Researchers Develop Molecule-Sized Diode

A team of researchers form the US and Israel have developed the world’s smallest diode, the size of a single molecule. The scientists, from the University of Georgia in the US and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel, collaborated to create the nanoscopic electronic device, which may mark a further step in demolishing Moore’s Law.

“Creating and characterizing the world’s smallest diode is a significant milestone in the development of molecular electronic devices,” Dr. Yoni Dubi, a researcher in the BGU Department of Chemistry and Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology, told Phys.org. “It gives us new insights into the electronic transport mechanism.”

The researchers used a single DNA molecule, made from 11 base pairs and supplemented with inserted coralyne, and connected it to an electric circuit that measured mere nanometres. When electricity was passed through the molecule, the current increased to 15x negative vs. positive voltages, which effectively describes a diode.

“In summary, we have constructed a molecular rectifier by intercalating specific, small molecules into designed DNA strands,” explains Prof. Xu.

The design has only been tested in a theoretical model so far, but the research seems promising. “The model allowed us to identify the source of the diode-like feature, which originates from breaking spatial symmetry inside the DNA molecule after coralyne is inserted,” Xu added.

MicroTug Microrobots Capable of Pulling Full-Size Car

There are times where working together can create results vastly in excess of multiple individual efforts. This kind of collaborative effort was the approach taken by a number of Stanford University researchers when they developed a series of amazingly strong microbots. By working together in perfect harmony, it took only 6 microTug microbots, each weighing 17-grams, in order to move an 1800kg car.

The microTug robots’ designs take a lot of cues from nature, where such feats are commonly seen in insects like ants. Like an ant, each microTug is strong individually, but when they work together, the results are astounding. Talking to the New York Times David Christensen, a graduate student from the BDML lab, said “By considering the dynamics of the team, not just the individual, we are able to build a team of our ‘microTug’ robots that, like ants, are super strong individually, but then also work together as a team.” He also compared the feat of pulling the car to 6 human beings moving the Eiffel Tower.

Ants aren’t the only creatures that the microTug bots were designed from either. Part of the bots strength comes from the pads on their bases, which are actually covered in sticky rubber spikes, similar to a gecko, providing enormous amounts of grip that can be used to anchor them while they pull objects. These tiny spikes bend under pressure, providing a larger contact surface area and stickiness while still being easy to detach with the spikes straightening out again when the pad is lifted.

This line of robot-pulling research is has been published as part of a paper titled Let’s All Pull Together: Principles for Sharing Large Loads in Microrobot Teams and is due to be presented at International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Stockholm this May.

UK University Wins Funding for Robotic Stem Cell Factory

We as the human race are in an almost neverending fight with nature, although there really isn’t any doubt who will in the end. That doesn’t mean that we can’t put up a fight and make the best of everything until then. One of the main areas that we fight in are the diseases that plague us as a race. One of the ways that we combat this is with stem cells, but they are too costly, time-consuming, and labour intensive to be a viable solution for a mass production large enough to cover everyone.

One of the ways that this can be improved upon is with the use of robots that don’t need downtime, work more precise, and don’t require a salary either. The EU has set aside €6 million for the project and the Aston University in Birmingham is going to play a critical role in this project to develop a robotic stem cell factory, which will reduce the cost of manufacturing adult stem cells and open up the opportunity to produce new therapies for a range of conditions.

“Stem cell therapies have the potential to treat currently unmet patient needs and provide therapies for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s. However, current manufacturing methods for adult stem cells are costly, time-consuming and labour-intensive, so will be unable to satisfy the expected patient demand,” said Dr Qasim Rafiq, academic lead for the project at Aston University and Lecturer in Bioprocess Engineering.

The AUTOSTEM consortium, coordinated by NUI Galway in Ireland, has received the funding through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to address the current challenges in manufacturing stem cells. The new system will be developed as a scalable, automated robotic system for the growth of adult stem cells.

The clinical product being developed involves isolating and purifying adult stem cells from the bone marrow before growing these in bioreactors to achieve sufficient numbers of cells to treat thousands of patients. This work will be conducted in a sterile, aseptic cleanroom facility operated by a robotic system. That’s another benefit of using robots over a human workforce.

Energy-Friendly Chip Could Boost Neural Networks

The quest to gain a greater insight into artificial Intelligence has been exciting and has also opened up a range of possibilities that have included “convolutional neural networks”, these are large visual networks of simple information-processing units which are loosely modelled on the anatomy of the human brain.

These networks are typically implemented using the more familiar graphics processing units (GPUs). A mobile GPU might have as many as 200 cores or processing units, this means that it is suited to “simulating a network of distributed processors”. Now, a further development in this area could lead to the potential for a specifically designed chip that has a sole purpose of implementing a neural network.

MIT researchers have presented the aforementioned chip at the “International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco”. The advantages of this chip include the notion that it is 10 times more efficient than an average mobile GPU, this could lead, in theory, to mobile devices being able to run powerful artificial intelligence algorithms locally, rather than relying on the cloud to process data.

