🌊 AI's Imitation Games

Plus: Florida man found in drier

Wow, the Olympics are just two months away.

We’re on the precipice of summer 2024, and that means the Olympics are just around the corner. Although there’s a lot to look forward to at this year’s summer games, we do wish they’d bring back some of the old events. The graveyard of retired Olympic sports includes tug-of-war, live pigeon shooting, pistol dueling, and motor boating. Imagine waking up on a Sunday morning in early August to some live pigeon shooting. That’s livin’.

🌞 Solar energy breakthrough

💸 Trump's lawyers rest their case

🤔 Florida man found in drier

–Max, Max, and Alex

KEY STORY

OpenAI Voice Controversy

OpenAI took down an AI voice bot over accusations that it mimicked Scarlett Johansson’s voice

  • Johansson starred in the 2013 movie “Her,” in which a lonely man, played by Joaquin Phoenix, falls in love with an AI bot, voiced by Johansson. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has called “Her” his favorite movie, labeling it “prophetic”

  • Last week, OpenAI unveiled a new ChatGPT voice feature that allows users to converse with bots. Following the release of that feature, Altman wrote on X, “her”

  • On Monday, OpenAI took down one of its new AI voices, “Sky,” after users claimed it mimicked Johansson. While OpenAI denied copying her voice, Johansson called Sky’s voice “eerily similar” to her own and revealed that prior to releasing the voice feature, OpenAI had asked her for permission to use her voice. She said she declined for “personal reasons” and was “shocked” when OpenAI released Sky

Dig Deeper

  • Johansson said her lawyers reached out to OpenAI for an explanation, and she called for the “passage of appropriate [AI] legislation to help ensure that individual rights are protected”

  • In response to Johansson’s statement, Altman said, “The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson’s, and it was never intended to resemble her.” He said OpenAI took down Sky’s voice “out of respect” and apologized that he didn’t “communicate better”

KEY STORY

AI Porn Charges

The FBI charged a 42-year-old Wisconsin man for allegedly using a popular AI engine to create ~13,000 “hyper-realistic images of nude and semi-clothed prepubescent children”

  • The bureau said the man inserted “extremely specific and explicit prompts” into Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image AI bot released in 2022, to produce the sexually explicit images

  • The man faces four charges related to producing and distributing child porn. If convicted on all charges, he faces 70 years in prison

  • The company behind Stable Diffusion, Stability AI, said that it believes the man was using an early version of its software. It claims it has since implemented guardrails to prevent such behavior

Dig Deeper

  • The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children warned in a recent report about a surge in AI-generated sexually explicit material

  • In a statement, a Justice Department official said, “[We] will aggressively pursue those who produce and distribute child sexual abuse material…no matter how that material was created”

STARTUP SPOTLIGHT

A Concrete-Based Tech Company

One of the coolest startups we’ve come across at Roca is AquiPor, a company that is solving the problem of urban flooding.

  • Traditional concrete doesn’t absorb water – that’s why rain often causes cities to flood

  • AquiPor has solved that problem by creating porous concrete that captures stormwater where it falls. It then filters that water and allows it to naturally return to the ground

  • The Spokane-based company’s patented distributed water system is game-changing in scope and potential – especially given the US’ massive investments in making cities more resilient to climate change

  • AquiPor is currently fundraising. You can learn more and invest at the link here!

KEY STORY

Harnessing the Sun

For the first time, scientists generated heat exceeding 1,000ºC (1,832ºF) using solar power

  • Extremely high temperatures – 1,000ºC+ – are typically required to produce industrial materials, such as concrete. Those temperatures are usually achieved by burning fossil fuels

  • Researchers have been trying to replace fossil fuels with solar in industrial processes, yet until recently, such techniques have only achieved a maximum temperature of 170ºC (338ºF)

  • In a new study, Swiss researchers used solar to reach a temperature of 1,050°C (1,922°F). They did so by combining synthetic quartz – which can trap sunlight – with a silicon disk that absorbs energy. They achieved 1,000ºC+ temperatures under several conditions, suggesting the technique has real-world applicability

Dig Deeper

  • The researchers said their next steps are to prove the technique is financially viable. "Solar energy is readily available, and the technology is already here. To really motivate industry adoption, we need to demonstrate the economic viability and advantages of this technology at scale," wrote one of the study’s authors

KEY STORY

Ancient Nile River Branch

A new study revealed the remains of an ancient branch of the Nile that ran past many of the Egyptian pyramids

  • Archaeologists have long wondered why many of Egypt’s ancient pyramids are far away from the Nile. Some have speculated there was an ancient branch of the Nile that used to flow past them

  • Using satellite imagery and sediment samples, a team of researchers announced it has discovered an ancient Nile branch that ran past 31 ancient Egyptian pyramids, including those at Giza

  • One researcher said the finding confirms the belief that building materials for the pyramids were transported by water

Dig Deeper

  • The lead researcher said the river’s proximity to the pyramids suggests it was a “functional waterway of great importance” to ancient Egyptians. The researchers named the ancient branch of the river “Ahramat,” which is Arabic for “pyramid”

RUNDOWN
Some Quick Stories for the Office

🏛️ US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he will work with Congress to sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) after its chief prosecutor announced he would seek an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

✈️ One person died and dozens were injured due to severe turbulence on a London-to-Singapore flight. The plane hit turbulence roughly eight hours into the flight, causing people and objects to fly across the cabin. The plane emergency-landed in Bangkok, Thailand, where dozens of passengers received medical assistance and one was declared dead

