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AI

Elon Musk Thinks We Will Have To Use AI This Way To Avoid a Catastrophic Future (cnbc.com) 110

Elon Musk has long said that artificial intelligence will have to augment human abilities, rather than compete with them, in order to avoid a portentous future. He has been active in trying to find ways to evaluate and reduce potential risks posed by AI. From a report: On Monday, Musk tweeted out a set of principles for AI research and development created by a group of scientists at a recent conference for the Future of Life Institute (of which Musk is a board member). Musk said in response to a comment that ensuring AI augments human abilities is "critical to the future of humanity." Musk recently told a Twitter user that there may be an announcement "next month" regarding such as device, which Musk has called, in the past, a neural lace.
Medicine

Why An LSD High Lasts For So Long (pbs.org) 138

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has been credited, in part, for the creation of the iPhone, the polymerase chain reaction, as well as some pretty abstract artwork. Since the drug is classified as a Schedule 1 substance in the U.S., it's been more difficult for scientists to legally study the drug and learn about how it affects the brain. Therefore, when a study (or two) is published it makes the findings all the more fascinating. Two studies were published last week (one in Current Biology, the other in Cell) that examine how LSD produces such diverse effects and why the drug takes so long to wear off. The Scientist reports the findings from for the first study: For the Current Biology study, 21 volunteers were given a placebo, a small dose of LSD alone, or the same dose of LSD but with kentaserin, a serotonin 2A antagonist. Study participants who took the kentaserin reported virtually the same experiences as those who took the placebo, and fMRI brain scans confirmed similar brain activities across participants in both groups. The serotonin 2A antagonist "blocked all the effects of LSD, so it was like if people didn't take any drugs," coauthor Katrin Preller, neuroscientist at the Zurich University Hospital in Switzerland told The Verge. "All the typical symptoms -- hallucinations, everything -- were gone." As for why an LSD high lasts for so long, Angus Chen has written an in-depth report on PBS Newshour about the findings from the study published in Cell: LSD and other psychoactive drugs work by binding to specialized proteins called receptors on the surfaces of neural cells. On the receptor protein is a sculpted "pocket," into which molecules with the right shape can fit and thus stick to the cell, where they initiate changes in the brain. But different substances can often fit into the same receptor. Many receptors that bind LSD and DMT, for example, also fit the natural chemical messenger serotonin -- which is produced in the body and helps regulate mood. Figuring out how each drug interacts with the same receptor in a different way is key to understanding why an LSD trip lasts all day whereas an experience with extracted DMT is often over in 15 minutes or less. By freezing an LSD molecule bound to a single brain cell receptor as a crystal in a lab, researchers were able to get a 3-D x-ray image of the drug and the protein locked together. The image showed Bryan Rother, a pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and senior author on the paper, and his co-authors something strange about the way LSD fit inside this receptor. Drugs typically come and go from receptor proteins like ships pulling in and out of a port. But when an LSD molecule lands on the receptor, the molecule snags onto a portion of the protein and folds it over itself as the molecule binds to the receptor. LSD seems to stimulate the receptor for the entire time it is trapped underneath the protein "lid," Roth says. Proteins are in constant motion, so he thinks the lid eventually flops open, allowing the drug to fly out and the effects to wear off. But the team ran computer models that suggest it could take hours for that to happen. Until then, the trip goes on.
Medicine

Scientists Create Electronic Glasses That Can Automatically Focus On Whatever You're Looking At (engadget.com) 120

mmell writes: University of Utah scientists have created a prototype electronic lens which uses several technologies to customize the lens optics focusing on whatever the wearer is looking at. [Just like] the "oil lenses" in Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels, the electronic lens (a transparent LCD) can have its index of refractivity modified by application of a small electric current. While I can conceive many uses for this technology (in spacecraft instruments, webcams/Handycams, handheld binoculars and telescopes for example), these were developed as a replacement for the progressive lenses -- a.k.a. bifocals -- which are worn by many with less than perfect eyesight. Many eyeglass wearers don't tolerate bifocals well and I wonder if the adaptive optics in this prototype could relieve them of the need to carry multiple pairs of glasses? Whether they prove cost effective for the role of eyeglasses or not (and I can see no reason why they shouldn't), the applications for this technology seem quite diverse and potentially even revolutionary. I wonder how long it will be before these are more than just a prototype?
Moon

