Meet the tropical islands that are now a plastics dumpster

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Discarded cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, and useless plastic water bottles have piled up on the Cocos Islands’ white sand beaches, a balmy tourist destination surrounded by aquamarine waters.

Marine scientist Jennifer Lavers and her research team traveled to this tropical paradise, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, for a couple weeks in 2017. They knew many beaches were littered with plastic trash, but after giving the coast proper scientific scrutiny, discovered the human-debris problem to be substantially worse than anyone knew. Their research, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, found an estimated 414 million pieces of trash — much of which were the broken apart scraps and shards of plastics, deteriorating as they drifted through the oceans, before finally coming to rest on the white Cocos’ sand. 

Although the piles of worthless single-use bottles — which are manufactured with the intention of promptly becoming waste — are unsightly, it’s the smaller plastics that pose the greatest pollution problem. 

“It doesn’t break down,” emphasized Lavers, a research scientist at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. “It breaks up into hundreds, or thousands, or millions of microplastic particles.”

Plastic microparticles.

Plastic microparticles.

This plastic then becomes impossible to clean up. Sea creatures often eat it up, filling their stomachs

Not all plastics, of course, are the problem. They’re necessary in hospitals, airplanes, and make our vehicles lighter and more efficient. It’s the worthless plastic — the single-use plastics — that compose this mounting mess and is piling up on beaches. Lavers wants us to see where much of it goes. “If we can’t see our responsibility in creating the problem, then we’re unwilling to change,” she said. 

In some places — notably in front of resorts or coastal cities — plastics are regularly raked off the beach, often by large beach-combing tractors. But on many beaches the plastic isn’t ever cleaned up, and the true consequences of humanity’s single-use plastic addiction are made conspicuous.

“There’s this image of a desert island that’s pristine,” said Elizabeth Mendenhall, an assistant professor of international government ordinance and marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island. “To realize that there are not places left like that in the world is unfortunate.”

“It’s just a lot plastic,” Mendenhall, who had no role in the study, added after reading the study.

Trash. Trash. Trash.

Trash. Trash. Trash.

Image: Silke Stuckenbrock

The Cocos Islands, of course, aren’t an exception. Islands around the world are the graveyards of plastics. Previously, Lavers documented the uninhabited Henderson Island in the South Pacific Ocean. There, she found 37.7 million pieces of plastic

But unlike Henderson, the Cocos are both inhabited and visited by people. The plastic isn’t some remote afterthought.

In both the Henderson and the Cocos, Lavers and her team set out randomly placed transects, or research zones, on the islands from which to count plastics. “It was extremely time-consuming,” said Lavers. From these areas, Lavers and her team estimated the total number of plastic pollution on the islands.

“They’re inundated with the worst waste,” she said. This plastic waste might get smaller, but it won’t ever go away. 

Ending the plastics scourge

Solving modern civilization’s plastic scourge will require “an unprecedented scale of effort.” But there is a path forward, no matter the (tall) hurdles. 

1. Clearly, society must slash demand for worthless, single-use plastics.

“There are so many things we can do,” said Richard Gross, a chemist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who researches innovative ways to make markedly more sustainable, recyclable plastics.

“Why don’t we carry around bags that we can use over and over again?” asked Gross, who had no role in the study. “Why don’t we carry around some utensils that are reusable and washable? People need to understand how serious the current situation is.”

Shunning single-use plastics doesn’t require being a “hippy” or left-leaning liberal, added Lavers. “I look like your average, everyday person…I don’t sacrifice major things, I just make different decisions.”

“It just so achievable,” Lavers added.

2. The necessity of plastic laws

While individual efforts to avoid single-use plastics are important, no one thinks such an ingrained, pervasive, and global scourge can be solved without committed international rules. For example, experts want rules requiring countries to ensure that plastics don’t travel from landfills and cities into the seas.

“I think that international action is necessary,” said Mendenhall.

“We need to put together an international coalition,” agreed Gross. “If we don’t do that we’re going to be in bad shape. The plastics are fragmenting. They’re going to be the micro and nano particles that we’re not going to retrieve.”

