Scientists Create a Way For People With Amputations To Feel Their Prosthetics ( 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Prosthetic hands have gotten increasingly sophisticated. Many can recreate the complex shape and detail of joints and fingers, while powered prostheses allow for independent, willful movement. But a new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine offers a potential glimpse into the future of the technology: Artificial hands that actually feel like a living limb as they move. The researchers recruited people with amputations who had been given surgery that reconfigured certain muscle and sensory nerves surrounding the amputated limb, allowing them to control their prosthesis through intuitive brain signals (thoughts) sent to the repurposed nerves. Across a series of experiments involving three of these patients, the researchers attached devices that generated vibrations along specific muscles near the amputation site. When the device was turned on, these vibrations created an illusionary sense of kinesthesia -- an awareness of conscious self-movement -- in the prosthetic hand as the person performed tasks with it, both in a virtual stimulation and in the real world. The volunteers had amputations that extended just past their elbow as well as their whole arm. Not only did the experiment let them "feel" their hand as they opened and closed it, but the restored intuition allowed them to perform tasks without needing to constantly look at their hand. And coupled with vision, it gave them overall better motor control over their prosthesis.

All Disk Galaxies Rotate Once Every Billion Years ( 89

According to a new study published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers discovered that all disk galaxies rotate about once every billion years, no matter their size or mass. Astronomy Magazine reports: To carry out the study, the researchers measured the radial velocities of neutral hydrogen in the outer disks of a plethora of galaxies -- ranging from small dwarf irregulars to massive spirals. These galaxies differed in both size and rotational velocity by up to a factor of 30. With these radial velocity measurements, the researchers were able to calculate the rotational period of their sample galaxies, which led them to conclude that the outer rims of all disk galaxies take roughly a billion years to complete one rotation. However, the researchers note that further research is required to confirm the clock-like spin rate is a universal trait of disk galaxies and not just a result of selection bias. Based on theoretical models, the researchers also expected to find only sparse populations of young stars and interstellar gas on the outskirts of these galaxies. But instead, they discovered a significant population of much older stars mingling with the young stars and gas.

Air Pollution is Bad For Productivity, Even in Office Jobs ( 41

It seems reasonable that breathing in pollution would affect worker productivity, but only recently has the damage been documented. From a report: In a series of studies that match readings from air monitors with the results of workers who are paid for daily piece work, researchers demonstrated that breathing polluted air impedes the ability of workers to pick berries, pack fruit, or even make phone calls from office cubicles.

The studies, which were collected in the journal Science (pay wall) in January, were conducted over 10 years by team of researchers at Columbia, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, San Diego. The biggest impact of air pollution was measured in farm workers in California's Central Valley, who were paid by the volume of grapes and blueberries they collected. On days that had higher readings of ground-level ozone -- a harmful gas formed when tailpipe emissions mix with sunlight -- worker productivity slumped.

Over the two years they measured the ozone, readings ranged from 10 to 86 parts per billion, and averaged 48 ppb. For every 10 ppb increase in ozone, worker productivity fell 5.5%. For farm workers paid about $9 or $10 an hour, the lost productivity translates into about 45 cents an hour of lower pay, said Matthew Neidell, an economist at Columbia and an author of the studies.


Microsoft Announces Breakthrough In Chinese-To-English Machine Translation ( 72

A team of Microsoft researchers announced on Wednesday they've created the first machine translation system that's capable of translating news articles from Chinese to English with the same accuracy as a person. "The company says it's tested the system repeatedly on a sample of around 2,000 sentences from various online newspapers, comparing the result to a person's translation in the process -- and even hiring outside bilingual language consultants to further verify the machine's accuracy," reports TechCrunch. From the report: The sample set, called newstest2017, was released just last fall at the research conference WMT17. Deep neural networks, a method of training A.I. systems, allowed the researchers to create more fluent and natural-sounding translations that take into account broader context that the prior approaches, called statistical machine translation. Microsoft's researchers also added their own training methods to the system to improve its accuracy -- things they equate to how people go over their own work time and again to make sure it's right.

The researchers said they used methods including dual learning for fact-checking translations; deliberation networks, to repeat translations and refine them; and new techniques like joint training, to iteratively boost English-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-English translation systems; and agreement regularization, which can generate translations by reading sentences both left-to-right and right-to-left. Zhou said the techniques used to achieve the milestone won't be limited to machine translations. The researchers caution the system has not yet been tested on real-time news stories, and there are other challenges that still lie ahead before the technology could be commercialized into Microsoft's products.
You can play around with the new translation system here.

