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‘A lemon’: Coalition fights to keep Covidsafe app data under wraps | Australia news

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The Morrison government insists it is negotiating with the states about “future uses” for its troubled Covidsafe app despite it not being used during the outbreaks that prompted lockdowns in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The government is also refusing to release how many Australians continue to use the app, with one tech expert accusing the government of trying to avoid disclosing embarrassing data rather than admit it had failed to achieve its purpose.

Since vaccination rates reached more than 90% of the eligible population in most states, contact tracing is slowly being scaled back, with health authorities limiting the number of people contacted and asked to test and isolate.

Even when contact tracing played a critical role in reducing the number of cases, the app was of little assistance.

Almost none of the contacts were identified through the federal government’s CovidSafe contact tracing app despite well over 7 million people in Australia downloading it last year and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, declaring it the ticket out of lockdown.

Since launching in April last year, just 17 “close contacts” in NSW were found directly through the app that were not otherwise identified through manual contact tracing methods.

Guardian Australia has been engaged in a year-long freedom of information battle with the Digital Transformation Agency to reveal how many people continued to use the app after installing it.

This month the agency said releasing the information would hurt negotiations with the states over the app’s future uses.

“The Commonwealth is engaged in ongoing consultations and discussions with the states and territories on a framework around the use of Covidsafe data and data derived from Covidsafe data as a key tool for contact tracing,” DTA’s chief technology officer, Anthony Warnock, told the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner in a letter provided to Guardian Australia.

When asked about these discussions, both NSW and Victoria said the app had not been used at all in 2021.

“To date, it has not been necessary to use the Covidsafe app with any case clusters in 2021,” a NSW Health spokesperson said. “NSW Health’s contact tracing team has access to a variety of information to contain the spread of Covid-19 and keep the community safe.”

The ACT also said the app had never been used in the capital and, as of September, Queensland said it had used the app twice, with one contact identified but no positive cases identified.

It’s also unclear what future uses the federal government is considering.

Electronic Frontiers Australia’s chair, Justin Warren, who has been involved in complex FOI battles with the government, suggested the only reason the the release of the information would be damaging was if it showed far fewer people continued to use the app.

“The DTA appears to be trying to argue that we can’t learn the truth about just how big a lemon the Covidsafe app is because then people might know it’s a lemon and act accordingly,” he said. “It’s clear to me that they wouldn’t try to make this argument if the app was useful.”

The app costs around $75,000 a month to run, and a spokesperson for the federal health department said there were “no plans” to shut it down until the health minister determined it was no longer required.

Experts in the tech community last year called for the app to be modified using the Apple-Google exposure notification framework, which would work similarly to the UK’s NHS app and alert people when they had been in contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case.

A study published in Nature in May about how effective the NHS app in England and Wales had been between September and December last year found that for every positive case who agreed to alert their contacts, one case was averted.

The government has long argued against switching to an NHS-style version of the app, arguing that it left it up to users to contact the health department and get tested and isolate, rather than giving contact tracers a list of those exposed to follow up.

But a ministerial brief prepared by the DTA in May 2020, released this week on the transparency website Right to Know, reveals that the government believed it would require massive changes to the app and privacy laws to accommodate the change.

“The app would need to be significantly redesigned and rebuilt,” the agency said. “The ENF cannot simply be embedded into the current app. The health portal would also need to be redesigned and rebuilt.”

The DTA warned that a new privacy assessment would need to be undertaken, legislation might need to be amended, all current users would need to download and re-register through the app, and contact data could not be transferred.

The briefing also noted that the alerts people received through the app “may cause alarm” if contact tracers were not involved in the process.

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But the agency said a change to the Apple/Google version would improve connectivity between devices and might encourage people who had hesitated to download the original app.

“Certain users who have avoided the app may perceive that the ENF provides stronger privacy protections through this largely decentralised non-government-controlled model.”

Victoria now automatically alerts people who were at high-risk venues through the Service Victoria app, and advises them to test and isolate, but does not do any further contact tracing except when someone tests positive.

