January 30, 2019

Scientists are now using artificial intelligence to help people who cannot speak.

Researchers at Columbia University's Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute are creating bots to translate brain signals into speech, per a study published Tuesday in Scientific Reports.

The researchers hope the AI technology can help people with speech disabilities, like someone recovering from a stroke, or someone with epilepsy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a motor neuron disease that most notably affected the late Stephen Hawking.

Researchers are using a vocoder, a synthesizer that decodes speech after learning and listening to the speech patterns of humans, writes Gizmodo. Popular voice command systems like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa also use this technology, says Nima Mesgarani, the paper's senior author. While the technology can't translate all of a person's imagined thoughts, it can translate patterns in brain signals to reconstruct words, rather than having a person select pre-programmed words from a system, as Hawking did.

"Our voices help connect us to our friends, family and the world around us, which is why losing the power of one's voice due to injury or disease is so devastating," said Mesgarani. "we have a potential way to restore that power. We've shown that, with the right technology, these people's thoughts could be decoded and understood by any listener."

In the study, patients listened to a person reading numbers 0-9 while researchers scanned their brains and the AI decoded it into speech. The AI software correctly picked up at least 75 percent of the patient's language, researchers found. Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

October 21, 2019

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party celebrated Monday night as the CBC, Canada's national broadcaster, projected that Trudeau won a second term in Monday's national elections. While the Liberals are expected to win a plurality of seats in Parliament, they are seen falling short of the 170 needed for an outright majority in the 338-seat legislature. Polls had suggested Andrew Scheer and his Conservative Party were within striking distance of unseating Trudeau, but the Liberals had a stronger-than-expected showing.

Trudeau, Scheer, Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet, New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May all won or are projected to win their respective seats, but Maxime Bernier, leader of the right-wing People's Party of Canada (PPC) lost his Quebec district to a Conservative challenger, Richard Lehoux. Bernier, who had represented the riding, or district, since 2006, founded the PPC in 2018 after losing the race to be Conservative leader.

If Trudeau heads a minority government, it means his Liberals will need support from other parties to pass legislation; the NDP is the most likely governing partner. The two prime ministers before Trudeau, Liberal Paul Martin and Conservative Stephen Harper, led three successive minority governments between 2004 and 2011, and "both got significant business through the House during their minority tenures," CBC News notes.

Still, the political landscape has changed since Trudeau, 47, won his landslide victory in 2015, University of Toronto history and international relations professor Robert Bothwell tells The Associated Press. "Trudeau is going to have to command a caucus that will not be as grateful than it was in 2015," he said, and as for Scheer, 40, "he's gone," Bothwell predicted. "He ran a really dirty campaign. There is nothing to be proud of on his side. He had the opportunity and blew it." Peter Weber

October 21, 2019

Before federal prosecutors accused him of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. elections, businessman Lev Parnas was posting photos on his private Instagram account showing him hobnobbing with various members of the Trump family, Rudy Giuliani, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Earlier this month, Parnas and Igor Fruman, both Giuliani associates, were arrested and charged with campaign finance violations and conspiracy to influence U.S. politics on behalf of a Ukrainian government official. The Wall Street Journal's Shelby Holliday found Parnas' Instagram account, carefully curated to show Parnas hanging out with powerful Republicans. In one picture, he's seen with his son and President Trump, who is giving a thumbs-up sign, and in another, he's on a private plane with Giuliani. Parnas also made a slideshow featuring photos with Trump and his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

Holliday reports that Parnas zigzagged across the country ahead of the 2018 midterm elections to support GOP politicians, posting photos along the way, and on the day after Attorney General William Barr released his summary of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Parnas uploaded a picture showing him at dinner with Trump's legal team. The caption read: "Congratulations team [T]rump!!! Job well done!!! Even during our celebration dinner everybody hard at work!!! #trump2020." Trump said of Parnas and Fruman, "I don't know them, I don't know about them, I don't know what they do."

Parnas was also photographed at events with DeSantis in the days leading up to the November election, Politico reported Monday. He is seen next to DeSantis at a Nov. 4 campaign rally in South Daytona and a later event in Boca Raton. Last week, DeSantis — whose campaign received $50,000 from a company created by Parnas and Fruman — said Parnas was at "a lot of" Republican events but "was like any other donor, nothing more than that." The DeSantis donation has been turned over to the U.S. Treasury. Catherine Garcia

October 21, 2019

Disney has provided one last look at Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with a tear-jerking final trailer teasing the saga's end.

The new trailer for the ninth episode released Monday night keeps its mysterious marketing campaign going but still packs an emotional wallop, most notably with a scene halfway through in which C-3PO takes, as he puts it, "one last look" at his friends. Why Threepio seems to be saying his goodbyes is unclear, but could he be the latest classic Star Wars character to bite the dust?

