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E-waste in the 5G era: Threat or opportunity?

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E-waste in the 5G era

Take a moment to think about your appliance drawer at home; everyone has one, and more often than not, it’s filled with pallets of once beloved but now outdated devices – from smartphones, tablets, cameras, and the like.

While these devices might not look dangerous, they find themselves at the heart of a major environmental and economic debate, as the world edges closer to the global rollout of 5G: the e-waste problem.

Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to all electronic products that have been discarded without the intent to refurbish or reuse.

It’s hard for many to conceive the fate of these devices; in plains, fields, and factories where workers hammer away at them to remove hazardous components such as lithium-ion batteries, copper and platinum.

The scene is like a twisted Pixar movie, with doomed gadgets riding an unrelenting conveyor belt into a machine that shreds them to pieces.

While 5G markets itself to be the tidal wave of worldwide technological change, a revolution of this kind comes at a price and could usher in an unprecedented wave of electronic waste we’re simply not prepared for.

“The exponential growth we’re going to see in electronic waste, especially around obsolescence … [given] the technology curve for these 5G connected devices is so steep at the moment, is a concern,” says Dr. Miles Park, a senior lecturer in industrial design at the University of New South Wales.

According to studies done by the United Nations Environment Program, with the annual cycle of modern-day consumer electronic, the rate of e-waste currently produced is up to 50 million tons yearly. Cell phones, tablets, computers, and televisions –lots of old technology already makes its way into landfills.

“It is already difficult enough when a new product is launched on the market every 12 months, and it’s just driving obsolescence of the previous generation of product because there is so much innovation and redundancy happening in this field,” Dr. Park added.

Some environmental organizations are already calling on tech companies to foot the bill of recycling the electronics they manufacture and sell. This has picked up traction in some parts of Europe, Canada, and in some US states who have passed the so-called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, which require manufacturers to set-up and fund systems to recycle or collect obsolete products.

An example of this can be seen at Apple, where a smartphone-recycling robot called Daisy was developed in 2018 that has the ability to take apart 200 iPhones per hour, and says it diverted 48,000 metric tons of electronic waste away from landfills.

But that’s a drop in a bucket compared with the 50 million tons of e-waste generated globally last year. With 5G being a stone’s throw away, a flood of worldwide e-waste is on the horizon, and recycling alone won’t be enough.

Yet there are a number of ideas and solutions being developed, researched, and implemented across the globe that may be enough to inspire the adoption of better practices in the fight against climate change.

Better designed products

The world is in need of safer, and more durable electronics that are repairable, and recyclable; in essence, using less hazardous materials.

Currently, chemical engineers at Stanford University are working on the world’s first fully biodegradable electronic circuit, which uses dyes that dissolve in acid with a pH 100 times weaker than vinegar.

While a group of researchers from both the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, in collaboration with the Texas Rice University in the US have aimed toward pulverizing electronic printed circuit boards, in specialized mills at ultra-sub-zero temperatures, into reusable nano-dust.

In parallel, Ronin8, a Vancouver-based e-waste management company, developed a technology that uses minimal water and energy to separate metals from non-metals via sonic vibrations in recycled water.

Widespread EPR laws

Widening the scope of EPR will hold tech companies and electronics manufacturers responsible for managing and disposing of their devices at the end of their working lives; this lays the ground for recycling materials such as copper, platinum, gold, and many others, to be reused in the development of newer products.

This can be seen through the New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act which requires manufacturers to provide consumers with free and convenient e-waste recycling.

Commercial recycling methods

This effort needs all the help it can get, thus commercializing the recycling process to the masses will allow tech companies, as well as waste management companies, to collect older devices for them to be treated. An example of this can be seen with EcoATM, a US-based e-waste management company, which incentivizes people to turn in their older products to one of their 2,700 kiosks across the U.S. The EcoATM evaluates devices based on model and condition, and directly hands you a sum of money based on that evaluation.

