Start Up No.1623: quantifying your carbon costs, Bosch says chip supply broken, illustrating AI, Samsung’s vanishing cloud, and more


Persuading dogs to have vaccines isn’t too hard, but how do you change humans’ minds? A Facebook group is showing it can be done. CC-licensed photo by Army Medicine on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. In order. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook moms’ Vaccine Talk group is fighting misinfo and persuading skeptics • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Will Oremus and Gerrit De Vynck:

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“The most important rule was ‘civility,’ ” [Kate] Bilowitz, [co-founder of Vaccine Talk] said. “There are some groups online where people just yell at each other. We wanted to just be able to talk to one another without it getting that way.”

Vaccine Talk now has nearly 70,000 members, each of whom must gain administrators’ approval to join and commit to a code of conduct. Strict rules prohibit users from misrepresenting themselves, offering medical advice and harassing or bullying people. Another key rule: Be ready to provide citations within 24 hours for any claim you make. Twenty-five moderators and administrators in six countries monitor the posts, and those who flout the rules are kicked out.

“Usually, the hardcore anti-vaxxers cannot follow the rules,” Bilowitz said. “They are usually spamming people with their commentary. I think it’s hard for them: They are basically coming out of an echo chamber.”

Vaccine Talk represents exactly the type of conversations Facebook says it wants to cultivate. But Bilowitz said the social network’s often clumsy and heavy-handed enforcement of covid misinformation policies has made their work more difficult. In June, Facebook temporarily shut down the group because someone posted an article deemed to be misinformation. But the poster had been seeking advice on how to rebut the article.

“We were just caught up in the algorithm,” Bilowitz said, “and felt there wasn’t a human in charge of the process.”

To combat covid misinformation, Facebook has created both a banner across its site and a tab on covid-related posts that link people to authoritative information from public health organizations. The company’s head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, said surveys suggest vaccine acceptance on the part of American Facebook users has increased since January, from about 70% to upward of 80%. But he has also acknowledged the challenge in drawing a line between posts that evince earnest skepticism and those that are ideologically motivated.

Monica Buescher, a 32-year-old teacher in Vacaville, Calif., said she went “deep down the rabbit hole” of anti-vaccine misinformation when she had her second child in 2019. Convinced that shots were dangerous, she nonetheless wanted to hear the pro-vaccine side. She found her way to Vaccine Talk, which she said had a reputation among anti-vaccine groups as being “mean” for banning those who made claims without scientific evidence.

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This is the dirty little secret about effective moderation: it’s hard work, and you can’t do it with machines.
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Bosch says semiconductor supply chains in car industry no longer work • CNBC

Sam Shead:

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In February, a winter storm in Texas caused blackouts at NXP Semiconductors, which is a major provider of automotive and mobile phone chips. In March, there was a fire at a semiconductor plant in Japan operated by Renesas, one of the car industry’s biggest chip suppliers. In August, factories in Malaysia have been abandoned as national lockdowns were introduced to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Volkswagen and BMW cut their production as they struggled to get the chips they needed to build their cars. These companies and semiconductor suppliers should now be looking to figure out how the chip supply chain can be improved, [Bosch management board member Harald] Kroeger said.

“As a team, we need to sit together and ask, for the future operating system is there a better way to have longer lead times,” he said. “I think what we need is more stock on some parts [of the supply chain] because some of those semiconductors need six months to be produced. You cannot run on a system [where] every two weeks you get an order. That doesn’t work.”

Semiconductor supply chain issues have been quietly managed by the automotive in the past but now is a time for change, according to Kroeger, who believes demand is only going to increase with the rise of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.

“Every car that gets smarter needs more semiconductors,” Kroeger said.

Electric cars need very powerful and efficient semiconductors in order to to get more range out of each kilowatt hour of battery, he added.

UBS analyst Francois-Xavier Bouvignies told CNBC last week that cars with internal combustion engines typically use around $80 worth of semiconductors in the powertrain, but electric vehicles use around $550 worth.

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Carbon costs quantified • Astral Codex Ten

Scott Alexander:

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This post tries to quantify how much carbon is produced by various activities, lifestyle changes, and actors.

I can’t stress enough how approximate and unreliable these numbers are. The reason I made this chart and other people didn’t isn’t because I’m smarter or harder-working than they are. It’s because I’m less responsible, and more willing to use numbers that are kind of grounded in wild guesses, and technically shouldn’t be compared to each other.

…This table can’t tell you what your ethical duties are. I’m concerned it will make some people feel like whatever they do is just a drop in the bucket – all you have to do is spend 11,000 hours without air conditioning, and you’ll have saved the same amount of carbon an F-35 burns on one airstrike! But I think the most important thing it could convince you of is that if you were previously planning on letting yourself be miserable to save carbon, you should buy carbon offsets instead. Instead of boiling yourself alive all summer, spend between $0.04 and $2.50 an hour to offset your air conditioning use.

