Science and environment

Tinnitus sufferers say trial changed lives

More now on Auckland University's tinnitus trial on tinnitus and it's likely impact on future treatments. The results are positive, with the majority of triallists in citing improvements in their condition. Reporter Leonard Powell spoke to some of the people whose lives have changed as a result.

Tinnitus sufferers say trial changed lives
0:00 / 5:13
Science and environment

Artificial intelligence: Our dystopian future?

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but how worried should we be about artificial intelligence systems running rogue and potentially turning against us?  (Note: This podcast contains spoilers for the films The Matrix and Terminator, as well as the Greek myth of King Midas. All of these are at least 20 years old, with the latter being written approximately 3000 years ago, so if you've not caught up on them yet, you've only yourself to blame.) In the 1999 film The Matrix, which is set in the near future, the human race - worried by the increasing sentience and potential villainy of the artificial intelligence (AI) machines it's created - makes the decision to scorch the sky. They reason that without an energy source as abundant as the sun, the machines - which rely on solar power - will be crippled. But their plan backfires. "The human body generates more bioelectricity than a 120-volt battery, and over 25,000 BTUs of body heat," says one of the film's main characters, Lawrence Fishburne's Morpheus, in a voiceover. "Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need." This, according to Otago University law professor Colin Gavaghan, director of the Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, neatly summarises a truism of AI systems. "One thing that defines AI is that it finds its own imaginative solutions to the challenges we give it, the problems we give it," he says. The stuff of science-fiction Artificial intelligence systems running rogue might seem like the stuff of science-fiction, but these systems are increasingly common in many high-tech elements of society, from self-driving cars to digital assistants, facial identification, Netflix recommendations, and much, much more. The capabilities of artificial intelligence are growing at pace; a pace that's outstripping regulatory frameworks. And as AI systems take on more and more complex tasks and responsibilities, theorists and researchers have turned their minds to the question of catastrophic AI failure: what happens if we give an AI system a lot of power, a lot of responsibility, and it doesn't behave how we anticipated? The benefits - and the risks Asked about the potential benefits of sophisticated AI systems in the near future, Gavaghan is enthusiastic. "If you think, for example, about the medical domain, it's becoming a big challenge now for doctors to handle multiple co-morbidities. "Trying to manage all the contra-indications and the side-effects of those things and how they all relate to each other ... becomes fiendishly complex. So systems that can look across a bunch of different data-sets and optimise outcomes [would be beneficial]." But as Gavaghan says, part of the 'intelligence' component of AI is these systems learn, they find innovative solutions to problems - and while that might sound exciting in theory, there's certainly risk in it. Consider, for example, an AI tasked with mitigating or reversing the effects of climate change. Such a system might conclude the best course of action would be to eliminate the single greatest cause of global warming, which is humans. "A big concern about general intelligence in this regard is that, if we aren't very, very careful about how we ask the questions, how we allocate tasks, then it will find solutions to those tasks that will literally do what we told it, but absolutely don't do what we meant, or what we wanted." Gavaghan describes this as the 'King Midas problem', referencing the myth wherein the avaricious Phrygian king Midas wishes for the ability to have everything he touches turn to gold, without thinking through the long-term implications. The dilemma: finding agreement AI can make our lives a lot easier. Its potential applications are almost limitless. Importantly, research into AI can be done in any country, limited only by time, resources and expertise. Those undoubted benefits could also turn sour: AI-controlled weapons systems or autonomous vehicles or war don't sound like a very good development for humanity. But they are possible, and, much like with nuclear weapons, if you think your geopolitical rivals might be developing these capabilities, it's easy to justify developing them yourself. This, Gavaghan says, is where universal agreements or limits could be helpful: countries around the world getting together, starting a dialogue, and agreeing on what the limits of AI development might be. Some researchers have suggested future AI research should be guided by values and morals, rather than forbidding certain capabilities. But that brings with it a new, similarly challenging question: what exactly are human values? Gavaghan brings up the example of a survey distributed around the world: respondents were given a scenario in which a self-driving car had to make a split-second decision whether to continue on its planned route and collide with a logging truck coming in the opposite direction, or veer away, saving the driver, but ploughing into a group of cyclists. "Some people said you should save the people in the car. Some said you should maximise the number of lives saved. Some said you should prioritise children's lives over old people's lives. "In France, they wanted to prioritise the lives of attractive, good-looking people over other people! "So, absolutely: what are human values? The values of Silicon Valley tech tycoons?" Gavaghan says the future of AI is an area where philosophy, technology, and legislation dovetail, each as important as one another - and while there's a lot still unknown, the fact it's a topic being discussed more broadly is a positive. "It's a debate that should be cast wider...a lot of this technology is here with us now." Find out how to listen and subscribe to The Detail here.   You can also stay up-to-date by liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter. 

Artificial intelligence: Our dystopian future?
0:00 / 24:13
Science and environment

Antarctica ice loss at twice the speed of previous estimates

Antarctica's ice sheets are crumbling at twice the speed of previous estimates. The first-of-its-kind study, led by NASA researchers and published in the journal Nature, used satellite imagery to map more than three decades of ice loss. Since 1997, the Antarctic coastline has shed 12 trillion tons of ice. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory research fellow Chad Greene, is the lead author of the study. He spoke to Guyon Espiner.

Antarctica ice loss at twice the speed of previous estimates
0:00 / 4:08
Science and environment

DNA reveals history of Aotearoa’s manu

We've got new knowledge about the whakapapa of kokako, huia, and tieke saddlebacks. They're all part of the Wattle bird family, unique to Aotearoa. A Otago based study has analysed the bird's mitogenomes to discover they arrived here 20 million years ago. Dr Nic Rawlence, Director at Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory talks to Jesse about what their research tells them about Aotearoa's very early days.

