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WIRED Awake August 8: Potent greenhouse gas emissions are missing from official figures

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Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, unreported greenhouse gas emissions could hamper climate efforts, people with depression post darker images on social media, passengers are unwilling to fly on pilotless planes and more.

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1. Unreported greenhouse gas emissions could hamper climate efforts

An investigation by BBC Radio 4’s Counting Carbon has found that the emissions of potent greenhouse gasses are not being correctly reported and recorded in many countries (BBC News). The team spoke to Swiss scientists, who have measured 60-80 tonnes of HFC-23 gas coming from nearby northern Italy. However, Italy’s official emissions inventory reports that country as a whole produces less than 10 tonnes of the gas and Italy’s environment agency says it does not accept Swiss figures. Meanwhile, China appears to still be emitting 10,000-20,000 tonnes of banned carbon tetrachloride, which is not recognised in official figures. Global methane emissions from farming are also widely misreported, and scientists warn that the lack of accurate emissions data could undo attempts to reduce the dangerous increase in average global temperatures.

2. Study: People with depression post darker images

A study has found that people diagnosed with depression tend to post darker, bluer and less-saturated photos on social media (Motherboard). A study involving 166 people – 71 of them diagnosed with depression – and their Instagram accounts used a computer model to predict depression in users 70 per cent of the time based on their photo and filter choices. Study co-author Chris Danforth told Motherboard: “We were looking to identify what behaviors are people exhibiting potentially without them even realizing,” but notes that the work is “a proof of concept and for the particular individuals we studied, this set of predictors works for them. Whether or not it would translate to average person’s Instagram feed, we don’t know”.

3. Passengers are unwilling to fly on pilotless planes

A survey by Swiss bank UBS has found that only 17 per cent of the 8,000 people involved would be prepared to fly on a pilotless plane, even if it saved them money (The Verge). The bank’s research says that uncrewed self-flying planes could save airlines up to $30 billion a year, not only due to savings in pilot wages and training, but also because autonomous planes would be better able to optimise flight plans to minimise fuel consumption. The report predicts that cargo flights will be the first to take advantage of rapidly-developing self-flying plane technology.

4. Google fires author of memo claiming women are biologically inferior

Google has fired the employee who circulated a memo claiming that diversity shouldn’t be of concern to the company because women were not suited to engineering (WIRED). The 10-page missive was posted on an internal discussion board and went viral inside and outside the company over the weekend. The document cited purported principles of evolutionary psychology to argue that women make up only 20 percent of Google’s technical staff because they are more interested in people rather than ideas, which the author considers an obstacle to being a good engineer. Late on Monday, the author, James Damore, told Breitbart that he had been fired. (He confirmed this to WIRED, saying he was “fired for ‘perpetuating gender stereotypes'”.) Also Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that the missive’s author had violated the company’s Code of Conduct, a Google spokesman confirms. In a memo first reported by Recode, Pichai said the author had crossed “the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace”.

5. UK government prepares for Brexit with new data protection bill

The British government has published its statement of intent regarding the country’s data protection laws, declaring that the data of British citizens will be better protected with strengthened measures included in the new UK Data Protection Bill (WIRED). Under government plans, individuals will have more control over their data by having the “right to be forgotten” and can also ask social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to delete their personal data. The proposed Data Protection Bill wants to make it simpler to withdraw consent for the use of personal data, while allowing parents and guardians to give consent for their child’s data to be used. Organisations will need to gain explicit consent before sensitive personal data is processed, and the definition of personal data will be expanded to include IP addresses, internet cookies, and DNA.

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6. Faraday Future signs lease on new factory

Electric carmaker Faraday Future is finally readying itself to begin production with the lease of a facility in California (TechCrunch). The company, which ran into funding problems with its planned factory site in Nevada, says it plans to move into the new facility in November and begin shipping the production version of its FF 91 car by the end of 2018. The company is downplaying links with troubled Chinese backer LeEco, which has suffered widely-reported solvency issues linked to the change in Faraday’s manufacturing plant plans.

7. Pick better guide dogs by watching hours of cute puppy videos

The personality traits a guide dog needs – confidence and an ability to adapt to unpredictable and challenging scenarios – are hard to identify until a dog approaches adulthood, but a new 98-puppy study has found that pups who got the most attention from their mother were less likely to successfully pass the training program (WIRED). Emily Bray and her team tracked 21 litters of puppies and recorded how they interacted with their mothers in their first three weeks, watching an incredible 115 hours of puppy video. Although all the mothers were attentive and caring, and were generally consistent in their behaviour, different litters got different parenting. Some dams spent more time licking and snuggling their pups, while others sometimes faced away from their babies or left the kiddie pool altogether for some alone time. The litters whose mothers babied them the most, measured by the amount of time they spent in the nest and ease of nursing, were least likely to be placed as successful guide dogs nearly two years later.

8. New UK snake species identified

The European barred grass snake, found in the UK among other countries has been classified as a distinct species Natrix helvetica (BBC News). Previously, the snake was deemed to be a variant of the common grass snake, Natrix natrix. N. helvetica can grow to be over a metre long, primarily preys on amphibians, and is grey with black stripes, as distinguished from its relative’s olive green markings and yellow collar. All grass snakes are nonvenomous and protected under the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act.

9. CBS announces official Star Trek fan film scheme

Star Trek rightsholder CBS has announced that it’s creating a Star Trek Film Academy for amateur moviemakers who want to create their own Star Trek fan content (Ars Technica). James Cawley, producer of the Star Trek New Voyages fan series, made the announcement at the Star Trek Las Vegas Convention, saying that participants would: “Learn the art of Star Trek filmmaking from those who made it. From gaffing to costuming to special effects, fans will work side by side with talented Star Trek artists to create short vignettes from beginning to end”. This is the first official fan filmmaking scheme in the franchise’s history, although dates and locations for the events have yet to be announced. Meanwhile, CBS plans to take its All Access digital channel global, starting with Canada. However, UK viewers will still be able to watch forthcoming series Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix in September.

10. All-star Indie dev team plans a 50-game retro-style compilation

A team of indie developers, including Spelunky creator Derek Yu and Downwell author Ojiro Fumoto, have announced UFO 50, a compilation of 50 entire games modelled on the 8-bit hits of the past (Eurogamer). They’re linked together by a meta-narrative that casts the games as the work of an obscure 80s game publisher, and a colourful trailer shows that they really do embody the spirit of the age, with games ranging from RPGs to puzzlers, platformers and scrolling beat-em-ups. The team says “the games are slightly smaller than commercial 8-bit titles from the 80’s, but rest assured that they are full games and not microgames or minigames! Completing the entire collection could easily take over a hundred hours”.

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