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Future

Agrotokens Let Farmers Turn Surplus Grain Into Tangible Cryptocurrency

Digital currencies may be volatile, but one company in Argentina has found a way to allow farmers to purchase goods and services online using surplus grain.

BUENOS AIRES — Amid a boom in the price of farming products, an Argentine firm has devised a way for local farmers to turn surplus grain into digital credits that can be used to purchase goods with a debit card.

In partnership with Visa, Agrotoken, a firm founded by Eduardo Novillo Astrada and Ariel Scaliter, has created a card accepted by 80 million shops and businesses associated with its tokenized grains program. The firm is effectively linking Argentine farmers and exporters who have surplus grains with a global business network.

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Artificial Satellite Pollution, Perils For Biodiversity In Space And On Earth

Exploiting space resources and littering it with satellite and other anthropogenic objects is endangering the ecosystem of space, which also damages the earth and its creatures below.

Outer space isn’t what most people would think of as an ecosystem. Its barren and frigid void isn’t exactly akin to the verdant canopies of a rainforest or to the iridescent shoals that swim among coral cities. But if we are to become better stewards of the increasingly frenzied band of orbital space above our atmosphere, a shift to thinking of it as an ecosystem — as part of an interconnected system of living things interacting with their physical environment — may be just what we need.

Last month, in the journal Nature Astronomy, a collective of 11 astrophysicists and space scientists proposed we do just that, citing the proliferation of anthropogenic space objects. Thousands of satellites currently orbit the Earth, with commercial internet providers such as SpaceX’s Starlink launching new ones at a dizzying pace. Based on proposals for projects in the future, the authors note, the number could reach more than a hundred thousand within the decade. Artificial satellites, long a vital part of the space ecosystem, have arguably become an invasive species.

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Cyber War Chronicles: Meet The Hackers Taking On Russia

The war in Ukraine is not just being fought on the ground. The battle for dominance increasingly happens on the digital field, where a worldwide network of cyber-soldiers conduct attacks to disrupt Russia's war effort, from the outside and inside too.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian hackers have been fighting tit for tat on what we can call the "digital front line." To quantify the firepower involved, the number of ransomware attacks on Russian companies has tripled since Feb. 28, according to Kaspersky Lab, a Russian multinational cybersecurity firm that found a direct link between the uptick in online targeting to the breakout of military conflict in Ukraine.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

At the same time, developers of information security solutions such as Fortinet, ESET, Avast and NortonLifeLock Inc. have left the Russian market, making it harder for companies to protect themselves against external attack.

Earning cash through online ransoms and blackmail has often served as the motivation for carrying out cyberattacks. But prior to the war, cybercriminals had tended to keep news headlines in mind when going after their targets — for example, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when users were faced with a large amount of spam and phishing emails.

The new motive for cyberattacks

In 2022, however, the face of cybercrime has evolved. Attacks are now driven more by personal motives and moral convictions than by a desire for financial gain.

The goal of new attacks is to block or complicate access to the victim’s data. Alexey Chuprinin, head of Application Security Softline, tells Russian business daily Kommersant that hackers are “not only targeting companies that are capable of paying a ransom, for example industry and finance — they are also targeting organizational structures, which can cause a public outcry.”

Using Russian ransomware against Russian companies seemed like the perfect '"f*ck you."

Immediately after the outbreak of war, Conti, a ransomware-as-a-service group, announced unequivocal support for the Russian government. In retaliation, a partner working from Ukraine, posted information about the identities of Conti members, as well as the source code of the ransomware program.

This “allowed hacktivists to use this family of programs against organizations in Russia,” said the head of the Group-IB digital forensics laboratory, Oleg Skulkin. It served as a means to protest against their own government anonymously.

Similarly, a representative of Ransomware group Network Battalion 65 (NB65) told Tech Novosti how a former member of the Russian group Trickbot leaked two years of chat logs as well as a host of operational data regarding their group.

“We took a copy of the source code and decided that it would be a good idea to use this ransomware against Russia. The irony of using Russian ransomware against Russian companies seemed like the perfect 'f*ck you,'" he said. "This is our way of saying 'Russian ship, Russian ship, this is Network Battalion 65. F*ck you!'"

