ShinyShiny round up: iPhone users to pick male or female Siri

Apple will ask iPhone users to pick between male and female versions of its digital assistant Siri, the first of the major tech companies to automatically make users choose. The company said that setting up the assistant will involve choosing between the genders after an upcoming software release. Tech companies have come under pressure over how they characterise voice-activated personalities such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Siri, which are designed to respond to commands such as setting timers, looking up information and controlling smart home devices. In 2019, a United Nations report said that the “servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women” helped enforce gender stereotypes and reflected largely-male engineering teams at technology companies. Telegraph

In a breakthrough proof-of-concept test, scientists have managed to take human DNA samples from the air, which could have applications in forensic investigations. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is an emerging field allowing scientists to conduct biomonitoring and ecological research by sampling the environment for DNA, which is later analysed. It has previously been used in aquatic environments, as well as from substances such as soil and snow, but now researchers from Queen Mary University of London have managed to successfully collect eDNA samples from the air. eDNA comes from a range of sources, including saliva, urine and skin cells which are filtered out of substrates such as water, or in this case, air. Sky News

A microscopic, living robot that can heal and power itself has been created out of frog skin cells. Xenobots, named after the frog species Xenopus laevis that the cells come from, were first described last year. Now the team behind the robots has improved their design and demonstrated new capabilities. To create the spherical xenobots, Michael Levin at Tufts University in Massachusetts and his colleagues extracted tissue from 24-hour-old frog embryos which formed into spheroid structures after minimal physical manipulation. News Scientist

Facebook is to allow users to turn off the algorithm powering its News Feed and control the order in which items appear amid growing calls for algorithmic transparency. The company will also provide more context on suggested content by expanding the “Why am I seeing this?” tab, as well as letting users control who can comment on their posts. It comes ahead of the first draft of the UK’s new Online Safety Bill, which is likely to include powers for Ofcom to audit how social media companies’ algorithms work. Algorithmic transparency has become a focus for regulators, especially when companies are seen to be promoting harmful content or creating enclaves for people who believe conspiracy theories and only encounter people who share those beliefs. Sky News 

About one in five people have symptoms of long Covid five weeks after an initial infection and one in seven after 12 weeks, an Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey of the UK suggests. It estimates that 1.1 million people were affected in the UK in the four weeks from 6 February. About 20% of people said ongoing symptoms limited their day-to-day activities a lot. People were asked to report their own symptoms. BBC 

The government should step up support for the UK’s nascent tidal energy industry, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has urged in a letter sent this week to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, which predicts a fresh wave of policies and investment would “likely to lead to a rapid fall in generating costs similar to, if not steeper than, the fall experienced in offshore wind”. The letter emphasises the potential of tidal power to contribute to the UK’s renewable energy mix, noting that current tidal stream projects in development have the capacity to deliver 1GW of clean electricity to the grid. Business Green