For children living in poverty, footwear is one of many problems. Almost as soon as a child has received shoes to wear, they're likely to have grown out of them and have to make do with them being too small. The Shoe That Grows changes this. It allows children to adjust its size as their feet grow.
Shoes are hugely important for protecting our feet, especially in places where healthcare provision is limited. In bare feet, an innocuous cut or graze can easily become infected or pick up soil-transmitted diseases.
Unfortunately, shoes are not always readily available for those living in poverty, let alone shoes that are the right size. Kenton Lee, founder of poverty charity Because International, saw this first-hand during a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2007. Lee says he saw young children wearing shoes that were way too small for them, with their their toes poking out of the ends.
The experience led to the development of The Shoe That Grows. The shoe has a flexible compressed rubber sole and adjustable leather straps that fit over the top of the foot and around the rear of the heal.
As bizarre as it sounds, the United Nations just held an arms-control conference to figure out if killer robots might violate the laws of war.
Ten years ago, very few experts were worried about military robots. The technology was just emerging onto the battlefield. Now, several credible groups are waging war against killer robots, officially known as lethal autonomous weapons systems.
The UN returned to the subject last week in a five-day meeting of experts for the Convention for Certain Conventional Weapons. I was invited by the convention’s chairperson, the German Ambassador Michael Biontino, to speak about the problems that lethal autonomous weapons systems may create for human rights. This essay is adapted from my testimony and gives a glimpse at how this important debate is moving along. (These are my opinions alone and don't necessarily reflect the positions of UNIDIR or other organizations.)
The specific issue I was asked to address is whether killer robots, in making kill-decisions without human intervention, violate either a right to life or the "laws of humanity," as protected by the Martens Clause that has been in effect since the 1899 Hague Convention. (The Martens Clause requires nations to consider warfare through the lens of the “public conscience.”)
These concerns are a different kind than technology-based objections to killer robots. For instance, critics point out that artificial intelligence still can’t reliably distinguish between a lawful target (such as an enemy combatant with a gun) and an unlawful one (such as a civilian with an ice-cream cone), as demanded by the laws of war. Technology limitations, like this one and others, are possibly solvable over time. But if lethal autonomous weapons are truly an assault on human rights, that’s a philosophical challenge that can’t just be solved with better science and engineering. So it’s worth focusing on human rights as some of the most persistent problems for the killer robots, and I’ll keep that separate from technical issues to not confuse an already-complex debate.
Boston-based Berg has spent the last six years perfecting an artificial intelligence platform that may soon crack the cancer code.
Could we be just two or three years away from curing cancer? Niven Narain, the president of Berg, a small Boston-based biotech firm, says that may very well be the case.
With funding from billionaire real-estate tycoon Carl Berg as well as from Mitch Gray, Narain, a medical doctor by training, and his small army of scientists, technicians, and programmers, have spent the last six years perfecting and testing an artificial intelligence platform that he believes could soon crack the cancer code, in addition to discovering valuable information about a variety of other terrible diseases, including Parkinson’s.
Probabilistic programming does in 50 lines of code what used to take thousands
On some standard computer-vision tasks, short programs — less than 50 lines long — written in a probabilistic programming language are competitive with conventional systems with thousands of lines of code, MIT researchers have found.
Most recent advances in artificial intelligence — such as mobile apps that convert speech to text — are the result of machine learning, in which computers are turned loose on huge data sets to look for patterns.
To make machine-learning applications easier to build, computer scientists have begun developing so-called probabilistic programming languages, which let researchers mix and match machine-learning techniques that have worked well in other contexts. In 2013, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a four-year program to fund probabilistic-programming research.
“This is the first time that we’re introducing probabilistic programming in the vision area,” says Tejas Kulkarni, an MIT graduate student in brain and cognitive sciences and first author on the new paper. “The whole hope is to write very flexible models, both generative and discriminative models, as short probabilistic code, and then not do anything else. General-purpose inference schemes solve the problems.”
By the standards of conventional computer programs, those “models” can seem absurdly vague. One of the tasks that the researchers investigate, for instance, is constructing a 3-D model of a human face from 2-D images. Their program describes the principal features of the face as being two symmetrically distributed objects (eyes) with two more centrally positioned objects beneath them (the nose and mouth).
It requires a little work to translate that description into the syntax of the probabilistic programming language, but at that point, the model is complete. Feed the program enough examples of 2D images and their corresponding 3D models, and it will figure out the rest for itself.