Oxygen From Earth's Atmosphere May Be Traveling To the Moon's Surface (theverge.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: New research shows that oxygen from Earth could be journeying all the way out to the Moon, where it then gets lodged inside the lunar soil. It's a process that's likely been happening for 2.4 billion years, ever since oxygen formed around our planet, meaning the Moon's soil may contain trapped particles from Earth's ancient atmosphere. This oxygen exchange, detailed in a study published today in Nature Astronomy, supposedly occurs for just a few days during the Moon's 27-day orbit. Most of the time, the Moon is constantly being blasted with solar wind -- fast streams of charged particles emanating from the Sun. But for five days of every lunar orbit, the Moon passes into Earth's magnetotail, the portion of the planet's magnetic field that stretches outward away from the Sun. This tail shields the Moon from the solar wind, and allows charged oxygen ions from Earth to travel to the lunar surface, according to the study. That means the Moon -- a dead rock incapable of supporting life -- is being showered with the byproducts of life here on Earth. In fact, the source of most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is biological, created by plants during photosynthesis. It's a process that experts have suspected for a while but haven't been able to confirm until today. Researchers have also suggested that other atmospheric components, such as nitrogen and noble gases, are getting to the Moon this way based on lunar soil samples.
Government

Trump's Next Immigration Move To Affect H-1B Visas; Require Tech Companies To Try To Hire Americans First: Bloomberg (bloomberg.com) 834

AdamnSelene writes: A report in Bloomberg describes a draft executive order that will hit the tech industry hard and potentially change the way those companies recruit workers from abroad. The H-1B, L-1, E-2, and B1 work visa programs would be targeted by requiring companies to prioritize higher-paid immigrant workers over lower-paid workers. In addition, the order will impose statistical reporting requirements on tech companies who sponsor workers under these programs. The order is expected to impact STEM workers from India the most. Penguinisto adds: If (perhaps when) the president follows through, his next move could limit or at least seriously alter the way H-1B visas are distributed, putting U.S. citizens at a higher priority, and possibly restricting H1-B visas tighter. From the article: "If implemented, the reforms could shift the way American companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple recruit talent and force wholesale changes at Indian companies such as Infosys and Wipro. Businesses would have to try to hire Americans first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid. "Our country's immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest," the draft proposal reads, according to a copy reviewed by Bloomberg. "Visa programs for foreign workers should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers -- our forgotten working people -- and the jobs they hold."
Earth

Scientists Find 'Oldest Human Ancestor' -- A Big-Mouthed Sea Creature With No Anus (bbc.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Researchers have discovered the earliest known ancestor of humans -- along with a vast range of other species. They say that fossilized traces of the 540-million-year-old creature are "exquisitely well preserved." The microscopic sea animal is the earliest known step on the evolutionary path that led to fish and -- eventually -- to humans. Details of the discovery from central China appear in Nature journal. The research team says that Saccorhytus is the most primitive example of a category of animals called "deuterostomes" which are common ancestors of a broad range of species, including vertebrates (backboned animals). Saccorhytus was about a millimeter in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed. The researchers were unable to find any evidence that the animal had an anus, which suggests that it consumed food and excreted from the same orifice. The study was carried out by an international team of researchers, from the UK, China and Germany. Among them was Prof Simon Conway Morris, from the University of Cambridge. The study suggests that its body was symmetrical, which is a characteristic inherited by many of its evolutionary descendants, including humans. Saccorhytus was also covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles, leading the researchers to conclude that it moved by contracting its muscles and got around by wriggling. The researchers say that its most striking feature is its large mouth, relative to the rest of its body. They say that it probably ate by engulfing food particles, or even other creatures. Also interesting are the conical structures on its body. These, the scientists suggest, might have allowed the water that it swallowed to escape and so might have been a very early version of gills.
Government

FDA Confirms Toxicity of Homeopathic Baby Products; Maker Refuses To Recall (arstechnica.com) 309

Last year in November, the Federal Trade Commission issued an enforcement policy statement that requires over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic drugs and product makers to disclose in their advertisement and labeling that there is no evidence that homeopathic products are effective. At around the same time the FTC issued the statement, the Food and Drug Administration was investigating homeopathic teething gels and tablets, which may have been improperly diluted, thus causing serious harm to infants. The FDA investigated 10 infant deaths and more than 400 reports of seizures, fever, and vomiting and confirmed Friday that belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, was the prime suspect. When the FDA notified the products' maker, Hyland's, the company would not agree to recall the products. Ars Technica reports: Hyland's has been defensive since the FDA first opened the investigation last September. In an October press release, the company referred to agency's warnings as a source of "confusion" and assured consumers that the products are safe and effective. Still, the company discontinued distribution in the U.S. The National Center for Homeopathy, which has ties with Hyland's, slammed the FDA, calling the agency's warnings "arbitrary and capricious." In an "action alert," the organization went on to suggest that warning was prompted by "groups interested in seeing homeopathy destroyed" and led to "fear mongering" by the media. As before, the FDA is urging parents to avoid the homeopathic teething products and toss any already purchased. The FDA does not evaluate or approve the homeopathic products, which have no proven health benefit. Belladonna is an active ingredient in those products, but is supposed to be heavily diluted. Homeopaths belief that ailments and diseases can be cured by trace amounts or "memories" of toxic substances that mimic or cause similar symptoms. Homeopathy is a pseudoscience that has been squarely debunked, offering no more than a placebo effect. In its announcement Friday, the FDA said it had found inconsistent amounts of belladonna in Hyland's products. Some of the amounts were "far exceeding" what was intended.
Earth

