September 2021: Top tech news

Marking the end of school holidays and the start of autumnal evenings, September has brought a time of reflection. The 20th anniversary of 9/11 saw people around the world turn their focus inward toward communities, mental health, and the environment. For technology, this time has seen more creative minds come together to innovate and encourage productive change in these areas. Let’s dive into this month’s top tech news.

  1. A new study shows Virtual Reality boosts the mental health of cancer patients

This month, Project Vae finished a 6-week project using Virtual Reality headsets on cancer patients to see if VR can improve the mental health of people with cancer.  During the 6 weeks, patients virtually travelled around the world and experienced Germany, the Royal Albert Hall, Thailand, the Peak District, and more. The VR videos were created in the style of a vlog, so the patients experienced travelling with a companion.

Keele University analysed the results which showed the study was a success. Using VR improved low mood, anxiety, loneliness, and general wellbeing. One patient commented: “The endorphins that film has given me, you know, takes the pain away.”  

Watch the video of the response from the cancer patients.

A patient using Virtual Reality

2. Children in China are given a TikTok limit

TikTok, known in China as Douyin, has added a 40-minute daily limit for all users under the age of 14. They also can’t access the video-sharing app after 10 pm. The “youth mode” is part of China’s government’s focus on children’s and teenagers’ internet activity. They are analysing video game usage, the time children are spending on their devices, and the impact on their health.

Do you think this 40-minute limit should be a worldwide standard? Read the full story.

A child using TikTok surrounded by his homework

3. Beams of light deliver high-speed internet across the Congo River

A connectivity gap has been filled by a new experiment by Project Taara. The experiment has enabled the 17 million citizens in Brazzaville and Kinshasa to have access to cheaper and faster broadband. These cities, three miles apart, have faced connectivity problems due to the difficulty in routing a traditional cable around the Congo River, the world’s deepest and second fastest river.

The new system uses invisible beams of light to deliver high-speed internet. It doesn’t require any cable casing like traditional fibre. Installed terminals search for each other, detect a beam of light and lock in to create the connection.

Project Taara is implementing this innovation throughout other areas in the world, in places that fibre can’t reach helping to connect more communities. Find out more.

The Congo river with fibre-fast broadband

4. New research shows bitcoin mining produces 30,700 tons of annual waste

Research by Alex de Vries and Christian Stoll shows bitcoin mining produces 30,700 tons of electronic waste year after year. This is predicted to grow into a huge environmental problem. An average transaction contributes 272g. This is a huge consumption of electricity which consequently causes greenhouse pollution.

Bitcoin creates huge quantities of electronic waste because the mining is done with a specialised singular process. The required hardware only has a 1.5-year life before it needs to be replaced. As the popularity of bitcoin has risen in recent years, so has the huge amount of waste. In terms of electrical energy, one Bitcoin transaction is equivalent to the power consumption of an average household for 39.67 days. 

The research is published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling. It calls for an efficient drive to find a new eco-friendly process to stop the annual 30,700 tons of electric waste. Read the full story.

Electrical waste caused by bitcoin mining

5. UK aims to rival U.S. and China in a 10-year plan to become ‘A.I. superpower’

The UK government has published the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy, in which businesses are encouraged to make full use of AI. This strategy is a ten-year plan with the goal to attract international investment to British AI companies as well as developing the next generation of British tech talent.

The 10-year plan hopes to support AI development outside London, the current AI hub of the UK. In 2019, £2.5 billion ($3.5 billion) was pumped into U.K. AI start-ups, but many of them are now at risk of being acquired by larger overseas rivals. By focusing more on building AI’s impact in the UK, it should help boost the post-Brexit economy.

Read about AI experts’ reactions to this new plan.

UK parliament in London

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