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  1. #1
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    The Great All Encompassing thread about cool scientific stuff

    Not related to cool space stuff (specifically), but about any cool new science report or breakthrough from pretty much any discipline.

    I'll start this one with a new story on how we nearly did not make it through the great dinosaur extermination period.

    'Mammals were almost destroyed with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/201...ion-years-ago/

    You've heard the story about how an astroid smashed into the Gulf of Mexico roughly 65 million years ago, lighting fires on the ground and sending sun-blocking debris high into the atmosphere.

    In the millennia that followed, harsh environmental conditions wiped out over 75 percent of species on the planet. Most dinosaurs met their demise, and mammals rose in their ashes. This dark period of die-outs is called the K-T mass extinction, and it marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods in the geological record.

    But a new study challenges that picture by suggesting that mammals were killed off at rates similar to those of the dinosaurs. Mammals simply recovered better than their counterparts among the Dinosauria.

    Writing in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, a group of British biologists offers a portrait of the K-T mass extinction that diverges from conventional wisdom in a couple of ways.

    First, their reassessment of fossil evidence shows that mammal species suffered just as much as dinosaurs during the asteroid climate disaster. And second, biodiversity returned to the planet faster than previously thought. In some areas, rich ecosystems were thriving in as little as 200 thousand years after the asteroid impact. Previous studies have estimated that it took at least a million years for diverse ecosystems to return.
    All hail the durability of our little shrew-like common ancestors!
    Last edited by ZakG; 04-07-2016 at 08:45 AM.

  2. #2
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    Prepare to feel freaked out (maybe):

    'The AI that (almost) lets you speak to the dead':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/information...ind-uploading/

    It’s odd holding a minute’s silence for a dead person who you never knew anything about, especially at a tech show where you can see messages from their AI reincarnation flashing up on a massive screen behind the very-much-alive man who has made this whole strange scene possible. Is this what a 21st-century Dr Frankenstein looks like?

    Except now, instead of stitching body parts together to recreate life, what we're seeing is found fragments of the deceased's personality put through a form of machine learning to create a semblance of their life after death.

    The source of this existential conundrum is Luka, a company that focuses on what it calls "high-end conversational AI." It has a free iOS app, also called Luka, which seems pretty benign, featuring a number of chatbots covering a range of tasks that rely on text input to respond and interact in a friendly way. That’s a lot more than just the Q&A you get with Siri. The company develops new chatbots for all sorts of different purposes all the time. For instance, three recent ones are based on the cast of the HBO series Silicon Valley. Fans can talk to these fictional characters and get responses in keeping with their on-screen persona.

    Very recently however, Luka was adapted in a brand new way, to include a chatbot based on a real human being—one who just so happens to be dead. It’s this ghost-in-the-machine that has the audience spellbound, as Luka's cofounder Eugenia Kuyda explains how text messages, social media conversations, and other sources of information on the deceased were grafted onto an existing AI platform. It started out as an experiment that, in a matter of months, enabled her and others to continue to interact with Roman Mazurenko, a fellow Russian who had died in a road traffic accident in November last year, the man she describes as her soul mate.

    As Kuyda openly confesses, she doesn’t have all the answers, but in the process of reconstructing Roman, ethical questions began to permeate her thinking. Not so long ago it was the stuff of sci-fi, but recent advances in technology now mean it might soon be necessary to address the implications of artificial intelligence, both on a personal level and from beyond the grave.

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    It’s this ghost-in-the-machine that has the audience spellbound, as Luka's cofounder Eugenia Kuyda explains how text messages, social media conversations, and other sources of information on the deceased were grafted onto an existing AI platform.
    We truly live in times of the sublime. Flying cars have not materialized but I can feel the looming shadow of the future technological singularity.

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    Is it sublime though? or just slightly disturbing? I see the current march of technology more likely leading to a Dystopia than a Utopia, for example.

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    Technology has little to do with dystopia/utopia - how it's used does. Until people embrace love and postive outlooks more and hate and fear less, all roads lead to dystopia.