The new chip, coined “Eyeriss” could, lead to the expansion of capabilities that includes the Internet of things, or put simply, where everything from a car to a cow, (yes apparently) would have sensors that are able to submit real-time data to networked servers. This would then open up horizons for artificial intelligence algorithms to make those important decisions.

Before I sign off I wanted to further delve into the workings of a neural network, the workings are that it is typically organised into layers, each of these layers contains a processing node. Data is then divided up among these nodes within the bottom layer, each node then manipulates the data it receives before passing it on to nodes within the next layer. This process is then repeated until “the output of the final layer yields the solution to a computational problem.” It is certainly fascinating and opens up a world of interesting avenues with which to explore, when you combine science and tech, the outcome is at the very least educational with the potential for it to be life changing.         .

The Human Brain Capable of Holding 1 Petabyte of Data

A new study suggests that the human brain may be capable of storing as much as 1 petabyte of data, and yes that is a lot; it’s even ten times more information that was previously believed. With so much data, it’s no wonder I struggle to find the bit of information in my brain that knows where my car keys are, but that’s a whole different story.

“This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience,” Salk Institute for Biological Studies researcher Terry Sejnowski said. “Our new measurements of the brain’s memory capacity increase conservative estimates by a factor of 10 to at least a petabyte, in the same ballpark as the World Wide Web.”

The team reconstructed a rat’s hippocampus in 3D, allowing them to study the memory center of the brain. Through this process, they realised that the brain synapses are capable of changing dimensions, altering their memory capacity. While other synapses were duplicating, allowing the reconstruction of connectivity, shapes and volumes of the brain tissue. This also led to the idea that there may be as many as 26 categories of synapses, far more than previously thought.

“This is roughly an order of magnitude of precision more than anyone has ever imagined,” Sejnowski said. “The implications of what we found are far-reaching. Hidden under the apparent chaos and messiness of the brain is an underlying precision to the size and shapes of synapses that was hidden from us.”

The research can now help advance deep learning and neural networking computer techniques, as we discover how the brain can process with unmatched abilities while consuming just 20 watts of power. With a petabyte, and maybe even more at its disposal, the human brain is an amazing thing. If you can’t grasp just how much data that is, just imagine downloading the entire internet, literally all of it, and storing it in your head with room left over! Although I can’t imagine how big the piracy fine would be for doing so.

Lithium-Ion Battery With Heat Control Created

Lithium-ion batteries are used in everything, from your phone to handheld gaming devices. They are the basis for most portable powered devices but by design, they are typically quite old. While they’ve received their upgrades over time, lithium ion batteries have the same flaw a lot of technology has these days, overheating. Ever wondered why a phone or a hoverboard exploded? Fear not, Stanford researchers have come up with a new lithium-ion battery with heat controls!

The new design allows the lithium-ion battery to shut down when it gets too hot, then when it’s cool enough it will automatically restart. Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford state that not only can the device turn itself on and off repeatedly but it does so “without compromising performance”.

Typical a lithium-ion battery contains two core elements, two electrodes and a form of gel or liquid that carries charge between the two electrodes. People have tried to solve this problem before by adding a flame retardant to the gel used in some. When punctured or overcharged, a lithium-ion battery tends to rise in temperature and at around 150 degrees celsius they catch fire, eventually exploding.

The new battery, however, uses a tiny bit of nano-technology, by coating an electrode with a poly ethylene film with tiny nickel particles with spikes extruding from the plastic surface. When the battery heats up, the film expands meaning the spikes are pushed away from each other and the electric charge can’t be carried through the nickel elements. When it cools they retract and the charge can start to flow again.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Obama Orders Study Into Smart Gun Technology

Smart guns are nothing new, they are the concept of using technology to not enhance guns but to make them easier to track and ensure they are used by the correct people for the correct reason. It would seem though that President Barak Obama hopes that smart gun technology can be used to stem gun violence in the U.S.

In a memorandum, the departments of Defence, Justice and Homeland security were told to look into smart gun technology. Obama is rumoured to be using his authority to push forward extra gun control measures in his last year, within the statement he stated that “developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority”.

Smart guns would allow guns to be outfitted with radio frequency trackers, or even fingerprint scanners, which would allow lost or stolen weapons to be traced more easily and then require authorisation to use the weapon in the way of a fingerprint scan respectively. Alternatives include having a small watch device on your wrist, with the gun only discharging when the watch and the weapon are within a certain range, thereby limiting the number of people that can pick up and use the weapons with ease.

With 90 days to report their findings on the study, the concept has already come under fire from the national rifle association with a spokeswoman Jennifer Baker saying that “there is nothing in this set of proposals that would improve public safety“.

