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Drones: A New Weapon in the Fight Against Malaria in Tanzania

Drones are being used as a new weapon in the fight against Malaria on the island of Zanzibar. In the village of Cheju in particular, drones are spraying a silicone-based liquid on large stretches of stagnant water in rice paddies where malaria-carrying mosquitoes lay their eggs. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports on how the country is using the new method to combat the disease




Clamor as Greta Thunberg Joins Climate Activists in Madrid

Climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Madrid Friday to join thousands of other young people in a march to demand world leaders take real action against climate change.
                   
After making it through a swarm of media cameras and microphones at the Spanish capital’s northern train station, the Swedish teen posted an ironic tweet saying that she had “successfully managed to sneak into Madrid.”
                   
“I don’t think anyone saw me,” she added. “Anyway it’s great to be in Spain!”
                   
Madrid is hosting two-week, United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at streamlining the rules on global carbon markets and agreeing on how poor countries should be compensated for destruction largely caused by emissions from rich nations.
                   
The talks came as scientific evidence mounts about disasters that could ensue from further global warming, including a study commissioned by 14 seafaring nations due to be published Friday predicting that unchecked climate change could devastate fishery industries and coral reef tourism.
                   
Thunberg paid a surprise visit to the venue of the talks and joined a group of some 40 teens staging a sit-in there to demand real action against climate change.
                   
Holding hands, the teens sang a version of John Lennon’s “Power To the People” and displayed banners with the logo of Fridays for Future, the global climate movement inspired by Thunberg.
                   
Thunberg did not appear unsettled by the commotion surrounding her presence.
                   
“It’s absurd. I laugh at it. I do not understand why it has become like this,” the 16-year-old was quoted as saying by Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, whose reporter rode with them in an electric car in Madrid.
                   
“I don’t like being at the center of the focus all the time, but this is a good thing,” she told Aftonbladet. “As soon as the media writes about me, they also have to write about the climate crisis. If this is a way to write about the climate crisis, then I guess it is good.”
                   
While Thunberg seemed bemused by the attention, her father Svante was startled, saying it was total madness.''
                   
“I have never seen anything like this,” he told Aftonbladet.
                   
The study commissioned by seafaring nations says climate change  could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in losses by 2050, adding that limiting global warming would lessen the economic impact for coastal countries, but that they also need to adapt to ocean changes.
                   
The presence in Madrid of Thunberg is expected to shift the attention to demands for greater action by non-governmental organizations and a whole new generation of environment-minded activists.
                   
Past appearances have won her plaudits from some leaders and criticism from others who've taken offense at the angry tone of her speeches.
                   
An advocate for carbon-free transportation, Thunberg traveled by train overnight from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where she arrived earlier this week after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from the United States by catamaran.
                   
That became necessary after a sudden change of venue for the COP25 summit following a wave of anti-government protests that hit Chile, the original host.
                   
Separately Friday, an alliance of American states, cities, academic institutions and companies opened its own venue at the U.N. climate talks, aiming to show that despite the federal administration's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, many Americans remain committed to the treaty's goal of curbing global warming.
                   
Elan Strait, who manages the “We Are Still In” initiative for the environmental conservationist World Wildlife Fund, said the movement is
a short-term band-aid not only to get those carbon dioxide emissions down but also to encourage policymakers to lay the ground for further achievements.”
                   
“And that, regardless of the color of the government that is in power,” Strait said.
                  
Over 3,800 organizations and corporations representing 70% of U.S. economic output have joined the coalition, organizers claim, amounting to roughly half of the country’s emissions.
                   
The U.S. Climate Action Center is hosting Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; Pat Brown, the chief executive of non-meat burger company Impossible Foods; Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh; and others.
                   
The venue is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable organization founded by billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now seeking the Democratic nomination to run in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.




