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YouTuber challenges scientist to create an AI version of him for $100

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We already know deepfakes are all over the place these days, and the technology associated with them is advancing rapidly. But how easy is it to create a digital replica of somebody? And could it be done on a budget?

That’s the question YouTuber Tom Scott set out to find the answer to in his latest video, for which he challenged AI in neuroscience researcher Jordan Harrod to create a fake version of him for $100.

“This isn’t a face replacement or a body double,” Scott explains at the start of the video. “That’s mainstream now. Hollywood’s doing it, anyone can do it. This is trying to create a cheaper, complete replacement for me — an automatic digital puppet on a budget of just $100.”

As you can probably guess, Harrod manages this easily enough — creating a version of Scott that, while a little rough around the edges, still manages to help her narrate the rest of the video while doing a passable impression of Scott’s voice and facial expressions.

But rather than being an instructional video (which, given the concerns around deepfake technology, wouldn’t be a great idea), Harrod uses the time to explore the tech’s advancement, the associated dangers, and the tools we can use to identify synthetic media going forwards.

It’s a fascinating insight into something which, while perhaps not a widespread source of misinformation just yet, isn’t going away anytime soon.

Netflix’s ‘Fate: The Winx Saga’ trailer features plenty of fairy magic, not one pair of wings

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Fairy magic is linked to emotion, people, as you’ll learn in the official trailer for Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga series. And folks, “The stronger the emotion, the stronger the magic.”

Following a teaser dropped in December, the streaming giant has released the trailer for its new six-part fantasy teen series about five fairies attending Alfea, a magical boarding school.

Created by The Vampire Diaries‘ Brian Young as a reimagining of Iginio Straffi’s Italian cartoon series Winx Club, the series follows Bloom (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star Abigail Cowen) and her friends, who learn about themselves, their powers, and the truth behind the history of the school, which sits behind a magical Barrier — protection from the so-called Burned Ones.

But as Bloom says, “I’m just kind of bummed I didn’t see a single pair of wings.”

Fate: The Winx Saga lands on Netflix Jan 22.

Life after death: Woman shares her view of heaven following near death experience

Life after death is perhaps one of the biggest mysteries to humanity. There has never been any proof to say there is but equally there is no evidence to indicate there is not. However, one woman believes she now holds the answer after suffering an NDE.

A person named Rhonda let New Years Eve celebrations get the better of her, which led to alcohol poisoning.

The bout with alcohol poisoning left Rhonda hospitalised, and she believes she saw the afterlife there.

However, the afterlife, according to Rhonda, is not a heavenly realm where people live in the clouds, but an almost psychedelic experience.

Rhonda wrote on the Near Death Experience Research Foundation: “I remember feeling that I was falling into a hole.

“I opened my eyes and the only thing I saw was darkness. Then from far away, I saw a circle or colourful tunnel that was coming right to me.

“When it got closer, it was a tunnel. The walls were spinning and the inside looked like a colourful tornado with a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

“I stepped inside the tunnel and looked up. I was looking at the colours, when I started hearing people whispering.

“I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then, dark arms started coming out of the walls of the tunnel and they were trying to reached me.

READ MORE: Life after death: Woman recounts ‘pleasant’ afterlife experience

They found a huge surge in brain activity in the final 30 seconds of the rodents’ lives.

Jimo Borjigin, PhD, associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and associate professor of neurology, said: “This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow.”

Essentially, if the brain is more active, one might have vivid visions, leading them to believe they had seen the afterlife.

Dr Borjigin added: “The prediction that we would find some signs of conscious activity in the brain during cardiac arrest was confirmed with the data.”

Ben Affleck On Alcohol Addiction And When He Began ‘Drinking Too Much’

Ben Affleck spoke about his alcohol addiction and continued recovery in a candid interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s “Awards Chatter” podcast this week. 

“I started drinking too much around the time of ‘Justice League,’ and it’s a hard thing to confront and face and deal with,” the actor said of the time he “realized I was an alcoholic.”

The “Argo” actor and producer explained that alcohol addiction is extremely prevalent in Hollywood, calling it “the most ordinary thing.” 