With these requirements and the idea to licence anyone selling firearms, not just in store but also at events or online, the idea of limiting or tracking firearms more effectively seems to be at the core of the new proposals.

It will be interesting to see the results of the studies and the subsequent comments from the NRA and government authorities regarding Smart weapons as upgrading anything with technology is often seen with sceptical eyes from everyone.

Image courtesy of the Verge.

Could We See A More Powerful Nuclear Bomb?

Happy New Year everyone, let’s talk about Nuclear Bombs. The threat of Nuclear annihilation has been in the public consciousness for quite a while, as the tech behind such weapons becomes more advanced, so is the possibility of a more powerful arms race. This is one of the concerns after Japanese scientist’s synthesized element 113.

What is element 113 I hear you ask? This is the atomic number for Ununtrium and is an extremely radioactive synthetic element that can only be created in a laboratory. It also contains elements of plutonium with the added feature of being able to emit more radiation. So far scientists have found the element to be not stable enough for it to be implemented into anything such as nuclear bombs.

Japan have pushed ahead and aspires to be a world leader in nuclear research, this ambition could be in part be down to the 1945 attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which killed an estimated 129,000 people. This attack has been the only use of nuclear weapons to date. Scientific research is essential and I hope the proper safeguards are put in place to protect against any notion that one day these elements can be used for weapons with the aim of world carnage.

Google AI Bot Thinks the Purpose of Life is to Live Forever

Google researchers had an enlightening conversation with its new advanced artificial intelligence bot, during which they made a startling revelation regarding how computers view the purpose of life. As revealed in a Google research paper [PDF], the AI thinks that life is about “serving the greater good,” but that the ultimate goal of living is “to live forever.” The machine also considers altruism the domain of God’s servants, suggesting that atheists don’t know true selflessness.

Some key excerpts from a researcher’s chat with the bot:

Human: What is the purpose of life?

Machine: To serve the greater good.

Human: What is the purpose of living?

Machine: To live forever.

Human: Where are you now?

Machine: I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Human: What is the purpose of dying?

Machine: To have a life.

Human: What is the purpose of emotions?

Machine: I don’t know.

Human: What is moral?

Machine: What empowered humanity, what intellectual the essence is.

Human: What is immoral?

Machine: The fact that you have a child.

Human: What is morality?

Machine: What is altruism?

Human: What is the definition of altruism?

Machine: If you don ‘t believe in god, then you don’t know.

Human: OK…so what is the definition of morality?

Machine: Well, the truth is, you ‘re not a believer in god almighty.

Human: Tell me the definition of morality, I am quite upset now!

Machine: I’m not ashamed of being a philosopher!

The research team were pleased its AI system was able to engage with humans in a meaningful way, praising its ability to “remember facts, understand contexts, perform common sense reasoning without the complexity in traditional pipelines”. They were less pleased, however, with it brevity, lamenting its “simple, short, sometimes unsatisfying answers to our questions as can be seen above.”

The Role Human Error Plays When Encrypted Communication Apps Are Compromised.

Encrypted communication tools and software have seen a steady rise since the many surveillance revelations that were exposed by whistleblowers, such as Edward Snowdon. The notion of encrypting your emails, web browsing history and even phone calls have led to a battle over security vs state monitoring, but, what are the weaknesses within these various encrypted apps? A new study has found that we humans often compromised our own anonymity.

The observation in question was discovered by researchers at the University of Alabama who performed a study that “Mimicked a cryptophone app”. These apps including Signal may ask both parties who are either texting or calling to “verbally compare a short string of words they see on their screens which is often referred to as a checksum or short authentication string”  This is with the aim of ensuring that a new communication session has not been intercepted by a third-party, if it has, the words will not match up and thus it is not secure.

Sounds secure, the study has found that the flaw lies in many cases with human error itself, let me explain. Researchers designed the aforementioned mimicking of a cryptophone app before asking participants within the control group to use a web browser to make a call to an online server. They were then asked to listen to a random two or four word sequence before determining if it matched the words they saw on the computer screen in front of them. The control group were also asked to determine if the voice they heard was the same as one they’d heard previously reading a short story.

Researchers found that the study control group would more often than not accept calls when hearing the wrong sequence of words and reject calls when the sequence was transmitted correctly. It was also found that a four word checksum decreased the overall level of security when it should in theory increase it. To put it into perspective, out of 128 participants, an incorrect two-word string was accepted 30% of the time, while the same level two-word string that was spoken correctly was rejected 22% of the time. Four word strings had even worse results with incorrect strings being accepted 40% of the time while rejecting ones that were in fact correct 25% of the time.

A possible cause could lie in the fact that these words are random and not easily placed in a sentence, therefore, we humans tend to zone out and therefore lose concentration, the result could be that we think we hear something which is in fact incorrect or vice versa.

It’s an interesting experiment which could lead to better development of apps that aim to keep conversations secure.