While still not revealing Emperor Palpatine in his full glory, this final trailer does feature the classic villain's throne and some new dialogue. "Long have I waited, and now, your coming together is your undoing," Palpatine says, presumably referring to Rey and Kylo Ren. At one point, Rey looks to be confronting Palpatine in the flesh, suggesting he truly has returned fully alive and well after seemingly dying in Return of the Jedi. After a shot of Rey and Kylo apparently destroying Darth Vader's mask together, another team-up to face him looks likely.

We also get glimpses at characters here who we haven't seen much in the film's marketing, including The Last Jedi's Rose Tico, as well as a new character played by Dominic Monaghan. As John Williams' stirring score builds, the footage concludes with Luke and Leia each reading part of the line, "The Force will be with you, always."

As expected, The Rise of Skywalker's marketing continues to build the film up as the end of the series as we know it, with the "Skywalker Saga" set to wrap up even as Star Wars movies about other stories are to continue. This time, the trailer declares that while "the saga will end," "the story lives forever." Watch the final trailer, which debuted as tickets for the film went on sale, below. Brendan Morrow

October 21, 2019

Those fried chicken and pickle sandwiches will have to come from somewhere else, as Chick-fil-A's first location in the United Kingdom will shut its doors early next year when its six-month lease is up.

Chick-fil-A, which has 2,400 U.S. locations, opened on Oct. 10 at the Oracle Mall in Reading, and almost immediately, LGBTQ activists called for a boycott. The company has donated to organizations that aim to reverse LGBTQ rights and are against same-sex marriage, and in a statement, the advocacy group Reading Pride said the chain's "ethos and morale stance goes completely against our values, and that of the UK, as we are a progressive country that has legalized same sex marriage for some years, and continues to strive toward equality."

The Oracle Mall said not renewing the lease was "the right thing to do," NBC News reports, but Chick-fil-A claimed in a statement to The Washington Post that the plan was always to close in six months. Reading Pride CEO Martin Cooper isn't buying it, saying in an email to NBC News, "what business would not stay if they were successful and profitable? The point is, they've not been given the option to stay by the landlords, The Oracle." Catherine Garcia

October 21, 2019

President Trump's perception of Ukraine being a corrupt country was reinforced by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who made disparaging comments about the country during conversations with Trump, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

This information was shared by George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, during his closed-door testimony last week as part of the House impeachment inquiry against Trump, the Post reports. The officials said that Putin and Orban did not directly encourage Trump to request Ukraine launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, or push the debunked conspiracy theory that Kyiv was behind the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Instead, Trump was driven by his own belief in the conspiracy theory, peddled by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

National security officials were ready for Putin to try to damage the United States' relationship with Ukraine, the Post reports, and a former official said during a conversation in early May, Putin "did what he always did," which was say that Ukraine "is just a den of corruption." Such conversations made it harder for White House officials to get Trump to support Ukraine's new president, who was elected in April, and it didn't help that many people who backed aid to Ukraine, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, had left the administration. Read more about how Trump is shaped by his relationships with authoritarian leaders at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

October 21, 2019

President Trump may soon have a brand new acting chief of staff.

Over the last few days, Trump has been chatting with allies about who might be able to replace current acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, two people close to the White House told Reuters. Mulvaney has been acting chief of staff since January, when he stepped in after John Kelly resigned.

Trump isn't happy with how Mulvaney dealt with the fallout from his now-reversed decision to host next year's G7 at his own Miami resort, Reuters says, or how Mulvaney publicly admitted last week that Trump held military aid from Ukraine in order to get Kyiv to investigate a conspiracy theory about the 2016 presidential election. He's also reportedly angry that Mulvaney pushed to bring former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) onto Trump's outside legal team, despite the fact that lobbying rules prevent Gowdy from joining until January.

"The president expressed some concern after Mick's difficult week," one person told Reuters. Two people who have been suggested to take Mulvaney's place have previously turned down the position: Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. Another name being floated around is Matthew Whitaker; a Trump supporter, he served as acting attorney general before William Barr's confirmation. Catherine Garcia

October 21, 2019

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday said some U.S. troops may remain in eastern Syria to ensure that Islamic State fighters do not take over oilfields.

Earlier this month, President Trump said he would pull most U.S. troops out of Syria, which paved the way for Turkey to cross the border and attempt to push back Kurdish forces. As American allies, the Kurds led the fight against ISIS in Syria, losing thousands of fighters in the process.

Esper said the plan is still being worked out, and has not yet been seen by Trump. By leaving some U.S. troops in Syria, it would give Trump "maneuver room," he told reporters. Esper also said that troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq, and operations against ISIS will continue. During a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Trump said ISIS had once been "all over the place," but he "captured them. I'm the one who did the capturing." Catherine Garcia

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