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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.

Revenge of the Right Brain

January 28, 2005

To flourish in this age, we’ll need to supplement our well-developed high tech abilities with aptitudes that are “high concept” and “high touch.”

High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn’t know it was missing. High touch involves the capacity to empathize, to understand the subtleties of… read more

Laser applications heat up for carbon nanotubes

January 27, 2005

Carbon nanotubes may find one of its quickest applications in the next generation of standards for optical power measurements, which are essential for laser systems used in manufacturing, medicine, communications, lithography, space-based sensors and other technologies.

As described in a forthcoming paper in Applied Optics, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have made prototype pyroelectric detectors coated with carbon… read more

Brain ‘avalanches’ may help store memories

January 27, 2005

Recent studies suggest that avalanches in your brain could actually help you to store memories.

Slices of rat brain tissue placed on a microelectrode array have shown that the brain cells activate each other in cascades called “neuronal avalanches.” New computer models by Indiana University biophysicist John Beggs now suggest that these brain avalanches may be optimal for information storage. If so, certain neurochemical treatments might someday improve life… read more

Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy

January 27, 2005

Scientists have begun blurring the line between human and animal by producing chimeras—a hybrid creature that’s part human, part animal.

Chinese scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University in 2003 successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs.

In Minnesota last year researchers at the Mayo Clinic created pigs with human blood flowing through their bodies.

And at Stanford University in California an experiment might be done later… read more

Soaring global warming ‘can’t be ruled out’

January 27, 2005

A research project tested thousands of climate models and found that some produced a world that warmed by a huge 11.5°C when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached the levels expected to be seen later this century.

Novel technology detects human DNA mutations

January 26, 2005

Nanosphere says its new ClearRead nanoparticle-based technology allows detection of a SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism, which indicates the extent to which the gene is normal or mutated) in an unknown genotype with a greater than 99 percent confidence threshold and can be used with human DNA obtained from samples as small as a drop of blood.

The technology, reported in the February 2005 (Volume 33, Number 2), issue of… read more

Information Wants to be Liquid

January 26, 2005

The Liquid Information project wants to tear down the web and rebuild it in the image of Wikipedia: a free-for-all where readers are writers and no word is sacrosanct.

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