Face shape, body ratio, hair colour and smell are all linked to attraction
A new study suggests that long-distance runners are more attractive because they have greater levels of testosterone which makes them more manly and fertile.
But there are other biological and evolutionary triggers which are constantly drawing us to certain individuals, even if we don’t realise it is happening. Scientists in Geneva discovered that determining whether we are attracted to someone is one of the most complex tasks that the brain undertakes. Here are the scientific secrets of attraction:
Charles Darwin once wrote: "It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standards of beauty with respect to the human body."
However recent research suggests that there are universal agreements about beauty which hold true across all cultures and even throughout the animal kingdom.
Probably the most important is facial symmetry. Having a face which is equal on both sides is a biological advert which tells prospective partners that good genes will be found in this body.
Lopsidedness is thought to reflect how development in the womb has been derailed by general poor health, bad DNA, alcohol or tobacco use.
(Phys.org)—A team of four scientists has published a Perspectives piece in the journal Science outlining their arguments for reaching back further in time than others have suggested for the beginning of the Anthropocene—a geologic epoch defined by the impact of homo sapiens on planet Earth. William Ruddiman, Erle Ellis, Jed Kaplan and Dorian Fuller suggest that current arguments that point to modern exploits overlook the huge impact of forest clearing and farming many thousands of years ago.
Humans have had a major impact on planet Earth, there is no debating that. But have our efforts resulted in an un-reversible geologic impact? And if so, when exactly did it happen? That is what climatologists, geologists and other scientists have been debating for the past several years. Back in 2000 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer published a paper igniting the debate by coining the word Anthropocene to describe what they felt was the current epoch—where humans are the driving force, instead of nature. They suggested its start was the 1700's because that was when the industrial revolution got going.
Over the past fifteen years, many others have published papers offering their ideas on when the Anthropocene got its start, with some debating whether it ever really did. In this new paper, the authors suggest that if a start date is to be identified it should take into account the massive changes wrought by cutting down forests and the start of agriculture, which they say pushes the date back 11,000 years, or perhaps to the time when humans began wiping out other large animals such as the woolly mammoth, around 50,000 years ago.
The thing that is making it difficult to settle the matter is the absence of a clearly identifiable marker, known as a golden spike, e.g., the comet that killed off the dinosaurs. Some have suggested that scientists finding traces of radiation worldwide from nuclear tests is such a marker, while others point to the finding of carbon ash (due to burning coal) in soils.
Thanks to recent advances in synthetic biology — a hybrid discipline of engineering and biology that makes possible the manipulation of DNA of microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria, fungi and algae — a new generation of “organism engineers” has already started experimenting with the creation of new flavors and ingredients. In doing so, they have the potential to transform synthetic biology into a new creative platform to enable chefs, bakers or brewers to create new flavor profiles for food and drink.
Imagine being able to create the next acclaimed ingredient that makes foods more savory, harnessing the power of the “noble rot” to make a wine the equal of a bottle of Château d’Yquem, or fermenting a new cheese that has more flavor complexity than Roquefort. Creative types in foodie capitals around the nation would no doubt be interested in experimenting with these new products and tastes, just as visionary chefs Ferran Adrià, Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz experimented with the molecular gastronomy trend when it first started to go mainstream.
We can think of the history of physics as an attempt to unify the world around us: Gradually, over many centuries, we’ve come to see that seemingly unrelated phenomena are intimately connected. The physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin, received his Nobel Prize in 1979 for a major breakthrough in that quest — showing how electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force are manifestations of the same underlying theory (he shared the prize with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow). That work became a cornerstone of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes how the fundamental building blocks of the universe come together to create the world we see.
In his new book To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Weinberg examines how modern science was born. By tracing the development of what we now call the “scientific method” — an approach, developed over centuries, that emphasizes experiments and observations rather than reasoning from first principles — he makes the argument that science, unlike other ways of interpreting the world around us, can offer true progress. Through science, our understanding of the world improves over time, building on what has come before. Mistakes can happen, but are eventually corrected. Weinberg spoke with Quanta Magazine about the past and future of physics, the role of philosophy within science, and the startling possibility that the universe we see around us is a tiny sliver of a much larger multiverse. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.
High-performance computing and genetic engineering could boost crop photosynthetic efficiency enough to feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people on it by 2050, researchers report in an open-access paper in the journal Cell.