NSW is planning to ditch QR code check-ins from all but high-risk venues from 15 December, or when the state reaches 95% of the eligible population having two doses of the vaccine.

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Dangerous game? Football clubs look to mine fans’ cash with crypto offerings | Cryptocurrencies

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When FC Barcelona took to the pitch for the 2021 Spanish Super Cup final, the trophy wasn’t the only prize at stake.

Thousands of blaugrana fans were also keeping an eye on the market for FCB’s “fan token”, the club’s very own cryptocurrency. Socios, the web-based platform that pioneered fan tokens, had promised to “burn” 20,000 tokens for every goal Barcelona scored – and 40,000 if they lifted the cup.

In theory, success on the pitch would increase the scarcity of the currency, boosting its value. In practice, Barcelona lost the game and, footballing passions aside, it didn’t make much difference anyway. With 3.5m of the tokens in circulation, not to mention millions more retained by the club for future issuance, a few thousand here or there wouldn’t have moved the needle.

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What is cryptocurrency?

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Cryptocurrencies are an alternative way of making payments to cash or credit cards. The technology behind it allows the ‘money’ to be sent directly to others without it having to pass through the banking system. For that reason they are outside the control of governments and are unregulated by financial watchdogs – and transactions can be made in a way that keeps you reasonably pseudonymous.

If you own a crypto-asset you control a secret digital key that you can use to prove to anyone on the network that a certain amount of that asset is yours. If you spend it, you tell the entire network that you have transferred ownership of it, and use the same key to prove that you are telling the truth. Over time, the history of all those transactions becomes a lasting record of who owns what: that record is called the blockchain.

Bitcoin was one of the first and biggest cryptocurrencies and has been on a wild ride since its creation in 2009, sometimes surging in value as investors have piled in – and occasionally crashing back down. Dogecoin – which started as a joke – has also seen a stratospheric rise in value.

Sceptics warn that the lack of central control make crypto-assets ideal for criminals and terrorists, while libertarian monetarists enjoy the idea of a currency with no inflation and no central bank.

The whole concept of cryptocurrencies has been criticised for its ecological impact, with “mining” for new coins requiring vast energy reserves and the associated carbon footprint of the whole system.

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But the stunt symbolised something more, the burgeoning love affair between football and cryptocurrency, an alliance that holds the promise of new revenue streams for a game that is already awash with cash but always wants more.

Football finance expert Kieran Maguire thinks clubs have latched on to crypto because revenues from other sources are starting to level off, having risen reliably for decades.

“Football clubs have realised that we’re now at max broadcast revenues, with modest growth at most to look forward to,” he said.

“As far as commercial sponsors are concerned, we’re seeing deals being renewed but not with increased money. The only way to increase matchday sales is to increase prices and fans are reluctant.”

Manchester United – whether one believes the club or not – claims to have 1.1 billion fans on the planet. With revenue of £488m in 2019-20, that’s just 45p per year, per fan.

“Clubs are thinking: ‘Can we ‘find another way of extracting money out of that huge fanbase?’ That’s where tokens come in.”

When AC Milan launched a token in early 2021, it raised $6m (£4.4m) in under an hour, or about 12% of the value of the club’s record signing, Leonardo Bonucci. Paris Saint-Germain’s token, the most valuable, has a market value of $45m.

In the murky and unregulated world of crypto though, it’s hard to know how much clubs are actually making. Socios said last year it had sold $300m worth of fan tokens but would not say how much of that went to the clubs with which it partnered.

Other platforms, such as Binance, are also moving into the fan token market, indicating there is room for growth, particularly given that only a few dozen clubs have entered the market in any meaningful way.

Pedro Herrera, senior blockchain analyst at DappRadar, a marketplace for blockchain-related apps, said that most fans buy tokens for the associated perks, such as votes on small decisions about which song to play over the stadium tannoy after a goal, or entry into a draw to win a signed shirt.

