Category: Technology

Taming the New Frontiers in Gene Editing

By Sarah Scoles | November 17, 2015 1:10 pm


The world’s most powerful gene-editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, gives humans the ability to swap out sections of the genome with less money and time than ever before. That’s a lot of power, and with great power comes great responsibility.

But right now, most of the world doesn’t have regulations about what scientists — and someday, hobbyists — can and can’t do to the double helix. In China, scientists have used CRISPR-Cas9 to modify human embryos. And that has left the rest of the world a little nervous. Read More

Animal Hair Could Inspire Self-Cleaning Technologies


Watch a fly land on the kitchen table, and the first thing it does is clean itself, very, very carefully. Although we can’t see it, the animal’s surface is covered with dust, pollen and even insidious mites that could burrow into its body if not removed.

Staying clean can be a matter of life and death. All animals, including us human beings, take cleaning just as seriously. Each year, we spend an entire day bathing, and another two weeks cleaning our houses. Cleaning may be as fundamental to life as eating, breathing and mating. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals, robots

Human-Like Neural Networks Make Computers Better Conversationalists

By Ben Thomas | November 11, 2015 2:00 pm

HAL 9000, depicted as a glowing red “eye,” was the frighteningly charismatic computer protagonist in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie “2001 Space Odyssey.” (Credit: Screengrab from YouTube

If you’ve ever tried to hold a conversation with a chatbot like CleverBot, you know how quickly the conversation turns to nonsense, no matter how hard you try to keep it together.

But now, a research team led by Bruno Golosio, assistant professor of applied physics at Università di Sassari in Italy, has taken a significant step toward improving human-to-computer conversation. Golosio and colleagues built an artificial neural network, called ANNABELL, that aims to emulate the large-scale structure of human working memory in the brain — and its ability to hold a conversation is eerily human-like. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts

Can You Teach Creativity to a Computer?

By Ahmed Elgammal, Rutgers University | July 30, 2015 2:25 pm

computer paint

From Picasso’s “The Young Ladies of Avignon” to Munch’s “The Scream,” what was it about some paintings that arrested people’s attention upon viewing them, that cemented them in the canon of art history as iconic works?

In many cases, it’s because the artist incorporated a technique, form or style that had never been used before. They exhibited a creative and innovative flair that would go on to be mimicked by artists for years to come.

Throughout human history, experts have often highlighted these artistic innovations, using them to judge a painting’s relative worth. But can a painting’s level of creativity be quantified by Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

At Rutgers’ Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, my colleagues and I proposed a novel algorithm that assessed the creativity of any given painting, while taking into account the painting’s context within the scope of art history.

In the end, we found that, when introduced with a large collection of works, the algorithm can successfully highlight paintings that art historians consider masterpieces of the medium.

The results show that humans are no longer the only judges of creativity. Computers can perform the same task – and may even be more objective.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

Beyond Graphene, a Zoo of New 2-D Materials Are Being Created

By Andy Berger | July 17, 2015 10:00 am
Two alternately stacked layers of hexagonal boron nitride.

Two alternately stacked layers of hexagonal boron nitride.

Nine years ago, Joshua Robinson was approached by his then-advisor with news of a discovery that would end up transforming his career, and much of materials science. “I saw this crazy talk about 2-D graphite,” he recalls his adviser saying.

The adviser was referring of course to graphene, the first material to exist as truly two-dimensional: only a single atom thick. Back in 2006, the physics community was just beginning to wrap its mind around how a 2-D material could even exist.

Fast forward to 2015. The realization that materials can be thinned down to the absolute limit of a single atom is spreading, both throughout the world and across the periodic table. Researchers are learning that 2-D isn’t just for the carbon atoms of graphene. Different elemental combinations can lead to fascinating new science and applications.

Robinson is now associate director for Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Two-Dimensional and Layered Materials, a center with 20 faculty and over 50 students dedicated to uncovering the fundamental properties of this new zoo of 2-D materials. It is one of many such centers around the world. And as scientists continue to create new 2-D materials there’s a palpable frenzy to characterize their surprising electronic, optical, and mechanical properties.

The excitement stems from the fact that materials shaved down to only a few atoms act very differently from their so-called “bulk” or 3-D version. Quantum effects begin to take hold as the electrons in the material are squeezed into that impossibly thin layer.

And, being flexible, 2-D materials could bring those unique electrical properties to all sorts of new applications – from bendable touch screens to wearable sensors.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: materials science

Why the Data Deluge Leaves Us Struggling to Make Up Our Minds

By Rikke Duus and Mike Cooray | July 16, 2015 5:04 pm

data deluge

We make a huge number of decisions every day. When it comes to eating, for example, we make 200 more decisions than we’re consciously aware of every day. How is this possible? Because, as Daniel Kahneman has explained, while we’d like to think our decisions are rational, in fact many are driven by gut feel and intuition. The ability to reach a decision based on what we know and what we expect is an inherently human characteristic.