A Brief History of Stephen Hawking ( 48

New Scientist: The most recognisable scientist of our age, Hawking holds an iconic status. [...] He was routinely consulted for oracular pronouncements on everything from time travel and alien life to Middle Eastern politics and nefarious robots. He had an endearing sense of humour and a daredevil attitude -- relatable human traits that, combined with his seemingly superhuman mind, made Hawking eminently marketable.

But his cultural status -- amplified by his disability and the media storm it invoked -- often overshadowed his scientific legacy. That's a shame for the man who discovered what might prove to be the key clue to the theory of everything, advanced our understanding of space and time, helped shape the course of physics for the last four decades and whose insight continues to drive progress in fundamental physics today.
The New York Times: 1970 Dr. Hawking shows that the area of a black hole's event horizon -- a spherical surface marking the point of no return -- can only increase, never decrease, as stuff falls into a black hole or it collides and merges with other black holes.
1971 He suggests that mini black holes much smaller than stars created in the Big Bang could be peppering the universe.
1974 He shocks his colleagues and the world by showing that black holes will leak and explode when quantum effects -- the weird laws that describe subatomic behavior -- are taken into account.
1976 Dr. Hawking says exploding black holes add randomness and unpredictability to the universe, forever erasing information about what might have fallen into a black hole.

Quantum physicists object, saying the universe can't forget, initiating a 40-year argument about the fate of information. Dr. Hawking concedes in 2004, but does not say how information is preserved in a black hole, and the argument continues to this day.
1982 Using a mathematical conceit called imaginary time, Dr. Hawking and James Hartle, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, propose a model of a self-contained universe that has no boundary in space or time, and thus no place or time when the laws of physics break down. [...]
Further reading: Stephen Hawking is still underrated (The Atlantic); Science mourns Stephen Hawking's death (Nature); and How it all began: a colleague reflects on the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking (Smithsonian).

SEC Charges Theranos, CEO Elizabeth Holmes With 'Massive Fraud' ( 128

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The SEC has charged Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani with fraud relating to the startup's fundraising activities. The company, as well as CEO Holmes and former president Balwani are said to have raised more than $700 million from investors through "an elaborate, years-long fraud." This involved making "false statements about the company's technology, business and financial performance." In a statement, the commission said that the company, and its two executives, misled investors about the capability of its blood testing technology. Theranos' big selling point was that its hardware could scan for a number of diseases with just a small drop of blood. Unfortunately, the company was never able to demonstrate that its system worked as well as its creators claimed.

The company and Elizabeth Holmes have already agreed to settle the charges leveled against them by the SEC. Holmes will have to pay a $500,000 fine and return 18.9 million shares in Theranos that she owned, as well as downgrading her super-majority equity into common stock. The CEO is now barred from serving as the officer or director of a public company for 10 years. In addition, if Theranos is liquidated or acquired, Holmes cannot profit from her remaining shareholding unless $750 million is handed back to defrauded investors. Balwani, on the other hand, is facing a federal court case in the Northern District of California where the SEC will litigate its claims against him.
Worth noting: the court still has to approve the deals between Holmes and Theranos, and neither party has admitted any wrongdoing.
United States

Extreme Winter Weather In the US Linked To a Warming Arctic ( 219

A new study shows how global climate change can have ripple effects at the local level. According to the research, extreme winter weather is two to four times more likely in the eastern U.S. when the Arctic is unusually warm. The Verge reports: Researchers analyzed a variety of atmospheric data in the Arctic, as well as how severe winter weather was in 12 cities across the U.S. from 1950 to 2016. Since 1990, as the Arctic has been warming up and losing ice, extreme cold snaps and heavy snow in the winter have been two to four times more frequent in the eastern U.S. and the Midwest, while in the western U.S., their frequency has decreased, according to a study published today in Nature Communications. The study, however, only shows there might be a correlation -- not a direct causal link -- between the warming Arctic and severe winters in the U.S. And it doesn't show how exactly the two are connected, so it doesn't really add much to what scientists already knew, according to several experts.

