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A Bot Was Scheduled To Argue In Court, Then Came the Jail Threats

A British man who planned to have a “robot lawyer” help a defendant fight a traffic ticket has dropped the effort after receiving threats of possible prosecution and jail time. […] The first-ever AI-powered legal defense was set to take place in California on Feb. 22, but not anymore. As word got out, an uneasy buzz began to swirl among various state bar officials, according to Browder. He says angry letters began to pour in. “Multiple state bar associations have threatened us,” Browder said. “One even said a referral to the district attorney’s office and prosecution and prison time would be possible.” In particular, Browder said one state bar official noted that the unauthorized practice of law is a misdemeanor in some states punishable up to six months in county jail.

“Even if it wouldn’t happen, the threat of criminal charges was enough to give it up,” [said Joshua Browden, the CEO of the New York-based startup DoNotPay]. “The letters have become so frequent that we thought it was just a distraction and that we should move on.” State bar associations license and regulate attorneys, as a way to ensure people hire lawyers who understand the law. Browder refused to cite which state bar associations in particular sent letters, and what official made the threat of possible prosecution, saying his startup, DoNotPay, is under investigation by multiple state bar associations, including California’s.

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Seattle schools sue TikTok, Meta and other platforms over youth ‘mental health crisis’

Seattle public schools have sued the tech giants behind TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, accusing them of creating a “mental health crisis among America’s Youth.” The 91-page lawsuit filed in a US district court states that tech giants exploit the addictive nature of social media, leading to rising anxiety, depression and thoughts of self-harm.

“Defendants’ growth is a product of choices they made to design and operate their platforms in ways that exploit the psychology and neurophysiology of their users into spending more and more time on their platforms,” the complaint states. “[They] have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms.”

Harmful content pushed to users includes extreme diet plants, encouragement of self-harm and more, according to the complaint. That has led to a 30 percent increase between 2009 and 2019 of students who report feeling “so sad or hopeless… for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities.”

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Boston Dynamics’ latest Atlas video demos a robot that can run, jump and now grab and throw

Boston Dynamics released a demo of its humanoid robot Atlas, showing it pick up and deliver a bag of tools to a construction worker. While Atlas could already run and jump over complex terrain, the new hands, or rudimentary grippers, “give the robot new life,” reports TechCrunch. From the report:
The claw-like gripper consists of one fixed finger and one moving finger. Boston Dynamics says the grippers were designed for heavy lifting tasks and were first demonstrated in a Super Bowl commercial where Atlas held a keg over its head. The videos released today show the grippers picking up construction lumber and a nylon tool bag. Next, the Atlas picks up a 2×8 and places it between two boxes to form a bridge. The Atlas then picks up a bag of tools and dashes over the bridge and through construction scaffolding. But the tool bag needs to go to the second level of the structure — something Atlas apparently realized and quickly throws the bag a considerable distance. Boston Dynamics describes this final maneuver: ‘Atlas’ concluding move, an inverted 540-degree, multi-axis flip, adds asymmetry to the robot’s movement, making it a much more difficult skill than previously performed parkour.”

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Researchers Are Getting Eerily Good at Using WiFi to ‘See’ People Through Walls in Detail

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University developed a method for detecting the three dimensional shape and movements of human bodies in a room, using only WiFi routers. From a report:
To do this, they used DensePose, a system for mapping all of the pixels on the surface of a human body in a photo. DensePose was developed by London-based researchers and Facebook’s AI researchers. From there, according to their recently-uploaded preprint paper published on arXiv, they developed a deep neural network that maps WiFi signals’ phase and amplitude sent and received by routers to coordinates on human bodies. Researchers have been working on “seeing” people without using cameras or expensive LiDAR hardware for years. In 2013, a team of researchers at MIT found a way to use cell phone signals to see through walls; in 2018, another MIT team used WiFi to detect people in another room and translate their movements to walking stick-figures.

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Meta Sues Surveillance Company for Scraping Data With Fake Facebook Accounts

Meta has filed a legal complaint against a company for allegedly creating tens of thousands of fake Facebook accounts to scrape user data and provide surveillance services for clients. From a report:
The firm, Voyager Labs, bills itself as “a world leader in advanced AI-based investigation solutions.” What this means in practice is analyzing social media posts en masse in order to make claims about individuals. In 2021, for example, The Guardian reported how Voyager Labs sold its services to the Los Angeles Police Department, with the company claiming to predict which individuals were likely to commit crimes in the future.

Meta announced the legal action in a blog post on January 12th, claiming that Voyager Labs violated its terms of service. According to a legal filing issued on November 11th, Meta alleges that Voyager Labs created over 38,000 fake Facebook user accounts and used its surveillance software to gather data from Facebook and Instagram without authorization. Voyager Labs also collected data from sites including Twitter, YouTube, and Telegram.