But you may not want to literally offset your carbon. I use “offset” here to mean a donation that removes a linear and quantifiable amount of carbon from the atmosphere per dollar. But this is probably a less effective use of money than donating the same amount to a generic anti-climate-change charity.

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An eye-opening post; there’s so much that’s boggling as you move down it. (Buying a Tesla – or any EV – seems like one of the big things you can do. That, and not flying.) As long as Elon Musk doesn’t then use Tesla’s money to buy Bitcoi…. argh.
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Offsetting carbon emissions with forests • Prudhvi’s Newsletter

Prudhvi:

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To put the numbers in perspective, human activities cause 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases every year. Forest plantations all over the world can store anywhere from 40-100Gt of C. However, it takes 100 years to reach that potential. Why? It takes time to grow a plant into a large tree that embeds a lot of carbon in its trunk and branches.

Assuming the best case scenario – meaning humans solving land acquisition, water constraints, and neglecting the impact of climate change itself on the growth of trees – gives a best-case estimate of 1 billion tons of C per year that can be embedded in trees. This is an impressive 2%. Yes, it is impressive, because that’s the only solution we’ve today which can scale even to this number.

Seems simple: let’s just plant trees everywhere.

If only the reality was so simple. The more I read on ecology and ecosystems, the more it confirms the notion that natural ecosystems are much more complex than we think. They also tend to be more interconnected with each other in ways yet to be figured out by science, even for seemingly obvious things.

Case in point: consider China and its plans to increase forest cover from 23.04% in 2020 to 26% in 2035, it is on track to plant 35 million hectares of trees (an area the size of Germany) in its northern arid areas by 2050 to make a so-called Great Green Wall. There are even incentives from corporations like Alipay rewarding low-carbon acts such as renting a bike to “water” virtual trees and the organizers will plant a real tree in deserts in China when virtual trees grow up. It is amazing to see such climate action from so many people for climate change.

Unfortunately, all of this has led to an unintended consequence – water scarcity.

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The best things to do: preserve existing forests; replant deforested areas; replace building using concrete with wood products where at all possible.
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UK truck driver shortage signals a broken labour market • Financial Times

Sarah O’Connor:

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In spite of the tough hours and the fact they often pay for their own qualifications ([39-year-old Dominic] Harris paid £1,500), drivers have been slipping down the wage ladder. In 2010, the median HGV driver in the UK earned 51% more per hour than the median supermarket cashier. By 2020, the premium was only 27%. They have faced a particular pay squeeze in the past five years: median hourly pay for truck drivers has risen 10% since 2015 to £11.80, compared with 16% for all UK employees. “Why would I want to be a truck driver, with all the responsibility, the long, unpredictable hours, if I can go to Aldi and earn £11.30 an hour stacking shelves?” says Tomasz Oryński, a truck driver and journalist based in Scotland, who is planning to move to Finland.

Kieran Smith, chief executive of Driver Require, a recruitment agency, says employers have pushed labour costs down to compete for powerful customers such as supermarkets. “Customers have enormous purchasing leverage [and] they have nailed down the haulage companies to the tiniest margins.” He says lots of drivers leave in their 30s because the hours make it almost impossible to participate in bringing up children, yet the wage isn’t high enough to support the other partner staying at home.

As a result, the workforce is ageing. In 2000, there was an even split between over-45s and under-45s. Now the over-45s account for 62%. Between 20,000 and 40,000 people pass their tests to become truck drivers in a non-pandemic year, but many appear to leave the sector. Harris left this summer to start a business tending graves. It’s peaceful and he likes the connections he makes. He doesn’t want to go back.

…In the UK, the extent of the problem was masked before Brexit by a supply of EU drivers who helped to fill vacancies. In addition, a loophole in the UK’s badly-regulated labour market allowed drivers to set up as limited companies. This upped their take-home pay by cutting their tax (at the cost of their workers’ rights). This year the government closed the loophole, which prompted some drivers to leave. Meanwhile, Covid led to cancelled tests for new drivers and prompted many Europeans to go home.

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Perfect storm. And the real kicker is that this is the first year of full Brexit, meaning slowdowns at the border; the Ever Given debacle is still unwinding (shipping prices – the Baltic Dry Index – are at their highest level since 2010), and supermarkets and retailers start building up stock 12 weeks ahead of Christmas, ie now.

Going to be a fun holiday.
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How I Experience The Web Today

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I searched something…

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Yes, yes, yes, this is totally the modern web experience – although the first page, with a search result, should have been festooned with ads too.
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Explaining Artificial Intelligence: part 3 – what does AI look like? • BBC R&D

Tristan Ferne, Henry Cooke and David Man:

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As Artificial Intelligence(AI) is used in more BBC products and everything else online, we think it’s important to deliver AI-powered systems that are responsibly and ethically designed. We also want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to understand more about how this influential technology works in the world. This is part of a series of posts on this topic.

