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Fri, 22 Feb 2019
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Chinese state news agency unveils its first female AI anchor modeled after a human presenter

female AI anchor

China's state-run press agency Xinhua on Tuesday unveiled its first female AI anchor, Xin Xiaomeng, who will join its growing team of virtual presenters
China's state-run press agency has welcomed its first female AI anchor who will join its growing team of virtual presenters.

The female AI newsreader will make her professional debut during the upcoming meetings of the country's national legislature and top political advisory body in March, according to Xinhua at a press conference on Tuesday.

Modelled after the agency's flesh-and-blood journalist Qu Meng, the AI newsreader was jointly developed by Xinhua and search engine company Sogou.com and can 'read texts as naturally as a professional anchor'.

'Hello everyone, I am the world's first female AI presenter developed by Xinhua News Agency and Sougu. My name is Xin Xiaomeng,' says the journalist in an introductory video.

She joins the digital doppelgangers of English-language anchor Zhang Zhao and his Chinese-language counterpart Qiu Hao, who were unveiled in November during the 2018 World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province.


Details of how proteins evolve finally solved? Not so fast

Christina Cheng, University of Illinois
© L. Brian Stauffer, via EurekAlert!
Christina Cheng, University of Illinois
How did proteins evolve? It is a difficult question because, setting aside many other problems, the very starting point - the protein-coding gene - is highly complex. A large number of random mutations would seem to be required before you have a functional protein that helps the organism. Too often such problems are solved with vague accounts of "adaptations" and "selection pressure" doing the job.

But this week researchers at the University of Illinois announced ground-breaking research that provides a step-by-step, detailed, description of the evolution of a new protein-coding gene and associated regulatory DNA sequences. The protein in question is a so-called "antifreeze" protein that keeps the blood of Arctic codfish from freezing, and the new research provides the specific sequence of mutations, leading to the new gene.

It would be difficult to underestimate the importance of this research. It finally provides scientific details answering the age-old question of how nature's massive complexity could have arisen. As the paper triumphantly declares, "Here, we report clear evidence and a detailed molecular mechanism for the de novo formation of the northern gadid (codfish) antifreeze glycoprotein (AFGP) gene from a minimal noncoding sequence." Or as lead researcher, professor Christina Cheng, explained, "This paper explains how the antifreeze protein in the northern codfish evolved."


20-year-old SOHO data suggests Earth's atmosphere stretches out beyond the MOON

geocorona earth moon
© European Space Agency
Earth's geocorona (the illustration is not to scale).
The outermost part of our planet's atmosphere extends well beyond the lunar orbit - almost twice the distance to the Moon.

A recent discovery based on observations by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, shows that the gaseous layer that wraps around Earth reaches up to 630,000 km away, or 50 times the diameter of our planet.

"The Moon flies through Earth's atmosphere," says Igor Baliukin of Russia's Space Research Institute, lead author of the paper presenting the results.

"We were not aware of it until we dusted off observations made over two decades ago by the SOHO spacecraft."

Where our atmosphere merges into outer space, there is a cloud of hydrogen atoms called the geocorona. One of the spacecraft instruments, SWAN, used its sensitive sensors to trace the hydrogen signature and precisely detect how far the very outskirts of the geocorona are.

Comment: Whoa!

Arrow Down

Israel aims to send Moon probe in 100million privately funded project

Israeli 'Genesis' lunar probe
© YouTube/SpaceIL
Israeli 'Genesis' lunar probe
Israel is looking to join the ranks of space superpowers by becoming the fourth country to land a probe on the Moon. In addition to science instruments, the 'Genesis' probe will carry a copy of the Bible on a small metal disc.

Genesis, or "Beresheet" in Hebrew, is about the size of a washing machine and is equipped with instruments for measuring the Moon's magnetic field. It was designed by SpaceIL, a private company, in cooperation with the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The probe is scheduled to launch on Thursday on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It will take it almost two months to reach the moon, however, as it needs to slingshot around the Earth at least six times, SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby and IAI manager Ophir Doron told reporters on Monday.

Comment: One can imagine there's an opportunity to be had with the hashtag: #IsraelToTheMoon Also check out SOTT radio's: NewsReal: Israeli-French Deception Downs Russian Spy Plane Off Syria, US Escalates 'Regime Change' Against Iran


Human-machine hybrids and legal problems

Cyborg Neil Harbisson
© Rosdiana Ciaravolo/Getty Images
Activist Neil Harbisson has an antenna implanted in his skull, and is by most definitions a proper cyborg. He is pictured here in Milan in 2017.
The new movie Alita: Battle Angel has once again drawn our attention to the idea of cyborgs: machine-human hybrids. And as we become increasingly reliant on machines and devices to function normally in our daily lives, computer science and engineering expert Robin R Murphy of Texas A&M University in the US reminds us of the gap between the law and our capacity to augment our bodies and minds.

The main character of Alita: Battle Angel is a cyborg with an entirely mechanical body housing a biological brain. While some of the elements of the movie are farfetched, many are startlingly plausible.

Writing in the journal Science Robotics, Murphy argues that works of science fiction such Alita and antecedents stretching all the way back to Edgar Allen Poe's The Man Who Was Used Up, first published in 1839, have done much to anticipate the technological developments and trends of our slow transformation into cyborgs. However, she adds, they have done little to predict many of the ethical and legal complications that will accompany them.

So, what exactly is a cyborg? The word itself is a portmanteau of "cybernetics" and "organism" and was first coined by the Austrian scientist and musician Manfred Clynes in 1960 in a paper written with the American psychologist Nathan Kline. Their article inspired NASA in 1963 to investigate the possibility of modifying human beings for extended travel in outer space, to produce a human-machine hybrid system.

