Regular laypersons like myself look at the secretive think tank Google X and have no problem assuming its researchers choose their projects by throwing darts at a wall covered in science fiction concept art. It turns out that the truth isn’t that much more complicated, as the Google X team takes “impossible” ideas and tries to reverse engineer them. So it should come as no surprise (but still does) that entrepreneur Astro Teller and his researchers put a lot of time into research and development of such improbable concepts as space elevators and hoverboards. This is the one time where failure as a conclusion is less of an issue than there being a conclusion in the first place.
If you go to the Titan Aerospace website, instead of seeing information about the drones it makes, you simply find the announcement that they’re “thrilled to announce that Titan Aerospace is joining Google,” as though that partnership is more important than the work they do. Maybe it is. It’s strange, though not surprising, that whatever was there two days ago is gone, erased, as though their real history starts at the moment Google acquired them.
Google hasn’t said how much it paid for the company, so we can use our imaginations to guess the amount, which undoubtedly is so large that for most of us it doesn’t even seem real. The bigger question, though, is what Google has in store for the drones.
Everybody uses social media to promote and compare their likes and dislikes with millions of others doing the same thing. And while it’s hard to sift through all the noise of grumpy cats, relationship troubles, and “Which Farm Animal Are You?” quizzes, there will sometimes be a person or entity who stands above all. Quite literally, in this case, as NASA astronaut Steve Swanson posted the first Instagram picture from the International Space Station, and he just happened to be wearing a Firefly T-shirt while doing so, which technically makes it the coolest gorram shirt in the universe.
Some of you might have woken up on April 1 to find that Pluto had been reinstated as a planet. Of course, it wasn’t true — neither was the rumor that Richard Branson bought Pluto, thank the stars. But here’s some information about Pluto that appears to be totally legit: astronomers now think it has a subsurface ocean.
A new study proposes that, after a massive object smashed into Pluto, creating its moon Charon, the heat released by the collision warmed up a region in Pluto’s interior, creating an ocean that may still be there and may actually exist in liquid form. It seems crazy to think that a planet so far from the sun could have liquid water, but come on, it’s the Cosmos — strange and crazy are its bailiwick.
For better or worse—and despite resolutions to the contrary—we all end up like our parents to some extent. Over time, I’ve noticed my thinking has become strangely familiar, as though I’ve heard it somewhere before…and then I realize I just thought or said something my dad would say. Just the other day, I realized that I sign my name exactly like my mom does, even though as a kid I used to complain that she trails off after writing the “R” of our last name. Genes work strange magic sometimes, conflating nurture and nature and working far deeper than the conventional inheritance of diseases or other health conditions. Researchers now believe that symptoms of trauma, once thought to be non-genetic responses, can actually be passed down via sperm.
Scientists have always wondered why descendants of trauma survivors are more inclined toward mental illness than the average person. Some have looked to genetic to explain it, but have come up empty. A new study in Nature Neuroscience suggests that trauma in early life can affect a mechanism that dictates gene expression, in mouse sperm. Trauma changes gene expression, which then has cascading biological effects. But what wasn’t clear is whether those changes could be passed down to future generations. The provocative question raises the possibility of the inheritance of non-genetic traits.
Could the ugly duckling’s parents—or tormentors—have known that it would grow up to be a swan? If they had this new face aging software, they might have been a little nicer to the duckling right out of the gate.
Two University of Washington computer science and engineering professors developed this software that, in approximately 30 seconds, takes an image of a child’s face and predicts what that kid will look like over the years, stopping at age 80. The new program doesn’t just randomly guess, it actually takes into account facial expression and pose. Using thousands of photos of kids and adults, it came up with a basic aging prototype for both genders. It determines from online photos how much and in what ways faces change over time, and applies those textures, shape, and shades to the photo in question. Eventually, the duo hopes to integrate ethnicity, the change in hair color over time, and wrinkles.