Tesla’s “Shadow” Testing Offers A Useful Advantage On The Biggest Problem In Robocars

Tesla’s “Shadow” Testing Offers A Useful Advantage On The Biggest Problem In Robocars
By Brad Templeton
Apr 29 2019

For some time, the biggest problem in robocars has been proving that you have done it — that you have built a car that is safe enough to deploy. If you’re making one, you must first convince yourself, along with your lawyers and board of directors, and you must convince the public. When you have accidents, you will need to convince the courts. In time, you will need to convince regulators too.

In light of Tesla’s recent opening up on their approaches, it is worth examining their approach, in contrast with that of others.

Everybody starts on closed roads and test tracks, but very quickly that becomes minimally useful and you need to try the more varied and risky situations of public streets.

Almost everybody agrees that on-road testing and development is essential. Nobody is going to ride in a car that’s not been extensively tested in the real world. The primary approach taken by most teams has been to rack up lots of real world miles and situations in different conditions, with a human safety driver, or rather two, overseeing the prototype testing to keep it safe. Waymo has now done 15 million miles of this.


Almost everybody serious also is testing in simulator. Simulation is not the real thing, but it offers some important advantages:

• It’s cheap — no need to even have a car, let alone a road or safety drivers.
• It’s fast — you can drive a million miles in simulator in a night.
• It’s safe — you can test dangerous situations you could never try in the real world, like pedestrians running in front of you or being in the middle of accidents
• It’s complex — you can drive all your simulated miles in interesting and challenging conditions, not wasting time on simple and boring ordinary roads.
• It’s repeatable — you can do the same test again and again.
• It’s variable — you can try millions of tiny variations of any situation. You can try every type of weather and lighting. You can try every type of road and traffic.
• It’s strange — you can test extremely rare situations, like what your car might do in a tsunami, earthquake, fire, flood, tornado or dust storm.
• It’s software — you can create complex failures of your simulated hardware, mixed in with every situation, and know how you deal with them.

It’s a very important technique, and listing all of its abilities would take a much longer document, but everybody should be doing it. Even so, it is not the real world.

Shadow testing

Tesla showed off one of its testing techniques at its April 23 autonomy day, one it had hinted at before but not clearly described, namely “shadow mode testing.” This technique is one where Tesla has an edge over other players because hundreds of thousands of customers are paying to drive their cars around and unknowingly help with this testing.

In shadow testing, a car is being driven by a human, or a human with autopilot. A new revision of the autopilot software is also present on the vehicle, receiving data from the sensors but not taking control of the car in any way. Rather, it makes decisions about how to drive based on the sensors, and those decisions can be compared to the decisions of a human driver or the older version of the autopilot. If there is a decision — the new software decides to zig where the old one zags, or the new software cruises on when the human hits the brakes, an attempt can be made to figure out how different the decisions were, and how important that difference is. Some portion of those incidents can be given to human beings to examine and learn if the new software is making a mistake. If there is a mistake, it can be marked to be fixed, and the testing continues.

Tesla’s new hardware chip, which has vastly more processing power than the current generation they use, will allow them not only to run more complex neural networks in the autopilot. It also allows them to do more shadow testing, since it’s easy to have more than one autopilot running at a time.

Tesla touts their advantage here — they can shadow test many millions of miles every day, while companies using safety drivers test at a much slower rate. Before they release an update to autopilot, they can be almost sure it would not have caused a crash in millions of miles of driving situation. I say almost sure because shadow testing has one flaw. Once the shadow autopilot had decided to deviate from the real path of the car, both for important reasons like braking to avoid an accident, and more mundane reasons like changing lanes or adjusting itself in the lane, it no longer receives sensor data that reflect that change. It wants to change lanes, but the test is now over, as it can’t see what the sensors would have seen if it had done so, and other cars on the road who might react to that lane change will not be reacting to it. In important situations, the scenario can be converted over to a simulator which can test what would happen — in simulator, not reality — if the car actually obeyed the new software.


