Welcome to Monday, where we have very good news on vaccine effectiveness, Myanmar protesters won't back down after police open fire and Edvard Munch turns out to be a different kind of scream. We also find out how AI is helping to preserve dying languages.
• COVID-19 latest: The U.S. death toll is approaching the 500,000 mark, the UK unveils plan to cautiously loosen its lockdown and Argentina authorizes emergency use of Chinese-made vaccine. A new study offers very good news about the effectiveness of vaccines to reduce serious illness from COVID.
• Myanmar coup protests: Massive protests continued Monday across Myanmar against the military coup despite increasingly deadly response from authorities.
• Beijing olive branch: A top Chinese official urged American counterparts to work together with Beijing to mend the damaged bilateral relationship between the world's two most powerful countries.
• Italian envoy killed: The Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and a military policeman have been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy.
• Boeing 777 grounded: Dozens of Boeing 777 aircraft have been grounded in the U.S. and Japan after the dramatic engine failure of a United Airlines flight near Denver this past weekend.
• Bitcoin dips: Trading was down as much as 6% in opening hours on the cryptocurrency after a record-shattering week that saw Bitcoin rise above $58,000. Elon Musk, who has bet big on bitcoin, said on Saturday that prices "seem high."
• Madman Munch: The National Museum of Norway has confirmed that the mysterious graffiti on Edvard Munch's painting The Scream that read "Can only have been painted by a madman" was written by the artist himself.
USA Today devotes its front page to the grim milestone the United States is approaching with 500,000 lives lost to coronavirus.
Saving languages from extinction, with the help of AI
The world's linguistic heritage is facing a crisis just as serious as that of biodiversity. A French project is trying to save what exists in the Pangloss collection, powered by new tools of Artificial Intelligence, reports Yann Verdo in daily Paris-based Les Echos.
Across the earth, there are 7 continents and 197 countries. How many languages are spoken? The answer is around 7,000, but if this number surprises you, it's because you suffer from the distorted perspective that half of the 7.8 billion inhabitants of the planet express themselves or communicate through only about 20 of them (Arabic, English, Spanish, French, Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese...), while the other 97% of these 7,000 languages have a total number of speakers that does not exceed 4% of the population.
Our world linguistic heritage, as rich it may be, is very fragile. The overwhelming majority of these 7,000 languages have no written tradition, and today are only spoken by a handful of old people. This heritage is both the fruit and the guarantor of humans' cultural diversity, and is no less significant than the biodiversity of plant and animal species. The crisis it faces can be considered the sixth major extinction that threatens the world.
This threat of massive linguistic extinction is what motivated researchers to create the Pangloss collection in 1995, named after a character in Voltaire's "Candide," whose name in Greek means, "all languages." This collection is to linguistic diversity what protected areas are to biodiversity. And soon the painstaking work of transcribing and translating a rare language before it disappears into oblivion could be greatly accelerated by the advancements made in Artificial Intelligence.
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