Elon Musk reveals plans to implant computer chips in brains

Elon Musk, the eccentric billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, outlined plans on Tuesday to connect human brains directly to computers, using a tiny chip.

Mr Musk describes the plan as “symbiosis with artificial intelligence”, and hopes the first prototype could be implanted in a human by the end of next year.

Talking at a presentation, he said the goal could take a while to achieve, adding that securing federal approval for a neural device is tricky.

Image: A photo showing the size of the device. Pic: Neuralink

Mr Musk said that testing on animals had begun and that “a monkey has been able to control the computer with his brain”.

The futurist entrepreneur founded Neuralink Corp in 2016 to create “ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers”, adding in 2017 that its goal was to create brain interfaces to alleviate symptoms of chronic medical conditions.

He repeated his company’s goal of helping people in pain during his speech on Tuesday, saying: “We can solve that with a chip.”

He went on to say that it also sought to help you “preserve and enhance your own brain” and to “create a well-aligned future”.

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However, it is presumed that Mr Musk characteristically wants something much bigger.

The entrepreneur frequently warns that the rapid advance of artificial intelligence (AI) threatens to leave humanity behind, calling it an “existential risk”.

He doubled down on his AI warning during his speech, and said that addressing the risk will mean trying to find a way for the brain to “merge” with AI, using the tiny wireless chips.

The chip will be inserted using a two millimetre incision. Pic: Neuralink

Image: The chip will be inserted using a two millimetre incision. Pic: Neuralink

The chips will be implanted through a two millimetre incision to create what he called “some sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence”.

Despite the largely aspirational goal to implanting the first chip in a human before the end of 2020, Mr Musk admitted that it will take much longer.

Addressing issues around accessibility, he said that the device will be so simple, that it would not need neuroscientists to implant or maintain it.

Elon Musk announced on Twitter he had 'deleted' his account

Image: Elon Musk wants to help people with illnesses

Talking about the cost, he said: “I think it’s safe to say you could repay the loan with superhuman intelligence.

“I think it’s a safe bet.”

Speaking on Joe Rogan’s podcast in November, Mr Musk described the plan as “an AI extension of yourself”, adding: “If you can’t beat it, join it.”

Chimpanzees more sociable after watching films together

Chimpanzees enjoy watching films together and are more likely to be sociable after seeing them, a study has found.

Researchers paired up chimps with either another of their species or a human and measured how long it took the animals to approach their partners, how close they got and how long they stayed near each other after a film – all measures of social bonding.

In some groups both parties were able to watch the film, while in others the screen was pointed only at one of the chimps.

Chimpanzees which watched the film together with a partner approached the other party faster or spent longer near them, compared with others who watched the film alone.

The findings indicate that social bonding through experiences humans share – such as going to concerts playing board games or going to the cinema – may go back in the evolution chain and be experienced by our ape cousins.

The report by Wouter Wolf and Michael Tomasello was published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Image: It is not known whether the same effects would be observed in the wild

“Sharing experiences is fundamental in human social relationships. You can share emotions, attitudes and knowledge. You create common ground,” Mr Wolf told The Times.

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“The fact that we find the same mechanisms in great apes validates that this is indeed an old emotional mechanism. In a way it helps explain part of who we are.”

The research used animals in captivity, with the authors of the report saying it was not known whether the same effects would be observed in the wild.

A similar study is being planned to measure the effect of social bonding in children.

Facebook to postpone digital currency until regulators happy

Facebook says it is willing to postpone its digital currency until it has satisfied the concerns of the US treasury and other regulators around the world.

David Marcus, head of Facebook’s Libra unit, was grilled by US senators on Tuesday who expressed concern about the planned cryptocurrency, which will be run by a number of firms including Mastercard, Visa and PayPal.

Facebook will incorporate the currency into its digital wallet called Calibra, while other companies will be able to use Libra in their own apps.

Facing the Senate banking, housing and urban affairs committee, Mr Marcus said that Facebook understood “loud and clear” that people did not want their financial details connected to social media data.

Several of the legislators raised questions about whether the social media giant could be trusted in the financial sector, given the data privacy issues it had been embroiled in in the past, such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“To earn people’s trust, we will have to have the highest standards when it comes to privacy, and the way we’ve built Calibra is that no financial data or account data that is collected in Calibra to offer the service will actually be shared with Facebook,” he told the committee.