Plastic debris trapped in vegetation on Home Island.

Plastic debris trapped in vegetation on Home Island.

Already, 157 nations have signed onto the United Nations Law of the Sea. This requires coastal countries to prevent, reduce, and control land-based pollution, explained Mendenhall.

But, like the international laws that outlaw killing whales, the Law of the Sea has no teeth — there’s on enforcement of these rules. “Just putting words on a page is not nearly enough,” said Mendenhall.

The problem is worse than we think

We can expect more plastics to fill the seas. 

The UN — already grappling with accelerating climate change and public health crises like AIDS — certainly isn’t pushing for international action on plastic pollution. Because of that, industries will continue to produce billions of plastic bottles each year, many of which will find their way into the oceans. 

“It’s multinational corporations that are producing and disseminating the majority of these plastics,” said Mendenhall, noting that it’s cheap to pump out single-use plastics. They’re not built to last; they’re designed to be trash. 

Both corporations and nations simply don’t have an economic incentive to solve the problem. But they do have the power to make a massive dent in the plastics problem. “Amazon is so powerful,” said Mendenhall. “Getting a company like that to change its practices could have a big impact.”

Trash on South Island.

Trash on South Island.

Today, fish are eating a lot of the plastic that we put in the oceans, and we eat this fish. It’s still unknown how ingesting plastics affects human health, noted Mendenhall. But what is known is that plastic use has quadrupled in the last 40 years, and if these trends continue, by 2050 the global plastics industry will emit prodigious amounts of carbon into the already carbon-saturated skies

Plastic bottles and plastic bags, then, are remarkably unsustainable from a number of perspectives. So far, recycling efforts haven’t made a big enough dent. In 2015, just 9 percent of plastic waste in the U.S. was recycled. 

“It’s horrific. We’re failing at every end here,” said Gross, who’s developing chemical technologies to make plastics that can naturally biodegrade

The reality is grim. But Lavers doesn’t want to promote hopelessness in the face of an industrial barrage of single-use plastics. “I want people to feel inspired,” she said. That means doing something, anything — like picking up trash from the beach before it enters the ocean and breaks up into thousands of microplastic bits.

Take a hard look at that plastic fork, or plastic water bottle, before using it. 

“We lived happily without plastic literally for centuries,” said Lavers.

 

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Watch this self-piloting drone effortlessly dodge a soccer ball being thrown at it in real-time

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Drone Obstacle Avoidance

  • A new video from the University of Zurich shows an autonomous drone ducking and dodging a soccer ball being thrown at it in real time.
  • The video is part of an experiment researching the effects of latency in perception on a robot’s ability to navigate unfamiliar environments.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

Drones have been capable of avoiding stationary obstacles for years, but researchers at the University of Zurich are working to make them even better at dodging moving objects.

As part of an experiment, the researchers recently published a video that shows an autonomous drone ducking and dodging a soccer ball being thrown at it in multiple scenarios. 

The experiment was part of a project by Davide Scaramuzza’s Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich, which recently published a paper that studies the effects that latency in perception can have on how quickly robots are able to navigate through an unfamiliar environment.

To validate their analysis, the researchers equipped a drone with event cameras that would enable it to detect and dodge objects thrown in its path, as outlined in their whitepaper. The project was first reported by IEEE Spectrum, the online magazine for IEEE, a professional organization focused on engineering and applied sciences.

In the video, the drone can be seen dodging a soccer ball thrown from various angles. In one shot, it subtly tilts to the side to avoid the ball in real time, while another experiment later in the video shows it zipping upward so that the ball can pass underneath it. The types of cameras used in the experiment, known as event cameras, are special types of sensors that are very sensitive to motion and can respond to changes in a scene within microseconds, as IEEE Spectrum reports.

With drones now being used for everything from agriculture to package delivery, the ability to detect and avoid moving obstacles in real time is sure to be crucial. Check out the video below.  

