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The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk

June 29, 2012


Concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, Cambridge University philosopher Huw Price, and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn have formed The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk.

“These dangers have been suggested from progress in AI, from developments in biotechnology and artificial life, from nanotechnology, and from possible extreme effects of anthropogenic climate change,” the… read more

Making old muscles young again

September 27, 2012

Muscular tissue (credit: Polarlys/Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers at King’s College London, Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital have identified a key factor responsible for declining muscle repair during aging, and discovered how to halt the process in mice with a common drug.

The finding provides clues as to how muscles lose mass with age, which can result in weakness that affects mobility and may cause falls.

The study looked at stem… read more

How to erase fear from your brain

September 24, 2012

Amygdala activity predicts return of fear and correlates with recall of fear. (A) In the 6 hours group (top), activity in the amygdala (where fear memories are stored) predicted return of fear 2 days later.  In the 10 min group (bottom), an area in the right temporal claustrum extending into the amygdala was also related to SCR (x, y, z = 33, 2, –23; Z = 2.49; P = 0.006; 324 mm3). Because fear did not return in the 10 min group, the correlation may reflect individual brain-behavior relations unrelated to fear and the experimental manipulation. (B) In the 6 hours group (top), recall of fear during extinction covaried with the strength of amygdala activity bilaterally (x, y, z = 24, –1, –20; Z = 2.35; P = 0.009; 378 mm3; x, y, z = –15, 4, –17; Z=2.27; P = 0.012; 189mm3). No covariation existed in the 10min group (bottom).(Credit: T. Agren, J. Engman, A. Frick, J. Bjorkstrand, E.-M. Larsson, T. Furmark, M. Fredrikson/Science)

Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain, Uppsala University researchers have shown.

When a person learns something, a lasting long-term memory is created with the aid of a process of consolidation, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then restabilized by another consolidation process.

In other words,… read more

Cosmic web imaged for the first time

January 20, 2014


Astronomers have discovered a distant quasar illuminating a vast nebula of diffuse gas, revealing, for the first time, part of the network of filaments thought to connect galaxies in a cosmic web.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz led the study, published January 19 in Nature.

Using the 10-meter Keck I Telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers detected a… read more

Coffee drinkers have lower risk of death: NIH study

May 18, 2012


Older adults who drank coffee — caffeinated or decaffeinated — had a lower risk of death overall than others who did not drink coffee, according a study by researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and AARP.

Coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections, although the association was… read more

Obama signs executive order authorizing development of exascale supercomputers

A viable path forward for future HPC (high-performance computing) systems even after the limits of current semiconductor technology are reached (the "post-Moore's Law era")
August 3, 2015

Titan supercomputer (credit: ORNL)

President Obama has signed an executive order authorizing the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), with the goal of creating the world’s fastest supercomputers. The NSCI is charged with building the world’s first-ever exascale* (1,000-petaflops) computer — 30 times faster than today’s fastest supercomputer.

The order mandates:

  1. Accelerating delivery of a capable exascale computing system that integrates hardware and software capability to deliver approximately

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Why we need a supercomputer on the Moon

October 3, 2012


Building a supercomputer on the moon would be a mammoth technical undertaking, but a University of Southern California graduate student thinks there’s a very good reason for doing it: help alleviate a coming deep-space network traffic jam that’s had NASA scientists worried for several years now.

Ouliang Chang floated his lunar supercomputer idea a few weeks ago at a space conference in Pasadena, California, read more

We’re underestimating the risk of human extinction

March 7, 2012


Unthinkable as it may be, humanity, every last person, could someday be wiped from the face of the Earth. We have learned to worry about asteroids and supervolcanoes, but the more-likely scenario, according to Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, is that we humans will destroy ourselves.

Most worrying to Bostrom is the subset of existential risks that arise from human technology, a subset that he expects… read more

NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally

October 15, 2013

NSA documents

The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, The Washington Post reports.

  • The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books

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‘Imaginary meal’ tricks the body into losing weight

January 5, 2015

Ronald Evans, director of Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, has developed a compound called fexaramine that acts like an imaginary meal. Fexaramine, which tricks the body into reacting as if it has consumed calories, could lead to an effective obesity and diabetes treatment in humans. (credit: Courtesy of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies)

Salk researchers have developed an entirely new type of pill that tricks the body into thinking it has consumed calories, causing it to burn fat.

The compound effectively stopped weight gain, lowered cholesterol, controlled blood sugar, and minimized inflammation in mice, making it an excellent candidate for a rapid transition into human clinical trials.

Unlike most diet pills on the market, this new pill, called fexaramine,… read more

Information wants to be free, but the world isn’t ready

January 24, 2013

“Every few years, one of my friends from the early days of digital enthusiasm turns up on the media’s radar as a ‘defector,’” R.U. Sirius, former editor-in-chief of Mondo 2000, writes on The Verge. …

The latest chapter of this saga, “What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web,” … portrays Jaron Lanier (You Are Not A Gadget) as being like a… read more

Your memory can be altered by interfering information

A six-hour window
June 6, 2013

(Credit: iStockphoto)

You can manipulate an existing memory simply by suggesting new or different information, Iowa State University researchers have shown.

The key is timing and recall of that memory, said Jason Chan, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State.

“If you reactivate a memory by retrieving it, that memory becomes susceptible to changes again. And if at that time, you give people new contradictory… read more

Russian billionaire, Hawking announce $100 million search for ET

July 20, 2015

100 meter Green Bank Telescope, the world's largest steerable radio telescope (credit: Geremia/Wikimedia Commons)

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Frank Drake and others announced at The Royal Society today $100 million funding for Breakthrough Listen — the “most powerful, comprehensive, and intensive scientific search ever undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth.”

They also announced $1 million prize funding for Breakthrough Message, a competition to generate messages representing humanity and planet Earth.

“It’s time to commit to finding… read more

A challenge facing designers of future computer chips

November 8, 2012

The total conductance per unit area is similar for both tungsten (W) and gold (Au). However, by joining the two highly conducting metals, one finds a conductance density that is about 4 times lower of either material individually. (Credit: David J. Olivera et al./PNAS)

To build the computer chips of the future, designers will need to understand how an electrical charge behaves when it is confined to metal wires only a few atom-widths in diameter.

Researchers at at McGill University General Motors R&D, have shown that electrical current could be drastically reduced when wires from two dissimilar metals meet. The surprisingly sharp reduction in current reveals a significant challenge… read more

New way to store solar energy for use whenever it’s needed

July 14, 2011

Storing solar energy in chemical form (credit: Grossman/Kolpak)

MIT researchers have developed a new application of carbon nanotubes that shows promise as an innovative approach to storing solar energy for use whenever it’s needed.

Storing the sun’s heat in chemical form — rather than first converting it to electricity or storing the heat itself in a heavily insulated container — has… read more

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