Animals!

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The extinct animal Bill Nye would bring back to life

Bill Nye: Zoos enrich our lives but cost animals their dignity 

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  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
  • Scientists have invented a way for a sheet of glass to perform neural computing.
  • The glass uses light patterns to identify images without a computer or power.
  • It's image recognition at the speed of light.

When we think of artificial intelligence (AI), we think of advanced computational hardware running code that allows a processor to see patterns in raw information. A team of researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison has just published a paper in Photonics Research that describes a very different type of AI system they've invented and demonstrated. "We're using optics to condense [one might even say "replace"] the normal setup of cameras, sensors and deep neural networks into a single piece of thin glass," says senior author Zongfu Yu. While the notion of embedding some kind of AI into a simple object like glass may be head-spinningly different, their proof-of-concept demonstration shows that their smart glass can identify numbers. Their invention may provide the foundation for future artificial vision.

How it works

Image source: Zongfu Yu

The system leverages the manner in which light bends, and the differences in the light reflected off of different shapes.

The scientists began by identifying the ways in which light aimed at specific shapes would bounce into and travel through their sheet of glass. (For their demonstration, they used numerical digits written on paper.) When light matches a particular shape's profile, carefully placed air bubbles and light-absorbing materials such as graphene redirect it to, and thus light up, an identifier on the far side of the glass.

To put the results of their proof-of-concept demo another way: By matching a digit's light to a known pattern, the glass intelligently identified the digit and directed it to the correct identifier. It was even smart enough to detect and correctly identify, in real time, a handwritten "3" being turned into an "8." Paper co-author Erfan Khoram marvels, "The fact that we were able to get this complex behavior with such a simple structure was really something."

That this identification occurs, after all, at the speed of light makes it a truly compelling advance. "The wave dynamics of light propagation provide a new way to perform analog artificial neural computing," says Yu.

Could this be useful? Oh, yes.

One obvious application could be image-recognition glass on the face of phones. The hardware and software currently required for facial recognition is expensive to manufacture, and it eats up scarce battery power in use. "We could potentially use the glass as a biometric lock, tuned to recognize only one person's face" according to Yu. Since the way their system works involves passive interaction with glass, he notes, "Once built, it would last forever without needing power or internet, meaning it could keep something safe for you even after thousands of years."

Concludes Yu, "We're always thinking about how we provide vision for machines in the future, and imagining application specific, mission-driven technologies. This changes almost everything about how we design machine vision."

  • Neuralink seeks to build a brain-machine interface that would connect human brains with computers.
  • No tests have been performed in humans, but the company hopes to obtain FDA approval and begin human trials in 2020.
  • Musk said the technology essentially provides humans the option of "merging with AI."


Elon Musk wants to create a brain-machine interface that helps humans "achieve a kind of symbiosis with artificial intelligence."

Neuralink — Musk's secretive company that's developing a brain-machine interface — gave a presentation Tuesday that outlined its first steps toward this building this technology, which it's been working on for the past two years. The main reveal? Flexible "threads" that record neuron activity, and a machine that inserts these threads into the brain.

The goal is to build an interface that enables someone's brain to control a smartphone or computer, and to make this process as safe and routine as Lasik surgery. Currently, Neuralink has only experimented on animals. In these experiments, the company used a surgical robot to embed into a rat brain a tiny probe with about 3,100 electrodes on some 100 flexible wires or "threads" — each of which is significantly smaller than a human hair.

This device can record the activity of neurons, which could help scientists learn more about the functions of the brain, specifically in the realm of disease and degenerative disorders. The device was also designed to stimulate brain cells, though a white paper released by the company said it has not yet done so.

Neuralink

"There's an incredible amount we can do to solve brain disorders, damage, and this will occur quite slowly," Musk said in the presentation Tuesday. "This will be a slow process where we'll gradually increase the issues that we solve until ultimately we can do a full brain-machine interface."

One of the most surprising revelations came when Musk said this device has been tested on at least one monkey, who was able to control a computer with its brain. (Musk didn't provide further details.) Neuralink's experiments involve embedding a probe into the animal's brain through invasive surgery with a sewing machine-like robot that drills holes into the skull. Once embedded, the company connects to the probe through USB.

Neuralink

Eventually, Neuralink hopes to use laser beams to embed the device, which would use a wireless interface, "so you have no wires poking out of your head," Musk said. "That's very important."

