Science is yummy.
Science is yummy.

Oddly enough today I am not going to be writing about the joys of sexbots. Not that I have anything against them, other than the fact that they are the first step is allowing our cybernetic overlords to enslave us. Instead I’m going to talk about stuff that has actual human benefits. The kind of stuff that can help you live longer, healthier, more productive lives. Even better, not one word of this blog will involve the consumption of kale. Nor will it involve you taking a survey of any kind. You can just sit there naked, eating Cheetohs, being all 50 Shades of Passive, and allow me to pour knowledge into your brain, much like they did in THX-1138. Only without the cattle prods. Or leather clad officials with thigh high boots and helmets.

I’m sorry if you’ll miss that part.

While Japan, naturally, is working on a variety of sexual aids that will have artificial intelligence, think SIRI with a whole new purpose, other scientists have been looking for more practical applications. Nothing wrong with sex but you can’t eat or breathe it. At least not literally.

There is a thing called the Turing Test which is what scientists use to detect sentience. There is a visual aspect and an aural aspect. Each requires cognitive recognition by the subject. Natalie Zutter writes that a cybernetic mind just passed the first part.

In 2014, artificial intelligence experts at the University of Reading celebrated as their AI program managed to pass the Turing test. Coined by Alan Turing in a 1950 paper, the test requires that a computer convince testers that it is human at least 30% of the time through keyboard conversations. Now, this apparent triumph has since been disputed, with opponents pointing out that the AI program was designed to act like a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, putting certain constraints on the conversation at the start. Now, a new research article in the latest issue of Science claims that an AI program has passed the Turing test—but a visual test, not a conversational one.

The test was fairly straightforward: Both a human and the computer system were shown a character that doesn’t belong to any of the world’s alphabets but looks like it could be part of a fictional language; i.e., it shares features with preexisting letters. Each was then asked to redraw the character, but with subtle differences; you can see below that that means changing the proportions while maintaining the original form. In other tests, both the software and the person were given a set of unfamiliar characters (again, not real letters) and asked to create a new one that matches the others in the series.

AI passes visual Turing test
A team of human judges were then asked to guess which set belonged to the human, and which to the AI. Here’s the kicker: They could identify the AI’s characters only about 50 percent of the time, the same as chance.

The fact that this visual test is deceptively simple actually supports the scientists’ reasoning. As the researchers explained in the Science paper,

People learning new concepts can often generalize successfully from just a single example, yet machine learning algorithms typically require tens or hundreds of examples to perform with similar accuracy. People can also use learned concepts in richer ways than conventional algorithms—for action, imagination, and explanation. We present a computational model that captures these human learning abilities for a large class of simple visual concepts: handwritten characters from the world’s alphabets.

Rather than approach the problem like a computer would, the AI mimicked humans’ elasticity of learning, including the ability to learn new concepts from just a few patterns. This computational model is called a probabilistic program, the researchers further explained in a press release from MIT. Josh Tenenbaum, one of the system’s co-developers who comes from the MIT Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines, lays it out: “In the current AI landscape, there’s been a lot of focus on classifying patterns. But what’s been lost is that intelligence isn’t just about classifying or recognizing; it’s about thinking.”

Go ahead and try it yourself. It’s not as easy as it seems. But, it’s also what your mind does naturally every day. You can extrapolate concepts from limited data. You don’t need to have a full data set of meteorological research in front of you to know it feels likes it’s going to rain. It’s the basis behind what we know of as sentience.

And that balance we maintain can be disrupted in the most unusual ways. T.J. Raphael writes about how reading digital content can cause your mind to be unable to process real world content, such as newspapers and books.

Manoush Zomorodi, managing editor and host of WNYC’s New Tech City, recalls a conversation with the Washington Post’s Mike Rosenwald, who’s researched the effects of reading on a screen. “He found, like I did, that when he sat down to read a book his brain was jumping around on the page. He was skimming and he couldn’t just settle down. He was treating a book like he was treating his Twitter feed,” she says.

Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards “non-linear” reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.

“They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.”

So what’s deep reading? It’s the concentrated kind we do when we want to “immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,” Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don’t typically do on a computer. “Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.”

Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.

“I don’t worry that we’ll become dumb because of the Internet,” Wolf says, “but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we’re just given too much stimulation. That’s, I think, the nub of the problem.”

Deep reading is also what inspires your imagination and other cerebral attributes that allow you to process data more thoroughly. Not that the internet will make anyone dumb, just that it could limit your ability to survive outside of a well controlled environment.

Like the ones your robot overlords are preparing.

And, as with any venture by humans into any new realm, there can be unintended consequences. Josh L. Davis writes about how global warming is postponing the next ice age.