Today's study focuses on the Arctic as the main culprit for the extreme winter weather. Previous research has suggested that the warming Arctic may disrupt the polar vortex, a ring of swirling cold air circling the North Pole. Think of the polar vortex as a river, says study co-author Judah Cohen, a climatologist and director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research. The fast flow of this river locks up the cold air over the Arctic. But as the Arctic warms -- especially in some areas like the Barents-Kara seas north of Europe and Russia -- a boulder springs up in this river, disrupting the polar vortex and allowing the freezing Arctic air to flow south, Cohen says.


UFO Disclosure Group Releases Newest Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet UFO Encounter Video ( 241

alaskana98 writes: CNN and other media outlets are reporting that the "To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science" group has released the third in a series of videos purportedly showing an encounter between Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots and an object moving at seemingly impossible speeds off the East Coast of the United States. The video was captured by the Raytheon: Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) pod and includes audio of the pilots excitedly observing this object from far above as it zooms over the ocean surface. The ATFLIR system has trouble getting a lock on the object at first but then gets a lock on it eventually demonstrating that whatever this this was it wasn't a figment of the pilots imaginations. If the video is authentic there are indeed some strange things flying in our skies. The video can be viewed here.

Stephen Hawking, Who Examined the Universe and Explained Black Holes, Dies at 76 ( 307

Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, has died at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. From a report: A family spokesman announced the death in a statement to several news media outlets. "Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world," Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview. Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes," published in 1988. It has sold more than 10 million copies and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris.

The 2014 film about his life, "The Theory of Everything," was nominated for several Academy Awards and Eddie Redmayne, who played Dr. Hawking, won the best-actor Oscar. Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a black hole not black? When it explodes.
A brief history of Stephen Hawking: A legacy of paradox.

China's Anti-Pollution Initiative Produces Stellar Results ( 84

hackingbear writes: China has declared war on its pollution -- one of the worst on the planet -- and now appears to be winning. Popular Mechanics reports: "Over the past four years, pollution in China's major cities has decreased by an average of 32 percent, with some cities seeing an even bigger drop, according to professor Michael Greenstone of the Energy Policy Institute. This decline comes after several aggressive policies implemented by the Chinese government, including prohibiting the building of new coal plants, forcing existing plants to reduce their emissions, lowering the amount of automobile traffic, and closing down some steel mills and coal mines. Some cities, like Beijing, have achieved even greater reductions in air pollution. Beijing has seen a 35 percent drop in particulates, while the city of Shijiazhuang saw a 39 percent drop. China has prioritized pollution reduction in these cities, with the government spending over $120 billion in Beijing alone."

Media Reports About a Massive Geomagnetic Storm Hitting Earth on March 18 Are Inaccurate, NOAA Says ( 50

Several news outlets this week are reporting that Earth is expecting a "massive magnetic storm" on March 18. Yeah, so that's not happening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Newsweek and other outlets. From a report: And they would know: Not only does NOAA help people build forecasts for weather here on Earth, they also predict space weather events like geomagnetic storms. "This story is not plausible in any way, shape or form," Bob Rutledge, who leads NOAA's Space Weather Forecast Center, told Newsweek via e-mail. "Things are all quiet for space weather, and the sun is essentially spotless." The magnetic storm's "imminent" arrival was one of Monday morning's top science news stories, according to Google News. But most coverage appeared to be based on a misinterpretation of a chart posted on Russia's Lebedev Institute's website showing a minor uptick in geomagnetic activity on the 18th. That elevated activity is expected to be a minor storm at most.

Sleeping In Rooms With Even a Little Light Can Increase Risk of Depression, Study Finds ( 176

Japanese researchers have found that even the slightest slither of light when trying to sleep could be linked to a heightened risk of depression, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology. IFLScience reports: The reason behind this link is unclear, but the researchers believe it might be to do with the human circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle that tells us when to sleep and wake up, among other things, that is "programmed" by environmental factors. In the case of humans and many other creatures, light influences how much of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin is pumped into our bodies, meaning we feel awake when the Sun rises and get sleepy when the Sun sets. This system works like a charm when there's only sunlight, moonlight, and a campfire to think about. However, the modern world is beaming with almost constant exposure to artificial light. Light at night (LAN) in a bedroom -- even a flash of a digital clock or streetlight creeping in from a crack in the curtains -- could screw with our natural sleep/wake cycle. The team behind the recent study assessed the sleep of almost 900 elderly people with no signs of depression. They found that people who slept in a room with 5 lux of light or more at night showed a "significantly higher depression risk" than those who slept in a completely dark room. For perspective, a household room with its lights on is around 80 lux and 10 lux is a single candle from 0.3 meters (1 foot) away.

Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year 144

On stage at SXSW, Elon Musk issued yet another incredibly ambitious timeline. During a Q&A session on Sunday, Musk said SpaceX will be ready to fly its Mars rocket in 2019. He said: We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now, and we'll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year. Further reading: Fortune.

Elon Musk: The Danger of AI is Much Greater Than Nuclear Warheads. We Need Regulatory Oversight Of AI Development. ( 322

Elon Musk has been vocal about the need for regulation for AI in the past. At SXSW on Sunday, Musk, 46, elaborated his thoughts. We're very close to seeing cutting edge technologies in AI, Musk said. "It scares the hell out of me," the Tesla and SpaceX showrunner said. He cited the example of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, and the rate of advancements they have shown to illustrate his point. He said: Alpha Zero can read the rules of any game and beat the human. For any game. Nobody expected that rate of improvement. If you ask those same experts who think AI is not progressing at the rate that I'm saying, I think you will find their betting average for things like Go and other AI advancements, is very weak. It's not good.

We will also see this with self driving. Probably by next year, self driving will encompass all forms of driving. By the end of next year, it will be at least 100 percent safer than humans. [...] The rate of improvements is really dramatic and we have to figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital super intelligence is symbiotic with humanity. I think that's the single biggest existential crisis we face, and the most pressing one. I'm not generally an advocate of regulation -- I'm actually usually on the side of minimizing those things. But this is a case, where you have a very serious danger to the public. There needs to be a public body that has insight and oversight to ensure that everyone is developing AI safely. This is extremely important. The danger of AI is much greater than danger of nuclear warheads. By a lot.


EPA's Science Advisory Board Has Not Met in 6 Months ( 212

The U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board has not met in at least six months, and some of its members say it's being sidelined to avoid getting in the way of agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's anti-regulatory agenda, Scientific American reported this week. From the report: Agency officials say the lapse isn't intentional and that it's just the result of delayed paperwork. That has prevented the group from meeting because there weren't enough members to make a quorum. The board, which typically has about 45 members, is tasked by Congress to evaluate the science used by EPA to craft policy. The full board has not met since August, nor has it had any conference calls or votes. In the past, members would have had multiple interactions during that time period, said William Schlesinger, a board member who is an emeritus professor of biogeochemistry at Duke University. "I guess the Science Advisory Board still exists; I guess I'm still on it," he said. "I think the answer is maybe they're giving it what we used to call the 'pocket veto': If you don't meet, then the scientists are not a pain, because they don't have a forum."

Could This Bold New Technique Boost Gravitational-Wave Detection? ( 32

Slashdot reader astroengine writes: One of the most expensive, complex and problematic components in gravitational wave detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — which made the first, historic detection of these ripples in space-time in September 2015 — is the 4-kilometer-long vacuum chambers that house all the interferometer optics. But what if this requirement for ground-based gravitational wave detectors isn't required? This suggestion has been made by a pair of physicists at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) who are developing a method that could allow extremely sensitive interferometers to operate in the "open air."

Their work, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, uses the weird quantum properties of light to counteract interference from turbulence in the air to allow interferometer measurements to be made. Their method, which is a variation on the classic Young's double-slit experiment, has been demonstrated in a tabletop experiment — but gravitational wave scientists are skeptical that it could be scaled up to remove sophisticated vacuums from their detectors.


Can Electricity Travel Through Space on Astrophysical Jets? ( 313

Slashdot reader Chris Reeve writes: An October 2017 paper titled Electric Currents along Astrophysical Jets reports that "Several researchers have reported direct evidence for large scale electric currents along astrophysical jets." A review of the citations at the end of that paper and others (here and here, for instance) would seem to suggest that one of the great Internet science debates has finally been settled: Electricity does indeed travel through space over vast cosmic distances.

What has been interesting to watch about this unexpected development is that science journalists have so far not explicitly reported this as a shift in theory, and commenters on sites like appear to deny that any change has even occurred: "The jets have been shown not to be electric currents, the energy and the physics involved are certainly not electromagnetic." This comment completely rejecting these new findings was highly rated by other readers, suggesting that the failure to explicitly report this as a change in theory has left this controversial topic in a highly confused state.

The paper summarizes what it calls "observational evidence for the existence of large scale electric currents and their associated grand design helical magnetic fields in kpc-scale astrophysical jets." And the original submitter details the history of the question in a follow-up comment arguing that at our current moment in time, "a mistaken bias against electricity in space continues to dominate conversations."

