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North Korea appears to have expanded its crypto-mining operationNorth Korea’s top leaders appear to be intensifying efforts to mine cryptocurrency as a way to evade international sanctions, according to a new report State-sponsored crypto-crime: The report by Recorded Future, a US company that analyzes cybersecurity threats, details the efforts of Kim Jong-un’s regime to use cybercrime and cryptocurrency to get around sanctions meant to curb the nation’s nuclear weapons program. The United Nations recently estimated that North Korea has stolen as much as $2 billion using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks” on financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges. Both the UN and Recorded Future had reported previously that in addition to stealing cryptocurrency, the regime had also started mining it. The new report adds more details about the mining effort and suggests that North Korea is expanding this particular operation.A steady buildup: In July of 2017, Recorded Future published one of the first reports suggesting that North Korea’s government was mining Bitcoin. A year later the company noted that North Korea’s interest in and use of cryptocurrencies had “exploded.” Besides pulling off a number of successful robberies of South Korean cryptocurrency exchanges, the regime had begun mining a privacy-oriented currency called Monero. Unlike Bitcoin, whose public transaction record makes it possible to track money flows, Monero uses cryptography to hide transaction information from public view and make the flow of money very difficult to trace. The authors of the new report say that North Korea’s Monero mining efforts appear to have increased tenfold since 2018.A “valuable tool”: Considering this development and the country’s successful exchange hacks and other crypto-related thefts, the authors conclude that “cryptocurrencies are a valuable tool for North Korea as an independent, loosely-regulated source of revenue generation, but also as a means of moving and using illicitly obtained funds.”Keep up with the fast-moving and sometimes baffling world of cryptocurrencies and blockchains with our weekly newsletter Chain Letter. Subscribe here. It’s free!ShareLinkImageAssociated PressShareLinkImageAssociated PressHumans and TechnologyFeb 11No, there’s no evidence that cell phones give you cancerA new review from the FDA says it finds no evidence linking the two, but that research should continue….The findings: The report reviewed 125 experiments carried out on animals and 75 on humans between 2008 and August 2019. In summary, the FDA said that there’s “no consistent pattern” to link radiofrequency radiation, or RFR, to tumors or cancer.Rats don’t use cell phones the way humans do. An overarching problem with the animal studies in the review is that they don’t mimic how humans actually use their phones. Animal studies often douse a rat’s entire body in radiation at levels that are far higher than what humans are normally exposed to when we use cell phones. The human studies were also flawed, relying only on questionnaires from family members or observational data.What does this mean for 5G? 5G works at much higher frequencies than 4G, sparking fears that it could cause tumors or cancer and prompting protests in California and across the European Union. In a note to accompany the report, the FDA said it was important to understand the health effects of cell phones in a world moving toward 5G. The technology falls within current FCC exposure guidelines, which say that humans can safely be exposed to radiation between 300 kilohertz and 100 gigahertz. (5G currently spans the range between 25.250 GHz and less than 100 GHz.)More research needed: The FCC has repeatedly insisted that 5G is safe, and this report concurs: “Existing epidemiological evidence indicates that if any risk does exist, it is extremely low compared to both the natural incidence of the disease and known controllable risk factors.” That said, the FDA urged researchers to continue studying the effects of cell phones on humans, particularly those predisposed to tumors.ExpandClimate ChangeFeb 11Global carbon dioxide emissions were flat last year, even as the economy grewThe rise in carbon emissions is leveling off, but there are still no signs of the deep cuts needed to ward off the mounting dangers of climate change….The findings: A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that the world pumped out 33 billion metric tons of CO2 from energy uses, the same amount as in 2018 after two years of increases, even as the economy grew by nearly 3%. An earlier 2019 report from the Global Carbon Project determined that fossil-fuel emissions ticked up about 0.6% last year, though the full range of estimates allowed for a slight dip. The drivers: The IEA said that falling emissions from the electricity sector in advanced economies drove the flattening trend. The US, the EU, and other regions are getting more of their power from solar and wind, and they continue to shift from coal to lower-emitting natural gas. Increased generation from carbon-free nuclear power in other areas, mainly Japan and Korea, also contributed. Major economies also experienced milder weather than during 2018, and economic growth slowed in some emerging countries like India.But … Emissions rose by nearly 400 million tons overall in poorer parts of the world, where energy consumption and, by extension, coal demand is still rising. The report doesn’t include greenhouse-gas emissions from other sources like agriculture, land-use changes, or wildfires, which could otherwise affect the totals.Bigger picture: It’s good news that energy-related emissions didn’t rise, or at least not much, last year. But we’re not even close to cutting carbon pollution at the pace necessary to address climate change. To reliably prevent global temperatures from rising 2 ˚C above preindustrial levels—hot enough to destroy the world’s coral reefs, among other serious dangers—the world needs to slash emissions by 25% this decade and reach zero by 2070, according to the UN’s climate panel. To stay clear of 1.5 ˚C, which carries frightening risks of its own, we’d likely have to more than halve emissions by 2030.ShareLinkImagePhoto by Aniek Wessel on UnsplashExpandBiotechnologyFeb 11Robot-assisted