Across the Pacific Ocean, China’s biggest Internet Company, Baidu, has developed a smartphone app in collaboration with the UN Development Program called Baidu Recycle. Users specify the device in question, enter its measurements along with a convenient pickup date accompanied with their name and address; an accredited recycler will pick it up from you within 24 hours.

11,000 devices have been recycled in the span of two months after its release.

The dream of a circular economy

A circular economy is one that aims to keep products and all their materials in circulation at their highest value at all times or for as long as possible.

According to Stephanie Kersten-Johnston, an adjunct professor in the Sustainability Management program at Columbia University and Director of Circular Ventures at The Recycling Partnership, the “highest value” means what’s closest to the original product, to get the most out of the value of the material and the labor that went into creating the product.

Europe has made the circular economy a goal for the whole continent.

“Right now, over the length of the contract, you gradually buy outright the phone so the provider can recoup the cost of manufacturing that phone in the first place,” Kersten-Johnston, using the example of smartphones, was quoted as saying.

“But at the end of the contract, you’re left with a phone that’s worth basically nothing, that you’ve had to pay for all that time and you can’t do anything with it. That’s a flawed model. But imagine a system where the provider or manufacturer retained ownership of the device through the contract so customers would pay a lower monthly fee and be expected to return the device for an upgrade. The value could be recaptured in the form of parts for remanufacture or materials for recycling, and customers would still get their upgrades,” she added.

Kersten-Johnston considers that this business model will happen sooner, rather than later, stating that millennials and the younger generation do not value ownership in the same way older generations do, while being more vocal toward more responsible business practices.

On another note, reusing and recycling the materials from these old gadgets brings a myriad of economic benefits across the board. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the circular economy could generate opportunities worth over $62.5 billion annually and create millions of new jobs worldwide.

With this in mind, the UN has set a target to increase global recycling to 30 percent, and reaching 50 percent in countries with legislation on e-waste.

Yehia is an investigative journalist and editor with extensive experience in the news industry as well as digital content creation across the board. He strives to bring the human element to his writing.

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Amazon-sponsored artwork that ‘learns’ debuts at Smithsonian

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Amazon-sponsored artwork that 'learns' debuts at Smithsonian

The artificial intelligence at the heart of a new art exhibit, “me + you,” does not judge you necessarily, but it does analyze and interpret what you have to say.

Sponsored by Amazon Web Services, the sculpture by artist Suchi Reddy listens to what you have to say about the future and renders your sentiment in a display of colored lights and patterns.

The artwork is a centerpiece of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, which is opening to the public for the first time in 20 years. The exhibition, called Futures, opens Nov. 20.

Viewers are invited to interact with the sculpture, which listens for the words “My future is …” at several circular listening posts integrated into the sculpture.

The words and the sentiments behind them are then reinterpreted as a pattern of colored lights. On a very basic level, positive emotions tend to translate into soothing blends of blue, green and purple. Words that suggest anger might prompt a cascade of colors on the opposite spectrum of the color wheel. If you use a swear word, the lights will turn red.

No matter the sentiment, Reddy said, “I want to show all human emotion as beautiful.”

And the interpretations will evolve and become more nuanced over time as the artificial intelligence progresses. Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president of Amazon Machine Learning at Amazon Web Services, said the artwork incorporates sentiment analysis that not only decodes the meaning of words but a speaker’s sentiment behind the words.

Sivasubramanian said Amazon contributed 1,200 hours of programming to serve as the backbone of the artwork’s machine learning.

“Machine learning is one of our most transformative technologies,” he said. “I’m excited for people to engage with machine learning in an artistic setting.”

The artwork utilizes various aspects of machine learning, including basic speech-to-text technology.

A companion website lets people enter their thoughts over the internet and receive a visual interpretation of their sentiment that is also added to the archive.

In an era of deep skepticism over the data collected by Big Tech, Reddy and her team were careful to avoid data collection of any kind other than people’s thoughts about the future. No video is recorded and there is nothing that tracks people’s expressions back to them, Reddy said.

Other highlights in the exhibition include costumes from the Marvel Studios film “Eternals,” part of an interactive exhibit that shows how movies help us imagine our future, and objects including an experimental Alexander Graham Bell telephone and the first full-scale Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome built in North America.

