckled narwhal has been spotted cavorting with the same band of snow-white belugas in Canada’s St. Lawrence River — a body of water that flows from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of the Arctic habitat where narwhals are typically found.

How did the toothsome young narwhal get so far south? He probably fled there after his Arctic habitat lost too much ground to climate-related ice melt, according to biologists at the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM) — a nonprofit whale conservation group based in Quebec, Canada.

And what’s he doing there? Just bro-ing out, by the looks of things.

“[The narwhal] behaves like it was one of the boys,” Robert Michaud, the president and scientific director of GREMM, told the CBC. “They are in constant contact with each other… It’s like a big social ball of young juveniles that are playing some social, sexual games.”

Aerial footage shot by GREMM shows just how close-knit this nonconventional pod has become.The young narwhal travels where his beluga bros travel. He surfaces when they surface, blows bubbles when they blow bubbles and doesn’t shy away from playful rubbings when that’s what the pervading mood calls for. He is, according to GREMM scientists, part of the fraternity.

While any news involving narwhals is automatically noteworthy and delightful, blended families like these might not be so unusual, Michaud told the CBC. As ever more Artic ice is lost to climate change, Arctic creatures are forced to swim south in search of new hunting grounds. Some stray Arctic beluga whales, for example, have wandered as far south as New Jersey while in pursuit of a friendly face to cozy up to. (Sometimes, these wayward whales mistake boats for fellow whales, resulting in serious propeller-related injuries.)

“Due to the climate change being observed in the Arctic, there is a chance that these two related species (the beluga and narwhal belong to the same family: Monodontidae) might find themselves in one another’s company more and more frequently in the decades to come,” GREMM researchers wroteon the website Whales online. “We already see this phenomenon in other species such as the polar bear and the grizzly, which have even been observed to interbreed.”

These polar-grizzly hybrids have sometimes been called “pizzly” or “grolar” bears. And if those polar portmanteaus tickle your fancy, here’s another one: “narluga.” According to one 1993 paper, it’s possible that previous generations of narwhals and beluga whales got up to some inter-cetacean hanky-panky to create a hybrid species of their own (nicknamed “narluga”). The resulting creature, which left behind a massive, toothy skull in Greenland, showed physical features that looked analogous to both belugas and narwhals — but even bigger.

What fate awaits the lone narwhal bro of St. Lawrence River? Time — and more epic drone footage — will tell. For now, take heart that if a blubbery, tusk-faced orphan can forge lasting friendships with a seemingly homogenous clique, you can too!

Originally published on Live Science.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari – digested read | Culture

The world can be a very scary place. When I wrote Sapiens and Homo Deus I had no idea they would both become worldwide bestsellers. So I was totally unprepared when my publishers immediately demanded a follow-up. For a few hours I was in a state of panic, before inspiration came to me. If my previous books had dealt with the past and the future, why didn’t I just recycle a whole load of articles I had written for other publications and try to present them as my take on the present. Even though they also invariably dealt with the future. So here we go…

Disillusionment: No one knows what the future will look like. Humans like to tell themselves stories, be they in the form of religion or political ideologies, such as nationalism, communism and liberalism. But none of these can adequately prepare us for what may happen in the next 50 years. New technology and climate change might make the world more different than we can possibly imagine. So we had better keep an open mind and hope for the best.

Work: We have no idea what the job market will look like in 2050. Some people believe that machine learning and robotics will make humans economically redundant and that we should prepare for the future by lying on sun loungers on the beach. Others think that automation will generate new types of employment possibilities that we have not considered. My own hope is that AI and humans will learn to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Fingers crossed.

Liberty: The liberal story cherishes human freedom as its number one value. The triumph of reason and free will. The reality is that we are as much products of what we feel as what we think. And computers now know that. Already algorithms control much of our daily lives, and in 50 years’ time, who knows what may happen? I don’t, but I’m not that hopeful as Google and Facebook could be ruling the world.