The problem we face now is that we have too many decisions to make every day, leading to decision fatigue – we find the act of making our own decisions exhausting. Even more so than simply deliberate different options or being told by others what to do.

Why not allow technology to ease the burden of decision-making? The latest smart technologies are designed to monitor and learn from our behavior, physical performance, work productivity levels and energy use. This is what has been called Era Three of Automation – when machine intelligence becomes faster and more reliable than humans at making decisions.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

This Laboratory Invents the Flavors in Nearly Everything You Eat

By Mark Schatzker | June 5, 2015 12:01 pm

test kitchen

A national chain restaurant once approached McCormick & Company because it wasn’t getting the kind of fajitas sell-through it expected. When VP of applied research Marianne Gillette and her colleagues visited the restaurant, they observed the ritual of the fajita moment: An awe-struck silence would sweep across the dining room as a waiter carried a sizzling fajita skillet to some lucky table. They went back to the office and brainstormed. How can we make this moment even more dramatic? They created a “sizzle sauce,” which made the sizzle louder and the aroma more intense. Sales spiked.

McCormick once made a cedar-plank flavor for a restaurant that didn’t want the bother of cooking salmon on actual cedar planks. Using the same technology it used to create the imitation vanilla, McCormick has created “Ultimate Lemon,” which was formulated using aroma chemicals found in lemon peel, Meyer lemon, lemon thyme, and Limoncello (a refreshing and highly drinkable Italian liqueur). Ultimate Lemon might show up in a beverage, dessert, or salad dressing.

Not that you’ll ever know. Whether it says so on the label or not—and it usually does not—McCormick is in every aisle and on every shelf of the supermarket. The company provides “custom flavor solutions” for nine of the top ten American food companies and eight of the top ten food service companies. (Food service refers to large chain restaurants, companies that sell to smaller restaurants, school cafeterias, hospitals, and so forth.) McCormick is in your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and nearly every restaurant. Unless you are a hunter-gatherer or have spent your life obtaining calories via feeding tube, McCormick has used the science and psychology of food to make you happy. It’s probably happened in the last week.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

The Enduring Appeal of a Meal in a Pill

By Richard Faulk | June 4, 2015 9:35 am

meal pill

On February 20, 1962, the spacecraft Friendship 7, carrying astronaut John Glenn, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This Mercury 6 mission made Glenn the third American to enter space and the first to orbit the Earth.

Glenn also has the distinction of being the first American to eat in space. His astro-meal consisted of applesauce squeezed from an aluminum tube, which he washed down with an orange-flavored powdered drink mix called Tang. Hardly anyone remembers the applesauce, but the drink was history-making.

Tang became an emblem of the space age. With a list of ingredients that includes lots of things you’d find in a chemistry lab and less than 2 percent “natural flavor,” the powdered drink mix also became a bellwether for the breaching of another frontier: the brave new world of synthetic food.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

The Skyscrapers of the Future Will Be Made of Wood

By Peter Wilson, Edinburgh Napier University | May 22, 2015 10:02 am
The proposed 34-story wood tower in Stockholm. © Berg | C.F. Møller Architects

The proposed 34-story wood tower in Stockholm. © Berg | C.F. Møller Architects

Vancouver-based architect Michael Green was unequivocal at a conference at which I heard him speak a while ago: “We grow trees in British Columbia that are 35 stories tall, so why do our building codes restrict timber buildings to only five stories?”

True, regulations in that part of Canada have changed relatively recently to permit an additional story, but the point still stands. This can hardly be said to keep pace with the new manufacturing technologies and developments in engineered wood products that are causing architects and engineers to think very differently about the opportunities wood offers in the structure and construction of tall buildings.

Green himself produced a book in 2012 called Tall Wood, which explored in detail the design of 20-story commercial buildings using engineered timber products throughout. Since then he has completed the Wood Innovation and Design Center at the University of North British Columbia which, at 29.25 meters (effectively eight stories), is currently lauded as the tallest modern timber building in North America.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

This Robotic Octopus Arm Could Someday Be Your Surgeon

By Kaspar Althoefer, King's College London | May 19, 2015 12:05 pm

The unparalleled motion and manipulation abilities of soft-bodied animals such as the octopus have intrigued biologists for many years. How can an animal that has no bones transform its tentacles from a soft state to a one stiff enough to catch and even kill prey?

A group of scientists and engineers has attempted to answer this question in order to replicate the abilities of an octopus tentacle in a robotic surgical tool. Last week, members of this EU-funded project known as STIFF-FLOP (STIFFness controllable Flexible and Learnable manipulator for surgical OPerations) unveiled the group’s latest efforts.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

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