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Microsoft’s new AI can simulate anyone’s voice with 3 seconds of audio

Microsoft researchers announced a new text-to-speech AI model called VALL-E that can closely simulate a person’s voice when given a three-second audio sample. Once it learns a specific voice, VALL-E can synthesize audio of that person saying anything — and do it in a way that attempts to preserve the speaker’s emotional tone. Its creators speculate that VALL-E could be used for high-quality text-to-speech applications, speech editing where a recording of a person could be edited and changed from a text transcript (making them say something they originally didn’t), and audio content creation when combined with other generative AI models like GPT-3.

Microsoft calls VALL-E a “neural codec language model,” and it builds off of a technology called EnCodec, which Meta announced in October 2022. Unlike other text-to-speech methods that typically synthesize speech by manipulating waveforms, VALL-E generates discrete audio codec codes from text and acoustic prompts. It basically analyzes how a person sounds, breaks that information into discrete components (called “tokens”) thanks to EnCodec, and uses training data to match what it “knows” about how that voice would sound if it spoke other phrases outside of the three-second sample. Or, as Microsoft puts it in the VALL-E paper (PDF): “To synthesize personalized speech (e.g., zero-shot TTS), VALL-E generates the corresponding acoustic tokens conditioned on the acoustic tokens of the 3-second enrolled recording and the phoneme prompt, which constrain the speaker and content information respectively. Finally, the generated acoustic tokens are used to synthesize the final waveform with the corresponding neural codec decoder.”

[…] While using VALL-E to generate those results, the researchers only fed the three-second “Speaker Prompt” sample and a text string (what they wanted the voice to say) into VALL-E. So compare the “Ground Truth” sample to the “VALL-E” sample. In some cases, the two samples are very close. Some VALL-E results seem computer-generated, but others could potentially be mistaken for a human’s speech, which is the goal of the model. In addition to preserving a speaker’s vocal timbre and emotional tone, VALL-E can also imitate the “acoustic environment” of the sample audio. For example, if the sample came from a telephone call, the audio output will simulate the acoustic and frequency properties of a telephone call in its synthesized output (that’s a fancy way of saying it will sound like a telephone call, too). And Microsoft’s samples (in the “Synthesis of Diversity” section) demonstrate that VALL-E can generate variations in voice tone by changing the random seed used in the generation process.

Microsoft has not provided VALL-E code for others to experiment with, likely to avoid fueling misinformation and deception.

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‘Please Don’t Film Me in 2023’

Many viewers on TikTok ate it up, but others pushed back on the idea that there’s humor in filming and posting an unsuspecting neighbor for content. This year, I saw more and more resistance to the practice that’s become normal or even expected…. [P]eople who have been featured in videos unbeknownst to them have pointed out that even if there’s no ill will, it’s just unnerving and weird to be filmed by others as if you’re bit characters in the story of their life. One TikTok user, @hilmaafklint, landed in a stranger’s vlog when they filmed her to show her outfit. She didn’t realize it had happened until another stranger recognized her and tagged her in the video.

“It’s weird at best, and creepy and a safety hazard at worst,” she says in a video….

Even before TikTok, public space had become an arena for constant content creation; if you step outside, there’s a chance you’ll end up in someone’s video. It could be minimally invasive, sure, but it could also shine an unwanted spotlight on the banal moments that just happen to get caught on film. This makeshift, individualized surveillance apparatus exists beyond the state-sponsored systems — the ones where tech companies will hand over electronic doorbell footage without a warrant or where elected officials allow police to watch surveillance footage in real time. We’re watched enough as it is.

So if you’re someone who makes content for the internet, consider this heartfelt advice and a heads-up. If you’re filming someone for a video, please ask for their consent.

And if I catch you recording me for content, I will smack your phone away.

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Carbon Dioxide Emissions Increased in 2022 as Crises Roiled Energy Markets

This year, nations are projected to emit roughly 36.6 billion tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide by burning coal, natural gas and oil for energy, according to new data from the Global Carbon Project. That’s 1 percent more than the world emitted in 2021 and slightly more than the previous record in 2019, which came before the coronavirus pandemic caused a temporary drop in global energy use and emissions.

The findings were released at the United Nations climate change summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, where world leaders have gathered to discuss how to avert catastrophic levels of warming. Scientists have warned that the world as a whole will need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around midcentury in order to stabilize global temperatures and minimize the risks from deadly heat waves, sea-level rise and ecosystem collapse. That deadline is getting harder to hit, experts said, with each passing year. “Every year that emissions go up makes it that much more challenging to bring them back down again by a certain date,” said Glen Peters, a research director at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, who is one of more than 100 scientists involved in the research.

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Meet the four-year-old mini-influencer who films own vlogs to 42k subscribers

Paris McKenzie is the tiny influencer who films her own live streams, vlogs and gets her mum to take photos of her in different outfits. She has 42k subscribers and uses her mum’s camera to share her day-to-day life. The confident kid shares a YouTube channel with mum, Jovey Esin, 30, and loves to vlog whenever she can. She loves life in the spotlight so much that even when she’s not filming for their content, Paris has a toy camera that she pretends to vlog on. Jovey says Paris is always asking her to take photos of her in her outfits – and will get her to take them again if they are not up to her standard. Jovey, a video creator, from Brisbane, Australia, said: ‘She loves the camera. She’ll be like, “Mum can you take a photo of me on this background”. ‘And then she’ll want to look at them to check her pose is right after I have taken them. ‘She grew up seeing the camera and now she smiles at it every time it’s out,’ Jovey said. ‘She fell in love with it. She’s always saying, “I want to vlog”.’ Paris now does her own livestreams, and films clips of her day-to-day life. ‘She knows how to turn the camera on and if she’s not using my phone to vlog she’ll be using her toy camera,’ Jovey said.

