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SFI and Irish Aid announce sustainable development goals challenge

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The Science Foundation of Ireland and Irish Aid will spend €3.2m on international challenge-based sustainable development research.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has announced a new €3.2m sustainable development goals challenge prize in partnership with Irish Aid.

The announcement was made today (12 July) by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD and Minister for Overseas Development Colm Brophy, TD.

The partnership supports academic researchers as they develop solutions that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) programme. The current SDG challenge will focus on addressing global challenges and promoting health and well-being for all age levels.

Researchers are being challenged to develop sustainable solutions that will address public health challenges in countries where Irish Aid works, such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, and Tanzania.

Harris said that addressing the development challenges faced by these countries was a key part of Ireland’s international development policy, and that the Government’s aim with the initiative is to “reduce the challenges we face in every country, by working together.”

The researchers’ work will cover areas including infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, health systems strengthening, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health.

Brophy praised scientists’ track record in healthcare innovation and research throughout the pandemic: “We have seen over the past year, with the roll out of Covid vaccines, a very tangible example of the power of scientific research in the healthcare space. I am delighted that the SDG challenge fund will support Irish researchers to work with researchers in Irish Aid partner countries to develop new, innovative technologies which can help people live safer, healthier lives.”

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The SDG challenge is modelled on SFI’s future innovator programme which aims to tackle societal problems through challenge-based funding. The programme has been successful in recent years tackling issues such as plastic pollution, carbon emissions, food waste and chronic pain.

The solutions developed by the teams must demonstrate a tangible impact in one of the countries Irish Aid works in, but applications are encouraged to consider challenges where solutions may have a wider impact, too. There will also be a focus on malnutrition and improving sanitation facilities to improve public health.

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general SFI and chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland said that challenge‐based funding is of high strategic importance to Ireland, as it enables publicly‐funded research to address global development issues.

The SDG challenge will consist of three phases spanning the concept, seed and prize awards. Following application review, five successful applicant teams will be awarded concept funding of €50,000 to undertake team building, scoping and concept validation activities.

After six months, they will undergo review and successful teams will be provided with funding of €250,000 to validate and prototype their proposed solutions.

Finalists will then compete for the overall prize award of €1m.

The deadline for submission of applications to the SDG challenge will be 6 October 2021, and more information is available here.

 

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NFT trader OpenSea bans insider trading after employee rakes in profit | Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

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A non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace has introduced policies to ban insider trading, after an executive at the company was discovered to be buying artworks shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page.

OpenSea, one of the leading sites for trading the digital assets, will now prevent team members buying or selling from featured collections and from using confidential information to trade NFTs. Neither practice was previously banned.

“Yesterday we learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly,” said Devin Finzer, the co-founder and chief executive of the site.

“This is incredibly disappointing. We want to be clear that this behaviour does not represent our values as a team. We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an immediate and thorough third-party review of this incident so that we have a full understanding of the facts and additional steps we need to take.”

NFTs are digital assets whose ownership is recorded and traced using a bitcoin-style blockchain. The NFT market boomed earlier this year as celebrities including Grimes, Andy Murray and Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold collectibles and artworks using the format. But the underlying technology has questionable utility, with some dismissing the field as a purely speculative bubble.

The insider trading came to light thanks to the public nature of the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFT trades occur. Crypto traders noticed that an anonymous user was regularly buying items from the public marketplace shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page, a prestigious slot that often brings significant interest from would-be buyers. The anonymous user would then sell the assets on, making vast sums in a matter of hours.

One trade, for instance, saw an artwork called Spectrum of a Ramenification Theory bought for about £600. It was then advertised on the front page and sold on for $4,000 a few hours later.

One Twitter user, ZuwuTV, linked the transactions to the public wallet of Nate Chastain, OpenSea’s head of product, demonstrating, using public records, that the profits from the trades were sent back to a wallet owned by Chastain.

While some, including ZuwuTV, described the process as “insider trading”, the loosely regulated market for NFTs has few restrictions on what participants can do. Some critics argue that even that terminology demonstrates that the sector is more about speculation than creativity.

“The fact that people are responding to this as insider trading shows that this is securities trading (or just gambling), not something designed to support artists,” said Anil Dash, the chief executive of the software company Glitch. “There are no similar public statements when artists get ripped off on the platform.

“If Etsy employees bought featured products from creators on their platform (or Patreon or Kickstarter workers backed new creators etc) that’d be great! Nobody would balk. Because they’d be supporting their goal,” Dash added.



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British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81 • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair died on Thursday at home in London after a long illness, his family said today. He was 81.

The British entrepreneur is perhaps best known for launching the ZX range of 8-bit microcomputers, which helped bring computing, games, and programming into UK homes in the 1980s, at least. This included the ZX80, said to be the UK’s first mass-market home computer for under £100, the ZX81, and the trusty ZX Spectrum. A whole generation grew up in Britain mastering coding on these kinds of systems in their bedrooms.

And before all that, Sir Clive founded Sinclair Radionics, which produced amplifiers, calculators, and watches, and was a forerunner to his Spectrum-making Sinclair Research. The tech pioneer, who eventually sold his computing biz to Amstrad, was knighted during his computing heyday, in 1983.

“He was a rather amazing person,” his daughter, Belinda Sinclair, 57, told The Guardian this evening. “Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them.”

Sir Clive is survived by Belinda, his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52 respectively, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ®

A full obit will follow on The Register.

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UN human rights chief raises concerns over AI privacy violations in report

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‘AI tech can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights.’

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology until safeguards are put in place to prevent potential human rights violations.

Bachelet made the appeal on Wednesday (15 September) to accompany a report released by the UN’s Human Rights Office, which analysed how AI systems affect people’s right to privacy. The violation of their privacy rights had knock-on impacts on other rights such as rights to health, education and freedom of movement, the report found.

“Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states,” Bachelet added.

Japanese multinational Fujitsu caused a stir when it announced plans to implement AI facial recognition technology to monitor employees’ concentration levels during meetings.

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The report was critical of justice systems which had made wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition tools. It appealed to countries to ban any AI tools which did not meet international human rights standards. A 2019 study from the UK found that 81pc of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

Earlier this year, Canada banned Clearview’s AI facial recognition technology after the company violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Bachelet also highlighted the report’s concerns on the future use of data once it has been collected and stored, calling it “one of the most urgent human rights questions we face.”

The UN’s report echoes previous appeals made by European data protection regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on facial recognition in public places in June. They urged EU lawmakers to consider banning the use of such technology in public spaces, after the European Commission released its proposed regulations on the matter.

The EU’s proposed regulations did not recommend an outright ban. The commission instead emphasised the importance of creating “trustworthy AI.”

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