🌴 French President Emmanuel Macron is making a surprise visit to New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific that has been paralyzed by rioting. Six people have died in rioting over the past week, and the region’s highest official warned the territory is “headed to civil war”

👨‍⚖️ Donald Trump’s defense attorneys rested their case in the New York “hush money” trial. Trump did not testify himself, despite previously suggesting he would. Jurors were told to return to the court on May 28

🍕 Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, launched a new food line targeting people using weight-loss drugs. Most weight-loss drugs are GLP-1 agonists, which suppress appetite; Nestlé claims its new product line contains vitamins and nutrients that people using those drugs need

🌪️ ~75,000 people in Texas remain without power days after hurricane-strength winds and tornadoes swept across the state. The combination of storms knocked out power for 1M+ people across the state this weekend and killed eight. Houston, Texas’s largest city, was particularly hard-hit

COMMUNITY

We founded RocaNews because we wanted news companies to give us just the facts – not tell us what to think. That inspires us to do the “Roca Votes” story each week, in which we summarize a controversial topic and see how Roca Nation feels about it.

This week’s question: Should women cover up while breastfeeding in public?

Suggested by Lindsay from Tennessee

Just responding to the request for the question of breastfeeding women covering up. To all that say yes, I suggest you go and eat under a blanket and see how you feel.

Amanda

No, women do not need to cover up in public. Do you cover yourself while you eat? This argument is tired, breastfeeding is natural and whether a woman covers up or not should be completely up to what is comfortable for HER, end of conversation.

Heidi

Yes. Cover, find privacy which is always possible. Alongside 'in your face' issues for strangers, is the over-riding matter of relaxation for mother and child which is a proven factor in bonding and digestion.

Dr. Olivia

POPCORN
Some Quick Stories for Happy Hour

💸Never lending Mike $28.4k again”: A rare feather from New Zealand’s extinct huia bird set a record as the most expensive feather ever sold, fetching $28,400 USD at auction

👮 Florida man hung himself out to dry: Florida police found a 31-year-old shooting suspect hiding inside a dryer. They described his condition “folded, not so neatly”

💒 Having nun of it: A 39-year-old Catholic hermit (a type of monk) in Kentucky came out as transgender. He had transitioned years ago and was approved by his local bishop

🌭 He lost that dawg in him: Six-time Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion Takeru Kobayashi, 46, announced his retirement from the sport over health concerns

Take me out to the ballgame (and ER): A Toronto Blue Jays fan posted after Friday’s game that she had been hit by a “110 MPH” ball, causing massive forehead swelling and a black eye

ROCA WRAP
Microplastics Among Us

Humans generate 300M+ tons of plastic waste each year. Some of that is properly managed; much of it is not.

Plastics can be recycled, incinerated, put in landfills – or not processed at all. The share of plastic that goes through each process depends on the country. Globally, 9% of plastic is recycled.

Until 2018, 70% of plastic that would be recycled was exported to China for processing and was then often reused in packaging. But in 2018, China’s government prohibited most plastic waste imports, ostensibly for environmental reasons. While exports started flowing to other countries, none had the capacity to fill the void.

If plastic isn’t recycled, it can be either incinerated or put in a landfill. In developed countries, this is often done in a relatively sustainable way, such as putting it in a sealed landfill that is lined to prevent waste from seeping into the environment.

But the poorer the country, the less proper the handling.

As of 2019, Indonesia and Vietnam – two countries that filled in after China’s import ban – improperly managed 81% and 86% of plastic waste, respectively. In such countries, plastic is burned, littered, or put in exposed landfills, where it contaminates the environment.

~10M tons – a small fraction but equivalent to roughly one garbage truck every minute – enter the oceans each year, typically via rivers. When plastic enters the environment, it doesn’t degrade – that takes 400 years. Instead, it fragments into tiny “microplastics.”

On land, microplastics make their way into soil, contaminating plants and animals; in the ocean, they are often swallowed by fish. Microplastics are found in seafood, ocean salt, fruits, vegetables, and even the air.

They have proliferated so widely that since 2022, studies have found detectable levels of them in human blood.

Given the recency of the phenomenon, microplastics’ effects on humans are poorly understood. Research has shown that human exposure to them could cause metabolism disorders, immune deficiencies, and developmental disorders Significant research is ongoing to better understand how microplastics impact people.

The problem stands to get much worse: Plastic consumption continues to rise, often in rapidly growing developing countries that have inadequate waste management systems. And because so little plastic is incinerated or recycled, the amount on Earth continues to increase.

Yet not all hope is lost: Some companies, governments, and organizations are taking steps to restrict the use of single-use plastics. Governments are also trying to shift the burden of recycling from the consumer to the company, a scheme known as “extended producer responsibility.”

Efforts are also underway to make plastic processing and biodegradable replacements more affordable.

If plastic has become such a problem in just one century, perhaps it can be solved even faster.

This is part 3 of 3 of a Roca deep-dive into recycling. If you have questions or comments, reply to this email!

EDITOR’S NOTE
Final Thoughts

Well, it’s the last day of our “Rust Belt of England” trip, and we miraculously haven’t crashed the rental yet. “We” here really just refers to Max F, who’s driven every mile of the trip. Max T, on the other hand, has faithfully copiloted from the passenger seat, double fisting Jack Link’s beef jerky and Warheads soda (yes, they sell that here).

We absolutely cannot wait to share our report with you. It’s been a fascinating trip. Cheers, mates!

–Max, Max, and Alex