Mass seal deaths in Russia’s Lake Baikal

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A handout picture taken on Sept. 20, 2015 and provided by Oleg Timoshkin, biologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Limnological Institute in Irkutsk, shows Spirogyra algae in the waters of Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is undergoing its gravest crisis in recent history, experts say, as the government bans the catching of a signature fish that has lived in the world’s deepest lake for centuries but is now under threat. (AFP photo Russian Academy of Sciences’ Limnological Institute in Irkutsk/Oleg Timoshkin)
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A handout picture taken on Sept. 20, 2015 and provided by Oleg Timoshkin, biologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Limnological Institute in Irkutsk, shows totting Spirogyra algae on the beach of Lake Baikal. Lake Baikal is undergoing its gravest crisis in recent history, experts say, as the government bans the catching of a signature fish that has lived in the world’s deepest lake for centuries but is now under threat. (AFP photo Russian Academy of Sciences’ Limnological Institute in Irkutsk/Oleg Timoshkin)
Updated 31 October 2017
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Mass seal deaths in Russia’s Lake Baikal

MOSCOW: Around 130 dead seals have washed up on the shores of Russia’s Lake Baikal, authorities said Tuesday, as they launched a probe into the latest problem to hit the world’s deepest lake.
The Baikal seal is the smallest in the world, and exactly how and when the species colonized the ancient Siberian lake is still a mystery.
“There were about 130 animals found dead” over the past few days, said environmental ministry spokesman Nikolai Gudkov.
“We took water samples to understand whether we can talk of water pollution as the reason,” he told AFP, though results have not yet been processed.
Scientists have also taken biopsies of the animals, he said.
The animal is not endangered and Gudkov said the species’ population has actually increased in recent years, growing to around 130,000.
Preliminary theories about the die-off did not suggest pollution is the reason, he added.
Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has thousands of endemic species, has been suffering from a string of detrimental phenomena over recent years.
These include depletion of fish stocks, death of endemic sponges and explosion of growth of Spirogyra algae unnatural to the lake which scientists say is caused by pollution.


Microsoft urges regulation of face-recognizing tech

Updated 15 July 2018
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Microsoft urges regulation of face-recognizing tech

  • Microsoft and other tech companies have used facial recognition technology for years for tasks such as organizing digital photographs
  • While the technology can be used for good, perhaps finding missing children or known terrorists, it can also be abused

SAN FRANCISCO: Microsoft’s chief legal officer on Friday called for regulation of facial recognition technology due to the risk to privacy and human rights.
Brad Smith made a case for a government initiative to lay out rules for proper use of facial recognition technology, with input from a bipartisan and expert commission.
Facial recognition technology raises significant human rights and privacy concerns, Smith said in a blog post.
“Imagine a government tracking everywhere you walked over the past month without your permission or knowledge,” he said.
“Imagine a database of everyone who attended a political rally that constitutes the very essence of free speech.”
It could become possible for businesses to track visitors or customers, using what they see for decisions regarding credit scores, lending decisions, or employment opportunities without telling people.
He said scenarios portrayed in fictional films such as “Minority Report,” “Enemy of the State,” and even the George Orwell dystopian classic “1984” are “on the verge of becoming possible.”
“These issues heighten responsibility for tech companies that create these products,” Smith said.
“In our view, they also call for thoughtful government regulation and for the development of norms around acceptable uses.”
Microsoft and other tech companies have used facial recognition technology for years for tasks such as organizing digital photographs.
But the ability of computers to recognize people’s faces is improving rapidly, along with the ubiquity of cameras and the power of computing hosted in the Internet cloud to figure out identities in real time.
While the technology can be used for good, perhaps finding missing children or known terrorists, it can also be abused.
“It may seem unusual for a company to ask for government regulation of its products, but there are many markets where thoughtful regulation contributes to a healthier dynamic for consumers and producers alike,” Smith said.
“It seems especially important to pursue thoughtful government regulation of facial recognition technology, given its broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse.”
Concerns about misuse prompted Microsoft to “move deliberately” with facial recognition consulting or contracting, according to Smith.
“This has led us to turn down some customer requests for deployments of this service where we’ve concluded that there are greater human rights risks,” Smith said.