Archive for September, 2012
Ants do all sorts of things we think of as human activities. Some of them are kind of endearing, like keeping farms of aphids. Others remind us of our ugly side, and none more so than the work of Protomognathus americanus, the American slavemaker ant, which has evolved to stop foraging for food, and instead steal larvae from the colonies of other ant species, and then raise them as slaves. A recent study demonstrated that, unlike some newscasters we know, enslaved ants don’t take life in captivity lying down, instead working to destroy the slavemaker colony and killing up to three out of four of their captors’ children.
The rebellions, though, aren’t dramatic, Spartacus style uprisings. Instead, enslaved Temnothrax longispinous ants work more like French resistance fighters in World War II, committing small acts of sabotage against their captors. These “uprisings” were seen in colonies as early as 2009, but the latest study of the behavior, published this week in the journal Evolutionary Ecology, demonstrates that the behavior is widespread, occurring in colonies in Ohio, New York, and West Virginia.
A small African mammal with an unusual ability to regrow damaged tissues could inspire new research in regenerative medicine, a University of Florida study finds.
For years biologists have studied salamanders for their ability to regrow lost limbs. But amphibian biology is very different than human biology, so lessons learned in laboratories from salamanders are difficult to translate into medical therapies for humans. New research in the Sept. 27 issue of the journal Naturedescribes a mammal that can regrow new body tissues following an injury. The African spiny mouse could become a new model for research in regenerative medicine.
“The African spiny mouse appears to regenerate ear tissue in much the way that a salamander regrows a limb that has been lost to a predator,” said Ashley W. Seifert, a postdoctoral researcher in UF’s biology department. “Skin, hair follicles, cartilage — it all comes back.”
“Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude. “
Alfred North Whitehead
Art by: if
An artificially intelligent virtual game bot created by computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has won the BotPrize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half the humans it competed against.
The competition, sponsored by 2K Games, was set inside the virtual world of “Unreal Tournament 2004,” a first-person shooter video game.
“The idea is to evaluate how we can make game bots, which are nonplayer characters (NPCs) controlled by AI algorithms, appear as human as possible,” said Risto Miikkulainen, professor of computer science in the College of Natural Sciences. Miikkulainen created the bot, called the UT^2 game bot, with doctoral students Jacob Schrum and Igor Karpov.
The bots face off in a tournament against one another and about an equal number of humans, with each player trying to score points by eliminating its opponents. Each player also has a “judging gun” in addition to its usual complement of weapons. That gun is used to tag opponents as human or bot.
The bot that is scored as most human-like by the human judges is named the winner. UT^2, which won a warm-up competition last month, shared the honors with MirrorBot, which was programmed by Romanian computer scientist Mihai Polceanu.
The winning bots both achieved a humanness rating of 52 percent. Human players received an average humanness rating of only 40 percent. The two winning teams will split the $7,000 first prize.
Computer scientist Alan Turing, whose “Turing test” stands as one of the foundational definitions of what constitutes true machine intelligence, argued that we will never be able to see inside a machine’s hypothetical consciousness, so the best measure of machine sentience is whether it can fool us into believing it is human.
Gravity. The stars in day. Thoughts. The human genome. Time. Atoms. So much of what really matters in the world is impossible to see. A stunning animation of John Lloyd’s classic TEDTalk from 2009, which will make you question what you actually know.
We’re one year old today!
Looking forward to year two and most importantly…
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has produced one of its most extraordinary views of the Universe to date.
Called the eXtreme Deep Field, the picture captures a mass of galaxies stretching back almost to the time when the first stars began to shine.
But this was no simple point and snap – some of the objects in this image are too distant and too faint for that.
Rather, this view required Hubble to stare at a tiny patch of sky for more than 500 hours to detect all the light.
“It’s a really spectacular image,” said Dr Michele Trenti, a science team member from the University of Cambridge, UK.
“We stared at this patch of sky for about 22 days, and have obtained a very deep view of the distant Universe, and therefore we see how galaxies were looking in its infancy.”
The XDF will become a tool for astronomy. The objects embedded in it can be followed up by other telescopes. It should keep scientists busy for years, enabling them to study the full history of galaxy formation and evolution.
The new vista is actually an updating of a previous HST product – the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.
The Sagrada Família in Barcelona is a spectacular building in its own right, but when you throw a healthy dose of the latest lighting and architectural mapping technology in its direction, the facade of famous church becomes truly mesmerizing. That dose comes from Moment Factory, a new media and entertainment studio based in Montreal, Canada, which has produced a 15-minute multimedia tribute inspired by the original color sketches and words of the buildings’ equally famous architect Antoni Gaudi.
Entitled Ode à la vie (Ode to Life), the seven-act show lit up the Nativity (South) facade of the Sagrada Família in “an ode to the creation of the world, humanity and life.”
Sixteen video projectors, 13 computers, 25 moving lights were used to bring the intricate detail of the building to life in a production that took more than a dozen of people four and a half months to prepare.
Incidentally, although work was begun on the Sagrada Família back in 1882, it’s still a work in progress. It is hoped that the church can be completed in line with Gaudi’s original designs by 2026.
Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever, even after the heat-death of the universe. This is the “wow” factor behind a device known as a “space-time crystal,” a four-dimensional crystal that has periodic structure in time as well as space. However, there are also practical and important scientific reasons for constructing a space-time crystal. With such a 4D crystal, scientists would have a new and more effective means by which to study how complex physical properties and behaviors emerge from the collective interactions of large numbers of individual particles, the so-called many-body problem of physics. A space-time crystal could also be used to study phenomena in the quantum world, such as entanglement, in which an action on one particle impacts another particle even if the two particles are separated by vast distances.
A space-time crystal, however, has only existed as a concept in the minds of theoretical scientists with no serious idea as to how to actually build one – until now. An international team of scientists led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has proposed the experimental design of a space-time crystal based on an electric-field ion trap and the Coulomb repulsion of particles that carry the same electrical charge.
This proposed space-time crystal shows (a) periodic structures in both space and time with (b) ultracold ions rotating in one direction even at the lowest energy state.
“The electric field of the ion trap holds charged particles in place and Coulomb repulsion causes them to spontaneously form a spatial ring crystal,” says Xiang Zhang, a faculty scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division who led this research. “Under the application of a weak static magnetic field, this ring-shaped ion crystal will begin a rotation that will never stop. The persistent rotation of trapped ions produces temporal order, leading to the formation of a space-time crystal at the lowest quantum energy state.”
Because the space-time crystal is already at its lowest quantum energy state, its temporal order – or timekeeping – will theoretically persist even after the rest of our universe reaches entropy, thermodynamic equilibrium or “heat-death.”
Lizards have a little dot at the top of their heads that is called a “parietal eye.” This eye is not as complex or as useful as the two in the front of their heads, but it does react to light. Are they eventually going to have a third eye? No. It’s just a vestigial trait.
In fact, it looks like most animals — including humans — had a chance at a third eye, and we blew it.
The tuatara is an endangered species, and lives on only a few islands in New Zealand, each of which is carefully maintained as a native animal preserve. It looks like a lizard, but isn’t one. It’s leftover from a time 200 million years ago, when tetrapods were turning into turtles, lizards, crocodiles, and dinosaurs. It hasn’t changed since then, and so represents a look at what animals of that particular time period were like.
And it has a spot on the top of its head, which the closest thing anybody has to a third eye.
An extra eye presents a lot of evolutionary benefits. Being able to look up, or just behind you, for predators seems like an advantage to nearly any species. Although many lizards also have this spot, it has been lost in turtles, crocodiles, and birds. By examining the physiology and development of these species, from humans all the way back to the well-developed parietal eye of the tuatara, scientists are figuring out how later species lost a third eye, and what we might have gained in its stead.
Today unveiled its highly anticipated Supercharger network. Constructed in secret, Tesla revealed the locations of the first six Supercharger stations, which will allow the Model S to travel long distances with ultra fast charging throughout California, parts of Nevada and Arizona.
The technology at the heart of the Supercharger was developed internally and leverages the economies of scale of existing charging technology already used by the Model S, enabling Tesla to create the Supercharger device at minimal cost. The electricity used by the Supercharger comes from a solar carport system provided by SolarCity, which results in almost zero marginal energy cost after installation. Combining these two factors, Tesla is able to provide Model S owners1 free long distance travel indefinitely.
Each solar power system is designed to generate more energy from the sun over the course of a year than is consumed by Tesla vehicles using the Supercharger. This results in a slight net positivetransfer of sunlight generated power back to the electricity grid. In addition to lowering the cost of electricity, this addresses a commonly held misunderstanding that charging an electric car simply pushes carbon emissions to the power plant. The Supercharger system will always generate more power from sunlight than Model S customers use for driving. By adding even a small solar system at their home, electric car owners can extend this same principle to local city driving too.
As Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones prove, good music lasts a long time; now Japanese hi-tech giant Hitachi says it can last even longer — a few hundred million years at least.
The company on Monday unveiled a method of storing digital information on slivers of quartz glass that can endure extreme temperatures and hostile conditions without degrading, almost forever.
And for anyone who updated their LP collection onto CD, only to find they then needed to get it all on MP3, a technology that never needs to change might sound appealing.
“The volume of data being created every day is exploding, but in terms of keeping it for later generations, we haven’t necessarily improved since the days we inscribed things on stones,” Hitachi researcher Kazuyoshi Torii said.
“The possibility of losing information may actually have increased,” he said, noting the life of digital media currently available — CDs and hard drives — is limited to a few decades or a century at most.
And the rapid development of technologies has resulted in frequent changes of data-reading hardware.
“As you must have experienced, there is the problem that you cannot retrieve information and data you managed to collect,” said Torii, apparently referring to now-obsolete record players and cine films.
Hitachi’s new technology stores data in binary form by creating dots inside a thin sheet of quartz glass, which can be read with an ordinary optical microscope.
Provided a computer with the know-how to understand that binary is available — simple enough to programme, no matter how advanced computers become — the data will always be readable, Torii said.
“To take apart the system of illusions and deception which functions to prevent understanding of contemporary reality, that’s not a task that requires extraordinary skill or understanding. It requires the kind of normal skepticism and willingness to apply one’s analytical skills that almost all people have and that they can exercise. It just happens that they exercise them in analyzing what the New England Patriots ought to do next Sunday instead of questions that really matter for human life, their own included.”