New York, Jul 11 (AP/UNB) — If in the beginning there was male and female, fish seem to have forgotten the memo.
For nearly 500 fish species, including the clownfish in "Finding Nemo," the great divide between sexes is more like a murky line: If circumstances call for it, the fish can swap their sex, with females turning into males in some species and males turning into females in others.
People think of sex as being fixed, said biologist Erica Todd from the University of Otago in New Zealand, "but there are so many fish that can push it in the other direction."
Scientists have known for decades about the sex trades, but they've had limited understanding of how the exchange happens. In a study published Wednesday in Science Advances, Todd and her colleagues detail the molecular events behind this ability, as well as what keeps mammals stuck as one sex or another.
The researchers looked at the bluehead wrasse, a reef fish that swims in small groups of a dominant blue-headed male and a posse of smaller yellow females. Normally the male and females stay as they are, feeding together and occasionally mating. But if a predator happens to snatch up the lead male, the dominant female in the group will become a male.
"The sex change in this species is remarkable because it's so quick," Todd said. It takes only minutes to a few hours for the female's behavior to become more territorial and aggressive like a male. In a few days, she courts other females. And after eight to 10 days, she's fully transitioned to a male.
Todd and her team removed the lead males from several wrasse groups in the Florida Keys. As the females changed sexes, the researchers took DNA from cells in the animal's brains and genitals so they could follow what was happening at the genetic level.
They found that removing the males likely stressed females. The hormones released from that stress dial back the activity of the gene that makes the female hormone estrogen, and eventually ovary cells start to die. At the same time, those hormones increase activity in the genes that produce male hormones, and later testicles form.
At a certain point, the reproductive gland "is mostly dying female cells and proliferation of early male cells," Todd said.
But hormones weren't the only thing switching around. The scientists also saw a complete rearrangement of chemical tags that attach to DNA. These tags turn genes on or off and have specific arrangements in males and females.
As female wrasse transitioned to a male, these tags were removed and reorganized, almost as if the fish was being reprogrammed.
"They're sort of poised and ready to go either direction" like a seesaw, she said. The hormones help push it to the male side.
Laura Casas, a biologist in Spain who was not involved in the study, called the results surprising. She expects the findings can apply to other sex-changing fish, including her study animal clownfish, which shift from male to female.
Matthew Grober, of Georgia State University, was more skeptical, especially of stress as the source that triggers the change. He questioned how the fish avoid changing sex from day-to-day stress and suspects something else is at play.
All animals with a backbone, including humans, share these genes, raising the question of whether all of them have a deep-seated capability to switch sex.
That's unlikely. Our reproductive systems are more complex and would be far more complicated to rewire, Todd said. There's also cell machinery that aggressively opposes the seesaw from swinging the other way.
"These fish are just able to go back and remove that suppression," she said.
London, Jul 10 (AP/UNB) — Alexa will see you now.
Britain's health care service is teaming up with Amazon's digital voice assistant to help answer medical queries with advice from the service's official website. Critics, however, warn about risks to data privacy.
The British government said Wednesday that the system will help people get quick and accurate health information. It will be especially useful for senior citizens, blind people and others who find it hard to access the internet while also easing pressure on doctors.
Using Amazon's algorithms, Alexa can answer voice questions from users about common maladies such as the flu or chickenpox with information verified by the National Health Service.
It's part of the British government's long-term modernization plan to provide more digital health services.
"We want to empower every patient to take better control of their health care," said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Privacy campaigners said that while making it easier for people to access reliable medical advice was a step in the right direction, they were concerned about the partnership and its implications.
"Amazon is a company with a worrying track record when it comes to the way they handle their users' data," said Eva Blum-Dumontet, a researcher at Privacy International. "Our medical information is often the most sensitive data there is about us and a lot can be inferred from the questions we ask and the searches we make when we have health concerns."
Privacy concerns surrounding voice assistants have come into focus amid reports that services like Alexa are listening and recording conversations in homes. A lawsuit filed last month in U.S. federal court alleged that Amazon is violating laws in eight states by recording children without consent through Alexa devices.
Amazon on Wednesday sought to reassure users that their information will be kept confidential, and not shared with third parties, used to sell products or to build a health profile.
"Customer trust is of the utmost importance, and Amazon takes privacy seriously," the company said in a statement, adding that users control their voice history and can delete recordings.
Paris, July 10 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Chinese tech giant Huawei had built next-generation 5G mobile phone network in Monaco, making the sovereign city-state in the French Rivera the first European country to be fully covered by 5G.
"5G world premiere: Monaco Telecom first full 5G country! Ultra-high-speed recorded at 1.4Gbps. 5G included in all mobile packages," Xavier Niel, the operator's owner wrote on a Twitter message late on Tuesday.
Frederic Genta, Monaco interdepartmental delegate in charge of the digital transition, for his turn, hailed "a paradigm change" thanks to 5G mobile phone network based on technology from the Chinese firm Huawei.
"5G is the promise of a better quality of life for all and exceptional opportunities. It will allow to adapt life to our needs," he said.
For Huawei Vice President Guo Ping, deploying the new network in Monaco is a major opportunity despite the small size of territory covered.
"Monaco is a small territory... which allows us to make a shop window in a number of areas ...and can serve as a model for other operators and states," Guo was quoted as saying by local media.
Dhaka, Jul 10 (UNB) - A security firm says deepfaked audio is being used to steal millions of pounds, reports the BBC.
Symantec said it had seen three cases of seemingly deepfaked audio of different chief executives used to trick senior financial controllers into transferring cash.
Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to create convincing fake footage.
The AI system could be trained using the "huge amount" of audio the average chief executive would have innocently made available, Symantec said.
Corporate videos, earning calls, media appearances as well as conference keynotes and presentations would all be useful for fakers looking to build a model of someone's voice, chief technology officer Dr Hugh Thompson said.
"The model can probably be almost perfect," he said.
And they had used background noise to cleverly mask the least convincing syllables and words.
"Really," said Dr Thompson, "who would not fall for something like that?"
Dr Alexander Adam, a data scientist at AI specialist Faculty, said it would take a substantial investment of time and money to produce good audio fakes.
'Training the models costs thousands of pounds," he said.
"This is because you need a lot of compute power and the human ear is very sensitive to a wide range of frequencies, so getting the model to sound truly realistic takes a lot of time."
Typically, he said, hours of good quality audio was needed to help capture the rhythms and intonation of a target's speech patterns.
Dhaka, Jul 10 (AP/UNB) - Amazon and Microsoft are battling it out over a $10 billion opportunity to build the U.S. military its first "war cloud" computing system. But Amazon's early hopes of a shock-and-awe victory may be slipping away.
Formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure plan, or JEDI, the military's computing project would store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities. The Defense Department hopes to award the winner-take-all contract as soon as August. Oracle and IBM were eliminated at an earlier round of the contract competition.
But that's only if the project isn't derailed first. It faces a legal challenge by Oracle and growing congressional concerns about alleged Pentagon favoritism toward Amazon. Military officials hope to get started soon on what will be a decade-long business partnership they describe as vital to national security.
"This is not your grandfather's internet," said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a defense-oriented think tank. "You're talking about a cloud where you can go from the Pentagon literally to the soldier on the battlefield carrying classified information."
Amazon was considered an early favorite when the Pentagon began detailing its cloud needs in 2017, but its candidacy has been marred by an Oracle allegation that Amazon executives and the Pentagon have been overly cozy. Oracle has a final chance to make its case against Amazon — and the integrity of the government's bidding process — in a court hearing Wednesday.
"This is really the cloud sweepstakes, which is why there are such fierce lawsuits," said Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives.
Ives said an opportunity that was a "no brainer" for Amazon a year ago now seems just as likely to go to Microsoft, which has spent the past year burnishing its credentials to meet the government's security requirements.
For years, Amazon Web Services has been the industry leader in moving businesses and other institutions onto its cloud — a term used to describe banks of servers in remote data centers that can be accessed from almost anywhere. But Microsoft's Azure cloud platform has been steadily catching up, as have other providers such as Google, in both corporate and government settings.
With an acronym evoking Star Wars and a price tag of up to $10 billion over the next decade, JEDI has attracted more attention than most cloud deals. A cloud strategy document unveiled by the Defense Department last year calls for replacing the military's "disjointed and stove-piped information systems" with a commercial cloud service "that will empower the warfighter with data and is critical to maintaining our military's technological advantage."
In a court filing last month, Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo said further delays in the Oracle case will "hamper our critical efforts in AI" as the U.S. tries to maintain its advantage over adversaries who are "weaponizing their use of data." Shwedo said JEDI's computing capabilities could help the U.S. analyze data collected from surveillance aircraft, predict when equipment needs maintenance and speed up communications if fiber and satellite connections go down.
Amazon was considered an early front-runner for the project in part because of its existing high-security cloud contract with the Central Intelligence Agency. It beat out IBM for that deal in 2013.
Worried that the Pentagon's bid seemed tailor-made for Amazon, rivals Oracle and IBM lodged formal protests last year arguing against the decision to award it to a single vendor.
In an October blog post , IBM executive Sam Gordy wrote that a single-cloud approach went against industry trends and "would give bad actors just one target to focus on should they want to undermine the military's IT backbone."
The Government Accountability Office later dismissed those protests, but Oracle persisted by taking its case to the Court of Federal Claims, where it has pointed to emails and other documents that it says show conflicts of interest between Amazon and the government. Oral arguments in that case are scheduled for Wednesday. The case has delayed the procurement process, though the Pentagon says it hopes to award the contract as early as Aug. 23.
Oracle's argument is centered on the activities of a Defense Department official who later went to work for Amazon. Amazon says Oracle has exaggerated that employee's role in the procurement using "tabloid sensationalism."
Some defense-contracting experts say the conflict allegations are troubling.
"No one seems to deny that these were actual conflicts and the players affirmatively attempted to conceal them," said Steven Schooner, a professor of government procurement law at George Washington University. "That simply cannot be tolerated."
But Goure, whose think tank gets funding from Amazon but not from its cloud rivals Microsoft, Oracle or IBM, said the criticism is "coming from the also-rans." He says rivals like Oracle "missed the boat" in cloud technology and are trying to make up lost ground through legal maneuvers.
The Pentagon has repeatedly defended its bidding process, though the concerns have trickled into Congress and onto prime-time TV. Fox News host Tucker Carlson devoted a segment last month to the cloud contract that questioned an Amazon executive's 2017 meeting with then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Carlson also aired concerns by Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who said "the allegations are incredible" and should be investigated.
A Wall Street Journal report on Sunday further detailed government emails about that meeting and another one between Mattis and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos later that year. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that there are so many questions that the Pentagon should "restart the whole process" and wait until its inspector general can thoroughly review for potential conflicts.
Amazon said in a statement Tuesday the meetings "had nothing to do with the JEDI procurement" and blamed "misinformed or disappointed competitors" for trying to imply otherwise.
Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith said while military leaders are expected to engage with industry, no one in the defense secretary's "front office" participated in drafting the contract requirements or soliciting bids.
Ives said it remains to be seen how much the conflict allegations will hurt Amazon or help Microsoft. Microsoft has largely stayed quiet during the dispute. In a statement, it focused on highlighting its 40-year partnership supplying the military with services such as email.