We have noticed that news stories or press releases about AI are often illustrated with stock photos of shiny gendered robots, glowing blue brains or the Terminator. We don’t think that these images actually represent the technologies of AI and ML that are in use and being developed. Indeed, we think these are unhelpful stereotypes; they set unrealistic expectations, hinder wider understanding of the technology and potentially sow fear. Ultimately this affects public understanding and critical discourse around this increasingly influential technology. We are working towards better, less clichéd, more accurate and more representative images and media for AI.

Try going to your search engine of choice and search for images of AI. What do you get?

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Fascinating writeup of a BBC internal workshop trying to figure out how it should illustrate stories about AI.
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Samsung phone owners warned: save your photos now • Forbes

Barry Collins:

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Samsung smartphone owners are facing a looming deadline to rescue their photos from Samsung Cloud or risk losing backed up images.

Samsung is removing the option to back up your photo gallery to Samsung Cloud, presumably in a bid to cut storage costs. Samsung Cloud will still continue to back up data such as contacts, calendar entries and notes, but photos and videos are no longer part of the package.

Samsung has instead been encouraging customers to back up their photos using Microsoft’s OneDrive service, but the deadline is looming for the Samsung Cloud service to be cut off, with customers warned they could lose photos if they don’t have copies of them stored locally.

Confusingly, Samsung has split customers into two groups, each with different cut-off deadlines. It’s not easy to work out which group you’re in, so it’s probably safest to assume you’re in Group 1, which has the earliest set of cut-off deadlines.

The company says customers in Group 1 must download any photos backed up in Samsung Cloud by September 30, with Group 2 customers given until November 30 to complete the download.

Samsung is warning customers not to leave the download to the last minute because “when it gets close to the final deprecation date, you might not be able to download your data smoothly due to the increased number of users”.

Photos will be permanently deleted from Samsung Cloud 60 days after you elect to download the data, or when the deadline arrives, whichever comes sooner.

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Totally weird. Apparently a strategic decision by Samsung back in late 2019, when it decided to let Microsoft have the space (in every sense). Bet a lot of people will be caught out by this, though, given the size of Samsung’s customer base.
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OnlyFans scraps plans to ban sexually explicit material • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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on Tuesday, OnlyFans’ chief executive and co-founder, Tim Stokely, instead laid the blame for the porn ban at the feet of the company’s financial backers. “The change in policy, we had no choice – the short answer is banks,” Stokely told the Financial Times in an interview.

“We pay over one million creators over $300m every month, and making sure that these funds get to creators involves using the banking sector.”

Stokely singled out one bank in particular, BNY Mellon, as having flagged and rejected transfers, while another, UK-based Metro Bank, closed the company’s accounts in 2019. BNY Mellon and Metro Bank declined to comment when asked about Stokely’s claims on Tuesday.

OnlyFans is also affected by new rules from payment processors such as Mastercard, which are intended to crack down on abuses such as the non-consensual sharing of sexual imagery and child sexual abuse material. Requirements for providers of adult content, announced by Mastercard in April, demand “documented age and identity verification for all people depicted and those uploading the content” and pre-publication review by platform holders.

“You might ask: ‘Why now?’”, Mastercard said at the time. “In the past few years, the ability to upload content to the internet has become easier than ever. All someone needs is a smartphone and a wifi connection.”

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Alex had One Of Those News Days. His weekly email went out at about 12 noon BST on Wednesday, looking at OnlyFans’s decision to stop the pr0n. At 12:56, OnlyFans tweeted that the pr0n could continue.

What’s unclear is how that’s going to be achieved. Will there be age verification? Or were the credit card companies worried about losing revenue (to who?). Worth hearing in the whole saga was Evan Davis on Radio 4’s PM programme, who asked one porn creator how much she makes. “I make 60,000 dollars a month,” she said calmly. Davis’s reply: “WHAAAT. WHAAAAAAAT!” (49:00 here.)
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PragmatIC Semiconductor reinvents the iconic processor that changed the world • PragmatIC Semiconductor

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PragmatIC Semiconductor, a world leader in flexible electronics, is proud to announce that it has manufactured a flexible version of the 6502 processor, the iconic design that kick-started the personal computer revolution.

…PragmatIC’s flexible 6502 was laid out and manufactured in less than two weeks, demonstrating the game-changing ability of our FlexIC Foundry to support rapid realisation of semiconductor hardware. A second iteration has already been taped out to optimise pinout, footprint and speed, leveraging an agile design approach that would never be possible with the high cost and long lead times of silicon fabrication.

“We are delighted to have made a flexible 6502, the processor that is credited with creating the personal computer revolution,” said Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC Semiconductor. “The design symbolises one of our key beliefs that a new paradigm for semiconductors is required to enable innovators to build extraordinary electronics solutions that improve everyday life.”

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Looks like a Pringle, but don’t hold that against it.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Order Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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