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What makes us decide to stay or go?

June 16, 2011

Michael Platt and colleagues at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University have found that a small group of neurons in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of the primate brain steadily increases its firing rate during foraging until a threshold is reached and the animal moves on.

The experimenters had the rhesus macaque monkeys direct their gaze to selected portions of a computer screen to… read more

What makes Paris look like Paris? CMU software uncovers stylistic core

Visual data mining of Google Street View identifies cities' distinctive details
August 8, 2012

These two photos might seem nondescript, but each contains hints about which city it might belong to. Given a large image database of a given city, our algorithm is able to automatically discover the geographically-informative elements (patch clusters to the right of each photo) that help in capturing its “look and feel”. On the top, the emblematic street sign, a balustrade window, and the balcony support are all very indicative of Paris, while on the bottom, the neoclassical columned entryway sporting a balcony, a Victorian window, and, of course, the cast iron railing are very much features of London.


Paris is one of those cities that has a look all its own, something that goes beyond landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and INRIA/Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris have developed visual data mining software that can automatically detect these sometimes subtle features, such as street signs, streetlamps and balcony railings, that give Paris and other… read more

What Kind of Genius Are You?

July 12, 2006

A new theory suggests that creativity comes in two distinct types — quick and dramatic, or careful and quiet.

“Conceptual innovators” make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young.

“Experimental innovators” proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers.

What it’ll take to go exascale

January 30, 2012

The K computer (credit: RIKEN)

The next generation of powerful supercomputers will be used to design high-efficiency engines tailored to burn biofuels, reveal the causes of supernova explosions, track the atomic workings of catalysts in real time, and study how persistent radiation damage might affect the metal casing surrounding nuclear weapons.

Those uses require supercomputers more powerful than any yet designed: These “exascale” computers would be capable of carrying out 1018 floating point operations per… read more

What is your dog thinking? Brain scans unleash canine secrets

May 7, 2012

Callie training in a scanner mock-up (credit: Carol Clark)

Emory Center for Neuropolicy researchers at Emory University have developed a new method to scan the brains of alert dogs and explore their minds. The technique uses functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the same tool that is unlocking secrets of the human brain.

“It was amazing to see the first brain images of a fully awake, unrestrained dog,” says Gregory Berns, director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy and… read more

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?

January 4, 2006

The “third culture thinkers” in the Edge community of scientists and science-minded thinkers have written 117 original essays in response to the 2006 Edge Question: “What is your dangerous idea?”.

The answers include “The self is a conceptual chimera” (John Allen Paulos),”We are all virtual” (Clifford Pickover), and “The near-term inevitability of radical life extension and expansion” (Ray Kurzweil).

What is Traitorware?

December 28, 2010

Your digital camera may embed metadata into photographs with the camera’s serial number or your location. Your printer may be incorporating a secret code on every page it prints which could be used to identify the printer and potentially the person who used it. If Apple puts a particularly creepy patent it has recently applied for into use, you can look forward to a day when… read more

What is the optimal size of a power grid?

April 14, 2014

Areas affected by the blackout of 2003 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

David Newman, a physicist at the University of Alaska, believes that smaller grids would reduce the likelihood of severe outages, such as the 2003 Northeast blackout that cut power to 50 million people in the United States and Canada for up to two days.

Newman and co-authors make their case in the journal Chaos.

North America has three power grids that transmit electricity from hundreds of… read more

What is the ‘Higgs Boson’ and why is it important?

Articles and videos for non-physicists
July 5, 2012


What It Means to Find ‘a Higgs’ — Scientific American 

Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe — The New York Times

Howard Bloom, author of the forthcoming book, The God Problem: How A Godless Cosmos Createscomments: “The god particle, the Higgs boson, is a bit of a red herring. It’s an… read more

What is the Brain Activity Map? A Q&A with George Church

March 4, 2013


Last summer, six scientists proposed a project they compared in scope and ambition to the Human Genome Project: to map the activity of the human brain. In February, news media reported that the Obama administration plans to move forward with that effort, known as the Brain Activity Map.

One of those six scientists was George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School… read more

What is the best shape for cancer-fighting nanoparticles?

June 5, 2012


Scientists at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI) and six other institutions suggest that nanoparticles ought to be disc-shaped, not spherical or rod-shaped, when targeting cancers at or near blood vessels.

“The vast majority — maybe 99 percent — of the work being done right now is using nanoparticles that are spherical,” said TMHRI biomedical engineer Paolo Decuzzi, Ph.D., principal investigator for both projects. “But evidence… read more

What Is I.B.M.’s Watson?

June 17, 2010

IBM scientists have been developing a supercomputer called “Watson” that they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday natural language by accessing information in tens of millions of documents.

The producers of “Jeopardy!” have now agreed to pit Watson against some of the game’s best former players as early as this fall as a test of Watson’s capabilities… read more

What is DARPA’s Plan X?

October 19, 2012

Plan X (credit: DARPA)

On October 15 and 16, DARPA outlined its plans for Plan X to more than 350 software engineers, cyber researchers, and human-machine interface experts and solicited their feedback, in preparation for anticipated release in the next month of the program’s Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), to be posted to

DARPA‘s Plan X program,. the first of its kind, will attempt to create revolutionary technologies for… read more

What is 5G and when can I get it?

March 25, 2015

(credit: Huawei)

Imagine being able to download a full-length 8GB HD movie to your phone in six seconds (versus seven minutes over 4G or more than an hour on 3G) and video chats so immersive that it will feel like you can reach out and touch the other person right through the screen.

That’s the vision for the 5G concept — the next generation of wireless networks — presented at the… read more

What if your laptop knew how you felt?

December 22, 2006

Computers can now analyze a face from video or a still image and infer almost as accurately as humans (or better) the emotion it displays.

Developed at MIT, “Mind Reader” uses input from a video camera to perform real-time analysis of facial expressions.

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