high-precision surgery has passed its first test in humansA trial of a new high-precision surgical robot used to operate on women with breast cancer found the system is safe. …Super-small: It’s the first human trial of a robot for “supermicrosurgery,” a term referring to surgery on vessels that range from 0.3 to 0.8 millimeters. It’s a form of surgery that only a small number of surgeons worldwide can perform.The trial: Researchers from Maastricht University assembled a group of 20 women with lymphedema, a condition related to breast cancer in which excess fluid collects in tissues, causing swelling. They were all scheduled to receive surgery to relieve their symptoms by connecting lymph vessels to nearby veins, thus bypassing the affected area. They were split into two groups: one to receive solely manual surgery, the other to be operated on by surgeons using a robotic system called MUSA, manufactured by a Dutch company called Microsure.How the robot works: The system is activated by foot pedals, and a surgeon controls the high-precision surgical instruments using forceps-like joysticks, mounted to the operating table. This setup basically cancels out small tremors in the surgeons’ hands and scales down their hand movements into more refined and subtle versions. For example, if the surgeon moves one of the joysticks by one centimeter, the robot arm moves a tenth of a millimeter. Results: The group under robotic surgery healed slightly more quickly when researchers checked back on them, but beyond that there were few differences between the two. However, the point of the trial was to prove that the robotic system is safe and feasible, rather than to demonstrate superiority.Why it matters: Robot surgery is nothing new. The Da Vinci system, the best-selling surgery robot on the market, was approved by the FDA two decades ago. It can operate with a degree of precision down to 1 millimeter, but it has not been found to be any better than traditional surgery, and with its $2 million price tag—plus maintenance fees—it is more expensive. Very high-precision surgery is a niche where robotic gadgets could potentially prove their worth, essentially by turning decent surgeons into world-class ones. However, they’ll need to be tested by many more surgeons on a lot more patients for us to be sure.ShareLinkImageMicrosureExpandEmTech Digital 2020Building AI you can trustAt MIT Technology Review’s AI conference, come find ideas, inspiration, and practical guidance on deploying AI in organizations in 2020.01.AI strategy studioAre you confident in your AI strategy? Start with an expert-driven workshop full of real-life case studies on how companies have implemented AI.02.Are you AI ready?Trust is the theme for this year’s event: algorithms we can trust, data we can trust, decisions we can trust. 03.Artificial common sense: what it takes to get AI to actually understandIs artificial general intelligence possible? How far off is it? And what’s standing in the way?04.Solving biasSome practical approaches to dealing with problems of bias in algorithms and data.SponsoredHow artificial intelligence is making health care more humanMIT Technology Review Insights surveyed more than 900 health-care professionals on their use of artificial intelligence today. This new report explores the major findings.Read moreTech PolicyFeb 11China has launched an app so people can check their risk of catching the coronavirusThe news: China has launched a new “close contact detector” app that lets people check their level of risk for catching the coronavirus. It tells users if they have been near someone who has been…How it works: Users sign up to the app by scanning a QR code on their smartphones through popular apps like WeChat, Alipay, or QQ. They register using their phone number, and then enter their name and ID number. They can check the status of up to three other people by entering their ID numbers. If they are found to have been in close contact with someone who has the coronavirus, they are advised to stay at home and contact local health authorities.“Close contact” covers a wide range of people, including those who live together, work together, or share a classroom as well as medical staff, family members, or other caregivers. Passengers on a plane are considered in close contact if they were seated within three rows of someone who has contracted the virus, according to the BBC.Powered by mass surveillance: Such an app would not be possible without the Chinese government’s pervasive, high-tech surveillance of its citizens. A national video camera network, facial recognition software, and artificial intelligence combine to ensure that anonymity is almost impossible, although it’s not clear which elements are being used to power the app. In any case, it’s unlikely to be controversial in China, where attitudes to privacy and freedom differ to the West’s.ShareLinkImageAssociated PressExpandArtificial IntelligenceFeb 11The White House wants to spend hundreds of millions more on AI researchThe news: The White House is pumping hundreds of millions more dollars into artificial-intelligence research. In budget plans announced on Monday, the administration bumped funding for AI research at…Why it matters: Many believe that AI is crucial for national security. Worried that the US risks falling behind China in the race to build next-gen technologies, security experts have pushed the Trump administration to increase its funding. Public spending: For now the money will mostly flow to DARPA and the NSF. But $50 million of the NSF’s budget has been allocated to education and job training, especially in community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions. The White House says it also plans to double funding of AI research for purposes other than defense by 2022.ShareLinkAuthorDouglas HeavenImageDavid Everett Strickler | UnsplashExpandAn algorithm that can spot cause and effect could supercharge medical AIAI still doesn’t have the common sense to understand human languageSign up for The Algorithm — artificial intelligence, demystifiedAlso stay updated on MIT Technology Review initiatives and events?YesNoSponsoredSupercharging with converged infrastructureAs analytics becomes core to decision-making, companies are pushing the boundaries of their IT systems to take advantage of data-driven technologies.Read more