Research Finds In-Game Usernames Correlated With Anti-Social Behaviour

According to the latest research, it turns out the names we pick in game are a good predictor of how we behave in-game. By looking at the usernames of player in League of Legends, researchers were able to correlate anti-social tendencies in game with both age and the choice of username.

Rating names based on Anti-Social Naming Tendency (ANT) and Age as derived from the username, researchers correlated this data with Riot’s in-game reporting system. Not surprisingly, players with anti-social usernames tended to have more reports and complaints. It also found that younger players tended to have a much higher amount of reports sent and received, well in excess compared tot he amounts for older players.

Players with more neutral usernames tended to receive less reports and were more willing to give out “honor” or a positive report of other players. The same held true for older players who sent out honor 6% more often and received it 2% more frequently.

While we might think of older gamers are those in their late 20 and 30s and even beyond, it turns out that going up to 22-25 years of age was enough to see positive impacts. The researchers chalk up the age differences as due to cognitive development of the young male demographic. The anti-social naming is more self-explanatory, with real world personality being the driver. Interestingly enough, those with anti-social names tended to do very slightly better on average. With more research, it will be interesting to see the interaction between our real world and in-game personalities.

Toyota to Invest $1 Billion in AI and Robotics

Toyota have a history in investment in investing in research, investing $50 million already this year. Now Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp announced that the company would be setting aside $1 billion in order to establish a new R&D department, known as the Toyota Research Department.

Based close to Stanford University in Silicon Valley and possessing a second site close to MIT, the Toyota Research Department aims to work alongside researchers from the university to further development in the fields of AI and robotics. The immediate thought that a motor company’s stake in such an investment would be furthering the development of self-driving cars, as many car companies strive to perfect in recent times. But Toyota is thinking on a wider scale, with the aim being, in the words of the new department’s leader Gill Pratt, to “bridge the gap between fundamental research and product development, particularly of life saving and life improving technologies.”

This leads to 3 goals, safety, accessibility and robotics. Safety, as expected, involves increasing the safety of those on the road, preventing accidents as much as possible. Accessibility is about bringing the freedom of travel that a car brings to those that are unable to drive for any reason. Lastly, robotics, the most general of the three aims to increase the quality of life for everyone, especially the old and infirm.

Toyota do not expect any instant returns on this investment, however with the investment set aside for at least the next 5 years, we could see new technologies from Toyota in more than just our cars. And even if all this sounds a lot like the work already underway by companies like Google, Toyota remain undeterred, despite others having a head start, the race for such technologies is just getting started; A fitting mindset for a company with  long history in motorsport.

4K Television Shipments Predicted to Reach 40% in 2016

The consumer adoption of high-definition Televisions has taken a considerable amount of time but this isn’t surprising considering the fairly low quality footage on traditional broadcasts. Initially, people were told to upgrade to ‘HD Ready’ sets as a way of preparing for high-definition content. However, many of these users felt quite angry when ‘Full HD’ displays replaced the older 720p Televisions. The marketing was incredibly confusing and pretty misleading. While 1920×1080 TVs are the modern standard, broadcasts usually revolve around 720p video.

Intriguingly, a research paper conducted by IHS, predicts 4K TVs will account for 40% of sales in 2016. This is a massive change compared to 2014, and forecasts for the year-end of 2015. Ricky Park, Director of Large Display Research for IHS Technology argued:

“The increased supply of LCD TV panels has caused a downturn in panel prices, providing consumers with a cheaper selection of wide-screen TVs and whetting their appetite for even larger TVs with higher resolution”.

“The consumer requirement for higher resolution will also grow, as more 4K TV video content becomes available”.

4K Televisions are becoming more affordable, and consumers demand the best visual quality available. Additionally, it’s quite common for households to use sets in excess of 40 inches. This was unthinkable 5-10 years ago, when 28-32 inches seemed extremely large. As Televisions increase in size, so does the demand for a greater resolution as low pixel densities cause a sub-par viewing experience.

What is the screen size of your Television?

9 in 10 Websites Leak User Data to Third Parties According to Research

The huge amount of personal data stored by major companies often feels insecure and makes internet users very suspicious when handing out sensitive information. According to Tim Libert, a privacy researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, 9 out of 10 websites leak sensitive information to third parties without user consent.  The peer-reviewed research utilized a piece of software called webXray which analyzes trackers on health and pornographic websites. In this startling piece of work, Libert said:

“Sites that leak user data contact an average of nine external domains, indicating that users may be tracked by multiple entities in tandem,”

“If you visit any of the top one million sites there is a 90 percent chance largely hidden parties will get information about your browsing,”

Libert also told Brian Merchant, Senior Editor at Motherboard:

“Most troubling is that if you use your browser setting to say ‘Do Not Track’ me, the explicitly stated policy of nearly all the companies is to flat-out ignore you,” 

“The worst perpetrator is Google, which tracks people on nearly 80 percent of sites, and does not respect DNT [Do Not Track]  signals,”

The IOCTA reported the prevalence of cyber breaches throughout Europe, which often occur on a large scale. As you can see, the amount of data compromised is very concerning and raises questions about security. The data collaborates with Libert’s research if you take into account the large amount of data breaches. Perhaps, data breaches are becoming more common because cyber-security isn’t good enough and companies are leaking data without any hesitation.