“If you knew how many actors and directors and writers were alcoholics or compulsive in some way — I mean, it’s the most ordinary thing in the world in Hollywood,” he said. “I’ve worked with actors who showed up drunk! And that was not me. I drank, like, alone in my living room and just passed out, like, with scotch. But I got sober.” 

He said that he’s “been sober for a while now” and can say that he feels “as healthy and good as I’ve ever felt.” 

“It took me a little while to get it — I had a few slips, like most people — but I feel really good,” the entertainer said. 

Ben Affleck at the premiere of "'Justice League" at Dolby Theatre on Nov. 13, 2017, in Hollywood.



Axelle/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images

Ben Affleck at the premiere of “‘Justice League” at Dolby Theatre on Nov. 13, 2017, in Hollywood.

In an interview with The New York Times last year, Affleck spoke of one of the most public slip-ups he’s had in recent years, when he was filmed inebriated at a party in 2019. 

“Relapse is embarrassing, obviously,” he admitted. “I wish it didn’t happen. I really wish it wasn’t on the internet for my kids to see. Jen [Garner] and I did our best to address it and be honest.” 

In the same interview, Affleck said that getting divorced from Garner was “the biggest regret of my life.” 

The two, who share three children, announced their separation in 2015 before officially divorcing in 2018. 

“I never thought I was going to get divorced,” Affleck told “Good Morning America” co-anchor Diane Sawyer last February. “I didn’t want to get divorced, I didn’t want to be a divorced person. I really didn’t want to be a split family with my children. It upset me because it meant I wasn’t who I thought I was, and that was so painful and so disappointing.” 

Massachusetts Lawmaker Wants To Name Official State Dinosaur

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts state lawmaker is asking for the public’s help to select an official state dinosaur.

State Rep. Jack Lewis tweeted Monday that he plans on filing the legislation on Jan. 15, adding that the effort is a good way for children to learn about the legislative process.

But first, the Framingham Democrat is asking residents to select from one of two dinosaur species discovered in Massachusetts.

Podokesaurus holyokensis, which means “swift-footed lizard of Holyoke,” was first discovered near Mount Holyoke in 1910 by Mignon Talbot, the first woman to name and describe a dinosaur, according to Lewis. The species was 3 to 6 feet (around 1 to 2 meters) in length, weighed approximately 90 pounds (40 kilograms), and was estimated to run 9 to 12 mph (14 to 19 kph).

Anchisaurus polyzelus, which means “much sought after near lizard” was discovered in 1855 in Springfield. They were more than 6 feet long and about 60 to 75 pounds (27 to 34 kilograms).

Paleontologists have served as consultants for the project, he said.

Twelve states already have official state dinosaurs, Lewis said.

WhatsApp delays controversial update after user backlash

WhatsApp has caused quite a bit of commotion with a planned update to its privacy policy, which spooked users as it added more detail on how Facebook and third party businesses can use and interact with user data on the platform. 

Now, amid user backlash, the company has announced the new policy will go into effect on May 15 instead of Feb. 8, as originally planned. 

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the company said in a blog post dated Jan. 15. 

“We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the post says. 

In the post, WhatsApp once again reiterates what it said last week — neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see your private messages, and the company is still committed to using end-to-end encryption for conversations. The updates are all about communication between users and businesses, and they do not affect people’s private conversations. (WhatsApp does share some metadata with Facebook, but that’s largely been in place since 2016). 

Still, the company acknowledges that it’s “going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp.” 

I can provide a very palpable example of WhatsApp means by this. The company recently provided some information on a page precisely to address confusion around its new Privacy Policy. But the latest version of that page, as I see it at writing time, is missing a paragraph that was there just five days ago.

The paragraph in question, as seen on an earlier version of the page (via Wayback Machine), is as follows:

“New commerce features: People increasingly want to be able to shop from businesses online. With Facebook branded commerce features like Shops, some businesses will display their goods right within WhatsApp so people can see what’s available to buy. If you choose to interact with Shops, your shopping activity can be used to personalize your Shops experience and the ads you see on Facebook and Instagram. Features like this are optional and when you use them we will tell you in the app how your data is being shared with Facebook.”

I don’t know why WhatsApp removed this paragraph from the page (I’ve asked, and will update this article when I hear back), but it certainly only adds to confusion around this matter. 