“It’s a win for the fan because they feel more involved; it’s a win for the team because it’s adding a layer of monetisation; and it’s a win for the [crypto] industry because you attract the masses and it’s one step closer to mass adoption.”

Maguire isn’t against crypto but adds a more sceptical tone: “Lots of fans love crypto and in its purest form it’s great. Banks have been overcharging people for years in terms of transaction fees and if crypto can reduce those fees that’s fantastic.”

“The problem is when unscrupulous traders, particularly via social media, seek to exploit fans who think a token is a serious investment product, rather than a glorified collectible.

“It’s magic beans. So long as it’s sold as a digital Panini card, it’s OK. But when it’s being seen as a form of investment, it’s moving into uncomfortable territory.”

“It’s unregulated, it’s volatile and it’s subject to manipulation by people who own large amounts of the asset.”

Fan tokens, though, are a mere paragraph in football’s rapidly unfolding crypto saga.

In 2021, crypto sponsors piled into football and were welcomed with open arms by cash-hungry clubs, leagues and players.

Watford player with stake.com shirt
Watford have perhaps England’s biggest crypto deal, a front-of-shirt sponsorship from Stake.com, which offers crypto gambling. Photograph: Tess Derry/PA

Exchange app Crypto.com sponsors Italy’s Serie A, one of the world’s most glamorous leagues, while Socios is Internazionale’s shirt sponsor. EToro, a trading platform that facilitates investment in multiple cryptocurrencies, has deals with more than half of the clubs in the Premier League.

Southampton players are understood to have been offered the option to be paid bonuses in bitcoin, as part of a £7.5m-a-year deal with Coingaming Group. And in January 2021, striker David Barral made history when he became the first player in a major league to be signed with bitcoin, albeit in Spain’s third tier with Internacional de Madrid.

Much better-known players and ex-pros, such as Paul Pogba and John Terry, are promoting cryptocurrencies, trading platforms and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – the controversial digital art form – too.

This should come as no surprise given the reach that big-name stars have via social media and the money they can make from promotions. Other partnerships are perhaps more unexpected. Visitors to the Twitter profile of former Republic of Ireland international Tony Cascarino might have been wrongfooted by the former striker’s sudden change of pace midway through 2021. One moment he was musing on the latest developments in the Premier League, the next he was evangelising about blockchain bank Babb (no relation to former Ireland teammate Phil) and musing that the “crypto market is on fire”.

Even in its infancy, the reputational risks of this new commercial pact between crypto and football have become all too clear. Last year, Manchester City’s deal with a mysterious firm called 3Key Technologies fell apart in a matter of days as it emerged that nobody seemed to know anything about the company or its executives.

Arsenal FC ad promoting fan tokens
The Advertising Standards Authority banned Arsenal FC ads promoting fan tokens. Photograph: ASA/PA

In December, Arsenal were rapped on the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which banned a club promotion that it said was exploiting fans’ “inexperience or credulity, trivialising investment in crypto assets, misleading consumers over the risk of investment and not making it clear the ‘token’ was a crypto asset”.

“For those in sport looking for sponsorship, it’s a whole new market of opportunity but it’s a bit of a landmine you’re dealing with,” said Bill Esdaile, managing director of sports marketing agency Square in the Air.

“My gut feeling is that such a small percentage of people understand how [crypto] works that too many decisions are made on trust, thinking that if [crypto firms] say they’ve got the money, they do.”

The amounts on offer appear to be going up.

Premier League strugglers Watford have perhaps the country’s biggest crypto deal, a front-of-shirt sponsorship from Stake.com. The site offers crypto gambling, which isn’t legal in the UK but may appeal to the league’s hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

The arrangement even means that Watford players’ shirt sleeves bear the logo of Dogecoin, a “joke” currency whose value swings around wildly, often in response to tweets by Tesla multibillionaire Elon Musk.

Kieran Maguire estimates that the shirt deal could be worth up to £8m, based on the typical value of such partnerships, while an insider at Watford told MSN in August that the Dogecoin sleeve display added £700,000 into the mix.

