Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Major US food & beverage players caught plotting dirty PR tricks over BPA

The chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, used in commerce since the 1950s, is added to plastics to give them strength. It is found in hundreds of household products, including plastic bottles and food containers. It is also present in the linings of canned goods such as soup, baby formula and canned fruits and vegetables. Over the past decade, a growing body of scientific studies has linked the chemical to breast cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity, low sperm count, miscarriage and other reproductive problems in laboratory animals. More recent studies using human data have linked BPA to heart disease and diabetes. And it has been found to interfere with the effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.

Manufacturers of cans for beverages and foods and some of their biggest customers, including Coca-Cola, are trying to devise a public relations and lobbying strategy to block government bans of a controversial chemical Bisphenol (BPA) used in the linings of metal cans and lids. According to internal notes of a private meeting, obtained by The Washington Post, frustrated industry executives huddled for hours Thursday trying to figure out how to tamp down public concerns over the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA.

The notes said the executives are particularly concerned about the views of young mothers, who often make purchasing decisions for households and who are most likely to be focused on health concerns. Industry representatives weighed a range of ideas, including "using fear tactics [e.g. “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging," the notes said.

The attendees estimated it would cost $500,000 to craft a message for a public relations campaign, according to the notes. “Their ‘holy grail’ spokesperson would be a ‘pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA,’” the notes said.
Source: “Strategy Being Devised To Protect Use of BPA” – The Washington Post – 31 May 2009

Despite this, US Congress gives FDA control over soft drinks
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed historic legislation Thursday that puts the soft drink industry under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Soda companies are weighing the impact of the bill, which they say also puts severe restrictions on advertising and packaging. Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, who spearheaded the original effort to treat the caffeine in soft drinks as a drug, hailed the Senate vote of 79-17. “It's as strong a bill as we could have ever imagined,” he said. More than 350,000 people die every year from soft-drink-related diseases, according to government figures. About 45 million U.S. adults are regular soda-pop drinkers, though the prevalence has fallen since the U.S. surgeon general's warning 45 years ago that soda drinking causes obesity.

The FDA has announced new regulations, slated to take effect July 1, which will tighten governmental controls over the soda industry. All pop cans will be required to carry a warning of the myriad ill effects which are connected with regular soda-drinking. Soda vending machines will be banned in all schools, hospitals, and public buildings. Children under 18 will be prohibited from purchasing soft drinks, unless accompanied by an adult.
Source: “Congress gives FDA control over soft drinks” – examiner.cpom – 12 June 2009

THOUGHTS: This is a very disappointing insight on the ethics and morales of big food business in the US. Their leaders might be great people one-on-one, but when they pressure comes on, their companies work together like a pack of rats. Forget what's right, what's healthy, what's good for the customer....just focus on the profit. Smells like a big tobacco's PR team involved here.

KEYWORD: Foof, Beverage, Ethics, Health, Corporate, Packacking, PR

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Robotics: Should war be easy as playing a computer game

Robotics in war is the most important change in major human activity dating back at least 5,000 years, according to P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank and the author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.

“Forty-three other countries besides the U.S. build military robots,” he says.  “So you have this just huge... immense growth. The best way to imagine where we're going is to look at what Bill Gates says about robotics" He says, "Robotics are about where computers were in 1980.” 

Warfare goes open source: Just like software, warfare is going open source. That is, we're starting to use more and more systems that are commercial, off-the-shelf -- some of it is even DIY. You can build your own version of the Raven drone, which is a widely used military drone, for about $1,000 dollars. So we have a flattening of the landscape of war and technology that is just like what happened in software. A wide variety of actors can utilize these systems. 

The non-state actors range from Hezbollah to this militia group in Arizona to a bunch of college kids at Swarthmore. It widens the landscape of who can play in war. That's a pretty disturbing factor. One person's hobby -- such as the hobbyist who flew a homemade drone from North America to Great Britain -- can be another person's terrorist strike option.
Source: “Wired For War or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Dystopian SF Movies Inspire our Military Bots” -
 An interview with P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War” – hplus magazine – 20 May 2009

“This is amazing technology,” says Singer, “but it raises disturbing, fascinating questions. On one hand, hundreds of soldiers are alive today thanks to robots. The flip side, however, is that they allow us to use more force with less risk. Eleven out of the top 20 Taliban leaders have been killed by robot drones.” 

But the impetus to create a fully-functional, fully-autonomous robot warrior is a political one. Says Noel Sharkey, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University “Body bags containing real soldiers coming home affect the government electorally,” says Noel Sharkey, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University. “Once you start using robots, you remove this problem.” But do we really want going to war to be as easy, and impersonal, as playing a computer game? And once we have created our indestructible robot armies, will we ever be 100 per cent sure that we can control them?
Source: “March of the terminators” by Gavin Knight – Mail Online – 16 May 2009
THOUGHTS: Very big questions...trouble is I don't see citizens in any country having the opportunity to be part of this ethical debate.

KEYWORDS: Robot, Robot, War, Defence, Conflist, Ethics, Debate, Humanity   

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Emerging global reach and sophistication of video surveillance

A couple of interesting recent insights on the emerging reach and sophistication of video surveillance:

Worldwide surveillance camera shipments growing at 45% per year
In its latest report on surveillance technologies, IDC says rapid advancements in network surveillance technology are shifting the emphasis away from guns, guards, gates, and dogs and placing it on “more sophisticated, scalable security solutions,” which the research firm predicts will see worldwide surveillance/monitoring camera shipments grow from 9.3 million in 2007 to 26.5 million in 2013: an average annual growth of 45.0%.
Source: “Technology taking over from guns, guards, gates & dogs!” – ITWire.com – 24 May 2009

Next generation of camera surveillance will have imbedded intelligence
Bir Bhanu, director of the Center for Research in Intelligent Systems, said the goal is “to understand the interaction of people from video networks, to figure out their intention.” Bhanu foresees a time, possibly within the next decade, when programs analyzing facial identification, emotional expressions, social interactions and contextual anomalies will be able to alert monitors or law enforcement personnel about someone who may be up to no good. He said a computer system could spot “person who brings a briefcase and does not normally carry a briefcase, or a person who is wearing a jacket in Riverside when it's 100 degrees outside. These simple things can be detected.”
Source: “UCR has eye on surveillance technology” – The Press-Enterprise - 27 May 2009

THOUGHTS: How can we be sure that the needs of state and commerce for pervasive video surveillance do not override the individual's right of privacy? These market signals are reminiscent of the themes expressed in that movie The Minority Report.

KEYWORDS: Democracy, Freedom, Surveillance, Video, Artificial Intelligence