Archives October 19, 2019

Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun To Air-Condition the Outdoors

It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside the new Al Janoub soccer stadium, and the air felt to air-conditioning expert Saud Ghani as if God had pointed “a giant hair dryer” at Qatar. Yet inside the open-air stadium, a cool breeze was blowing. Beneath each of the 40,000 seats, small grates adorned with Arabic-style patterns were pushing out cool air at ankle level. And since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field. Ghani, an engineering professor at Qatar University, designed the system at Al Janoub, one of eight stadiums that the tiny but fabulously rich Qatar must get in shape for the 2022 World Cup. His breakthrough realization was that he had to cool only people, not the upper reaches of the stadium — a graceful structure designed by the famed Zaha Hadid Architects and inspired by traditional boats known as dhows. “I don’t need to cool the birds,” Ghani said.

Qatar, the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, may be able to cool its stadiums, but it cannot cool the entire country. Fears that the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans might wilt or even die while shuttling between stadiums and metros and hotels in the unforgiving summer heat prompted the decision to delay the World Cup by five months. It is now scheduled for November, during Qatar’s milder winter. The change in the World Cup date is a symptom of a larger problem — climate change. Already one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate summit said it would be better to keep temperatures “well below” that, ideally to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F).

[…] To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors — in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development. Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference. And it’s going to get hotter.

Women, Not Democracy, Are the Main Victims of Deepfakes

While the 2020 U.S. presidential elections have lawmakers on edge over AI-generated fake videos, a new study by Netherlands-based deepfake-detection outfit Deeptrace shows that the main victims today are women. According to Deeptrace, deepfake videos have exploded in the past year, rising from 8,000 in December 2018 to 14,678 today. And not surprisingly for the internet, nearly all of the material is pornography, which accounts for 96% of the deepfake videos it’s found online. The fake videos have been viewed 134 million times.

The numbers suggest deepfake porn is still niche but also growing quickly. Additionally, 90% of the fake content depicted women from the U.S., UK, and Canada, while 2% represented women from South Korea and 2% depicted women from Taiwan. “Deepfake pornography is a phenomenon that exclusively targets and harms women,” the company notes. That small number of non-pornographic deepfake videos it analyzed on YouTube mostly contained (61%) synthesized male subjects. According to Henry Ajder, a researcher at Deeptrace, currently most of the deepfake porn involves famous women. But he reckons the threat to all women is likely to increase as it becomes less computationally expensive to create deepfakes. As for the political threat, there actually aren’t that many cases where deepfakes have changed a political outcome.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Says He Fears ‘Erosion of Truth’ But Defends Allowing Politicians To Lie in Ads

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview he worries “about an erosion of truth” online but defended the policy that allows politicians to peddle ads containing misrepresentations and lies on his social network, a stance that has sparked an outcry during the 2020 presidential campaign. From a report:

“People worry, and I worry deeply, too, about an erosion of truth,” Zuckerberg told The Washington Post ahead of a speech Thursday at Georgetown University. “At the same time, I don’t think people want to live in a world where you can only say things that tech companies decide are 100 percent true. And I think that those tensions are something we have to live with.” Zuckerberg’s approach to political speech has come under fire in recent weeks. Democrats have taken particular issue with Facebook’s decision to allow an ad from President Trump’s 2020 campaign that included falsehoods about former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to Facebook’s decision by running her own campaign ad, satirically stating that Zuckerberg supports Trump for re-election.

Zuckerberg framed the issue as part of a broader debate over free expression, warning about the dangers of social networks, including Facebook, “potentially cracking down too much.” He called on the U.S. to set an example for tailored regulation in contrast to other countries, including China, that censor political speech online. And Zuckerberg stressed Facebook must stand strong against governments that seek to “pull back” on free speech in the face of heightened social and political tensions. Zuckerberg’s appearance in Washington marks his most forceful attempt to articulate his vision for how governments and tech giants should approach the Web’s most intractable problems. The scale of Facebook and its affiliated apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, which make up a virtual community of billions of users, poses challenges for Zuckerberg and regulators around the world as they struggle to contain hate speech, falsehoods, violent imagery and terrorist propaganda on social media.