 

SEE ALSO: 3 things we learned from Facebook’s AI chief about the future of artificial intelligence

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‘That may well be the future’: Companies have poured $8.5 billion into creating a new version of a cutting-edge, highly personalized cancer treatment

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CAR T t cell blood samples

  • In the next generation of cancer treatments, patients could receive cells from strangers that have been engineered to better fight the disease. 
  • An analysis done by Informa Pharma Intelligence for Business Insider shows that about $8.5 billion has been poured into licensing deals for this technology in recent years.
  • Nearly 30 drugs are being developed using this approach, according to the analysis.
  • Companies hope this "allogeneic CAR T" therapeutic approach could overcome limitations of existing cancer treatments, reaching more types of cancer in an easier, more convenient way.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Wendy Fullem, a 54-year-old administrator at a New Jersey college, hadn’t been feeling well for some time when, in fall 2016, she was diagnosed with leukemia. 

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that comes in many forms. There were about 60,000 new cases in the US last year, and one treatment option is a bone marrow transplant, a decades-old scientific procedure that has potential to treat upwards of 70 different diseases, including many types of cancer.

Doctors quickly shuttled Fullem into an intense, weeks-long process of chemotherapy, followed by the transplant.

Doctors had warned Fullem that the post-transplant process would be "like hell," and they were right, she said. She had "almost every side effect in the book," including one potentially deadly one that can accompany these transplants. But Fullem eventually made a full recovery. 

"It blows my mind," Fullem told Business Insider. "I am grateful for my life. When people say it’s nice to see you, I say, ‘It’s nice to be seen.’"

Today, companies are working to improve on the process Fullem went through, in hopes of supercharging this science and making what is currently a highly individualized treatment more widely available. 

The new approach is called allogeneic CAR-T and is a variant of a cutting-edge treatment that some patients with cancer are today receiving. Called CAR-T cell therapy, the current approach consists of collecting a patient’s blood, reengineering their disease-fighting T-cells to better kill cancer tumors, and then putting the cells back in the body.

You can think of the new experimental approach, allogeneic CAR-T, as a next-generation version. Instead of using a patient’s own cells, the experimental tech uses immune cells from a healthy donor to treat diseases like cancer. It’s named "allogeneic" after the cells it employs, which don’t come from the patient’s body. 

Roughly 30 individual allogeneic CAR-Ts are being developed today by biopharma companies for many different types of cancer, according to an analysis done for Business Insider by Informa Pharma Intelligence

Just a quarter, though, are far enough along to be tested in humans, the analysis shows, with drugmakers like Allogene Therapeutics and Cellectis SA working on the most programs. All of the about 30 allogeneic CAR-Ts are experimental, meaning the tech isn’t currently approved for use or to be sold. 

drugmakers betting new tech treat cancer allogeneic research

And at least $8.5 billion has been poured into licensing deals for this tech since 2014, according to the Informa Pharma Intelligence analysis. 

"We’re waiting to see if that approach goes prime time," Jay Feinberg, the founder and CEO of the Gift of Life Marrow Registry told Business Insider.

companies poured 8.5 billion licensing cancer deals allogenic car t allo car t

New tech would be more convenient for patients, but faces technical challenges

Allogeneic CAR-T therapies "may well be the future," Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, CEO of the nonprofit Cancer Research Institute, told Business Insider.

That’s because they should be easier and faster to make and deliver to patients, at least in theory.

Today’s CAR-T cell therapies take about three weeks to collect from the patient, engineer, and then infuse back into the patient. CAR-T products already approved and sold today are autologous, meaning they use the patient’s own cells. In the US they include Gilead Sciences’ Yescarta and Novartis’ Kymriah.

The donor cells employed by allogeneic CAR-T, by contrast, can be held on standby, ready for patients in a matter of mere days. 

But to get there, drugmakers must first confront major technical challenges. Allogeneic CAR-T hinges on using the immune system against cancer cells, but it also runs the risk of triggering the immune system in potentially deadly ways. 

"Your body naturally, because you have an immune system, is going to try to reject anything you put into it," said Mizuho analyst Salim Syed. "This is why we don’t have [allogeneic CAR-T therapies] right now."

