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Students Vs. Software—Who Writes A Better Paper?

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student-anxious-libraryI get 6-10 email messages each day from my students. They’re often silly questions that even a detail-oriented professor doesn’t care about (“do I put the title of my paper before the abstract or after?”). Sometimes they ask really good questions, and other times they send me messages to tell me about some new technology or scientific discovery they read about. Yesterday, I got a message from a student saying, “hey, aren’t you glad we already turned in our final research papers so we can’t use this program that claims to be able to write a college-level paper in less than a second?”

Well, let me grade the paper you did turn in first, and then I’ll answer the question.

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Stephen Hawking Warns Against Artificial Intelligence

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hawkingWhen Stephen Hawking issues a warning about something, we generally listen carefully. This time he’s not talking about black holes or time travel or telling us that the human race has to expand to other planets to prevent our extinction. This time, he’s warning us against developing artificial intelligence and predicting that if we do, the consequences could be disastrous.

In an article for the Independent, Hawking refers to Transcendence as a movie that, despite its grim technological consequences, may make us less inclined to take the ramifications of artificial intelligence seriously. He refers to a number of recent developments, such as driverless cars, Siri, Google Now, and Watson as examples of how quickly AI is progressing. While none of these are particularly threatening, he says that they’re “symptoms of an IT arms race fuelled by unprecedented investments and building on an increasingly mature theoretical foundation,” and that these advancements are only the beginning. He doesn’t specifically mention the deep learning software used by Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, nor does he mention Google and Facebook racing to bring the Internet to everyone, though I imagine these thoughts may not have been far from his mind when he noted the “IT arms race.”

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Male Scent: A New Painkiller?

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miceIf you’re a male researcher or lab assistant, you may have unwittingly compromised the results of studies you’ve done with animals. It’s not really your fault, though — blame the way you smell.

McGill University neuroscientist Jeffrey Mogil began to suspect something was affecting his lab results when lab rats seemed to feel just fine after getting injections designed to irritate them and cause a response indicative of pain. At first, the team thought maybe the injection was bad, but after ruling out that and a few other possibilities, they thought the most likely explanation was the presence of a researcher.

A number of years ago, Mogil conducted studies indicating that lab animals exhibit less of a pain response when in the presence of a person — including fake people, such as a cardboard cutout of Paris Hilton. This prompted another series of studies in which animals were assessed on their pain responses when a person was in the room, and the results varied, indicating that the mere presence of a person didn’t necessarily negate the pain response, unless that person was male. Their studies showed that the lab rodents displayed a pain response about 36% less when a male was in the room as opposed to a female or no one at all.

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Japan Plans To Harness Solar Power—From Space

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space based solar powerMost people acknowledge that we need to find alternate sources of energy, given that peak oil is imminent and the Earth’s resources are finite. Nuclear energy has been advocated by environmentalists, scientists, and organizations who believe that despite the negative stigma, it might be the best alternative to the rapidly depleting fuels we currently rely on. While that may or may not be true, one can hardly blame Japan for seeking alternatives to nuclear energy. A number of sources report that the Fukishima disaster still isn’t really under control and may be leaking more radiation than ever, so Japan is directing its search for viable energy sources elsewhere — namely, space, where solar power is abundant.

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Citycopter Concept Eliminates The Need For Flying Cars

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fly citycopter

It’s no mystery that concept designs are almost always more exciting than the actual products that are eventually constructed, regardless of if we’re talking about cell phones or cinematic robots. But we as a humane society need to get started turning the Fly Citycopter into a real thing, with as little changes as possible. Except maybe a sweet paint job with some skulls and shit, and a bumper sticker that says, “I am the proud father of an honor roll student whose father has a personal helicopter.”

Designed by Eduardo Galvani, the Fly Citycopter probably isn’t the most realistic vehicle in the world, but it’s a much more exciting goal for auto makers to turn their sights to rather than the tired concept of a flying car. (Though if anyone made a commercial flying car anytime soon, I’d be all about that, too.) Galvani’s ideas offer up a tri-rotor design for comfortable and quiet maneuvering, along with auto-pilot and obstacle detection. I’m assuming it also comes with its own breathalyzer, because this could get people into a lot of trouble. I wonder if I could fit a bar in it…

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NASA Reveals Crowdsourced Spacesuit Design Winner

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nasa spacesuitIt’s astounding to me that more big decisions aren’t solved by crowdsourcing opinions. I mean, it doesn’t always work so well when it comes to politics, but that’s because politics are evil. I’m talking about good decisions, like what should happen to characters on TV shows, what robots deserve their own stamps, and what NASA‘s spacesuits should look like. That last one actually was decided by the general public over the last couple of weeks, and NASA just announced the winner. With over 233,000 votes (63%), the “Technology” design takes the prize, and also happens to look like a cross between Tron and a Futurama robot in biker shorts.

You have may have seen this design for the Z-2 suit prototype already here on GFR, when we first talked about the voting process. All three potential designs also included a “Biomimicry” design and an extremely goofy looking “Trends in Society” option. It turns out people are way more into the cool, calming color blue for their electroluminescent lights than they are white and yellow. The “Technology” one was my favorite, though I didn’t even cast my vote. (The problem with voters today is…)