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Science – Wall Street Observer

Wall Street Observer

Wall Street Observer

JPMorgan’s blockchain payments test is literally out of this world

By Anna Irrera

LONDON (Reuters) – Stuck in space with bills to pay? Don’t worry, the satellites could take care of it.

JPMorgan Chase & Co has recently tested blockchain payments between satellites orbiting the earth, executives at the bank told Reuters, showing that digital devices could use the technology behind virtual currencies for transactions.

The so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where devices connect to one another, is most associated with consumer electronics, including smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and banks want to be ready to process payments when these smart devices start doing transactions autonomously.Umar Farooq, the CEO of JPMorgan’s blockchain business Onyx, thought space was a cool place to try it out.

“The idea was to explore IoT payments in a fully decentralised way,” Farooq said. “Nowhere is more decentralised and detached from earth than space.”

“Secondly we are nerdy and it was a much more fun way to test IoT,” he said.  

To run the space experiment, the bank’s blockchain team did not send its own satellites into space, but worked with Danish company GOMspace, which allows third parties to run software on its satellites.

Farooq said the satellite test showed blockchain networks could power transactions between every day objects.

The test also showed it could be possible to create a marketplace where satellites send each other data in exchange for payments, as more private companies launch their own devices into space, Tyrone Lobban, head of blockchain launch, at Onyx said.

Back on earth, examples of IoT payments that could become a reality sooner include a smart fridge ordering and paying for milk on an ecommerce site, or a self-driving car paying for gas Farooq said.

Blockchain, which first emerged as the software underpinning cryptocurrencies, is a shared digital ledger of transactions. Financial companies have invested millions of dollars to find uses for the technology hoping it can reduce costs and simplify more complex IT processes, such as securities settlement or international payments.

But so far, blockchain has yet to have widespread impact in financial services.

JPMorgan has been one of the most active banks in blockchain, announcing it had created its own distributed ledger called Quorum in 2016, which was sold to blockchain company Consensys last year. The bank also developed a digital coin called JPM Coin and in 2020 created Onyx.

Onyx has more than 100 employees and its blockchain applications are close to generating revenues for the bank, it said.

Among the division’s applications is Liink, a payments information network involving more than 400 banks, a project to replace paper checks and IoT experiments, Farooq said.

(Reporting by Anna Irrera. Editing by Jane Merriman)


Moscow goes green: Russian capital eyes fully electric bus fleet by 2030

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow plans to nearly quadruple the number of electric buses it operates in coming years and replace all petrol or diesel-powered public transport vehicles with greener alternatives by 2030, a senior city transport official has said.

Mosgortrans, which runs Moscow’s vast bus and tram network, said its fleet of around 600 electric buses would be expanded by 400 vehicles by the year-end, by another 420 the following year, and then by 855, bringing the fleet to more than 2,000 e-buses.

“Every year the plan will be to replace all wheeled public transport vehicles with electric buses,” said Artyom Burlakov, deputy head of the innovative projects department at Mosgortrans.

Environmental activists have welcomed the initiative.

“They are also buying new, more power-efficient trams, which is a good thing,” said Mikhail Babenko, head of the green economy programme at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Russia.

Babenko said there was still a long way to go, however, when it came to Muscovites changing their own behaviour and turning their backs on cars in favour of greener alternatives.

The Russian capital remains infamous for its traffic jams.

(Reporting by Dmitry Madorsky, Lev Sergeev, Mikhail Antonov and Tatiana Gomozova; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Alex Richardson)


Google names exec to oversee responsible AI research after staff unrest

By Paresh Dave and Jeffrey Dastin

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google on Thursday named Marian Croak, one of its few Black executives, to oversee research on responsible artificial intelligence (AI) after weeks of internal anger over its firing of a prominent Black scientist.

Google confirmed Croak will manage 10 teams, including a dozen scientists studying the ethical considerations of automated technologies known as AI. Ethical AI co-lead Timnit Gebru said in December that Google abruptly fired her for contesting company orders.

Employees for weeks have expressed concern that Gebru’s critiques of Google led to unfair punishment, and Croak has been among executives trying to broker a way forward between staff and management.

