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Sat, 23 Jun 2018
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Oldest footprints discovered on ancient seafloor

Ancient Footprints
© Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (NIGP)
The trackways and burrows found in southern China's Dengying Formation, which dates to the Ediacaran period.
Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the moon, on July 20, 1969. But what about Earth - when did animals first leave footprints here?

While we don't know exactly when animals first left tracks on our planet, the oldest footprints ever found were left between 551 million and 541 million years ago during the Ediacaran period, a new study finds. That's hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs started roaming Earth, about 245 million years ago. The new findings suggest animals evolved primitive "arms" and "legs" earlier than previously thought.

The odd-looking prehistoric trackways show two rows of imprints that resemble a series of repeated footprints, the researchers said. The scientists found the trackways in the Dengying Formation, a site in the Yangtze Gorges area of southern China.

The trackways' characteristics indicate that a bilaterian animal - that is, a creature with bilateral symmetry that has a head at one end, a back end at the other, and a symmetrical right and left side - made the tracks. This sea-dwelling animal had paired appendages that raised its body above the ocean floor, the footprints left behind by its multiple feet suggest.


Scientist built 'DNA-robots' remote controlled by magnetic fields

Fantastic Vovage
© John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
In the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage people were shrunk until they could fit inside a person's blood vessels. Soo, DNA-based robots will do it for real.
Scientists have built a tiny robot from strands of DNA and devised a way to remote-control it using magnetic fields.

The team from Ohio State University in the US envisage these robots being deployed into human bodies to perform controlled medical procedures such as delivering a drug to a tumour.

"There's a growing interest in interacting with a molecular system in real time," says Carlos Castro, lead author of the team's paper, published in the journal Nature Communications.

"You could do it with a joystick, as if you might be playing a video game."

Castro's team has been perfecting a technique known as 'DNA origami' to assemble strands of DNA into tiny machines. To date they've made levers, rotating parts and sliding joints, even a vehicle to deliver a cancer drug into a leukaemia cell.

So far scientists have designed these machines - including a two-legged DNA robot that walked along a DNA strand sorting molecules - to be triggered by changes in solution or when encountering a specific protein.


Everyone wants to chat: Scientists say two-way 'turn-taking' communication occurs across a wide range of species

animal communication

Two-way conversations – once thought of as uniquely human – are common across the animal kingdom, say scientists.
From elephants to frogs to fireflies, it seems everyone wants to chat.

Two-way conversations - once thought of as uniquely human - are common across the animal kingdom, say scientists.

The whistles of dolphins, low rumbling of elephants, soft chirps of naked mole rats and "rapping" of clawed frogs might be somewhat lost in translation.

But according to a new review of scientific evidence they all follow the turn-taking rules of human conversation.

Researchers from the UK and Germany found animal communication was still not well understood despite studies of birds dating back 50 years.



MIT creates 'psychopath' AI named Norman

© YouTube
Between Boston Dynamics' headless, door-opening cyborg dogs, Omron Automation's empathy chips for robots, and MIT Media Lab's new 'psychopath' AI Norman (named for Norman Bates, the murderer from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho), it looks like we've got everything we need to cobble together a darker, more violent version of I, Robot, or at least another episode of Black Mirror Season 5.

Seriously, listen to this: A team of MIT employees took a normal image-captioning AI (designed to look at pictures and provide a written description of what it sees) and fed it a steady stream of images from an unnamed Reddit board where people exclusively post horrifying, morbid images of murder and death.

Afterward, the team showed this AI (now dubbed Norman) a series of Rorschach inkblots, which are used by psychiatrists and psychoanalysts to judge a patient's mental state.

The team then compared Norman's captions to a normal AI that had not been traumatized with images of death and found a disturbing pattern.


New study says that there is no evidence that sex with robots can be therapeutic

© Jordi Perez Donat /Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Repairing the relationship: two sexbots built by Spanish robotics developer Sergi Santos in 2017 undergo a tune-up.
Given onscreen depictions of robots designed for pleasure in Blade Runner and the recent Westworld series, and even artificial intelligence (AI) romance seen in Spike Jonze's Her, the world seems ready for 'sexbots'. But a new paper reveals that we have no idea what's coming - the world of machine intimacy is far more complex and poorly understood than imagined.