Digital batallions

The Ukrainian government is welcoming this growth in hacking. Slava Banik, head of the IT Army Of Ukraine at the country's Ministry of Digital Transformation, tells Euronews that more than 300,000 people worldwide are using their computers to help disrupt Russia’s war efforts, as well as the everyday lives of Russian civilians.

It is a tactic that even ordinary non-tech-savvy citizens can resort to.

One way of doing this is to overload Russian websites with junk traffic, forcing them offline. It is a tactic that even ordinary non-tech-savvy citizens can resort to, and it can be used to target Russian banks, governmental websites and media.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army has grouped together around 3,000 IT specialists, divided in so-called digital "battalions," who carry out cyberattacks on Russian websites every day. All actions are coordinated with the main headquarters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kyiv.

War from the bedroom

In its latest report, Kaspersky Lab backs its thesis that cyber-incidents are politically motived, as variants of encryption programs that are made exclusively in Ukraine are involved in attacks on Russian resources.

One of the malwares recently discovered by experts was the Freeud viper, developed by pro-Ukrainian supporters. The ransom note sent after activating the program states that Russian troops must leave Ukraine.

“The choice of words and the way the note is written suggest that it was written by a native Russian speaker,” Kaspersky experts say.

Yes, the enemy (on or offline) can be where you least expect him.

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Future
Leah Henrickson and Simone Natale

Robot Artists And Us: Who Decides The Aesthetics Of AI?

Ai-Da is touted as the first bonafide robot artist. But should we consider her paintings and poetry original or creative? Is this even art at all?

Ai-Da sits behind a desk, paintbrush in hand. She looks up at the person posing for her, and then back down as she dabs another blob of paint onto the canvas. A lifelike portrait is taking shape. If you didn’t know a robot produced it, this portrait could pass as the work of a human artist.

Ai-Da is touted as the “first robot to paint like an artist”, and an exhibition of her work called Leaping into the Metaverse opened at the Venice Biennale.

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Ideas
Nolan Higdon

Elon Musk Wants Twitter For The Big Data, Not The Free Speech

Oligarchs of the ‘Second Gilded Age’ in the like of Elon Musk are already able to influence the public's minds through media ownership. But getting a hand on Twitter means having access to its users' data and exploiting it for financial purposes.

During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, and the early decades of the 20th century, U.S. captains of industry such as William Randolph Hearst and Jay Gould used their massive wealth to dominate facets of the economy, including the news media. They were, in many ways, prototype oligarchs — by the dictionary definition, “very rich business leaders with a great deal of political influence.”

Some have argued that the U.S. is in the midst of a Second Gilded Age defined — like the first — by vast wealth inequality, hyper-partisanship, xenophobia and a new crop of oligarchs using their vast wealth to purchase media and political influence.

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Future
Anna Lippert

Open-Source Methods, The Cyber Weapon Anyone Can Use In Ukraine War

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, journalists and citizens have used open source online intelligence to help the war effort and fight disinformation. NGOs and amateur investigators are even using it to look for evidence of human rights abuses.

“#OSINT”: These five mysterious letters and hashtag have flourished on social media since Russia’s offensive in Ukraine. Open Source Intelligence is older than this conflict which broke out last February, but it the idea became better known to the general public as videos, photos and other conflict-related content abound, especially on social networks.

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What’s hidden behind this acronym is a set of methods allowing the exploitation of open sources on the Internet: videos or photos posted on social media, location data, satellite images or the positions of planes and ships shared by a number of websites.

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Economy
Raphaël Balenieri

Don't Let The Metaverse Become Just Another Club For The Wealthy

Metaverses are introducing ownership and rarity to the internet for the first time in its history. It is already generating billions of dollars in transactions, but the risk is that it becomes a club exclusively for the wealthy.

-Analysis-

PARIS — Gas, electricity, paper… The prices of everything are soaring. But this is nothing compared with what is happening in the metaverse, a place of a multitude of new, virtual and immersive universes, populated with 3D avatars.