Croak, a vice president of engineering who will report to Google AI chief Jeff Dean, told employees in a Thursday meeting that she respected Gebru and that what happened to her was unfortunate.

In a video on Google’s blog, she also acknowledged dissent in the research areas now in her purview. “There’s quite a lot of conflict right now within the field, and it can be polarizing at times, and what I’d like to do is just have people have the conversation in a more diplomatic way,” she said.

Google employee Alex Hanna on Twitter called the news about Croak “a betrayal,” saying it occurred behind the Ethical AI team’s back and did not address demands the team made after Gebru’s firing.

Gebru said in a statement, “Marian is a highly accomplished trailblazing scientist that I had admired and even confided in. It’s incredibly hurtful to see her legitimizing what Jeff Dean and his subordinates have done to me and my team.”

Croak, who previously was working on site reliability for Google, will also oversee teams doing research related to accessibility, social good and fairness in health algorithms.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave and Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Christopher Cushing)


Learning in a pandemic: An online education executive shares tips

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – In the darkest moments of the past year, Stephanie Dua, co-founder and president of HOMER, a New York City-based online learning program, turned to early lessons on hard work and optimism she learned on her father’s almond and walnut farm.

From about age 4, Dua worked as a “nutter” on the farm in Waterford, California, collecting nuts after a machine had shaken them from the trees.

“You always knew nutters because your fingers would turn black from all the nuts’ skins that you were picking,” said Dua, 50, who got paid 5 cents a bucket.

“I learned so much about hard work, problem-solving and how you have to keep doing it until it gets done,” said Dua, who now lives in the Coconut Grove, Florida, with her husband and three daughters, ages 11 to 16. “Even if things are unsettled or unstructured, there’s always a path forward.”

To assist educators and families affected by school shutdowns, HOMER gave educators free access to its programs and pivoted to offer forums and suggestions for parents suddenly needing advice on home-schooling their children.

Dua talked to Reuters about learning through a pandemic. Edited excerpts below.

Q. How has your business changed in the past year?

A. When COVID-19 and home-schooling started, we realized we’ve been working on this for 10 to 15 years. It’s my life’s work to help give a quality education to everyone, regardless of ZIP code.

In the first few weeks of March, we launched an “Ask the Expert” series that our vice president of child and family development ran. We created an activity center to offer high-quality activities parents could do with children that were easy, like using items or ingredients in the kitchen to reinforce simple math concepts like counting.

Q. What strategies for educating and engaging your daughters have worked well?

A. We really focused on some back-to-basics, like baking and gardening.

Pinterest is an amazing source of activities. For example, with gardening, my Pinterest showed us how to make an earth bed. And my kids did the research to figure out what the best one is for this climate. They developed a flower and herb bed that we tended to all through spring and summer.

Q. What’s an important lesson you try to teach your children?

A. A sense of agency – they belong to and are part of a community, making sure that they have values that go beyond skills and knowledge.

My 16-year-old daughter, Anya, is now a thought leader in her own right – she founded Gen Z Identity Lab, a space for the Gen Z generation to discuss identity in a non-divisive way. And during COVID, my youngest daughter, Isla, co-founded a movement, Miami Strong. She was making masks and delivering them to those in need.

Q. What advice do you have for parents trying to teach their kids at home right now?

A. Do double duty. If you’re cooking, think about how you can make a math lesson out of it. If you’re taking a walk, think about how you can take the opportunity to listen and hear what’s going on with your child.

We’re all so busy. We’re time-starved. Take what you’re doing anyway and make that a great experience for your family.

Q. What is your biggest work-life challenge?

A. Not letting my own fears and anxieties affect my family. During the early days of COVID, we didn’t know what to expect. My husband and I had a conversation where we said, even if we are feeling anxious about health issues, the family, the economy – we can’t bring that into our children’s lives.

Q. What has been the silver lining to the past year?

A. My husband and daughter got COVID four days before Christmas. We decided nobody was allowed to come out of their rooms.

I was the nurse, so I had to bring a tray from room to room and drop off drinks and food and Tylenol. Fortunately, everyone was OK but it was very scary.

