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Sun, 07 Feb 2016
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Eye 1

On the road to mind control: DARPA's new program will use a chip to connect brains to computers

© istockphoto
For additional background to the latest press release from DARPA posted in full below, I encourage you to read the following selection of linked articles where I discuss the scope and chronology of what is being studied. Therein, you will find that the U.S. BRAIN Initiative and its European counterpart, the Human Brain Project, are not spending multi-billions of dollars on neuroscience research simply to help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and organic brain dysfunction. It is, perhaps first and foremost, a military endeavor that has wide ramifications if even 1/10th of what is being studied comes to fruition. In short, it's more about mind control than it is about brain restoration and improvement. Please keep this in mind when you read DARPA's emphasis on "new therapies."

Frog

140 years later, strange tree frog rediscovered in India

© AP
A tadpole of a frog named Frankixalus jerdonii, belonging to a newly found genus of frogs, as seen under microscope.
Last sighted in 1870, Jerdon's tree frog was thought to be long gone. But a three-year-old mission beginning in 2007 not only found the amphibian alive and well in India, new research also discovered that it belongs to a completely new genus of tree frog.

Jerdon's tree frog, also known as Frankixalus jerdonii, has a few unique quirks. The first is how the frog feeds its young. According to National Geographic, a female frog starts the process by laying her fertilized eggs in watery tree hollows. It isn't until the eggs hatch into tadpoles that things get weird.

Most tadpoles feed on plant material. However, The Verge reported that a female Jerdon's tree frog will return to her tadpoles and feed her young unfertilized eggs. The biologist who led the expedition, Sathyabhama Das Biju, told National Geographic that "It is very clear that [the tadpoles] are feeding purely on their mother's eggs."

Comment: New study finds frogs going extinct about 10K times faster than historical rate


Meteor

Massive Apollo asteroid 1685 Toro, possible source of first recorded case of meteorite hitting an American, makes fly-by today


There are around 7,000 asteroids in the Apollo belt.
The space rock known as 1685 Toro is classed as an Apollo asteroid - a group of nearly 7,000 which cross the Earth's orbit and are known to often send large numbers of meteorites crashing to the surface of our planet.

The infamous meteorite which exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013, injuring 1,000 people, is believed to have originated from an Apollo asteroid.

The monster rock is believed to be up to 4km-long (2.4miles) and although it passes us at the relatively safe distance of 14 million miles, NASA describes it as a "close approach" and is closely monitoring it to learn more about the asteroid that could one day threaten Earth.

It is thought to be the asteroid that was responsible for sending the first recorded event in the USA of a meteor crashing to Earth which hit and injured a human.

On November 30 1954 Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama, USA, was injured by a falling meteorite.

Comment: Chelyabinsk meteor strike - a wake-up call for the world


Info

Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants can count

© Hugo A. Quintero/Flickr
A Venus flytrap captures a lizard victim.

Venus flytraps and other carnivorous plants have the ability to count, according to a new study.

The discovery adds to the growing body of evidence that certain plants possess many animal-like abilities, even though they do not have brains. In this case, it's now known that meat-eating plants can count up to at least five.

As for why this would be useful, project leader Rainer Hedrich of Universität Würzburg explained: "The carnivorous plant Dionaea muscipula, also known as Venus flytrap, can count how often it has been touched by an insect visiting its capture organ in order to trap and consume the animal prey."

For the study, published in the journal Current Biology, Hedrich and his team used a machine to simulate an insect touching Venus flytraps. The machine emitted electric pulses to fool the plants into thinking an insect had just landed.

Magnify

Faciotopy: Map for people's faces exists on the surface of the brain

© Absodels / Getty
A map for other people's faces has been discovered in the brain. It could help explain why some of us are better at recognising faces than others.

Every part of your body that you can move or feel is represented in the outer layer of your brain. These "maps", found in the motor and sensory cortices (see diagram, below), tend to preserve the basic spatial layout of the body - neurons that represent our fingers are closer to neurons that represent our arms than our feet, for example.

The same goes for other people's faces, says Linda Henriksson at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. Her team scanned 12 people's brains while they looked at hundreds of images of noses, eyes, mouths and other facial features and recorded which bits of the brain became active.

This revealed a region in the occipital face area in which features that are next to each other on a real face are organised together in the brain's representation of that face. The team have called this map the "faciotopy".

Bulb

New estimates show human brain can hold ten times more memories than previously believed

The human brain can hold 10 times more memories than previously believed, according to a new study. The key to its amazing ability lies in synapses, the neural connections responsible for storing memories.

Researchers from the Salk Institute found that each synapse can hold about 4.7 bits of information. This means that the human brain has a capacity of one petabyte, or 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. This is equivalent to approximately 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text.

"This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience...our new measurements of the brain's memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web," said Terry Sejnowski, Salk professor and co-senior author of the paper, which was published in the journal eLife.

