Welcome to Sott.net
Fri, 22 Sep 2017
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology

Eye 1

Facial recognition algorithm that identifies sexual orientation has LGBT community in uproar over potential uses

The study created composite faces judged most and least likely to belong to homosexuals
A facial recognition experiment that claims to be able to distinguish between gay and heterosexual people has sparked a row between its creators and two leading LGBT rights groups.

The Stanford University study claims its software recognises facial features relating to sexual orientation that are not perceived by human observers.

The work has been accused of being "dangerous" and "junk science".

But the scientists involved say these are "knee-jerk" reactions.

Details of the peer-reviewed project are due to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Comment: See also: Gaydar: Stanford U. creates computer algorithm that can distinguish straight from gay


AI algorithms are getting schooled on fairness

© Alex Nabaum
There is more than one approach to trimming unintended biases from the machines that we are teaching to make more and more of our decisions.
Machine-learning programs can introduce biases that may harm job seekers, loan applicants and more

You've probably encountered at least one machine-learning algorithm today. These clever computer codes sort search engine results, weed spam e-mails from inboxes and optimize navigation routes in real time. People entrust these programs with increasingly complex - and sometimes life-changing - decisions, such as diagnosing diseases and predicting criminal activity.

Machine-learning algorithms can make these sophisticated calls because they don't simply follow a series of programmed instructions the way traditional algorithms do. Instead, these souped-up programs study past examples of how to complete a task, discern patterns from the examples and use that information to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Unfortunately, letting machines with this artificial intelligence, or AI, figure things out for themselves doesn't just make them good critical "thinkers," it also gives them a chance to pick up biases.

Microscope 2

A new look at archaic DNA tells a different story of human evolution

© Alan Rogers, University of Utah
These population trees with embedded gene trees show how mutations can generate nucleotide site patterns. The four branch tips of each gene tree represent genetic samples from four populations: modern Africans, modern Eurasians, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. In the left tree, the mutation (shown in blue) is shared by the Eurasian, Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes. In the right tree, the mutation (shown in red) is shared by the Eurasian and Neanderthal genomes.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the ancestors of modern humans diverged from an archaic lineage that gave rise to Neanderthals and Denisovans. Yet the evolutionary relationships between these groups remain unclear.

A University of Utah-led team developed a new method for analyzing DNA sequence data to reconstruct the early history of the archaic human populations. They revealed an evolutionary story that contradicts conventional wisdom about modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans.

The study found that the Neanderthal-Denisovan lineage nearly went extinct after separating from modern humans. Just 300 generations later, Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged from each other around 744,000 years ago. Then, the global Neanderthal population grew to tens of thousands of individuals living in fragmented, isolated populations scattered across Eurasia.


Extinct 'hell ant' with metal horns & trap jaw found inside amber (PHOTOS)

© P. Barden, H.W. Herhold, D.A. Grimaldi
A lateral view of the newly described species Linguamyrmex vladi.
Scientists have discovered that while monstrous dinosaurs roamed the earth, the insect world contained its own fearsome creature - a 'hell ant' with a reinforced metal horn on its head.

A number of extinct insects have been given the sinister 'hell ant' moniker - including the Haidomyrmex cerberus, which had curious L-shaped mandibles.

But researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology have revealed a new hair-raising creature found inside amber, dating back 99 million years.

According to the study, the hell ant, known as Linguamyrmex vladi, hunted and defended itself in ways which differ dramatically from modern ants.

Comment: See also: 100 million-year-old amber holds tiny feathered chick


The hidden abilities of plants: They form memories

© Sebastien Thibault.
Monica Gagliano began to study plant behavior because she was tired of killing animals. Now an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, when she was a student and postdoc, she had been offing her research subjects at the end of experiments, the standard protocol for many animals studies. If she was to work on plants, she could just sample a leaf or a piece of root. When she switched her professional allegiance to plants, though, she brought with her some ideas from the animal world and soon began exploring questions few plant specialists probe-the possibilities of plant behavior, learning, and memory.

"You start a project, and as you open up the box there are lots of other questions inside it, so then you follow the trail," Gagliano says. "Sometimes if you track the trail, you end up in places like Pavlovian plants."

In her first experiments with plant learning, Gagliano decided to test her new subjects the same way she would animals. She started with habituation, the simplest form of learning. If the plants encountered the same innocuous stimulus over and over again, would their response to it change?