“We now know every step in the processes that drive photosynthesis in plants such as soybeans and maize,” said University of Illinois plant biology professor Stephen P. Long, who wrote the report with colleagues from Illinois and the CAS-MPG Partner Institute of Computational Biology in Shanghai.
“We have unprecedented computational resources that allow us to model every stage of photosynthesis and determine where the bottlenecks are, and advances in genetic engineering will help us augment or circumvent those steps that impede efficiency. Long suggested several strategies.
Add pigments. “Our lab and others have put a gene from cyanobacteria into crop plants and found that it boosts the photosynthetic rate by 30 percent. ” But Long says we could improve that. “Some bacteria and algae contain pigments that utilize more of the solar spectrum than plant pigments do. If added to plants, those pigments could bolster the plants’ access to solar energy.
Add the blue-green algae system. Some scientists are trying to engineer C4 photosynthesis in C3 plants, but this means altering plant anatomy, changing the expression of many genes and inserting new genes from C4 plants, Long said. “Another, possibly simpler approach is to add to the C3 chloroplast the system used by ,” he said. This would increase the activity of Rubisco, an enzyme that catalyzes a vital step of the conversion of atmospheric carbon dioxide into plant biomass. Computer models suggest adding this system would increase photosynthesis as much as 60 percent, Long said.
More sunlight for lower leaves. Computer analyses of the way plant leaves intercept sunlight have revealed other ways to improve photosynthesis. Many plants intercept too much light in their topmost leaves and too little in lower leaves; this probably allows them to outcompete their neighbors, but in a farmer’s field such competition is counterproductive, Long said. Studies headed by U. of I. plant biology professor Donald Ort aim to make plants’ upper leaves lighter, allowing more sunlight to penetrate to the light-starved lower leaves.
Derived from petrochemicals boiled into being from the black oil of a trillion ancient bacterioles, the plastic used in 3D Additive manufacturing is a metaphor before it has even been layered into shape. Its potential belies the complications of its history: that matter is the sum and prolongation of our ancestry; that creativity is brutal, sensual, rude, coarse, and cruel. 1 We declare that the world’s splendour has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of crap, kipple 2 and detritus. A planet crystallised with great plastic tendrils like serpents with pixellated breath 3 …for a revolution that runs on disposable armaments is more desirable than the contents of Edward Snowden’s briefcase; more breathtaking than The United Nations Legislative Series.
A new solution to the prisoner’s dilemma, a classic game theory scenario, has created new puzzles in evolutionary biology.
When the manuscript crossed his desk, Joshua Plotkin, a theoretical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was immediately intrigued. The physicist Freeman Dyson and the computer scientist William Press, both highly accomplished in their fields, had found a new solution to a famous, decades-old game theory scenario called the prisoner’s dilemma, in which players must decide whether to cheat or cooperate with a partner. The prisoner’s dilemma has long been used to help explain how cooperation might endure in nature. After all, natural selection is ruled by the survival of the fittest, so one might expect that selfish strategies benefiting the individual would be most likely to persist. But careful study of the prisoner’s dilemma revealed that organisms could act entirely in their own self-interest and still create a cooperative community.
Press and Dyson’s new solution to the problem, however, threw that rosy perspective into question. It suggested the best strategies were selfish ones that led to extortion, not cooperation.
Plotkin found the duo’s math remarkable in its elegance. But the outcome troubled him. Nature includes numerous examples of cooperative behavior. For example, vampire bats donate some of their blood meal to community members that fail to find prey. Some species of birds and social insects routinely help raise another’s brood. Even bacteria can cooperate, sticking to each other so that some may survive poison. If extortion reigns, what drives these and other acts of selflessness?
A new brain-scanning technique could change the way scientists think about human focus.
Human attention isn’t stable, ever, and it costs us: lives lost when drivers space out, billions of dollars wasted on inefficient work, and mental disorders that hijack focus. Much of the time, people don’t realize they’ve stopped paying attention until it’s too late. This “flight of the mind,” as Virginia Woolf called it, is often beyond conscious control.
So researchers at Princeton set out to build a tool that could show people what their brains are doing in real time, and signal the moments when their minds begin to wander. And they've largely succeeded, a paper published today in the journal Nature Neuroscience reports. The scientists who invented this attention machine, led by professor Nick Turk-Browne, are calling it a “mind booster.” It could, they say, change the way we think about paying attention—and even introduce new ways of treating illnesses like depression.