The European Union is obliged to participate in US wars

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

The European Union is obliged to participate in US wars
Since the Treaty of Maastricht, all the members of the European Union (including the neutral countries) have placed their defences under the suzerainty of NATO, which is directed exclusively by the United States. This is why, when the Pentagon delegates the economic headquarters of the countries it wishes to destroy to the US Department of the Treasury (USDT), all members of the European Union and NATO are obliged to apply US sanctions.
By Thierry Meyssan
Apr 23 2019

After having lost his majority in the House of Representatives during the mid-term elections, President Trump has found new allies in exchange for his discharge by prosecutor Mueller of the accusation of high treason [1]. He now supports the objectives of his generals. US imperialism is back [2].

In less than six months, the foundations of international relations have been « rebooted ». The war that Hillary Clinton promised to start has been declared, but not only by military force.

This transformation of the rules of the game, without equivalent since the end of the Second World War, immediately forced all actors to rethink their strategy, and therefore all the plans for alliance upon which they were based. Those who turn up late will pay for it.

Economic war has been declared

Wars will always be mortal and cruel, but for Donald Trump, who was a businessman before becoming President of the United States, it is best that they cost as little as possible. It is thus preferable to kill with economic means rather than by the use of arms. Given that the United States no longer share trade agreements with most of the countries they attack, the real « economic » cost of these wars (in the genuine sense of the term), is in effect supported by third-party countries rather than by the Pentagon.

Thus the United States have just decided to lay economic siege to Venezuela [3], Cuba [4] and Nicaragua [5]. In order to mask real killing wars, these actions are presented by the media apparatus as « sanctions », without giving us any idea of what law Washington is basing them on.

They are deployed with explicit reference to the « Monroe Doctrine » of 1823, according to which no foreign power shall intervene on the American continent, while in exchange, the United States will refrain from intervening in Western Europe. Only China, which felt targeted, pointed out that the Americas are not the private property of the United States. However, everyone is aware that this doctrine has evolved rapidly to justify Yankee imperialism in the South of the continent (the « Roosevelt Corollary »).

Today, US sanctions concern at least twenty countries – Belarus, Myanmar, Burundi, North Korea, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nicaragua, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Serbia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen and Zimbabwe. That gives us a very precise map of the conflicts led by the Pentagon, assisted by the US Department of the Treasury (USDT).

These targets are never in Western Europe (as specified by the « Monroe Doctrine »), but exclusively in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean Basin and Africa. All these regions were listed as early as 1991 by President George Bush senior in his National Security Strategy as being flagged to join the « New World Order » [6]. Considering that that they had been unable or unwilling to do so, they were sanctioned in 2001 by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his advisor for the transformation of the armed forces, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, and doomed to chaos [7].

The expression « economic war » was waved about for decades to indicate heightened competition. This is no longer true today – we are now talking about a real killing war.

The reactions of the targets and those not appropriated by the Allies

The Syrians, who have just won an eight-year military war against NATO’s jihadist mercenaries, are destabilised by this economic war, which imposes strict rationing of electricity, gas and oil, and provokes the closing of factories which had only just been reopened. At best, they can be relieved that the Empire did not inflict these two forms of war at the same time.

The Venezuelans are now discovering with horror what economic war actually means, and are realising that with the tinhorn Juan Guiado as much as with President Nicolas Maduro, they are going to have to fight to maintain their state (in other words a ’Leviathan’ capable of protecting them [8]).

The strategies of the targeted states are themselves plunged into confusion. For example, since they are no longer able to import medicines for its hospitals, Venezuela has signed an agreement with Syria, which was, before the war of 2011, a very important producer and exporter in this sector. Factories which had been destroyed by Turkey and the jihadists were rebuilt in Aleppo. But although they had just been reopened, they now had to close again, since they had no available supply of electricity.

The multiplication of theatres of war – and therefore of the pretended « sanctions » – began to cause serious problems for the allies of the United State, including the European Union. The EU did not appreciate the threats of seizure aimed at companies which had invested in Cuba, and, remembering the actions engaged to forbid them access to the Iranian market, reacted by threatening in their turn to seize the Arbitration Committee of the World Trade Organization (WTO). And yet, as we shall see, this revolt by the European Union is doomed to failure, since it was anticipated 25 years ago by Washington.


