Start Up No.1858: Japan likes nuclear again, Twitter v Musk (and the Chinese), California to ban fuel cars, AI rapper dumped, and more

A French photographer whose multi-year program finds döppelgangers thinks his double is.. Rowan Atkinson. Seriously. CC-licensed photo by GJ Kooijman on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. We have followup! (See end.) I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Japan signals return to nuclear power to stabilise energy supply • Reuters

Mayu Sakoda and Yoshifumi Takemoto:


Japan will restart more idled nuclear plants and look at developing next-generation reactors, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday, setting the stage for a major policy shift on nuclear energy a decade after the Fukushima disaster.

The comments from Kishida – who also said the government would look at extending the lifespan of existing reactors – highlight how the Ukraine crisis and soaring energy costs have forced both a change in public opinion and a policy rethink toward nuclear power.

Japan has kept most of its nuclear plants idled in the decade since a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 triggered a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Quake-prone Japan also said it would build no new reactors, so a change in that policy would be a stark turnaround.

Kishida told reporters he had instructed officials to come up with concrete measures by the year end, including on “gaining the understanding of the public” on sustainable energy and nuclear power.

Government officials met on Wednesday to hammer out a plan for so-called “green transformation” aimed at retooling the world’s third-largest economy to meet environmental goals. Nuclear energy, which was deeply opposed by the public after the Fukushima crisis, is now seen by some in government as a component for such green transformation.


Six months into its three-day “special military operation” to acquire Ukraine, Russia has succeeded in making pretty much every country turn towards a less fossil fuel-dependent energy mix, and make serious plans to increase their renewables and nuclear production. The reversals by Japan (and to a lesser extent Germany) are amazing.
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Twitter executives push back against whistle-blower complaint • The New York Times

Ryan Mac and Kate Conger:


Executives at Twitter pushed back on Wednesday against what they said was a “false” narrative being created around a former executive’s allegations about the company’s security practices.

At its weekly companywide meeting, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, addressed a whistle-blower complaint made by Peiter Zatko, the former head of security, who was fired in January. Mr. Zatko’s complaint, in which he accused Twitter of lying about its security practices and violating a 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, was made public on Tuesday.

“This complaint that was filed yesterday is foundationally, technically and historically inaccurate,” Mr. Agrawal told employees at the meeting, which The New York Times listened to. “There are accusations in there without any evidence and many points made without important context.”

Other executives — including Sean Edgett, the general counsel, and the privacy and security executives Damien Kieren and Lea Kissner — echoed Mr. Agrawal.

“We have never made a material misrepresentation to a regulator, to our board, to all of you,” Mr. Edgett said. “We are in full compliance with our F.T.C. consent decree.”


Uh-huh sure. Meanwhile here’s a thread by Zach Edwards, a private and data supply chain researcher, about how Chinese sources buying Twitter ads could be using them to unmask and identify Chinese Twitter users. Not good.
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California to ban the sale of new gasoline cars • The New York Times

Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman:


California is expected to put into effect on Thursday its sweeping plan to prohibit the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035, a groundbreaking move that could have major effects on the effort to fight climate change and accelerate a global transition toward electric vehicles.

“This is huge,” said Margo Oge, an electric vehicles expert who headed the Environmental Protection Agency’s transportation emissions program under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “California will now be the only government in the world that mandates zero-emission vehicles. It is unique.”

The rule, issued by the California Air Resources Board, will require that 100% of all new cars sold in the state by 2035 be free of the fossil fuel emissions chiefly responsible for warming the planet, up from 12% today. It sets interim targets requiring that 35% of new passenger vehicles sold in the state by 2026 produce zero emissions. That would climb to 68% by 2030.

The restrictions are important because not only is California the largest auto market in the United States, but more than a dozen other states typically follow California’s lead when setting their own auto emissions standards.

…At least 12 other states could potentially adopt the new California zero-emissions vehicle mandate relatively soon; another five states, which follow California’s broader vehicle pollution reduction program, are expected to adopt the rule in a year or so. If those states follow through, the restrictions on gasoline-vehicle sales would apply to about one-third of the United States’ auto market.

…The governments of Canada, Britain and at least nine other European countries — including France, Spain and Denmark — have set goals of phasing out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles between 2030 and 2040. But none have concrete mandates or regulations like the California rule.


Pretty sure the UK has committed, actually. Wonder if there will suddenly be a lot of “trucks” sold in California running on fossil fuels.
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We must fundamentally rethink “net-zero” climate plans. Here are six ways • MIT Technology Review

James Temple:


the very nature of net-zero plans drives companies toward solutions that look quantifiable on paper. By embracing cheap offsets and other dubious tools, they can tally up a somewhat credible-seeming ton-for-ton decarbonization plan.

It’s time to stop that. (Even HBO’s John Oliver has taken to ridiculing offsets on his show.) Going forward, the purchase of such credits should at best be thought of as an act of climate philanthropy, but not as a realistic method for scratching off tons of emissions from corporate carbon ledgers.