Here’s how the brain decoder works: You lie down in an a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI)—similar to the MRI machines used to diagnose diseases—which lets scientists track brain activity. Once you're in the scanner, you watch a series of pictures and press a button when you see certain targets. The task is like a video game—the dullest video game in the world, really, which is the point. You see a face, overlaid atop an image of a landscape. Your job is to press a button if the face is female, as it is 90 percent of the time, but not if it’s male. And ignore the landscape. (There’s also a reverse task, in which you’re asked to judge whether the scene is outside or inside, and ignore the faces.)
Steaks and chops could be pushed to the high-end of the meat market in future, with artificial meats supplying the bulk, cheap end, research suggests.
The Murdoch University review examined potential impacts of in vitro meat (cultured meat), plant, fauna and fungal-based meat alternatives, genetically modified animals and cloning.
Dr Sarah Bonny says while artificial meat isn't likely to revolutionise how we eat any time soon, conventional meat production can't meet future demand.
"With estimates of the global population reaching nine billion in 2050, the meat industry would need to increase production by approximately 50 to 73 per cent," Dr Bonny says.
Current projections suggest that without substantial change and innovation the industry will max out feeding eight billion people.
This, along with growing concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impact of animal agriculture, suggests artificial meat will become increasingly accepted by consumers.
New technology and health risks must be considered However, Dr Bonny says a number of issues must be overcome, including creating certain technologies and having a better understanding of health risks.
This is the case for in vitro meats, which were cultured in labs from cells and have garnered media attention in recent years.
"The cell culture approach for in vitro meat is in the preliminary stages of development and the technology is at least 10 to 20 years from being commercially available," Dr Bonny says.
"Making it viable will require commitment and investments from both governments and industry.
"As an example, the first in vitro burger made for human consumption cost $335,000 to produce."
Counter Culture Labs takes its name pretty literally. It is a bio lab, for sure, complete with pipettes, carboys, microscopes, and flasks. But it is decidedly counter to the traditional culture of laboratory science. The DIY tinkerers who hang out here—in the back of a sprawling space that used to house a heavy metal club in Oakland, California—are working beyond conventional notions of inquiry and research. Their goal is nothing less than to hack nature.
Consider one group of bio-hackers who meet in the lab each Monday night to work on a project that sounds like a contradiction in terms: They’re trying to make cow’s milk cheese without the cow. Using mail-order DNA, they’re tricking yeast cells into producing a substance that’s molecularly identical to milk. And if successful, they’ll turn this milk into cheese. Real cheese. But vegan cheese. Real vegan cheese. That’s the name of the project: Real Vegan Cheese. These hackers want cheese that tastes like the real thing, but they don’t want it coming from an animal. Abandoning real cheese is one of the hardest sacrifices vegans must make, says one member of the group, Benjamin Rupert, a chemist by training and a vegan for the past decade. With Real Vegan Cheese, they won’t have to. “What we’re making is identical to the animal protein,” he says. “You’re not giving anything up, really.”
All the professions are going to be reconfigured by artificial intelligence. The result will be fewer professionals and many of their roles “downgraded.” Advances in artificial intelligence, also known as cognitive computing, are starting to cause a seismic shift in the professions. The eventual result is the eradication of many positions [...]
Today every minute that goes by always brings something new. It doesn’t matter what domain we are talking about, we must accept that changes are happening faster. If we look at an example of technology
Ants carried to the International Space Station were still able to use teamwork to search new areas, despite falling off the walls of their containers for up to eight seconds at a time.
Their "collective search" was hampered but still took place, biologists said.
The insects also showed an impressive knack for regaining their footing after taking a zero-g tumble.
Researchers want to learn from the ants' cooperative methods and develop search algorithms for groups of robots
The ants were sent aloft in a supply rocket in January 2014, and results from the experiments are now published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Speaking to the BBC's Science in Action, senior author Deborah Gordon said that ants have demonstrated their remarkable collective abilities in myriad environments on Earth, but the results from the microgravity conditions of the Space Station were something new.
"We had no idea what the ants would do. We didn't know if they would be able to search at all," said Prof Gordon, a biologist at Stanford University.
As it turned out, although they had a little difficulty maintaining contact as they crawled, once adrift the ants showed a "remarkable ability" to get their six feet back on solid ground.
Study shows humans are evolving faster than previously thought
Results of largest ever genetics study of a single population could also help refine dates for major events during human evolution
Humans are evolving more rapidly than previously thought, according to the largest ever genetics study of a single population.
