Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ed Links

Machines 'to match man by 2029'

Machines will achieve human-level artificial intelligence by 2029, a leading US inventor has predicted.

School Popularity Affects Girls’ Weights

Girls who think they aren’t popular are at higher risk for weight gain, according to a new study.

Higher Education Gap May Slow Economic Mobility

Economic mobility, the chance that children of the poor or middle class will climb up the income ladder, has not changed significantly over the last three decades, a study being released on Wednesday says. The authors of the study, by scholars at the Brookings Institution in Washington and sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, warned that widening gaps in higher education between rich and poor, whites and minorities, could soon lead to a downturn in opportunities for the poorest families.

Inside The Head Of An Ape

Do apes have imagination? How do they understand pictures? A years-long study of apes performed by a cognitive scientist shows, among other things, that it doesn't take a human brain to understand pictures as being a representation. When humans compare a picture with reality, it's often necessary to fill in information that is missing in the picture. For instance, how do we know that a person in a picture is running, as opposed to being frozen in a position?

Hang on, parents. After the terrible twos come the goal-oriented threes. Kids seem to grow into the ability to act in pursuit of goals outside of what they can immediately sense sometime around that age. Although adults take goal-directed action for granted, it's not in us from birth but rather emerges in a normal developmental timeline that, according to this and similar studies, appears to emerge roughly between the ages of 2 and 3 years -- hence the "terrible twos."

One cognitive scientist takes issue with the truism, "The more information, the better." In his experiments, innovation was stifled in groups in which information was freely shared because once a good idea was offered about a difficult problem, the human tendency to glom onto it instead of exploring further took over.

Solitary workers may be faster workers, according to research by neuroscientists. Individuals given a specific task are slowed when witnessing someone perform a different task nearby, suggesting that workers may perform better if they are in isolation.

A new way of looking at cities that has emerged during the last 20 years that could revolutionize planning and ultimately benefit city dwellers. 'The Size, Scale and Shape of Cities' advocates an integrated approach to the theory of how cities evolve by linking urban economics and transportation behavior with developments in network science, allometric growth and fractal geometry. Professor Batty argues that planning's reliance on the imposition of idealized geometric plans upon cities is rooted in the nineteenth century attitude which viewed cities as chaotic, sprawling and dirty. Instead, he reports research that suggests beneath the apparent chaos, there is a strong order.

For many years, Tomaso Poggio's lab at MIT ran two parallel lines of research. Some projects were aimed at understanding how the brain works, using complex computational models. Others were aimed at improving the abilities of computers to perform tasks that our brains do with ease. But recently Poggio has found that the two tasks have begun to overlap to such a degree, that it's now time to combine the two lines of research.

Researchers have identified patterns of brain activation linked to the formation of long-term memories. The study also offered an innovative and more comprehensive method for gauging memories. Making sense of and recalling the complex, multi-sensory information encountered in everyday life -- such as reading a newspaper while listening for a boarding announcement at the airport -- is a fundamental task that the brain readily accomplishes. What is less clear is which regions of the brain are employed to encode these experiences.

Do animals have privileged access to lower level sensory information before it is packaged into concepts, as it has been argued for autistic savants? When Temple Grandin argued that animals and autistic savants share cognitive similarities in her best-selling book Animals in Translation (2005), the idea gained steam outside the community of cognitive neuroscientists. Grandin, a professor of animal science whose books have provided an unprecedented look at the autistic mind, says her autism gives her special insight into the inner workings of the animal mind. She based her proposal on the observation that animals, like autistic humans, sense and respond to stimuli that nonautistic humans usually overlook.

Contrary to our previous beliefs, identical twins are not genetically identical. This surprising finding may be of great significance for research on hereditary diseases and for the development of new diagnostic methods. How can it be that one identical twin might develop Parkinson's disease, for instance, but not the other? Until now, the reasons have been sought in environmental factors. The current study complicates the picture.

The same rules of physics that govern molecules as they condense from gas to liquid, or freeze from liquid to solid, also apply to the activity patterns of neurons in the human brain. When liquids undergo phase transitions, they evaporate into gas or freeze into ice. When the brain undergoes a phase transition, it moves from random to patterned activity.

Humans are social animals; we spend much of our time with others in groups. We are also wise. It is not our size, speed, or strength that distinguishes us from other mammals, but our intelligence. How might these two features -- being social and being smart -- go together? Researchers found that people who engaged in social interaction displayed higher levels of cognitive performance than the control group.

Scientists have made a significant step into the understanding of conscious perception, by showing how single neurons in the human brain reacted to certain images. This line of research could lay the foundation for developing a neural prostheses which could read commands directly from the brain and transmit them to bionic devices such as a robotic arm that a patient with limited mobility could control directly from the brain.

Constructal theory of flows governs social phenomena like rankings. A Duke University researcher says that his physics theory, which has been applied to everything from global climate to traffic patterns, can also explain another trend: why university rankings tend not to change very much from year to year. Like branching river channels across the earth's surface, universities are part of a relatively rigid network that is predictable based on "constructal theory," which describes the shapes of flows in nature, argues one professor of mechanical engineering.

The brain's serotonin system differs between men and women. The scientists who conducted the study think that they have found one of the reasons why depression and chronic anxiety are more common in women than in men. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that is critical to the development and treatment of depression and chronic anxiety.

A new analyzing a sample of over 275,000 individuals, has found that when it comes to participation in physical activity, one size does not fit all. The study looked at a wide range of factors, including income, education and ethnicity, that influence whether a person decides to be physically active. It also examined the impact of government spending on parks and recreation on an individual's decision to participate in physical activity and sports.

A Harvard scientist presents a new hypothesis on what defines the cognitive rift between humans and animals. He identifies four key differences in human thought that make it unique. Animals, for example, have "laser beam" intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem. In contrast, humans have "floodlight" cognition, allowing us to use thought processes in new ways and to apply the solution of one problem to another situation.

The evolution of human speech was far more complex than is implied by some recent attempts to link it to a specific gene a professor of computational linguistics. Some researchers in recent years have speculated that mutations in a gene called Foxp2 might have played a fundamental role in the evolution of human language.

The process of natural selection can act on human culture as well as on genes, a new study finds. Scientists have shown for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes. Speeded or slowed rates of evolution typically indicate the action of natural selection in analyses of the human genome.

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