From the EU's AI Act to a super-rare alligator – Here are today's Headlines

About a year ago, OpenAI's ChatGPT made a big splash in the world of artificial intelligence (AI).

From the EU's AI Act to a super-rare alligator – Here are today's Headlines
European Internal Market and Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton speaks at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium February 23, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

To start off, we're looking into:

The EU AI Act

The backstory: About a year ago, OpenAI's ChatGPT made a big splash in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). But the rapid development of AI has raised concerns worldwide. Countries like the US, the members of the EU, Brazil and China have been working on rules to make sure AI is used responsibly and doesn't cause harm, like by spreading misinformation or amplifying bias.

The EU is taking the lead here. It started with regulatory proposals in 2021, including topics like banning mass surveillance or social credit scoring using AI. But the eruption of generative AI last year urged lawmakers to rethink how to regulate the technology. The EU AI Act, stemming from those initial regulatory proposals, is a key part of this effort. And EU member states have been working out all the details over the past few years.

The development: On Friday, the EU provisionally agreed on the world's first comprehensive AI laws. This came after more than 36 hours of negotiations over rules for AI, including technologies like ChatGPT and facial recognition. Click the link here for more.

China’s 2024 economic roadmap

China economic recovery
A man pays for meat at a market in Beijing, China January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

The backstory: China, home to around 1.4 billion people, is dealing with a slower economic recovery post-COVID and a shrinking population. Challenges like a property crisis, local government debt risks, slow global growth and geopolitical tensions are weighing on the country's rebound. So, the government has rolled out various measures to jumpstart the economy. For example, the central bank has made modest interest rate cuts and increased cash injections. But recovery for the world's second-largest economy is still a little uncertain. Analysts predict China will set around a 5% growth target for next year. Looking forward, UBS analysts anticipate China will set a fiscal deficit target of 3.5%-3.8% of the GDP for 2024.

The development: Last Friday, China's top decision-makers, the Politburo, shared how they plan to strengthen the economy in 2024. Led by President Xi Jinping, they talked about staying proactive with the nation's economic approach and applying monetary policies that are "flexible, moderate, precise and effective." Click the link here for more.

The 75-year anniversary of the UN's Genocide Convention

British Home Secretary James Cleverly signs a book of condolences at the Kigali Genocide Memorial during his visit to Kigali, Rwanda, to sign a new treaty with Rwanda, December 5, 2023. The treaty will address concerns by the Supreme Court, including assurances that Rwanda will not remove anybody transferred under the partnership to another country. Ben Birchall/Pool via REUTERS

The backstory: The term genocide is a relatively new one, not even coined until 1944 – partly influenced by the Holocaust but also by other targeted mass killings in history. In 1947, the UN determined genocide as “an international crime” that calls for “national and international responsibility of individual persons and states." Still in its infancy at the time, the UN adopted its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9, 1948. This was one of the first humanitarian conventions from the group and the first time that genocide was made a crime under international law.

The development: On Saturday, the UN and other human rights orgs recognized 75 years since the UN Genocide Convention. This year’s event commemorating the anniversary was themed "A Living Force in World Society: The Legacy of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Looking back, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that even with the convention, genocide has continued to happen “again and again” since 1948. Click the link here for more.

To end, we'll look into:

Is transparent wood the material of the future?

transparent wood
A flower is visible behind a piece of transparent wood. Source: Qinqin Xia, University of Maryland/Science Advances

With plastic pollution – and the newer problem of microplastics coming into the spotlight – scientists are more interested than ever in finding a plastic material alternative with similar qualities. Enter transparent wood.

The concept of transparent wood seems pretty out there, but it’s actually been around in one form or another for over 30 years. In 1992, a German botanist named Siegfried Fink published a paper on how to remove pigments from woody plants to see what’s going on inside without having to fully dissect them. Then, over a decade later, a researcher named Lars Berglund, who worked in materials science, built on Fink’s ideas to start creating a transparent wood alternative to plastics. And now, we’re seeing the concept really start to take on ground. Click the link here for more.

In other news ...

📰Israel/Palestine update: Because of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, UN Secretary-General António Guterres invoked a rare article of the UN charter to bring the Security Council together to discuss a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. The US single-handedly vetoed the resolution, saying that Hamas holding any power in Gaza would "only plant the seeds for the next war." The UK abstained from the vote. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is coming under fire for going over lawmakers' heads to supply tank shells to Israel and for reportedly not keeping track of assessments of Israel's possible war crimes. Meanwhile, the UN said that half of the people in Gaza are starving, with 90% of the population unable to eat food every day. And, over the weekend, photos were released of the Israeli military leading semi-naked Palestinian men around Gaza, triggering concern from groups like the Red Cross. Hamas has also come out to say that none of the hostages it's still holding will be released alive unless Israel exchanges them for Palestinian prisoners. Israel has also said it's trying to get more aid into Gaza. 

🚢South China Sea collision: With tensions rising in contested areas of the South China Sea, the Philippines and China have especially been at odds over this territory lately. Over the weekend, a Philippine boat and a Chinese ship collided in one of the contested areas. The Philippines said that China "harassed, blocked and executed dangerous maneuvers" in the water, resulting in the incident, but China accused the Philippine boat of purposely causing the collision.

