Berkeley in the News

Berkeley in the News is a daily selection of articles and commentaries in the news media that mention UC Berkeley. The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the campus.

Monday, 21 May 2018

1. Hungry, Hungry Hippos
Science & Technology Research News

Investigating climate change and river ecology in sub-Saharan Africa, an international team of researchers, including Berkeley faculty, has discovered that hippo dung is killing aquatic life in freshwater ecosystems. For millennia, hippo dung provided a natural source of fertilizer, enhancing aquatic food webs, but this study shows those ecological dynamics are changing. According to one of the authors, "Hippos are to Africa what polar bears are to the Arctic. ... Everything we thought we knew about how African ecosystems worked appears to be changing. Global change has turned productive hippo pools, once teeming with fish and life, into fetid black cesspools." While there was some hopeful news in the finding that biodiversity rebounds with rain and increased river flow, the scientists fear long-term species loss if there is no intervention. For more on this, see our story at Berkeley News.
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2. Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science Turns 50

Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, kicked off with a festive open house on Sunday. Named after nuclear physicist Ernest Lawrence, the campus's first Nobel Laureate, the hall's mission is to inspire and foster hands-on scientific learning among the young and curious. "The original vision for this place was kind of focused on high school kids, because they were thinking about who was going next to college (but) that rapidly changed," says Susan Gregory, the museum's deputy director, acknowledging that younger children are some of the most enthusiastic patrons today. Link to video.
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3. Twitter Bots Helped Trump and Brexit Win, Economic Study Says

Twitter bots played a small but potentially pivotal part in the election of Donald Trump and the 2016 Brexit vote, according to a new study co-authored by economics professor Yuriy Gorodnichenko. "Our results suggest that, given narrow margins of victories in each vote, bots' effect was likely marginal but possibly large enough to affect the outcomes," the researchers report. "These two campaigns and subsequent debates about the role of bots in shaping the campaigns raise a number of questions about whether policymakers should consider mechanisms to prevent abuse of bots in the future."
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4. Microsoft acquires AI company to make Cortana and bots sound more human
The Verge

Artificial Intelligence start-up Semantic Machines, co-founded and co-led by computer science professor Dan Klein, is being acquired by Microsoft. Founded in 2014, the startup uses machine learning to make bots sound more naturally human. The buyout is expected to enhance Microsoft's Cortana digital assistant and Azure Bot Service. "With the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces," says David Ku, Microsoft's chief technology officer for AI and research. Other stories on this topic appeared in Fortune, Forbes, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
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5. Cal fires athletic staff member after sexual assault inquiry
San Francisco Chronicle (*requires registration)

Mohamed Muqtar has been fired from his position as the athletics department's assistant director of student services after a Title IX investigation into sexual assault allegations from former student athletes concluded that he had violated school policy. "Our thoughts are with the survivors and providing them with the resources they need through the healing process," department officials said in a statement. "No one should be subject to unwanted advances or verbal or physical abuse, and we encourage any member of our campus community who has experienced sexual violence or sexual assault to reach out for help, which can include counseling, academic accommodations, information about the reporting process, and more. Cal Athletics is committed to fostering a culture where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected, and the department, as well as the entire campus, has taken additional steps in recent years to address these issues. Through department-sponsored workshops, training and speaker series, coaches, staff and student-athletes have participated in formal training in sexual violence awareness and prevention, bystander intervention, and campus reporting procedures. An environment of care and respect must be ingrained in our culture with the understanding that the type of behavior described in the findings report is inexcusable and will not be tolerated." Stories on this topic have appeared in more than 700 sources.
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6. Urban wildfires are the new normal and everyone should be prepared, Berkeley filmmaker says

Environmental science, policy, and management professor Scott Stephens, a fire ecologist, will be a featured panelist at the Bay Area premiere of the documentary "Wilder than Wild: Fire, Forests and the Future" at the David Brower Center Monday night. The film addresses the ways that fire suppression and climate change have exposed not just our forests and wildlands, but also our urban areas, to devastating wildfires. It also explores mitigation strategies.
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