The Director of Technology at Darktrace, the AI company founded by Cambridge mathematicians, believes that institutions such as the Vatican turning to their bots as a form of security represents an act of “trusting AI to fight back on humans’ behalf before it is too late”MAUS-TRAUDEN/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Cambridge Zero Climate Change Festival 2020

Cambridge Zero, in collaboration with the Cambridge University Press, launched its very first climate festival on 6th November, offering “eight days of free online climate-themed events for all ages.”

With a number of talks, seminars and fun games, the festival’s aim is to shed  light on the most urgent climate issues while engaging with the audience.

The first event of the series involved a discussion of the society’s “A Blueprint for a Green Future” report on “the necessary policy changes needed to build a sustainable future”. The Director of Cambridge Zero, Dr Emily Shuckburgh, and some of the report’s authors then discussed the climatic targets of the post COVID-19 global recovery and how “to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.” 

Including live talks and panel sessions with climate figures such as scientist Dr Emily Grossman, environmentalist Sir Jonathan Porritt and the Australian indigenous scholar Tyson Yunkaporta, the festival programme of live and on-demand events will cover the themes of Energy Transitions, Zero Carbon Transport, Finance, Adaptation & Resilience, Nature and Green Recovery. 

Due to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow which has now been postponed to 2021, all of the festival programme’s sessions are free to join and will be recorded and available to re-watch on the webpage for the Cambridge Climate Change Festival programme. 

Bots employed to protect  Vatican library collections

Back in 2012 the Vatican Apostolic Library took up  the tremendous challenge of digitising its precious resources with the intention of improving the accessibility of its collections. Home to more than 80,000  priceless documents, collected over hundreds of years, including the very oldest copy of the holy Bible and pieces of Michelangelo and Galileo, the collection holds an unthinkable value.

However, the now-digital collection has become a target for cyber-attacks which have the potential to destroy or alter the invaluable pieces.

 Thus, facing around 100 cyber threats a month, the library has resorted to a rather modern solution in order to protect its ancient array of literary treasures  with the library officials turning to Darktrace, a company launched by mathematicians from the University of Cambridge, for AI security.

The company claims to be the first to develop a cyber-security based on Artificial Intelligence.  Manlio Miceli, Chief Information Officer at the Apostolic Library, explained that “you cannot throw people at this problem - you need to augment human beings with technology that understands the shades of grey within very complex systems and fights back at machine speed”, with Dave Palmer, Director of Technology at Darktrace, adding that “organisations [...] are [...] trusting AI to fight back on humans’ behalf before it is too late.”

And so, in the reality of a rapidly-progressing digital age,  ancient intelligence has to be protected by the genius of the future. 

Monstrous mating mongooses

A research team led by the University of Cambridge and University of Exeter has found, in a study published on Tuesday (10/11), that female banded mongooses incite violent fights when it comes to finding an unrelated mate and then mate with enemy males amidst the chaos they have created. 

Professor Michael Cant, who works with the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Cornwall, drew parallels between the “leadership by exploitative individuals who reap the benefits of conflict while avoiding the cost” in human warfare, and this sort of leadership as a factor in “the evolution of severe collective violence in certain animal societies.”, with the male mongooses often injured or killed in the scraps.

Based on long-term data from studying wild banded mongooses in Uganda, the revelation of this “exploitative leadership”, according to Professor Rufus Johnstone from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology,  could help “to explain why intergroup violence is so costly in this species compared to other animals”, adding that “the mortality costs involved are similar to those seen in a handful of the most warlike mammals, including lions, chimpanzees - and of course humans.”

The preface of the study suggests that the findings are significant in that they “suggest that the decoupling of leaders from the costs that they incite amplifies the destructive nature of intergroup conflict.”

The science behind Game of Thrones’ success 

Game of Thrones, the TV series brought to live by David Benioff, has successfully won millions of spectators’ hearts over the past few years. But what exactly makes the fantasy series so attractive except for the fire-breathing dragons and action-packed scenes?

Scientists from fields of psychology and mathematics from across five UK universities, including the University of Cambridge, came together to unfold the scientific backbone of the series' success. 

The research has shown that it is not only the fantasy which the show establishes but also the characters’ relatability which accounts for the undoubted success of the series. The characters reflect the human behaviours and interactions with great accuracy encouraging the viewer to bond with the on-screen characters.

Other research revealed that despite there being over 2,000 named characters in George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, the series of epic fantasy novels of which ‘Game of Thrones’ is the first volume, the characters in its televised counterpart only have to keep track of an average of 150 characters; the same number of people the average human brain is capable of computing at any one time.

Another interesting finding is that even though the deaths of characters may initially come across as random, it does follow the chronological timeline in each of the main characters' narrative.

Thomas Gessey-Jones, a PhD Physics student in Cambridge, commented that “the methods developed in the paper exciting allow us to test in a quantitative manner many of the observations made by readers of the series, such as the books’ famous habit of seemingly killing off characters at random.”