Archives 8 November 2022

Japan Seeks Power To Turn Down Private Home Air Conditioners Remotely

As reported by Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun, in a meeting on Nov 2, the Energy Conservation Subcommittee of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry resolved to begin working group discussions with the aim of gaining the ability to remotely turn down privately owned air conditioner/heater units. The goal would be to decrease energy usage during expected power shortages, which the committee feels are a growing concern as Japan attempts to shift towards renewable energy sources such as solar power, where the amount generated can be affected by day-to-day climate, making it difficult to stabilize the amount of total power available. The ministry says that AC unit usage accounts for roughly 30 percent of household electricity consumption in Japan.

From a technical standpoint, the plan wouldn’t be particularly difficult to implement. Japanese air conditioner units have long had remote controls, so external inputs aren’t a problem, and many models now allow the owner to turn the system on and off or adjust temperature settings through the internet. By asking manufacturers to extend such access to government regulatory organizations, and granting those organizations override functions over other inputs, the plan could easily be put into practice for internet-connected AC units, and water heaters are another home appliance the committee is looking to gain the ability to throttle back. […] According to Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the committee is currently working under the concept that the government would only be able to turn down AC units if their individual owners have agreed, in advance, to grant that authority.

Atmospheric Levels of All Three Greenhouse Gases Hit Record High

The WMO found there was the biggest year-on-year jump in methane concentrations in 2020 and 2021 since systematic measurements began almost 40 years ago. Methane levels have risen rapidly in recent years, puzzling scientists. Some blamed it on an increase in fracking in the US but this came into doubt as industrial emissions were not showing a similarly sharp rise.

Now the theory is that the methane rise could be caused by activities of microbes in wetlands, rice paddies and the guts of ruminants. Rising temperatures have caused the ideal conditions for microbial methane production, as they enjoy warm, damp areas. Carbon dioxide levels are also soaring, with the jump from 2020 to 2021 larger than the annual growth rate over the past decade. Measurements from WMO’s global atmosphere watch network stations show these levels continue to rise. These greenhouse gases cause global heating, with the warming effect rising by 50% between 1990 and 2021. Carbon dioxide comprised about 80% of this increase. According to the WMO, carbon dioxide concentrations in 2021 were 415.7 parts per million, methane was 1908 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide was 334.5 ppb. These are respectively 149%, 262% and 124% of pre-industrial levels.

New York City Finally Proposes Strict New Regulations for Airbnb Rentals

Under proposed rules that were quietly and unexpectedly made public on Friday — which will, among other things, prohibit hosts from renting out an “entire registered dwelling unit” — Airbnb hosts will be required to submit diagrams of their apartments as well as proof that their listings are permanent residences. Hosts also will be required to list the “full legal name of all permanent occupants of the dwelling” as well as their relationship to the host….

If hosts fail to comply, they can be fined up to $5,000 under the new rules, while Airbnb and other platforms are required to verify the rental on its systems and could be on the hook for a $1,500 fine per violation. Last year, the city council passed the registration law, but little was known about the details and requirements, which will become effective Jan. 9 and enforced by May 9….

Among the requirements, said the source, is one that bars hosts from putting locks on doors that separate the guest from the host, directing that “a registered host shall not allow a rentee to have exclusive access to a separate room within a dwelling” and specifying that, for example, “providing the rentee with a key to lock the door when such rentee is not in the dwelling is prohibited….”

It’s the latest salvo in the fraught relationship between New York City and Airbnb, which has long pushed back on the city’s efforts to regulate the industry. Meanwhile the city blames Airbnb, in part, for its housing shortage.

