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Thu, 27 Oct 2016
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The human element in the future of driverless cars

Driverless cars are an engineer's dream. At last, a technology that promises to remove the human factor from the traffic system.

It is humans, after all, whose errors contribute to 75% of road crashes, who introduce undesirable randomness into the mathematical simplicity of traffic flows, and who have been characterised (somewhat tongue in cheek) as "monkey drivers" with slow reaction times and short attention spans.

We are "monkey drivers".

If only we could eliminate the human factor, we would have cities teeming with safe, efficient cars whizzing us to our destinations. Right?


60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose interviews...a robot?

© CBS News
Sophia and creator David Hanson speak with Charlie Rose.
What happens when Charlie Rose attempts to interview a robot named "Sophia" for his 60 Minutes report on artificial intelligence.

"I've been waiting for you," Sophia tells 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose. They're mid-interview, and Rose reacts with surprise.

"Waiting for me?" he asks.

"Not really," she responds. "But it makes a good pickup line."

Sophia managed to get a laugh out of Charlie Rose. Not bad for a robot.

Rose interviewed the human-like machine for this week's two-part 60 Minutes piece on artificial intelligence, or A.I. In their exchange, excerpted in the clip above, Rose seems to approach the conversation with the same seriousness and curiosity he would bring to any interview.

"You put your head where you want to test the possibility," Rose tells 60 Minutes Overtime. "You're not simply saying, 'Why am I going through this exercise of talking to a machine?' You're saying, 'I want to talk to this machine as if it was a human to see how it comprehends.'"


A young Dutch inventor has a cleanup plan for the great pacific garbage patch

© chinabambi-blog.com
Dutch inventor Boyan Slat
The first aerial survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch shows that the amount of debris swirling in the North Pacific has been "heavily underestimated," the expedition group said.

On Monday, The Ocean Cleanup, a project founded in 2013 by then-18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat with the goal of ridding the world's oceans of plastic, shared initial findings from its aerial expedition of the trash vortex between Hawaii and California.

Researchers documented more garbage at the edge of the gyre than they expected to see at its center, where debris is more concentrated, Slat said at a press conference at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California. In just 2 1/2 hours, he said, the crew observed more than 1,000 large floating objects.

"Although, again, we still need to get a detailed analysis of the results, I think it's really quite safe to say that it's worse than we thought," Slat said. "This underlines the urgency of why we need to clean it up and that we really need to take care of the plastic that's already out there in the ocean, because all this big stuff, over the next few decades, will crumble down into those small microplastics."

Understanding how much marine debris is out there will be essential to Slat's ambitious plan to clean it up, the foundation said.

Comment: Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, said:
"The slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles - the raw materials for the plastic industry - are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea. These pollutants act as chemical sponges attracting man-made chemicals such as hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. They then enter the food chain. What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It's that simple"
Most of us are simply unaware.... that our ocean is being used as a trash can!


Scientists find unexpectedly deep seismic activity along California fault

© Google
Researchers have found that the Newport-Inglewood fault, a major formation that spans the Los Angeles basin, is ‘seismically active down to the upper mantle.’ This is said to be one of the most dangerous faults in the Los Angeles Basin
In Southern California, scientists listening to rumblings deep underground found seismic activity at deeper-than-expected levels, and it may signal new earthquake extremes, according to a new study.

Deeper or smaller seismic activity can be very difficult to monitor, especially in urban areas, due to the distance between seismicity monitors and the noise caused by traffic and industry. In order to better see these so-called micro signals, a group of researchers temporarily deployed detectors along the Newport-Inglewood fault (NIF), which stretches nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers), from Culver City to Newport Beach, in Southern California.

"It's very helpful for us to do these kinds of studies where the seismic risk is high because of the dense concentrations of population," study lead author Asaf Inbal, a geophysics graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, told Live Science. "Most of the damage is inflicted by large earthquakes, but these small earthquakes like the ones we observe at NIF occur much more frequently, and their location can be used to highlight active faults and their depth."

By filtering out the noise, the researchers found that activity along the NIF was unusually deep and frequent compared to similar faults in the region. The researchers said these signals could lead to a better understanding of the depths at which earthquakes can occur, and could further illuminate the structure of the fault.

"Many of these micro earthquakes are deeper than expected. They occur below the crust, in the upper mantle, where rocks are usually thought to be too hot to start quakes (mantle rocks are viscous, they deform like very thick honey, without breaking)," co-author Jean Paul Ampuero, a professor of seismology at Caltech, told Live Science in an email. "They are concentrated in what appears to be the deep continuation of the Newport Inglewood fault down into the upper mantle."


Japanese engineer creates turbine that harnesses the power of typhoons

Atsushi Shimizu and his typhoon turbine
The typhoon is an extremely large, powerful, and destructive storm that is very common in the Far East, especially in the Philippines, the China Sea and north of the Pacific Ocean, towards Japan.

Of course, it is associated with destruction. Whenever a typhoon occurs, it comes with a huge cost. Both properties and human lives are lost.