Sums like these will become increasingly difficult for clubs to ignore, he thinks, particularly if the government goes ahead with a root-and-branch overhaul of gambling regulation that could see football lose the cash cow of shirt deals with betting firms.

“They [clubs] see the token market as slightly to one side, it won’t get picked up by the gambling review and it will help fill the gap,” says Maguire.

“Those deals of £5m to £8m could be replaced by NFT advertising and by crypto.”

In a recent paper, psychology researcher and gambling expert Dr Phil Newall warned that football sponsorship may be about to swap one risky product for another.

“Research has found that cryptocurrency traders are likely to have problem gambling symptoms, and has identified psychological similarities between cryptocurrency trading and online sports betting,” wrote Newall. He believes removing gambling advertising may create more space in which to legitimise equally dangerous products.

As they burn through cash in the pursuit of glory, it seems unlikely that clubs will worry about that.

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Meta trains AI model to handle speech, images, text • The Register

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Researchers at Facebook parent’s Meta have trained a single AI model capable of processing speech, images, and text in the hope that these so-called multi-modal systems will power the company’s augmented reality and metaverse products.

The model, known as data2vec, can perform different tasks. Given an audio snippet, it can recognize speech. If it’s fed an image, it can classify objects. And when faced with text, it can check the grammar or analyse the writing’s tone and emotions.

AI algorithms are typically trained on one type of data, though data2vec is trained on three different modalities. It still, however, processes each form, whether its speech, images, and text, separately.

Meta believes these multi-modal models will help computers be more adaptable to blend physical and digital environments into one. “People experience the world through a combination of sight, sound and words, and systems like this could one day understand the world the way we do,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement to El Reg.

“This will all eventually get built into AR glasses with an AI assistant so, for example, it could help you cook dinner, noticing if you miss an ingredient, prompting you to turn down the heat, or more complex tasks.”

Data2vec is a transformer-based neural network and uses self-supervised learning to learn common patterns in audio, computer vision, and natural language processing. The model learns to operate with different types of data by learning how to predict how the representation of data it’s given; it knows it has to guess the next group of pixels when given an image, or the next speech utterance in audio, or fill in the words in a sentence.

The researchers used a mix of 16 Nvidia V100 and A100 GPUs to train data2vec on 960 hours of speech audio, millions of words from books and Wikipedia pages, and images from ImageNet-1K.

“We train separate models for each modality but the process through which the models learn is identical,” Alexei Baevski, a research engineer at Meta AI told The Register.

“We hope that it will enable future work to build high performing self-supervised models that combine modalities and are more effective than specialized models. Different modalities can add additional information to the same piece of content – for example body language from video, prosodic information from audio, and text can combine into a richer representation of a dialog. The algorithms that currently try to combine multi-modal information exist but they do not yet perform well enough to replace specialized algorithms and we hope our work will help change that.”

Baevski said in the future multi-modal systems could incorporate a larger range of data to model concepts like smell, 3D objects, or videos. He referred back to the idea of AR glasses helping wearers cook.

“Imagine having a model that has been trained on recordings of thousands of hours of cooking activity from various restaurants and chefs. Then, when you are cooking in a kitchen wearing your AR glasses that have access to this model, it’s able to overlay visual cues for what you need to do next, point out potential mistakes, or explain how adding a particular ingredient will affect the taste of your dish,” he told us.

Previous research on multi-modal systems have shown they can be prone to easy adversarial attacks. OpenAI’s CLIP model, for example, trained on images and text will identify an image of an apple incorrectly as an iPod if the word “iPod” are in the picture. It’s unclear, however, if data2vec suffers from similar weaknesses.

“We have not specifically analyzed how our models will react to adversarial examples but since our current models are trained separately for each modality, we believe that existing research on adversarial attack analysis for each modality would be applicable to our work as well,” Baevski said.