DNA reveals history of Aotearoa’s manu
0:00 / 9:03
Science and environment

Separating the historic artefacts from the rocks!

It's not often that scientists say they've been able to achieve something with 100% accuracy. But new AI technology has just been developed at the University of Auckland that outperforms humans in distinguishing between natural rock and stone artifacts. It will also help in another project to analyse thousands of Māori stone artefacts to tell us more about our history. Dr Joshua Emmitt is a post doctoral fellow with the University of Auckland's Archeology team, he explains to Jesse what they've done.

Separating the historic artefacts from the rocks!
0:00 / 6:17
Science and environment

DOC catches trampers trying to take cats for a hike at Mt Taranaki

Taking a domestic moggie on a walk about in one of our national parks could have catastrophic consequences. That's the message from the Department of Conservation after a couple of Aucklanders were spotted taking their cats onto Mount Taranaki. DOC Senior Ranger Dave Rogers talks to Lisa Owen.

DOC catches trampers trying to take cats for a hike at Mt Taranaki
0:00 / 4:08
Science and environment

World Series of Birding – a bird spotting sport

There is a sport that requires years of training, careful planning and strategy plus physical endurance that you won't see at the Commonwealth Games. It's the World Series of Birding. Every year, teams gather to try to identify the greatest number of bird species in a 24 hour period, all within the State of New Jersey in America. Armed with binoculars, cameras and  clipboards, teams with names like Meet the Flockers and One Wren to Rule Them all, earn points for each different bird they can spot. We'll talk to captain Dan Poalillio of the former World Series winners, Team  Avian Avarice. You can follow them on instagram or on twitter.

World Series of Birding – a bird spotting sport
0:00 / 24:41
Science and environment

Secrets of Antarctic microbes

Antarctica is a continent of extremes. The coldest. The driest. The windiest. It pushes life to the very limits. Living things down there have evolved some weird and interesting adaptations, which researchers are still discovering. Microbial mats and methane Descending through the ice on a dive in Antarctica, Dr. Sarah Seabrook was struck by how alien it looked, like she could have been diving on Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy moons. The dark volcanic sediment at the underwater base of Mt Erebus brought a white fluffy mat into sharp focus, like snow scattered on the seafloor. It was 2016 and this fluffy mat was the reason that Seabrook was there, diving in the area as part of her PhD research. Under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Thurber of Oregan State University, Seabrook was able to confirm exactly what it was – a mat of methane-loving microbes attracted to the area by a methane seep. Methane is a gas – the main component of natural gas and a potent (albeit relatively short-lived) greenhouse gas. It can be produced by microbes on land that live in landfills, the soil, or in the stomachs of ruminants, like cows and sheep. But it is also produced when old organic matter is broken down by high temperatures and pressures in rock deep under the ground. Methane seeps are what happens when this trapped methane reaches the seafloor surface and leaks out. These seeps support amazing and weird deep-sea habitats, the foundation of which are microbes that can make energy from methane, in the absence of light. Methane seeps are found at tectonic plate margins around the world, but their presence in Antarctica is poorly understood. This is what Seabrook wants to investigate. She has gathered further evidence of seeps and gas plumes in other areas of the Ross Sea that hint to a wider network. With another research trip to Antarctica planned in 2023, she’s hoping to figure out the puzzle of methane seeps in Antarctica, and the weird living things that they support. Dr. Sarah Seabrook's work at NIWA is supported by the Antarctic Science Platform and the New Zealand Antarctic Resilience initiative. Previous research discussed in this episode was supported by the National Science Foundation and Oregon State University in the United States. DNA repair tools of extreme bacteria UV light, temperature fluctuations, drying out, byproducts of metabolism - all things that can cause damage to an organism's DNA. Bacteria living in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, one of the driest places on earth, are under constant bombardment and Dr. Adele Williamson, senior lecturer at the University of Waikato, is interested in learning about how they protect their DNA. All living things have DNA repair systems to fix damage, but Williamson figured that these bacteria might have a few extra tricks up their sleeves to help cope with their extreme environment. By sequencing the bacterial genomes found in samples taken from the Antarctic Dry Valleys, she can search for DNA repair protein genes, coax bacteria in the lab to make these proteins, and then test how they work in the lab. In this way, Williamson, and her PhD student Liz Rzoska-Smith, are hoping to unravel the mystery of how they can survive in such harsh conditions, and perhaps discover some useful protein tools that scientists can employ in the lab. Dr. Adele Williamson's work is supported by a Royal Society Te Apārangi Rutherford Discovery Fellowship. To learn more: Listen as Dr. Craig Cary explains how he is using metagenomics to study bacterial evolution. Read the paper describing the methane seep at the Mt. Erebus cinder cone here.

Secrets of Antarctic microbes
0:00 / 32:38
Science and environment

Jobs for Nature: keeping West Coast businesses afloat

South Westland businesses involved in a Jobs for Nature programme where the government pays their staff to work on conservation projects, are determined to find a way to keep it going after the funding runs out. As well as helping to keep the businesses afloat during the Covid disruptions, more than 70,000 hours have been spent trapping, weeding, maintaining tracks - and even finding an endangered bat species. The government has committed $3.78 million to the scheme and that'll end in June next year. At a recent hui at Fox Glacier many of the more than forty business who've signed up for the progamme agreed that it's done much more than simply keeping them afloat until tourism in the region rallies.  Kathryn speaks with Rob Stewart from Skydive Skydive Franz Josef and Fox Glacier, Dale Burrows from Franz Josef Wilderness Tours and Wayne Costello from DoC.

Jobs for Nature: keeping West Coast businesses afloat
0:00 / 21:13

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