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Words from the WWW #3

In this here third post on IMAGINEER's Words from the WWW, I bring you an AI that brings loved ones to life through video; the latest, most promising study on a potential male contraceptive agent, Triptonide; and the latest EU "right to repair" laws which could aid us in fighting e-waste and planned obsolescence.

PS: Click the header images to go through to the story source.


DeepNostalgia: Bringing Loved Ones Back to Life via AI

Genealogy site My Heritage, who specialises in helping people discover their ancestors, has launched a new service called Deep Nostalgia. It works like this: users upload photographs of loved ones (or anyone, really, and that's a whole can of worms in and of itself) which are then overlaid on their video feed and animated in real-time. It essentially works as an extremely advanced Instagram filter, applying the face in the photograph over yours. The company doesn't allow the animation to process audio, however; this serves as a way to curb potential nefarious uses (people uploading a photo of someone and spouting nonsense; imagine if someone uploaded a picture of Martin Luther King and then proceeded to read through Mein Kampf).

The aim of the program is to help people cope with loss, and regain a connection to lost (or even never actually known) relatives. While that may be true, I am unaware of any scientific publication that finds these mechanisms to be healthy as a coping mechanism; and the scenario must be considered where this actually hinders recovery and cope by constantly re-traumatizing individuals as to what and whom they lost.

Would you want to see a deceased loved one's face being animated in real-time?

P.S. 1 - Just to clarify: this AI is just an algorithm that's been given gargantuan amounts of data (in this case, videos of people talking and gesticulating) - there's no intelligence there. Only mathematics licensed from Israeli firm D-ID.

P.S. 2 - The service converts and monetizes the same AI-powered technology that's used for nefarious purposes to animate fake faces and lip animations of famous people (you might have heard it referred to as Deep Fakes).


New EU "Right to Repair" Laws Require Technology to Last at Least Ten Years

New EU "Right to Repair" laws have entered effect this month of March, and aim to reduce electronic waste that comes from disposing of electronics that could simply be repaired instead of tossed in the garbage. The average EU citizen produces some 16 Kg of e-waste per year, and usually only 60% of that is actually recyclable. These new EU laws aim to both reduce the amount of e-waste and increase the lifetime of electronic devices by forcing manufacturers to keep spare parts available for up to 10 years after manufacturing date of any device. It also prevents them from simply gluing or riveting technology together at the manufacturing stage - a cost-cutting measure that many times invalidates repair attempts. And to aid consumers in repairing their devices, manufacturers will also have to ship repair manuals with a number of their products.

This seems like a step in the right direction in the fight against planned obsolescence in an era where most devices are already "satisficing" - meaning they can be good enough without opting for the state-of-the-art offerings in the market on a yearly basis. And it could have a deep economic impact, as well; but for that to happen, we have to stop looking at gadgets and electronics as an extension of (or an improvement to) our self-consciousness and value.


Triptonide: Hope for a Non-Hormonal Male Contraceptive Agent?

A paper published in Nature details what could become a viable option for men interested in using a non-hormonal contraceptive agent. The findings published by 21 researchers from various institutions detail the effect of triptonide, a natural compound purified from the Chinese herb Tripterygium Wilfordii Hook F.

The researchers discovered this compound induces deformed sperm with minimal or no forward motility (close to 100% penetrance), meaning that the male is rendered essentially infertile. This is different from most studies looking to produce a viable male contraceptive: those usually aim to completely deplete sperm production in men, which has posed a number of issues, including depression and lowered sexual drive. This compound still hasn't entered the human trial phase, but it has been shown that monkeys and rodents that have been administered triptonide recover their fertility 4-6 weeks after it ceases being administered (and all traces of it leave the patient's system). Up to now, no toxicity or other side effects have been registered.

Should clinical trials continue to run smoothly, including human ones, then this could open up the door to a virtually side-effect-free male contraceptive. This can thus be regarded as the gateway for the potential equalisation of male and female responsibility when it comes to conception, something that has been cause for debate for a while. In a way, this not only opens up a shared responsibility between parents, but also balances the scale of power when it comes to the decision of avoiding parenthood. I, for one, would be very interested in such an alternative, especially if it causes less side effects than current hormonal contraceptive mechanisms generate in women.

How do you feel, as a male or a female, regarding this line of investigation? Should there be a male contraceptive? Or should that be kept in the woman's sphere of decision?


And that's all for this week. If you enjoyed any of the articles and want to comment on anything related to them, feel free. Have a great weekend!

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