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    Isn't that basically just a weak-AI version of a Speaker for the Dead? Or those VI person emulators mentioned in Mass Effect's codex? I guess life really does imitate art, but this does strike me as a little... tacky? I can't think of much of a use for these things, other than as a final display of oversized ego for the excessively rich or the terminally unhinged.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Fumarole's Avatar
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    I can see this being used by those who have lost a loved one and cannot let them go.
    The Medallion of the Imperial Psychopath, a Napoleon: Total War AAR
    For the Emperor!, a Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai AAR
    The Red Blades, a Battle Brothers AAR

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    'The Large Hadron Collider is quietly having a phenomenal year':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/201...enomenal-year/

    I love this sort of stuff, even while having zero ability to grasp it ;)

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Zephro's Avatar
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    It seems a bit like a gimmick, the AI thing. I mean in terms of information theory, specifically information entropy, it's not really a model of the dead person but a model of their speech patterns and topics of conversation. Even then a greatly compressed one. Though no doubt that could be quite relieving for their loved ones, but so is a photo.

    Also Marcus Du Sautoy has a new book out: https://www.theguardian.com/science/...-sautoy-review

    I kind of want to read it now. Mostly as the we can't know about conscience is intriguing, though a claim I doubt. It really depends on how the whole thing was phrased. I suspect we will eventually come up with a decent statistical model of how consciousnesses works but fail to model individual consciousness. Analogously, we can't really deal with individual atoms in a gas but can provide good models on how gases work, peering in to an actual instantiation of a gas and working out where all the atoms are and what they're doing is impossible though. I'm wondering if he makes such fine distinctions or if it's a Roger Penrose style argument where he treats the problem from only the one angle.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zephro View Post
    It seems a bit like a gimmick, the AI thing. I mean in terms of information theory, specifically information entropy, it's not really a model of the dead person but a model of their speech patterns and topics of conversation. Even then a greatly compressed one. Though no doubt that could be quite relieving for their loved ones, but so is a photo.
    Indeed, and people's public and private personas are frequently so different that it would be, I think, deeply unconvincing to anyone who knew the person well (unless they were the rare, filterless individual whose public and private personas are the same), perhaps in quite an upsetting way.

    I'm sure, down the line, for people who've recorded their life in more detail, more detailed personality sims could exist, but it seems like a fundamentally hollow idea.

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    Another study on a different model for that mass extinction event that did in the dinosaur era:

    'Asteroid killed dinosaurs by setting oil alight and spreading soot, says study':

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/...oot-says-study

    .......More recently, researchers have suggested those initial effects were then multiplied by rapid climate changes around the globe.

    But if those things happened on such a large scale, it is hard to explain how anything survived at all. Crocodilans were large, and unable to take cover easily like small reptiles, mammals and birds. Without fur or feathers – and being cold-blooded – they would have been susceptible to changes in temperature.

    The new theory put forward by Kunio Kaiho, from Tohoku University in Japan, and colleagues is that the asteroid hit a large oil reserve, setting it alight and shooting soot into the stratosphere. From there it spread around the globe, blocking light.

    Their modelling of that scenario shows it would have created an abrupt change in the climate, cooling the globe and decreasing the amount of rain. They found the soot layer would have lasted for between two and five years, depending how much soot was ejected, and conditions would have returned to normal after about 10 years.

    They also found that the climate changes were different at different distances from the equator. Further from the equator, extreme cooling and drying would have caused the extinction of both dinosaurs and crocodilians.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LexW View Post
    Indeed, and people's public and private personas are frequently so different that it would be, I think, deeply unconvincing to anyone who knew the person well (unless they were the rare, filterless individual whose public and private personas are the same), perhaps in quite an upsetting way.

    I'm sure, down the line, for people who've recorded their life in more detail, more detailed personality sims could exist, but it seems like a fundamentally hollow idea.
    On one hand, I agree it is gimmicky. On the other hand, Google Now scares me sometimes. Perhaps it takes much less than we think to build a believable illusion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mouton View Post
    On one hand, I agree it is gimmicky. On the other hand, Google Now scares me sometimes. Perhaps it takes much less than we think to build a believable illusion.
    Even if it is very easy, it doesn't make any real difference to what I said. I don't mean that in a mean way! Let me explain...

    Public and private personas are dramatically different for most people (at least almost every human I've ever met). Almost no-one acts the same way on social media as real life - they don't even usually have the same interests. Even if you fed in journals and the like, people act differently in those too.

    So I think you could build a reasonably convincing replica of how someone acted on social media, sure, but it wouldn't convince anyone who actually knew them privately that this was the real person.

    It wouldn't be useful to wife or husband or child or close friend - it would be useful to people who only knew him through that public persona - but who cares about them?