“The way we’ve built this is to separate social and financial data because we’ve heard loud and clear that they don’t want those two types of data streams connected, so this is the way the system is designed.

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“Facebook will only have one vote and will not be in a position to control the association, nor will Facebook or the Libra Association position themselves to compete with sovereign currencies or interfere with monetary policy.

“The Calibra wallet will not share individual customer data with the Libra Association or with Facebook, except for limited circumstances such as preventing fraud or criminal activity in complying with the law.”

Image: The head of Facebook’s Libra unit faced US senators on Tuesday

Senator Sherrod Brown said Facebook “doesn’t deserve our trust” and “should be treated like the profit-seeking corporation that it is”.

Mr Marcus was also asked about the company’s decision to headquarter the Libra Association in Geneva, Switzerland, and whether it was a move to avoid responsibility in the US.

He said Switzerland was not chosen in order to evade US oversight, but because the country is a well-established international financial centre that was home to the World Trade Organisation and Bank of International Settlements.

He said: “Despite the fact that the Libra Association will be headquartered in Switzerland, it will still register with Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and as a result will have oversight from US regulators.”

Google walkout leader leaves company after 'retaliation'

Meredith Whittaker, one of the Google employees who led global walkouts at the tech giant over sexual harassment claims, has left the company following allegations of a fallout against the protest’s organisers.

Ms Whittaker had organised employee protests at the company over its work for the US military, artificial intelligence, and its $90m (£70m) payout to Android creator Andy Rubin after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

At the time, the company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said Google was taking an “increasingly hard line” in responding to inappropriate conduct, according to an email.

Image: Staff gathered outside Google’s offices in Zurich, Switzerland. Pic: @GoogleWalkout

Google employees at offices around the world walked out last November over the treatment of women at the company after sexual misconduct claims were made against several senior figures.

But both Ms Whittaker and another organiser, Claire Stapleton, claimed they had faced retaliation from Google over the protest – with Ms Stapleton saying she had been demoted, while Ms Whittaker’s ethics research department was shut down.

At the time Google claimed: “We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and investigate all allegations.”

A spokesperson explained: “Employees and teams are regularly and commonly given new assignments, or reorganised, to keep pace with evolving business needs. There has been no retaliation here.”

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Last year, thousands of staff Google protested against the company’s work with the Pentagon’s surveillance drones programme.

Called Project Maven, the programme uses Google technology to automate the analysis of objects in the enormous amount of images that are captured by the Department of Defense’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

More than 3,100 staff signatures were attached to a letter addressed to Mr Pichai which was circulated inside Google with a request that the company pull out of the project.

The company reportedly planned not to renew its contract to support Project Maven, although a report in The Intercept suggested the company have been “hedging” this promise.

Another ethics issue which staff protested related to Google seeking Chinese government approval for a mobile search service called Dragonfly, which would censor some websites and search terms within the authoritarian state.

Those plans were dismissed as being at an “exploratory” stage by Mr Pichai, attempting to soothe anger among employees, adding it was “very unclear” if Google would launch the product.

The company did not respond to Sky News’ request to comment on Ms Whittaker’s departure.

Titanium fire caused capsule explosion – SpaceX

SpaceX and NASA believe a titanium fire was the reason a launchpad test of its Crew Dragon vehicle – intended to one day fly astronauts to the International Space Station – ended in flames.

SpaceX acknowledged the incident after images apparently showing the spacecraft bursting into flames appeared on social media, although neither organisation immediately commented.

It was a terrifying moment for the engineers involved in designing the capsule, which is meant to safely carry human passengers in space.

During a conference call, SpaceX head of mission assurance Hans Koenigsmann and NASA’s commercial crew manager Kathy Lueders said their investigation suggested the explosion was due to the Dragon’s pressurisation system.

The titanium component in a check valve failed due to a leak of the liquid oxydiser – nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) – and this caused an ignition within the check valve and then the subsequent explosion.

SpaceX stated: “It is worth noting that the reaction between titanium and NTO at high pressure was not expected.