Equality: In the past few decades, people all over the world have been told that humankind is on the path to equality. Yet the world has never felt more unequal with vast wealth and power concentrated in the hands of the few while others have nothing. This is very bad and may well get worse unless we do something about it.

Civilisation: We all like to have a sense of belonging. We like to feel we have both national and social identities – even if many of our online communities are being spied on by Facebook. In the past wars have been clashes between civilisations. This still may happen in the future but we may also face more global challenges like ecological catastrophes and computers taking over the world. It is tricky to know what to do about this.

Religion: There are many good things about religions. Belief systems comfort us and bind us together. But ultimately they are all just stories to make us feel better. So it is probably not a good idea to expect religion to provide us with too much guidance about how to prepare for the future.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (Cape, £18.99)

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (Cape, £18.99)

Immigration: A lot of countries are having a backlash against immigrants at a time when the economy is faltering and traditional jobs are under threat. But immigration can be a force for good, both economically and socially in helping different cultures to understand one another better. The key is to find the balance between bad immigration and good immigration before everyone is either controlled by Google or wiped out by a natural disaster. This is not easy and we have not yet found the answers.

Israel: Some of you might be wondering why there is a random chapter on why Israel should be more humble about its achievements. This is because it was lifted straight from an article I wrote for an Israeli newspaper and was intended just for a home audience. The rest of you can ignore it.

Terrorism: We shouldn’t be too scared of terrorism. Far fewer people die in terrorist incidents than die of drinking fizzy drinks. And no one is scared of sugar. Though if terrorists got their hands on nuclear weapons that would be a bit scary. What should worry us is if computers start global conflicts of their own accord and try to wipe us all out. Hopefully, though, we will have invented a failsafe mechanism to prevent this but no one should take anything for granted.

Justice: We all like to think we have a sense of right and wrong, but it is becoming far harder to have a natural sense of justice. Am I moral if I do nothing when there is a refugee crisis, computers are taking over the world and we are on the brink of a climate change catastrophe? Perhaps I am, perhaps I’m not.

Self-help: In the future everyone will write their own self-help books that have no answers and largely consist of statements of the obvious.

Resilience: See above.

Post-truth: See above.

See above: See above.

Meditation: I meditate for two hours or longer every day. I think you should give it a try. Though it may not work for you.

Digested read, digested: The Tao of Mindlessness.


Hurricane Florence Is Dumping a Huge Amount of Rain on the Carolinas

Florence made landfall this morning (Sept 14) along the South Carolina-North Carolina border.

Credit: NOAA

A tremendous amount of rain has already fallen on the Carolinas Friday morning (Sept. 14) in the hours after the Hurricane Florence made landfall along the border.

People in the storm’s path shared video on social media of the now-Category 1 hurricane’s still-intense 90 mph (150 km/h) winds as the eyewall moved through Wilmington, North Carolina. But the real story of the storm is the deluge its already created, and will continue to add to in the coming days.

Florence has already dropped more than 30 inches of rain in some areas of the Carolina border. Those numbers will only rise as the slow-moving storm hovers over the region through at least Saturday (Sept. 15), according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

In its latest update, the NHC predicted 20 to 25 inches of rain across much of the impacted region, with localized totals exceeding 30 or 40 inches. That deluge will lead to “catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged, significant river flooding,” according to the NHC.

The hurricane’s storm surge is already visibly dramatic and represents an ongoing danger as the tides come in and the storm’s winds continue to push more water over land.

At the highest point, between Cape Fear and Cape Lookout along the Carolina coast, surge totals of 7 to 11 feet (2 to more than 3 meters) are expected, according to the NHC. But, as The Weather Channel demonstrated yesterday (Sept 13), a surge of even a few feet can be life-threatening. And the NHC expects at least 4 feet of surge (with a maximum of 9 feet in some areas) across a region extending across much of the North Carolina coast.

Expect more updates on the rainfall, surge, and winds in the coming days.

Originally published on Live Science.