God and Ghosts and Robot Sorrow: Why They're All in the Mind

When you're an infant, the brain makes three dots and a line into a face; later in life, it turns a creak and a shadow into a ghost. Adults too often perceive bad luck as the work of a conscious (if vindictive) mind. You can resist it with logical thought, but the mind's default setting—what happens quickly, automatically, uncontrollably—is to believe its experiences were caused by living, thinking, feeling beings.

If you want to see how little the brain needs to trigger the sense that it's perceiving a person, look at the biomotion walker. All you'll see, literally, are a few lights moving on your screen. What you'll perceive, though, are people, and you'll be able to tell if they're male or female, angry or sad. Try it for yourself right here.

We are uncontrollably trigger-happy with our mental tools for perceiving objects as people. That can be a lot of fun. But along certain byways in robotics, it's getting a little creepy.

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

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This 5-minute neck scan can spot dementia 10 years before it emerges

The results come from a 15-year study that used ultrasound scans to track blood vessels in middle-aged adults starting in 2002.

Mikhail Kalinin via Wikipedia
Mind & Brain
  • The study measured the stiffness of blood vessels in middle-aged patients over time.
  • Stiff blood vessels can lead to the destruction of delicate blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
  • The scans could someday become a widely used tool to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.
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Preserving truth: How to confront and correct fake news

Journalism got a big wake up call in 2016. Can we be optimistic about the future of media?

  • "[T]o have a democracy that thrives and actually that manages to stay alive at all, you need regular citizens being able to get good, solid information," says Craig Newmark.
  • The only constructive way to deal with fake news? Support trustworthy media. In 2018, Newmark was announced as a major donor of two new media organizations, The City, which will report on New York City-area stories which may have otherwise gone unreported, and The Markup, which will report on technology.
  • Greater transparency of fact-checking within media organizations could help confront and correct fake news. Organizations already exist to make media more trustworthy — are we using them? There's The Trust Project, International Fact-Checkers Network, and Tech & Check.
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