Asteroid Whizzing By Earth 6 Times Closer Than the Moon (cnet.com) 203

An anonymous reader shares a CNET report: The problem with asteroids passing near Earth is that they're often difficult to spot. Fortunately the hardest ones to see in our neighborhood also tend to be the smaller ones. Such is the case with 2017 BH30, which was discovered Sunday by the Catalina Sky Survey just hours before passing by us at the creepy-close distance of only 40,563 miles (65,280 kilometres). This asteroid is estimated to be between 15-32.8 feet (4.6-10 metres) in length, making it somewhere between the size of a truck and a... big truck. That's pretty small by asteroid standards, but it's also the closest spotted asteroid to pass us since September when asteroid 2016 RB1 passed within 24,000 miles (about 39,000 kilometres) of our planet's surface, putting it almost as close as satellites in geosynchronous orbit. This is the third asteroid to buzz by earth closer than the distance to the moon this year. We don't expect a closer pass by one of these visitors until October, when asteroid 2012 TC4 could come more than twice as close.
Science

Bill Gates Warns Against Denying Climate Change (usatoday.com) 366

Reader JoshTops shares a USA Today report: Bill Gates warned against denying climate change and pushed for more innovation in clean energy, during an event Friday at Columbia University in New York. The billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder joined friend and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett for a question-and-answer session with students. "Certain topics are so complicated like climate change that to really get a broad understanding is a bit difficult and particularly when people take that complexity and create uncertainty about it," Gates said. The planet needs to find reliable, cheap and clean energy, "the innovations there will be profound," Gates said. In December, Gates announced that he and a group of investors would invest more than $1 billion in Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund that aims to finance the development of affordable energy that will reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions.
Transportation

SpaceX Is Livestreaming A Hyperloop Pod Competition (spacex.com) 93

SpaceX is livestreaming a competition between hyperloop pods from outside their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and at least one Los Angeles newspaper is also covering the event live on Facebook. "This competition is the first of its kind anywhere in the world," SpaceX writes, noting that 27 teams put their pods through a "litany" of pre-qualifying tests hoping to qualify for a run on the track on "Rocket Road". An anonymous reader writes: The mile-long track is "roughly half the width of a full-scale Hyperloop system," according to Fortune -- but it's still a near-total vacuum inside, making it possible for the magnetically-levitated pods to attain extremely high speeds. "The winning team will be the one that hits the highest top speed -- then stops before hitting the end of the tube. 'There'll be a bit of tension," Elon Musk mused. 'Will it brake in time?'" Sunday's event "will mark the first time anyone gets to see the Hyperloop pods in action," according to Business Insider, which has photos and descriptions of the 27 pods -- including the MIT Hyperloop and the crowdfunded non-profit rLoop, which crowdsourced their open source development effort on Reddit.
SpaceX engineers ultimately awarded the highest overall score to the team from Delft University and determined that the fastest pod came from the Technical University of Munich, Germany. But SpaceX will also be hosting a second competition this summer focused on one criterion: speed.
Science

Scientist Investigate A Brand New Form of Matter: Time Crystals (sciencealert.com) 242

The discovery of "non-equilibrium matter" could re-write the rules of physics. Long-time Slashdot reader jasonbrown quotes ScienceAlert: For months now, there's been speculation that researchers might have finally created time crystals — strange crystals that have an atomic structure that repeats not just in space, but in time, putting them in perpetual motion without energy. Now it's official — researchers have just reported in detail how to make and measure these bizarre crystals. And two independent teams of scientists claim they've actually created time crystals in the lab based off this blueprint, confirming the existence of an entirely new form of matter.
Both teams -- one at Harvard and the other at the University of Maryland -- have submitted their findings to peer-reviewed publications, according to the article, and "the fact that two separate teams have used the same blueprint to make time crystals out of vastly different systems is promising."
Medicine