Galaxy

Astronomers say a Neptune-sized ninth planet may lurk beyond Pluto


The solar system appears to have a new ninth planet. Today, two scientists announced evidence that a body nearly the size of Neptune—but as yet unseen—orbits the sun every 15,000 years. During the solar system's infancy 4.5 billion years ago, they say, the giant planet was knocked out of the planet-forming region near the sun. Slowed down by gas, the planet settled into a distant elliptical orbit, where it still lurks today.

The claim is the strongest yet in the centuries-long search for a "Planet X" beyond Neptune. The quest has been plagued by far-fetched claims and even outright quackery. But the new evidence comes from a pair of respected planetary scientists, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, who prepared for the inevitable skepticism with detailed analyses of the orbits of other distant objects and months of computer simulations. "If you say, 'We have evidence for Planet X,' almost any astronomer will say, 'This again? These guys are clearly crazy.' I would, too," Brown says. "Why is this different? This is different because this time we're right."

Book 2

Grammar lesson: Rules aren't nearly as clear-cut as thought

© Rodger Holden/Shutterstock
If you take the lessons of your middle school English teacher on faith, you probably think there's a right way and a wrong way to construct a sentence. But linguists have long acknowledged that some grammar falls into a "gray zone," a middle ground in which sentences are neither 100% right nor 100% wrong. Now, a new study shows that the linguists who map out the structure of grammar—syntacticians—rarely use this gray zone in their own studies. It also suggests a wide gap between their black-and white views and those of ordinary people.

"Grammar is not this binary thing," says Jana Häussler, a linguist at the University of Wuppertal in Germany and one of the study's authors. She adds that many of her colleagues still judge grammar using old binary models, when they should be coming up with systems that build in gradience—or the gray zone—as a possibility.

To find out just how many syntacticians use gradience, the researchers looked at 89 grammar papers published in the highly cited journal Linguistic Inquiry. Most of the authors seemed to give the gray zone its due: They used more than three categories to judge sentence grammar: "completely acceptable," "completely unacceptable," and at least one "intermediate" category. Problem was, they almost never used the intermediate categories for describing sample sentences. Instead, 94% of their sample sentences (2619 in all) made it into the "completely acceptable" or "completely unacceptable" categories, the researchers reported here this month at the Linguistic Society of America meeting.

Researchers also wanted to see how these expert conclusions tallied with the intuitions of ordinary people. In theory, syntacticians base their models on what sounds natural and right to native speakers. The judgments of regular people define the rules; syntacticians are supposed to describe and explain them. So the team took 100 "black-and-white" sentences from the studies and ran them by 65 native English speakers, recruited from the online labor-sourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. Their answers didn't square with those of the linguists. On a scale of 1 to 7, participants ranked 40% of the black-and-white sentences between 3 and 5, putting them squarely in the "gray zone."

The results could affect everything from research into how the human brain processes language to building speech recognition software. By ignoring the gray zone, say the researchers, syntacticians are failing to describe how language really works.

Comment: See also: Complex grammar of the genomic language


Robot

Has China stolen US's secret robot plans for military androids? Officials launch cyber probe

© muslimvillage.com
US officials have ordered an investigation into claims China hacked a robotics research firm developing secretive military gadgets. At least one China-backed cyberspy operation has stolen data from British firm QinetiQ, a Pentagon contractor.

'The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (hereafter 'the Commission') invites submission of proposals to provide a one-time unclassified report on China's industrial and military robotics development,' the request says.

It asks for an investigation into 'what areas is China already ahead of the United States in the use or development of robotics with military applications? What U.S. or other dual-use robotics technologies have likely been acquired by China through technology transfers or cyber penetrations?'

The commission also intends to gauge the chances China's automation efforts could eclipse comparable Pentagon initiatives, including 'Offset,' a Defense Department research initiative meant to 'offset' technological advances made by adversaries, according to Defence One.

Comment: Is the US is looking over its shoulder and fishing for a reason to make another cyber stink with China? From day-to-day the tide might turn as to who is peeking at whose secrets. An invitation to submit spying proposals? Really?


Nebula

Astronomers discover evidence of possible ninth planet on fringes of Solar System

© Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)
This artist's conception shows the view from (hypothetical) Planet Nine back towards the Sun
A century after observatory founder Percival Lowell speculated that a 'Planet X' lurks at the fringes of the Solar System, astronomers say that they have the best evidence yet for such a world. They call it Planet Nine.

Orbital calculations suggest that Planet Nine, if it exists, is about ten times the mass of Earth and swings an elliptical path around the Sun once every 10,000 - 20,000 years. It would never get closer than about 200 times the Earth - Sun distance, or 200 astronomical units (au). That range would put it far beyond Pluto, in the realm of icy bodies known as the Kuiper belt.

No one has seen Planet Nine, but researchers have inferred its existence from the way several other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) move. And given the history of speculation about distant planets (see 'Solving for X'), Planet Nine may end up in the dustbin of good ideas gone wrong.