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James Webb Space Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion project set to launch in October after 25 years in development

Although development of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began in 1996 and was initially planned to launch in 2007 with a $500 million price tag, the project had experienced many challenges over the coming years both delaying the launch and inflating the price

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Although development of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began in 1996 and was initially planned to launch in 2007 with a $500 million price tag, the project had experienced many challenges over the coming years both delaying the launch and inflating the price. Now, 25 years later with nearly $10 billion spent, this international space project featuring NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) passed its final performance testing in February and is set to launch on 31st October 2021. However, in order to fully grasp the impact that the JWST will have on our understanding of the Universe, we must first look at its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. 

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was one of the largest and most advanced space-based telescopes sent into orbit. Hubble enjoys a clear view of the Universe free from Earth’s atmospheric interference and ; as a result, it was able to detect and examine distant stars, galaxies and other cosmic objects that were invisible to us. A total of five service missions from 1993 to 2009 upgraded the telescope which further advanced its capabilities. For 30 years Hubble has greatly assisted astronomers from around the world uncover the mysteries of the Universe. However, even a telescope of Hubble’s stature has its limitations. The primary mirror of a telescope determines how much light it can gather. The larger the mirror, the more light it can gather making even the most faint objects visible. Hubble’s primary mirror has a diameter of eight feet while the JWST has a mirror measuring at 21 feet. Furthermore, Hubble’s instrument quality and type of light wavelengths it can observe are also limited as there is only so much that can be replaced and upgraded. To summarise, Hubble has cemented itself as one of the most remarkable technological inventions created by humans and will continue to operate for the foreseeable future, but it has reached its limitations in terms of what it can observe and its successor – the JWST- is ready to embark on its mission. 

The JWST will seek to bridge the gap between what is known and unknown in the Universe. Its capabilities go beyond that of Hubble’s as its larger primary mirror will allow it to look further in the past and inside stellar dust clouds where new stars and galaxies form. Moreover, the JWST will be able to observe more closely the moments right after the Big Bang and hunt for the first galaxies formed that were otherwise invisible to us. Additionally, one of the most prominent features of the JWST is its tennis court-sized sunshield which will reduce the sun’s heat by a million times. The purpose of the sunshield is to keep the mirror and the instruments as cold as possible, since if the Sun were to heat them up, they would emit their own infrared radiation. This becomes problematic as it would drown out the faint infrared radiation from distant galaxies the telescope was built to detect. 

Once in orbit, the JWST will be utilised by thousands of astronomers to extend and complement the discoveries of its predecessors. It will seek to unlock the remaining mysteries of the Universe and answer questions that have puzzled astronomers for centuries. It will search the deepest voids of space and time – to answer questions about the origins of galaxies, stars and their planets. Additionally, it will provide astronomers with a clearer sense of the fate of the Universe and everything within it. Therefore, not only is the JWST a device to study the past, but consequently the future as well.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Data privacy: A right or infringement of freedom?

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We are living in an age of technology where most of our personal information is online. Many of us do not even realise the extent of data security challenges. We see so many privacy notices even when we simply browse through various websites or sign up for a simple day to day app. We are asked to agree to privacy policies of the vendor by a mere click of the mouse while we are in a hurry to complete the download.

Data privacy and protection has always been very important. However, with the increasing reliance on technology for literally everything, the importance of data privacy and protection for all stakeholders and the consumers cannot be overemphasised. 

Data security refers to ensuring that no unauthorised access to the data is made. When unauthorised access is attempted or made, remedies to address this situation are covered under data protection.

Data privacy is needed at every step. How the data is collected, stored, shared with other parties and what are the regulatory requirements to safeguard the data, are important factors to ensure we as consumers are protected. To achieve this, around the world various laws and regulations exist and more have been promulgated over the last many years.  

Data protection policy can use a prescriptive vs outcome based approach. For the Prescriptive approach, a good example is General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) where a set of guidelines are prescribed and their compliance is expected. Outcome based approach refers to overseeing the data protection practices used by a company and then evaluating how good it worked. 

One of the most comprehensive regulations on the subject of data security and protection is the GDPR by the European Union. There are also dedicated bodies like the European Data Protection Board and Data Protection Authorities in EU member states. Although GDPR is very detailed in nature, it primarily emphasises explicit consent before collection of data, allowing an option for the consumer to revoke their consent, and even require their data to be forgotten and can request a copy of the data. The highlight of GDPR is that it is based on the recognition of data privacy as a fundamental human right. It provides a broader umbrella of law for EU member countries. 

Situation is quite different in the US. Instead of approaching privacy as a fundamental right, focus is more on the protection of data once it’s collected. Some even argue that data is more easily available for profit rather than for government and for the uses people would not want it to be used. Although in the US Constitution there is no specific mention of data privacy, the courts have interpreted that constitution along with the Bill of Rights to ensure protection of everyone’s rights. However, in many cases it’s considered limited to protections related to data collected by the government.  

The Privacy Act of 1974 offers protection to the information collected by federal agencies.  Since in the US there is not a single comprehensive data privacy law for everyone, there are different regulations based on the State or sector. HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is one of them that protects patient’s data and health information shared with health professionals. 

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act 1999 is another such example through which consumers’ non-public privacy information is collected for its use in the financial industry. To safeguard interest of minors, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act 2000 was the first step at regulating the collection of personal information from them.

The Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 is a law which keeps a check on companies from engaging in “unfair or deceptive acts or practices”. This law has been used for enforcement actions where companies are found violating their privacy policy announcements or collecting information through unfair practices and where they do not protect unauthorised access to the collected data. However, it does not authorise the regulatory body to make policies and practices and require companies to comply. If a company has no clearly defined and announced policy on data privacy and protection, they cannot be held responsible under this law as there is no deception practiced. 

Despite these laws and regulations, there are gaps, grey areas and absence of a comprehensive law leads to loopholes. There is added financial and operational cost of compliance when companies have to ensure compliance with so many different requirements.  

In the US, data privacy is not recognised as a fundamental right given free speech rights. Some states have enacted comprehensive consumer data privacy laws in the US. More and more states are bringing laws about data protection. More than 120 countries around the world have data primacy laws.  

The Californian Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Massachusetts Data Protection Act are two strong examples. There are some common points between CCPA and GDPR as both provide consumers the right to access, the right to delete, and the right to opt-out of processing at any time. However, there are some points of difference. CCPA does not allow consumers a right to correct or rectify incorrect personal data while the GDPR does. CCPA does not require explicit consent; rather only a privacy notice is made available on the website informing consumers they have a right to opt-out of certain data collection whereas GDPR provides this right. 

Source: Complete Guide to Privacy Laws in the US

In the US a need is felt to harmonise the state and federal laws to remove redundancies. There should be institutional protection and layers of protection so the loopholes can be avoided. 

It is more important that individuals around the world are provided more information, better choices and control to explicitly allow companies if they can collect, store, and use their personal data. 

There should be incentives for data privacy and protection compliant companies. 

International economic organisations have introduced data privacy guidelines to regulate the transfer of personal data across borders. Such examples include Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum. However it is important to remember that companies should ensure they have their own stringent policies which ensure compliance with laws in the home country as well as the foreign markets where they operate. More and more countries have adopted their own data protection laws and free heavens are disappearing. China has recently issued a very comprehensive data protection law which is geared towards enhancing protection for its citizens. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Robots: Will they take over your job? – In Focus

There is a new potential threat that you may or may not know about. Are robots after your job? How likely is it that you’ll be replaced by a machine in the next decade? From autonomous cars to self-checkouts. We bring this potential threat ‘In Focus’

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All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The impact of social media

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In little more than a decade, the role of social media has gone from that of entertainment to a fully nonsegregated part of our daily life. Social media is a computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities. By design, social media is Internet-based and gives its users quick electronic communication of content which includes personal information, videos, and pictures. People utilise the media via a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Once you are on a website, it swiftly takes you to another trendy site with no prior warning. 

Common social networking sites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tiktok, Snapchat, Instagram and much more. Three billion people, around 40% of the world’s population, use online social media – spending an average of six hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating on these platforms, according to some reports. Information is so rapidly shared online that statistics show that half a million tweets and Snapchat photos are shared every minute. This is an unbelievable amount of information for one person to consume so quickly. 

  Social media is very successful when it comes to the economy. It contributes to business in large amounts and that is what makes it so ‘trendy’ for the young generation. It has evolved from being a concept catered to teens to all kinds of people; a form of communication tied with many other aspects of entertainment. The reality is, it has impacted many people in a largely negative way.

People use social media to vent about everything from their employment search to politics, but the drawback to this is that our feeds often resemble an endless stream of stress. In 2015, researchers at the Pew Research Center based in Washington, DC sought to find out if social media induces more stress than it relieves. In the survey of 1,800 people, women reported being more stressed than men. Twitter was found to be a “significant contributor” because it increased their awareness of other people’s stress.

Another drawback is that families used to spend more time together but now society seems to be surrounded by artificial gadget lighting all day and night. Research has found that this can inhibit the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which facilitates sleep. Furthermore, blue light, which is emitted by smartphone and laptop screens, is said to be the worst culprit when it comes to sleep. In other words, if you lie on the pillow at night checking Facebook and Twitter, you’re headed for restless sleep.