Medical Startup To Begin Testing At-Home Brain Zapping Devices (ieee.org) 59

"A doctor's prescription for clinical depression could one day sound like this: In the comfort of your own home, slip on a brain-zapping headband a few times per week," reports IEEE Spectrum. Slashdot reader the_newsbeagle writes: This isn't old-school brain zapping: It's not electroshock therapy... While "transcranial direct current stimulation" is being investigated as a treatment for all sorts of neuropsychiatric disorders, many researchers and doctors think depression may be the killer app. A South Korean company called Ybrain thinks its consumer-friendly headband for depression will be the product that makes this treatment mainstream...
Ybrain plans to test the device on thousands of depression patients in 70 hospitals in Korea, according to the article, then "use data from all those patients to build a case for approval in Europe...and then in the U.S." The company's founder and CEO believes that after the FDA approves the first brain-zapping device, "it will be seen as a mainstream treatment."
NASA

Today Marks 50th Anniversary of Fatal Apollo 1 Disaster (nasaspaceflight.com) 87

schwit1 writes: NASASpaceFlight.com reports: "Fifty years ago Friday, the first -- but sadly not the last -- fatal spaceflight accident struck NASA when a fire claimed the lives of Virgil 'Gus' Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White during a training exercise at Launch Complex 34. The accident, a major setback for the struggling Apollo program, ushered in the first understanding of the 'bad day' effects of schedule pressure for spaceflight and brought with it words and reminders that still echo today." The article provides a very detailed and accurate look at the history and causes of the accident, as well as its consequences, which even today influence American space engineering. Are there any Slashdotters who were old enough to remember the incident? If so, we'd love to hear your take on the disaster. Where were you when the news broke and how did it affect you and the country at that time...?
Math

New, Higher Measurement of Universe's Expansion May Lead To a 'New Physics' (space.com) 139

doug141 writes: Astronomers have measured the universe's current expansion rate (a value known as the Hubble constant) at about 44.7 miles (71.9 kilometers) per second per megaparsec (3.26 million light-years). This is consistent with a calculation that was announced last year by a research team, but it's considerably higher than the rate that was estimated by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite mission in 2015 -- about 41.6 miles (66.9 km) per second per megaparsec. The cause of this discrepancy is unclear. "The expansion rate of the universe is now starting to be measured in different ways with such high precision that actual discrepancies may possibly point towards new physics beyond our current knowledge of the universe," a researcher said. Mike Wall writes via Space.com: "The differences in the Hubble constant estimates may reflect something that astronomers don't understand about the early universe, or something that has changed since that long-ago epoch, scientists have said. For example, it's possible that dark energy -- the mysterious force that's thought to be driving the universe's accelerating expansion -- has grown in strength over the eons, members of Riess' team said last year. The discrepancy could also indicate that dark matter -- the strange, invisible stuff that astronomers think vastly outweighs 'normal' matter throughout the universe -- has as-yet-unappreciated characteristics, or that Einstein's theory of gravity has some holes, they added."
Earth

Scientists Finally Turn Hydrogen Into a Metal, Ending a 80-Year Quest (arstechnica.com) 334

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In 1935, scientists predicted that the simplest element, hydrogen, could also become metallic under pressure, and they calculated that it would take 25 GigaPascals to force this transition (each Gigapascal is about 10,000 atmospheres of pressure). That estimate, in the words of the people who have finally made metallic hydrogen, "was way off." It took until last year for us to reach pressures where the normal form of hydrogen started breaking down into individual atoms -- at 380 GigaPascals. Now, a pair of Harvard researchers has upped the pressure quite a bit more, and they have finally made hydrogen into a metal. All of these high-pressure studies rely on what are called diamond anvils. This hardware places small samples between two diamonds, which are hard enough to stand up to extreme pressure. As the diamonds are forced together, the pressure keeps going up. Current calculations suggested that metallic hydrogen might require just a slight boost in pressure from the earlier work, at pressures as low as 400 GigaPascals. But the researchers behind the new work, Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera, discovered it needed quite a bit more than that. In making that discovery, they also came to a separate realization: normal diamonds weren't up to the task. "Diamond failure," they note, "is the principal limitation for achieving the required pressures to observe SMH," where SMH means "solid metallic hydrogen" rather than "shaking my head." The team came up with some ideas about what might be causing the diamonds to fail and corrected them. One possibility was surface defects, so they etched all diamonds down by five microns to eliminate these. Another problem may be that hydrogen under pressure could be forced into the diamond itself, weakening it. So they cooled the hydrogen to slow diffusion and added material to the anvil that absorbed free hydrogen. Shining lasers through the diamond seemed to trigger failures, so they switched to other sources of light to probe the sample. After loading the sample and cranking up the pressure (literally -- they turned a handcrank), they witnessed hydrogen's breakdown at high pressure, which converted it from a clear sample to a black substance, as had been described previously. But then, somewhere between 465 and 495 GigaPascals, the sample turned reflective, a key feature of metals The study has been published in the journal Science.
Power

