Tag: New Scientist

New Scientist: Why cracking nuclear fusion will depend on artificial intelligence

THE big joke about sustainable nuclear fusion is that it has always been 30 years away. Like any joke, it contains a kernel of truth. The dream of harnessing the reaction that powers the sun was big news in the 1950s, just around the corner in the 1980s, and the hottest bet of the past decade.

But time is running out. Our demand for energy is burning up the planet, depleting its resources and risking damaging Earth beyond repair. Wind, solar and tidal energy provide some relief, but they are limited and unpredictable. Nuclear fission comes with the dangers of reactor meltdowns and radioactive waste, while hydropower can be ecologically disruptive. Fusion, on the other hand, could provide almost limitless energy without releasing carbon dioxide or producing radioactive waste. It is the dream power source. The perennial question is: can we make it a reality?

Perhaps now, finally, we can. That isn’t just because of the myriad fusion start-ups increasingly sensing a lucrative market opportunity just around the corner and challenging the primacy of the traditional big-beast projects. Or just because of innovative approaches, materials and technologies that are fuelling an optimism that we can at last master fusion’s fiendish complexities. It is also because of the entrance of a new player, one that could change the rules of the game: artificial intelligence. In the right hands, it might make the next 30 years fly by.

New Scientist: Is it safe for coronavirus ‘shielders’ in the UK to go outside now?

THE easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK has prompted growing concern from those taking extra precautions because they are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. On 31 May, the UK government announced that so-called shielders in England and Wales could now leave their homes. But what is the evidence behind the idea of shielding vulnerable people, and is it really safe for this to now stop?

Many countries have told those thought to be at higher risk from coronavirus due to illness or age to take extra safety precautions. But because this virus is so new, advice has largely been based on people’s best judgements, rather than scientific evidence, and the details of the advice has varied between countries.

The UK has been unusual in distinguishing between two groups of people at higher risk. In March, letters were sent to about 2 million people thought to be “clinically extremely vulnerable”, including some people with cancer, lung conditions such as severe asthma, and those who had had an organ transplant or have weak immune systems. Recipients were told they should stay home at all times. If they had no friends or family who could fetch essentials, they could get food parcels sent.

New Scientist: How the coronavirus pandemic is fuelling online trolls and scams

AS GOVERNMENTS battle to contain the transmission of covid‑19, they have also struggled to stymie the spread of related online misinformation and vitriol.

The pandemic has resulted in the rapid propagation of conspiracy theories that pose a risk to public health, a surge in online anti-Asian hate speech and a proliferation of covid-19 scams.

Much of the misinformation shared online about coronavirus is being disseminated by sites that have peddled conspiracy theories about other topics, such as vaccines and the 9/11 attacks, says John Gregory at NewsGuard, a …

New Scientist: Why have there been so many coronavirus deaths in the UK?

THE UK has been a leader in its coronavirus response, but not in a way any government would aspire to. The country now has the highest absolute excess deaths in Europe, 59,537 more than usual since the week ending 20 March, and the second highest per million people, behind only Spain for countries with comparable data, according to a Financial Times analysis. The total number of confirmed covid-19 deaths at the time of writing was second only to the US, and was still rising by more than 100 a day.

“Not knowing they were infected, many people were carrying on as normal and infecting others”

“I think it’s nothing short of a disgrace, and a dereliction of duty,” says former UK chief scientific adviser David King about the figures, which are coupled with more than a quarter of a million lab-confirmed cases.