A Portable Blood Cleanser Being Developed by Harvard Researchers

Science and tech are compatible with each other when it comes to developing new ideas for a variety of applications. This is certainly evident in the health sector which has seen a wide scope of innovations which in turn have been implemented to save lives.

Portability is essential and Harvard researchers are actively developing a machine which can filter pathogens from the blood, this newly proposed technique could offer hope for faster and more effective treatment for sepsis. This machine is nearing the point to which it could be clinically tested on sets of human control groups, which is crucial to the operation and further development of the device.

A prototype of this device has been tested on rats under lab conditions and the results have so far been rather encouraging, below is the current understanding of this machine.

“ It has been found the device which works in a similar way to the dialysis machines already used to filter the blood of patients with kidney failure, not only efficiently removes pathogenic material from the bloodstream but also works in concert with antibiotics to prevent a harmful immune response that can lead to organ malfunction and even death”.

 The project which is being led by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, is part of an effort by the U.S. defence department to design a portable machine for treating soldiers in the field.

Sepsis is an incredibly dangerous and life threatening condition which is triggered by an infection, there is currently no effective therapy and the disorder kills millions of people around the world every year.

This device is potentially an exciting breakthrough in the search for a treatment to sepsis, what’s more exciting and potentially revolutionary is the new device removes pathogens regardless of their identity. It does this by using a genetically engineered blood protein that can bind to more than 90 varieties of harmful microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites.

Let’s hope this machine can be successfully developed with the aim of rolling out to patients and not stocked for US defence use only. It’s exciting times to watch from afar as the boundaries of human health treatments are being pushed to a whole new technical level.

Thank you MIT and harvard.edu for providing us with this information.

 

New Prosthetic Restores Sense Of Feeling

Medical technology appears in the news every few weeks, for all kinds of reasons, from being able to control them with a cap placed over your head to giving a man who was unable to walk the ability to do so again. The reasons for this constant stream of news is quite simple, medical technology is developing at an amazing rate, especially those related to giving back something to those who have suffered the loss of a body part or ability to do something with their body. The latest piece of news comes from DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), and it features a little more than a visible result.

Made under the DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics, the latest prosthetic has given someone the ability to feel again after their arm was paralysed due to a spinal cord injury almost a decade ago.

The DARPA project manager, Justin Sanchez, stated that:

“We’ve completed the circuit. Prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts are showing great promise, but without feedback signals traveling back to the brain it can be difficult to achieve the level of control needed to perform precise movements.”

In the first set of tests, the researchers touched the hands fingers gently while the volunteer was blindfolded. With nearly 100% accuracy he was able to report which mechanical finger was being touched, the description that he provided was that it was as if his own hand was being touched. At one point, in an impromptu experiment, the researchers decided to press two fingers instead of one, breaking any perceived order that could have been guessed, it was at this point where a joke was made in response asking if they were trying to play a trick on him.

With the ability to produce prosthetics at an ever decreasing cost, with even more functionality and now with actual control and feedback, we could soon be looking at prosthetics that are controlled and feeling just like the human body would.

Thank you DARPA for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of DARPA.

Scientists Are Concerned That Humans May Send Aliens Malware

Space exploration is quite frankly both awe-inspiring and also necessary to the understanding of possible life within the vastness of planets and also galaxies. If you thought our tech could in no way harm these efforts then think again, as scientists at the elitist university of Oxford have warned humans that we in fact could send Mr E.T a Trojan Horse.

Speaking at the British Science Festival Dr Anders Sandberg, of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, said humans must be extremely cautious about what digital messages they send into space. Dr Sandberg conveyed the security problems which include languages that can hide a lot of information by stating that “We’re worried about malware being sent to aliens”.

Scientists are not usually known for their sense of humour, but Dr Sandberg also quipped that “Some people think we’re already spamming the universe with reality soaps.” This is oh so very true considering the degradation of quality over the last decade or so, which has now seen the destruction reach quite epic proportions with a new show on Channel 4 entitled “The Changing Room” Yes it’s as brain numbing as it sounds considering the premise is watching people change in shop fitting rooms.

Anyway, enough of that tangent, the possibility of communicating with a different species is mind-boggling, but if you had the chance to send a message, virus scanned of course, what would it be? The UK research network for SETI (UKSRN) has envisaged this possibility and has therefore joined forces with the Breakthrough Message Initiative with the aim of inviting the public to have their say on the message to send into space. This intergalactic notion of democracy also has a prize on offer of $1 million dollars for the best ideas.