With an already established sex technology industry worth roughly US$30 billion and a quickly expanding Virtual Reality sex market, robots designed for sexual gratification are sure to have consumer appeal. There are plenty of 'robosexuals', as Futurama's Bender might say.

Already, four companies are manufacturing and selling "female" customisable sexbots to an overwhelmingly male market. Matched with AIs, they might provide ever more human interactions - making eye contact, speaking and responding to moods and needs of the individual user.

Much of the marketing for the technology hinges on health claims: sexbots will help make sex safer, play a therapeutic role for couples, the anxious and the lonely, and even potentially aid in curbing and treating dangerous sexual deviancy.

Chantal Cox-George of St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Susan Bewley from the Women's Health Academic Centre at King's College London, both in the UK, decided to see if there is any scientific evidence to back up these claims.


Thought to be seismically silent, East Antarctica is actually active

East Antarctica seismic
© Amanda Lough
Part of the seismic array that researchers installed in East Antarctica to detect new earthquakes.
Because instruments were finally installed there, scientists can no longer say that East Antarctica is unusually seismically silent.

Since the first earthquake was detected in 1982, there have been just eight more seismic events recorded in East Antarctica. But after a team that included Amanda Lough, Ph.D. - then a student but now an assistant professor in Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences-set up the first winter-through-summer seismic array, 27 earthquakes were recorded in 2009 alone, tripling the total number of events recorded on East Antarctica's section of the Earth's crust.

So instead of being exceptionally stable, it appears East Antarctica just wasn't being watched closely enough.

Comment: Or perhaps the fault lines have only recently begun to wake up?

Comment: Whether activity in Antarctica is increasing remains to be seen, but with the uptick in activity around the world, they got there just in time:


BrambleBee: The robot that could help pollinate crops if we kill all the bees

West Virginia University Interactive Robotics Laboratory
© West Virginia University Interactive Robotics Laboratory
If the trajectory of our pollinator population continues, we might need the BrambleBee soon.

Inside a greenhouse at West Virginia University, a robot is rolling down aisles of blackberry plants learning to act like a bee. Computer vision algorithms are being developed to help the robot locate flowers, and its robotic arm, topped with a set of soft brush tips-designed to act like a bee's hairs-will gently reach out to each flower and pollinate it. At the moment, the arm is practicing its technique on QR codes placed inside the blackberry bushes.

"From a robotics point of view, we're always trying to find solutions to the urgent problems in the world," says Yu Gu, an engineering professor at the university who is working on the design of the robot, called the BrambleBee. Around three-quarters of food plants rely at least in part on pollinators, and pollinators are struggling.


Bursts of brain activity linked to memory reactivation during sleep

Leading theories propose that sleep presents an opportune time for important, new memories to become stabilized. And it's long been known which brain waves are produced during sleep. But in a new study, researchers set out to better understand the brain mechanisms that secure memory storage.

The team from Northwestern and Princeton universities set out to find more direct and precisely timed evidence for the involvement of one particular sleep wave - known as the "sleep spindle."


Depression accelerates brain aging

Psychologists have found a link between depression and an acceleration of the rate at which the brain ages.
Psychologists at the University of Sussex have found a link between depression and an acceleration of the rate at which the brain ages. Although scientists have previously reported that people with depression or anxiety have an increased risk of dementia in later life, this is the first study that provides comprehensive evidence for the effect of depression on decline in overall cognitive function (also referred to as cognitive state), in a general population.

For the study, published today, Thursday 24 May 2018, in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers conducted a robust systematic review of 34 longitudinal studies, with the focus on the link between depression or anxiety and decline in cognitive function over time. Evidence from more than 71,000 participants was combined and reviewed. Including people who presented with symptoms of depression as well as those that were diagnosed as clinically depressed, the study looked at the rate of decline of overall cognitive state -- encompassing memory loss, executive function (such as decision making) and information processing speed -- in older adults.



Report: World saw 'worst year ever' for data breaches & cyberattacks in 2017

© Oliver Berg / Global Look Press
Ransomware attacks and cyber business interruptions in 2017 were worse than ever, with claims for losses surpassing the previous four years combined, research by insurance group AIG has found.

According to its report, over a quarter of cyber claims (26 percent) received in 2017 had ransomware as the primary cause of loss - a significant leap from 16 percent of claims in the years 2013-2016.