    Like say you found all my forum posts on all forums for the last couple of decades - first off, you'd see I've changed a lot, pretty much in all ways. Second off, you'd get this guy who people thought was argumentative, opinionated, and looooouuuuudd, and constantly talking about a fairly small range of subjects. If you tried to factor in stuff I posted and "liked" on Facebook or Twitter, you'd get a contradictory picture (a much quieter person, for starters). If you had all my chat from DAoC and WoW (god knows how one would get that), you'd get another contradictory picture, of this sort of conciliator/leader type who pulls groups together and keeps people organised and doesn't really discuss anything but the game and/or day-to-day life - no politics etc.. It's not that I'm actually a different person, but I interact in different ways on different platforms and different things concern me on each. I'm seen as an SJW on forums, but in DAoC/WoW, because I only hang around with cool people, that sort of stuff was taken for granted, never came up, so wouldn't be in the record.

    And my wife or friends would see a huge chunk missing, because I don't talk much about my feelings online, or how much I care about people or whatever, nor would there be evidence of that unless you somehow broke into my email - and even then...

    So you could make, perhaps, a reasonable LexW-in-WoW bot, or LexW-as-forum-poster-circa-2010s bot, but you couldn't make a believable LexW all-round-bot. The data just isn't available to you.

    It is interesting to consider, for sure, what information is actually available about you online - how fragmented, contradictory and so on it is.
    Last edited by LexW; 17-07-2016 at 11:21 PM.

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    'Researchers hit record storage density by writing bits with single atoms':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/201...-500-terabits/

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Zephro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZakG View Post
    'Researchers hit record storage density by writing bits with single atoms':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/201...-500-terabits/
    Pretty cool, I wonder when anyone is going to get any of this working realistically though. They've been doing experiments on other forms of transistor or really tiny ones, but you get all sorts of problems with quantum tunneling or light diffraction during manufacture.

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    A couple of cool techniques that will help us fight AGW (and our uk government pulling out of investing in such stuff is borderline criminal):

    'Reaction captures carbon, generates electricity, makes a cleaning product':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/201...aning-product/

    Cornell University’s Wajdi AlSadat and Lynden Archer, however, are playing with one possible process that could convert CO2 into a commodity—and generate electricity while you’re at it.

    The process involves an electrochemical cell, where chemical reactions cause differences in potential that can move electrons between anode and cathode. Force electrons in the other direction and you can drive those reactions in reverse, like a rechargeable battery. In this case, the idea is not to recharge it, but to harvest both the electricity and chemical products that result from an input of carbon dioxide and oxygen.
    'Cheap and clean: Australian company creates hydrogen with near-zero emissions':

    https://www.theguardian.com/sustaina...zero-emissions

    An Australian company is using “cheap as dirt” iron ore to convert methane in natural gas into hydrogen. Importantly, their process generates near-zero emissions, as the carbon content of the gas is captured in the form of high-quality graphite.

    As a clean-burning fuel, hydrogen could play a key role in future energy markets, but production methods are still too energy-intensive and costly.

    Hazer Group is a Perth-based company, spun out of the University of Western Australia, which plans to halve the cost of hydrogen production. It is currently scaling-up its patented process, based on “methane cracking”.

    “The chemistry is remarkably simple,” says Geoff Pocock, the managing director of the ASX-listed company, which raised A$5m at its initial public offering in September 2015. “You can think of it as a self-sequestering energy production system.”

    As natural gas passes through the heated iron ore catalyst, methane in the gas breaks down into its constituent elements: hydrogen and carbon. But instead of carbon dioxide, would-be emissions are captured in the form of solid graphite.

    Some of the hydrogen is used to power the system, and in the surplus “you’ve got a hydrogen source, which hasn’t got a CO2 footprint,” he says.
    Humanity is certainly clever enough to live past this era of climate change, we have the technology to help in that, but we need to insist our governments do what is necessary now, before it really is too late for even our scientific ability to create a longterm future on this planet.

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    Over the years i've become a bit of a stickler for not buying things with hundreds of ingredients, just look at the back of your showergel for a probable example. So as i've aimed to 'simplify' the cocktail of chemicals i put on/in my body (and my families), news like this is always interesting:

    'Everyday chemicals may be messing up our microbiomes—but we don’t know':

    http://arstechnica.co.uk/science/201...-we-dont-know/

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