Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.
About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.
The brain’s wiring patterns can shed light on a person’s positive and negative traits, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience. The finding, published on September 28, is the first from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), an international effort to map active connections between neurons in different parts of the brain.
The HCP, which launched in 2010 at a cost of US$40 million, seeks to scan the brain networks, or connectomes, of 1,200 adults. Among its goals is to chart the networks that are active when the brain is idle; these are thought to keep the different parts of the brain connected in case they need to perform a task.
In April, a branch of the project led by one of the HCP's co-chairs, biomedical engineer Stephen Smith at the University of Oxford, UK, released a database of resting-state connectomes from about 460 people between 22 and 35 years old. Each brain scan is supplemented by information on approximately 280 traits, such as the person's age, whether they have a history of drug use, their socioeconomic status and personality traits, and their performance on various intelligence tests.
On Aug. 26, NASA held a media teleconference regarding current predictions on sea level rise, highlighting the risks to coastal populations in low-lying areas, and the inherent problems in creating reliable global models. A panel of experts from NASA's recently-founded Sea Level Change Team tells us that ocean levels are inexorably on the rise, but gaps in our understanding and ability to survey risk regions mean we don't know just how fast the change will take place.
"People need to be prepared for sea level rise, we're going to continue to have sea level rise for decades and probably centuries, it's not going to stop, the question is how fast is it going to be?" states Josh Willis, climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "If you live on a coastline, or you have some economic dependence on a coastline, we have to be prepared for rising seas, it's not a question of how much, but rather when."
The board stated that the rise in ocean levels is coming from three distinct sources. The first is thermal expansion, in which ocean water expands as it is heated, taking up more volume and causing sea levels to rise. This effect has been exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions, of which the ocean absorbs over 90 percent of the resultant heat.
The second source is ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, while the final third is from melting mountain glaciers. Ice sheets and glaciers can be lost from contact with warmer air, the creation of icebergs, or from interaction with warm sea water. It is estimated that the Greenland ice sheet alone has lost around 303 gigatons of mass per year for the last decade.
We are aware of this thanks to a number of scientific instruments wielded by NASA and its partners. A notable contributor to our knowledge has been the Jason 1 & 2 and TOPEX/Poseiden satellites, whose altimeters have allowed for incredibly precise measurements. Simultaneously NASA's GRACE satellite has been observing Earth's gravitational field, taking accurate measurements in order to determine by how much ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking.
Imagine the hottest day you've ever experienced. Now imagine it's six, 10 or 12 degrees hotter. According to climate researcher Alice Bows-Larkin, that's the type of future in store for us if we don't significantly cut our greenhouse gas emissions now. She suggests that it's time we do things differently—a whole system change, in fact—and seriously consider trading economic growth for climate stability.
A UK college has started teaching students the Danish concept of hygge - said to make homes nicer and people happier. But what exactly is it and is it exportable?
Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking mulled wine and stroking a dog - probably surrounded by candles. That's definitely "hygge".
Eating home-made cinnamon pastries. Watching TV under a duvet. Tea served in a china set. Family get-togethers at Christmas. They're all hygge too.
The Danish word, pronounced "hoo-ga", is usually translated into English as "cosiness". But it's much more than that, say its aficionados - an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world's happiest country.
Morley College, in central London, is teaching students how to achieve hygge as part of its Danish language course. "We have long, cold winters in Denmark," says lecturer Susanne Nilsson. "That influences things. Hygge doesn't have to be a winter-only thing, but the weather isn't that good for much of the year."
With as little as four sunshine hours a day in the depths of winter, and average temperatures hovering around 0C, people spend more time indoors as a result, says Nilsson, meaning there's greater focus on home entertaining.
"Hygge could be families and friends getting together for a meal, with the lighting dimmed, or it could be time spent on your own reading a good book," she says. "It works best when there's not too large an empty space around the person or people." The idea is to relax and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life's worries.
The recent growth in Scandinavian-themed restaurants, cafes and bars in the UK is helping to export hygge, she adds, with their intimate settings, lack of uniformity in decor and concentration on comforting food. Most customers won't have heard of the term, but they might get a sense of it.
In the US, the wallpaper and fabric firm Hygge West explicitly aims to channel the concept through its cheery designs, as does a Los Angeles bakery, called Hygge, which sells traditional Danish pastries and treats.
One of the ultimate aims of artificial intelligence is to create machines we can chat to.
A computer program that can be trusted with mundane tasks - booking our holiday, reminding us of dentist appointments and offering useful advice about where to eat - but also one that can discuss the weather and answer offbeat questions.
Alan Turing, one of the first computer scientists to think about artificial intelligence, devised a test to judge whether a machine was "thinking".
He suggested that if, after a typewritten conversation, a human was fooled into believing they had talked to another person rather than a computer program, the AI would be judged to have passed.
These days we chat to machines on a regular basis via our smart devices.
Whether it be Siri, Google Now or Cortana, most of us have a chatbot in our pockets.
September 18, 2015 | Wallach describes the dangers of technology The Stute His reasons included the fact that humanity's reliance on complex systems is increasing, the pace for discovery and innovation is too rapid, and that there are a plethora of...
Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that's only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).
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