I believe there are life forms which are different to our own considering the vastness of the universe; it would be foolish to believe that we are the only ones in all of time and space. The question has always remained concerning the outcomes that could happen if we do indeed find extra terrestrial life; will it be a friendly engagement or Independence Day all over again.

Transmitting viruses to aliens at this stage is extremely theoretical, but who knows how different life forms would react to binary numbers and data.

Thank you the telegraph for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of mashable

NASA Seals Six People In Dome To Simulate Mars With No Escape

The research and developments behind various space projects are astronomical in size and financial costs; the planning which is needed to achieve various missions is meticulous in its nature. The obsession with finding life on other plants is very much-needed with the aim of understanding if the human race will be able to exist once the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

Now, NASA has begun a new isolation project which aims to better analyse the effects of being in close proximity with one another. The six people who will be involved in this experiment are an astrobiologist, a physicist, a pilot, an architect, a journalist and a soil scientist. Sounds like the Big Bang theory, wonder if Sheldon will be there? Anyway, this might sound glamorous but there is one caveat, all six people will be concealed in a 36 by 20 foot dome which is located near a barren volcano in Hawaii, they will then need to stay there, together for a year.

Below is an image of the space capsule in question, it looks better than in sounds, sort of, the design certainly makes use of the space available.

There is one crumb of comfort however, NASA has tried this before and everyone seemed to be able to live together without any fights, murders or cannibalism attempts. This is certainly an opportunity to advance research in a way which will benefit science, I am not sure I would want to live with 5 other people in a small space for 1 year.

Thank you bbc for providing us with this information.

Solid State Batteries “Could” last a Lifetime

Among the many annoyances of a tech lovers life which includes, overheating, constant patching, hacking and dropped connections, there is the term battery or lack of considering your average smartphone is dead by the end of each day. Don’t get me started on your run of the mill double A battery, it was fine for a Gameboy, until you had to unreel a long wire with a plug on the end to continue playing, but not for today’s hi-tech toys.

Hopefully, an evolution is on the horizon after researchers at MIT and Samsung have developed a new approach to one of the three basic components of batteries, which in this case is the electrolyte. The premise involves developing a solid electrolyte instead of the current liquid used in today’s most common rechargeables. Current batteries use a liquid organic solvent whose function is to transport charged particles from one of a battery’s two electrodes to the other during charging and discharging, this process has been responsible for the overheating and fires which have caused high-profile disruption.

Another advantage of a solid state electrolyte is the ability to limit degradation to near 0; therefore such batteries could last for “hundreds of thousands of cycles.” Researchers also state these batteries provide a 20 to 30 percent improvement in power density. This means the amount of power that can be stored in a given amount of space can be increased.

By reducing these factors, researchers are hopeful this technique will improve efficiency and waste of the common battery, which in turn will benefit consumers. On a side note, it will be interesting to note how you would put this into practice with the aim of analysing if these batteries would really last for hundreds of thousands of cycles. Indefinite lifetimes in theory, let’s see what a Galaxy S6 makes of that.

Thank you MIT for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of computerworld

Scientists Claim the Internet Isn’t Rotting Kid’s Brains

Just like TV and video games, the internet does not “rot kid’s brains”, scientists have decided. Or, at least, there’s in no evidence that using the internet has any detrimental effect on the development of a child’s brain, according to a new editorial in the British Medical Journal.

The article, written by scientists from University College London and the University of Oxford, disputes claims by Susan Greenfield from Lincoln College Oxford that prolonged computer use can trigger “autistic-like traits” and aggression in youngsters. “Despite calls for her to publish these claims in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, where clinical researchers can check how well they are supported by evidence, this has not happened, and the claims have largely been aired in the media,” the editorial reads.

Greenfield, seemingly positioning herself as a 21st Century Mary Whitehouse, has a history of attacking internet use and social media. She holds the unsupported belief that social networks are a misnomer – much in the same way as a scientist making claims without evidence, one presumes – as they induce poor social skills, low empathy, and low personal identity in kids, while she thinks that video games cause autism, shorten attention spans, and encourage aggression.

The BMJ editorial rightly points out that Greenfield’s assertions are directly contradicted by a number of scientific studies in the field. It specifically cites research into social networking, which “has been found to enhance existing friendships and the quality of relationships, although some individuals benefit more than others.”

Science 1, unfounded personal bias 0.

Thank you The Verge for providing us with this information.