This wireless product — called the N1 sensor — would consist of four sensors implanted in the brain: three in motor areas and one in a somatosensory area, an area of the brain responsible for sensations inside of or on the body's surface. In its early stages, the N1 sensor would enable users to control smartphones with their brain, sort of like "learning to touch type [to] play the piano," Musk said.

Neuralink's device isn't the first example of a brain-machine interface, but the company claims its technology is "state of the art," mainly because it uses smaller and more flexible "threads" for neural recording, instead of rigid electrodes made from metal or semiconductors. The company suggests its approach would be safer and cause less inflammation in the brain.

"It has tremendous potential, and we hope to have this in a human patient by the end of next year," Musk said.

But before that can happen, Neuralink must first obtain FDA approval by establishing that its technology works safely and effectively in animals. It's also worth noting that, like some of Musk's other goals, Neuralink described its 2020 human-trials timeline as "aspirational."

Musk — who once said A.I. is humanity's "biggest existential threat" — suggested that it makes sense for humans to work toward merging with technology.

"Even in a benign AI scenario, we will be left behind," Musk said Tuesday. "With a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface, we can go along for the ride. We can effectively have the option of merging with AI."

  • Wind turbines in Scotland produced more than 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity in the first half of 2019.
  • Scotland is a global leader in renewable energies, generating more than half of its electricity consumption from renewables.
  • The U.S. currently generates about 7 percent of its electricity from wind.


Scotland's wind turbines have generated enough electricity this year to power all of its homes twice over, according to Weather Energy.

In the first half of 2019, Scotland's wind turbines produced more than 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity, which is about enough to power 4.47 million homes. There are 2.46 million homes in Scotland.

"These are amazing figures, Scotland's wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead," said Robin Parker, World Wildlife Fund Scotland's Climate and Energy Policy Manager. "Up and down the country, we are all benefitting from cleaner energy and so is the climate."

Scotland is a global leader in renewable energies. The nation already generates more than half of its electricity consumption from renewables – mostly wind, wave, and tide – and it aims to become almost "completely decarbonized" by 2050. (A nation's renewable energy consumption, by the way, can differ from its renewable energy generation because countries generally import and export energy.)

"These figures really highlight the consistency of wind energy in Scotland and why it now plays a major part in the UK energy market," said Alex Wilcox Brooke, Weather Energy Project Manager at Severn Wye Energy Agency.

Why doesn't the U.S. generate more electricity from wind?

The U.S. currently generates about 7 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. Wind is currently one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy generation; however, there are several factors preventing it from becoming dominant in the U.S. Those include:

  • Wind variability: Put simply, wind turbines need consistent access to strong winds if they're to be efficient. That's a problem, considering some parts of the country – like the southeastern U.S. – see relatively slow wind speeds. "Wind power is very sensitive to the wind speed, more than you might guess," Paul Veers, chief engineer at the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told Vox. However, wind variability could become less of a problem if wind power could be stored more effectively.
  • The window-shadow effect: When you add a wind turbine to a landscape, you change local wind patterns. One downside is that each additional turbine robs wind from other turbines in the wind farm. So, designers have been trying to space out wind turbines in a way that maximizes efficiency. But the problem with this sprawling solution is that it becomes increasingly expensive, both due to maintenance and land cost. Additionally, rural residents generally don't like having massive wind turbines spoiling their property values and views.
  • Local heating: Although renewable energies like wind would curb climate change over the long term, wind turbines would likely cause local heating over the short term. Why? Cold air normally stays near the ground, while warm air flows higher. But wind turbines generally disrupt that natural order, pushing warm air down. "Any big energy system has an environmental impact," Harvard engineering and physics professor David Keith told The Associated Press. "There is no free lunch. You do wind on a scale big enough [...] it'll change things." Of course, this is a temporary effect, unlike climate change.
  • What is a great conversation? They are the ones that leave us feeling smarter or more curious, with a sense that we have discovered something, understood something about another person, or have been challenged.
  • There are 3 design principles that lead to great conversations: humility, critical thinking, and sympathetic listening.
  • Critical thinking is the celebrated cornerstone of liberalism, but next time you're in a challenging and rewarding conversation, try to engage sympathetic listening too. Understanding why another intelligent person holds ideas that are at odds with your own is often more enlightening than merely hunting for logic errors.