Scientists reached the conclusion after showing that almost every man alive can trace his origins to one common male ancestor who lived about 250,000 years ago. The discovery that so-called “genetic Adam”, lived about 100,000 years more recently than previously understood suggests that humans must have been genetically diverging at a more rapid rate than thought.
Kári Stefánsson, of the company deCODE Genetics and senior author of the study, said: “It means we have evolved faster than we thought.”
The study also shows that the most recent common male ancestor was alive at around the same time as “mitochondrial Eve” - the last woman to whom all females alive today can trace their mitochondrial DNA.
Unlike their biblical counterparts, genetic Adam and Eve were by no means the only humans alive, and although they almost certainly never met, the latest estimate which gives a closer match between their dates makes more sense, according to the researchers.
A penguin-shaped anomaly first detected two years ago has survived a comprehensive new analysis of data from the first run of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), scientists revealed today at a meeting in La Thuile, Italy.
The anomaly, an unexpected measurement of rare particle decays called “penguin processes,” isn’t statistically significant enough to constitute a discovery, but if the signal strengthens in the LHC’s upcoming second run, it will imply the existence of new elementary particles beyond those of the Standard Model — the precise but incomplete equations that have governed particle physics for 40 years.
“What we find is that this anomaly has persisted,” said Guy Wilkinson, a physicist at the University of Oxford and the spokesperson for the LHCb collaboration, which first detected the statistical bump in penguin decays in 2013. “This is extremely interesting.”
The finding comes as the LHC sputters back to life after a two-year upgrade that will nearly double its previous operating energy. The hopes of thousands of particle physicists are riding on the protons that in the coming years will collide there, shattering into petabytes of data that may carry long-awaited answers to fundamental questions about nature, and the penguin anomaly is one reason for optimism.
Scientists have their best view yet of the status of Antarctica's floating ice shelves and they find them to be thinning at an accelerating rate.
Fernando Paolo and colleagues used 18 years of data from European radar satellites to compile their assessment.
In the first half of that period, the total losses from these tongues of ice that jut out from the continent amounted to 25 cubic km per year.
But by the second half, this had jumped to 310 cubic km per annum.
"For the decade before 2003, ice-shelf volume for all Antarctica did not change much," said Mr Paolo from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, US.
"Since then, volume loss has been significant. The western ice shelves have been persistently thinning for two decades, and earlier gains in the eastern ice shelves ceased in the most recent decade," he told BBC News.
The satellite research is published in Science Magazine. It is a step up from previous studies, which provided only short snapshots of behaviour. Here, the team has combined the data from three successive orbiting altimeter missions operated by the European Space Agency (Esa).
What is behind the so-called Flynn Effect - the pattern of rising IQ scores around the world?
IQ is rising in many parts of the world. What's behind the change and does it really mean people are cleverer than their grandparents?
It is not unusual for parents to comment that their children are brainier than they are. In doing so, they hide a boastful remark about their offspring behind a self-deprecating one about themselves. But a new study, published in the journal Intelligence, provides fresh evidence that in many cases this may actually be true.
The researchers - Peera Wongupparaj, Veena Kumari and Robin Morris at Kings College London - did not themselves ask anyone to sit an IQ test, but they analysed data from 405 previous studies. Altogether, they harvested IQ test data from more than 200,000 participants, captured over 64 years and from 48 countries.
Focusing on one part of the IQ test, the Raven's Progressive Matrices, they found that on average intelligence has risen the equivalent of 20 IQ points since 1950. IQ tests are designed to ensure that the average result is always 100, so this is a significant jump.
The Simons Foundation awarded a grant to a team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz to develop a graph-based human reference genome.
In 2003, the Human Genome Project (HGP) successfully mapped a large portion of the human genome. Since that time, the HGP’s genomic map — a linear sequence of the four DNA bases — has served as a single reference genome for all novel sequencing data. But while immensely valuable, the HGP’s reference genome does not account for all genomic variation, making it inadequate for representing humanity as a whole, which encompasses many and complicated genetic variants.
“In the decade since the HGP announced the completion of a major portion of their work, the vast improvement in our understanding of the complexity of the genome, the rapid improvement of technology for sequencing genomes and the increasingly broad application of this technology have created a need to rethink how scientists describe to one another the rich patterns of genomic variations uncovered by cutting-edge experiments,” says Nick Carriero, group leader for software development at the Simons Center for Data Analysis. “Given that study of variation is at the heart of most medical and life sciences genome-based research, addressing this challenge is critical to advancing these fields.”
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