It appears that through the burning of fossil fuels and filling the atmosphere with carbon, mankind has caused the world to “skip” an ice age, potentially postponing the next one by between 50,000 to 100,000 years. The new research came to this conclusion after modeling the conditions needed to tip the planet into a glacial period. They found that while Earth is at the right point in its orbit around the Sun, the level of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere is far too high.

The study reports that the onset of a major glaciation, in which ice sheets would cover most of Europe, North America, and Russia, was prevented at the start of the Industrial Revolution, as the burning of coal caused the amount of greenhouse gasses being emitted to rise above threshold levels, at 240 parts per million of carbon. Since then, as the amount of carbon in our atmosphere has been steadily rising (currently sitting at around 400 parts per million), the researchers calculate that we’ve probably pushed the event back by around 100,000 years.

“The bottom line is that we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented,” explains Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research’s Andrey Ganopolski, the lead author of the study. “It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it.”

The new paper gives further weight to the notion that we have entered a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – in which the Earth and its climate is impacted by humanity, to such an extent that it will still be affected tens of thousands of years into the future.

Before you break out the cargo shorts in celebration, keep in mind that we have arable soil, that stuff that grows stuff, thanks to the last ice age. Also keep in mind that without the regular cooling there are many other bad things that can happen to our planet. Rising water levels, expanded deserts, less land for agriculture, and so on. Since we need land to live on and food to eat, those are things worthy of your concern.

So, do I have any good news? Actually, yes. Chris Matthews reports that Ghana has started a space program.


Yes, Ghana. And for a series of reasons that should make you want to grow ours.

Nestled on the top floor in between university classrooms and engineering laboratories, the epicentre of ANUC’s space initiative is a small, unassuming room. Multiple monitors on one side make up its ground station while a prototype of its CubeSat and a white board of ideas draw your attention at the other.

“I remember the very first day we heard a voice,” said Bennett. “We were here one evening just tracking satellites… and we turned it on and we could hear a voice. [It’s] not very common in our region to hear a live voice signal. We were very excited and jumping around the place.”

This excitement for space science was spurred by Ghana’s government, which in 2011 launched the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI). It follows in the path of several other African nations in promoting space science and looking to the final frontier to help address on-the-ground issues and local problems.

Approaching the gates of Ghana’s Atomic Energy Commission in Accra, where two guards stand in front, I enter and pass down the long driveway and a cluster of concrete buildings hidden from the roadside come into view.

Individuals in white coats and suits walk around the well-kept lawns as staff from the GSSTI drive me around the complex. Here, development work for the government program is underway, but is kept under wraps during my visit. GSSTI’s conversion of a 32-metre satellite antenna into a telescope as part of its radio astronomy project is off limits, although GSSTI said it should be completed in June.

In addition to unveiling a telescope and astronomy centre in collaboration with the South African government, GSSTI has designs to send its first satellite to space by 2020. The government allocated GHC$38.5 million (US$10 million) to nuclear and space science technology in 2015 as it aims to further space education and benefit from its own satellite imagery.

A short drive outside the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission is the University of Ghana’s graduate school where many GSSTI staff are based, including Eric Aggrey, a project manager at the institute.

“[People] always see space science as just sending man to the Moon,” he explained. “I am very much keen about human development… most of the time our teaching ends on the blackboard and now we can have people practising their skills. [That] will help us a lot.”

The government has 20 staff at its institute, while the nearby University of Ghana has started courses in astronomy, as does the Kwame Nkrumah University in Kumasi. ANUC’s initiative currently employs six people, and the school has aspirations to start academic courses in astronomy and space science. Outreach programs on space education are also happening at primary schools across the country.

But the value of the nascent Ghanaian space program isn’t just for education. At present, the nation is reliant on satellite images from foreign companies, but by having its own independent satellites, Aggrey and others believe significant benefits can be felt across society.

“God willing, we will also go into launching our own satellite. In the next couple of years we are going to be able to clearly define our needs and design a satellite to fill our needs,” Aggrey said.

“If we have our own or a regional satellite then we will have a common agenda if it is for agriculture, environmental degradation, storms… then we can use them to address local problems,” said Godfred Frempong, chief scientist at the country’s Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI).

“[In] Ghana, for example, illegal mining is destroying our environment,” Frempong continued. “So if we have a satellite [in orbit] we can use it to pinpoint where activity is going on. That would perhaps not be activity of interest to the US, but it is of interest to us.”

As you might have noted, their concerns aren’t about harvesting asteroids but getting a better grip on their agriculture and natural resources. A working space program can give them that. In fact it’s really the only way.

Here’s something else a space program can provide; materials that can handle horribly adverse conditions. Why does that matter to you? Well, the next time a plane crashes keep in mind that, thanks to Vladimir Tatarenko utilizing these new technologies, instead of dying you could float safely to the ground.

