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Australia's Bushfires Have Emitted 250m Tonnes of CO2, Almost Half of Country's Annual Emissions
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

Bushfires in New South Wales and Queensland have emitted a massive pulse of CO2 into the atmosphere since August that is equivalent to almost half of Australia's annual greenhouse gas emissions, Guardian Australia can reveal. From a report: Analysis by Nasa shows the NSW fires have emitted about 195m tonnes of CO2 since 1 August, with Queensland's fires adding a further 55m tonnes over the same period. In 2018, Australia's entire greenhouse gas footprint was 532m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Experts say the pulse of CO2 from this season's bushfires is significant, because even under normal conditions it could take decades for forest regrowth to reabsorb the emissions. But scientists have expressed doubt that forests already under drought stress would be able to reabsorb all the emissions back into soils and branches, and said the natural carbon "sinks" of forests could be compromised.

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Cigna Uses AI To Check If Patients Are Taking Their Medications
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Cigna plans to expand a system that uses artificial intelligence to identify gaps in treatment of chronic diseases, such as patients skipping their medications, and deliver personalized recommendations for specific patients. The product, called Health Connect 360, integrates data from a combination of sources and analytical tools, some developed at Cigna and others brought in as part of its $54 billion acquisition of pharmacy-benefit manager Express Scripts Holding Co., completed late last year. Express Scripts, which began developing the service two years ago, rolled out portions of it to some customers this year. Health Connect 360 was developed for treatment of chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, as well as for pain management. The system aggregates medical, pharmacy, lab and biometric data -- such as information from glucometers, which measure blood-sugar levels -- into a dashboard that is accessible through an online interface. The dashboard will be visible to the service's customers and to Express Scripts case managers and nurses with access rights. The system can also feed information to electronic-medical record systems for physicians. Cigna is already using AI to predict whether patients might abuse or overdose on prescription opioids. Another Cigna tool, One Guide, provides personalized help to health-insurance holders on their benefit plans, appointments and health coaching. The new Health Connect 360 system combines algorithms that analyze data such as clinical and pharmacy information with predictive models to generate recommendations and ways to best engage a patient, whether through an app or in person.

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New Zealand Orders 1,300 Square Feet of Skin From US To Help Burned Volcano Victims
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

schwit1 shares a report from People: Doctors in New Zealand are currently awaiting nearly 1,300 square feet of skin from the United States in order to treat the dozens of victims who suffered severe burns when a volcano erupted on White Island Monday afternoon. Dr. Peter Watson, chief medical officer of Counties Manukau Health, said at a press conference Wednesday that there are 29 patients being treated in intensive care and burn units at four different hospitals throughout New Zealand. Twenty-four of the burn patients remain in critical condition. "We currently have supplies but are urgently sourcing additional supplies to meet the demand for dressing and temporary skin grafts," Watson said. "We anticipate we will require an additional 1.2 million square centimeters [1,292 square feet] of skin for the ongoing needs of the patients. These supplies are coming from the United States and the order has been placed." Watson said the nature of the victims' injuries had been made "complicated" by the gases and chemicals in the eruption, thus making "more rapid" surgical treatment necessary, as opposed to if they'd suffered thermal-only burns. CNN reports that the skin grafts are coming from people who are registered to donate skin after their deaths, and typically are taken from the donors' backs or the backs of their legs. There were a total of 47 travelers on the island when the volcano erupted Monday just after 2 p.m. Six people were killed.

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Crows Could Be the Smartest Animal Other Than Primates
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

In a piece for the BBC, Chris Baraniuk writes about how the intelligence of New Caledonian crows may be far more advanced than we ever thought possible. An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from the report: Intelligence is rooted in the brain. Clever primates -- including humans -- have a particular structure in their brains called the neocortex. It is thought that this helps to make advanced cognition possible. Corvids, notably, do not have this structure. [New Caledonian crows belong to the corvid family of birds -- as do jackdaws, rooks, jays, magpies and ravens.] They have instead evolved densely packed clusters of neurons that afford them similar mental prowess. The specific kind of brain they have doesn't really matter -- corvids and primates share some of the same basic capabilities in terms of problem-solving and plasticity, or being able to adapt and change in the face of new information and experiences. This is an example of convergent evolution, where completely different evolutionary histories have led to the same feature or behavior. It's easy for humans to see why the things corvids can do are useful. From identifying people who have previously posed a threat to them or others in their group to using gestures for communication -- we too rely on abilities like these. [Christian Rutz at the University of St Andrews] is unequivocal. Some birds, like the New Caledonian crows he studies -- can do remarkable things. In a paper published earlier this year, he and his co-authors described how New Caledonians seek out a specific type of plant stem from which to make their hooked tools. Experiments showed that crows found the stems they desired even when they had been disguised with leaves from a different plant species. This suggested that the birds were selecting a kind of material for their tools that they knew was just right for the job. You wouldn't use a spanner to hammer in a nail, would you? Ranking the intelligence of animals seems an increasingly pointless exercise when one considers the really important thing: how well that animal is adapted to its niche. In the wild, New Caledonians use their tools to scoop insects out of holes, for example in tree trunks. Footage of this behavior has been caught on camera. You might think that some animals are smarter than others -- with humans at the top of the proverbial tree. Certainly, humans do rely excessively on intelligence to get by. But that doesn't mean we're the best at every mental task. Chimps, notes Dakota McCoy at Harvard University, have been shown to possess better short-term memories than humans. This might help them to memorize where food is located in the forest canopy, for example. Ranking the intelligence of animals seems an increasingly pointless exercise when one considers the really important thing: how well that animal is adapted to its niche. Intelligence is, first and foremost, a means towards specialization. "New Caledonian crows, like us and other clever animals, have moods and memories. Strategies and expectations. They seem remarkably able to engage with complexity," writes Baraniuk in closing. "Evolution made this possible. But cognition, like life itself, serves more than just a need. Animal intelligence allows all sorts of fascinating phenomena to arise. [...] Nature provided the notes, but animal brains make the music. The mind, as they say, is the only limit."

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Microsoft's Next Xbox Is Xbox Series X, Coming Holiday 2020
Posted on Thursday January 01, 1970

At the 2019 Game Awards today, Microsoft revealed the name and console design of its next-generation gaming console: Xbox Series X. The Verge reports: The console itself looks far more like a PC than we've seen from previous Xbox consoles, and Microsoft's trailer provides a brief glimpse at the new design. The console itself is designed to be used in both vertical and horizontal orientations, and Microsoft's Xbox chief, Phil Spencer, promises that it will "deliver four times the processing power of Xbox One X in the most quiet and efficient way." The Xbox Series X will include a custom-designed CPU based on AMD's Zen 2 and Radeon RDNA architecture. Microsoft is also using an SSD on Xbox Series X, which promises to boost load times. Xbox Series X will also support 8K gaming, frame rates of up to 120 fps in games, ray tracing, and variable refresh rate support. Microsoft also revealed a new Xbox Wireless Controller today. "Its size and shape have been refined to accommodate an even wider range of people, and it also features a new Share button to make capturing screenshots and game clips simple," explains Spencer. This updated controller will work with existing Xbox One consoles and Windows 10 PCs, and will ship with every Xbox Series X.

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