You can read WhatsApp’s updated Terms of Service here

It’s hard to say how many users WhatsApp has lost due to the new policy, but its competitors, such as Telegram and Signal, are seeing a massive influx of new users in the last week or so. 

Notably, the company also launched front-page ads in India to mitigate the user outflows. 

This clever bot turns Reddit arguments into video game scenes

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There’s plenty of drama on Reddit, but it’s not often that drama gets to play out on the screen.

Until now, at least.

On Sunday, 24-year-old software engineer Micah Price from Cape Town, South Africa, unveiled what can only be described as a niche-but-genius creation: a bot that takes everyday arguments on Reddit and has them play out in the style of scenes from Ace Attorney, Capcom’s animated courtroom-based video game series.

The end result is a gloriously dramatic affair that shines a whole new spotlight on Reddit’s comment section. Price’s video was shared on Reddit’s r/Videos sub shortly after it went live on YouTube, and at the time of writing it’s racked up over 21,000 upvotes.

Price told Mashable he’s always been a fan of Ace Attorney, which sees players taking on the role of defense attorneys who must carry out investigations to protect their clients (the game’s episodes culminate in a courtroom trial where you have to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence to a judge). Price got the idea for the bot from other meme-based videos of the game on YouTube.

“The dramatic music is great,” he said, “especially for the melodramatic debates on Reddit.”

Even better, everybody can join in the fun — all you need to do to trigger the bot is add “!objectionbot” or “!objection-bot” to a Reddit comment on certain supported subreddits (you can view the full list of those here). The bot then scans the thread, finds the top commenters, and turns their discussion into a YouTube video that’s then automatically linked to in the thread (the “objection!” graphic happens when a comment has a negative score, or if the bot’s neural network detects the tone of the comment to be negative).

Price said the whole thing took him about three days to put together. “I wasn’t sure if it would be popular so didn’t want to spent much longer on it,” he said. “I used Python and a bunch of computer vision and machine learning libraries. It’s uber buggy at the moment, though.”

And as for the bot’s future?

“I’ll see how it goes,” said Price. “Only costs me $10 a month to run so no harm leaving it for a couple months. If it’s anything like my other side projects I’ll just end up abandoning it though. Although maybe someone else will pick it up, it’s open source.”

No matter what lies ahead for objection-bot, it’s ripples are already being felt throughout the Reddit-sphere. Godspeed.

How to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day from home

The third Monday in January has returned to remind us of the legacy of one of our nation’s greatest civil rights leaders at a time when we need it most. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federally recognized day of service, traditionally observed with nationwide service projects and volunteer opportunities. As AmeriCorps, the organization that oversees the national day of service, says, it’s “a day on, not a day off.”

But this year is different. Not only is the country dealing with an ongoing health crisis keeping the majority of Americans at home, but we also enter the new year on the heels of an intense cry for racial justice and healing seen in last summer’s movement for Black lives. You might not be able to get out to attend a service project this year, but you can still find ways to honor the work of activists present and past. 

Joy Bivins, associate director of collections and research services at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, described this year’s commemoration and the current political moment as the right time to really understand King’s message and find creative ways to uplift Black communities in his honor. 

“It’s a perfect time to revisit his philosophy and take advantage of the programs that are happening out there, that are interrogating who Dr. King was…within the context of what’s happening in our nation today,” Bivins said.

Here are a few ways to honor the legacy of King, his colleagues, and the activists building on his work, during a year when you can’t go out and march yourself.

Attend a virtual event or talk

Traditional service opportunities might not be possible this year, but many institutions are still hosting virtual commemorations.  

Aaron Bryant, curator for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, says the museum’s programming is built on the framework of social justice and the fight for equality in line with King’s message. The museum has moved its annual celebration, A People’s Holiday, online. You can sign up to attend the event, featuring Grammy award-winner Christian McBride, here

The King Center, a memorial and nonprofit established by Coretta Scott King, will host its annual Beloved Community Commemorative Service on the holiday (starting at 10.30 a.m. ET). You can register on eventbrite.

For the rest of the year, check out other programming by Black-led cultural organizations. The Schomburg Center, for example, hosts virtual events about Black culture and history every month. “That’s our bread and butter,” Bivins explained. The organization just hosted its annual Black Comic festival, and will continue cultural programming ahead of Black History Month. Check out the schedule here

Donate to legal defense funds

Bivins explained that while many consider King only through his legacy of “peaceful protest,” he also had a “very robust interaction with the criminal justice system” — a history that continues in the unequal treatment of Black versus white protesters. 

She recommends donating to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a leading nonprofit fighting for racial justice through litigation and advocacy, or supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center, which builds on the legal victories of the early civil rights movement. 

Support HBCUs

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) arose prior to 1964 in response to systemic education inequality. With enrollment expected to increase this year, they represent safe spaces for Black students and award a significant portion of bachelor’s degrees held by Black students.   

Bivins said that advocating for HBCUs honors spaces where “our activists and heroes are trained.” Call on your representative to support continued federal funding for these institutions. 

Connect with community organizers and institutions

The fight for racial justice is ongoing and starts on the ground. Bivins recommends seeking out your local Black Lives Matter chapter and finding ways to support their work.

You can also donate to Black cultural institutions or support digital collection initiatives. The National Museum of African American History & Culture, for example, created a digital repository of stories from last year’s protest movement and invites others to share their stories to the online collection. It’s called Voices of Hope and Resistance and is still accepting submissions.

The museum’s curator Bryant understands King’s work as a fight for community, equity, and human dignity. He says it’s also the perfect moment to share small acts of community service that don’t require grand gesture or money — things like sharing food with community food banks, volunteering your time to assist a neighbor, or uplifting social justice conversations online. 

Learn more about Dr. King’s activism

Take this day (week, month, or whole year, while you’re at it) to read up on King’s life. The holiday, proposed the year he was assassinated in 1968, was contentiously debated and wasn’t formally adopted by every state until 2000, Bivins explained. 

Bivins says this history allows us to critique the glorification of King’s “peaceful movement” and the myth that he was widely beloved, something we’ve had to reconcile with this past year. “He was assassinated because he believed certain things. That idea — it makes us a bit uneasy,” Bivins said. “I think that uneasiness in wrestling with our nation’s history can be a challenge to some, but it is a worthwhile moment to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we like to see ourselves go.” 

Both Bivins and Bryant recommend reading King’s last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community. “That’s the question we’ve been asking, this year and this week in particular,” Bryant said. “How do we become a national community?” 

Life after death: Woman recounts ‘pleasant’ afterlife experience – ‘Everything connected’

An incredibly-detailed firsthand account of the afterlife has emerged on the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) blog. In her story, a woman known only as Anne W has this week published what she believes happened to her post-cardiac arrest period.

In a lengthy account, the woman begins by explaining she felt ill at a poker tournament with her boyfriend.

She said: “I mentioned to my boyfriend, something was up, I didn’t feel right, I was sweating, experiencing high anxiety feeling, shaking. It wasn’t nerves, I said ‘I just don’t feel right’.”

Anne then reveals she proceeded to fall asleep and experience a very vivid dream.

She said: “It was Jesus surrendered on the cross. The Romans crossed his ankles and were pounding a Roman stake through both of his ankles on the cross.

“The excruciating pain I felt for him, I felt all his pain and suffering.

READ MORE: Near death experience: Visions of the afterlife should be taken more seriously’

“I woke up sobbing, sad, grief stricken that another human could possibly do this to another.

“I was very shocked and confused at the vividness of this dream.”

And it was only shortly afterwards she had an apparent heart attack.

Anne said: “It began with chest pains, I was holding my chest for a while as we sat and talked; it felt like my heart had clamped down tight.

“I began hyperventilating and my heart felt like it was popping out of my chest. All the sudden I became weak and cold, said I need to lay down on the floor.”

“I was shown through energy that I was one with all that is, all that ever was and all that will ever be.

“All that existed was within me. I was shown this and experienced this within every fibre of my being.

“Everything was connected. I was everything, everywhere; omnipresent, omniscience!

“I knew in this place of oneness that I was connected to everyone and everything. there absolutely was no separation.”

Then, after a prolonged and highly detailed account of her religious experience, Anne believes she eventually arrived at a “barrier she was not permitted to cross”.

She said: “I got a huge revelation and then I heard a loud pop or click and then I was literally snapped back into my body patting myself down, screaming, ‘I’m alive, I’m alive’.