Actually cutting operational emissions will mean investing heavily in research and development; supporting, testing, and scaling emerging solutions; and pushing for aggressive policies that will pressure suppliers and other business partners to strive for similar changes. 

These things may not earn credit within the confines of a net-zero plan anytime soon. But corporations need to achieve their long-term targets without questionable carbon accounting schemes.

The good news is that more and more companies and standards bodies are coming to recognize many of the flaws in current corporate climate plans and altering their practices or guidelines.

Here are six ways that companies can take real steps to tackle their pollution and help get industries on track to make much faster progress in the coming years.


The six ways being: slash actual emissions (duh), avoid offsets (unreliable, prone to scams), invest in actual carbon removal (trees!), fund R+D, stop relying on carbon “credits”. All good, though few companies would score 6/6.
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Your doppelgänger is out there and you probably share DNA with them • The New York Times

Kate Golembiewski:


The picture series “I’m not a look-alike!” was inspired by Mr. Brunelle’s discovery of his own look-alike, the English actor Rowan Atkinson.

The project has been a hit on social media and other parts of the internet, but it’s also drawn the attention of scientists who study genetic relationships. Dr. Manel Esteller, a researcher at the Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, had previously studied the physical differences between identical twins, and he wanted to examine the reverse: people who look alike but aren’t related. “What’s the explanation for these people?” he wondered.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Reports, Dr. Esteller and his team recruited 32 pairs of look-alikes from Mr. Brunelle’s photographs to take DNA tests and complete questionnaires about their lifestyles. The researchers used facial recognition software to quantify the similarities between the participants’ faces. Sixteen of those 32 pairs achieved similar overall scores to identical twins analyzed by the same software. The researchers then compared the DNA of these 16 pairs of doppelgängers to see if their DNA was as similar as their faces.

Dr. Esteller found that the 16 pairs who were “true” look-alikes shared significantly more of their genes than the other 16 pairs that the software deemed less similar. “These people really look alike because they share important parts of the genome, or the DNA sequence,” he said. That people who look more alike have more genes in common “would seem like common sense, but never had been shown,” he added.

However, DNA alone doesn’t tell the whole story of our makeup. Our lived experiences, and those of our ancestors, influence which of our genes are switched on or off — what scientists call our epigenomes. And our microbiome, our microscopic co-pilot made up of bacteria, fungi and viruses, is further influenced by our environment. Dr. Esteller found that while the doppelgängers’ genomes were similar, their epigenomes and microbiomes were different. “Genetics put them together, and epigenetics and microbiome pulls them apart,” he said.


Still reeling at the idea that someone’s lookalike is Rowan Atkinson. Though judge for yourself. (Thanks G for the link.)
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How a major change to ethereum could change cryptocurrency forever • The Guardian

Alex Hern on how the (expected) change in early September for Ethereum to proof-of-work to proof-of-stake (he compares it to lottery tickets v premium bonds) is likely to pan out:


After years at the centre of ethereum infrastructure, the miners face their industry being simply switched off overnight, and many of them aren’t happy with that proposal. They have real, physical assets invested in the continuation of a proof-of-work cryptocurrency, from expensive graphics cards to electrical hookups, and it’s not easy to repurpose it for something else.

Due to the open-source nature of cryptocurrencies, it’s easy enough for the miners to simply pick up where they left off, and carry on running Nu-thereum, or whatever it gets called, on 16 September as though the merge had never happened. The question is, what happens next?

Everyone who has a balance of ETH will suddenly find that they have two balances, one on each blockchain. And everyone who has a smart contract running on ETH will suddenly find they have two of them, as well: there will be the proof-of-work version of the Bored Ape NFTs, and the proof-of-stake version, and so on.

Some of those duplicates may happily coexist. Others might try to talk down the forked version, but never quite kill it – how much would someone who wants to own a killer NFT pay for an “unofficial” version on the forked chain? If it’s not zero, then the trade could continue for some time, even if the developers of the Apes disown the forks.

But for other projects, there can only be one. Each USDC token is backed by $1 of hard assets held by Circle, the company that develops the stablecoin. If there are suddenly twice as many USDCs because of the fork, Circle doesn’t have twice as much cash, and it will have to choose one network to support and the other to reject.


And it’s likely they’ll reject the proof-of-work version. We will see!
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Capitol drops AI rapper FN Meka following backlash • The New York Times

Joe Coscarelli:


Capitol Music Group, the company that houses major record labels including Capitol and Blue Note, said on Tuesday that it was severing ties with its latest controversial artist: FN Meka, a virtual “robot rapper” powered partly by artificial intelligence, who boasts more than 10 million followers on TikTok.

The company had previously teased the project — the first augmented reality artist to sign to a major label, it said — as “just a preview of what’s to come.” Yet after growing backlash to what skeptical observers said amounted to digital blackface — including content that seemed to trivialize incarceration and police brutality — Capitol said it had “severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately.”

