The Royal College of Physicians says 44 UK cities are in breach of safety guidelines on air pollution

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has today published research that shows 44 UK cities are in breach of recommended World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for air quality.

According to the RCP’s report in 2016 ambient air pollution contributed to approximately 40,000 premature deaths, over 6 million sick days and an estimated total social cost of £22.6 billion per year.

The RCP has now called on the government and local authorities to adopt a comprehensive policy package, including clean air zones, which will hopefully have a positive impact on the nation’s health and in time will save lives.

“We know that high exposures in early life have a major effect on lung and cognitive development throughout an individual’s life – that is why it is the government’s duty to improve the air we breathe and to ensure that people across the UK are not exposed to such a preventable cause of death and illness,” said The RCP’s lead on sustainability, Dr Toby Hillman.

“Addressing climate change and poor air quality isn’t a burden or cost, but fundamentally an opportunity we should grasp with both hands.”

Image courtesy of David Holt. Featured image courtesy of Brian Minkoff / Shutterstock.com

In its research – conducted in collaboration with Lancet Countdown – the RCP highlighted the fact that the government is currently falling well short in investing in sustainable modes of travel, like walking, cycling, public transport and electric vehicles.

As the RCP points out, all of these methods of getting around have the potential to unlock many health opportunities and would provide an average social return on investment of approximately £5.50 per £1 spent.

“The UK is leading the way internationally on many areas of climate and health – with the recent T-charge a good example. Yet it continues to miss the glaring opportunities that can be implemented today with highly substantial benefit,” said the RCP’s special adviser on air quality, professor Stephen Holgate.

“As the RCP and Lancet Countdown research shows, climate change is here and a health issue today. More can and should be done. The benefits for an overstretched health service alone are justification, but it is clear that the benefits of action will be felt much more widely, both economically and for those most affected by air pollution.”

Image courtesy of Aimee Rivers

Despite its immense public health potential, active travel investment currently represents only a tiny fraction of the £32 billion spent on transport annually.

As of 2017, average UK-wide public spending on walking and cycling is £287 million per year, which amounts to £4.30 per head, but, according to the Department for Transport, this number will fall to only £147 million by 2020.

At the same time, and as the RCP points out in its report, air pollution contributes to many chronic health problems: particularly respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, with growing evidence of effects on other diseases including strokes and dementia.

Robot takes first steps towards building artificial lifeforms

A robot equipped with sophisticated AI has successfully simulated the creation of artificial lifeforms, in a key first step towards the eventual goal of creating true artificial life.

The robot, which was developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow, was able to model the creation of artificial lifeforms using unstable oil-in-water droplets. These droplets effectively played the role of living cells, demonstrating the potential of future research to develop living cells based on building blocks that cannot be found in nature.

Significantly, the robot also successfully predicted their properties before they were created, even though this could not be achieved using conventional physical models.

The robot, which was designed by Glasgow University’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, Professor Lee Cronin, is driven by machine learning and the principles of evolution.

It has been developed to autonomously create oil-in-water droplets with a host of different chemical makeups and then use image recognition to assess their behaviour.

Using this information, the robot was able to engineer droplets to have different properties­. Those which were found to be desirable could then be recreated at any time, using a specific digital code.

“This work is exciting as it shows that we are able to use machine learning and a novel robotic platform to understand the system in ways that cannot be done using conventional laboratory methods, including the discovery of ‘swarm’ like group behaviour of the droplets, akin to flocking birds,” said Cronin.

“Achieving lifelike behaviours such as this are important in our mission to make new lifeforms, and these droplets may be considered ‘protocells’ – simplified models of living cells.”

One of the oil droplets created by the robot

The research, which is published today in the journal PNAS, is one of several research projects being undertaken by Cronin and his team within the field of artificial lifeforms.

While the overarching goal is moving towards the creation of lifeforms using new and unprecedented building blocks, the research may also have more immediate potential applications.

The team believes that their work could also have applications in several practical areas, including the development of new methods for drug delivery or even innovative materials with functional properties.

Mac spyware stole millions of user images

A criminal case brought against a man from Ohio, US has shed more light on a piece of Mac malware, dubbed Fruitfly, that was used to surreptitiously turn on cameras and microphones, take and download screenshots, log keystrokes, and steal tax and medical records, photographs, internet searches, and bank transactions from users.

Source: Ars Technica

Drone swarm attack strikes Russian military bases

Russia's Ministry of Defence claims its forces in Syria were attacked a week ago by a swarm of home-made drones. According to Russia's MoD Russian forces at the Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility "successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)"

Source: Science Alert

Las Vegas strip club employs robot strippers

A Las Vegas strip club has flown in robot strippers from London to 'perform' at the club during CES. Sapphire Las Vegas strip club managing partner Peter Feinstein said that he employed the robots because the demographics of CES have changed and the traditional female strippers aren’t enough to lure a crowd to the club anymore.

Source: Daily Beast

GM to make driverless cars without steering wheels or pedals by 2019

General Motors has announced it plans to mass-produce self-driving cars without traditional controls like steering wheels and pedals by 2019. “It’s a pretty exciting moment in the history of the path to wide scale [autonomous vehicle] deployment and having the first production car with no driver controls,” GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge.

Source: The Verge

Russia-linked hackers "Fancy Bears" target the IOC

Following Russia's ban from the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, the Russia-linked hacking group "Fancy Bears" has published a set of apparently stolen emails, which purportedly belong to officials from the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee, and third-party groups associated with the organisations.

Source: Wired

Scientists discover ice cliffs on Mars

Using images provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have described how steep cliffs, up to 100 meters tall, made of what appears to be nearly pure ice indicate that large deposits of ice may also be located in nearby underground deposits. The discovery has been described as “very exciting” for potential human bases.

Source: Science Mag