New Mac App Wants To Record Everything You Do – So You Can ‘Rewind’ It Later

Yesterday, a company called Rewind AI announced a self-titled software product for Macs with Apple Silicon that reportedly keeps a highly compressed, searchable record of everything you do locally on your Mac and lets you “rewind” time to see it later. If you forget something you’ve “seen, said, or heard,” Rewind wants to help you find it easily. Rewind AI claims its product stores all recording data locally on your machine and does not require cloud integration. Among its promises, Rewind will reportedly let you rewind Zoom meetings and pull information from them in a searchable form. In a video demo on Rewind.AI’s site, the app opens when a user presses Command+Shift+Space. The search bar suggests typing “anything you’ve seen, said, or heard.” It also shows a timeline at the bottom of the screen that represents previous actions in apps.

After searching for “tps reports,” the video depicts a grid view of every time Rewind has encountered the phrase “tps reports” as audio or text in any app, including Zoom chats, text messages, emails, Slack conversations, and Word documents. It describes filtering the results by app — and the ability to copy and paste from these past instances if necessary. Founded by Dan Siroker and Brett Bejcek, Rewind AI is composed of a small remote team located in various cities around the US. Portions of the company previously created Scribe, a precursor to Rewind that received some press attention in 2021. In an introductory blog post, Rewind AI co-founder Dan Siroker writes, “What if we could use technology to augment our memory the same way a hearing aid can augment our hearing?”

Europe Warming Twice As Fast As Rest of the World, New Report Reveals

The European continent is bearing the brunt of climate change, warming at a rate that is twice as fast as the global average, a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found. The report analyzed 30 years’ worth of data from 1991 onwards, revealing a disconcerting trend of speedy warming across Europe that is faster than the warming experienced by any other continent. Average temperatures in Europe were rising at a rate of 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade over the studied period, reaching an overall average of 2.2 degrees C (4 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. That is way above the 1.5 degree C (2.7 degrees F) limit set by the international climatology community with the goal of minimizing devastating environmental effects of climate change.

The report, which was compiled in cooperation with the European Earth-observation program Copernicus, stated that Europeans are already feeling the pinch of this warming. According to estimates, the summer of 2022 was the driest in 500 years, with widespread water shortage and wildfires affecting even those nations that are usually accustomed to wetter summers. Alpine glaciers lost about one hundred feet (30 meters) in ice thickness from 1997 to 2021 as a result of the warming, according to the report. In 2021 alone, weather related disasters, mostly related to floods and storms, caused damages worth $50 billion across all European countries.

Scientists don’t know exactly why Europe is warming so fast, Samantha Burgess, deputy director for climate change services at Copernicus told in a previous interview. The fast-paced warming may have something to do with the proximity of the Arctic, which is by far the world’s fastest warming region. “We know that the Arctic is warming about three times faster than the global average rate,” Burgess told last year. “It’s already 3 degrees C [5.4 degrees F] warmer than in the pre-industrial times. It is quite complicated to unpick the scientific reasons behind why the warming is happening so much faster there.” […] The new WMO report states that regardless of emission reduction efforts, temperatures in all regions of Europe will continue to rise at a rate higher than the global average.

Study Urges Caution When Comparing Neural Networks To the Brain

Neural networks, a type of computing system loosely modeled on the organization of the human brain, form the basis of many artificial intelligence systems for applications such speech recognition, computer vision, and medical image analysis. In the field of neuroscience, researchers often use neural networks to try to model the same kind of tasks that the brain performs, in hopes that the models could suggest new hypotheses regarding how the brain itself performs those tasks. However, a group of researchers at MIT is urging that more caution should be taken when interpreting these models.

In an analysis of more than 11,000 neural networks that were trained to simulate the function of grid cells — key components of the brain’s navigation system — the researchers found that neural networks only produced grid-cell-like activity when they were given very specific constraints that are not found in biological systems. “What this suggests is that in order to obtain a result with grid cells, the researchers training the models needed to bake in those results with specific, biologically implausible implementation choices,” says Rylan Schaeffer, a former senior research associate at MIT. Without those constraints, the MIT team found that very few neural networks generated grid-cell-like activity, suggesting that these models do not necessarily generate useful predictions of how the brain works.