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Mysterious Company With Government Ties Plays Key Internet Role

An offshore company that is trusted by the major web browsers and other tech companies to vouch for the legitimacy of websites has connections to contractors for U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement, according to security researchers, documents and interviews. Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, nonprofit Firefox and others allow the company, TrustCor Systems, to act as what’s known as a root certificate authority, a powerful spot in the internet’s infrastructure that guarantees websites are not fake, guiding users to them seamlessly.

The company’s Panamanian registration records show that it has the identical slate of officers, agents and partners as a spyware maker identified this year as an affiliate of Arizona-based Packet Forensics, which public contracting records and company documents show has sold communication interception services to U.S. government agencies for more than a decade. One of those TrustCor partners has the same name as a holding company managed by Raymond Saulino, who was quoted in a 2010 Wired article as a spokesman for Packet Forensics. Saulino also surfaced in 2021 as a contact for another company, Global Resource Systems, that caused speculation in the tech world when it briefly activated and ran more than 100 million previously dormant IP addresses assigned decades earlier to the Pentagon. The Pentagon reclaimed the digital territory months later, and it remains unclear what the brief transfer was about, but researchers said the activation of those IP addresses could have given the military access to a huge amount of internet traffic without revealing that the government was receiving it.

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Google is Quietly Working on a Wearable Device for Preteens

Google is developing a wearable device for preteens under its Fitbit group as it attempts to capture a growing demographic of younger users who own wearable tech, three employees familiar with the project told Insider.

Internally code-named “Project Eleven,” the wearable is designed to help older kids form healthy relationships with their phones and social media, two of the employees said. One of them said the device could include safety features that would let parents contact their children and know their whereabouts.

Project Eleven may be an opportunity to capture a growing market of younger users who would otherwise grow up to become Apple loyalists.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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 Space.com 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 Space.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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Rent Going Up? One Company’s Algorithm Could Be Why

On a summer day last year, a group of real estate tech executives gathered at a conference hall in Nashville to boast about one of their company’s signature products: software that uses a mysterious algorithm to help landlords push the highest possible rents on tenants. “Never before have we seen these numbers,” said Jay Parsons, a vice president of RealPage, as conventiongoers wandered by. Apartment rents had recently shot up by as much as 14.5%, he said in a video touting the company’s services. Turning to his colleague, Parsons asked: What role had the software played?

“I think it’s driving it, quite honestly,” answered Andrew Bowen, another RealPage executive. “As a property manager, very few of us would be willing to actually raise rents double digits within a single month by doing it manually.”

The celebratory remarks were more than swagger. For years, RealPage has sold software that uses data analytics to suggest daily prices for open units. Property managers across the United States have gushed about how the company’s algorithm boosts profits. “The beauty of YieldStar is that it pushes you to go places that you wouldn’t have gone if you weren’t using it,” said Kortney Balas, director of revenue management at JVM Realty, referring to RealPage’s software in a testimonial video on the company’s website. The nation’s largest property management firm, Greystar, found that even in one downturn, its buildings using YieldStar “outperformed their markets by 4.8%,” a significant premium above competitors, RealPage said in materials on its website. Greystar uses RealPage’s software to price tens of thousands of apartments.

RealPage became the nation’s dominant provider of such rent-setting software after federal regulators approved a controversial merger in 2017, a ProPublica investigation found, greatly expanding the company’s influence over apartment prices. The move helped the Texas-based company push the client base for its array of real estate tech services past 31,700 customers.

The impact is stark in some markets. In one neighborhood in Seattle, ProPublica found, 70% of apartments were overseen by just 10 property managers, every single one of which used pricing software sold by RealPage…. But by RealPage’s own admission, its algorithm is helping drive rents higher. “Find out how YieldStar can help you outperform the market 3% to 7%,” RealPage urges potential clients on its website.

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Animal Populations Shrunk an Average of 69% Over the Last Half-Century, Report Says

According to the Living Planet Index, a metric that’s been in existence for five decades, animal populations across the world shrunk by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. Not all animal populations dwindled, and some parts of the world saw more drastic changes than others. But experts say the steep loss of biodiversity is a stark and worrying sign of what’s to come for the natural world. “The message is clear and the lights are flashing red,” said WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini. According to the report’s authors, the main cause of biodiversity loss is land-use changes driven by human activity, such as infrastructure development, energy production and deforestation. But the report suggests that climate change — which is already unleashing wide-ranging effects on plant and animal species globally — could become the leading cause of biodiversity loss if rising temperatures aren’t limited to 1.5C.

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