“Titanium has been used safely over many decades and on many spacecraft from all around the world.

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“Even so, the static fire test and anomaly provided a wealth of data. Lessons learned from the test – and others in our comprehensive test campaign – will lead to further improvements in the safety and reliability of SpaceX’s flight vehicles.”

Both Mr Koenigsmann and Ms Lueders refused to answer questions about when SpaceX would continue testing, and what impact the explosion would have on the Crew Dragon launch to the International Space Station.

Anorexia 'not purely a psychiatric disorder'

Anorexia is at least partly a metabolic disorder and not purely psychiatric as previously thought, scientists have said.

The potentially life-threatening illness – which can cause dangerously low body weight, fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image – is said to share its genetic basis with metabolic, lipid and body measurement traits.

According to new research published in the journal Nature Genetics, these overlaps are independent of genetic factors that influence body mass index.

Dr Gerome Breen, from King’s College London (KCL), said: “Metabolic abnormalities seen in patients with anorexia nervosa are most often attributed to starvation.

“But our study shows metabolic differences may also contribute to the development of the disorder. Our analyses indicate that the metabolic factors may play nearly or just as strong a role as purely psychiatric effects.”

It was also found that the genetic basis of anorexia overlaps with psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Another finding was that genetic factors associated with the illness influences physical activity, which could explain the tendency for people with anorexia to be highly active.

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The study – led by researchers at KCL and the University of North Carolina – identified eight genetic variants linked to anorexia using two sets of data.

One set came from the eating disorders working group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, while the other came from the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative.

The data included 16,992 cases of anorexia and 55,525 controls, from 17 countries spanning North America, Europe, and Australasia.

Professor Janet Treasure, also from KCL, said: “Over time there has been uncertainty about the framing of anorexia nervosa because of the mixture of physical and psychiatric features.

“Our results confirm this duality and suggest that integrating metabolic information may help clinicians to develop better ways to treat eating disorders.”

The study concludes anorexia, which affects between 1% to 2% of women and 0.2% to 0.4% of men, may need to be thought of as a hybrid “metabo-psychiatric disorder”.

The research adds that it may also be important to consider both metabolic and psychological risks factors when exploring new avenues for treatment.

Inventor of computer password dies aged 93

The man who invented the computer password, Fernando Corbato, has died aged 93 from complications related to diabetes.

Mr Corbato was an academic at the famous Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) when, in the 1960s, he oversaw a project which would enable different users to access a computer at the same time.

Computers in the 1960s were industrial instruments, very unlike the machines of today, but Mr Corbato’s project pushed forward the development of today’s devices.

The Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) as it was known, made it possible for multiple people to access a computer at one time to have it perform complicated mathematical programs.

However, users found they were able to interrupt each other’s activities on the computer.

Mr Corbato locked each account by putting a password on for each individual user which kept their files and programs hidden away from others.

CTSS increased the speed at which programmers could work by allowing programs to run in a queue, letting the programmers work at a speed they hadn’t encountered before.

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Mr Corbato was amazed, according to the obituary in MIT News, by how quickly people became used to this speed.

“Once a user gets accustomed to [immediate] computer response, delays of even a fraction of a minute are exasperatingly long,” he wrote in 1962.

“First indications are that programmers would readily use such a system if it were generally available,” he said.

His work would lay a number of foundations for modern computing, from the use of passwords through to the development of Linux operating systems.

“It’s no overstatement to say that Corby’s work on time-sharing fundamentally transformed computers as we know them today,” said the director of MIT’s computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory Daniela Rus.

“From PCs to smartphones, the digital revolution can directly trace its roots back to the work that he led at MIT nearly 60 years ago.”

Turing's story is 'motivation to fight for equity and justice'

As a data scientist working at the UK’s national institute for data science and AI, The Alan Turing Institute, I am absolutely delighted at the news of Alan Turing being chosen as the face of the new £50 note. 

My career has taken me from physics to neuroscience, and my current work focuses on improving the lives of neurodivergent people and people with mental health conditions.

I am proud to carry on Turing’s legacy of imagining new ways to view the world, create a better one, and do it by working with others across disciplines.

Image: Alan Turing’s legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society

Data scientists are sometimes described as unicorns: bringing together skills in statistics, domain expertise and software development.