Uber Reports More Than 3,000 Sexual Assaults in US in 2018

Uber, as part of a long-anticipated safety report, revealed that more than 3,000 sexual assaults were reported during its U.S. rides in 2018.That figure includes 235 rapes across the company’s 1.3 billion rides last year. The ride-hailing company noted that drivers and riders were both attacked and that some assaults occurred between riders.The Thursday report, which the company hailed as the first of its kind, provides a rare look into the traffic deaths, homicides and reported sexual assaults that took place during billions of rides arranged in the U.S. using Uber’s service. It is part of the company’s effort to be more transparent after years of criticism over its safety record.In 2017, the company counted 2,936 reported sexual assaults, including 229 rapes, during 1 billion U.S. trips. Uber bases its numbers on reports from riders and drivers, meaning the actual numbers could be much higher. Sexual assaults commonly go unreported.“I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted about the report. “Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right.”Uber, Lyft criticizedUber’s share price dropped more than 1% in after-hours trading.Uber and competitor Lyft have faced harsh criticism for not doing enough to protect the safety of their riders and drivers. Dozens of women are suing Lyft, claiming the company should have done more to protect them from driver assaults.London refused to renew Uber’s license to operate in the city in November in light of a number of company safety issues, including concerns about impostor drivers. Uber said it will appeal the decision.The companies have both formed partnerships with sexual assault prevention networks and other safety groups, and have touted their background check policies for drivers. But many say they haven’t gone far enough to protect passengers and drivers, who are contract workers for the companies.“Keeping this information in the dark doesn’t make anyone safer,” Uber said in a statement announcing the report. It plans to release its safety report every two years going forward.Lyft yet to release reportLyft said last year it would also release a safety report. A company spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that it “remained committed” to releasing a report, but did not say when it would be released.Mike Bomberger, a lawyer representing more than 100 victims of sexual assault in lawsuits against Uber and Lyft, applauded Uber for releasing the numbers.“One of the problems with both of these companies is that they have hidden and have tried to conceal the number of sexual assaults that occur in their vehicles,” he said.The report stated that Uber rides were involved in 97 reported crashes in 2017 and 2018, resulting in 107 deaths. The company said the figure represents about half of the national rate for fatal crashes.The company also said Uber rides were involved in nine homicides during 2018, and 10 during 2017. Uber noted that the vast majority — 99.9% — of its rides had no reported safety issues.




When Did You Last See an African Video Game Hero? 

What’s wrong with being a plucky hero running from demon monkeys or a glamorous model in dress up games? Players too often get sucked into worlds full of violence and unhealthy body images, according to Jay Shapiro, co-founder of Kenya-based Usiku Games.The Canadian entrepreneur hopes to shake up the games market in Kenya — and Africa — by offering not only the “adrenaline rush” of competing to win, but also subtle messaging on relatable themes like conservation, climate change and culture.“When was the last time you saw an African hero in a video game?” Shapiro asked ahead of the Dec. 14 official opening of Usiku Games offices and the Nairobi Game Development Center, a high-tech co-working space also created by Shapiro.“We looked at how can we make games that are unlike what’s out there at the moment. That are made in Africa, for Africa, with African heroes in African environments … so that when somebody plays it, they see themselves reflected in the game.””Turkana,” a video game by Usiku Games, allows players to direct water from Kawalasee River to a farm.10 games so farUsiku Games has so far developed 10 brain-teasing and trivia games for Africa’s mobile phone users aimed at fostering a #GamingForGood culture, with scenarios where the player has to save lions from poachers or solve traffic congestion.The game “Turkana” — named after Kenya’s arid northwestern county — allows players to direct water from the Kawalasee River to a farm while in “Jam Noma” they get to drive a local matatu minibus and navigate congestion to complete the journey.The company, which has 16 staff, also employs youths from Nairobi’s Kibera, a sprawling informal settlement housing more than 200,000 people, to provide the voices and produce the rap music for the games in English, Swahili and local slang, Sheng.”Jam Noma,” a video game from Usiku Games allows players to drive a local matatu minibus and navigate congestion.Positive messagesOther games the company is developing including “Seedballs” a reforestation game where the player has to drop seeds at targets on the ground, and “BeYOUtiful,” which is a dress up game for girls with African characters.“These dress up games for preteen girls are very popular, but everyone in them has a white woman in her 20s with ‘Barbiesque’ curves that are impossible to attain,” said Shapiro.“If I’m a little Kenyan girl playing this game, the game is subliminally telling me that the standard for beauty is this blonde, white, skinny woman. We think that’s wrong.”The games are currently free but Usiku Games plans to charge users about 10 shillings ($0.10) to play a game in future, with the winner earning coins, some of which can be converted to cash in a mobile savings account to pay school or medical fees.“It’s great Usiku Games is focusing on socially responsible bite-sized games,” said Gautam Shah, founder of Internet of Elephants, which makes conservation games, adding that most popular games focus on subject matter that is far from Africa.“I think their success will rely on how relatable these games are to local users.”