This $1,650 pill will tell your doctors whether you’ve taken it. Is it the future of medicine?

This $1,650 pill will tell your doctors whether you’ve taken it. Is it the future of medicine?
By Christopher Rowland
Apr 28 2019

When the Food and Drug Administration approved in late 2017 a schizophrenia pill that sends a signal to a patient’s doctor when ingested, it was seen not only as a major step forward for the disease but as a new frontier of Internet-connected medicine.

Patients who have schizophrenia often stop taking their medicine, triggering psychotic episodes that can have severe consequences. So the pill, a 16-year-old medication combined with a tiny microchip, would help doctors intervene before a patient went dangerously off course.

Seventeen months later, few patients use the medication, known as Abilify MyCite. Doctors and insurance companies say it is a case in which real-world limitations, as well as costs, outweigh the innovations that the medical industry can produce.

In the case of schizophrenia patients, some doctors warn that Abilify MyCite could exacerbate the very delusions that the medication is designed to prevent.

“Patients who have a lot of paranoia might be uncomfortable with the idea of a medicine that is transmitting signals. The patient may be afraid to take it,’’ said Richmond psychiatrist James Levenson. “The science of this one is kind of ahead of the data.’’

The debate over Abilify MyCite underscores a dilemma American health care will increasingly face as the medical industry and Silicon Valley try to promote innovation. For decades, medicine has been effectively delivered through a few simple mechanisms: a pill, a cream, a nose spray, a needle.

But in the hopes of improving outcomes further, the industry is turning to an array of new technologies against one of the biggest, and most human, challenges in treating disease: getting people to take their medicine in a consistent way.

Companies are producing apps for substance abuse treatment, diabetes management, and heart and blood pressure monitoring at a rapid clip. Studies are underway for more digital pills to treat cancer, cardiovascular conditions and infectious disease.

And while many of these may pass regulatory hurdles that show they’re safe — especially at a time when the Trump administration has been leaning into medical innovation and pushing back against excessive regulation — doctors and insurers are not convinced that the technologies will so easily make the difference that the pharmaceutical industry is betting billions on.

“I think that these technologies have a lot of potential benefits, but it’s going to be a question of evidence — that they can demonstrate value to patients and payers,’’ said Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down this month as FDA commissioner, a job in which he made approval of leading technology a hallmark.

The first digital therapy to win FDA market clearance, Abilify MyCite’s sensor-embedded pill remains off the market because of physician and insurance industry reservations.

Now Maryland-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical, which makes the medication, may be able to jump-start its acceptance by offering it to mentally ill people who qualify for low-income government health insurance. Otsuka won approval from Virginia Medicaid authorities last month to begin coverage. The company also is starting a pilot program in Florida and is considering another in Oklahoma.

Otsuka considers itself a pioneer. Abilify is an older brand-name drug marketed by the company to treat schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. Abilify MyCite adds the electronic tracking component and, at $1,650 a month, costs almost 30 times as much as a 30-day supply of generic Abilify at a Costco pharmacy.

Otsuka developed the treatment with Proteus Digital Health, a Silicon Valley company that markets the digital component. Proteus is pioneering its use in other therapies including cancer patients taking chemotherapy drugs.

After the daily antipsychotic pill is swallowed, a digital sensor the size of a grain of sand (and made of copper, magnesium and silicon, which Proteus says are all found in food) transmits a signal when it comes into contact with stomach acid. The signal is captured by a patch worn on the patient’s torso. The patch sends a signal to an app on the patient’s smartphone. The app uploads data to a secure website for viewing by doctors. Otsuka has won special federal approval to provide smartphones “with highly limited functionality’’ to people who can’t afford them.

The goal is to solve a vexing problem: Schizophrenia patients often stop taking their medicine, triggering psychotic episodes that can have severe consequences. Abilify MyCite is supposed to help doctors keep track of which patients are staying on their medication. The app also allows patients to enter information about their mood.

The approval led to debate among psychiatrists about the ethics of invasive monitoring for patients whose mental competency at times may be borderline. They raised questions about patients’ autonomy, data privacy and ability to navigate the technical challenges of the system.