At the Turing we don’t breed unicorns, but we do bring people together and replace those mythical beasts with teams of experts.

We follow in Alan Turing’s footsteps by working together to imagine a world that does not yet exist. And how to build it.

While Turing may be known for imagining the theoretical basis of the first computer, he also applied his skills to practical applications.

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He used mathematics to shorten World War II by two to four years. But he did not work alone at Bletchley Park.

It was a hive of 10,000 people working 24 hours across three shift cycles every day.

Alan Turing's legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society

Bank of England chief on Turing’s legacy

Turing was gay, and his homosexuality resulted in him being defined as a security risk.

His conviction and subsequent hormonal treatment limited his ability to work and he was surveilled by police until his untimely death in 1954.

Alan Turing will now become the iconic face of the £50 note.

But he also represents everyone who has served their country, those giants of science on whose shoulders we now stand, and all people who have been – and continue to be – denied their human rights.

I look to Alan Turing both as a role model to inspire new and creative research questions and as motivation to keep fighting for equity and justice for all marginalised members of our society.

In his own words: “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”

Billionaire urges investigation into 'seemingly treasonous' Google

Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire and prominent supporter of Donald Trump, has suggested Google’s alleged attempt to work with the Chinese military was “seemingly treasonous”.

Mr Thiel was speaking at the National Conservatism conference in Washington DC when he questioned, without providing evidence, whether Google had been “infiltrated” by foreign intelligence agencies.

In a list of three questions the former chief executive of PayPal compared the secrecy of the Manhattan Project – in which the US developed nuclear weapons – to that of Google’s artificial intelligence company DeepMind.

Image: Mr Thiel accused Google of ‘seemingly treasonous’ decisions

“Number one, how many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated your Manhattan Project for AI?

“Number two, does Google’s senior management consider itself to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Chinese intelligence?

“Number three, is it because they consider themselves to be so thoroughly infiltrated that they have engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military [and not the US military?]”

Mr Thiel, 51, added: “These questions need to be asked by the FBI and the CIA, and I’d like them to be asked in a not excessively gentle manner.”

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Google’s technology was being used by the Pentagon to analyse footage captured by drones until staff protests forced the web giant not to renew the controversial contract.

His references to the company allegedly working with the Chinese military appeared to be related to the firm’s plans to re-enter China with a search engine.

These plans were described as being at an “exploratory” stage, according to Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai, who announced they had been paused after protests from staff.

Mr Thiel, a wealthy and prominent US conservative activist, previously used his money to bankroll the ultimately ruinous lawsuit of gossip website Gawker after it outed him as gay in 2007.

He has also been involved in funding research into the controversial practice of receiving blood infusions from younger people to improve the health of adults in later life.

Google did not immediately respond to Sky News’ requests for response to Mr Thiel’s comments.

EU satellite navigation system suffers major outage

The EU’s new satellite navigation system – which the UK is set to be controversially excluded from due to Brexit – has suffered a major outage.

Initial outage reports came through on Thursday, when the system suffered a “technical incident related to its ground infrastructure” which has affected all of its users.

According to the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency, or GSA, the issue specifically affects the European spacecraft ground station in Fucino, in Italy, where atomic clocks are used to synchronise the signals from the satellites.Quick publish

Brussels has insisted that the UK cannot remain a full member of the Galileo system for security reasons following its departure from the EU, although negotiations on the matter remain ongoing.

Image: The system stopped working on Thursday

Last August, Theresa May announced a £92m satellite project for the UK to develop a rival to the EU’s Galileo in a sign she expected Britain to be frozen out of the project following Brexit.

The UK is currently dependent on the US for access to its GPS system, and the EU for the Galileo satellite navigation system.

This dependence leaves the UK’s navigation systems exposed to both the risks of international politics, as well as the availability of the signal itself – which has taken a significant hit this weekend.

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Galileo is still in a trial period, and the EU has said that it wouldn’t be fully operational until 2020, when it is expected to provide positioning data of unprecedented accuracy.

Even during its early development the Galileo project was hit by several technical and budgetary setbacks, including the launch of two satellites into the wrong orbit in 2014.