Emotion-sensing Robot Heads to Space Station to Help Astronauts

An intelligent robot equipped with emotion-sensing voice detectors was headed to the International Space Station after launching from Florida on Thursday, becoming the latest artificial intelligence-powered astronaut workmate in orbit.The Crew Interactive Mobile Companion 2, or CIMON 2, is a spherical droid with microphones, cameras and a slew of software to enable emotion recognition.The droid was among 5,700 pounds (2,585 kg) of supplies and experiments aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, whose midday launch had been delayed from Wednesday because of high winds.WATCH: ‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass
‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass video player.
Embed” />Copy LinkCreate a companion“The overall goal is to really create a true companion. The relationship between an astronaut and CIMON is really important,” Matthias Biniok, the lead architect for CIMON 2, told Reuters. “It’s trying to understand if the astronaut is sad, is he angry, joyful and so on.”Based on algorithms built by information technology giant IBM Corp and data from CIMON 1, a nearly identical prototype that launched in 2018, CIMON 2 will be more sociable with crew members. It will test technologies that could prove crucial for future crewed missions in deep space, where long-term isolation and communication lags to Earth pose risks to astronauts’ mental health.While designed to help astronauts conduct scientific experiments, the English-speaking robot is also being trained to help mitigate groupthink — a behavioral phenomenon in which isolated groups of humans can be driven to make irrational decisions.“Group-thinking is really dangerous,” Biniok said. In times of conflict or disagreement among astronauts, one of CIMON’s most important purposes would be to serve as “an objective outsider that you can talk to if you’re alone, or could actually help let the group collaborate again,” he said.Inspired by Professor Simon, HALEngineers have said CIMON’s concept was inspired by a 1940s science fiction comic series set in space, where a sentient, brain-shaped robot named Professor Simon mentors an astronaut named Captain Future. CIMON 2 also parallels HAL, the sentient computer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” film.SpaceX is the first private company to fly to the space station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations. Along with CIMON 2, the cargo aboard its 19th resupply mission to the orbital research lab included 40 live mice that will show scientists how muscles change in the microgravity of space.




