Cochlear implants have restored hearing to many deaf people, but they haven’t advanced much since they were unveiled in the 1970s. That may be set to change with an exciting new advance, not in the technology of the device itself, but rather in using gene therapy to increase the device’s effectiveness. Today researchers announced that they’ve been able to restore tonal hearing in guinea pigs with the new method of gene delivery.
Let’s face it, from trivia to teaching, computers are doing things we thought were uniquely human — and doing them better. Now, facial recognition, a skill humans once dominated, has a new champion. Computer scientists have developed a facial recognition algorithm that, for the first time, outperforms humans’ own abilities.
Facial recognition systems are already better than humans at comparing two images to determine if they are the same person, but only when variables like lighting, pose and expression are controlled. When you shake things up, humans still correctly identify faces with over 97 percent accuracy; before now no other algorithm had come close that mark. However, scientists’ new algorithm, called GaussianFace, performed the feat with an accuracy of 98.52 percent. Read More
“Where words fail, music speaks,” wrote the Danish fairytale author and poet Hans Christian Andersen in the 19th century. Around the same time, over in England, the more practically-minded Charles Darwin was wondering what purpose music served, evolutionarily speaking. He knew that neither birds nor humans need it for survival, but maybe, he thought, it plays a role in sexual selection. Did we first begin breaking out in song to “charm the opposite sex,” as Darwin put it?
Very likely so, according to a new study by British researchers. Not only can music help men attract mates, the more complex the song, the greater the composer’s chances of getting a woman to sleep with him.
For the most part, video games are simply another form of entertainment like movies, television and books; rarely will a video game serve a purpose other than to provide a leisurely pastime. But Minecraft is breaking that mold. The critically acclaimed video game is now democratizing the planning and design of run-down public spaces around the world.
Minecraft is an open-ended game that allows players to construct anything they can imagine using textured cubes as their building material. Mojang, the game’s creators, partnered with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) in 2012 to kickstart the “Block by Block” initiative, which encourages people to reimagine their communities by designing plans using the Minecraft platform. Read More
Biofuel created from corn waste may not be the clean, eco-friendly oil alternative the United States government is hoping for. A new study has found that fuel generated from harvested corn leftovers creates more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline — at least in the short term.
The fuel under study, called cellulosic ethanol, has been touted in recent years as a promising successor to current corn-based ethanol. Unlike the ethanol now mixed into gasoline, cellulosic ethanol is made of non-edible plant waste, meaning it wouldn’t divert food to fuel.
However researchers found that that waste, left on fields, was doing something after all. Their computer models indicate that removing corn leaves and stalks from fields could result in an increase in carbon emissions because the soil would have greater air exposure.
The findings from the federally funded study were published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
We’re used to seeing rockets launch and disappear into the sky, but things are a little different at Elon Musk’s SpaceX facility in Texas. On Friday, the company launched its first test flight of a Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) rocket, which reached over 800 feet in altitude and then made a controlled landing.
Later that same day, SpaceX capped that momentous achievement with a bird’s-eye video of the test flight, courtesy of a hexacopter drone. The drone provides an up-close look as the rocket rises to 820 feet, hovers for a few moments, then gracefully descends to a soft landing. Read More
Update: If you were looking forward to enjoying Palcohol, a powdered alcohol product, this fall, you may need to wait a bit longer. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau granted Palcohol “label approval” on April 8, but rescinded its approval April 21 after this article was published. A representative with the bureau told the Associated Press that the original approvals were issued in error. Palcohol’s parent company Lipsmark will need to resubmit its labels for approval. [This update was published at 9:20 a.m. April 22]
Instantly turning water into an alcoholic beverage is no longer a feat of biblical proportions. Come fall, it will be legal for Americans to purchase powdered alcohol, which can turn water into rum, vodka or a variety of cocktails.
The product, called Palcohol, is the brainchild of alcohol enthusiast Mark Phillips. He invented the potent powder because he wanted an easy, portable way to enjoy an adult beverage after a day of hiking, biking or kayaking. The federal government recently gave its stamp of approval for the sale and manufacture of the product, and it could be on the shelves of your local liquor store in the fall. Read More
Everything from northern barbarians to the spread of Christianity has been blamed for the collapse of ancient Rome. But researchers have new evidence for another contributor: There was something in the water.
A study has found that “tap” water in ancient Rome — supplied to the city via lead pipes called fistulae — contained 100 times more lead than water drawn directly from local springs. That amount of lead in the water may have been a “major public health issue,” according to the new study.
It may sound like something out of “Chicken Little,” but at some point in the history of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, the sky was actually falling: Scientists reported this week that an entire 800-mile-long mountain range along the moon’s equator formed after it fell from space.
Iapetus doesn’t feature the telltale signs of volcanism and geologic activity that typically build mountains, which had made the existence of the bulging equatorial ridge a bit of a mystery. In a new study, researchers constructed 3-D maps of the mountain range using images captured by the Cassini spacecraft. By analyzing the shape of the triangular peaks, some up to 12 miles high, researchers concluded that the mountains were created from material that crashed onto the surface of Iapetus at some point in its history. Read More
Every day, thousands of cars and trucks rumble across bridges all over the U.S. Their drivers probably don’t give much thought to the fish swimming in the rivers, lakes or bays below. But the fish notice them: They can hear those noisy engines passing overhead, and according to a new study, they are having to shout to communicate over the din.
The effects of sonar and other human-made sounds on the communication of marine mammals such as whales and dolphins is well documented. But fish “talk” too – so far, researchers have identified about 800 different species of fish that use vocal signals. One of them is the blacktail shiner, which lives in parts of the Southeast, Midwest and in Texas. Dan Holt, a fisheries biologist at Auburn University in Alabama, wondered how the shiner responds to the loud traffic on bridges in the area.
“You don’t hear much about freshwater systems,” he says. “But I drive over three or four bridges just coming to work, and a lot of times, we’re out collecting data by bridges, and we hear that noise. This fish is exposed to a lot of different types of sounds — boat traffic, 18-wheelers, lots of bridge noise,” he says.