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The Darwinian Interlude

February 3, 2005

The Darwinian era is over — cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the driving force of change, says Freeman Dyson, professor emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study.

“Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence that we call globalization.

“And… read more

Software Taming Gene Data Pool

February 3, 2005

New software is making it easier for researchers to search and pool the massive amount of data generated by microarray technologies — which consist of silicon chips that light up to reveal active genes, allowing researchers to see which genes are being expressed and how.

Webcams Transport Virtual Visitors

February 3, 2005

“Video chatting” is getting easier and more popular thanks to a growing number of service providers, fast broadband connections, and new cameras.

Using lightweight portable minicameras mounted on computer screens, people can see and be seen by friends or virtual strangers who are invited into the home to talk and take a look around.

‘Zero intelligence’ trading closely mimics stock market

February 3, 2005

A model that assumes stock market traders have zero intelligence has been found to mimic the behavior of the London Stock Exchange very closely, say researchers at the Santa Fe Institute.

The researchers say the finding could be used to identify ways to lower volatility in the stock markets and reduce transaction costs.

Mirror that reflects your future self

February 3, 2005

Accenture Technology is developing an image-processing computer system that shows you what you will look like in five years’ time if you take no exercise, eat too much junk food and drink too much alcohol.

Cameras monitor your activity and a computer asks you to identify food eaten and other behaviors. The computer then calculates your likely future appearance and displays in on a flat-screen LCD TV.

Sex and the single robot

February 3, 2005

“Artificial chromosomes” that will allow robots to feel lusty, and could eventually lead to them reproducing?

That’s what South Korean professor Kim Jong-Hwan, director of the ITRC-Intelligent Robot Research Centre, hopes to develop to make robots more human-like.

Kim said: “Robots will have their own personalities and emotion and — as films like I Robot warn — that could be very dangerous for humanity. If we can provide… read more

Nano bridge builds logic

February 2, 2005

Japanese researchers have devised a nanoscale mechanical switch that works by rapidly creating and destroying a minuscule metal bridge between a pair of wires positioned just one nanometer apart.

If each switch were used as a memory element, such a configuration would allow a memory chip made from the switches to store 2.5 gigabits per square centimeter. Today’s state-of-the-art memory chips store about 1 gigabit per square centimeter.… read more

Profile: Margaret Atwood

February 2, 2005

A future in which a genetically engineered virus has devastated the world, leaving behind a nightmarish wasteland where insects proliferate and chimeric animals run amok: that’s the theme of Margaret Atwood’s new novel, Oryx and Crake.

Hewlett Reports Advance in Molecular-Scale Device

February 1, 2005

Hewlett-Packard researchers have created a molecular-scale alternative to the transistor. The device could increase the viability of a new generation of ultrasmall electronics.

They have designed a nanoscale “crossbar latch,” a wire that is crossed by two other wires. The resulting junctions serve as switches that are only a few atoms across and can be programmed by a repeatable set of electrical pulses. Standard electronic devices require larger conventional… read more

‘Bio-barcoding’ promises early Alzheimer’s diagnosis

February 1, 2005

Combining magnetic and gold nanoparticles with strands of DNA could allow for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and even prevent symptoms from ever appearing.

Bio-barcoding, shown to be thousands of times more sensitive for protein detection than conventional tests, can test for proteins called amyloid-beta-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs), which exist at elevated levels in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Scientists grow critical nerve cells

January 31, 2005

Scientists have coaxed human embryonic stem cells to become spinal motor neurons.

With healthy cells grown in the lab, scientists could, in theory, replace dying motor neurons to restore function and alleviate the symptoms of disease or injury.

The researchers deduced that there is only a thin sliver of time – roughly the third and fourth week of human development – in which stem cells could be successfully… read more

Google’s search for meaning

January 30, 2005

Computers can now deduce the meaning of words from the frequency of nearby words in Google searches. The finding could bring forward the day that true artificial intelligence is developed.

Paul Vitanyi and Rudi Cilibrasi of the National Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in Amsterdam have developed a statistical indicator based on a measure of a logical distance separating a pair of words: the “normalised Google distance,” or… read more

Tool for Thought

January 30, 2005

2005 may be the year when tools for thought become a reality for people who manipulate words for a living, thanks to the release of nearly a dozen new programs all aiming to do for your personal information what Google has done for the Internet.

These programs share two remarkable properties: the ability to interpret the meaning of text documents; and the ability to quickly filter through thousands of… read more

Teaching Computers to Read No Simple Task

January 30, 2005

Two Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professors who are trying to build a machine that can learn by reading basic texts, like algebra and astronomy, in three years.

Funding by a DARPA grant, they hope to create a machine that can read sections of textbooks and answer questions based on the material. They believe that in the future, such AI machines might be able to take in all the relevant cultural,… read more

Unnatural Selection

January 28, 2005

Evolutionary algorithms, also known as genetic algorithms, are proving useful for solving complex problems, such as antenna design, and even creating inventions.

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