Comment: See also:


International Space Station forced to seek shelter during massive solar flare

© SDO / Goddard / NASA
NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this image of a solar flare – as seen in the bright flash on the right side – on Sept. 10, 2017
The International Space Station (ISS) crew had to hide in a special shelter during a massive solar flare, a nuclear scientist said. The sun produced several huge solar flares last week, one of which was the strongest observed in a decade.

"Yesterday [on Sunday], the cosmonauts on the ISS received an 'alert' signal, and they had to seek a temporary shelter at the station," Mikhail Panasyuk, the head of Skobeltsyn Institute Of Nuclear Physics in Moscow, said at a press conference.

On Sunday, a solar flare was reported by scientists across the globe. Called X8.2, it "produced a rapid increase in relativistic proton levels," according to NASA.

The increase in proton activity coincided with a time at which the ISS was nearer the sun, according to Panasyuk. The proton stream was higher than that of the powerful solar flare that took place on September 7, he said. "A powerful proton stream can break through ISS shell," he added.

Solar flares are huge bursts of radiation released by the sun. The Earth's atmosphere protects us from the worst effects of the resulting radiation storms, but if the flare is big enough, it can disrupt GPS satellites, certain radio frequencies and other global communications temporarily.

Comment: Solar flares from the past week:


Berkeley researchers find that people have 27 distinct emotional states - not 6 as previously thought

Human emotions may not be as plentiful as the hundreds of emojis we use on social media, but they’re still more complex than previously believed.
Human emotions may not be as plentiful as the hundreds of emojis we use on social media, but they're still more complex than previously believed. A new study examining the various ways that we express ourselves determined that humans display 27 distinct emotional states.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley recruited a diverse sample of 853 men and women to watch short five-to-ten second long video clips meant to evoke a range of reactions, hoping to measure the true spectrum of human emotions.

The study's experimental component, which incorporated nearly 2,200 silent clips, split participants into one of three groups.

One group disclosed their unfiltered emotional reactions to 30 clips they viewed to the researchers, allowing for raw documentation.

"Their responses reflected a rich and nuanced array of emotional states, ranging from nostalgia to feeling 'grossed out,'" says lead author Alan Cowen, a doctoral student in neuroscience, in a university news release.


Scientists now think a deep reservoir of water exists beneath the moon's surface that could help support a colony

A new study shows the surface of the moon has more water than we thought, suggesting the interior of our natural satellite could hold a deep reservoir of water
When you think of the moon you might picture a dry, desolate, rocky place, but recent evidence has been putting this idea to the test.

A new study shows the surface of the moon has more water than we thought, suggesting the interior of our natural satellite could hold a deep reservoir of water.

This new finding bolsters the idea that the lunar mantle is surprisingly water-rich, which could make colonizing it for future space exploration much easier.

A group of researchers from the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany, used data from the Moon Mapping Mission to search for clues of water in the spectrum of light reflected from its surface.

By looking at which wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by the surface, scientists could get an idea of which minerals and other compounds are present.


Healing with the turbulent powers of plasma jets?

The jets of plasma that doctors might use, however, often become turbulent with the direction and velocity changing dramatically. Now, researchers have found this turbulence likely emerges from heat-induced sound waves generated at the plasma electrodes. This new insight is critical for more consistent and effective medical therapies.

"Now that we understand where the induced turbulence in atmospheric pressure plasma jets is coming from, it may be possible to better control it," said Amanda Lietz of the University of Michigan, who is an author of a new report discussing these results, based on computer simulations, appearing as the cover article this week in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

A plasma is an ionized gas consisting of the positively charged ions and free-flowing electrons. They tend to be extremely hot, like those found in fusion devices. Non-equilibrium atmospheric pressure plasma jets, however, are cool to the touch.

In a typical medical device, atmospheric pressure plasma is made from a noble gas such as helium. An electric field ionizes the helium by removing an electron from each atom, creating a plasma that's not only at atmospheric pressure, but is also near room temperature.

Cloud Precipitation

Monster storms like Irma start off the coast of the Cape Verde islands, say researchers

Just weeks after Hurricane Harvey caused destruction in Texas, Irma has made landfall in Florida - and there are still almost 12 weeks left of Atlantic hurricane season. It raises the question - where are all of these storms coming from?

Research has shown that most of the monster storms that hit the US and Canada start out as a distinct weather pattern in the atmosphere over western Africa, specifically a spot off the coast of the African Cape Verde islands.

In fact, a 2015 study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that by closely watching these tropical disturbances off the coast of western Africa, researchers could better predict which of them would turn into serious hurricanes a few weeks later.