‘Cranky Uncle’ Game Offers a Vaccination Against Climate Disinformation

When it comes to climate change, deciding what facts you can trust and what’s fake news can be a challenge, particularly in an era of sophisticated misinformation campaigns and complex scientific data.But an ally is at hand: ‘Cranky Uncle,’ a gruff cartoon character and denier of climate change facts who, in a new game, helps you master the art of creating global warming disinformation — and makes you better at identifying it in the real world.From the use of fake experts to cherry-picking data, “you learn the techniques and then you’re able to spot them yourself,” said John Cook, an assistant professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and one of the creators of the online game.In one scenario, for instance, Cranky Uncle is falling, unconcerned, from a tall building while a white-coat-clad scientist leans out a window, warning he’ll hit the ground in 12 to 15 seconds.”Get back to me when you have more certainty!” Cranky Uncle demands.Such “impossible expectations” for predictions are one way of trying to undermine scientific data, the game notes, alongside techniques such as logical fallacies.In one of those, Cranky Uncle insists that a boat he’s in can’t be sinking — despite the stern being underwater — because the prow, where he’s standing, is still rising out of the water as the vessel, Titanic-style, becomes vertical.’Inoculate’ game playersThe idea, Cook said, is essentially to “inoculate” users against climate change disinformation and misinformation they might encounter by purposely exposing them to a small dose of it.”It basically stops misinformation from spreading, from people passing it on,” said Cook, a climate change communications expert born in Australia and now working in the United States.Both countries, he said, are widely seen as strongholds of climate denialism — alongside Canada and the United Kingdom — despite evidence of worsening droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.The idea for the game — currently still a prototype — comes from work by Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, who in 2018 created Bad News, a game designed to help players identify fake news by learning how to create it.Game played in 15 languagesThat online game, so far played by about a million people in 15 languages, “is non-political and non-judgmental. It gives people an environment to learn about these techniques regardless of what your prior views are,” van der Linden said.Now ‘Cranky Uncle’ “is using the same techniques that worked for us. It’s kind of silly and people can relate to it.”Cook, who has a background in drawing cartoons, said one of the appeals of Cranky Uncle is that most people have run into a character like him.That’s particularly true in the United States where just under 10% of the people say they are sure climate change is not happening and actively oppose action to reduce emissions, according to research published by Yale University.”Just about everybody says, ‘I’ve got an uncle just like this.’ I think it’s almost a universal human condition,” Cook said.Crowdfunding leads to prototypeHe hopes to raise $15,000, in part through crowdfunding, to turn the prototype — tested in university classes on the U.S. East Coast — into a phone app and launch it mid-2020.He said initial reactions from students have been largely positive, with many saying they had fun, and felt they could now better see through attempts to mislead them — and not just about climate change.”We found that playing this game about climate disinformation inoculated them against any kind of misinformation,” he said.




‘Mighty Mice’ Possible Key to Maintaining Muscle Mass

Scientists launched genetically modified mice into space December 5 as part of a study to find ways to help maintain the health of astronauts in space They have twice the muscle mass of their “ordinary” counterparts. As VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports, the research could provide insight into muscular degeneration in older populations and those with muscle-wasting conditions. 




Tiny Analyzer Promises Boost for Coffee Growers, Their Soil

A piece of paper no bigger than a business card could enrich struggling coffee farmers and their soil, a growing challenge as temperatures rise and prices fluctuate. 
 
Enveritas, a U.S. nonprofit, signed an agreement with International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) on Thursday to pilot the AgroPad, which analyzes soil samples remotely and quickly. 
 
Powered by artificial intelligence, the AgroPad can perform a chemical analysis in 10 seconds, reading nitrate or chloride levels from a drop of water or small soil sample, said IBM. 
 
Enveritas plans to provide the devices for free to farmers in coffee-growing regions of Latin America and Africa, and IBM said it aims to make them affordable for everyone. Its target production cost: less than 25 cents. 
 
The nonprofit, which works with 100,000 farms, mills and estates in Latin America and Africa, did not say how many would be in the pilot but, if successful, “the plan is to scale it out,” CEO David Browning told Reuters. 
 
Coffee farmers have been struggling with a slump in global prices while climate change is threatening vast swaths of land in Latin America, Asia and Africa. 
 
Enveritas, which verifies the sustainability of coffee farmers, said most of its growers live on less than $2 a day. 
 
Chemical analysis of soil is vital to improve yields but is complicated, expensive and time-consuming because it requires laboratory equipment, said Mathias Steiner from IBM Research-Brazil. 
 
AgroPad costs less and could reduce the use of fertilizers, which would save money and help the environment, said Steiner, one of its inventors. 
 
Last week, engineers from Britain’s Brunel University also unveiled an AI device for farming: small red pods, costing £92 ($118) each, that could be planted into the soil. The pods collect data hourly and would show farmers what the soil needs.