How consciousness arose from 3.8 billion years of trying to survive

Today we hear that the million-member All of Us study will also offer genetic counselling, ponder a day when quantum computers bring down almost all encryption and learn how consciousness arose from 3.8 billion years of trying to survive.
Crowd on a street
Researchers running a genetic-sequencing project are recruiting participants from groups that are typically under-represented in biomedical studies. (Hydromet/Getty)
Genetic counselling for All of Us

A huge US study that aims to sequence the genomes of one million people will also offer genetic counselling to its participants. The project, called All of Us, will partner with a private company to counsel every study volunteer who has a genetic variant that could have serious health implications. Project leaders hope that the service will help them to build the lifelong relationships with participants necessary to furnish scientifically valuable long-term data.

Nature | 4 min read

Amazon in flames like never before

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has seen a record number of fires this year. The country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said its satellites detected more than 74,000 fires between January and August, the highest number since records began in 2013. The INPE has been locked in conflict with President Jair Bolsonaro over its efforts to track destruction of the rainforest, and Bolsonaro sacked the INPE’s director earlier this month.

BBC | 6 min read
Read more: ‘Tropical Trump’ sparks unprecedented crisis for Brazilian science (Nature)

Fighting a future without secrets

Cryptographers are gathering to find a quantum-computer-proof method for encrypting data. They are prompted by the worrying possibility that an as-yet-uninvented quantum computer will be able to break the ‘public key’ method that obscures much of today’s Internet communications. At that moment, pretty much every encrypted message ever recorded, from state secrets to dodgy WhatsApp messages, would be an open book. “If you wait until we have a quantum computer it’s too late,” says cryptographer Tanja Lange. “Every day that we don’t have postquantum cryptography is a day the data is leaked.”

Science | 8 min read

Two quit MIT Media Lab over Epstein links

Prominent media researchers Ethan Zuckerman and J. Nathan Matias have cut ties with the influential MIT Media Lab because of the lab’s links with sex offender and alleged sex trafficker, the late Jeffrey Epstein. Media Lab director Joichi Ito has apologised for taking Epstein’s money for the lab and for Ito’s own venture capital funds. And a Media Lab co-founder, the late cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, has been accused of involvement in related sexual offences.

Both Zuckerman and Matias’s work focuses on issues related to social justice and inclusion. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship,” wrote Zuckerman on his blog.

The New York Times | 7 min read