“My girlfriend was walking into my apartment at the same time; but before she walked in physically, I saw her coming.”

However, while Anne appears certain her experience is empirical evidence of the afterlife researchers reveal such vivid visions are simply associated with a surge in brain activity occurring as one approaches death.

University of Michigan scientists arrived at this conclusion after monitoring brain activity clinically-induced cardiac arrest in rats.

They found a huge surge in brain activity in the final few seconds of the rodents’ lives.

Professor Jimo Borjigin said at the time: “This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow.”

Zombie apocalypse map shows the best place to be in UK if the dead rose

This Morning: Alison Hammond left TERRIFIED by zombies

In the event of a societal collapse, such as a zombie apocalypse, researchers believe the best place to be would be somewhere which already has an environmentally friendly and sustainable infrastructure in place. For that reason, energy firm Save On Energy has been ranking the most sustainable cities in the UK, which would also be best suited for a zombie apocalypse.

The company’s analysis revealed that Cambridge would be the best place to head if the dead began to rise up.

This is because it has a lot of access to farmland, as well as being home to a number of onshore wind farms and recycling centres.

As such, the people of Cambridge could easily sustain themselves in the event of the collapse of society.

The next on the list is Swansea, according to Save on Energy.

Zombie apocalypse map shows the best place to be in UK if the dead rose

Zombie apocalypse map shows the best place to be in UK if the dead rose (Image: GETTY)

zombies

Could a zombie apocalypse happen? (Image: GETTY)

cambridge

Cambridge was ranked as the most sustainable (Image: GETTY)

The firm said: “When taking into account each of the eight ‘survival’ factors, the Welsh city is not only home to the most outdoor space per 100,000 population, it also has vast amounts of farmland that could be used in the event of an apocalypse and farmers”

Belfast completes the top three, as the Northern Irish city has access to onshore wind farms and it has a large farming community.

Oxford was ranked as the least likely place where the people could survive a zombie apocalypse.

Save On Energy said: “Despite having some of the most farmland of all cities studied, Oxford was let down by its lack of onshore wind farms, lack of outdoor space, and clean air.”

READ MORE: Millions of mink infected with coronavirus to be BURNED after ‘ZOMB…

Preston came in as the second-worst place to be, due to it having one of the lowest parks per population in the entire UK.

Derby is the third least likely place where its inhabitants would survive the living dead.

This is because it had one of the worst air qualities of the cities studied, and also one of the lowest numbers of recycling centres per 100,000 people in the population.

Save on Energy said: “Whilst much of the population believe that a zombie apocalypse is little more than a fictitious scenario, a number of Brits still fear the possibility, with pop culture leading some to believe that a zombie takeover remains a reasonable explanation of how the world might end.

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best and worst places to survive

Zombie apocalypse: The best and worst places to survive (Image: SAVE ON ENERGY)

“But if zombies were to take over, how prepared would your city be?

“Our zombie survival index sought to find out which cities are least prepared for a zombie apocalypse based on each of the eight different factors: solar energy produced per year, farming area, the number of farmers per city, air quality, outdoor space, recycling centres, wind farms, and the number of electric vehicle charging points.”

A recent study from Penn State University revealed that those who are fans of zombie movies were most prepared for the current coronavirus pandemic.

The researchers asked more than 300 participants to fill out a survey which calculated an individual’s positive and negative resilience to situations.

The survey then asked a set of six questions which analysed how prepared someone was for the outbreak.

zombie pandemic

Those who are fans of zombie movies were most prepared for the current coronavirus pandemic. (Image: GETTY)

Participants were then asked to indicate which movie genres they most cared for, according to the research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

The researchers found that those who were fans of horror and zombie movies were most mentally prepared for the pandemic.

John Johnson, professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State, said: “My latest research collaboration was unique in that my colleagues wanted to identify factors beyond personality that contributed to people’s psychological preparedness and resilience in the face of the pandemic.

“After factoring out personality influences, which were actually quite strong, we found that the more movies about zombies, alien invasions and apocalyptic pandemics people had seen prior to Covid-19, the better they dealt with the actual, current pandemic.

“These kinds of movies apparently serve as mental rehearsal for actual events.”