I really found an outpouring of love and support around us – people would drop off meals at the door, games that the kids could play.

We’re new to Miami. We’ve been here just two years. This was a moment of really getting to know our neighbors better. It’s brought friends and family closer to us, too.

(Reporting by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan; Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis)


Baidu says has decided on a CEO and brand for its EV company with Geely

BEIJING (Reuters) – Baidu has appointed a chief executive officer and decided on a brand for its electric vehicle (EV) venture with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the Chinese search engine giant said on Thursday.

Robin Li, Baidu’s CEO, made the comments on a quarterly earnings call without disclosing names. He also said that they would try to launch a new EV model in three years.

Baidu announced in January that it would set up a company with Geely that will leverage its intelligent driving capabilities and Geely’s car manufacturing expertise to make smart electric vehicles.

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)


Printed in days, a house: New York firm takes 3D printing to the next level

(Reuters) – Most homes are built block by block, or brick by brick. But a demo house in Calverton, New York, was constructed scan by scan – its walls made using a giant three-dimensional printer.

The demo house was built by construction firm SQ4D, to show the public and industry what was possible. Now the company is putting one up for sale – a still to-be-built house in the nearby town of Riverhead, which has been listed on property site Zillow at $299,000.

With a detached garage, the house will cover some 1,400 square feet (130 square meters). The footings, foundation and slab, along with the walls, will be entirely made with the 3D printer.

“We instruct the machine to go around and follow your floor plan each pass as we go by. We’re constantly building up,” said Kirk Andersen, the director of operations for SQ4D.

Andersen and his colleagues had to design and build their own printer to fulfill their house-sized dream.

“We took the idea of a plastic 3D desktop printer and wanted to make it much larger and spit out concrete,” said Andersen.

“We set tracks on each side of the structure where we plan to print. We set up our giant gantry, our large scale printer goes back and forth, extruding these layers one by one, stacking, building all your walls.”

Andersen said the actual printing time for the walls took about 48 hours, part of an overall eight-day process to build the entire home.

That is significantly faster and around 30% cheaper overall than a home built using standard construction methods, he said, where laborers need to tow in and stack blocks manually.

“We show up with a printer. We can replace the labor-intensiveness of those guys and extrude concrete much faster than they can lay the bricks,” he said.

Not everyone in the construction industry is thrilled at that prospect, and the process has received mixed feedback, he said, with some skepticism in particular from older tradesmen.

“I think people are just unprepared for how this is going to change construction,” said Andersen. “This is the beginning. This is just scratching the surface right here.”

(Reporting by Reuters TV, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Marguerita Choy)






Elon Musk’s SpaceX raises $850 million in fresh funding: CNBC

(Reuters) – Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk’s SpaceX completed an equity funding round of $850 million that sent its valuation to about $74 billion last week, CNBC reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the financing.

SpaceX raised the funds at $419.99 a share and the latest funding round represents a jump of about 60% in the company’s valuation from its previous raise, which valued it at $46 billion, the report https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/16/elon-musks-spacex-raised-850-million-at-419point99-a-share.html said.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The company had raised $1.9 billion in August in its largest single fundraising round, according to PitchBook data.

A prototype of SpaceX’s Starship rocket, the SN9, exploded earlier this month during a landing attempt after a high-altitude test launch in a repeat of an accident that destroyed a previous test rocket.

The Starship SN9 prototype was a test model of the heavy-lift rocket being developed by the company to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.

Earlier in February, Musk’s electric vehicle company Tesla revealed that it had bought $1.5 billion of bitcoin and would soon accept the cryptocurrency as a form of payment for its cars.

A well-known supporter of cryptocurrencies, Musk has weighed in regularly on the recent frenzy in retail trading, driving up prices of meme-based digital currency dogecoin and shares of U.S. video game chain GameStop.

(Reporting by Derek Francis and Ayanti Bera in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Aditya Soni)


Bristol-Myers, Sanofi ordered to pay Hawaii $834 million over Plavix warning label

By Tina Bellon and Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A judge in Hawaii on Monday ordered Bristol-Myers Squibb Co and Sanofi SA to pay more than $834 million to the state for failing to warn non-white patients properly of health risks from its blood thinner Plavix.