Companies like Atara Biotherapeutics are trying to get around that by better matching immune cells with a patient’s cells, to avoid an attack. Another approach, employed by companies like Allogene, involves reengineering cells and also knocking out receptors on the surface of a T-cell that play a key role in these rejections, Syed said.

Others are turning to a different type of "natural killer" immune cell, in hopes of avoiding this issue entirely.  

Crucially, the experimental tech still has to be proven out. But big pharma companies are all starting to talk about it, especially if they sell or are developing other similar cell therapies, Syed said.

That list includes Gilead, Novartis, and Celgene, which is in the process of being bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb

"Is it a threat to the autologous version? It can be. We don’t know yet," Mizuho’s Syed said. "Anyone who has an autologous CAR-T needs to think about allo."

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Researchers Explain The Real Reason People Love Beer So Much And It Has Nothing To Do With Taste

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is breaking the seal a myth

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If when stepping inside your neighborhood coffee shop this morning you were forced to throw elbows and engage in otherwise barbaric behavior just to order a beverage, welcome to America pal.

The population is so severely addicted to sucking down lattes, americanos, espressos, and cappuccinos all day, every day, that our beards are actually starting to get longer just thinking about it.

The same ravenous enthusiasm is shared when it comes to beer.

All one has to do is check in at any restaurant or bar morning, noon or night and sure as shit there will be someone (probably one of us) sitting there pouring a cold one down the old gullet. “Ahh, now that tastes good,” they might say, before ordering another, and another and then one more for the road.

But most folks might be surprised to learn that our affinity for the popular beverages that have become so much a part of our daily lives has less to do with how much we enjoy their flavor and more about our desperate need for the overall effect.

As bad as it might sound, a new study finds that we’re all just a bunch of socially accepted junkies that have convinced ourselves that we actually get something from the tang of the concoctions we consume regularly. When, in reality, all we really want out of our high-priced refreshments is all of the feel-goods.

A team of researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago say our taste buds have a way of playing a trick on us. While the thought of grabbing a coffee or a beer might sound like the best idea since sliced bread, that signal is really just the mind’s way of telling us that it is time to step into another frame of emotion – that we need to feed that head change.

Come to find out, humans are not at all driven by the flavor of these favorite libations, not as long as their chemical components tweak those receptors in our brains that inspire motivation and good times. We will mostly drink anything if it comes with the promise of a buzz, the study finds.

“People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That’s why they drink it. It’s not the taste,” says lead study author and assistant professor of preventative medicine Marilyn Cornelis.

The study, which was published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, suggests that our DNA plays a role in the kinds of beverages that we, as individuals, prefer. Some people possess genetic variants that make them vibe on beverages with higher sugar content, while others like drinks that are bitter, like coffee and beer.

But “the genetics underlying our preferences are related to the psychoactive components,” they have nothing to do with our taste buds,” Cornelis explained.

This means all of those die-hard coffee drinkers out there, presumably, the ones you were forced to protect yourself against earlier this morning, might like to believe all of those Café Lattes are just harmless treats. But that’s just the monkey doing all of the talking.

People who consume coffee all day long simply metabolize caffeine quicker than those who use it less frequently, so they must knock back copious amounts of the stuff to experience those amped up feelings.

Health experts say it is no wonder that people pack the coffeehouses.

“It makes sense that people like coffee for the edge and increased alertness it gives them,” said Liz Weinandy, a dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, according to Healthline. “In sports, it can increase physical performance, and for most people, it can increase cognitive performance.”

We’re not just picking on coffee drinkers here. Beer lovers go through this madness as well. It doesn’t seem to matter whether one prefers domestic lagers or specialty variations brewed from the piss streams of the wildebeests of Kenya, the ultimate goal is all the same – getting that buzz on.

So the next time some hipster at the bar starts busting your balls for drinking a Coors Light instead of some fancy craft brew made out of the tears of unicorns or some shit, politely tell them to go fuck themselves.

Let them know that science has spoken, goddamnit! No longer will we be discriminated against and subjected to public tongue lashings from the mouths of beer snobs because of our personal preference for the drink.