New York Approves Largest US Offshore Wind Farm Off Long Island (computerworld.com) 119

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has approved what will be the longest U.S. offshore wind farm when it's built off the east end of Long Island. When it's all said and done, it will generate enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes on Long Island's South Fork. Computerworld reports: The South Fork Wind Farm will consist of 15 wind turbines with 90 megawatts (MW) of capacity. While the project still needs to complete its permitting process, construction could start as early as 2019 and it may be operational as early as 2022. The approval of the South Fork Wind Farm, to be located 30 miles southeast of Montauk, is the first step toward developing 1,000 megawatts (1 gigawatt) of offshore wind power, Cuomo said in a statement. The wind farm approval comes two weeks after Cuomo's State of the State Address, during which he called for the development of 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. The 2.4 gigawatt target, which is enough power generation for 1.25 million homes, is the largest commitment to offshore wind energy in U.S. history, Cuomo said. Cuomo wants New York state to get 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. The nation's first offshore wind farm, the Block Island Wind Farm, went live last month. Both the Block Island and South Fork wind farms are owned by Deepwater Wind, a company based in Providence, R.I.
Earth

First Human-Pig 'Chimera' Created in Milestone Study (theguardian.com) 158

Scientists have created a human-pig hybrid in a milestone study that raises the prospect of being able to grow human organs inside animals for use in transplants. From a report: It marks the first time that embryos combining two large, distantly-related species have been produced. The creation of this so-called chimera -- named after the cross-species beast of Greek mythology -- has been hailed as a significant first step towards generating human hearts, livers and kidneys from scratch. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who led the work on the part-pig, part-human embryos at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, said: "The ultimate goal is to grow functional and transplantable tissue or organs, but we are far away from that. This is an important first step." The study has reignited ethical concerns that have threatened to overshadow the field's clinical promise. The work inevitably raises the spectre of intelligent animals with humanised brains and also the potential for bizarre hybrid creatures to be accidentally released into the wild. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) placed a moratorium on funding for the controversial experiments last year while these risks were considered.
Earth

The Doomsday Clock Is Reset: Closest To Midnight Since The 1950s (npr.org) 745

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has taken the unprecedented step of moving the Doomsday Clock ahead 30 seconds, taking the world to two-and-a-half-minute to midnight. The scientists said Thursday that several factors weighed heavily in their decision, particularly climate change denial by people in power -- they cited U.S. President Donald Trump -- and talk about more nuclear weapons. From a report on NPR: The setting is the closest the clock has come to midnight since 1953, when scientists moved it to two minutes from midnight after seeing both the U.S. and the Soviet Union test hydrogen bombs. It remained at that mark until 1960. "Make no mistake, this has been a difficult year," Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said as the new setting was announced Thursday.
Robotics

DragonflEye Project Wants To Turn Insects Into Cyborg Drones 78

New submitter robotopia writes: Scientists at a research and development company called Draper are using genetic engineering and optoelectronics to turn dragonflies into cybernetic insects, reports IEEE Spectrum. To control the dragonflies, Draper engineers are genetically modifying the nervous system of the insects so they can respond to pulses of light. The goal of the project, called DragonflEye, is enabling insects to carry scientific payloads or conduct surveillance.
Earth

Personality Traits Are Linked To Differences In Brain Structure, Says Researchers (neurosciencenews.com) 212

New submitter baalcat quotes a report from Neuroscience News: Our personality may be shaped by how our brain works, but in fact the shape of our brain can itself provide surprising clues about how we behave -- and our risk of developing mental health disorders -- suggests a study published today. According to psychologists, the extraordinary variety of human personality can be broken down into the so-called 'Big Five' personality traits, namely neuroticism (how moody a person is), extraversion (how enthusiastic a person is), openness (how open-minded a person is), agreeableness (a measure of altruism), and conscientiousness (a measure of self-control). In a study published today in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, an international team of researchers from the UK, US, and Italy have analyzed a brain imaging dataset from over 500 individuals that has been made publicly available by the Human Connectome Project, a major US initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health. In particular, the researchers looked at differences in the brain cortical anatomy (the structure of the outer layer of the brain) as indexed by three measures -- the thickness, area, and amount of folding in the cortex -- and how these measures related to the Big Five personality traits. The study has been published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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