But proponents say the medical need is so great that Abilify MyCite deserves a close look.

Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who chairs a special mental health committee in the legislature, said he had not heard of the therapy until contacted by The Washington Post. But he said in an interview that he was intrigued by a technology that could help people like his mentally ill son, Austin “Gus’’ Deeds, 24, who slashed Deeds on the face in 2013 before taking his own life. Deeds said his son had stopped taking medication nearly a year beforehand.

“There is a need for people who are caregivers to make sure the person’s taking the medicine,’’ Deeds said. “The other side of it is the civil liberty issue for the person who is sick.’’

Gus Deeds thought his medications “made him less of who he was. It dumbed down his personality,’’ Deeds said. But, he added, “a person does not have the right to destroy their life, or the life of others.’’

He said he did not have an opinion on whether Virginia Medicaid should add Abilify MyCite to its list of approved prescription drugs.

Otsuka emphasizes that no patient will be asked to use Abilify MyCite without showing a clear desire to do so. Schizophrenia patients who have paranoid feelings about ingesting a digital pill are unlikely candidates for the drug, the company said.

“It’s unlike a pharmaceutical launch where you proactively blitz all the states. We’re not doing that,’’ said John Bardi, Otsuka’s vice president for public affairs and digital business development. “It’s really about patients who want to improve their treatment goals. If they have any concerns, it’s probably not the right solution for them.’’


New EPA document tells communities to brace for climate change impacts

New EPA document tells communities to brace for climate change impacts
By Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis
Apr 27 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency published a 150-page document this past week with a straightforward message for coping with the fallout from natural disasters across the country: Start planning for the fact that climate change is going to make these catastrophes worse.

The language, included in guidance on how to address the debris left in the wake of floods, hurricanes and wildfires, is at odds with the rhetoric of the EPA’s own leader, Andrew Wheeler. Just last month, Wheeler said in an interview with CBS that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.”

Multiple recent studies have identified how climate change is already affecting the United States and the globe. In the western United States, for example, regional temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and snowmelt is occurring a month earlier in areas, extending the fire season by three months and quintupling the number of large fires. Another scientific paper, co-authored by EPA researchers, found that unless the United States slashes carbon emissions, climate change will probably cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars annually by 2100.

The divergence between Wheeler and his own agency offers the latest example of the often contradictory way that federal climate policy has evolved under President Trump. As the White House has sought to minimize or ignore climate science, government experts have continued to sound the alarm.

The president has said he intends to withdraw the nation from a key international climate accord, but last fall 13 agencies issued a report concluding that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.”

The White House has repeatedly sought ways to question the broad scientific consensus that human activities are driving climate change, and it is considering creating a federal advisory panel to reexamine those findings. But while the National Security Council is still pursuing the task force proposal, it has encountered resistance from military and intelligence officials as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Even some of the administration’s symbolic efforts to change the government’s climate message have fizzled. In the summer of 2017, top EPA officials had plans to tweak references to climate change in the agency’s official museum, and possibly to put a piece of coal on display. The overhaul plans stalled and are now not expected to materialize, according to two individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Still, Trump officials often home in on references to climate change in key documents.

In the case of the April 24 guidance from the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, documents show, the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs sought to downplay climate change’s impact on the intensity of natural disasters. But these efforts, first reported by E&E News, did not entirely remove those references.

The document published Wednesday in the Federal Register repeatedly makes the link between climate change and more-severe floods, wildfires and storms.


The Truth About Dentistry

The Truth About Dentistry
It’s much less scientific—and more prone to gratuitous procedures—than you may think.
May 2019 Issue

In the early 2000s Terry Mitchell’s dentist retired. For a while, Mitchell, an electrician in his 50s, stopped seeking dental care altogether. But when one of his wisdom teeth began to ache, he started looking for someone new. An acquaintance recommended John Roger Lund, whose practice was a convenient 10-minute walk from Mitchell’s home, in San Jose, California. Lund’s practice was situated in a one-story building with clay roof tiles that housed several dental offices. The interior was a little dated, but not dingy. The waiting room was small and the decor minimal: some plants and photos, no fish. Lund was a good-looking middle-aged guy with arched eyebrows, round glasses, and graying hair that framed a youthful face. He was charming, chatty, and upbeat. At the time, Mitchell and Lund both owned Chevrolet Chevelles, and they bonded over their mutual love of classic cars.

