Technology

A human child can look at a cartoon picture of a chicken and recognize it is a chicken, but that is a show-stopper for machine learning. Unless it matches a cartoon chicken programmed in, it will not understand cartoon chicken-ness.

Devi Parikh of Virginia Tech has been given $92,000 of unrestricted funding by Google to work directly with Google researchers and engineers as they explore how to best teach machines from visual abstractions. Obviously if anything comes of it, that will be a real bargain.


Image: freepik.com

Engineers have developed and successfully demonstrated the value of a simple pulley mechanism to improve hand function after surgery. The device, tested in cadaver hands, is one of the first instruments ever created that could improve the transmission of mechanical forces and movement while implanted inside the body.

After continued research, technology such as this may offer new options to people who have lost the use of their hands due to nerve trauma, and ultimately be expanded to improve function of a wide range of damaged joints in the human body.



Taking over one neuron at a time. Credit: viipeer, CC BY-NC-SA

By Nick Bostrom, University of Oxford

The iPhone 6 is apparently flexible, though that's a not a good thing; people are warping them when they sit down, and people without abnormal strength can simply twist them in their hands.

But that won't always be a design and construction defect. As tech company LG demonstrated this summer with the unveiling of its 18-inch flexible screen, the next generation of roll-up displays is tantalizingly close.


Nature Publishing Group has announced that Nature Communications will only accept open access research submissions starting October 20th 2014.

This is a big win for open access.  The 2013 Impact Factor for Nature Communications is 10.742, according to the 2013 Journal Citation Reports® Science Edition (Thomson Reuters, 2014). When it launched in 2010 it was a hybrid journal, publishing both open access and subscription content, but they now get over 1500 submissions every month so open access is viable.

Preliminary results from a recent study show that a blood test, when used in psychiatric patients experiencing symptoms that are considered to be indicators of a high risk for psychosis, identifies those who later went on to develop psychosis. 

It may lead to accurate diagnosis of people who are experiencing the earliest stages of psychosis. Psychosis includes hallucinations or delusions that define the development of severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Schizophrenia emerges in late adolescence and early adulthood and affects about 1 in every 100 people. In severe cases, the impact on a young person can be a life compromised, and the burden on family members can be almost as severe.


Researchers have equipped a robot with a novel tactile sensor that lets it grasp a USB cable draped freely over a hook and insert it into a USB port. Its processing algorithm is faster, so it can give the robot feedback in real time. 

The sensor is an adaptation of a technology called GelSight, which was developed by the lab of Edward Adelson, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Vision Science at MIT, first described in 2009. The new sensor is less sensitive than the original GelSight sensor, which could resolve details on the micrometer scale, but it's smaller and faster.


For future astronauts, the process of suiting up may go something like this: Instead of climbing into a conventional, bulky, gas-pressurized suit, an astronaut may don a lightweight, stretchy garment, lined with tiny, musclelike coils. She would then plug in to a spacecraft's power supply, triggering the coils to contract and essentially shrink-wrap the garment around her body.

The skintight, pressurized suit would not only support the astronaut, but would give her much more freedom to move during planetary exploration. To take the suit off, she would only have to apply modest force, returning the suit to its looser form.


Mobile phones are in the hands of 80 percent of Americans so manufacturers are scrambling to find new ways to keep people buying the next model.

Being able to use gestures in the space around the phone rather than needing a screen may be the next big thing. Some smartphones have incorporated 3-D gesture sensing based on cameras, for example, but cameras consume significant battery power and require a clear view of the user's hands.

University of Washington engineers have developed a new form of low-power wireless sensing technology that could soon contribute to this growing field by letting users "train" their smartphones to recognize and respond to specific hand gestures near the phone.


Anyone who tells you they have a super food or a potion to impact a complex trait is sellinf you something. Life is rarely simple. The things we care about most, from crop yields to disease risks, are instead "complex traits."

Human height is a textbook example of a complex trait while attributes like risk for a particular human disease are shaped by multiple genetic and environmental influences.

The value of the Science 2.0 approach, and the wealth of Big Data that geneticists now have available, is in finding the genes involved and then quantifying their importance when other circumstances are factored in.