Judge Dean Ochiai in Honolulu concluded the companies engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices from 1998 to 2010 by failing to change the drug’s label to warn doctors and patients despite knowing some of the risks.

Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors, whose office sued the companies in 2014, said the ruling “puts the pharmaceutical industry on notice that it will be held accountable for conduct that deceives the public and places profit above safety.”

Bristol-Myers and Sanofi, which produced Plavix in a partnership, in a joint statement vowed to appeal, saying the decision was “unsupported by the law and at odds with the evidence at trial.” They called Plavix safe and effective.

Ochiai, who presided over a four-week, non-jury trial conducted entirely over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ordered Bristol-Myers and Sanofi to each pay $417 million in penalties.

Hawaii alleged the companies violated state consumer protection laws by marketing Plavix without disclosing that the drug could have a diminished or no effect for some people, particularly of East Asian and Pacific Island ancestry.

Plavix is prescribed to prevent strokes and heart attacks. The blood thinner needs to be activated by the body’s own enzymes, which can vary genetically.

Studies have shown that about 14% of Chinese patients are unable to metabolize the drug properly, compared with 4% of Black and 2% of white patients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2010 issued a new Plavix warning label to reflect that information.

Bristol-Myers and Sanofi still face a similar lawsuit over Plavix by the state of New Mexico.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon and Nate Raymond; Editing by Richard Chang, Dan Grebler and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)


Analysis: Pawz and UFOs: Thematic ETFs boom, drawing punters and concern

By Saikat Chatterjee and Thyagaraju Adinarayan

LONDON (Reuters) – From cat food to cannabis, it’s boom time for quirky ETFs offering the chance to punt on niche themes in fast-growth sectors, but their huge gains are unnerving some who see them as another price-inflated asset that may threaten market stability.

While Reddit “gamestonks” have grabbed recent headlines, retail investors are also credited with large flows into exchange-traded funds – basically a tradable basket of shares – swelling their assets by more than $1 trillion last year, according to Refinitiv.

And growth has been especially notable in ETFs that aim to harness returns from themes that capitalise on societal and economic trends, from space travel to pet care, and marijuana to medical tech.

Such ETFs, which are bought and sold like shares, more than doubled their assets under management last year to $140 billion, Citi analyst Scott Chronert says, describing inflows as having gone “nearly parabolic”.

Thematic ETFs in EMEA alone have received $4 billion so far this year, according to the bank, a figure Chronert said would grow “as investors continue to demand more precise positioning”.

The prominent ARK Innovation ETF, containing business disruptors Tesla, payments firm Square and genome editor Crispr Therapeutics, is up 350% since last March, while the Procure Space and ProShares Pet Care ETFs have also seen scintillating price gains.

The iShares Global Clean Energy ETF has risen 275% meanwhile, and cannabis-themed ETFs have enjoyed a bumper ride on a view the new U.S. administration will decriminalise the drug.

Graphics: Thematic ETFs on fast growing sectors surge – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/buzz/qmyvmwozxvr/Pasted%20image%201613056847961.png

eToro said it had seen an increase of over 400% in the opening of ETF positions globally on its platform last year, part of an overall trend of “tremendous growth” in retail investing.

“It is easier to invest in themes than particular stocks or broader indices and so tech disruptors, gaming, biotech, have become very popular with retail investors,” said Deborah Fuhr, co-founder of consultancy ETFGI.

That’s despite higher fees — filings show the Ark Innovation ETF charges 0.75% versus 0.04% at Blackrock’s core S&P 500 index ETF.

Thematic ETFs are still a tiny part of the $8 trillion Exchange Traded Products industry. So why are some investors warning of stability risks?

Some of it is down to what short-seller Carson Block, founder of Muddy Waters Capital, calls the “autopilot” model of passive investing – buying more of a stock as its price rises and its index weight grows.

But when outflows hit, the ETF provider must sell shares to meet redemptions, potentially setting off a chain reaction as the share price falls. That passive selling could “quickly overwhelm the market” Block warned in an FT column this week.