Lund extracted the wisdom tooth with no complications, and Mitchell began seeing him regularly. He never had any pain or new complaints, but Lund encouraged many additional treatments nonetheless. A typical person might get one or two root canals in a lifetime. In the space of seven years, Lund gave Mitchell nine root canals and just as many crowns. Mitchell’s insurance covered only a small portion of each procedure, so he paid a total of about $50,000 out of pocket. The number and cost of the treatments did not trouble him. He had no idea that it was unusual to undergo so many root canals—he thought they were just as common as fillings. The payments were spread out over a relatively long period of time. And he trusted Lund completely. He figured that if he needed the treatments, then he might as well get them before things grew worse.

Meanwhile, another of Lund’s patients was going through a similar experience. Joyce Cordi, a businesswoman in her 50s, had learned of Lund through 1-800-DENTIST. She remembers the service giving him an excellent rating. When she visited Lund for the first time, in 1999, she had never had so much as a cavity. To the best of her knowledge her teeth were perfectly healthy, although she’d had a small dental bridge installed to fix a rare congenital anomaly (she was born with one tooth trapped inside another and had had them extracted). Within a year, Lund was questioning the resilience of her bridge and telling her she needed root canals and crowns.

Cordi was somewhat perplexed. Why the sudden need for so many procedures after decades of good dental health? When she expressed uncertainty, she says, Lund always had an answer ready. The cavity on this tooth was in the wrong position to treat with a typical filling, he told her on one occasion. Her gums were receding, which had resulted in tooth decay, he explained during another visit. Clearly she had been grinding her teeth. And, after all, she was getting older. As a doctor’s daughter, Cordi had been raised with an especially respectful view of medical professionals. Lund was insistent, so she agreed to the procedures. Over the course of a decade, Lund gave Cordi 10 root canals and 10 crowns. He also chiseled out her bridge, replacing it with two new ones that left a conspicuous gap in her front teeth. Altogether, the work cost her about $70,000.

In early 2012, Lund retired. Brendon Zeidler, a young dentist looking to expand his business, bought Lund’s practice and assumed responsibility for his patients. Within a few months, Zeidler began to suspect that something was amiss. Financial records indicated that Lund had been spectacularly successful, but Zeidler was making only 10 to 25 percent of Lund’s reported earnings each month. As Zeidler met more of Lund’s former patients, he noticed a disquieting trend: Many of them had undergone extensive dental work—a much larger proportion than he would have expected. When Zeidler told them, after routine exams or cleanings, that they didn’t need any additional procedures at that time, they tended to react with surprise and concern: Was he sure? Nothing at all? Had he checked thoroughly?

In the summer, Zeidler decided to take a closer look at Lund’s career. He gathered years’ worth of dental records and bills for Lund’s patients and began to scrutinize them, one by one. The process took him months to complete. What he uncovered was appalling.

We have a fraught relationship with dentists as authority figures. In casual conversation we often dismiss them as “not real doctors,” regarding them more as mechanics for the mouth. But that disdain is tempered by fear. For more than a century, dentistry has been half-jokingly compared to torture. Surveys suggest that up to 61 percent of people are apprehensive about seeing the dentist, perhaps 15 percent are so anxious that they avoid the dentist almost entirely, and a smaller percentage have a genuine phobia requiring psychiatric intervention.


The Fragmentation of Truth

The Fragmentation of Truth
By danah boyd
Apr 24 2019

Editor’s note: On February 23, 2019, Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd gave a talk at the Knight Media Forum. This text is the written version of her talk, which you can watch here.

