Archive for December, 2007
Welcome to the first annual Wired News rundown of the year’s 10 most important scientific breakthroughs. 2007 was an amazing year for science. Unlike recent years, there were no high-profile cases of scientific fraud — none that went uncovered, anyway. Journal publishers took extra care, requiring scientists to duplicate results in an effort to avoid scientific, not to mention public relations, fiascoes. And while those are entertaining, we’ll take solid science over Sturm und Drang any day. Here we count down the top 10 scientific discoveries that rocked our Wired world the hardest this year. more>>>
Dec 27 2007
The past 12 months have featured touch screens, context-aware gadgets, autonomous vehicles, and brain-computer interfaces.Posted by Chris Williamson in Advanced Computing, Futurism
At Apple’s annual Macworld event last January, showman and CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. Holding it onstage, Jobs tapped on its surface to type, flicked his finger to scroll through songs, and pinched his fingers to make pictures smaller. The crowd went wild. But while the iPhone is the world’s most prominent example of a multi-input touch screen, other equally innovative technologies came to prominence this year. Jeff Han, a researcher at New York University and founder of the startup Perceptive Pixel, believes that multi-input touch screens should be large–the size of a wall. (See “Touch Screens for Many Fingers.”) Microsoft, for its part, unveiled a multitouch computing table that lets users manipulate virtual objects on the surface. (See “Your Coffee Table as a Computer.”) And a Microsoft researcher, Patrick Baudish, is working on touch-screen technology that’s a few years away from consumers: a double-sided touch screen that lets a user see her fingers on the other side of a tablet PC or phone. (See “Two-Sided Touch Screen.”) more>>>
Dec 27 2007
ScienceDaily (Dec. 21, 2007) — In the future, offshore platforms could be run by robots alone, with human beings staying on land.
“Well, now you have seen the individual sensors and special tools. Shall I put the robots into action?”
SINTEF scientist Pål Liljebäck is standing in the new NOK 80 million laboratory financed by Norsk Hydro. The lab covers only 30 square metres and lies deep in the basement of one of the Electro buildings on the SINTEF/NTNU campus on Gløshaugen in Trondheim. An orange robot arm hangs from a steel beam that spans the room at ceiling height, framed by large, sky-blue support beams. more>>>
Dec 27 2007
New technology could clean toxic messes from mines and create electricity at the same time.
Contaminated water seeping from coal and metal mines is a serious environmental hazard that endangers the safety of drinking water supplies and the health of plants and animals. This caustic pollution—loaded with metals such as arsenic, lead, copper, iron and cadmium—is currently difficult and costly to treat.
Environmental engineers at Pennsylvania State University are now developing a device that could both fight this environmental problem and provide a new source of energy.
The researchers tested a lab-scale version of their invention on fluids tainted with iron, similar to polluted water from mines. The device attacked the dissolved iron, removing electrons from it. This generated electricity while at the same time making the iron insoluble, thus efficiently pulling this contaminant from the water. more>>>
Dec 27 2007
By Alexis Madrigal
Genetic engineering isn’t just for scientists in ivory towers or corporate R&D labs anymore. Researchers are still creating new mice and crops every week, but the tools and knowledge necessary to create organisms never before seen on Earth have pushed out to pet breeders, artists and college kids.
A Wired News first, here we count down the top 10 organisms that didn’t exist on Dec. 31, 2006.
1. Ashera GD hypoallergenic cat
Lifestyle Pets has created a cat it calls the Ashera GD, which has been genetically engineered to be hypoallergenic. The high-tech blend of exotic cat varieties doesn’t come cheap: This kitty in the window retails for $27,000 — nothing to sneeze at. The ultra-rich around the world, however, don’t mind the price tag. Six of the cats sold in December, three of them in the company’s best market: Russia. Next year, expect a transgenic cat, which will remain kitten-size throughout its life.
2. Butanol-producing E. coli
Genetic engineering is getting so easy, even a kid can do it. A team of students from the University of Alberta, “the Butanerds,” competed in the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition, creating an E. coli strain that produces butanol fuel (albeit rather inefficiently). The Butanerds have competition from a host of well-funded startups, like Synthetic Genomics and LS9, which are trying to genetically modify single-celled organisms to create the fuels of the future. more>>>
Dec 23 2007
Blogging the Singularity has reached a new milestone. In it’s nine months of existence, BTS has received over 100,000 page views and over 20,000 unique visitors! I just want to say thanks to everyone who comes back again and again. I’m really happy that you enjoy BTS.
I truly want BTS to be a resource of wonder and excitement. I do it for anyone who wants to know what’s happening right now. It’s for philosophers and futurists who need a current base from which to cast there futuristic visions. I do it for people that are excited and concerned about where the exponential growth of technology is headed.
For those of you that read daily…THANK YOU!
Also, I’m working on a new podcast for the new year! So get yerself back here in ’08, cause the fun never stops!
Regards to all,
Japanese scientists have created a genetically modified mouse that is not afraid of cats.
(Tom & Jerry Playing Nicely – Chris)
Researchers at Tokyo University managed to turn off the receptors in a mouse’s brain that react to the scent of its main predator.
They wanted to prove that fear is genetically programmed and not, as is commonly believed, the product of experience.
Instead of scurrying away or playing dead, the GM rodents were able to carry on as usual when coming face-to-face with a cat.
Professor of biophysics and biochemistry at Tokyo University, Ko Kobayakawa, explained the procedure.
He said: “Mice fear cats because they are innately conditioned to express fear when they sense the odour of predators.
“So, by getting rid of the specific receptors for sensing the odour, mice never feel afraid of cats.”
