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Understanding the impact of climate change
All around us, it seems like things are changing too fast to keep track of. From social media bombardments, constantly updating news cycles, and daily reminders about the threat of climate change, usually accompanied by images that are hard to look away from. Temperatures are rising. Ice caps are melting. Ecosystems everywhere seem to be threatened by local impacts and global climate change.
Climate change illustrated
Pixabay<p>It is all so overwhelming that by the time we look away from our screens, we are so consumed by the big picture impacts that we overlook the smaller – yet not less important - parts of our planet that are also affected by climate change. The parts of planet that are both figuratively, and literally, hidden from us.</p><p>In many ways, it's these tiny, invisible worlds that keep our ecosystems - and us as humans that rely on them - moving along and functioning. But they're hard to see and even harder to study. It's what keeps these tiny organisms, that form our planet's foundation, largely a mystery to scientists who have spent decades studying them.</p>
Phyto... what?<p>This is exactly the case for phytoplankton, tiny plant-like organisms that photosynthesize in the ocean and produce most of Earth's newly supplied oxygen. Most of them aren't strong swimmers, and they simply drift along ocean currents. Phytoplankton make up the very bottom of marine food web, meaning that the health of everything else - from fish, octopus, squids, and mammals like dolphins, otters, and whales - all directly or indirectly depend on them. </p>
A Continuous Plankton Recorder
Making the invisible visible<p>This type of research formed the foundation of incredibly important ocean science, but its cost and labor intensity limited researchers' ability to assess phytoplankton communities in detail. For example how the communities responded to long-term ecological changes like global warming, seasonality, and even day-to-day differences driven by weather, precipitation, or ocean currents.</p><p>In other words, their size made most patterns in phytoplankton communities hidden from researchers. All this has started to change with a new wave of ocean technology that has been combined with advances in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_learning" target="_blank">machine learning</a>. Opening up new possibilities and finally allowing ocean scientists to make what was once invisible to us, visible.</p>
Big data becoming meaningful<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU1ODE3Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTQ2NzE0N30.Y6Bli2OOlIyIhHBDTCuoDIdzrYNK62p8YCHFccNzRSk/img.jpg?width=980" id="36cb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4df6d770fae00d293d0ced0fae343411" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Scripps Plankton Camera, built by the Jaffe Lab, anchored to a pier piling at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography collects tens of thousands of images every day. Image courtesy of the Jaffe Lab.<p>Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California are using new <a href="http://spc.ucsd.edu/" target="_blank">underwater microscopes</a>, that can spend weeks below the surface with little maintenance. The system captures images of particles floating pass by the camera, including phytoplankton. They are imaged at an impressive rate of up to 8 pictures per second.</p><p>"Over the last four years, the camera collected nearly 1 billion images of suspended particles drifting onto the microscope. Collection of such a huge amount of data, as exciting as it is to any scientist, comes with a lot of challenges related to data storage and processing," said Dr. Kasia Kenitz, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography working on the ecology of phytoplankton communities in the ocean. </p><p>"The next challenge is identifying which organisms are depicted in every single image and how can we use this information in a way that will provide meaningful insights into the ecology of these tiny organisms. This is where recent advances in computer vision and machine learning become an integral part in collecting biologically meaningful data."</p>
The diversity of phytoplankton. (Images taken by the Scripps Plankton Camera courtesy of the Jaffe Lab).
So what comes next?<p>Dr. Kenitz expects that this line of research will become increasingly relevant to humans and how they interact with oceans. "These new underwater technologies have revolutionized the way we observe these tiny-but-mighty organisms. It's especially important to start using these tools for coastal populations that rely on seafood, as uncontrolled growth of some phytoplankton can produce toxic substances, generate huge economic losses and lead to public health issues. We're now working with a community of experts in plankton identification to help us build better, cost-effective ecosystem monitoring."<br></p><p>In the end, this new technology helps us remember that some of the most spectacular parts of our planet are hidden from us. These images, taken in a way previously impossible, help us understand that we can't afford to forget about the people, plants, and tiny organisms living in worlds we aren't able to see. </p><p>Even in the midst of what sometimes feel chaotic, we all have a chance to understand the effects of the smallest change in our world just by staying curious. </p><p>More about Rishi Sugla you can read <a href="https://www.tomorrowunlocked.com/rishi-sugla" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a> or follow him on <a href="https://www.instagram.com/rishisugla/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Instagram</a>.</p>
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Netflix' "The Great Hack" which launches on 24th July, is an impressive piece of political film-making for the digital era.
We watched Netflix' new documentary "The Great Hack" by Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim at a preview screening last week and had the chance to see some of the protagonists and the directors discussing the film at a panel last week.
The first thing you have to know about "The Great Hack": it is not about hacking computers. It is about hacking society. It is a powerful appeal for stronger privacy rights and stronger control of the big digital near-monopolists. In conclusion: it is not an easy movie. After the screening, I heard somebody say it was "hard work" and "at times hysterical". Well, it is a serious, complicated and heavy subject that during the nearly two hours isn't always entertaining. It makes for a significant film nevertheless.
The Great Hack | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com
Amer and Noujaim, who were Oscar-nominated for their film "The Square" about the Egyptian revolution, are political filmmakers. They started getting interested in digital data after the Sony Hack in 2014. "This changes everything", Amer said to friends at that time. While the cybersecurity community might have had a different opinion from a technological perspective, it definitely changed how hacking and cybersecurity were perceived in the public. Suddenly it was a deeply political topic.
Actually, at that time Mike Lerner, one of the executive producers, contacted us at Kaspersky and I helped facilitate interviews with the cybersecurity community at the Security Analyst Summit in 2015. None of these interviews though made it in the final film, as things took a different turn.
The Great Hack tells the story of the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal from the perspective of four deeply involved characters. Carole Cadwalladr, a journalist for the Guardian, David Carroll, a university teacher who requested his data from Cambridge Analytica and never received it, Brittany Kaiser, a former business development director at Cambridge Analytica and Julian Wheatland, Cambridge Analytica's former CEO.
The level of access these four gave the filmmakers is impressive. They are deeply involved, in a way that is often disturbing: After being introduced to Kaiser, Amer flew to meet her in Thailand, where she was vacationing. Those vacation scenes, by the pool and in the pool are genius filmmaking and totally out of place at the same time. The interviews with Kaiser, in which she disclosed internal documents and became an essential voice in the public proceedings against the company, are discomforting. At no point in the movie, she shows the tiniest sign of remorse about the more than three years in which she helped influence elections around the world. Her whole behaviour appears completely inappropriate for the situation she is in.
The second former CA-insider, Julian Wheatland, is still convinced that they did the right thing. "Cambridge Analytica hasn't been found to have done anything regulatory or legally wrong – and I believe it didn't because we invested a huge amount of efforts and legal fees to make sure we didn't", he still claims today. A statement, with which the filmmakers and Carole Cadwalladr strongly disagreed. At the same time, he called for "the big tech platforms like Facebook and Google to be regulated like a monopoly". Cadwalladr added to that: "Creating fear and uncertainty is being done so effectively through these platforms, with no regulation, and no accountability, and no oversight, and they are creating the world we are living in."
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, with its impact on politics and the public discussion of data rights, deserves this in-depth investigation that Amer and Noujaim conducted in the past years. The film does, what a good feature documentary should do – it addresses an important societal issue.
"It is time to write a new social contract and I think that social contract is no longer between citizens and their governments", Amer said after a pre-screening last week. "It is between citizens, governments and tech platforms, so perhaps it is the writing of a new user agreement that we should be focused on".
On Netflix from July 24th.