Good morning! I’m going to begin today with a little bit of a stretching exercise. Because I think it’s a moment to take the temperature of this room.
1. How many of you consume news every day? [All hands raise.]
Good! You’re in the right room. Otherwise — if you didn’t raise your hand — you might want to exit or you’re going to be in trouble.
2. How many of you watch YouTube every day? [A few dozen hands raise.]
3. How many of you consume your news primarily on YouTube? [A few hands.]
I’m here to officially tell you that you’re old. [Laughter]

More seriously, my talk today begins with a discussion of YouTube because of its significant role in rearranging the information landscape. Tremendous ink has been spilled talking about Facebook and Twitter’s roles in the information and news landscape. Both have been dragged into Congress. But far too few people understand YouTube’s role in the information ecosystem, let alone the platform’s unique vulnerabilities, and what they show us about the current state of misinformation. The vulnerabilities of YouTube’s architecture allow media manipulators to shape public knowledge in ways that are profound. So, starting with YouTube, I’m going to talk through some of these exploits. I’ll back up from there to talk about the broader state of vulnerability within the information ecosystem and what we can do about it. I want you to understand this so that you channel your energies in the right direction to rebuild American communities.

If you talk to a person under the age of 25, you’ll quickly learn that they visit YouTube every day. It’s their MTV; they use it to watch music videos. But it’s also their primary search engine. Want to know how to tie a tie? You go to YouTube. How to cook pasta? Go to YouTube. How to do that calculus assignment? YouTube. As a result, YouTube is also the place where many young people start to consume news. It’s where they start to pay attention to broader conversations. But the news that they get there may not be what you imagine it to be.

The vulnerabilities of YouTube’s architecture allow media manipulators to shape public knowledge in ways that are profound.

Consider PewDiePie. How many of you watch his show on a regular basis? Do you even know who he is? [Only my friends raise their hands.] Your lack of familiarity with him should concern you. He hosts the most subscribed-to channel on YouTube, is one of the largest digital influencers on the internet, and makes millions of dollars per year shaping culture and the public’s interpretation of news events. PewDiePie is the gamer name of Felix Kjellberg, a Swedish gamer who began his channel on YouTube by posting gaming videos. Since 2013, he has had more subscribers on YouTube than anyone else (although he’s currently in a tight contest with a Bollywood account). He currently has over 87 million subscribers. He’s become famous for commenting on cultural and social issues. For the last year, he has hosted a comedic parody of CNN called “PewNews,” which he describes as “the most respected, trusted news source of all time.” Millions of people watch each of his videos. Thousands comment on every one of them. PewDiePie has become a hero to many young people, including most notably young, white men. His style is often crass, and he is frequently surrounded with controversy over comments that propagate tacit anti-Semitic and racist messages, although he vows that he’s not a Nazi. Still, most white nationalists and white supremacists appreciate his dog whistles.

Think about that. It is normal for the most widely watched YouTuber — a gamer who comments on culture on the primary search engine for under-twenty-fives — to espouse racist and hateful commentary on a daily basis.

Note to readers: The reader should be aware that this talk was written and given prior to the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Shortly before starting to murder innocent people, the terrorist encouraged those watching the livestream to “watch PewDiePie.” While the news media commonly interpreted this call-out as indicative of the terrorist’s appreciation, the terrorist appeared to be trolling PewDiePie. Kjellberg responded to the call-out with sadness and horror, explicitly rejecting the terrorists’ actions, values, and message.

Most people don’t know how important YouTube is at the intersection of news and search. They think YouTube is for watching music videos or Super Bowl ads. But as I mentioned, it’s a search engine. It’s also a recommendation engine. And it’s a social media site. It has discussion forums, influencers, and an auto-play feature that keeps people engaged for hours, watching videos after videos. It also has significant problems that can be easily exploited. And those exploitations tell us about what’s going on today.

I’m going to start with one specific kind of exploit that goes across all sorts of search environments, including YouTube: “data voids.”

Search Vulnerability: Data Voids

“Data voids” is a term coined by Michael Golebiewski at Bing, which he uses to describe what happens when there is no high-quality information available for a search engine to return for a particular query. What happens when you search for something and the search engine doesn’t know what to do with it? It’s one thing to search for “basketball scores.” It’s another thing to search for something esoteric, some unique phrase with little to no content. That’s when exploitation is possible. And if you understand how this exploitation works, you can begin to see some of the vulnerabilities in our information architecture. Michael and I have four different kinds of data void with which we’re obsessed. Let’s walk through them.