Beyond space travel, the idea has come to mean many things, ranging from technological interventions in the human body to our increasing cognitive reliance on various devices.


Crime of evolution: Grasses are 'stealing' genes from neighbors, apparently

Alloteropsis semialata
© Wikipedia
Authorities are warning to be on the lookout for this grass. It might just steal your genes.
For some reason, horizontal gene transfer is described as a way that they "cheat evolution":
Scientists have found evidence that some species of grasses are stealing genes from their neighbors to help them adapt, effectively bypassing millions of years' worth of evolution...
Did the plants have some kind of obligation to develop the genes themselves, assuming they even could?
Now researchers at the University of Sheffield have found that, surprisingly, some grasses are also running a "counterfeit genes" ring. The discovery was made by studying the genome of Alloteropsis semialata grass, and comparing it to the genomes of 150 other grass species. The similarity of certain DNA sequences showed that they had been acquired laterally from their natural neighbors.
How are the genes "counterfeit?"

Comment: For more on horizontal gene transfer and why it doesn't fit nicely into the (neo-)Darwinian worldview, see Perry Marshall's Evolution 2.0. Maybe genomes are selfish, after all? The only problem is, to be selfish one must first have a degree of agency. And there is no agency in evolution, at least according to the doctrinaire priests of Saint Darwin.


'Von Braun' space station planned by private aerospace company

Von Braun Space Station
© Universe Today
Since the end of the Apollo-era, one of the main goals of NASA, Roscosmos and other space agencies has been the development of technologies that will enable a long-term human presence in space. These technologies will also help when it comes time to mount renewed missions to the Moon, to Mars, and other locations in the Solar System. Over the past few decades, these efforts have yielded Mir and the International Space Station (ISS).

In the coming years, these efforts will also lead to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and commercial space stations - like the Bigelow B330. And if private aerospace companies like the Gateway Foundation get their way, we'll also have a spaceport in orbit around Earth. The company recently posted a video showing exactly what this rotating wheel space station will look like, and how companies like SpaceX could help build it.

The company's concept is known as the Gateway, a rotating space station based on designs proposed by German rocket scientist and space architect Werner von Braun. These designs were featured in a series of articles in the national magazine Collier's during the 1950s titled, "Man Will Conquer Space Soon!" For this reason, the company has named their proposed design the Von Braun station.


New moon discovered around Neptune

© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited
Scientists have found an entirely new moon in our own solar system - and it had been hiding in plain sight.

The new object, named Hippocamp, has been discovered floating around Neptune. It is the planet's smallest moon, and behaves very strangely, in ways that could shed light on how it first formed.

Hippocamp had already been captured in previous images of the nearby planet. But astronomers' technical abilities were not enough to actually spot it, and only now has the tiny world actually been noticed and catalogued.

When the Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune in 1989, it spotted six small inner moons orbiting the planet. Each of them is very small, and much younger than Neptune, probably having formed soon after the planet's largest moon called Triton arrived.

But new research shows that there had been another, unnoticed and tiny, moon floating near the planet. That takes the total number of moons around Neptune to 14 and sheds new light on the huge planet.


Ghostly planetary nebula glows in stunning new VLT image

ESO 577-24 nebula
ESO 577-24 was imaged by the FOcal Reducer/low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The FORS2 instrument captured the bright, central star, Abell 36, as well as the surrounding planetary nebula. The red and blue portions of this image correspond to optical emission at red and blue wavelengths, respectively. An object much closer to home is also visible in this image — an asteroid wandering across the field of view has left a faint track below and to the left of the central star. And in the far distance behind the nebula a glittering host of background galaxies can be seen.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has released an absolutely beautiful photo taken by its Very Large Telescope (VLT) of a planetary nebula called ESO 577-24.

ESO 577-24, also known as IRAS F13378-1937 or 2MASS J13404134-1952553, resides approximately 1,400 light-years away from Earth.

It was discovered as part of the National Geographic Society-Palomar Observatory Sky Survey in the 1950s, and was recorded in the Abell Catalogue of Planetary Nebulae in 1966.

The dazzling nebula is the remains of a dead giant star that has thrown off its outer layers, leaving behind a small, intensely hot dwarf star.

This diminished remnant will gradually cool and fade, living out its days as the mere ghost of a once-vast red giant star.


Scientists decode Great White Shark genome

Great white Shark
© Composite adapted from Pixabay
Fort Lauderdale/Davie, Fla. - The great white shark is one of the most recognized marine creatures on Earth, generating widespread public fascination and media attention, including spawning one of the most successful movies in Hollywood history. This shark possesses notable characteristics, including its massive size (up to 20 feet and 7,000 pounds) and diving to nearly 4,000 foot depths. Great whites are also a big conservation concern given their relatively low numbers in the world's oceans.

In a major scientific step to understand the biology of this iconic apex predator and sharks in general, the entire genome of the white shark has now been decoded in detail.

A team led by scientists from Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI), Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, and Monterey Bay Aquarium, completed the white shark genome and compared it to genomes from a variety of other vertebrates, including the giant whale shark and humans.

The findings are reported in the 'Latest Articles' section of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.

Decoding the white shark's genome revealed not only its huge size - one-and-a-half times the size of the human genome - but also a plethora of genetic changes that could be behind the evolutionary success of large-bodied and long-lived sharks.

The researchers found striking occurrences of specific DNA sequence changes indicating molecular adaptation (also known as positive selection) in numerous genes with important roles in maintaining genome stability ­­- the genetic defense mechanisms that counteract the accumulation of damage to a species' DNA, thereby preserving the integrity of the genome.