ICYMI: Weekly Science News (2/20/17)


By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
With the 2017 World Government Summit held in Dubai this week, there’ve been a few interesting announcements coming out. And that’s just the tip of the science iceberg. So ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from this last week!

Do you want Skynet? Because that’s how you get Skynet.

Google’s DeepMind AI system has been running through a wide spectrum of tests. Results of recent tests show that in competitive situations the DeepMind AI system will elect to utilize aggressive strategies when it feels the necessity. This behavior was shown in 40 million rounds of a fruit gathering game in which the DeepMind systems were pitted against one another to gather as many virtual apples as possible. When apple numbers diminished, the systems turned on each other with their virtual laser beams in order to temporarily knock the opponent out and gather more apples during that time.
In earlier and smaller DeepMind AI systems, such behaviors were not observed. However, as the systems grow in size, complexity, and intelligence, aggressive behaviors have emerged. Unless there are cooperative objectives made clear, the systems may tend toward more destructive behaviors.
The machine takeover may not be a violent one. As developments in AI systems continue and many jobs may become obsolete as automated machines take over, Elon Musk suggested at the 2017 World Government Summit in Dubai on Monday that humans may have to find a way to interface with machines in some way. When engineers are developing robots with the ability to walk on two legs (like those at Oregon State University are doing with their robot “Cassie”), with the goal of eventually using such robots to complete tasks humans are unable to do, Musk’s fears become validated in some ways. Although the robot revolution is a possibility that is likely still far in the future, it goes to show that there is growing attention being thrown to the development of AI and robotics.

My phone is at 2%! Hurry! Where’s the charger?

Batteries are both a blessing and a curse. Although they allow us to use items without being tied to a cord, we still find ourselves back at the outlets at the end of the day.
Harvard scientists have developed a new kind of battery that is proposed to be able to last more than a decade with minimal degradation in efficiency. (Because we’ve all had those laptops or cell phones that don’t seem to hold a charge anymore.) This new redox flow battery would store electrical charge in tanks of specific liquids. With some work, they have been able to run the batteries in up to 1,000 charging/discharging cycles losing only 1% of their capacity. Lithium-ion batteries, the current leader in the battery game, is unable to survive that many cycles.
The redox flow battery is still in development and won’t be in your phone anytime soon, but renewable energy sources are being pursued by researchers, and if we’re lucky we will be able to use less and less energy as our technology is adjusted and improved.

Bees protest: Drones are taking our jobs!

With the population of bees declining worldwide, experts are worried about changes in the balance of the ecosystem with the busy pollinators dying off. Luckily, Black Mirror robotic pollinators might have a place in our future if we can’t save the busy bees!
A team of scientists in Japan at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have developed drones equipped with a special adhesive that will allow the drones to gather and distribute pollen. While the drones are still hard to control and improvements are needed, the team is continuing to engineer the technology to help support the bee population and let them have some lazy days!

Back to the Future promised we would have flying cars by now.

Speaking of the World Government Summit this week… Mark your calendars. July 2017. Dubai.
The state transportation authority in UAE has announced that by July 2017 they would like to have operational autonomous hover-taxis in action. The goal would be to program a destination into the taxi and be taken on your way. No muss. No fuss.
Dubai isn’t stopping there with their proposed changes in transportation. Dubai Future Foundation has also announced a desire for a quarter of its transport to be self-driving by 2030. This plan has been backed up by a contract with Tesla, signed at the World Government Summit on Monday, to purchase 200 self-driving taxis. Another contract with Hyperloop One is designed to research whether a (near) super-sonic rail link between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is possible.
Plan your next big trip to Dubai and see what the future holds!

Ice, ice, baby!

The Arctic region of our planet is warming twice as fast as predicted by climate models just a few years ago. Reduction of CO2 emissions has thus far done little to slow to stop such change. A team of scientists have recently pitched a nearly unbelievable plan to “refreeze” the Arctic by installing approximately 10 million wind-powered pumps in the region that would spray sea water over the existing sea ice that would then freeze and potentially add another 1 meter to the ice thickness.
The project would cost an estimated $500 billion and would require 100 million pumps to cover the entire Arctic ice cap area. The project would also require about 100 million tons of steel per year. Needless to say, the outrageous plan is just an idea currently, but the warming trend might necessitate such drastic action from the world’s governments (before we have a Day After Tomorrow situation) sooner than we think.

Dude. Triangles are SO in right now.

Researchers at IBM have managed to create a triangle-shaped molecule, called triangulene. Physicists have been unsuccessful in their attempts to create the unstable molecule for almost 70 years. The IBM team finally figured out a new method to synthesize triangulene (and other potential molecules in the future). This uniquely structured creation may have uses in future electronics and quantum computers, continuing the great technological strides the world has been making during the last few years.

Indiana Jones! You put those scrolls back right now!

On the cliffs of Qumran near the Dead Sea, excavators have found a cave full of fragments of jars and lids (from the same time period as the Dead Sea Scrolls) that were designed for storage of scrolls. While no actual scrolls were found at the new cave, archaeologists involved in the excavation believe that the cave was looted and may have previously held Dead Sea Scrolls. If this is true, this cave would be the “closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea Scrolls in 60 years,” said Oren Gufield (excavation director hailing from Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology).

Scooby and the gang can catch spooky villains in style!

During the North American International Auto Show, Volkswagen revealed a new self-driving vehicle in a familiar Microbus shell. The vehicle is electric-powered, self-driving, and equipped to gather data about traffic using built-in camera, laser, ultrasonic, and radar sensors.
The fun doesn’t end there. The vehicle has 8 seats and can drive up to 270 miles on a single charge. The vehicle is equipped with a litium-ion battery pack that can be charged to 80% capacity on a high-powered DC charger in 3 minutes. It will be packed with other fun goodies, like personal seat and air-conditioning settings, and easy to adjust sound system, ambient lighting, and other features!
Be on the lookout for Volkswagen’s new electric, self-driving Microbus and get ready to go out and solve some spooky mysteries!

I went to space camp, but bacterium still have a better chance of going to space than me.

On Valentine’s Day this year, SpaceX sent samples of the bacterium MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) to the International Space Station U.S. Laboratory. The purpose of this is to study the hypothesized accelerated mutations of two strains of the bacteria in the microgravity environments.
If the bacteria respond at an accelerated rate, as previous space-grown bacteria have done, the results will allow researchers to anticipate mutations of the pathogen and begin to develop counter-measures against the pathogens on Earth. It’s all about getting a head start to stop the spread of some of the world’s deadliest bacteria.

Transformers taught us where to search for life… a moon!

NASA has released a new report outlining a plan to send a lander to Europa, an icy moon orbiting Jupiter. The lander is proposed to drill into the crust of the moon to gather and analyze samples to determine the composition of the moon’s surface and find potential bio-signatures which would provide evidence of past or present life. If approved, the lander could also gather information about possible habitability of the moon and gather information to help future explorations of the planet and its hypothesized underground ocean.
If the plan gets a green light, the lander could be sent on its mission by 2024 and arrive on Europa in 2031. So don’t forget to set your alarm for 2031 and wait to see if there’s life on Europa!

Tolkien knew about Zealandia. He just called it Middle Earth instead.

Kids have been learning about the seven geographical continents (six geological ones when Europe and Asia are combined into a super-continent) for quite some time now. They also used to learn that Pluto was a planet. The times are changing, it seems, as geologists in a new study assert that there is a seventh geological continent, which they are calling Zealandia.
The recent study says that New Zealand and New Caledonia aren’t simply island chains, but are rather pieces of a much larger part of a continental crust that is different than Australia. This conclusion has been a gradual discovery, as data has been gathered about the area during the last decade providing evidence that there is a unique (and mostly submerged) continent which the islands are a part of. The India-sized continent may have political and economic consequences if it is fully accepted as another geological continent. But only time will tell!

I want to suck your blood!

Malaria can be found in 97 countries and territories worldwide. In 2015 one of the parasites causing malaria caused illness in 212 million people and killed around 430 thousand people. While numbers are decreasing due to the introduction of worldwide initiatives for insecticides, mosquito nets, and prophylaxis medications, the World Health Organization has set a goal to completely eradicate malaria in at least 10 countries by 2020.
Mosquirix, a potential malaria vaccine, will be piloted in Africa next year. At the same time, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute is focusing research on a chemical the malarial pathogen utilizes to attach itself to the host’s red blood cells and cause infection. Researchers have figured out how this process works and hope to, in turn, develop a vaccine designed as a blocker, which could lead to cheaper and more readily available vaccines for the world’s population. If we’re lucky, in a few years malaria could become a thing of the past!

But The Doctor told me not to blink!

Sony has just applied for a patent for a blink-powered contact lens that will record video. Google and Samsung have already filed such patents, but Sony has some new ideas and improvements on the ideas.
The contacts are designed to start and stop recording with the blink of an eye and should be able to detect the difference between normal blinking and intentional blinking for video-recording purposes. Sony’s contact lens will also offer the ability to view images and video at a later time.
These contacts can be used in many professions world-wide, including the super spy life you’ve always secretly wanted to lead!

Who needs a Happy Meal when you have Amazon?

Amazon has just launched an educational toy subscription service for the kids! For $20, Amazon will send one age-appropriate educational toy per month, especially focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) items so your tiny loved ones can learn and have fun doing it! Toys will be available for three different age groups, including 3-4 years old, 5-7 years old, and 8-13 years old. 
While you nerd out as an adult, bring up the next generation with a love for STEM as well!

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