Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, UNICEF reports on the devastating effects of polluted air on babies around the world, a California judge has dismissed a pay discrimination case against Google, DeepMind’s new AI champion rules at three different games and more.
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A new report by UNICEF, titled Danger in the Air has highlighted the damage done by air pollution to babies’ developing brains around the world (BBC News). The report highlights 17 million babies under the age of one who live in areas where pollution is more than six times higher than international limits. UNICEF notes that “breathing in particulate air pollution can damage brain tissue and undermine cognitive development – with lifelong implications and setbacks”, with babies in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific particularly at risk. Air pollution in the UK has also been shown to adversely affect the health of the unborn.
A sex discrimination case lodged against Google in California has been dismissed for being too vague (The Verge). The case, filed by three women in September, sought to represent all female Google employees in the state, but Superior Court judge Mary Wiss asked that a new complaint be filed for only specific groups of women affected by pay discrimination. She also said that only one of the women had provided sufficient proof that the work they had done was equal to that of men who had been paid more.
UK-based Alphabet AI subsidiary, DeepMind, has revealed the first multi-skilled AI board game champion (WIRED). A new paper describes software called AlphaZero, which can teach itself to be super-human in any of three challenging games: chess, Go, or Shogi. It couldn’t learn to play all three games at once, but the ability of one program to learn three different, complex games to such a high level is striking and could be a small step towards the holy grail of making AI systems less specialized.
Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger recently became the Chief Information Officer of Everipedia, a site that seeks to become a better online encyclopedia than the one he founded back in 2001 (WIRED). It plans to do that by moving to the blockchain, the kind of decentralised “global ledger” that keeps a permanent record of transactions in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. Everipedia users currently get points, called “IQ” for making useful edits. In January users’ IQ scores will be converted to a token-based currency. From then on, creating and curating articles will allow users to earn tokens, which act as virtual shares in the platform.
If you live south of London, your train journey could soon be powered by solar energy (WIRED). According to the Riding Sunbeams report by Imperial College and green energy charity 10:1, 15 per cent of the train networks across Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex could be powered by track-connected solar PV arrays. By using direct current (DC) rail systems, the solar energy, which is also DC, would not need to be converted to and from alternating current (AC) systems, saving an estimated £4.5 million per year. “It just so happens that solar rays produce direct current (DC) electricity,” says Leo Murray, director of 10:10.
The space suits, or extra-vehicular activity suits (EVAs), worn by Nasa astronauts when they visit the ISS were first put together in 1978, with an intended lifespan of 15 years (WIRED). Out of the original fleet of 18 space suits, there are 11 left. The ISS is going to be in operation until 2024, at least, and reports earlier this year raised questions about whether the remaining 11 suits would be enough to support activities on the station until this date. Now, Nasa is laying out plans to keep the suits working for the next seven years, at least.
Valve has withdrawn the option of using bitcoin to pay for games and other content on its Steam digital distribution platform due to the rapidly changing value and high charges associated with the cryptocurrency (PC Gamer). Valve primarily blamed surging transaction fees, which mean it now costs around $20 dollars for users to make a bitcoin payment, up from $0.20, as well as such fast changes to the bitcoin’s value that the amount needed to pay for a purchase can change significantly between its the initiation and completion of a transaction. The news comes as the currency, which started 2017 at an exchange rate of around $1,000 soars to over $14,000 in what analysts are widely describing as an unsustainable bubble.
Valve might not have much time in its busy schedule for game development these days, but that’s not enough to stop the release of a new game set in the Portal and Half-Life universe (Kotaku). Developed in collaboration with ClockStone Software (the team behind Bridge Constructor, the new game, Bridge Constructor: Portal combines the two series’ gameplay mechanics to get you solving deadly bridge-related puzzles with portals. It’s due out on December 20 on Windows, macOS and Linux, with mobile and console versions to follow, and a trailer to watch now.
Netflix has finally announced that the fourth season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror sci-fi anthology will be coming to its streaming service on December 29 (The Verge). The long-awaited broadcast date has been announced with the release of a new full season trailer.
Sam Barlow, the developer behind BAFTA-winning FMV mystery game, Her Story, has released the first trailer for the timely interactive reboot of 80s hacking-and-nuclear-paranoia movie Wargames (Ars Technica). Named #Wargames, the new game – referred to by Barlow as an “experimental interactive series” – focusses on a hacker, played by Jessica Nurse, who will be our window onto a modern take of sci-fi nuclear fear. It’s due out in 2018.
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Stephen Hawking and the world’s leading scientists on climate change, rogue AI, post-truth and Donald Trump. This month, in our 100th issue, we ask the world’s sharpest minds how we tackle the greatest challenges humanity currently faces. We also meet the elite team training the world’s firefighters for the next catastrophe. And visit Romain Pizzi, one of the most innovative wildlife surgeons in the world. Out in print and digital. Subscribe now and save.