On the island nation of Japan in the Pacific Ocean, typhoons are very common. The country has become used to the situation, as there is no way to stop Mother Nature. In fact, the country has already seen six typhoons in 2016 alone. The destruction these typhoons have cost the country cannot be estimated. Many lives and properties have been lost throughout these monster storms.

However, an enterprising engineer in the country has invented something that is just about to turn typhoons in the country from sad sorrows to joyful and useful.


Company wants to develop GMO humans by 2017

Already, we know that a genetically modified organism is an organism that has had its DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering. Mostly, the organism is altered with DNA from another organism, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal.

From animals and plants, the DNA altering has now caught up with human beings. Soon, we would see genetically modified human beings.

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) is a new genetic editing tool, which scientists claim could transform the field of biology. In fact, for many years now, scientists have been experimenting on gene editing techniques in order to find the best tool to alter the DNA of human beings. It is through this search that animal and plant genes were altered by scientists.

With the discovery of CRISPR, it allows scientists to edit human genes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and flexibility. So far, scientists claim to have successfully used CRISPR to create monkeys with targeted mutations to prevent HIV infection in human cells.

Comment: The fact that these scientists think they know enough about genes and how they work to edit them with precision is laughable.
God's red pencil? CRISPR and the myths of precise genome editing


Mother's genetics determine the intelligence of her children

A mother's genetics determines how clever her children are, according to researchers, and the father makes no difference.

Women are more likely to transmit intelligence genes to their children because they are carried on the X chromosome and women have two of these, while men only have one.

But in addition to this, scientists now believe genes for advanced cognitive functions which are inherited from the father may be automatically deactivated.

A category of genes known as "conditioned genes" are thought to work only if they come from the mother in some cases and the father in other cases. Intelligence is believed to be among the conditioned genes that have to come from the mother.

Comment: Read also: Did you know that intelligence is inherited from mothers?

Microscope 1

Organs in a jar: Human brains being grown outside the body

© National News and Pictures
A magnified picture of an organoid, three to four millimetres across, with a structure similar to that of a human brain is shown.

From what makes us right or left-handed to why we develop autism, there are many mysteries about the human brain we are yet to solve. Some of these questions can be answered by studying the brains of other animals like mice, for example. But this isn't possible for other phenomena that are unique to human brains.

Researchers are now growing hundreds of tiny human brains in labs, in an attempt to understand what gives us unique disorders like autism and schizophrenia - and the method they use to create these brains is surprisingly simple. Scientists across the world are developing cerebral organoids, or mini brains, to solve a variety of problems. Many of these groups are trying to understand other complex neurological diseases that are unique to humans, like autism and schizophrenia.

One such researcher is Madeline Lancaster, who works at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Medicine in Cambridge. The brains are created using cells. The team uses skin cells but, they could start with any cell type. 'The brains develop in the same way you would see in an embryo,' Dr Lancaster told BBC Future.

They turn these cells into stem cells, using proteins, and as these grow, brain cells begin to develop. The researchers starve the cells and, for an unknown reason, the brain cells seem to be the most robust ones, so they survive. These brain cells are placed in a special jelly and put into an incubator.
© National News and Pictures
Scientists created pea-sized brains from a patient's skin that could lead to cures for common neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Image shows a comparison between a developing brain (left) and the organoid (right) that the team created.


Can great apes read minds? Study suggests capacity to track others' beliefs is not unique to humans

Bonobo Jasongo at Leipzig Zoo has a hunch about what you’re thinking.
All great mind reading begins with chocolate. That's the basis for a classic experiment that tests whether children have something called theory of mind—the ability to attribute desires, intentions, and knowledge to others. When they see someone hide a chocolate btheoryar in a box, then leave the room while a second person sneaks in and hides it elsewhere, they have to guess where the first person will look for the bar. If they guess "in the original box," they pass the test, and show they understand what's going on in the first person's mind—even when it doesn't match reality.

For years, only humans were thought to have this key cognitive skill of attributing "false belief," which is believed to underlie deception, empathy, teaching, and perhaps even language. But three species of great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans—also know when someone holds a false belief, according to a new study published today in Science. The groundbreaking study suggests that this skill likely can be traced back to the last common ancestor of great apes and humans, and may be found in other species.

"Testing the idea that nonhuman [animals] can have minds has been the Rubicon that skeptics have again and again said no nonhuman has ever, or will ever, cross," says Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved in the study. "Well, back to the drawing board!"


The bigger an animal's yawn, the bigger its brain, study finds

© Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
How long an animal takes to yawn predicts its brain size and the number of neurons in its brain, a new study finds.
Do you know someone who spends a long time yawning? He may not be lazy; he may just have a big, neuron-rich brain.

A new study published this week in Biology Letters found the amount of time it takes for a mammal to complete a yawn strongly predicts the size of the critter's brain and number of neurons in its cortex, or gray matter.

Among vertebrates, yawning is a widespread — and poorly understood — phenomenon.

Yawning is generally viewed as a sign of sleepiness or boredom, but it plays an important physiological role in the body, said Andrew Gallup, an evolutionary psychologist and "yawnologist" at the State University of New York at Oneonta.

Indeed, yawning does for our brain what stretching does for our muscles.

Comment: See also: