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Fri, 20 Apr 2018
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It's all in the spleen: Indonesian tribe members can hold their breath for 13 minutes

Indonesian diver

A population of Indonesian 'fish people' have evolved spleens are 50 per cent larger than normal people, enabling them to free dive to depths of more than 200 feet (61 metres).
A population of Indonesian 'fish people' have evolved spleens are 50 per cent larger than normal people, enabling them to free dive to depths of more than 200 feet (61 metres).

The genetic change discovered in the Bajau tribe - who can hold their breath for 13 minutes - is the first known example of a human adaptation to deep diving, researchers found.

For more than 1,000 years, the Bajau - known as 'Sea Nomads' - have wandered the seas of southern Asia in house boats, catching fish by free diving with spears.

Now settled around the islands of Indonesia, they are famous for their extraordinary breath-holding ability.


Post-apocalyptic setting: Abandoned Soviet-era spacecraft captured in stunning photos

© Ruptly
Soviet-era spacecraft hidden in the Baikonur desert have been revealed in a series of stunning pictures. Stored in what looks like a post-apocalyptic setting, they give a rare insight into relics of the USSR's space program.

Sitting inside abandoned hangars, the rusty spacecraft now gather dust, attracting enthusiasts and thrill-seekers from across the globe. Some such enthusiasts snuck onto a busy launching site in April 2017 to watch the once-magnificent aircraft that never actually made it to launch.

After reaching the cosmodrome, the young adventurers ditched their car and moved on foot before managing to venture into a steppe unnoticed. Their resulting photo compilation - included in a Ruptly video - shows two shuttles and rocket from the Energia-Buran space project, now covered in dust and bird droppings. One of the vehicles is a prototype of a shuttle that conducted its only orbital flight in 1988.


Soon the largest creature on Earth will be a cow!

© Tony Hutchings/Getty Images
Land of the giants. For your great, great grandchildren, cows might be the biggest megafauna around.
In a couple of hundred years the largest animal walking on land may well be a cow, new modelling predicts.

A paper published in the journal Science uncovers for the first time a startling correlation between human migration and the extinction of large animals.

The link between the loss of big creatures and the spread of Homo sapiens and other hominin species was well established by the time humans left Africa around 125,000 years ago, researchers led by biologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico, US, found.

With no indication that the trend is abating, the team predicts that all currently endangered large terrestrial species will pass within the next couple of centuries, leaving cows, at an average weight of 900 kilograms, the biggest things left.

To make their finding, the scientists used two data sets. The first was a global record of all terrestrial species known, and classified according to body mass and diet, for the late Quaternary period, which started around a million years ago. The second was a similar record for all known species in the Cenozoic period, which started 66 million years ago and is known colloquially as the Age of Mammals.


Scientists develop method to bend diamonds in surprising breakthrough for ultra-strong nanomaterials

daimond break test

Scientists have developed a way to make diamond bend like rubber. The study used extremely small, nanoscale diamond needles. According to the researchers, the nanoscale diamond was capable of withstanding as much as 9 percent tensile strain, as shown above
Scientists have developed a way to make diamond bend like rubber.

The breakthrough, albeit seen on an extremely small scale, could pave the way for devices made from ultra-strong and flexible diamond-based materials.

In the study, an international team of researchers found that tiny diamond needles measuring just a few micrometers tall could bend by as much as 9 percent without snapping - and, they reverted to their original shape afterward.

Researchers from MIT, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea collaborated on the groundbreaking new study to bend the strongest of all natural materials.


Satellite surveillance startup aims to monitor entire Earth and stream video in real-time

Satellite communications company
© Andrew Winning
Satellite communications company
US-based startup EarthNow, which plans to deploy a constellation of hi-tech satellites to monitor the entire surface of Earth and stream HD footage 24/7, has secured backing from many notable investors, like Bill Gates and Airbus.

Though the contribution made by Microsoft's founder is not disclosed, Gates is just one of many investors who are helping EarthNow reach for the stars. Other investors, including Airbus, the SoftBank Group, and tech entrepreneur Greg Wyler also support the initiative, to deploy a large network of state of the art imaging satellites that will deliver "real-time, continuous video of almost anywhere on Earth."

"We created the world's first low-cost, high-performance satellites for mass-production to bridge the digital divide. These very same satellite features will enable EarthNow to help humanity understand and manage its impact on Earth," Wyler said.

Comment: See also: DARPA's New Spy Satellite Could Provide Real-Time Video from Anywhere on Earth

Alarm Clock

'Quantum time' may hold the key to the flow of existence

quantum light dance1
© Henrik Sorensen/Getty
THE philosopher Augustine of Hippo once wrote that he felt he knew what time was, so long as no one asked him. Fast forward 16 centuries and the picture has hardly changed, says physicist Carlo Rovelli. Time is "perhaps the greatest mystery", he says. "At the most fundamental level we currently know of, there is little that resembles time as we experience it."