“In the future, we hope to use our work to enable high performance algorithms that combine modalities in one model and we plan to study how susceptible they are to adversarial attacks.”

When the researchers tested data2vec, it outperformed some top models that had been trained on a specific data type only on different types of tasks. The preliminary results are described in a paper [PDF], and the code has been published on GitHub.

“Data2vec demonstrates that the same self-supervised algorithm can work well in different modalities — and often better than the best existing algorithms,” the researchers explained in a blog post this week.

“This paves the way for more general self-supervised learning and brings us closer to a world where AI might use videos, articles, and audio recordings to learn about complicated subjects, such as the game of soccer or different ways to bake bread. We also hope data2vec will bring us closer to a world where computers need very little labeled data in order to accomplish tasks.” ®

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2020: The triumph of science

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Believe it or not, 2020 gave us reasons to be hopeful.

2020 might be one many would like to forget, but there’s much worth remembering from a tumultuous year that undeniably left its mark on us all.

It was rough right out of the gates. In January, wildfires were raging across Australia and Brexit was threatening to blow up the Irish economy. We had a general election in February but no new Government until June. And, in that time, the world as we knew it was upended.

The threat of Covid-19 saw Indeed take the lead on sending Irish staff to work from home in February. Others followed, deeming it a temporary fix. But as remote working policies were extended and extended, it called into question whether the centralised office would even have a future.

A ‘new normal’ centred on flexible working had been proven possible by the pandemic. Fujitsu and Siemens ran with the idea, introducing permanent remote working plans for more than 200,000 employees between them.

The prescience of former Silicon Republic journalist Lisa Ardill has to be noted. In December 2019, she predicted that 2020 could become the year of working in our pyjamas. What she didn’t realise was that we’d be doing everything that way. Thankfully Disney+ had arrived in Ireland just in time, and by summer we had Animal Crossing to keep us from burning out.

Google Maps data revealed that recreation activity dropped 83pc in Ireland from February to March. Non-Covid healthcare was put on hold. Irish institutions had to radically change how research was conducted. A death knell was sounded for international business travel and supply chains were hit. The chip shortage was exacerbated, threatening the roll-out of the year’s anticipated gadgets and games consoles. There was a sharp rise in cyberattacks as malicious hackers targeted critical health infrastructure. Cinema had to pivot to streaming and there was such pressure on online networks that Netflix had to reduce its stream quality in Europe and Facebook and Instagram had to lower their video bitrates. Jobs were created, and jobs were lost. Recruitment, skills, lab work, drug manufacturing and life sciences in general – everything was affected.

2020 was such a rollercoaster that it makes for a pretty intense video game. And if you’re reading this, you made it. Though many didn’t.

The death toll from Covid-19 would be substantially higher if not for the triumph of science in 2020. Not only the record-setting development of a successful vaccine, but the science-led decision-making that protected people.

We were writing about “life after coronavirus” as early as April, and while it may have been premature, hope was key to resilience throughout 2020. And, thankfully, our faith in science was repaid.

Reflecting on 20 years in STEM, Prof Mark Ferguson, who served as director general of Science Foundation Ireland for half of this period, was incredibly hopeful in the wake of 2020.

“We have all witnessed first-hand the contribution made by science, research and innovation globally to managing the Covid-19 crisis: effective new vaccines delivered in less than one year – something previously thought impossible,” he said.

“We need to now work collaboratively to apply the same expertise, focus and dedication to deal with the many other challenges our world is facing from climate change to food security.”

The C-word

China confirmed human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on 20 January. Days later, Wuhan – the epicentre of the first Covid-19 outbreak – was quarantined and the WHO declared a public health emergency. By 11 March, it was officially a pandemic.

Elon Musk changed his stance from “the coronavirus panic is dumb” to getting SpaceX and Tesla to work on ventilators to treat severe cases of Covid-19. Irish-headquartered Medtronic also moved to meet the global demand for ventilators, doubling production at its Galway plant. Microsoft developed a chatbot to help the US Centers for Disease Control assess citizens reporting symptoms. Apple donated millions of masks to healthcare professionals and Jack Dorsey pledged $1bn to support relief programmes. Sci-tech was stepping up in a big way.