Live and let live, motherdrunkards. We’re all just out here trying to feel it!

[via Healthline]

***

Mike Adams is a freelance writer for High Times, Cannabis Now, and Forbes. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

More From Mike:

 

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Passenger Kicked Off Southwest Airlines Flight For Making A Joke About Vokda After Plane Was Delayed For Hours

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Traveler who joked about free vodka gets booted from Southwest flight to Austin

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Some say that people can’t take a joke these days and those who say that are proved correct in this extreme story of someone not being able to take a joke. A passenger was thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight for… a joke about vodka. Apparently, joking about vodka is no joking matter.

A man was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight from Sacramento, California, to Austin, Texas on Wednesday. His crime you ask? He made a joke about free vodka. From the one witnesses of the incident, the man was not being disrespectful but was just attempting to inject some levity into an extremely frustrating situation.

Southwest Airlines Flight 478 out of Sacramento was delayed for hours and passengers were getting restless. An unnamed passenger apparently pitched an idea to make everyone a little bit happier — free vodka. This is a man of the people.

Peter Uzelac and his wife were on that fateful flight with the delays and actually sat next to the man who was removed from the plane. “We returned to the gate to wait for maintenance and to refuel, and then waited for clearance from air traffic control —in all, we were delayed by three to four hours,” the 70-year-old Uzelac said.

RELATED: Airline Threatened To Kick Off 21-Year-Old Woman From Flight For ‘Inappropriate’ Outfit (It Wasn’t)

When a young flight attendant was serving water to the weary passengers, the anonymous man joked, “Wow, I hope that’s vodka because we’ve been sitting here for so long.” Not exactly on the level of a George Carlin joke, but still a fun little comment to break up the tension.

The sky waitress got annoyed by the innocuous comment and snidely replied, “Yeah, it’s vodka.” She then moved onto the next row of passengers. The man then joked, “Hey, this isn’t vodka.”

That’s when things escalated because there is no joking about free vodka on Southwest Airlines. “She came by and was like, ‘I don’t think that and I didn’t like your joke,’” Uzelac said. “Then my wife tried to butt in there and say, ‘Look it, we’ve been on this plane for hours.’ And she says, ‘Well, so have I, so get used to it.’” Where is a U.S. Federal Air Marshal agent when you need one during an emergency, right? I mean, dispatching a joke about free vodka on a plane? This is 2019 and we can’t have any of that.

“We’re all tired here. And that’s no way to speak to a passenger,” Mrs. Uzelac said. Peter said he tried to record the tense situation but his phone wasn’t working. Maybe the stewardess is a tequila fan and was offended that he asked for vodka?

RELATED: Airplane Nosedived Twice, Flipped Over Drink Cart And Injured 5 After Terrifying Turbulence On Delta Flight

The flight attendant walked to the front of the plane to use the phone. The airplane allegedly then taxied back to the terminal and parked. Minutes later, three deputies from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department walked onboard the airplane. Uzelac said that the officers escorted the man off the plane as the man threatened to sue the airline company as he was kicked off.

“I stood up and told the officer that the flight attendant started all the trouble and other people shouted that the man did nothing wrong,” Uzelac said. The stewardess sounds like she could use a drink.

Uzelac said the man was completely behaved and “if anyone was unruly, it was me.” Uzelac filed a formal complaint against the airline. “I feel bad for the guy — he should sue the airline,” he said. “I have been flying for decades, and I’ve never ever seen anything like this.”

A Southwest Airlines spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle: “We regret any less-than-positive experience a customer has onboard our aircraft. We welcome over 100 million customers each year, and we aim to maintain the comfort of all while delivering Southwest hospitality. We will share this report with our Customer Relations Team.”

After the lawsuit, Southwest will owe this gentleman more than a vodka tonic. Coincidentally, if they had just handed out free vodka, all of this drama could have been completely avoided.