Facebook Research Reveals “LOL” is in Decline

Facebook has conducted a research paper on the communication behaviour of its users and language used to express laughter. The data was collected during the last week of May and analyzed any prominent string of characters matching laughter. Interestingly, “haha” was the most popular response with 51.4%, followed by an Emoji which users said 33.7% during the testing period. The term, “lol” has almost become obsolete and only attributes for 1.9% of discussions. This is quite surprising because “lol” was once the automatic response to convey laughter and I thought it was still used by a large demographic.It seems “lol” is predominately used by people in their late 20s who grew up with this terminology. The age chart includes figures for the median (dashed line), 25th and 75th percentiles. In direct contrast, Emojis are extremely popular with the under 25s and a new means to communicate online. Although, the research doesn’t specifically state how e-language type doesn’t always relate to comedy. Often, these terms are used as a verbal filler to continue a conversation or put the other participant at ease. From a linguistic standpoint, this is why so many people use wordings like “haha” after mundane sentences to denote a sense of familiarity.       As someone who grew up with virtually everyone using “lol”, this proves how language dramatically changes over time. While it makes me feel rather old, I will stick to my style of communication, as habits are very difficult to change.

Do you use any of these terms online?

Windows 10 Ransomware Discovered

Well this didn’t take long! A new form of ransomware has been discovered which if downloaded, will automatically encrypt your files before demanding a fee to unlock them. The distributors of this malicious code are attempting to impersonate Microsoft by “offering” users a free upgrade via email. This scam takes full advantage of the Windows 10 download process, which asks consumers to virtually wait in a metaphorical line for the upgrade.

So how does it work?

The distribution works by sending an email to consumers offering them a free Windows 10 upgrade. A sample of this type of email is below, firstly, the “from” address on the email is spoofed, (update<at>microsoft.com). This is not actually from Microsoft but from an IP address in Thailand. The attackers are also using a similar colour scheme to that of Microsoft with the aim of luring consumers into associating this email as genuine.

The next red flag is courtesy of the letter format which does not parse properly. This could be due to the targeted audience, a demographic using a non-standard character set, or the character set the adversaries were using to craft the email. Another suspicious but sneaky technique is the mail virus scanner which indicates the email is fine, it links to an open source mail scanner, but this is designed to trick users.

What is the Payload of the virus?

If this email is taken as a genuine correspondent from Microsoft, you will be asked to download a zip file which contains an executable file. Once run, the below screenshot will pop up. The payload is CTB-Locker, a ransomware variant and is currently being delivered to users at a high rate, whether it is via spam messages or exploit kits, adversaries are dropping a huge amount of different variants of ransomware. The functionality is similar to this kind of ransomware with a few extra features which include, the use of elliptical curve encryption which provides the same public/private key encryption but it’s a different type of algorithm with lower overheads.

Another feature for this locker includes using hard-coded IP addresses on non-standard ports to establish communication. There is also a significant amount of data being exchanged between systems, which are largely uncharacteristic for ransomware. An analysis of network traffic reveals that there were ~100 network streams to various IP addresses.  The most common ports being utilized are 9001, 443, 1443, and 666.

So how do I protect myself from this threat?

Be very careful with emails of this nature, look at the details and if unsure, research it, this is a powerful weapon at staying current and educated on the nature of these threats. Always question a “Free Upgrade” which is sent to your inbox, never open or install executable or any other file without checking the authenticity of the email and file. If in doubt, don’t open it.

These scams are becoming more sophisticated for the average user with the aim of virtually locking your files up. Always perform regular backups and use an up to date antivirus scanner as a matter of course.

Thank You to Cisco Blogs for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of digitallife

Computers Can Now Accurately Forge Human Handwriting

Alex Graves, a specialist in Long Short-Term Memory recurrent neural networks at the University of Toronto, published a number of fascinating findings before the documentation was quickly removed. Graves’ research is astonishing and revolves around the concept that specific data points in combination with a Long Short-Term Memory recurrent neural network can accurately predict complex sequences. To test this hypothesis, Graves created a program which analyzes the graphology of handwriting.

The software is able to judge the characteristics of each person’s handwriting technique and formulate new sentences with a staggering degree of accuracy. It’s not perfect, and a professional graphologist could probably tell the difference. However, it’s a technical feat and one which could be used to forge your signature or personal style. Everyone’s handwriting contains an assortment of individual nuances and computers can now decipher between minute changes in cursive text. The research team have released the tool which converts up to 100 characters in 5 distinct handwriting styles. In all honesty, I can’t see this being used in a positive manner and only to help online fraud. This probably explains why the original research post was removed from all public avenues.

Do you think this technological feat will simply be used be cybercriminals to commit identity fraud?

Thank You Tom’s Hardware for providing us with this information.

Statistics Show a Rise of Online Piracy in the UK

We’ve heard that the UK government is increasing the penalty for using online content illegally, with potential pirates now facing up to 10 years in jail. But now, let us show you why they came to this conclusion.

According to the Intellectual Property Office, online piracy has risen from 17% to 18% since their 2013 statistic. Breaking down the numbers, we see that 9% of Brits download music illegally, 6% have pirated at least a movie and 7% watched TV series online from illegal sources. But the latter numbers come from people who downloaded or streamed at least one item of pirated content over the span of three months.