Scientists Unsure Where Chinese Space Station Will Crash To Earth 78

In 2016, the Chinese space agency lost control of its Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, spacecraft, five years after it blasted into orbit. Scientists have determined that it will come crashing down to Earth in the coming weeks, be they do not know exactly where on Earth it will hit. The Guardian reports: The defunct module is now at an altitude of 150 miles and being tracked by space agencies around the world, with the European Space Agency's center in Darmstadt predicting a fiery descent for it between March 27 and April 8. Hurtling around the Earth at about 18,000mph, the module ranks as one of the larger objects to re-enter the atmosphere without being steered towards the ocean, as is standard for big and broken spacecraft, and cargo vessels that are jettisoned from the International Space Station (ISS), to reduce the risk to life below. The spacecraft's orbit ranges from 43 degrees north to 43 degrees south, which rules out a descent over the UK but includes vast stretches of North and South America, China, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, parts of Europe -- and great swaths of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Western analysts cannot be sure how much of the spacecraft will survive re-entry, because China has not released details of the design and materials used to make Tiangong-1. But the spacecraft may have well-protected titanium fuel tanks containing toxic hydrazine that could pose a danger if they land in populated areas.

FCC Accuses Stealthy Startup of Launching Rogue Satellites 128

Back in January, the FCC pulled permission from Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies to launch four satellites into space after what it says was an "apparent unauthorized launch." IEEE Spectrum reports that the unauthorized launch consisted of four experimental satellites that the FCC had decided were too small to be noticed in space -- and hence pose an unacceptable risk of collision -- but which the company may have launched anyway, using a rocket based in India. The federal regulator has since issued a letter to Swarm revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission to launch four new, larger versions of its "SpaceBee" satellites. From the report: Swarm was founded in 2016 by one engineer who developed a spacecraft concept for Google and another who sold his previous company to Apple. The SpaceBees were built as technology demonstrators for a new space-based Internet of Things communications network. Swarm believes its network could enable satellite communications for orders of magnitude less cost than existing options. It envisages the worldwide tracking of ships and cars, new agricultural technologies, and low cost connectivity for humanitarian efforts anywhere in the world. The four SpaceBees would be the first practical demonstration of Swarm's prototype hardware and cutting-edge algorithms, swapping data with ground stations for up to eight years.
The FCC told the startup that the agency would assess "the impact of the applicant's apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites... on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee." If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists. An unauthorized launch would also call into question the ability of secondary satellite "ride-share" companies and foreign launch providers to comply with U.S. space regulations.

Researchers Discover Colistin-Heteroresistant Germs In the US ( 75

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: For the first time, researchers have discovered strains of a deadly, multidrug-resistant bacterium that uses a cryptic method to also evade colistin, an antibiotic used as a last-resort treatment. That's according to a study of U.S. patients published this week by Emory University researchers in the open-access microbiology journal mBio. The wily and dangerous bacteria involved are carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae or CRKP, which are already known to resist almost all antibiotics available, including other last-line antibiotics called carbapenems. The germs tend to lurk in clinical settings and can invade the urinary tract, bloodstream, and soft tissues. They're members of a notorious family of multidrug-resistant pathogens, called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which collectively have mortality rates as high as 50 percent and have spread rapidly around the globe in recent years. A 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there were more than 9,300 CRE infections in the U.S. each year, leading to 600 deaths. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization have listed CRE as one of the critical drug-resistant threats to public health, in need of "urgent and aggressive action."

In the new study, the Emory researchers discovered two strains of CRKP -- isolated from the urine of patients in Atlanta, Georgia -- that can also resist colistin. But they do so in a poorly understood, surreptitious way. At first, they appear vulnerable to the potent antibiotic in standard clinical tests, but with more advanced testing and exposure to the drug, they reveal that they can indeed survive it. In mice, the strains caused infections that couldn't be cured by colistin and the mice died of the infections. Mice infected with typical CRKP were all saved with colistin. So far, there's no evidence of CRKP infections surprisingly turning up resistant to colistin during treatment in patients. But the authors, led by microbiologist David Weiss, say that may be because the evidence is difficult to gather, and the data so far is cause for concern. The researchers concluded that the findings "serve to sound the alarm about a worrisome and under-appreciated phenomenon in CRKP infections and highlight the need for more sensitive and accurate diagnostics."

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