RELATED: Couple Who Missed Cruise Ship With Their Belongings And Were Stranded On Island Tell ‘Nightmare’ Honeymoon Story

[DallasNews]

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Xnor’s AI2GO serves up custom edge AI models with a few clicks

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AI would be useful for tons of everyday tasks for small businesses and other operations — if people just knew how to build and deploy their own machine learning agent. Unfortunately, few do. Edge-based AI startup Xnor.ai aims to let non-experts put state of the art AI to work as easily as they might update their website.

The company just kicked off a new platform called AI2GO that basically collects all the most common applications and hardware platforms for edge-based AI in one place and lets you download them with little or no expertise.

“Developing AI is just hard,” founder and CEO Ali Farhadi told TechCrunch. “There’s not a lot of people who can do it. And deploying to an edge device is even harder — you have to worry about power consumption, memory limits, and all that. So now you have to have both AI and systems experts.”

Good luck snagging those if you’re a small business owner who just thinks it’d be cool to know how many people are in their restaurant at any given time. Even relatively accessible, widely available frameworks like TensorFlow on which to train and deploy AI are impractical for anyone without domain expertise. AI2GO is aimed directly at these people, who are tech-savvy but can’t provide ten thousand pictures of cars or people to build a custom computer vision model for their purposes.

“Generic platforms let you train your own models, but in lots of businesses and applications you don’t need to — ther’s already a solution out there. Say you’re a parking lot owner, you want to monitor cars going in and out or something,” Ali proposed. “With AI2GO you just click the model, like car recognition, then select your hardware [e.g. the security camera chipset or Raspberry Pi 0]. Then you can turn some dials up and down and an Xnor bundle is created to respect your constraints.”

That bundle is a fully functioning edge-based AI system composed of the model or models you’ve selected, customized to meet power or memory restrictions. You install it according to the instructions (you’ll need some idea of how to build and deploy software here — this isn’t for babies) and in a few minutes you should have a working car-detection model running in real time on the camera you’ve already got. The process looks like this:

Farhadi compared it to something like Stripe. If you’re starting a shop online, you don’t want to build a payment processor from scratch, yet you do need something tuned to your needs. The company already creates custom high-performance edge AI models for enterprise customers, but found that small and medium-sized businesses were not only interested in a similar product, but often had similar tasks.

There are a bunch of pre-trained models, running the gamut from cat detectors to gesture identification. Here’s a sampling of what’s available:

  • Person detector – provides bounding boxes for any person on camera
  • Person segmenter – detects and separates a person’s body from the background
  • Facial expression classifier – get readings for anger, fear, happiness, and so on
  • Sports object detector – identify and bound things like balls, tennis rackets, skis, etc
  • Action classifier – spot common human actions like playing an instrument, pushing something, riding a bike, climbing, running
  • Kitchen object and food classifiers: label common food items (apples, condiments) and kitchen items (spoons, mugs)
  • Car cabin item detector: bound keys, people, phones, and other stuff you might find (or leave) in the car
  • Car model classifier: identify common makes and models of cars

There are lots more, and multiples of one type for different purposes; a person detector for a car’s camera will naturally be different from the one used for smart home or security purposes.

You can’t mix and match items yet — that’s likely to come in an upcoming version, alongside new hardware platforms and the ability to bring your own data.

The license model is fairly straightforward: The model you download is free if you’re just experimenting or using it for personal purposes, but once you deploy it commercially you have to apply for a license. There’s also an SDK with code samples and demos if you want to check it out without building your own.

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A teen in Malaysia reportedly killed herself after posting a poll that asked her Instagram followers to help her choose life or death (FB)

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FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018.  REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

  • A 16-year-old Malaysian girl reportedly died by suicide after sharing an Instagram poll asking her followers to help her "choose D/L," according to a report from the Guardian
  • As many as 69% of her followers voted for "D," meaning death, according to local police in Malaysia’s Padawan district.
  • Local officials have questioned whether the people who voted in the poll could be culpable in her death. Abetting the suicide of a minor is a crime in Malaysia and those found guilty can face the death penalty or up to 20 years in prison.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A 16-year-old Instagram user in Malaysia reportedly died by suicide after sharing an Instagram poll asking her followers to help her choose life or death, according to a report from the Guardian

According to local police in Mayalsia’s Padawan district, more than 69% of the girl’s followers voted for her to kill herself. The teen reportedly posted the poll to Instagram at about 3 p.m. on May 13 with a message reading, "Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L."