The company added in a statement: “We offer our deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity in signing this project without asking enough questions about equity and the creative process behind it. We thank those who have reached out to us with constructive feedback in the past couple of days — your input was invaluable as we came to the decision to end our association with the project.”

…FN Meka was backed by the company Factory New, which described itself as a “first of its kind, next-generation music company, specializing in virtual beings.” (Also on the roster: the crypto-rapper Lil Bitcoin.) Though voiced by a human, FN Meka and his music — “lyrical content, chords, melody, tempo, sounds” — was derived in part from artificial intelligence, the industry publication Music Business Worldwide reported last year.

“Not to get all philosophical, but what is an ‘artist’ today?” Anthony Martini, a Factory New founder, told the publication at the time. “Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavours?”


Really, it’s Gorillaz written by an algorithm, except they chose the wrong training schema.
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Liz Truss is easy to mock, but she could do more damage than Boris Johnson ever did • The Guardian

Gaby Hinsliff:


Liz Truss loves maths. She loves it so much that she used to fire mental arithmetic questions at civil servants during meetings, and once told an audience of female high-flyers that her best advice for their ambitious daughters was to study the subject. She loves maths so much, indeed, that she approaches political decisions like an equation to be solved. The maths professor’s daughter works methodically through every possible option, including some that others would consider beyond the pale; she likes to test every argument, sometimes to exhausting lengths. (As one of her aides used to joke: what’s the difference between a rottweiler and Liz Truss? A rottweiler eventually lets go.) Her logical, dispassionate mathematician’s approach makes her a formidable negotiator and an unsentimental strategist, swift to abandon positions that no longer serve her.

Yet those who know her best say that with it comes a curious emotional detachment, or inability to factor into her calculations how things feel to other people, which is only now being exposed. She can be good company in private, funny and lively. But when colleagues mention her “faintly awkward” manner, or even call her “as close to properly crackers as anybody I’ve met in parliament” (Dominic Cummings, no stranger himself to being called something similar), this particular disconnectedness is often what they mean. It’s shaped the campaign of the woman still most likely to be Britain’s next prime minister, barring a political earthquake, and may soon shape this country’s future.

…She lacks Johnson’s taste for high living – any emerging scandals won’t involve gold wallpaper – or his need to be loved; she has taught herself not to care what people in politics think of her. But where Johnson never seemed to know what to do with his enormous majority, Truss is a workaholic policy geek whose government would be driven by her manic energy. In the worst-case scenario, she could do more damage than he ever did.


Very useful primer about who we seem, barring bizarre screwups by all the polling organisations, to be in for. Rory Stewart, who was an environment minister under her, tells of bringing her a 25-year environment plan (???), being told it wasn’t good enough in a meeting, and asking: “What don’t you like about it?” To which she replied “Everyone around this table knows what I don’t like about it,” to murmurs of assent from the civil servants. When she had left, he asked some of those remaining what, in fact was wrong with it. “Sorry, Rory, don’t know, just didn’t want to go against her,” came the reply.

She’s also a complete political chameleon, having once told Stewart (who finds her maths obsession weird) that she couldn’t see the point in his interest in foreign affairs. Then she ends up as Foreign Secretary.
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Underground (1958) • British Television Drama

Oliver Wake:


When people talk about live television drama, and in particular the disasters that can befall live productions, actors forgetting their lines and technical faults loom large. Sometimes mention will be made of the incident in which a leading actor died during a performance. It sounds like it could be a dark joke or an industry myth, but it’s true. It’s a morbid story but a fascinating one.

The production in question was Underground, transmitted on Sunday 30 November 1958 as part of ITV company ABC’s popular Armchair Theatre drama anthology. It was directed by William (known as Ted) Kotcheff, one of ABC’s regular directors, then aged only 27, and produced by Sydney Newman, the company’s drama supervisor. The play was a television dramatisation by James Forsyth of Harold Rein’s 1955 novel Few Were Left.

No recording of the play exists, so this account is based on various interviews and media reports about the play. There are several accounts of what happened which, though largely consistent on the main events, differ notably on the smaller details. In this essay I’ll try to separate the reality from the myth and distortion as far as is possible at this remove from the event itself.


Back in the days when it seemed like a good idea to do live plays as TV drama, not realising the drama might turn into a crisis. Fantastic research for a curio of TV history.
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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?

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

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Two queries from yesterday.
First: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation as a method of disturbing hard drives? Seth F pointed out that it had much of the flavour of an urban legend, with “a friend’s experience” and studied vagueness about the PC OEM and hard drive maker in question. One for the “unproven” files.

Second: the IKEA effect, where you value things you’ve assembled more than you do things of the same quality made by others? It’s a real thing – there’s research to sort of confirm it. (Might depend on interpretation.)

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