“Surviving in a plane crash is possible,” claims Ukrainian aviation engineer Vladimir Tatarenko who devoted much of his life to inventing a life-saving capsule that can help thousands to survive in aviation accidents.

While working at the Antonov serial production plant, the aircraft manufacturing company in Kyiv, Tatarenko was often a member of special commissions, working on the scenes of accidents.

“Looking at these horrible scenes and knowing the statistics of crashes I came to certain conclusions. People are wrong about air disasters, because some 80% of them happen due to human error,” the inventor told in an interview to the Ukrainian e-zine AIN.UA

“While aircraft engineers all over the world are trying to make planes safer, they can do nothing about the human factor,” Tatarenko added, explaining how he came up with the idea of a rescue container.

After five-decade research Tatarenko has received a patent on the invention of the escape capsule system designed to rescue crew and passengers of a civil aircraft in case of emergency.


The idea of an ejecting capsule in the commercial aircrafts is not new, Russian inventor Gamil Halidov has also come up with the similar concept of a passenger compartment with a huge parachute.


“For years the research community was unable to bring it to life, because engineers could not find a suitable material. But we have used carbon-fiber – a very strong and lightweight material, which proved to be suitable,” Tatarenko said.

The system envisages that the capsule with seats for passengers and crew is installed inside the aircraft’s fuselage. It could escape through the rear hatch of the aircraft within two to three seconds in case of almost all emergencies – engine failure, fire on board, technical problems triggered by bad weather conditions and other troubles.

The benefits there are self-explanatory. Right now the only downside is that all luggage would be lost, but they’re working on it. Unlike your robot overlords, they put people first.

Well, someone had to.

Now, I’m sure that you’ve seen those cute electric cars on TV and the occasional street. And I’m sure your first reaction was “GO BACK TO BERKELEY YOU FUCKING TREE HUGGER!”

That’s okay. Not everyone reacts well to change. That said, one basic problem with them is that you have to charge them every few hours and random strangers tend to frown on you pulling up to their homes and plugging your car into their electrical outlets.

That was then. This is now. Inventor Ismael Aviso, in the Philippines, has come up with a self charging motor. All verified independently by the Philippine’s Department of Energy (DOE).

DOE Test Results

The Technology Application and Promotion Institute, a division of the Philippine Department of Energy, tested two technologies developed by Ismael Aviso: his electric car and his repelling force.

In testing the electric car, they compared the efficiency of the DC motor using a conventional power supply (MERALCO), to the efficiency of the DC motor using Aviso’s power source.  Their measurement equipment included a dynamometer (which measures the torque produced by the spinning wheel); and oscilloscopes, to measure electrical output.  They ran three tests of each type.

As was expected, the efficiency of the DC motor using the conventional power supply coming from a wall outlet was 45%.  More than half the energy is being wasted as back-EMF, resistance, and heat.

But with Aviso’s apparatus in place, the DC motor measured the efficiency as 133% — meaning that more energy was produced than was consumed; validating the claim of “self-running” (with unseen energy being harvested from the environment).

In his preparatory meeting with them last week, he told them that the “conventional” mode will show the DC motor running at its rated efficiency of around 65%, while the Aviso mode will show at least 90% efficiency; and he told them he wouldn’t be surprised if it showed 140% efficiency – very clearly harnessing energy from the surroundings.  Now today, he nearly reached the 140% high projected.

In the repelling force test, his mode of propelling a one kilogram weight 33 feet in the air consumed four times less energy than by means of an ordinary low speed motor.

Aviso said the full test results report will be made available next week, after which they will recommend the funding of his technology (not by the Philippine government, which does not have the budget for this, but by qualified third parties).


Aviso provided the following video of today’s testing, most of it in time-lapse mode to speed up the video.

Here’s a letter that the department sent Aviso on February 14 to schedule today’s test.  It says that the testing would be witnessed by members of the Inter-Agency Technical Evaluation Committee at the UP-VTRL compound of the Technology Application and Promotion Institute, a division of the Department of Energy.

As mentioned in our last story about this technology, Aviso was featured Monday morning on Channel 7, the largest TV network in the Philippines.  They accompanied him to the meeting with the Department of Energy on February 17, in which the proposed testing procedure was discussed.  Here’s the video of their coverage that they posted today on their site.

If you click Ismael’s link above you can even get the plans to build your own engine and try it out yourself. For a micro-car or two-seater, it works fine.

In America, legendary drag racer, Big Daddy Don Garlits, has developed an electric motor which can attain speeds of over 200 mph. So the engines needed to make electric cars commercially feasible now exists. With Ismael’s new technology you can look forward to quiet, high speed, environmentally friendly, vehicles that would have many commercial applications.

Just consider this some more fun stuff science has done while you were out.

Idles – 26/27 from Felix Drake on Vimeo.

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