By E.J. Mundell, HealthDay Reporter
posted: 19 December 2007 05:21 pm ET
(HealthDay News) — The human brain constantly sorts through its 1 trillion cells, looking for perhaps only one or a handful of neurons to carry out a particular action, a trio of new studies says.
The research, conducted with rodents and published in the Dec. 20 issue of Nature, could rewrite the textbooks on just how important individual brain cells or cell clusters are to the working mind.
Before these insights, “The thinking was that very large ensembles of neurons [brain cells] had to be activated at some point for the animal to feel or perceive” a stimulus, explained the senior researcher of two of the studies, Karel Svoboda, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Va.
“But it turns out that a remarkably small number — on the order of 50 or so activated neurons — is sufficient to drive reliable behaviors,” said Svoboda, who is also associated with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in New York. more>>>
Dec 21 2007
Posted on: December 19, 2007 1:00 PM, by Shelley Batts
A commentary today in Nature, by Sahakian and Morein-Zamir, poses the question: if you could take a pill which enhanced attention and cognition with few or no side effects, would you?
But I ask, why wouldn’t you?
Interest in potions and drugs which increase awareness and “brain power” has been around for thousands of years. Many natural compounds from ginseng to coffee to cocaine have been touted as a dubious panacea for a muddled mind. However in the pharmaceutical age, we are now in possession of agents which actually do enhance cognition through changes in neurotransmitter release. For example, modafinil, prescribed under the name Provigil, was initially developed to treat narcolepsy however its popularity grew when it was found to increase focus and attention in healthy, normal people. The same has held true for ADD/ADHD drugs on college campuses. Quite a few stressed-out college kids use Ritalin while studying, writing papers, or taking important tests in hopes of improving performance. These are examples of prescription drug abuse on the one hand, but if they can be shown to be safe in normal people, what’s the real issue then? more>>>
A robotic firefighter and a walking android have been trumped by an industrial mechanical arm to win a Japanese government-run competition.
The advanced assembly-line robotic arms, made by industry specialist Fanuc, won Robot of the Year.
The arms have been built for accurately sorting items on conveyor belts use in the food and drug industries.
The awards, set up in 2006 to promote robotics, have previously honoured a furry seal for use by the elderly.
Paro, as the robot mammal was known, was fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers that allow it to respond to petting and was developed for use in nursing homes. more>>>
Stimulating one brain cell can be enough to change behaviour.
Stimulating just one neuron can be enough to affect learning and behaviour, researchers have found. The results, published this week by Nature, conflict with the long-held notion that many neurons — in the order of thousands — are required to generate a behavioural reaction.
The findings lend support to the ‘sparse-coding’ hypothesis of neural networks, which suggests that only a few neurons need to fire to generate a response. That theory has been hotly debated, says Karel Svoboda, a neurobiologist at the Janelia Farm research campus at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, and one of the study’s authors. “There are lots of fights about whether or not neural codes are sparse,” he says. more>>>
Dec 21 2007
An ambitious project in Switzerland was scoffed at – but researchers have just succeeded in simulating a rat’s brain in silicon
Computer model of a single neocortical column from a rat’s brain (Photo: IBM)
In a laboratory in Switzerland, a group of neuroscientists is developing a mammalian brain – in silicon. The researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in collaboration with IBM, have just completed the first phase of an ambitious project to reproduce a fully functioning brain on a supercomputer. By strange coincidence, their lab happens to lie on the same shores of Lake Geneva where Mary Shelley dreamt up her creation, Dr Frankenstein.
In June 2005, Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain project, announced his intention to build a human brain using one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. “The critics were unbelievable,” recalls Markram. “Everybody thought we were crazy. Even the most eminent computational neuroscientists and theoreticians said the project would fail.”
Some of Markram’s peers said there simply wasn’t enough data available to simulate a human brain. “There is no neuroscientist on the planet that has the authority to say we don’t understand enough,” says Markram. “We all know a tiny slice. Nobody even knows how much we know.” more>>>
By Carl Freire
TOKYO – As if the idea of having one robot to serve you wasn’t unusual enough, Honda says its humanoids are now ready to work in pairs — and they can even serve drinks.
At a demonstration Tuesday at its Tokyo headquarters, automaker Honda Motor Co. showed off two of the child-sized Asimo robots serving tea and performing other tasks in coordination with one another.
The bubble-headed robots seemed to pick their steps carefully as they made their way around the room, picking up and putting down drink trays and pushing around a refreshments cart.
…”By the end of 2010s, we’d like to see these robots working at every street corner of the city,” said Tomohiko Kawanabe of Honda’s Fundamental Technology Research Center. more>>>
Dec 18 2007
Japanese researchers have developed a new approach to robotics that could revolutionize the future of artificial limbs. The team, from Okinawa University, has come up with an amazing “muscle” design that is driven by compressed air and is simpler than the designs of many other prosthetic arms currently in development. More info, plus a video of the “muscles” in action after the jump.
By pumping air in and out of a mesh and rubber construction, the Okinawa “muscle” mimics the contracting motion of real muscles with their fine degree of control and power variation. The compressed air solution clearly offers more strength than is available in its flesh-and-bone equivalent, and placing the muscles in an artificial arm or hand that mimics the struture of a real one will enable the user to move more realistically than a conventional prosthetic arm allows�the motion of the hand unscrewing the light bulb in the video is just amazingly natural.
Currently at the prototype stage, the designs are more like robotic limbs than prosthetic ones, but there is potential to use the technology to help amputees in the future. The design is scaleable, too – an 8m muscle could create some fearsome mechanical arms on a JCB, or a remarkably dextrous factory robot.
Many prosthetics currently on offer can seem clunky, but this compressed-air muscle looks like a great idea. It seems more logical to use Nature’s design rather than complex pistons or motors with gear-trains. Fingers crossed that they get incorporated into prosthetic aids as soon as possible.