As Weeds Outsmart The Latest Weedkillers, Farmers Are Running Out Of Easy Options

As Weeds Outsmart The Latest Weedkillers, Farmers Are Running Out Of Easy Options
By Dan Charles
Apr 11 2019

There was a moment, about 20 years ago, when farmers thought that they’d finally defeated weeds forever.

Biotech companies had given them a new weapon: genetically engineered crops that could tolerate doses of the herbicide glyphosate, also known by its trade name, Roundup. Farmers could spray this chemical right over their crops, eliminate the weeds, and the crops were fine.

Stanley Culpepper remembers that moment. He’d left his family’s farm to study weed science at North Carolina State University. “I was trained by some really, really amazing people,” he says, “and I was even trained that there would never be a weed that was resistant to Roundup.”

These scientists believed that plants couldn’t become immune to Roundup because it required too big of a change in a plant’s biology. 

In 2005, though, Culpepper reported that he’d found some weeds that Roundup could not kill. They were growing in a field in Georgia. And this was not just any weed. It was a kind of monster weed called Palmer amaranth, or pigweed. 

Over the following years, these glyphosate-resistant pigweeds spread like a plague across America’s farmland. They’re practically everywhere in the South now and increasingly common in the Midwest.

“The impact is just unbelievable,” Culpepper says. “We’ve invested over $1.2 billion, just in the cotton industry, for control of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth since we first discovered it.”

So biotech companies rolled out a new answer: new genetically engineered varieties of soybeans and cotton that can tolerate two other herbicides, called dicamba and 2,4-D. Farmers can plant these crops and then spray those chemicals, often in addition to glyphosate, to kill their weeds.

There’s a lot riding on these new products, for farmers and for pesticide companies. Dicamba-tolerant crops, in particular, have provoked controversy. But now, even before they’ve been fully launched, there’s evidence that this weed-killing tactic may be starting to fail.

The evidence is sitting in a greenhouse at Kansas State University, carefully tended by Chandrima Shyam, a graduate student there.

“These are plants that were sprayed with 2,4-D. And these are the resistant plants,” she says. “You can see that the resistant plants are pretty vigorous.” 

I see trays and trays of green, flourishing pigweeds. They are the offspring of weeds that another Kansas State scientist, Dallas Peterson, noticed last summer in a field where he conducts research. They seemed to survive every chemical he threw at them.

“We were just not able to control or kill those weeds following those herbicide applications,” he says. 

He called in a colleague who specializes in research on herbicide resistance, Mithila Jugulam, who in turn enlisted Shyam’s help.

“So we went to the field. We dug out the whole plants, brought them to the greenhouse and kept them in isolation,” Shyam says.

They grew 10 Palmer amaranth plants until they produced seeds, then replanted those seeds to produce new generations of plants in order to study them. They found that these pigweeds can survive sprays of 2,4-D. Some plants also appear to be immune to dicamba, although that still needs to be confirmed. The plants probably are resistant to glyphosate as well.

Basically, they’re a farmer’s nightmare. And if they showed up in one field, they’re probably in other fields, too. 

Culpepper, at the University of Georgia, says he’s not surprised. Nobody should be surprised anymore by the superpowers of pigweed, he says. “I’m telling you, as a weed scientist, it’s just an absolutely fascinating plant,” he says. “You have to respect it, and the first thing to respect it is, [know that] this plant will outsmart me if I do the same thing over and over again.”

Culpepper tells farmers that they still can control this superweed, but they need to use a bunch of different tools. That means deploying multiple chemicals, alternating the crops that they plant, and planting extra “cover crops” in the off season to cover the soil and make it harder for weeds to emerge.

Matt Coley, a farmer in Vienna, Ga., says most growers learned a lot from their experience losing Roundup as a cure-all for weeds. “As long as we continue to follow the recommendations not to rely just on one chemistry, I think we’ll continue to be able to manage pigweed,” he says.