The risk may be magnified in thematic ETFs which focus on just a handful of names. ARK Invest, which owns the Ark Innovation ETF, for instance owns more than 10% of outstanding shares in some companies, particularly biotech, Saxo Bank analysts note.

Ark Invest was not immediately available to comment.

Sebastien Lemaire, head of ETF Research at Societe Generale also says the pace of inflows could be concerning.

“Some of these ETFs which have seen record inflows are quite concentrated on a relatively limited number of constituents.”

Any reversal, caused by ETFs tweaking holdings due to investor outflows or index rebalancing, could hammer the share price of smaller constituents with lower trading volumes.

Within the ARK Innovation ETF, daily January trading volumes in streaming platform Roku Inc and virtual healthcare provider Teladoc averaged roughly three million shares and 500,000 shares respectively, well below the eight million units for the underlying ETF.

And holdings also overlap across funds. Tesla features in no less than 27 thematic ETFs, Citi notes, while chipmaker Nvidia turns up in 45.

Thematic ETFs continue to mushroom, with 17 launched in Europe last year, while U.S. ETF specialist Global X launched six worldwide, focusing on sectors from gaming to telemedicine according to fund research firm Morningstar.

The concentration of risk may be even more extreme in “three times long, three times short” exchange traded strategies, where gains — or losses — can be three times the share performance.

UK-based Graniteshares, which offers 3x long, 3x short exposure to 10 U.S. tech stocks and 10 UK blue chips, says $40,000 invested in its Tesla 3x long exchange traded product at its July 2020 launch would now be worth $1 million.

Morningstar, while acknowledging recent dazzling returns, said its research shows thematic funds “have historically struggled to survive and outperform global equity benchmarks over longer periods of time”.

Graphics: Expensive and Concentrated – https://graphics.reuters.com/MARKETS-ETF/oakverqbdpr/chart.png

(Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee and Thyagaraju Adinarayan; editing by Sujata Rao, Kirsten Donovan)


Bayer reaches $2 billion deal over future Roundup cancer claims

By Tom Hals and Tina Bellon

(Reuters) – Bayer AG struck a $2 billion deal to resolve future legal claims that its widely used weedkiller Roundup causes cancer, the German company said on Wednesday.

    Bayer has been struggling to finalize the settlement of claims that Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. Bayer inherited the business and the litigation as part of a $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto in 2018.

The company has said that decades of studies have shown Roundup and glyphosate are safe for human use.

Wednesday’s settlement would cover future claims brought by individuals who have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and were exposed to Roundup before their diagnosis. The settlement also includes benefits for people who were exposed to Roundup and develop the cancer in the future.

    Roundup, which Monsanto first brought to the market in 1974, is widely used by farmers across the United States and Brazil, alongside crops that are genetically engineered to withstand the its herbicidal effect.

Glyphosate will remain on the market. Bayer agreed to seek permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a reference link on labels so consumers can find scientific studies on the weedkiller.

Under the proposed plan, Bayer will provide $2 billion for a four-year period as compensation and to cover outreach and diagnostic assistance. Future claimants could receive up to $200,000 under the deal.

The parties can agree to extend the settlement period.

The company said the settlement amount was disclosed last year.

The agreement must be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco.

Chhabria in June questioned the legality of a prior settlement plan that Bayer proposed, which envisioned creating a panel of scientists who would rule on the viability of claims.

Under the revised deal, anyone who does not make a claim during the four-year period would then be able to sue in court, according Elizabeth Cabraser, an attorney for the proposed class. She also said anyone diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who does not like their compensation offer under the class plan can go to the court system and try for a better result.

In June, Bayer reached a wider $9.6 billion settlement that would resolve the bulk of the more than 100,000 U.S. lawsuits that were already filed over Roundup.     

    Bayer’s stock has been battered by the litigation, but also by billions of euros in writedowns, and a bleaker profit outlook, in large part related to the $63 billion Monsanto takeover.

    The group last year announced 9.25 billion euros in impairment charges on agricultural assets and shocked markets by predicting a slight decline in core earnings per share in 2021 on weaker demand by farmers.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Noeleen Walder)