Contact tracing was crucial to quelling the spread of the virus, but apps developed for this purpose had to ensure data privacy. Whether contact-tracing data should be centralised or decentralised was debated even as the number of cases continued to multiply.

This was Irish open-source developer NearForm’s time to shine. Its Covid Green source code for Ireland’s contact-tracing app was publicly released and became part of the Linux Foundation Public Health initiative, supporting the build of privacy-conscious contact-tracing tech around the world.

Another Irish company was also working to help the HSE handle Covid. Trinity spin-out Akara Robotics began testing robotic disinfection in Irish hospitals, officially launching new healthcare robot Violet at the end of the year. Using UV light, Violet could disinfect an entire room in as little as five minutes.

At year-end, there were more than 80m confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide, while a new highly-infectious variant of the virus led to Christmas lockdowns. But there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Victory for vaccines

Pfizer announced its partnership to develop a Covid-19 vaccine with German pharma company BioNTech in March. This would become one of the defining stories of the pandemic: that of the immigrant husband-and-wife team behind the first Covid-19 vaccine to secure regulatory approval.

Like Moderna, BioNTech founders Uğur Şahin and ‎Özlem Türeci‎ chose to develop a mRNA vaccine, which works by sending messenger RNA to the body so that cells can create a fragment of the targeted virus, teaching the immune system to recognise this foreign antigen. Other vaccine candidates used the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to help the body get to know the virus. One example of this, Covax-19, was developed by Australian biotech Vaxine with the help of Irish pharma research firm APC.

Oxford-AstraZeneca’s protein-based vaccine was advantageous in that it didn’t require cold storage so it was easier to store and distribute. These logistical challenges were just some of the issues leading to global vaccine inequality, and this outbreak of ‘vaccine nationalism’ would only serve to prolong the crisis.

The misinformation pandemic

Once we had vaccines, the question turned to whether we would get enough people to take them.

As Covid-19 spread around the world, an existing global ‘infodemic’ produced a wave of conspiracy theories. A battle commenced between science and misinformation and scientists got busy debunking claims that hydroxychloroquine or vitamin C could cure Covid-19.

Some people were even so convinced that 5G caused Covid-19 that they burned equipment and assaulted technicians. (A November survey in Ireland found 20pc of respondents associated health risks with 5G.)

Content platforms had already done good groundwork in tackling vaccine misinformation in 2019 and even stronger measures were introduced by WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter in 2020. Twitter also cracked down on the QAnon conspiracy group, banning 7,000 associated accounts.

Didn’t they do well?

It has long been observed that from crisis springs opportunity, and 2020’s travails were no exception.

Zoom was the word on everyone’s lips as the video-conferencing platform helped colleagues, friends and family stay connected during lockdowns. Pre-pandemic, Irishman Harry Mosely, Zoom’s CIO, described how he ran a distributed workforce, which eschewed business travel in favour of the company’s software. And in 2020 we were all eating Zoom’s dog food, driving a record year of 367pc revenue growth.

Zoom’s year was not without its challenges, though. As quickly as it became a household name, the terms Zoombombing and Zoom fatigue entered the lexicon. But the popular platform had plenty to celebrate, not least how it helped keep some working entertainers afloat. A group of Irish filmmakers even made a movie on it.

Some Irish companies also had a banner year. LetsGetChecked’s recent unicorn status can be attributed to rapid growth in 2020. It raised one of the biggest Irish funding rounds of the year for its home health testing kits, which included a two-part test for Covid-19. Online food-ordering platform Flipdish, which has also since become a unicorn, rolled out table ordering tech for reopening restaurants and announced hundreds of new jobs.

Overall, VC investment in Ireland hit a record high during the pandemic, with several innovative start-ups managing to raise funds during a very tough period.