The passage of time - a uniform, universal flow that transports us inexorably from a past we cannot revisit to a future we cannot know - is perhaps the most fundamental experience of our existence. Yet our best theories suggest that it is not real. Time doesn't flow, and past, present and future cannot sensibly be defined. There isn't even one single time that governs the order of events.

Rovelli, who works at Aix-Marseille University in France, is just one of many physicists hunting for a better answer. As they do, a new generation of experiments is giving hope that we can probe the nature of time more searchingly than ever before. In all this, a strange realisation is crystallising, one that perhaps brings us a little closer to the heart of the mystery. Maybe we shouldn't be so worried about our ignorance of time. Perhaps, at some level, time is just that - ignorance.

A century ago, Albert Einstein revolutionised our ideas of time. His theories of relativity gave time a physical identity as part of space-time, a malleable fabric on which reality's events play out (see "Why now doesn't exist, and other strange facts about time").

Comment: See also:


What can go wrong? Drones will soon use artificial intelligence to decide who to kill

Air Force drone
© U.S. Air Force
An Air Force RPA reconnaissance drone is retrofitted for use in attack squadron.
Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarisation of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society.

The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI). This is a big step forward.

Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement.

Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarization of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society.

There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process.

At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets.

Existing lethal military drones like the MQ-9 Reaper are carefully controlled and piloted via satellite. If a pilot drops a bomb or fires a missile, a human sensor operator actively guides it onto the chosen target using a laser.

Comment: Killings by drones operated by humans already cause enough civilian casualties and suffering. Imagine if the task is handed over to computers with nothing remotely ressembling conscience and with a very primitive set of algorithms that cannot really pass for actual intelligence.


Flowers for Armageddon: 'Rip Van Winkle' plants can lie dormant for up to 20 years

rip van winkle plant 20 years

Researchers from Sussex University and Tokyo University found the plant that can lie dormant for longest is an orchid common in British woodland called the Epipactis helleborine, which can last for 20 years in the soil without emerging
Scores of plant species are capable of living dormant under the soil for up to 20 years, enabling them to survive through difficult times, a new study has found.

An international team of academics has found that at least 114 plant species from 24 different plant families, from widespread locations and ecological communities around the world, are capable of prolonged dormancy as adult plants, remaining alive in the soil but not emerging from the ground every spring. This behaviour enables them not only to survive through difficult times, but to make the best of adversity.

The extraordinary behaviour is seen in many species of orchid, and is reminiscent of the fictional character Rip Van Winkle, who sleeps for 20 years and misses the American Revolution. It also occurs in many other types of plant.

In an article published in Ecology Letters, scientists reveal that dormancy is often a "bet hedging" strategy for the plants, with the short-term disadvantages of missing growth and reproduction in one or more seasons being outweighed by the longer-term benefits of avoiding immediate risks and thereby extending their lives.

Comment: We're learning a lot about the life of plants and how their world is governed by much more than just light and heat:


Fighter pilot gets shot down everytime in dogfight simulations for the first time by AI

AI Interceptor
© YouTube/Outer Places
Artificial intelligence has beaten humans at chess, Go, and even complex MOBA games like DoTA, but now they're moving up to real wargames-specifically, combat flight simulators against real fighter pilots. And unfortunately for us, it looks like they're devastatingly good at it.

A new AI, called ALPHA, went head-to-head against retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gene Lee and shot him down every single time, despite the fact that he's "controlled or flown in thousands of air-to-air intercepts as mission commander or pilot" and flown against simulated AI opponents for years. After several hour-long tests, Lee didn't even get a single kill.

To put this in perspective, if life were a sci-fi movie, Colonel Gene Lee is probably the one guy in the world the Pentagon would call to blow a rogue AI-controlled fighter jet out of the sky. Instead, ALPHA bested him at every turn.


Subtle signals: Computer interface can transcribe words users 'speak silently'

Electrodes on the face and jaw pick up otherwise undetectable neuromuscular signals triggered by internal verbalizations.
silent speech detector, MIT AlterEgo project
© Lorrie Lejeune/MIT
Arnav Kapur, a researcher in the Fluid Interfaces group at the MIT Media Lab, demonstrates the AlterEgo project.
MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that can transcribe words that the user verbalizes internally but does not actually speak aloud.

The system consists of a wearable device and an associated computing system. Electrodes in the device pick up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalizations - saying words "in your head" - but are undetectable to the human eye. The signals are fed to a machine-learning system that has been trained to correlate particular signals with particular words.

The device also includes a pair of bone-conduction headphones, which transmit vibrations through the bones of the face to the inner ear. Because they don't obstruct the ear canal, the headphones enable the system to convey information to the user without interrupting conversation or otherwise interfering with the user's auditory experience.

Comment: See also: