The European Union is likely to reach a political agreement this year that will pave the way for the world’s first major artificial intelligence (AI) law, the bloc’s tech regulation chief, Margrethe Vestager, said on Sunday.

This follows a preliminary deal reached on Thursday by members of the European Parliament to push through the draft of the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act to a vote on May 11. Parliament will then thrash out the bill’s final details with EU member states and the European Commission before it becomes law.

At a press conference after a Group of Seven digital ministers’ meeting in Takasaki, Japan, Vestager said the EU AI Act was “pro-innovation” since it seeks to mitigate the risks of societal damage from emerging technologies.

Regulators around the world have been trying to find a balance where governments could develop “guardrails” on emerging artificial intelligence technology without stifling innovation.

“The reason why we have these guardrails for high-risk use cases is that cleaning up … after a misuse by AI would be so much more expensive and damaging than the use case of AI in itself,” Vestager said.

While the EU AI Act is expected to be passed by this year, lawyers have said it will take a few years for it to be enforced. But Vestager said businesses could start considering the implication of the new legislation.

“There was no reason to hesitate and to wait for the legislation to be passed to accelerate the necessary discussions to provide the changes in all the systems where AI will have an enormous influence,” she told Reuters in an interview.

While research on AI has been going on for years, the sudden popularity of generative AI applications such as OpenAI’S ChatGPT and Midjourney have led to a scramble by lawmakers to find ways to regulate any uncontrolled growth.

An organization backed by Elon Musk and European lawmakers involved in drafting the EU AI Act are among those to have called for world leaders to collaborate to find ways to stop advanced AI from creating disruptions.

Digital ministers of the G-7 advanced nations on Sunday also agreed to adopt “risk-based” regulation on AI, among the first steps that could lead to global agreements on how to regulate AI.

“It is important that our democracy paved the way and put in place the rules to protect us from its abusive manipulation – AI should be useful but it shouldn’t be manipulating us,” said German Transport Minister Volker Wissing.

This year’s G-7 meeting was also attended by representatives from Indonesia, India and Ukraine.

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Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday.

Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.

“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”

Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”

The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.

Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.

While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.

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A walrus that became a global celebrity last year after it was seen frolicking and basking in a Oslo fjord before it was euthanized by the authorities has been honored with a bronze sculpture in Norway. 

The life-size sculpture by Norwegian artist Astri Tonoian was unveiled Saturday at the Oslo marina not far from the place where the actual 600-kilogram (1,300-pound) mammal was seen resting and relaxing during the summer of 2022. 

The walrus, named Freya, quickly became a popular attraction among Oslo residents but Norwegian authorities later made a decision to euthanize it — causing public outrage — because they said people hadn’t followed recommendations to keep a safe distance away from the massive animal. 

Norwegian news agency NTB said a crowdfunding campaign was kicked off last fall to finance the sculpture. The private initiative managed to gather about 270,000 Norwegian kroner ($25,000) by October, NTB said. 

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By comparing the genetic blueprints of an array of animals, scientists are gaining new insights into our own species and all we share with other creatures. 

One of the most striking revelations is that certain passages in the instructions for life have persisted across evolutionary time, representing a through line that binds all mammals – including us. 

The findings come from the Zoonomia Project, an international effort that offers clues about human traits and diseases, animal abilities like hibernation and even the genetics behind a sled dog named Balto who helped save lives a century ago. 

Researchers shared some of their discoveries in 11 papers published Thursday in the journal Science. 

David O’Connor, who studies primate genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the studies tackle deep questions. 

“It’s just the wonder of biology, how we are so similar and dissimilar to all the things around us,” said O’Connor, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It’s the sort of thing that reminds me why it’s cool to be a biologist.” 

The Zoonomia team, led by Elinor Karlsson and Kerstin Lindblad-Toh at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, looked at 240 species of mammals, from bats to bison. They sequenced and compared their genomes — the instructions organisms need to develop and grow. 

They found that certain regions of these genomes have stayed the same across all mammal species over millions of years of evolution. 

One study found that at least 10% of the human genome is largely unchanged across species. Many of these regions occur outside the 1% of genes that give rise to proteins that control the activity of cells, the main purpose of DNA. 

Researchers theorized that long-preserved regions probably serve a purpose and are likely what they call “regulatory elements” containing instructions about where, when and how much protein is produced. Scientists identified more than 3 million of these in the human genome, about half of which were previously unknown. 

Scientists also focused on change within the animal kingdom. When they aligned genetic sequences for species and compared them with their ancestors, Karlsson said, they discovered that some species saw a lot of changes in relatively short periods of time. This showed how they were adapting to their environments. 

“One of the really cool things about mammals is that at this point in time, they’ve basically adapted to survive in nearly every single ecosystem on Earth,” Karlsson said. 

One group of scientists looked for genes that humans don’t have but other mammals do. 

Instead of focusing on new genes that might create uniquely human traits, “we kind of flipped that on its head,” said Steven Reilly, a genetics researcher at Yale University. 

“Losing pieces of DNA can actually generate new features,” Reilly said. 

For example, he said, a tiny DNA deletion between chimps and humans caused a cascade of changes in gene expression that may be one of the causes of prolonged brain development in humans. 

Another study focused on the fitness of one well-known animal: Balto. 

Scientists sequenced the genome of the sled dog, who led a team of dogs carrying a lifesaving diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska, in 1925. His story was made into a 1995 animated feature film and a statue of the pup stands in New York’s Central Park. 

By comparing Balto’s genes to those of other dogs, researchers found he was more genetically diverse than modern breeds and may have carried genetic variants that helped him survive harsh conditions. One of the authors, researcher Katherine Moon of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said Balto “gives us this guide through comparative genomics,” showing how genetics can shape individuals. 

O’Connor said he expects Zoonomia to yield even more insights in the future. 

“To have these tools and to have the sort of audacity to ask these big questions” helps scientists and others “learn more about life around us,” he said. 

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While a clear majority of Americans still drink alcohol, many others choose to skip it.. As the US marks April as Alcohol Awareness month, the nondrinkers in Washington can head to a perfect bar, called Binge Bar – Washington’s first booze-free bar. Karina Bafradzhian has the story. Video: David Gogokhia

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Water may be more widespread and recent on Mars than previously thought, based on observations of Martian sand dunes by China’s rover. 

The finding highlights new, potentially fertile areas in the warmer regions of Mars where conditions might be suitable for life to exist, though more study is needed. 

Friday’s news came days after mission leaders acknowledged that the Zhurong rover had yet to wake up since going into hibernation for the Martian winter nearly a year ago. 

Its solar panels are likely covered with dust, choking off its power source and possibly preventing the rover from operating again, said Zhang Rongqiao, the mission’s chief designer. 

Before Zhurong fell silent, it observed salt-rich dunes with cracks and crusts, which researchers said likely were mixed with melting morning frost or snow as recently as a few hundred thousand years ago. 

Their estimated date range for when the cracks and other dune features formed in Mars’ Utopia Planitia — a vast plain in the northern hemisphere — is sometime after 1.4 million to 400,000 years ago or even younger. 

Conditions during that period were similar to what they are now on Mars, with rivers and lakes dried up and no longer flowing as they did billions of years earlier. 

Studying the structure and chemical makeup of these dunes can provide insights into “the possibility of water activity” during this period, the Beijing-based team wrote in a study published in Science Advances. 

“We think it could be a small amount … no more than a film of water on the surface,” co-author Xiaoguang Qin of the Institute of Geology and Geophysics said in an email. 

The rover did not directly detect any water in the form of frost or ice. But Qin said computer simulations and observations by other spacecraft at Mars indicated that even nowadays at certain times of year, conditions could be suitable for water to appear. 

What’s notable about the study is how young the dunes are, said planetary scientist Frederic Schmidt at the University of Paris-Saclay, who was not part of the study. 

“This is clearly a new piece of science for this region,” he said in an email. 

Small pockets of water from thawing frost or snow, mixed with salt, likely resulted in the small cracks, hard crusty surfaces, loose particles and other dune features like depressions and ridges, the Chinese scientists said. They ruled out wind as a cause, as well as frost made of carbon dioxide, which makes up the bulk of Mars’ atmosphere. 

Martian frost has been observed since NASA’s 1970s Viking missions, but these light dustings of morning frost were thought to occur in certain locations under specific conditions. 

The rover has now provided “evidence that there may be a wider distribution of this process on Mars than previously identified,” said Trinity College Dublin’s Mary Bourke, an expert in Mars geology. 

However small this watery niche is, it could be important for identifying habitable environments, she added. 

Launched in 2020, the six-wheeled Zhurong — named after a fire god in Chinese mythology — arrived at Mars in 2021 and spent a year roaming around before going into hibernation last May. The rover operated longer than intended, traveling nearly 2,000 meters.

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