“In a world that feels perpetually tumultuous, there is power in envisioning the future we want, not the future we fear,” said Rachel Goslins, director of the Arts and Industries Building.

The exhibition is scheduled to remain open through July 6. Eventually, the “me + you” sculpture will be relocated to Amazon’s new HQ2 headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.


WASHINGTON (AP)

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Charities see more crypto donations. Who is benefiting?

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Charities see more crypto donations. Who is benefiting

As the biggest cryptocurrencies flirt with record high values, they’re increasingly becoming bigger sources of revenue for charities. However, the number of charities accepting the virtual currencies, known for their volatility, remains limited.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, hit nearly $69,000 for the first time in its history last week, roaring back after sinking below $30,000 during the summer. The value of ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, also hit a record high.

Both cryptocurrencies have dropped from their record levels after helping push the overall market cap of cryptocurrencies past $3 trillion, according to CoinGecko pricing. As of Monday morning, CoinMarketCap, another popular measure, listed the market cap at $2.8 trillion.

So far this year, Fidelity Charitable, the nation’s largest grantmaker, has received more than $274 million in cryptocurrency contributions — nearly quadruple its prior record of $69 million in 2017, according to a company spokesperson. And the cryptocurrency donation platform Engiven said last month it accepted what it called the largest single Bitcoin donation known to date: a $10 million Bitcoin gift to an undisclosed faith-based organization.

Many large charities and international aid agencies, like The American Red Cross and Save the Children, have set up mechanisms to accept cryptocurrencies or are using platforms that help them convert them into cash right away. But smaller organizations — who make up the vast majority of registered nonprofits in the country — are attempting to figure out how to accept these currencies, or if it even makes sense for them to do so, said Rick Cohen, the chief communications and operating officer at the National Council on Nonprofits.

“For a lot of organizations, it feels a little bit scary because it’s not the contribution of dollars that they’re used to,” Cohen said.

“It’s not something that’s free and easy” to set up, he said. “And they need to figure out if there’s even demand from their current donors to be able to do it.”

The global humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger started accepting cryptocurrency donations last year after a group of donors approached them about taking the assets, said Aron Flasher, who manages corporate partnerships for the organization. Since then, he says they’ve raised more than $1 million from virtual currencies.

“We feel like we’ve brought our issues to a very diverse cohort of supporters that we may not be reaching otherwise,” Flasher said. “And so far, all of our projections show it’s just going to increase.”

A Pew Research Center survey released last week indicated 16% of Americans have invested, traded or otherwise used cryptocurrencies in some way. Driven by interest from millennials, the digital currencies have become more mainstream since Bitcoin’s creation in 2009 but skeptics say their use is just a passing fad.

Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said in September investors lacked enough protection in the cryptocurrency market, which he called “rife with fraud, scams and abuse” and compared it to the “Wild West.” Regulators have noted that the digital assets pose more risks for money laundering, terrorist financing and other crimes. And some countries have moved to outlaw the transactions.

Cryptocurrencies are an attractive asset to donate because they allow donors to bypass the capital gains tax. Donors would be subject to that tax if they convert the virtual currency into cash before giving it away, which means less money could go to their selected charity. Another bonus is an income tax deduction.

Tax savings, according to the small number of cryptocurrency owners who donated some of their holdings to charity, was a driving force behind their crypto gifts, Fidelity Charitable reported in October. Many of those investors also reported difficulty finding organizations that accepted the virtual currencies, which could be volatile for charities to hold.

When Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin donated $1 billion worth of Shiba Inu coin — known as a “meme” or joke coin — to the India COVID-Relief Fund in May, the disclosure of the transfer drove down the token’s price 50%. Two months later, Sandeep Nailwal, the aid group’s founder, indicated only $20 million had been used due to complexities with both converting the cryptocurrency and complying with government regulations in India regarding the assets. (The value of Shiba Inu has since surged in price ).