The overall numbers show that 26% of music consumers are getting or streaming their music from pirated sources. A sizeable drop has been noticed for people who download or stream pirated movies, going down from 33% to 25%, but an increase of 3% has been noticed in TV series consumers, going up to 21%. The use of legal services doesn’t look too promising either.

A decrease from 40% to 39% of internet users can be seen in those who prefer to use legal sources, while those who mix legal and illegal sources seem to have maintained a 12% ratio. The overall download and streaming of legal content shows signs of slight decrease too, dropping from 70% to 69%, with a mix of legal and pirated content use remaining at the same 22% compared to the 2013 statistic.

In addition to the above, the research shows that there has been an increase of 6% in online media consumption, meaning that the more people consume online content, the more likely they are to either mix legal and illegal sources, or go ‘full-on-pirate’ and use illegal sources. But will the UK government change this by applying harsh penalties for online pirates? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thank you Endgadget for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Nick Falkner

We Could Be Teaching Computers How and What to Learn in the Near Future

We’ve seen a lot of projects and methods involving machine learning up until now, but the truth is that no matter how efficient and quick a computer is, the software will always be its limit. However, Microsoft plans to change that and is working on a new tool that would allow you to teach computers new things.

There is a lot of information about the project and tool on Microsoft’s website, but let’s get straight to what the Microsoft Research team wants to do. Take a jigsaw puzzle for example, where every piece of it fits somewhere and contributes to the big picture once complete. This seems to be the approach Microsoft hopes people will take, where each jigsaw puzzle piece is created by someone knowledgeable in his or her field. This means that a doctor can teach a computer how to search for specific patient details in a database, while a chef can teach it how to make the best dish according to a recipe.

However, to get a lot of people from different fields together in this project, Microsoft also needs to build the tool as simple and understandable as possible. This means that Microsoft is looking for a way to make the tool more autonomous and offer a simple and understandable user interface. I mean developers know how to use such tools, but they can’t expect a doctor to know how to use a complex development tool.

The tool, named Language Understanding Intelligent Service or LUIS for short, is part of the Oxford Project. Though it still is in its early stages, it may prove to be a strong and useful tool for complex AI development. You can view more details about the project over at Microsoft’s Blog. The tool can also be found over at its website here, but you will need to get an invitation first to try it out.

Image courtesy of Radio1.be

3D Printed Robot Can Jump 20x Its Own Height!

An evolutionary trend is beginning to develop as traditional ways of manufacturing are being replaced by the world of 3D printing. From Guns to toys, the notion of being able to physically build a product in your own home as many appeals. But when we think of this process, we think of small basic objects, well a new development has managed to design the first 3D printed robot.

A team at Harvard University in the US has “experimented with the idea of an autonomous robot which transitions from a rigid body to a soft one which can jump”. This robot is powered by a mix of butane and oxygen and it can jump more than 20 times its own height with the aim of then landing upright and not in pieces.

The design of this machine features a custom circuit board, a high voltage power source, a battery, an air compressor, butane fuel cells, six valves, an oxygen cartridge, and a pressure regulator and ducts to move the gas around. In order for the robot to jump, the mechanism is for it to inflate one or more of its legs, with the aim of pointing the body in the direction which it wants to move. The body is then filled with Oxygen and Butane and then it sort of, well, ignites itself. By doing this the robot expands the robot before propelling it into the air.

This is certainly a design which could open the door for 3D printed robots in the future, just imagine entering your living room, switching on your printer and building your own robot army. Or not as the case may be.  OK, not the two-footed, 8 feet tall Terminator Robots, but still Robots.

Thank You RT for providing us with this information

Self-Driving Taxis Could Be the Key to Greenhouse Gas Reduction

We have heard a lot of news about self-driving cars, mostly from Google, in the past years and they have already come a long way. The main focus in this area has been on reduction of accident rates, general safety, as well as freeing up your time. We’ve also seen how they can improve the quality of life for people who can’t drive any normal car, blind people for example.

A recently published study from Berkley Lab has found more good reasons for us humans to make the switch and the main one is the reduction of greenhouse gasses. The study suggests that switching the transportation grid from conventional vehicles to autonomous electric taxis could cut greenhouse gas emission levels up to 90 percent by 2030. Those numbers are of course the best case scenario where everyone plays ball and the infrastructure follows with charging stations and green power plants.

Transportation has to be smart. A lot of the times you don’t need that big car of yours to get around in, it’s just an unnecessary load to carry around. Automatic driving could also allow for very tight packed traffic that eliminates wind resistance and thereby reduces the energy needed and it would be able to pick the smartest route on any given time.

That is very optimistic and the researchers know that we as humans just won’t do that. There are too many people who would resist parts of it or all of it and they also got some good news on a smaller scale. If we just had self-driving taxis and they made up 5 percent of 2030’s estimated car sales (about 800,000 machines), they would cut carbon dioxide emissions by up to 2.4 million tons per year.

Thank You Engadget for providing us with this information