In The Sandbox, a metaverse launched in 2012 by two Frenchmen and backed by the Japanese conglomerate Softbank, the prices of virtual lands (more than 166,000 of them exist on the platform) compete with real estate prices in Paris, London or Hong Kong. A user called “EnzoFar” recently put his land for sale … for 66,666 Ethers (a top cryptocurrency, along with Bitcoin), or more than $227 million at the current exchange rate.

Others have done even better. Since their creation by four friends in 2021, the 10,000 unique virtual apes of the Bored Ape Yacht Club have generated what equates to $1.5 billion in transactions. Justin Bieber, Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg and Eminem have all succumbed to the craze and bought their own.

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Future
Laura-Maï Gaveriaux

The Mirage Of Egypt’s New Capital City

In an area the size of Singapore, Egypt is building its new capital. Constructed under the close control of the military and the head of state, the city embodies the grand ambitions of an increasingly autocratic president. But will it turn out to be a ghost city?

CAIRO — The concrete structure rises to a height of 1,263 feet (385 meters) on the edge of an expressway, where asphalt, as soon as it is laid down, lets out acrid fumes. With its double collar that licks the sky, the Iconic Tower is already the tallest building in Africa. It is also the flagship of this vast assembly of open-air construction sites over 450 square miles, an area the size of Singapore, which will be the location of the new Egyptian capital.

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Ideas
Carlo Petrini*

Butterfly Wings & Wheat: How The Ukraine War Could Spark Global Food Crises

In an interconnected world, we are faced again with the negative implications of the so-called "butterfly effect" when a localized conflict can have far-reaching consequences and trigger lasting crises. For our world's broken food systems, the war in Ukraine should be a wake-up call.

-OpEd-

Could the conflict that erupted in Ukraine cause a new bread revolution in Egypt? Alas yes, the conditions are in place for this — and other similar upheavals — to happen.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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The outbreak of war in Ukraine — which is upsetting, unexpected and utterly unjustifiable — again leaves us feeling powerless and overwhelmed by circumstances far beyond our control. In a deeply interconnected world, this also forces us to again reckon with the negative implications of the so-called "butterfly effect:" how a dramatic event limited to a specific geographical area can have unexpected consequences in faraway areas of the planet, laying the foundations for serious and lasting crises.

Here, I want to focus specifically on the agri-food sector, in light of a sad fact: conflict and hunger are intimately connected phenomena, when one occurs the other follows almost naturally.

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Future
Lautaro García Alonso

Data, Selfies, Prevention: How AI Is Transforming Healthcare

From testing for COVID through WhatsApp to taking selfies to check heart risks, AI programs are being used in Argentina to complement early-stage diagnoses. The technologies are in their early stages but are able to detect what the human eye might miss.

BUENOS AIRES —The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that every year 138 million patients suffer from medical misdiagnoses that prove fatal in 2.6 million cases. In the United States, medical errors relating to misuse of pharmaceutical products or misdiagnosis were the third cause of deaths there in 2015.

All this proves that medicine is not infallible, and even specialists can go wrong. The daily performance of all doctors is subject to factors like stress, overwork or exhaustion (they sometimes work 24 hours straight). In this context, technological advances of recent years may bring some good news. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has brought innovations that boost diagnosis and even detect conditions invisible to the naked eye.

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Work In Progress
Rozena Crossman

Work → In Progress: Why 'Financial Wellness' Is Not Just About A Raise

The workplace wellness trend now includes the very practical questions about how, when and how much we get paid, and is shaping up to be the next step in blurring the lines between personal and professional that were once so neatly divided.

We’re approaching the end of Q1 of 2022 and the “wellness” trend that’s usually reserved for millennials’ yoga mats has officially made its way into the professional world. After two years of realizing that job setups don’t always favor employees’ health, the call for sweeping workplace changes — ranging from more medical access to an HR focus on mental well-being — is in full swing.

But wouldn't you know: the latest professional self-care trend carries a notably practical air: financial wellness.

Bank of America’s 2021 Workplace Benefits Report mentioned “financial wellness” 43 times, which it defined as “the type of support employers are offering to address financial needs.” But is making money not the point of work? It seems this new rebranding of how work relates to cash is indicative of how differently we now view employment.

The financial wellness movement doesn’t want companies to just fairly compensate employees but instead to teach them how to manage their salaries, be it saving for retirement, navigating debt or budgeting.

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