About five hours later, she was found dead, MalayMail reports.

Local officials have questioned whether the people who voted in the poll could be culpable in her death. Abetting the suicide of a minor is a crime in Malaysia and those found guilty can face the death penalty or up to 20 years in prison.

Ramkarpal Singh, a lawyer and member of Malaysia’s parliament, requested that authorities investigate the circumstances leading to the teen’s death.

"Would the girl still be alive today if the majority of netizens on her Instagram account discouraged her from taking her own life?" he said in a statement to Reuters. "Would she have heeded the advice of netizens to seek professional help had they done so?"

Ching Yee Wong, head of communications for Instagram APAC, provided the following statement to Business Insider in response to the 16-year-old’s death:

 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with this young woman’s family. We have a deep responsibility to make sure people using Instagram feel safe and supported. As part of our own efforts, we urge everyone to use our reporting tools and to contact emergency services if they see any behavior that puts people’s safety at risk." 

 

Instagram adopted new safety measures in February to better protect young users on the platform. Graphic images of self-harm are systematically removed, and non-graphic self-ham content is now subject to a sensitivity screen that blurs the post before it is shown.

Read more: Instagram is going to ban all graphic images of self-harm after it was blamed for the suicide of a British teenager

Instagram users found to be posting self-harm or suicide-related content are referred to a local support group or suicide hotline. For Malaysia, the social media platform refers users to Befrienders KL. Instagram provides a full list of global suicide prevention partners on its website.

Many of Instagram’s policy changes were made in response to the suicide death of Molly Russell, a British 14-year-old who died in 2017. In the months following Russell’s suicide, her family found that she had been following multiple Instagram accounts depicting images of suicide and self-harm. The discovery led her father, Ian, to claim that Instagram "helped kill my daughter."

While social media can offer teens a sense of community and personal voice, it can also impact their mental well-being. Parents are encouraged to monitor their children’s use of social media, and all social media users should feel motivated to report potentially harmful and violent posts they find, regardless of what platform they use.

SEE ALSO: Facebook is dialling up punishments for users who abuse live video after the Christchurch massacre

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Microsoft open-sources a crucial algorithm behind its Bing Search services

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Microsoft today announced that it has open-sourced a key piece of what makes its Bing search services able to quickly return search results to its users. By making this technology open, the company hopes that developers will be able to build similar experiences for their users in other domains where users search through vast data troves, including in retail, though in this age of abundant data, chances are developers will find plenty of other enterprise and consumer use cases, too.

The piece of software the company open-sourced today is a library Microsoft developed to make better use of all the data it collected and AI models it built for Bing .

“Only a few years ago, web search was simple. Users typed a few words and waded through pages of results,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “Today, those same users may instead snap a picture on a phone and drop it into a search box or use an intelligent assistant to ask a question without physically touching a device at all. They may also type a question and expect an actual reply, not a list of pages with likely answers.”

With the Space Partition Tree and Graph (SPTAG) algorithm that is at the core of the open-sourced Python library, Microsoft is able to search through billions of pieces of information in milliseconds.

Vector search itself isn’t a new idea, of course. What Microsoft has done, though, is apply this concept to working with deep learning models. First, the team takes a pre-trained model and encodes that data into vectors, where every vector represents a word or pixel. Using the new SPTAG library, it then generates a vector index. As queries come in, the deep learning model translates that text or image into a vector and the library finds the most related vectors in that index.

“With Bing search, the vectorizing effort has extended to over 150 billion pieces of data indexed by the search engine to bring improvement over traditional keyword matching,” Microsoft says. “These include single words, characters, web page snippets, full queries and other media. Once a user searches, Bing can scan the indexed vectors and deliver the best match.”

The library is now available under the MIT license and provides all of the tools to build and search these distributed vector indexes. You can find more details about how to get started with using this library — as well as application samples — here.

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