2020 also saw two major Irish acquisitions. At the beginning of the year, chipmaker Decawave was snapped up in a mega deal worth $400m. And between being called on for his immunology expertise and his company’s €380m acquisition by Roche, Inflazome co-founder Prof Luke O’Neill spent a year in the spotlight. In November, he was recognised by Science Foundation Ireland for his Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication.

To the future

As the pandemic rumbled on and major world events were cancelled, postponed or sent to the virtual world of video conferencing, it was decided that the successor event to the award-winning Inspirefest would go ahead in October, but with a twist.

Silicon Republic’s Future Human set out to be the first major international tech event in the world to go hybrid. From a physical stage to a virtual audience, event founder Ann O’Dea welcomed Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, investor Brad Feld, former NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham and more. On the agenda was all the year’s hot STEM topics, from remote working and healthcare, to lockdown creativity and vaccines.

Following a successful, albeit very different conference, Future Human will return on 12 and 13 May 2022. Sticking with the hybrid format, attendees both in person at the Trinity Business School in Dublin and online from around the world will hear from leading thinkers in science, robotics, AI, climate action, security, health and the arts.

We can’t wait to welcome you to the most inclusive and forward-looking event in the world, where we can raise a toast to a bright future.

In other news

12 January: Scientists report that microstructures within some remarkably well-preserved fossilised dinosaur cartilage could be DNA, prompting inevitable Jurassic Park references.

15 January: The EU Parliament votes in favour of the European Green Deal.

11 February: Samsung adds more polish to its foldable smartphone range with the launch of the Galaxy Z Flip.

30 April: Huawei completes construction of the world’s highest base station, bringing 5G to the summit of Mount Everest.

15 May: Researchers in Argentina announce they have discovered the fossilised remains of a lethal 10m-long ‘megaraptor’.

1-4 June: Planned launch events from Sony, Google and EA are postponed so as not to detract from Black Lives Matter protests across the US.

2 June: A $5bn class action lawsuit against Google alleges that Chrome tracks users even in incognito mode.

15 July: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kanye West and more see their Twitter accounts hacked in the name of a bitcoin scam.

29 July: Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg face hours of questioning from US lawmakers in an antitrust hearing.

6 August: TikTok selects Ireland as the location of its first data centre in Europe, adding to the trust and safety hub established in Dublin earlier in the year.

13 August: Fortnite creator Epic Games files antitrust suits against Apple and Google after it was banned from their app stores for creating its own in-app payments system to circumvent the 30pc cut they take for each transaction.

28 August: At a livestreamed event, Elon Musk introduces Gertrude the pig, one of the first living things to have a Neuralink chip implanted in its brain.

19 September: Donald Trump gives his blessing for Oracle and Walmart to take a combined 20pc stake in TikTok Global Business so that the Chinese-owned company can continue operating in the US. (TikTok-owner ByteDance later dropped the deal when Trump failed to get re-elected.)

21 September: Microsoft announces a $7.5bn deal to acquire ZeniMax, the parent company of game publisher Bethesda Softworks.

7 October: Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier win a Nobel Prize for their discovery of CRISPR-Cas9.

20 October: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx briefly touches down on Bennu to retrieve samples from the surface of the asteroid.

10 November: Apple unveils the first Mac computers powered by its own M1 chip, marking its move away from Intel processors.

10 November: Microsoft releases the Xbox Series X and Series S consoles.

12 November: Sony releases the PlayStation 5.

17 November: Apple celebrates 40 years in Cork.

30 November: DeepMind announces that its AI has solved the puzzle of protein folding, a biological mystery that has perplexed scientists for 50 years.

1 December: The Arecibo Telescope, recognisable from appearances in GoldenEye and Contact, collapses two weeks after it was announced that the observatory would be decommissioned.

1 December: Salesforce agrees to buy Slack for $27.7bn, its largest ever acquisition.

26 December: Getting ahead of a coming trend, Bloomberg dubs 2020 ‘year of the meme stock’.

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