The volatility in the crypto world is the reason why some giving platforms and donor-advised fund sponsors, like Fidelity Charitable, convert them into cash right away. Pat Duffy, the co-founder of the popular cryptocurrency donation platform The Giving Block, said though it’s rare, some nonprofits who use the platform choose to hold the assets.

Fidelity places the cash from crypto in a donor-advised fund, which allows donors to get tax deductions upfront before distributing any of the money to a working charity.

“You can have a situation where somebody donates cryptocurrency, and if we don’t sell it right away, it could lose 20% of its value in a day,” said Tony Oommen, a vice president and charity planning consultant at Fidelity Charitable.

“Or It could go the opposite direction,” Oommen added. “But we don’t try to speculate on that.”

Fluctuating prices aren’t the only concern. The environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace stopped taking Bitcoin earlier this year, citing environmental worries associated with mining the digital currency. Despite this pullback, James Lawrence, the CEO of the donation platform Engiven, says he believes the majority of nonprofits will begin accepting crypto donations within the next five years.

“By most estimates, there’s less than a few thousand that accept crypto,” he said. “There’s a lot of room for growth.”

Pete Howson, a senior lecturer at ​​England’s University of Northumbria who researches cryptocurrencies, says the use of the virtual currencies could, in some cases, increase what he calls “surveillance philanthropy.” For example, GiveTrack, a cryptocurrency crowdfunding website, uses blockchain technology as well as material from charities to send donors reports on how their crypto contributions were spent.

Connie Gallippi, the founder and executive director of The BitGive Foundation, which runs GiveTrack, says the report simplifies transactions recorded on the blockchain and shows donors what their contributions bought. She said the report also shows donors how a charity spends funds it converts into a local currency.

Gallippi said the software’s goal is to increase transparency in the nonprofit sector, adding any criticism of tracking is unwarranted because charities can decline to accept restricted donations.

“It’s transparency at its best when you have no control over the data that’s presented,” she said. “Other than your actions that are behind that data.”

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Report: ‘Whole of society’ effort must fight misinformation

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Report 'Whole of society' effort must fight misinformation

Misinformation is jeopardizing efforts to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, be it climate change, COVID-19 or political polarization, according to a new report from the Aspen Institute that’s backed by prominent voices in media and cybersecurity.

Recommendations in the 80-page analysis, published Monday, call for new regulations on social media platforms; stronger, more consistent rules for misinformation “superspreaders” who amplify harmful falsehoods and new investments in authoritative journalism and organizations that teach critical thinking and media literacy.

The report is the product of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, a 16-person panel that includes experts on the internet and misinformation, as well as prominent names such as Prince Harry, the duke of Sussex.

“Hundreds of millions of people pay the price, every single day, for a world disordered by lies,” reads the report’s introduction, written by the commission’s three co-chairs: journalist Katie Couric, former White House cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs and Rashad Robinson, president of the organization Color of Change.

Specifically, the report calls for a national strategy for confronting misinformation, and urges lawmakers to consider laws that would make social media platforms more transparent and accountable — to officials, researchers and consumers.

Another recommendation would strip some of the platforms’ legal immunity when it comes to content promoted by ads, or for lawsuits regarding the implementation of their platform’s designs and features.

The authors of the report blame the proliferation of misinformation on factors including the rapid growth of social media, a decline in traditional local journalism and a loss of trust in institutions.

Falsehoods can prove deadly, as shown by the conspiracy theories and bogus claims about COVID-19 and vaccines that have set back attempts to stop the coronavirus. The report’s authors said misinformation is proving just as damaging when it comes to faith in elections or efforts to fight climate change.

During a briefing on the report’s findings Monday, Couric, Krebs and Robinson stressed that every American has a role to play in fighting misinformation, by reviewing where they get their information, by ensuring that they don’t spread harmful falsehoods, and by fighting the polarization that fuels misinformation.

“The path to making real change is going to require all of us,” Robinson said.

The Aspen Institute has shared its findings with several social media platforms including Facebook. A message seeking a response from that company was not immediately returned on Monday.

The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The report was funded by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, a charity founded by the creator of Craigslist.

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