📩Egypt presidential election: With the conflict in Israel and Palestine involving Egypt at the border of Gaza, the country's politics have shifted focus away from economic issues – changing how the current presidential election might play out. Current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became unpopular during an economic downturn, but he's expected to be elected for a third term, especially for how he's thrown support behind the Palestinian cause. The polling started Sunday and will last for three days, with results expected on December 18.

🧑‍💼Argentina swears in a new president: Argentina held its presidential election in October, which led to a runoff between two candidates. Javier Milei, who's described himself as an "anarcho-capitalist," won the runoffs, with his controversial personality swaying many Argentines tired of the country's status quo. Milei was inaugurated into office on Sunday, and the nation is still waiting to see how his presidency will go, especially after recently backing off some of his more extreme campaign promises.

Argentina's President Javier Milei
Argentina's President Javier Milei waves to supporters after the swearing-in ceremony, in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 10, 2023. REUTERS/Matias Baglietto

⚓France says Houthis targeted its ship: A Yemeni Houthi militant group has been crippling different Western and specifically Israel-linked ships traveling in the Red Sea. On Saturday, Israel said it would start acting against these Houthi attacks if they continue without a response. On Sunday, France said that two drones from Yemen tried to attack one of its warships, but they were both shot down.

💣Lebanon/Israel violence: Violence at the border between Israel and Lebanon has been on the rise with the conflict in Gaza, as the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group has been fighting in smaller clashes with Israeli forces. On Sunday, Hezbollah began to launch explosive drones and strong missiles at Israeli positions. Israel returned air strikes at towns in south Lebanon, which a Hezbollah official referred to as a "new escalation" to the situation.

🏆Children of jailed Iranian activist accept her Nobel Peace Prize: Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, but she's currently in prison in Iran, charged with "spreading propaganda." Nobel organizers appealed to Iran to release Mohammadi so she could attend the prize ceremony in Oslo, but that didn't pan out. So, instead, Mohammadi's teen twins accepted the prize on her behalf on Sunday.

🌍COP28 fossil fuel disputes: COP28 is coming to an end this week, with oil producer Saudi Arabia contributing to issues when it comes to agreeing on fossil fuel use moving forward, according to insiders. This is a problem because UN rules require that all deals coming together at the climate summit be made unanimously. The Saudi delegation is reportedly fighting any language mentioning fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) in negotiating the conference's final deal. Some other countries are also wobbly on the language in the deal, including the US, China, India, Iran and Russia. The UAE's Sultan Al Jaber, who is leading the conference, has told ministers and negotiators to come ready to compromise as the talks head toward wrapping up.

COP28 Director-General Majid Al Suwaidi speaks during a press conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 10, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

💊Hong Kong approves cancer drugs: Health authorities in Hong Kong have given the green light to two new cancer treatment drugs. They announced they were approved last Thursday under the "1+" approval framework, which launched in November after it was proposed in Chief Executive John Lee's October policy address. This comes a month after the government introduced a process to speed up applications for pharmaceutical products in the city.

⚾Ohtani's big deal: Baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani has officially signed on with the Los Angeles Dodgers for US$700 million, the biggest deal ever in baseball and reportedly in all North American sports history. This 10-year contract also makes him one of the world's best-paid athletes. A major bidding war started over Ohtani when he recently became a free agent, as many consider him one of the best baseball players in history.

🌈Pink Dot HK 2023: On Sunday, thousands of Hong Kongers dressed in pink showed up for the city's largest LGBTQ+ carnival, the Pink Dot HK 2023 carnival, resuming for the first time since 2018. The event at the West Kowloon Cultural District did end an hour earlier at 8 p.m. at the request of police over some crowd concerns at a fireworks show, but that just involved cutting some speeches from local organizations. This year's theme was "Love out Loud," and the carnival hosted more than 70 stores and community booths, including arts and crafts and pet adoption, and featured performances by local and drag queens and singers.

💬Sam Altman talks OpenAI drama: It was less than a month ago that the OpenAI drama with CEO Sam Altman being fired and then almost immediately rehired all went down. Now, we're starting to get a better idea of what exactly happened. Altman recently spoke about the whole thing on comedian Trevor Noah's "What Now" podcast, saying that he was taken by surprise by the phone call firing him and that the entire ordeal was actually "a blessing in disguise" for how it helped him develop more empathy.

💼Spotify CFO steps down: Last week, we reported that Spotify is cutting its workforce by 17%, laying off about 1,500 employees. The company just announced that its CFO, Paul Vogel, is also leaving next March. 

🛰️Landscape's green satellite launch: China has been building up its space plans over the past few years and making progress pretty quickly. Last Friday, Chinese space tech company Landspace Technology made history by successfully launching the first three satellites into orbit on a clean-burning methane-liquid oxygen engine.

🐊Rare, white gator: At Gatorland, an alligator park in Orlando, Florida, in the US, an extremely rare white leucistic alligator was born in August, and the park just revealed the news over the last few days. The park's announcement explained that leucistic alligators are the rarest genetic variation of the alligator, and they have white coloration, with patches of normal pigmentation and blue eyes. That's different from albino gators, which have a complete loss of pigmentation and pink eyes. There are only seven other known leucistic alligators in the world, and three of them live at Gatorland.

leucistic alligator
Source: Gatorland Orlando

Quiz Time!

What team did baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani just sign a massive deal with?

  • The Los Angeles Angels
  • The Chicago Cubs
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers

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Written and put together by Joey Fung, Vanessa Wolosz and Christine Dulion