The Internet consumes our energy to the point that it starts to affect us mentally. Although, one can find National Geographic videos, cooking tutorials and funny posts on the Internet, it is also filled with content harming us. This is seen throughout the content that may support dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression and even promote racist or sexist ideas.  

One study from the University of Pittsburgh stated that the people who spend more time on social media have more than twice the risk of having an eating disorder or body image concerns compared to their peers. The author states in the article, “through the Internet, we have created a generation of people who are fragile and suffer from or exhibit a higher rate of mental health issues.” In another study from the University of Nevada, Reno, it is shown that 20% of people who have at least one account of social media feel anxious to check it often because they fear they will “miss out”. Mental illness, from the same study, concludes to have such a strong correlation to social media that there is a separate health issue called “social media anxiety disorder”.

This shows when people have a tool within their reach to look at others and their posts in the media, they begin to compare themselves. The media makes individuals feel like they’re not enough, both physically and in capacity. Especially in this generation in which the internet has been developed, we have seen the highest depression rates against other eras. 

Expanding on the topic of mental health, a majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying, name calling or harassment online. At the same time, teens mostly think teachers, social media companies and politicians are failing at addressing these issues. A study looking at cyberbullying and its impact on young people’s emotional health and self-esteem stated that cyberbullying has the potential to negatively impact the victim’s confidence, academic relations and mental wellbeing. The self-reported effects of cyberbullying included school grades being lowered, and feelings of sadness, anger, fear, worry and depression. According to the study, cyberbullying could lead to self-harm and the introduction of suicidal thoughts. These findings demonstrate that cyberbullying is a serious problem, the consequences of which can be dramatic.

 Cyberbullying takes place predominantly on social media platforms – whether they be games or comments on a post. The vulgar and violent verbal abuse that takes place online is much worse since people have the ability to be anonymous. Rude and impolite verbal statements are difficult to forget and leave a mark on your heart – and when this happens, individuals tend to take it personally. This strikes with their self-esteem and confidence while increasing depression and in some extreme cases, presenting suicidal thoughts. All in all, based on the reports from the varying studies, a conclusion can surely be drawn that social media has an extensive effect on one’s confidence, image and eventually mental health. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Zoom settles lawsuit for sharing privacy data

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Zoom has been under fire for violating its user’s privacy which allows hackers to disrupt online meetings. The Zoom platform, which gained immense popularity since the starting of the pandemic, is set to pay $86m in class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in March of 2020 and it claimed that the Zoom platform shared its user’s data to third party internet services like Facebook, Google, and Linkedin. This allowed hackers to interrupt online meetings through something called “zoombombing”. The hackers exploited the screen-sharing feature and shared appropriate and offensive pictures and messages. After the lawsuit zoom has agreed to also increase their privacy and notify users when others use third-party apps. Moreover, they have stated that they will provide training to their employees so that they know how to handle data and privacy properly. The lawsuit against Zoom was settled on Saturday, by judge Lucy Koh, in San Jose, California. The lawsuit will allow users who have been victims of hacking to get a 15% refund, or $15 to $25 dollars. Zoom has also made a statement in which they said, “the privacy and security of our users are top priorities for Zoom, and we take seriously the trust our users place on us”.

Zoom has made over $1.3 billion dollars in Zoom meeting subscriptions by class members. Since more people had to work from home, the use of this online platform increased drastically in 2020. Furthermore, a lot of children also had to adopt online learning, which again required the help of Zoom. Overall, Zoom has made a lot of profit due to the pandemic but with a lot of people using it, comes a lot of responsibility. The number of people who started using zoom in January of 2020 was more than 81,900 which can start to decrease now as vaccine availability is increasing which is bringing back in-person school and work. The suit against Zoom was filed in the early days of quarantine when users had to face pornographic and racist statements and pictures during their important meetings displayed by the hackers. Zoom also falsely claimed that its users had end-to-end encryption, which also led to their downfall.

Hopefully, Zoom learns from its mistake and future users don’t have to face such unsettling events. The most important part of any online communication platform is the providence of absolute security so that the users can feel safe.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The technology behind the VW, BMW and Daimler’s emissions cartel

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On 8th July 2021, European Commission found that Daimler (parent company of Mercedes – Benz), BMW and Volkswagen Group which includes Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche were guilty of breaching antitrust rules of the European Union and colluded on technical development in the area of nitrogen oxide cleaning, thereby slowing the deployment of cleaner emissions technologies. The European Union’s executive branch has issued a total of €875 million in fines; Volkswagen Group must pay €502 million, and the rest will be paid by BMW. Daimler evaded fines as the automaker claimed whistleblower status and worked with the authorities.

Nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) collectively known as nitrogen oxides (NOx) are air pollutants emitted by diesel engines that have harmful effects on both the human health and the environment. NOx damages the lungs and can lead to acid rain that can damage crops, pollute waters, and cause smog.  

To eliminate these NOx emissions from diesel cars, exhaust gases from the engine are first routed through a particulate filter to catch all the soot generated. After the gas leaves the particulate filter, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology is used which injects Adblue (de-ionised water and urea) into the exhaust gas stream coming from the engine. 

Adblue is needed for diesel cars because catalytic converters work better at higher temperatures whereas diesel engines run cooler than petrol engines, so a catalyst converter on its own would not be able to deal with the nitrogen oxides. Adblue reacts with the nitrogen oxides in the exhaust gases using the catalytic converter to produce nitrogen, water and tiny amounts of carbon dioxide. 

SCR is the area of technical development where the EU authorities have accused Volkswagen Group, BMW and Daimler of colluding by holding regular technical meetings to discuss the development of the SCR technology. During these meetings, the car manufacturers discussed the sizing of the Adblue tanks, and agreed to use smaller tanks which thus restricted competition on cleaning harmful emissions despite the relevant technology being available. It should be noted that this is different from the Dieselgate scandal of 2015.

Figure 1: VW Group, BMW and Mercedes-Benz colluded to restrict cleaning technology for Diesel cars. Source: European Commission

Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “…today’s decision is about how legitimate technical cooperation went wrong. And we do not tolerate it when companies collude. It is illegal under EU Antitrust rules. Competition and innovation on managing car pollution are essential for Europe to meet our ambitious Green Deal objectives. And this decision shows that we will not hesitate to take action against all forms of cartel conduct putting in jeopardy this goal.”

Existence of this cartel was first reported by Der Spiegel in July 2017 and contained a lot more allegations than the ones these carmakers have been charged with. However, EU narrowed the scope of its original investigation to ensure that the charges stuck.

As BMW were quick to point out, they were cleared of the Dieselgate scandal. However, for both Volkswagen and Daimler the existence of this cartel is another embarrassment given the massive fines they had to pay for installing software on their vehicles that helped both companies cheat on emission tests and fooled regulators into believing that their cars were polluting within the defined limits. 

This latest scandal also sheds some light into how big automakers have historically done their best to do the minimal possible work to control emissions and stop global warming. Had Tesla not disrupted the auto industry, we would still be stuck in a petrol/diesel only world with no trend or real effort to get into electrification of the auto industry. In many ways, Volkswagen’s and Daimler’s greed that led to Dieselgate, and Tesla’s relentless push to make electric cars cool and viable with better technology prompted regulators around the world to force carmakers into stepping up their investments in electric cars. The result today is that a lot of carmakers are ditching the petrol/diesel engines in cars and shifting rapidly towards offering more electric cars in their line-up. Let us hope that this latest scandal only accelerates this shift towards the electric future.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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China debuts new world’s fastest train

A new bullet train, which can reach speeds of up to 373 mph (600 kph), has been unveiled in Qingdao, China.

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A new bullet train, which can reach speeds of up to 373 mph (600 kph), has been unveiled in Qingdao, China. 

The top speed is almost half the speed of sound, which clocks in at 767 mph (1234 kph), making it not only the fasted train on earth, but the fastest land vehicle altogether

The magnetic levitation technology used for the train has been dubbed ‘maglev’, and it requires less maintenance, while also minimising levels of noise pollution. The maglev technology gives the appearance of the carriages floating, as it glides above the tracks thanks to the electromagnetic force. 

The train was developed with the aim of making travel faster and cheaper in the most populous country in the world by the state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation. The hope is that the bullet train can connect major metropolitan areas quickly and affordably. 

While aircrafts cruise at a speed of between 800-900 kph (500-560 mph), train travels previously struggled to compete with these speeds in China. For example, when the plans for the new Maglev bullet train was announced in 2019, the Beijing – Shanghai line was limited to just 350 kph (217 mph). 

While the new train is a huge technological achievement for China, the major thing limiting its rollout across the country and between major hubs is the lack of maglev track networks. Currently, there is currently only one maglev line in commercial use. 

The line runs from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport to Longyang Road station, which is 30km (19 miles) away in the city. The journey takes only 7.5 minutes, with the train able to hit speeds of 430 kph (267 mph) in the short distance. 

While more lines are expected to be developed and come into public use in the future, it may still be a while before speedy inter-city train travel is the preferred route of travel in China.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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